Friday, December 23, 2016

It's the little things

X-rays of Terri's TAR
A soaking hot bath. To get up in the middle of the night and walk (not roll) to the bathroom. To sleep on my side.

Total ankle replacement (TAR) is keeping me from the little things right now. But soon, I hope, like 842 other people who are on a closed ankle replacement Facebook group, to walk with no pain. Of course, that will come after my second ankle replacement on my right foot.

On Dec. 9 at Rush Orthopedic Hospital in downtown Chicago, I put my trust in a young surgeon and his team to totally replace my ankle. I stayed over night one night and was drugged to the hilt. I do not tolerate pain killers well and spent the next couple of days in vomitus.

In hospital, a physical therapy team made me practice on my crutches and one of them had to carry a vomit bucket behind me the whole time. It felt like they made me walk to Indiana and back, but in truth, it was to the third exit sign, which was far enough. Believe me.

Blisters from surgical tape
I went home with a nerve blocking pump taped to my left thigh. And that was the worst of my problems after I quit taking the pain pills on Sunday. Turns out (which I knew and conveyed) that I am extremely allergic to surgical tape. The pump malfunctioned on Sunday, and luckily a home health care nurse was there to pull it out. By that evening, blisters were forming on my thigh. In two days, after emailing the photos to my doctor, he told me go to an urgent care center to the blisters looked at. Infections following joint replacement surgery are frowned upon.

My question is, how much am I paying for a pump that malfunctioned and then sent me to an urgent care center. That's a question for the insurance company, I guess.

Off comes the dressing

Candy-cane cast

Within a week of my surgery, I was back at the hospital getting a cast. I asked for candy cane because I had seen it on my above mentioned Facebook group. Sadly, I'm not going out much to show it off.

In case you wonder, I'm writing this for me. So I can know what will happen the next time I get this done. Think of this as a diary. And you are just reading it, you little sneak.

My husband is taking good care of me. When the housecleaner came on Wednesday, we had to get out of the house. We drove to get my handicap sticker, which he went in and picked up, and then to a movie. (La La Land; very whimsical.)

I was sitting with my leg up in the back seat as instructed, but you know, that made me car sick. Probably because I was looking at my phone. I rode in the passenger seat on the way back, which I think suited both of us better.

Here's what I know:

  • I suck at crutches.
    Bonus photo
  • I'm pretty damn good on a knee roller, though long distances can be difficult.
  • I feel I might be losing my upper body strength, and certainly my left thigh and calf look like a noodle.
  • I feel like I can eat anything I want and not gain weight, but that is so untrue because I have seen myself in the mirror. 
  • I can get by with a shower about every three days. (But this is not my preference.)
  • I am not good at keeping up with my home health exercises. Never have been; never will be.
  • I haven't gone to the gym since Dec. 2. How can I really?
  • I'm a good patient (according to Bob).
  • I'm dreaming almost nightly that I'm walking with my cast on and hope my doctor doesn't find out.
  • I'm not as young as I used to be when I've had ankle operations. Just as I can no longer whip a 40-pound bag of dog food over my shoulder, I find it tough to lug a one-hundred-and-muffled-sound woman around on crutches, off the couch, off the toilet seat.
  • A toilet seat with hand holders is an absolute must. (But be sure to use both rails, lest you topple over, which I've done twice.)
  • A good man/woman/relative/friend/service animal is necessary to survive.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What I've learned about liquid diets

Here's a little background. Several women in my office decided we would go on a liquid diet to support one woman we know who was undergoing gastric bypass surgery.

Her doctor required her to go on a liquid diet for two weeks before the surgery, so about six of us decided to join her. (All of us in varying degrees could stand to lose some weight, so the effort was not completely altruistic.)

She (we) could have Premier Protein shakes, chicken broth, jello and sugar-free popsicles.

Day one: no problem. The shakes were tasty; the chicken broth, not so much. I didn't bother with the jello or popsicles. I thought, "This is a breeze."

Day two: harder. I was losing my focus. My brain was fuzzy. People were asking me if I was okay. I think the problem was forgoing sugar. I'm one of those southerners who (as a friend likes to say) "just needs a little somethin' sweet to get the taste (of breakfast, lunch, supper) out of my mouth." That little sugar habit was deadly. (See previous post.)

Day three: fail. I decided vegetables were needed or my brain was going to atrophy. So I added green vegetables to my diet. But nothing else. For a week, I did without meat and alcohol and sugar. Fish eventually entered my diet, however. Mostly canned.

Friday the following week when I attended a dinner ball: epic fail. "Are you a vegetarian?" the server asked.  "Why no," I answered believing I would get a fish option. No further questions came my way, and a while later, a juicy fillet was plopped down in front of me. It was delicious. But it was the first real meat I had eaten.

Before this, my friends and I who were on the diet were bragging about how meat was unimportant. We could live without it. Sheesh.

I should have. The next day, my belly suffered a great deal. Oh, and did I mention free wine was flowing at this particular ball?

At that point, I completely fell off my liquid diet, but I did try to go back to salads, vegetables and fish only.

Then came Vacation One: a holiday with my sisters and mother. Food and copious snacks and some alcohol entered the picture.

I tried to get a handle on that when I returned home, but chicken and a little pork (and even once some pasta, horrors) found their way into my diet.

Enter Thanksgiving. A trip with friends sealed my food fate. My willpower needs Jesus.

So today is the day after, and I'm going to try again. Though I have a lunch scheduled in about two hours. I will eat salad. I will eat salad. I will eat salad.

I've learned that I think differently when I'm not eating like a glutton. I'm kind of uppity.

I've learned that the allure of food is mighty and that it takes strength (or doctor's orders) to give it up or to eat healthily.

I've learned (during my pre-surgery check up) that my cholesterol is a little high, but that didn't stop me from buying some cheese while on vacation.

I've learned sugar makes my joints hurt, and that it's to my great benefit to give it up. Even if that means "getting the taste out of my mouth" with Russell Stover sugar-free candy. Even if that makes me poot.

