Making A Silk Purse Out Of A Swine’s Ear

January 8, 2010 at 5:19 PM (Energy, Family, Recovery, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

We had the perfect family vacation week planned. After returning from the weekend in Philadelphia over Christmas, Mr. Wonderful was going to take the week off. We were planning a big New Year’s Day Open House party, something I’d been wanting to do for years (see my overcommittment issues posted earlier); I would have time to get to the gym every day, do some long-overdue organizing projects; ship hand-me-downs to the cousins in Cali; learn how to play Wii with the kids.

Well, we all know what happens to the best-laid plans of mice and men. And cancer chicks. Wednesday morning as the whole family was packing up for a day of snowboarding on the local hill, I realized I was feeling sort of achy, a little coughy in the back of the throat. First time I was going to be on skis since the ’80s, I was reluctant to back out – I’m a little sensitive about the three boys doing things together without me, as it feels like foreshadowing, and I’m not ready to relinquish control yet. But common sense (fortunately) got the better of me, and I decided to stay home, clean up, get the house ready for the influx of guests, etc. etc.

And a damn good thing, too – by 10:30 I was shivering on the couch in all-wool clothing and a throw blanket. By 11:30 I was in bed and on the phone with the Cancer Factory. Fever: 102 and change. Body: achy. Head: throbbing. Z-pack prescribed, I passed out, after receiving strict orders to escalate to inpatient IV antibiotics should I get any worse.

What the $(%&… I had JUST remembered to ask for the flu shot two weeks earlier at my last infusion appointment. “Do I need the H1N1?” I asked. “No, I don’t think it’s necessary,” replied the nurse. “Just seasonal flu.” Arm stuck, fears quieted. Now why am I lying in bed? Clearly, the swine had struck.

Four days later, I crawled to the surface. I had watched every cheesy Best-of-the-Decade TV show, learned how to cook countless holiday dishes, and finished an entire previous season of Biggest Loser. And while I was laid up, I kept having flashbacks of being sick, and remembering how much I HATE it. Not that lying in bed with my cat watching TV and napping isn’t nice, but the world keeps on turning without me. Mario Kart marathons were won. Photographs were taken. Meals were eaten, funny stories told. Like the kid who’s not in on the joke, I was reminded that there is, and will continue to be, life without me. Am I sad? Am I happy? The jury’s still out.

Short story long: the party’s postponed until tomorrow, when I’ll happily surround myself with the manic cacophony that is life in the ‘burbs when all your friends have kids under ten. And I have a renewed respect for the shopping-cart wipe-down station outside my Trader Joe’s.

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Hair Envy

December 30, 2009 at 10:24 AM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s not easy being green. Having to spend each day perusing magazines like InStyle with their seven-page editorial spreads of people like Blake Lively, Debra Messing and Penelope Cruz. Watching a little TV at the end of the day and being confronted with Pantene ads of models flipping their glossy, wavy, scapula-long locks around like modern-day incarnations of Cher.

As I’ve said before, baldness didn’t scare me this time around. I’d been through it before, had a DYNAMITE wig, loved the ease with which my morning routine rolled along, and relished the break from shaving, plucking, zits, etc. (Yes, the shiny-face-in-photographs thing was annoying, yes, sweating off my eyebrows six times a day was tedious, but they all beat being dead.) But as a (prematurely) post-menopausal female rapidly approaching the big 4-0, I could use all the feminine beauty mojo I can get. Baldness, and the subsequent Death-Valley-Ultramarathon that is growing out curly hair, eventually loses its silver lining and gets just plain cloudy.

So watching these twenty-something robo-babes and their semi-professional hair-flipping contests is starting to bum me out. Maybe it’s because I still think of myself as looking like them (at least in the respect that we’re both female) and when I catch sight of myself in the mirror I look SO unlike that now that it’s shocking, even more so than seeing my formerly Yul-Brynner self after a shower. I think of myself as having hair now, and this? Is so not it.

I think we need a Bald Channel. The King And I; the Star Trek with the bald chick in it; G.I. Jane; Shaft; the Natalie Portman movie where they shave her head; Kojak reruns. Ernie and Bert marathons. There could be made-for-tv movies about alopecia so chemo patients could understand that they’re not alone in the world, starring LeeAnn Rimes. Cancer patients all over the country would flock to the advertisers: moisturizers, wigs, great hats, Sephora tutorials on eyebrow and eyelash application.

Oh, great, like I don’t have enough projects already.

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White Out

December 20, 2009 at 9:51 PM (Energy, mommy guilt, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , )

It snowed here overnight and most of the morning. While I hate being cold, I love snow. Hey, if it’s gotta be freezing, it might as well be pretty. (See, there I go, form over function again.) It felt cathartic, restorative, like wiping last week’s (uuuuugly) slate clean. No more self-recrimination, just quiet and softness.

