What are the odds?

I’ve never been much of a gambler, other than the occasional scratch or powerball ticket.  No interest in casinos.. all the lights and smoke and noise .. bah. I used to joke that I used up all my luck in high school anyway.  I don’t put a lot of faith in karma, fate, etc etc. Life is just what is.  Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it sucks but it’s the same for all of us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about odds lately though.  For instance.. what were the odds that my sister would die while I was undergoing cancer treatment? Probably not that high, but she did.  Afterwards I kept after my husband that we needed to update our wills, put our affairs in order “because you never know”.  But really, what were the odds it would happen twice in one family?  Apparently pretty  high since he died less than a year after she did.

What were the odds that a lump that was not there in the morning and actually clearly visible in the evening could be anything but a cyst?  It was cancer.  What were the odds it could happen again?  Greater than I thought.  Yes, cancer has struck my house again. This time it’s my dog.

Comet

comet

Comet came to us 11 years ago as the result of a bet with a 13 year old soccer player and her extremely warped coaches.  My daughter played on a travel team in a defensive role. Not really in a position to score.  She had been asking for a dog. Clearly we were not dog people. We were cat people.  Dogs were expensive and smelly and just a lot of work in general.   On our way to a tournament one weekend I said if she scored she could have a dog.  She didn’t believe me. Her father backed me up.  What were the odds she’d score?  They got significantly higher when she told her teammates and coaches about our bet.  Early on in the game we noticed a disturbing trend.  The whole team was feeding her the ball.  She not only scored, she got a hat trick.  We were the only parents not cheering. Actually there may have been some unsportsmanlike language from the vicinity of our canvas seats on the side line.

Well a bet is a bet and a promise is a promise, so I went to the local humane society with my list of conditions.  From my daughter the dog had to be black and white (like a soccer ball).  My husband wanted a male and it had to be at least a year old, no puppy.  I said it had to have blue eyes.  The odds of finding a dog that fit all that criteria were pretty low, right?  First trip to the shelter, 3rd cage to the right in the big dogs room there he was, bouncing up and down like a demented Tigger on crack.   Shit.  Wait, but what’s this? Oh.. he’s been adopted. Too bad.  Feeling certain it would never happen I told the staff to let me know if his adoption fell through and no, thank you. I don’t want to look at the other dogs. He’s the only one that I was interested in.  Two days later I got a call.  His new owner had returned him.  Sigh

So I went and got him and I’d like to say it was a perfect match and he was a great dog.  He was a dick. From day one.  The first thing he did was take a dump on my bedroom floor. Then he decided the recliner would work very nicely as his command central.  He would run away constantly. You’d see him hauling ass up the road, down by the river, running victory laps around the house. I started lying when neighbors would call to report a sighting. I’d tell them it couldn’t be my dog. My dog was right here.  There were times he was so bad I would cry because I didn’t think we could keep him but I knew he wasn’t likely to be given too many more chances.  I understood we were the third attempt.  On the advice of the staff at the humane society I bought a crate. I felt bad putting a full grown dog in a crate but after a while  he got used to it and would put himself in time out.  He hung out with me in my office. He was starting to grow on me.

After a time we couldn’t imagine not having him in our family. For the cost of some kibble, chew bones and a comfortable bed he has been a constant source of amusement.  He is terrified of cats, thunder, fireworks and the sounds of gunfire. He has a fondness for UPS brown. He barks like he wants to rip your throat out when you drive into my dooryard, but if you come in the house, invited or not, you are  his best friend and he will offer to show you where the best snacks are kept. He loves to ride in the car, even though 99% of his car rides end at the vet’s or kennel.  He has never put the two together.  If you put an item of clothing on him, he freezes and will not move until you take it off.  He doesn’t run away   anymore, but if he finds himself loose he will do one quick lap around the house and then throw himself at the door to be let back in.  When my husband died, he gave up his comfy bed and started sleeping across my bedroom doorway. He seemed to sense I needed him there.  My new bedtime routine is to move his bed from it’s usual spot in my office to outside my bedroom.  We sleep in a row with my little dog, Clover,  in her spot near the bed.

Comet’s tumor was found much like mine.  Not there one day and hard to ignore the next.  My long time veterinary clinic would not see him though I begged. I was leaving for Texas in a few days and he was to be boarded. While I understand a lump is not an emergency, I am a cancer survivor.  We don’t ignore lumps.  When I returned from Texas I made an appointment with a new clinic and they have been wonderful.  Sure this was just a fatty tumor, they biopsied it and got concerning results.  Surgery revealed a much larger mass than suspected and they could not get it all without causing muscle and nerve damage.   Pathology report came in yesterday and it is, indeed, cancer.  Good news, it is not the kind that metastasizes normally. Bad news, they did not get it all so it will likely grow back.  I’m taking a wait and see approach and for the moment he is doing great.  He had his stitches out today and carried on like they were killing him. Such a drama king.