I've learned I have the will to continue. Today for breakfast I'm had a Premier shake. And tomorrow I will too. Dammit.

P.S. On the ankle front, I've had two CT scans because the first one didn't take. They are looking, I believe, on how to make sure of proper alignment with the knee. I know absolutely nothing else, so will call the doctor tomorrow since surgery is Dec. 9. I have found some comfort in an ankle-replacement Facebook page. For better or worse, that's where I'm getting the bulk of my information. Oh, and I bought a knee-scooter off Craig's List (for about what I could have purchased it new, I found out today.) But it's in good shape. I picked it up in Lake Geneva where I was vacationing.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Crappy ankles = belly fat

The direct result of crappy ankles, in my opinion, is a bulging belly. I cannot get control of my belly except by artificial means. Like girdles. Or sweat pants. Or loose blouses.

Not walking, eating exactly the same amount, drinking wine on the weekends and the dreaded menopause equal weight gain. It's more than irritating.

I remember, was it in my 20s; maybe my 30s, when I could lie in the bathtub and my stomach wouldn't reach over the water line. Today, even if I fill the bathtub up to precipice heights, I can see a mound with a belly button on top.

I know people my age and older who eat only salads. Or nothing basically. And it's true, some of them are stick thin, but do they have any fun in life? I can't imagine how. When I look at a menu, I go straight for the fried food. Fried shrimp. Fried oysters. Now, I don't always choose those. But put a hamburger and fries (or tater tots!) beside a salad and decadence is going to win every time.

I've read Mark Bittman's books. I've even underlined in them. And cooked from them! But Mark Bittman is not my husband. My husband likes to eat as much as I do.

Now, in my defense, I exercise. I go to a gym. I used to do the elliptical machine for 30 minutes. But those days are over for now. I ride the recumbent bike for 45 to 60 minutes. And I do weights.

So I am not sitting around watching The Blacklist and eating hamburgers. Instead, I download it to my iPad and watch it while riding the bicycle at the gym.

Am I making excuses? Should I have more discipline? You decide. But keep it to yourself. I already have enough guilt and shame. (Also I love cheap penny candy [now 25 cents] and I need a haircut.)

Photo by Stu Spivak | CC BY-SA

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Colon cancer to ankle replacement: the saga of an aging cowgirl

I have a new story to tell, and it's not about colon cancer. When you continue to age because you've survived colon cancer (and I'm very glad I did!), other ailments creep in. In this blog, I've mentioned my crappy ankles before.

When I was, oh 14 or 15, I played basketball for junior high. That was back in the day when you played half court. Lucky for me, too, because I couldn't shoot or dribble. But I could rebound the heck out of a ball. The coach said, "The minute you get the ball, pass it to someone else fast." Which I did, so I guess I could add "passing" to my basketball talents.

Problem with being a good rebounder AND wearing Chuck Taylor high tops is that ankle support was minimal. So I sprained my ankle about once a month.

Turns out spraining your ankle when you're a kid becomes ankle arthritis when you're an aging adult. 

And it's quite painful. There are times when I'm walking that I cry. But not all the time. If I take enough Voltaren, I can hobble along at a decent pace. Those of you with arthritis anywhere understand, I'm sure.

I've had both ankles operated on twice. One for a ligament tightening (because loose ligaments caused me to turn my ankle when I was just walking down the street) and one to clean out the arthritis.

So now it's time to do the big one. The special Facebook group I'm on calls it: TAR. That means total ankle replacement.

It's not common like knee replacement and hip replacement. It's new. And I'm scared. Like in knee replacement, in ankle replacement surgeons basically cut off your bones and insert a metal joint. But unlike knee replacement, the ankle bones that hold the metal joint are more slim. Not thick like the femur and the upper tibia.

And the foot is a complicated body part. For a glimpse of what the surgery is like, look at this video. I might warn you not to eat first.

When my new doc looked at my ankles, he used a phrase befitting of a gal with a blog named Cowgirl Attitude. "That horse is out of the barn," he said. Meaning, I guess, no more repair work on those ankles, honey, it's time for TAR.

So my surgery is scheduled Dec. 9. I'll keep you up on the details in case a surgery of this sort is in your future.

Photo credit: Rachel Patterson | CC BY-NC-ND

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The List

I'm a bad girl. Ok, enough of that. Since my last post I have:

  • survived my second ankle operation,
  • made it through another Chicago winter,
  • visited my mom and dad in their retirement community in Florida,
  • gone to Indianapolis for an ACP convention,
  • led a workshop in Washington, D.C., on social media,
  • bought a condo in Oak Park,
  • gone to Portland, Oregon, where I was able to buy a few books at Powell's City of Books,
  • kept my job,
  • found a renter for the condo (praise the lord),
  • planted tomatoes and sunflowers,
  • failed to pick the first tomato, dammit, because they are horrible this year,
  • pumped up my bike tires,
  • never ridden my bike,
  • gotten hooked on Orange is the New Black,
  • had my hair cut at least 11 times, but probably 13 (I could count, but really?),
  • stayed alive.
I think it might be easier to keep up on the blogging, but maybe not.  So, now you know, I'm still alive, living a life like most of you, surviving the commute, eating well, fighting menopause (and losing), getting older but not a lot grayer. And that's something, I guess.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Middle Sister

My visits with Rachael started three years ago, maybe four. She was “assigned” to me by my church when I volunteered to visit local nursing home residents. I was told she was all alone in the world; she needed a friend.

So most Sundays after church, I stop by the nursing home where she lives and give her cookies or Cheetos or shampoo or baby powder. I often grumble about it. I could find other ways to spend my Sunday afternoons.

Rachael is not interesting. And she has no teeth. So I have trouble understanding her. She lives in a facility for Medicaid residents--the poorest of the poor. Not all who live there are old. Nick, a 30-something paraplegic, loves the women. An endless flirt, he made a bad decision when he raced his car after drinking one night. And because of it, he’ll never truly know a woman again. I’m not sure about Bridget; she whirs around in an electric wheelchair and has difficulty speaking. But she seems happy; she smiles and greets me each time I visit. And so does Joe and Linda and Larry and Joyce.