Spent the morning going to Boston for brunch with my three favorite guys. (Culinary luxury is always a good mood-booster.) Watched the snow blowing up Boylston Street and stuffed myself with eggs benedict and too many carbs. But no guilt. Got the kids set up with some wholesome on-line activities and retired to My Office for a nap while Mr. Wonderful wrapped up the Christmas shopping. Coasted through dinner and took the dog for a walk in the winter wonderland.

Yes, the house still needs vacuuming. Yes, I still need to finish the Christmas cards (cranked out about thirty yesterday) and get more stamps. Yes, I still need to wrap everything. But NO, the self-flagellation for my supposed shortcomings has not continued. I thank the snow.

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Energy Comes Back; Organizing Skills Not So Much

December 18, 2009 at 8:59 PM (Energy, mommy guilt, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , )

For three-and-a-half years, I said “no”. No volunteering, no Class Mother position, no field-trip chaperoning, no personal projects, minimal cooking, no homemade Christmas presents. I’ve focused on the four people and two pets in the little brown house, and on holding myself together enough for my kids to keep speaking to me and my husband to be able to hold most of the weight of running the household.

Fast-forward to December, 2009. Finally feeling like a human being again, like my brain is firing on all cylinders. Able to keep track of the location of my sunglasses while simultaneously talking on the phone and switching the wet laundry to the dryer, I am getting a little full of myself. So I start saying “yes” – yes, I’d love to edit the school newsletter. Yes, I’d love to bring in a dish to contribute to the second grade’s Country of Origin feast three days before Christmas. Yes, I’d be happy to give the neighbor a ride home from the hospital on a Wednesday night after a support-group meeting and a whirlwind trip to a very crowded Target. Yes, I’d love to make six pounds of spiced walnuts to give as gifts to the teachers and service personnel in our lives. Why sure, I’d love to go to a fundraising dinner on December 17. In formalwear. The evening after a chemo treatment.

And thus a few of the juggled balls have hit the deck. Had to pass off the newsletter to the previous editor because my software skills were exceeded by the amount of work that needed doing. Failed to check with my seven-year-old on the due date of his research project and had to pull him out of bed at 7:50 on a school night to help him finish it. Got all the stuff I needed at Target and the neighbor home from the hospital but then blew parking my land barge in my teeny garage and dented the fender on the support column. Remembered to buy a present for the birthday party but forgot to make a playdate for the other kid for the same afternoon. Made it to the fancy party but blew off my boys all afternoon because I had so much to do before the sitter came that I couldn’t take ten minutes to read a book. Haven’t had time to call my dad back from a call he made to me three weeks ago.

Now I’m realizing that perhaps I’ve bitten off a little more than I can chew. Remembering that even before I got sick, I was maybe not the best multi-tasker on the planet (raging hyperbole). Remembering that this mom thing leaves little room for personal activities and ambitions, and that getting to the gym four times a week might be the pinnacle of my independent activity. Realizing that in my rush to fulfill what I though of as my neglected community obligations I had to put my homefront responsibilities on the back burner.

So I’m making no one happy right now. Family resents the fact that I’m busy. Kids are calling me a grouch. Dog hasn’t been on a real walk in four days. Laundry piling up, dust bunnies multiplying. Christmas spirit cowering in the back of a closet. Wherever I’m focusing, I’m feeling guilty that I’m not working on something else. And I’m afraid that this isn’t going to change as I get healthier; this is the standard modern mom’s dilemma. Crap.

The first thing to do is spend the day with my family NOT stressing about the projects that haven’t gotten done yet. The second thing to do is trim the fat from my obligations list. Or maybe I’ll leave that for the New Year – I really need to finish the Christmas cards. Okay, start the Christmas cards. And call my dad.

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Cold Food, Hot Dude

December 11, 2009 at 9:24 PM (Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

Trader Joe’s was pretty crowded for 7:00 on a Friday night (I know, I’m a real social butterfly), and I pulled my hat off when I walked in the door. (The fur-lined aviator hat is warm, but a little goofy.) Since my hair has gotten longer, it’s really itchy to wear my wig, so although it looks awesome, I’ve started going out without it. My hair is reeeeeeeally short, and it’s still pretty obvious that I’m growing it back from nothing; at Target today it got a lot of curious looks. I was a little self-conscious about it, but what the heck. My head is cute, my makeup is good, I’m rocking it. So people were doing double-takes tonight as they caught sight of my close crop. (I’m learning to live with the attention.)

Down at the end of the fresh foods aisle, a solidly-built gentleman was looking at cheese. Salt-and-pepper hair, Henry Rollins build, basket of groceries, and a kilt. With a sporran. And knee socks with the little ribbons. Big black brogues, a vest, and a bow tie. Awesome. He had a furrowed brow, as if he couldn’t remember what he was there to buy, or couldn’t find the right aisle for it. He looked very serious, and although I tried to catch his eye to smile, he was focused on his task.