While history tells me the odds are not usually in my favor, they have been in his and I’m betting on him to be around for a few years to come.

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I wonder who else isn’t reading my blog

I already know which of my offspring doesn’t and have stored that information along with my Christmas shopping list and will revision. I know my doctors don’t because none have dropped me from their practice and/or apologized for prompting me to complain in what was going to be a positive blog about journeying through breast cancer.   My husband would probably read it more often if I added some obscure music facts and/or video.  Yesterday I found out someone else hasn’t been keeping up with me. Paula Young Wigs. I got an email asking why I hadn’t made a purchase in a while and offering me incentive to come back.  I immediately started to fire off a reply that I no longer needed a wig because my hair had made a triumphant return!  Luckily before I hit send I realized the people at Paula Young not only don’t care why I needed a wig to begin with, but would be even less interested in why I don’t.  Then I started wigging out (see what I did there?) about the so called quality of these wigs if they expected me to have replaced them already.   I mean, I had one freebie from the ACS and bought two myself so I would have some variety. How many wigs does the average wig wearer own and how often do they need replacement?  If I sold wigs I would sell them in days of the week packs like the panties we used to get as kids.  I’m telling ya, nothing could screw up your day more than wearing Thursday’s underwear on Monday.  Maybe that’s not such a good idea after all.  Women who are wearing wigs because they’ve lost their hair to chemo or other medical conditions have enough stress.

Back to the panties for a second.. I always figured they were a good idea for kids.. reminds them to change every day.  Now I see they make them for adults too and I’m entertaining myself with possible reasons why.  If my underwear say Monday I am supposed to be at the office….

Oh! They also have them for men. Now that’s probably a good idea.

I’m not even joking about the PTSD

Okay, maybe I am a little.  I don’t suffer from the kind of PTSD that has me diving under tables, self-medicating with drugs bought off of sleazy characters in back alleys or laying awake staring at the ceiling every night. Instead I have these little flashbacks of the past year that leave me feeling a little sick to my stomach or with a lump in my throat.  The next several months (ie. the entire holiday line up from now until July 4th) is one long anniversary of cancer.  I found the lump October 30. Happy Halloween.  I had surgery the week after Thanksgiving and started a 6+ month course of chemo two days after Christmas. New Years was spent sick and in pain from the first infusion. I started radiation the week before July 4 and that lasted the entire summer.  In every family photo celebrating holidays and birthdays I am either wearing a wig or a scarf.  Every celebration was wonderful, but I was exhausted or not feeling well through all of them.  Concerts, movies, even simple dinners out had to be planned so I could rest up a bit ahead of time and I always came this [] close to canceling, but never did.  I decided no matter how I was feeling to take the words “fake it til you make it” to heart.  99% of the time my attitude is positive, but then I have a precancerous polyp removed and a wonky pap smear and what would have previously elicited only a mild concern gives me pause.

Now I should just be putting this behind me and moving on (and I will!) but wouldn’t  you know the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis begins during the month of Pinktober, where everywhere I look there are constant reminders of breast cancer. I have an appointment at the Cancer Center tomorrow and I suspect it will be especially obnoxious. You literally cannot leave the house, pick up a newspaper or magazine, turn on the computer or television without being engulfed in a Pepto Bismol colored haze. It’s all good. Just in case, ya know, you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard of breast cancer. Now you know.

I’m not suggesting you don’t wear pink. You might look really good in pink! I’m not suggesting you don’t purchase pink items. I use a royal blue spatula myself and I’m not going to judge you if you want a pink one. My favorite present after my diagnosis is still the pink afghan my aunt crocheted for me that I wrapped myself in during chemo. But that blanket was made, given and received out of love. It wasn’t part of a marketing ploy to tug on heartstrings and loosen purse strings.  Be mindful of which companies actually support breast cancer charities when you purchase their pink items and which are only using breast cancer to fatten their bottom line.  Or, instead of licking pink yogurt tops (Really Yoplait?  You can’t just donate based on sales?) make a donation to the carefully researched charity of your choice. I support the American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org  and recently have joined http://www.armyofwomen.org/ and signed up for a 20 year research study that anyone can take part in, men or women, any age, with or without a history of breast cancer https://www.healthofwomenstudy.org Check them out.

One more anniversary to mention. Today I am 

Look what I can do!

What color ribbon does imaginary cancer get?