I enjoy going just to see the other residents. And they can be entertaining. Linda, who sings and dances, was wandering the halls recently, naked from the waist down until an aid discovered her. She was trying to put her pants on by herself but balance abandoned her.

Rachael turns 83 this December, and over the years, I’ve learned a little about her family. She's a middle sister, like me. Unlike me, she had no brothers. She grew up on the Southside of Chicago; her father and mother, whom she loved, owned a bar. They were Italian. She married an Irish Catholic; he died young. She loved him very much, too, so never considered remarrying.

“Are your sisters still alive?” I asked her knowing that by now, her parents certainly wouldn’t be. “One is, I think,” Rachael answered. “Would you like to see her?” I asked. “Nah, it don’t matter.” How could that be? Had the disappointment of no visits from family for the 12 years she had been in the nursing facility hardened her heart? I knew I would want to see my sisters and brothers.

After more visits, I learned the sister’s name and the name of her husband. And that they used to live nearby. So I googled them. I found a 2006 obituary for Rachael’s brother-in-law  that listed all the family members, including Rachael’s sister. With that information, I looked up and found their phone numbers.

And those numbers sat on my computer desktop for three months. Don’t ask me why. Lack of courage? Inertia? Low motivation?

Finally, I girded my spirit, picked up the phone, and dialed the number for Rachael’s niece, tentatively explaining who I was (nobody really, just a person who visits Rachael). “Yes, my mother had a sister named Rachael, ” she answered warily. After much explanation on my part, she trilled, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to have Mom call you.”

A few seconds later, my phone rang. A clear, strong Chicago Southside voice was on the other end. I could understand every word she said. Turns out, Marie had been looking for Rachael for 12 years. “One day, Rachael was in the hospital; the next day I called and she had been released and the hospital didn’t know where she had gone. I haven’t been able to find her since.”

Rachael had been placed in a nursing home, leaving no trace for her family.

The day after talking to me, Rachael’s sister and her family visited her in the nursing facility. They stayed for hours, and when they left, they tacked their photos on her bulletin board. Rachael has a family again. When I stopped by Sunday she showed me her new outfit that her sister bought her. And the baby powder and the cookies and the shampoo.

Now my visits with Rachael aren't so necessary, and I am free to enjoy them.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Louie 1997-2012

Our dog Louie died today. He was our Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen, our sweet boy for 14 years. He would have been 15 in October, and he was decrepit and feeble.  We had to push him up the stairs holding onto his rear legs.

That he was failing doesn’t mean his death was easier.  I have been known to say (on several occasions!) I can’t wait till my dogs die. Because sometimes they are just so exasperating. Louie was never fully house trained.  In the mornings, when I went to the basement to let him out, I never quite knew what I might encounter.

This morning I found pee, poop, and vomit. That’s not good. I couldn’t get him up. He was listless, unmoving. After cleaning up after him, I asked Bob to get out of bed and get Louie outside. He was wobbly and disoriented. (And so was Louie.)

We called the vet and Bob took him in. So brave of my husband. I couldn’t do it. I’m a crier. Weak and weepy. The vet said she could do something to make him feel better, but it was only a matter of time. We didn’t want to keep taking him to the vet, and she suggested that erring on the side of early is better than erring on the side of late. So we elected to put him down and spread his ashes on a nearby hill with other dogs who had met the same fate.

I am left with Louie’s remnants—his bed, his doghouse, his treats, his cage. And I must remember when I drop food on the floor, I can no longer count on Louie to scoop it up. Life is going to be different and sad for a while. We still have Spunk, our feisty terrier, but she is also old.

I’m beginning to get a sense of what empty-nester parents feel like. A little lost.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yippee ya yay!

I'm cured. I had my final meeting with my oncologist this morning. He released me. But not before he showed me all the slides in my CT scan. I saw my lungs, my liver, my spleen, my stomach, my uterus (yep, still there), my bladder, and, of course, my colon.

He apparently had a little time because he stayed with me longer than usual. No students were following him around as they usually do, poking on my stomach. ("Is there a baby in there?" Kate said I should ask when he got a look at the increasing size of my belly.) I'm going to have to work on that; the number on the scales was scary. But that's for later.

So I have been let go. No more CT scans, and only routine colonoscopies. My next is scheduled for 2016. Now maybe I can start putting the money I put in my health flexible spending account each year into my 401K. I'll be rich! And hopefully (if I don't go out and buy a Vespa) I'll be around to spend it.

We got a call from a nurse after my CT scan last week telling me everything was clear. So it was no surprise. Bob posted this sweet note on Facebook:

Very quietly and very calmly the message came in telling the result of Terri Lackey's five-year CT scan: "Hi Ms. Lackey this is L___ calling from Doctor M______'s office and he wanted me to give you a call to let you know that your cat scan was good. If you have any more questions feel free to give us a call back. They call that a statistical cure from colon cancer. I just call it divine.

My stoic doctor, not one to show emotion, gave me a congratulatory handshake, and then cupped his other hand over mine. I'm sure it's a relief for him to see a patient walk out of his office for the last time, rather than going out in a hearse.

For those of you suffering with this disease, I offer prayers you have the same outcome as me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Year Five: Will I be released?

I'm off for my fifth and final (I hope) CT scan. Scan today, doc next Friday. In April, it will be five years since doctors discovered cancer in my gut. This happened, I might reiterate, during my first, very first, routine colonoscopy. I had no pain (except occasionally when I ate HOT Indian food, and who doesn't have pain with that?).

If I sail through this scan, and get a clean bill of health, I guess I can declare myself cured. I can declare myself cured anyway, but I'd like to get clearance from an expert, my oncologist. I know he'll miss me. My belly has grown more flabby in the five years since I've been seeing him. I can blame that on: menopause, getting my stomach slit open from button to, well, uh, you know. Oh, and food. Chicago food. OMG it's good.

So I must run, I'll let you know if I get released after I see the doc next week.

I'm not drinking during Lent, but I might have to raise a glass to good news.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm a damn lemon

The truth is, if I were a vehicle, I'd qualify as a lemon under any state's Lemon Law. I'm just plain old put together wrong. Most recently, I've had an ankle repaired. Hope it works, I'm still hobbling around on one crutch. I can now stand up to take a shower, and that's cause for celebration. But I have the other ankle to do. And if I had three ankles, or four or five, I'd probably have to get them all worked on.

The reason is: I was the best damn rebounder on my junior high basketball team. I couldn't shoot. I couldn't dribble. But I could rebound. And frequently, when I came down on those ankles, I'd sprain one, then the other, and again and again. Remember those Chuck Taylor high tops. They didn't offer much by way of (I want to say insulation here, what's the right word?), oh support.

I can remember, in my 40s or so, when I was asked to rate how healthy I was, I'd give myself five stars. Before age 40, I'd never even been in a hospital (except to be born). Even today, when asked that question on medical forms: How would you rate your health?, I have a hard time giving myself a score lower than four stars. True, I'm put together badly. Colon cancer, fibroids, bad ankles, shoulders, etc. But still, despite some of the crotchety pain I feel, I think I'm healthy.

Am I delusional? What does it matter. Delusional people ignore the real world, what's really happening. And that's probably what I need right now as concerns my body parts.

Anyway, I just wanted to post something quickly cause I put a new graphic on my blog. Top left corner. That's a cowgirl. Thanks to William Brown for letting me use it. He has some cool illustrations on his Web site. Take a look.

On a happy note, next April I will meet my five year mark of no recurring cancer. I'm knocking on wood right now. And you keep your fingers crossed. I'm afraid if I cross mine, they'll stick.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The report: I'm good

See post below. Only one little polyp and NO nausea from the anesthesia (which I cannot spell and must look up in spell check every time). This is the first time I have not been sick after going under, even twilight. My day improved at 10 a.m. when I got home from the hospital. I had a long nap, result of anesthesia, ate Triscuits toasted with cheese, Yum, and some edamame, and after 12 hours, the time allowed, had a French martini. (With my fish sticks and green beans.) Then, I fell asleep on the couch watching a BBC production of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. I have to say, she's actually better than Jane Austen. In my opinion. Even though I conked out. It wasn't her fault.

So I'm good. And I'm glad.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tomorrow is my colonoscopy...

and so today I am spending a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I am a terrible faster. The thought of going without food makes my hands shake and my lips quiver. Bob had his colonoscopy Friday, and breezed through the no-food regimen on Thursday.

He didn't even bother eating the allowed clear foods. I said, "You can have broth and yellow jello and apple juice and see-through popsicles." And he says, "Why bother, that's not even food. I'll just drink water." And he did. While I snuck down to the basement and ate my dinner.

Here I am, at 10:06 a.m.--about 21 hours to go--with a gurgling stomach and thoughts of nachos and cheese and olives and crackers. I've already had a glass of apple juice, and now I'm thinking about brunch, chicken broth. But then what will I have for lunch? Chicken broth, I guess. And a lime popsicle. Dinner? Apple juice, chicken broth, a lime popsicle. Oh and a gallon of (see-through) Gavilyte-G solution. It's purpose: to make me see-through.

But you know what. You know what I blocked out of my mind since my last colonoscopy three years ago? I had to give up anti-inflammatory drugs five days before the procedure. So I have been without my Ibuprofen and Diclofenac Sodium since Wednesday, a staple of my diet. Clearly, I am always doped up because I had no idea so many of my body parts hurt.

But you know what else? I'm alive, by golly. My CT scan in March was clear and if I get away from my procedure tomorrow with only a few polyps snipped off and the dreaded nausea that accompanies any anesthesia I undergo, twilight or total knockout, then I'll feel lucky. Luckier than Bob who had a couple of polyps and a spot that must be biopsied and possibly removed later, which means he'll have to starve himself another day (and drink another gallon of colon cleanser.)

But as for me. Right now, I'm off to have my Mother's Day brunch.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why me?

This week marks the fourth anniversary of my first colonoscopy when doctors discovered cancer. So far, I'm one of the lucky ones. Last month, I had a CT scan, and it was all clear. Next month, I have my third colonoscopy to see if cancer or polyps are lurking.

When I went to my oncologist for my CT reading and six-month check up, I asked him why some people with Stage III cancer die and others don't.

His inimitable, deadpan (no pun intended) response: "Biology."

"Yeah, well," I grumbled. "Can you give me more?"

"Some people respond to surgery, some people respond chemotherapy; others don't." So I guess it is just biology.

Will to live is certainly not enough. Lots of people with cancer really, really want to live, but just don't. My will to live was never tested; I just never thought I was going to die. But perhaps everybody with cancer believes that, until they rationally cannot.

I do often wonder why I am one of the lucky ones. (Am I?)

It's not like I'm ever going to do anything great in this world: invent Facebook or electricity or the wheel. I just get up every day, drink my coffee with cream and sugar, and go to work. Then I go home, kiss my husband and my dogs and watch television or go to the gym or read.

So why me? I'm not even that nice. I'm not complaining. Just asking.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baseball bat diet

I'm back on the all-protein diet. That cannot be good for a person with Colon Cancer genes. But if I die, maybe I'll die skinny. (Well, I probably would die skinny if I die of colon cancer.)

Everybody wants to look good in their coffins, don't they? Yet for me, that's kind of a moot point. Since I plan to be cremated. I do not, not, not want to be buried deep within the cold, dark earth. I would rather rest in the cool confines of an urn. On the mantle. Until somebody takes me and spreads me all over the world.

In my will, I plan to request that my ashes be spread in lots of places. Italy (gosh, I love the food there). France (wine, cheese, bread). Mexico (cheap fun). India (cheap fun and good food)! I don't know. Wherever the person who spreads me wants to travel. I figure that will give them a chance to get on a plane and get going. I guess I'll have to leave them a little dough in my will too. So they can afford the travel.