In the news over this past week there have been two stories of women who faked cancer for monetary gain.  One  who faked breast cancer will be spending a year in prison with her new implants.  Hope it was worth it. In a conversation recently about this I suggested she should have been sentenced to a few rounds of chemo.  I wanted to suggest making her volunteer in a breast cancer clinic, but can you imagine being a patient with actual cancer and having that around?  I’m guessing it wouldn’t end well.  Then yesterday I saw another story about a woman faking bladder cancer.  This one got a wedding paid for by friends and family.  She was ultimately turned in by her own sister who was worried about her niece and nephew. Can you say “emotional abuse” boys and girls?  Another one back in April got her dream wedding after lying about having leukemia.

Scamming is nothing new, but scamming your own friends and family?  And letting them believe you are dying?  I can’t wrap my head around it.  Less than a week after I was diagnosed we got word that someone who I have long considered family had ovarian cancer. I can honestly say I cried over that more than my own diagnosis.  I prayed for her and asked everyone who offered prayers for me to do the same.  I asked after her often.  Ultimately it came out that it was a lie.  I wish I could say I was stunned, but I had been suspecting it for a while.  I am relieved that she is not sick. I’m happy she will not leave behind a son and grieving parents.   I kind of tabled my reaction because I was fighting my own battle and because I honestly wouldn’t know what to say to her family/friends, but now I don’t mind saying I am beyond pissed. Yes, I know it’s not really any of my business. No, I wasn’t personally affected, but someone who I love deeply was.  This person was devastated by the news that two people he loved had cancer and he couldn’t do anything about it.  He was living and working in another state while his heart was here. While I was downplaying my own struggles at the time out of a desire not to cause more stress and anxiety for those I love, she was taking the other road… causing needless stress and anxiety. I don’t know what her motive was. I don’t know if there was a pay off.  It really doesn’t matter at this point.  Some things can never be undone.

Sometimes people just suck.

No going back now

I have been saying since my hair came in (first white, now a mix of gray, silver and black) that I was done with coloring. It is what it is. After nearly a year of harsh chemicals flooding my body, radiation and a five year commitment to Tamoxifen and all of it’s lovely accompanying side effects, I’m just not feeling the urge to slather smelly color on my head every 4-6 weeks. For that matter, I’m not going back to many of the products I’ve used in the past.  During radiation I started using Tom’s natural deodorant.  Once you get used to not smelling like a meadow at sunset or a tropical beach it’s not so bad. If it’s safe to use during radiation, I’m good. I am slowly cleaning out my environment as well as what goes into and on my body. Will it prevent a recurrence?  No idea. Did I get cancer because of my dying my hair and using deodorants with aluminum and parabens? No idea.  I’m even cutting back *gasp* on alcohol.  Okay.. that’s not that hard. I drank very little through the months of treatment and after an emotional week around my sister’s birthday when we had several evenings out, averaging about 2 drinks a day,  I really felt kind of sick by the end of the week. I don’t have to be hit over the head with a swizzle stick to know why. I’ve given up diet soda and my caffeine intake is pretty minimal.  My diet was pretty good otherwise, lots of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein but there is a lot of room for improvement (always).

Oh yeah.. back to my hair and the reason for this post.. the reason there is no turning back now is my license is due for renewal this week. Yeah.. I get to have my picture taken at the DMV while just getting my hair back after chemo.  That’s gonna be a whole lot of forehead.  DMV photos are so lovely to begin with. This should be good. I could renew on line but I haven’t looked like my last photo (2006) in a while and never will again. My hair is long and black. I was about 25 lbs heavier. Anyway, feel sorry for the clerk, I will have no shame in playing the cancer card to get her to take my picture over (and over if need be) if it’s as bad as I anticipate. Wish me the DMV luck.

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What I would tell my providers….

.. if I weren’t such a chickenshit  so unwilling to distract them from the very important work of saving lives. 

First of all, if you are part of a “team” caring for a patient, then please pass on all pertinent information regarding that patient’s care to the rest of the team so that she doesn’t have to repeat herself ad nauseum. In my case, as far as I know, my labs and test results were shared, but other things that certainly impacted my emotional well being, if not physical, were not. Or they were and having me repeat them was some kind of test of my mental/emotional status.   The latter is being generous and I’m guessing it’s more the former.