Wait, what happened? I've gone off topic. I just read my first sentence.

So, in about two weeks, I've lost the four pounds I gained over the holidays. At least that's what my scales say today. Tomorrow morning, after I have a couple of glasses of sugar-filled wine tonight, they might register a different number.

It will be soooo nice when I'm soooo old that I don't care about my weight. But when is that? My mother weighs twice a day. And she just turned 80.

Might as well hit yourself in the head with a baseball bat twice a day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The scars to prove it

I love my scars. And I have lots of them. I look at them as tree rings, etches that indicate age and experience. And often poor coordination.

I have a scar on my left knee that marks when I had my knee cap realigned. I have scars on both ankles from when I had my ligaments tightened. (The wrong operation, as it turns out. Lesson learned: Get a second opinion.) I have one on my right knee from when I ran through a rose bush at age eight during a game of hide and seek, and another on my left leg from when I executed a tether ball jump shot and got hooked on a nail sticking out of the pole. I have them all over my fingers and hands. I’m a real klutz in the kitchen.

But my favorite scar is the one that slices me straight down the middle, from above my belly button to my … well, let’s just say it’s a seven-inch vertical scar. This is my badge, my purple heart that proves I did battle with stage 3 colon cancer and won. At least so far.

I thought I was weird for loving this particular scar, for wanting to lift my shirt, unzip my pants and show it to my friends and family, especially when it was fresh and cherry red. I also love its partner scar, the one on the upper right side of my chest where doctors slipped in the chemotherapy port and then slipped it back out when my treatments were finished.

It turns out others love their colon cancer scars, too. In fact, there’s a calendar to prove it. The Colonder is “produced by The Colon Club, a New York-based non-profit that educates people about colorectal cancer,” according to the Chicago Tribune, where I learned about the calendar. The 12-month calendar features people—all under 50 (probably why they didn’t ask me to pose!)—who were diagnosed with colon cancer and lived to show off their scars.

I did as my doctor instructed and got my colonoscopy at age 50. Like those in the calendar, I’ve got the scar to prove it.

(Written for Women of the ELCA's blog.)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

An attempt at journaling

I'm sitting in a journaling class and the leader has given us 10 minutes to write: to journal. And since, I have access to the internet, I guess I'll just write a blog. She made suggestions, but they might be too personal, beyond even the discussion of poop. Like what are we upset about now. (I do have a couple of things I don't want to air online.) And how do we feel about our jobs and future. (Well, it's been a hairy month where I work; a lot of people were laid off.) And what were some bad things we did as kids. (That might take too long.)

So I'll just say, I wore a goofy shirt today. I thought, it being Saturday, that everybody would be dressing down. (Did I say I was at a board meeting for my work? So there are about 20 women here who could determine my fate.) But no, people are not dressed casually. There are giant beads. And dressy shirts. And heels. And here I am in a red and black cowgirl shirt.

Heavens, what was I thinking? Well, I think it's cute. And, you know what? It's my birthday and I can do what I want. (Well, tomorrow is really my birthday, but as far as I'm concerned, my birthday starts the first day in October, and ends the last day.)

Since I am working on my birthday weekend, I will wear what I want to. And I did. And now we are being called on to finish our entry.

So I will say goodbye. See you later pardner.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Did I tell you about my teeth?

Bob just discovered this video on his phone. So I'm posting it. Just beware. The drugs have kicked in.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I'm sorry

I'll make up for it soon.

I'm healthy except for:
my shoulder
my ankles
my back
my (can't say it out loud)
old age (soon to be even older (Oct. 17). (send gifts!)
but I am alive. (though just barely it feels like sometimes)
No sign of cancer in CEA levels. And that is good.

Life at work is tough. We're going through a downsizing on this very day and people I care about are losing their jobs.

And that sucks

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My beef with healthy eating

Here’s my beef with healthy eating. I want to do it; I really do. But society makes it difficult.

Take this morning for example. I forgot my breakfast, which lately has consisted of two eggs, scrambled (my cholesterol is just fine, thank you). So I mosey down to our in-building deli and opt for the English muffin sandwich. (Ok, ok, it had egg, ham and cheese on it, sheesh.)

But when I ask for a wheat muffin instead of a WHITE ENRICHED FLOUR muffin, the server shakes her head, “nope, we don’t have those.” And this made me think of my love of pasta. I adore pasta. But I can never walk into a gourmet Italian restaurant (or any other restaurant to my knowledge) and order wheat pasta. Never. I want wheat pasta!

Which then made me think about rice. Oh, how I love Thai and Indian cuisines. But what do they serve with their dishes. Rice. White rice. I always ask for brown rice in my hometown of Chicago (Berwyn, really), but have never once received it.

I was in California recently and stopped by a Thai food restaurant to pick up a quick dinner. The server actually asked me, before I had a chance to ask her, “Brown or white rice.” I asked her to repeat the question, just so I could savor it. Is California heaven? (The opinions are mixed.)

Here’s the thing. I’ve been on a quasi diet since Jan. 3. No white food, especially enriched, processed grains. More vegetables. And no sugar (or no processed sugar; certainly I need my glass of red wine.) I have been trying very, very hard. (Luckily, some of the sugar-free candies and cookies are actually very good.)

But how can I be good if society doesn’t work with me? The media, through the government, is claiming that one-third of us is obese (BMI over 30) and another third is overweight (BMI of 25-30).

Restaurant portion sizes are too big and we’re gobbling up white carbohydrates because the alternatives are not there (at least where I live).

So. My idea is to start a grass-roots initiative. When you go to a restaurant, ask your server what healthy carb choices are available. Let’s put brown rice and wheat pasta on the table!

P.S. Don’t even get me started on vegetables.

(This blog also will be posted [eventually] on the Women of the ELCA blog.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lucky Twelve

Today is the anniversary of my colon resection. Three years ago today, I was in surgery getting seven inches of my gut cut out. It hurt, too, after I was taken off the epidural a few days later.

I know this is my anniversary because my calendar tells me so. And Bob's calendar tells him so.

Last week I was cleaning out my cubicle which had gotten completely out of control. I looked through notebooks and notes, trying to determine which to dump.

That's when I found the notes I took (in red ink because that was the pen nearest my editor's hand) when the surgeon Dr. Brems called me at my office on a Monday morning. The notes say: [Dr. Brems] large tumor--cancer. Descending colon. Thursday (the day he wanted to operate because he had a cancellation.) 4-5 days (how long I would be in the hospital.) take things out. 2 hrs. 3-4 weeks (recuperation from surgery). CAT scan need done. size of golf ball. Tuesday-outpatient 3rd floor (meet with him to discuss).

I remember the conversation, but not much else that went on that day. Kate, my colleague and friend, said she remembers the day vividly. She said we were driving in from our designers that morning and I told her I thought I had cancer. She asked me if I was a doctor, and I said I googled the symptoms, and I just knew it (according to her report). She apparently looked askance.

(Actually, I had no symptoms, but I had my first colonoscopy the week before and they discovered a mass. A mass in your colon is usually a tumor.)

Then when we got into the office I got THE CALL. She said I was crying (I thought I was pretty stoic on the phone, but apparently I cried when I told her.) She asked me if I wanted to go home and tell Bob, and I said yes. She walked me to my car, and came back up to the office. She said when she got back to the office, everybody was looking down or had their headphones on. Of course, everyone heard my conversation with the doctor; we're in cubicles. (Not known for privacy, but at least it's blatant, unlike offices, where you also have no privacy because people can hear through the walls, but you think you do.)

Then she told our executive director that we needed to figure out what to do because I was probably going to be out of the office for a few weeks.

And here I sit, pretty healthy for a decrepit 53.5-year-old. I thumb daily through the What's Your Poo Telling You calendar my sister gave me for Christmas. I'm happy, gainfully employed, and I have health insurance. Thank God.

Others are not so lucky, and I often wonder, very often, why I am so lucky. And I often pray, very often, that my luck holds out.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Life is fun

Nurse called. CT scan is clear. I am not going to die. Again.

I thought I might die, though, while I was taking these killer antibiotics for the sinus lift I had last Thursday. What's a sinus lift? It's prep for a tooth implant.

There once was a tooth that broke off while eating popcorn in India. Tooth got pulled at an Indian school for dentistry. (That is a GREAT story.) Got an $8 bridge for tooth at same Indian school. It lasted a few years. Then I got a $4,000 American bridge. It lasted a few more years. Then tooth holding one part of the bridge decayed. Bridge cut off. Oh my. No teeth. No bone (because bone goes away if there are no teeth roots stimulating the bone. And that is why people with dentures drop their teeth when they talk. Because the bone and gum on which the fake teeth were formed slowly disintegrate. And that's also why people just trash their dang teeth when they are really old. They don't stay on anyway. They are old. Who cares? Mashed potatoes taste pretty good.)

But I digress. Twice. So a sinus lift is a procedure of drilling a hole in the side of the gum and punching fake bone in so that on down the road, the dentist can drill in an implant stem that on down the road will eventually hold a cap or crown--whatever, another fake tooth. And I need two of those. $11,000 worth.

Anyway, when they drill a hole in the side of your gum, you get three prescriptions. One for antibiotics. One for pain. And one for severe pain. I've taken a lot of antibiotics in my life, and I've never had one that slayed me like this one. For five days, I've felt like a helium balloon. (And worse.) Finally, I called the dentist and said I couldn't take it anymore. And he said, OK. Today is the first day I've felt normal since last Thursday.

So I'm really, really happy that my CT scan was good news. (Bob called me and gave me the message from the nurse. He said he teared up a little. That's sweet.) But I'm really glad I don't feel like do-do anymore.

Tomorrow, I go to the doctor to get the report, give him some blood, and visit the little Asian nurse who called me old and fat. But I'm not quite as fat. Because I haven't been eating carbs or sugar since Jan. 4.

If all of my teeth fall out, I'll have to revisit that carb thing. Most mushy foods are made of carbs.

Despite it all, I still feel healthy (though sometimes decrepit). Thanks Mom for the teeth genes. Thanks Granddad (may he rest in peace) for the cancer genes.

Thanks Mom and Dad for the life. It's really a lot of fun.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It's official

I am deformed. The way I stand and walk indicates it, but the X-rays confirm it. I have a deformity of the tibia, at the ankle, rare to North Americans, but more common in Asians. (Mom, is there something you haven't told me?)

I do like India a lot. And I love Indian food. And I love Chinese food. And Thai food. Hey. Hey!?

So, my ankle doc (among the best in Chicago and that would be confirmed by the fact that I had an 11:20 appointment today and saw him for 2.5 minutes at about 2) says I'm deformed, and, on top of that, I have arthritis. To fix my deformity, he would need to lift up my ankles on the outsides with a piece of bone from my hip. He's done it a lot; it's called valgus distal tibial osteotomy, but all I can find on the Web about it is written in doctor speak. And that is not my language.

Anybody ever heard of it? Had it? Want to share about it?

Really, this only confirms that my body parts are nothing more than a warped jigsaw puzzle. (See the post about Mr. Potato Head.) Now if I were older, my treatment would be a snap. Fuse the ankles; walk like a Penguin. But heck, I walk like a Penguin now. Ask Bob. My adoring husband who frequently makes fun of my walk (OK, and I his, but what's his excuse?). Now he will need to find a politically correct name for duck-like walk.

Because it's official. I'm deformed. And you can't call anything by it's real name.