Please read my chart occasionally. Just before a visit would be awesome if you can fit it into your busy schedule.  If YOU sent me for testing you should be looking for those results.  If I have to ask if you’ve received them and you have to go rifling through the chart to see if you have, it makes me feel a) the test wasn’t all that important to my case, so why the hell did you send me for it (at the tune of $4,000.00 I might add)? or b) you’re just not all that interested.  I realize I am not your only patient. I am not your sickest patient. I have the “run of the mill” breast cancer that elicits a big ho hum in the world of cancer treatment, but for the 15 minutes I am in front of you I should damn well be your only patient.  And you should be as prepared for my visit as you expect me to be.

If you are leaving your practice, a mention to your patients would be really good form.  When I got my diagnosis I was assigned to a team of 3 doctors. Two of the three of you had been here for only one year.   Having lived in this area my entire life and worked in the medical field (first in the  hospital where I receive treatment and then as a medical transcriptionist) I am familiar with most of the doctors, at least by name and specialty.  It would have been comforting to be sent to a surgeon with a long standing practice, however I was very happy with you and you did a great job. No complaints.  Except. You’ve apparently left the area. This is after telling me that if I had any problems in the future I could forego the referral route and just make an appointment.  You told me my followup would likely be with Medical Oncology and there was no need to see you on a regular basis but I could (and probably should) check in yearly to remain active in the practice.   I only found out you had left when my Radiation Oncologist mentioned it.  In hindsight, when I had my port out you said “No need to come and show me the scar. You never have to see me again”.  Okay then.  While I make it a policy not to get emotionally attached to someone who tells me I have cancer, a quick note from your office manager would have been nice. If I do have further need for a breast surgeon I would hope I wouldn’t just be passed off to whoever happens to replace you.  No offense to the newbies, but in the future I want a surgeon who has been here longer than five minutes and plans to stick around.   Same goes for my oncologists.

And oh, the breast care navigators. You nurses are wonderful. You are available anytime  we need to talk.  You come and hold  our hands through difficult tests and procedures.  You run support groups.   I’m not someone who would normally avail myself of a service like this. It’s not that I am unappreciative. In fact, having my hand held during my second biopsy and sentinel node mapping, not to mention getting a phone call immediately after hanging up with the doctor (who delivered my diagnosis over the phone, btw, and only afterwards thought to ask if I were alone) to make sure I was okay was more helpful than I can express.  However, sitting me down less than 24 hours after I received the news I had breast cancer and going over such things as drainage bulbs, tattooed nipples, and the importance of knowing how to draw on eyebrows, complete with a demonstration of how alien like I would look without eyebrows by holding your two fingers over your own, was not only unnecessary (in my opinion), but unwelcome. I may have been looking at you intently and nodding appropriately, but in my head I was screaming “what the FUCK!”.  I can’t speak for other women, but at that point in time I only wanted to know if I was going to live.  Without knowing whether or not I would need a mastectomy (I didn’t) or chemotherapy (I did), much of that information was not pertinent to my case at all.  Once my course of treatment was decided would have been the more appropriate time to discuss the things that applied to me. I should mention the nurse who held my hand and spoke with me over the phone was not the same who sat down with me.  I have no idea if it would have been different speaking with her.  Two completely different personalities.  

I don’t want to make it seem like I am ungrateful for my care. I’m not.  I feel like I got the best care available to me.  My questions were answered and I tried to answer yours as truthfully as I could to aid in your care of me.  However,  I’m not someone who wears their heart on their sleeve or complains about physical discomfort. Outside of members of my immediate family, if anyone asks how I’m doing 9 times out of 10 I will say “fine!” no matter what is going on with me.  I don’t complain about things that I consider minor or things that you, my doctors, have told me to expect and how to deal with.  So, when I fill out those questionnaires at the start of each appointment and mention something like daily nosebleeds for 6 months straight, brain fog, exhaustion, etc..if you brush it off, I won’t mention it again. That doesn’t mean my course was “easy”. I know compared to many people it was easIER, but trust me, it wasn’t easy. Not by a long shot.

A royal fuss

So much angst over Kate Middleton exposing her breasts in public. And by public I mean any place a high powered lens can invade your privacy.  Last week it was Harry’s ass.  This week Kate’s breasts. Why does it seem like this is so much worse?

The magazine who printed these should simply photoshop pink ribbons over Kate’s nipples and call it a PSA, just in time for the pink washing of the world that was formerly known as October.  God knows, we need more fun pictures depicting breast cancer.  Kate will be redeemed and the magazine can cash in on breast cancer.  Win/win.

Here. They can use my ribbon. It even comes with a pretty little chain of daisies.  Fun and feminine!

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This makes me think of how breast cancer awareness ads always show perky young, blemish free (heavily photoshopped?) breasts and when someone dares show what a real breast with cancer looks like in an effort to educate women it’s deemed “shocking” and comes with an accompanying warning.  Really? A warning?