(And the good news: my CEA levels are still normal. Not so sure about my DNA, though.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

O Ye Jigs & Juleps! Sacraments

I'm going to read the book O Ye Jigs & Juleps! that Kate gave me for my birthday. In this installment, I read the first chapter, Sacraments. The book is said to be written by 10-year-old Virginia Cary Hudson. According to the book flap, Virginia was 10 in 1904 when she wrote the essays for a "very understanding teacher" in her Episcopal boarding school. The chapters include Sacraments, Etiquette at Church, Gardening, Education, Everlasting Life, Spring, The Library, Personal Appearance, An Afternoon's Stroll, China and Religion.

Because the book is believed to be written by a Southerner, a Southerner should surely read it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Catching up

Tomorrow is my birthday! And really nobody has noticed. I mention it over and over and do get a few takers. Like Kate, my co-worker, who gave me one of her prized possessions, a book: O Ye Jigs & Juleps! by Virginia Cary Hudson, supposedly written in 1904 by a 10-year-old. I have my doubts. But it is still fun. Stay tuned for more later on the book.

Audrey rushed out and bought me a bottle of wine yesterday, which I surely appreciate. And will duly drink this weekend. Bob has something up his sleeve because he has suffered the consequences of ignoring my birthday already. Not a peep from my mom, who usually sends me a card a week in advance. Or my older sister, who never sends her cards on time. Or my younger sister, who I know loves me. Or my two brothers, one who used to send everybody cards but got tired of not getting cards in return, so it's understandable, and another who has bigger fish to fry with kids, grandkids, trips, cabins, and on and on.

I would like to point you to my birthday two years ago when my life was hanging in the limbs, and then to last year, which should have alerted me to what was to come.

But I am not bitter. I would rather be ignored than taking a dirt nap (as Val at work's father calls it).

And this is my quick whiny post and now I have other things to do. I hope you have a great day.

(I was going to catch you up on all I had been doing but I got lost in my own misery.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Livering it up

I walked in the the oncologist office today feeling plump, healthy, and happy. The miniature Asian nurse (who takes my vitals, including weight) and I talk about my fat. "Do you exercise?" she asks. "Yes, almost every day." "Do you eat ice cream late at night?" she asks. "Rarely; almost never" (Bob finishes it off before I can get to it). "I do sneak a Bit o' Honey or two" (probably why I have no teeth). "Do you eat pasta?" she asks. Guilty. I'm a carb freak.

"Well, it gets harder as we get older," she proclaims. So within five minutes of my visit, she has called me fat and old. But I forgive her because she's adorable.

The doctor, also miniature, comes in. He's an old grouch, but I think he likes me so he smiles occasionally in my presence. "How do you feel?" he asks. "Terrific!" I answer truthfully. "Except that your nurse just called me fat and old."

He ignores this. As he does most things I say. Pity too because I try so hard.

Then I ask him if a lot of his patients die. "Some do. Some don't," he says. (That ole rascal, such an encourager.)

"But you're doing good," he says. I dismiss the compliment. Really, I'm not doing anything. Just staying alive.

Then I ask him some question about cancer returning, etc., etc. The fear all cancer patients live with, at least in the backs of their minds. I feel so good right now, though, the question was really just a flippant, "How 'bout those Sox?"-type question. Nothing serious.

Then he lays it on me. "Well, you've only got two and a half more years before you're clear. Most cancers return by four and a half, five years." I know this, of course, but still, I was thinking I was already in the clear. Not really, but sort of. And I can't help but remember Leroy Sievers who died recently. He had colon cancer, was fine four years, then got brain cancer.

But my doc says, colon cancer, if it comes back, most likely shows up in the liver, which is, I think, the organ that removes all toxins. And wine, I believe, is a toxin.

Or is it? Could it be, a preservative? I should probably find out before the weekend starts.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Dear Nora Ephron

I finally read your book about women and aging, I Feel Bad About My Neck. It's really about you and aging, but that's OK, you have the best perspective. Truth be told, I listened to it. Because I commute to work in the stressful city of Chicago about an hour each day. And I go to the gym. So I have time to listen to books while I'm doing other things.
I laughed out loud a few times; it's been a week or more, so I can't remember exactly what made me laugh. Since then, I've re-"read" the first in the series Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope. And started on Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. And that, by the way, is thanks to you. I frantically scribbled down some of your favorite books when you talked in your book about how you can lose yourself in books. I was actually surprised that Wilkie Collins was a real person. That doesn't speak well of me I guess, but I thought he was fictional. I finished "reading" a long, long book by Dan Simmons called Drood (I picked that up after "reading" Charles Dickens unfinished book The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and Wilkie Collins was the narrator. But I thought, since Drood is a new book, he was fictional. Wilkie even talked about his book, Woman in White, all through Drood. But for some reason, it didn't hit me that it was a real book and he was a real person.
When you said you loved it, I decided to find it on audio book. It wasn't easy, as it is not available at my local library and I do not want to actually buy audio books. But I found it on Librivox, which offers free audio books in the public domain. I figured if I found you funny, then I would like the books you suggested. The other books you liked which I plan to look into are The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, the collected works of Raymond Chandler, John le Carre's Smiley's People (maybe, I'm not big on spy books) and the one you adored The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
So, I want to thank you for giving me ideas about books to read. I'm always in search.
But I do have a bone to pick with you. You are in your mid 60s and say you weigh 126 pounds. How is that possible? Are you short? Say, 4'6" or thereabouts. Don't you know that women get fat in menopause? I have finally come to accept that I'm not going to lose weight unless I eat about 1,000 calories a day, and I do not want to do that. Chicago may be the most stressful city in America, but it also has the best food.
My question to you is, Did you get liposuction? You must have. God knows, you have the money. But the whole point of your book, I thought, was to live with the cards aging hands you. You claim (I'm pretty sure) that you didn't want to have a face lift because you didn't want to look like stretched leather. You would have liked a neck lift, but you would have had to get a face lift to get a neck lift and you didn't want that. Liposuction seems unhealthy or at least risky. But if you weigh 126, you got it.
You feel bad about your neck?? I feel really bad about my stomach.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I've discovered I'm just a bunch of parts

Sometime, say in your late 40s, you discover you are made of parts. No longer do you consider your body as one whole piece, like Gumby (but graceful). No, you are more like Mr. Potato Head. With lots of different parts that fracture and break. If you have good health insurance, these parts are replaceable, as are Mr. Potato Head's.

Before 40, more likely in your 20s, you glided. Up stairs, down stairs, through halls and rooms full of other 20-year-olds. You flaunted your wholeness, especially to your elders (the 40 year olds). You felt no pain, no soreness. In the morning, you leaped from the bed and into the shower. And you never had to dry between the rolls of fat.

But, then, as you entered your 40s, and more likely toward the end of those years, parts of your body began to revolt. Your knee would hurt one day, your shoulder another. But they traded off. Never did they attack you on the same day. They still respected your youth.

Then comes your 50s. And the pains begin to orchestrate. They stop being polite, one bowing to the other. They all tune up at once: the knees, the ankles, the shoulders, the back, even the thumbs. The glide you once possessed is now a lumber. You grunt when you stand. Getting up from bed is more of a roll and tumble, then a slow unfurling as you limp toward the bathroom. Toweling off after a shower takes soooo much longer.

I am not in my 60s. Or even close. Bob is, and he's doing mostly OK. I do wonder what the 70s and 80s will bring or, I guess I should say, take away.

By then, I suppose I'll be fragile and easily toppled. Like Legos.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

For the Bible tells me so

What do I know about health care reform? Not much. Probably about as much as the average American citizen. I know what my gut tells me (you could even say my heart), and that is that every U.S. citizen should have access to health care. I know that's controversial; and I know if universal health care is realized, it's going to cost me in taxes. But I also know that Jesus did not discriminate when he healed people; often they were poor, blind, a little crazy, and of a different cultural background or race. And he never once asked for an insurance card, though he did require faith.

Two years ago, I went to the doctor's office to have my routine colonoscopy. I turned 50, and I was doing what my doctor told me to do. The exam revealed I had a golf-ball size tumor. Two weeks later, I was in surgery getting seven inches of my descending colon removed. A month after that, I began a six-month regimen of chemotherapy because my tumor was at Stage III; the cancer had seeped into my lymph nodes.

OK, say I lost my job (it's been heard of in this country) and I had no health care. (In reality, I am offered excellent health care through Women of the ELCA.) I would not have known I had cancer until it was far too late because I would not have had a doctor telling me it was time for my colonoscopy. I would have waited until I was doubled over in pain, and then I would have gone to the emergency ward where the hospital would have to treat me at great expense. The financial administrators could try to force me to pay; I could go into deep debt, mortgaging my house, selling my car, forking over my children's college tuition if I had any saved. But in the end, when I just couldn't come up with the $100,000 for surgery and the $22,000 a month for chemotherapy, the hospital is going to pass the expense onto those with insurance. And they are going to pay the bills of the uninsured through higher deductibles or reduced health benefits.

Sen. Teddy Kennedy of Massachusettes, who is wealthy as we all know, wrote a recent Newsweek article about how he has been fighting for universal health care since the 60s. Battling a malignant brain tumor, Kennedy acknowledges that he enjoys the best medical care money and health insurance can buy, but he believes it should be open to everybody. "Quality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face. Every American should be able to get the same treatment that U.S. senators are entitled to," he writes in the article.

We, those of us with insurance now, are going to pay anyway. Why not pay up front? The Christian way?

For the Bible tells me so.

(This blog was first posted on the Women of the ELCA blog site.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Boo hiss on the blahs

I'm restless. I feel like my life is sitting at a stop light as all other traffic moves around me, rushing and swerving and turning. Going someplace.

It's the end of July and what have I done of consequence this summer? This year? Last year? In 2007, I survived. And I guess, in a sense, I continue to do so. But why do I feel so inert? Is it menopause?

Does menopause manifest itself in malaise just as it shows up as thickness of body?

I'm a fairly happy person, mostly. I looked forward to our recent trip to Milwaukee and Madison. And then it came and went. And my routine returned. Up at six or so, putter till time to leave, drive to work, work at work, drive home from work, go to the gym or ride my bike downstairs or take a walk with the dogs. Off to bed, and it starts all over.

(My blog just posted before I had finished; at least blogger is not inert. Or maybe it was sick of my whining.)

I read this interesting LifeHacker post recently about finding your life's purpose in 20 minutes. A nice drive-through solution. A quick fix for the blahs. I'm sure I'll shake out of this. We all go through this at times; wishing for a more meaningful life, a higher purpose.

I should just be happy with life, period. At least I have it.

(Funny, I just googled blahs and found this: Banish the Blahs. I haven't looked at it, so don't hold me accountable.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I'm famous with the Asbestos people

I don't know who or what Asbestos News is, but I'm very proud to be mentioned on their site as one of the top 50 cancer blogs. I wouldn't have known if Dennis, who commented on the previous post hadn't told me. I'm number 10, not a prime number, which I would prefer, but I guess it's a better position than number 11 (or anything after that).

Ironic too because I haven't posted much lately. I hate to just talk and talk without anything to say. I know too many people who do that (and I won't name names, but you probably have some ideas).

I can tell you a couple of things, one related to cancer and the other not.

I had my blood tested earlier this month and my CEA levels are great! (According to my doctor; don't look on the Web to figure out if your CEA levels are good because if you punch your numbers and CEA levels into a search engine, the news may be frightening. The acceptable levels are so different for different types of cancer. I'm just trusting my doc. So far, he's done right by me.)

The other thing is: I'm desperate for a hair cut. I like my hair nice and short. It's so thick that it takes forever to dry, so short hair is best for me. Plus, I acquired a new curl after chemo. One asymmetrical curl--only on one side of my head. So I need short, short, short hair (even with my ears). Whenever I see women with short hair, I think, "Don't they look so cute." Long hair after 40 is out anyway, according to fashion designer Carolina Herrera. If I grew my hair out, I would look a little like a bowling ball. Which has its advantages if you're attracted to bowlers.

Didn't I promise not to ramble? Heavens.