I finished my shopping, checked out, and as I was pushing my cart out of the store, I noticed him walking across the front toward the register I had just left. I decided to take a chance that he had a sense of humor under that fierce demeanor, and as I rolled past him, I leaned over and said, “I’m glad you’re here – I thought I was going to be the one who got the most stares tonight.”

His face lit up and brightened from the center outward, revealing a radiant smile and twinkling blue eyes. He laughed as I rolled out to the parking lot.

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Post-Chemo Brain Reboot

December 5, 2009 at 5:13 PM (Energy, Recovery) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s really amazing how my life has changed since October 8. I guess I’ve been on chemo or some other drug for enough months out of the past four years that I got used to being dulled around the edges. Like the aerator grill in my faucet had filled up with sediment, and the water that flowed was slowed to a trickle.

I’m not sure how much of my mental slowdown can be attributed to chemo brain and how much was due to my persistent, really frustrating fatigue. Anyone on chemo will tell you that forgetfulness becomes a way of life, and that you should probably put off your appearance on Jeopardy! until your hair grows back, if you’re really serious about winning. When you’re chemo-tired, and living your day from one sleep to the next (and there were definitely days like that), the last thing you have the energy for is coming up with a good blog topic or a killer craft to rock the next birthday party. But there’s also the possibility that the ass-kicking-name-taking process took most of the mental focus that I had outside of the eternal “what’s-for-dinner?” dilemma, and I completely lost all memory of being a smart person.

Now that I’m on the miracle drug, and my hair is growing in, and my body is (mostly) back under my control, it’s as if someone has CLR-ed my faucet and the water is running again. I wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking of things I’d like to do. Projects I’d like to complete. (Not just start, but complete!) Dishes I’d like to cook. Things I could make for Christmas presents. Stuff to write about. And when I wake up in the morning, I can actually remember the things I thought of in the dark.

I’m almost overwhelmed at the different trains of thought that I can keep track of at any given time. My mental soundtrack has been one or two notes simple for so long, I’d forgotten what it felt like to hear the full melody, harmony, counterpoint and rhythm rolling along with it. And far from being confused by the din, I’m enjoying hearing all the different notes, thinking about them individually, planning how to work on them, maybe even discarding them and moving on.

I’m not promising global domination, nor that my sedentary tendencies have been banished for good, but perhaps I’m starting to fit into these grown-up shoes I’ve been wearing for three-and-a-half years now. At least I’ll be better company at cocktail parties. And Alex Trebek should be quaking in his boots.

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ThanksGiving.

November 25, 2009 at 9:14 PM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , )

Sleeping in. Someone else roasting the turkey. Modern pharmaceuticals. Muscle tone. Indian summer. Indoor plumbing. Unconditional love. Friends. Good friends. Friends who sit with you during chemo. Friends who send cards. Friends who send gifts. Friends who send couture. Shiraz.

Dogs. Cats. Saturday morning pancakes. Cashmere. Down comforters. October. May. The blindness of true love. Coldplay. Homemade pizza. Having enough energy to cook really good food. Christmas. The way my kids smell. Yoga. Naps. Clothes hot from the dryer. Parking in the garage. A clean house. Date night. Toddler giggles. The Bristol Lounge. A capella boys’ choirs. The internet. Diet Coke. Jude Law.

Second chances. Third chances. Seventh chances. Tireless medical researchers. A sense of humor. A great-shaped skull. Discount retailers. Shoe shopping. Walking in the woods. Every day. Netflix. Hot showers. Maho Bay. French fries. Really good wigs. Sunbathing. A good book. Or six. Freshly painted toenails. Comfortable high heels. Hugs.

Family. Family. Family. Family. Family. Gumption. Self-confidence. A good cry. Qualified therapists. A sympathetic ear. Backup. Permission to fail. Not wanting to.

Tomorrow.

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Seventh Time’s the Charm (Fingers Crossed)

November 23, 2009 at 7:24 PM (Energy, Hair, Recovery) (, , , , , , , )

I can’t believe it. Something worked! The results of last Friday’s CT scan are in, and while anecdotal (I won’t see the report until this Friday), I’m going to take the doctor’s “Your scans look better… good news all around” as a positive thing.

So let’s take stock: no symptoms (other than a mildly puffy left leg); declining fatigue; recovering cardiovascular fitness; renewed interest in culinary pursuits; hair growing in. One might be tempted to forget one has a medical problem.

Which seems to be a habit for me. Even when I’m down in the dumps, if I can just get the dog walked and the kids fed, maybe some grocery shopping done, I really have to remind myself (or step out of the shower and look in the mirror – yowza!) that I’m sick. So now that I’m starting to feel like a fully formed human being, that reminder every three weeks (and you can’t possibly visit The Cancer Factory without knowing you have a problem) might get increasingly annoying.

Rest assured, though, that I’m going. And adding Avastin to the top of my “Thanks” list! Let’s hope the fix keeps working; I could get used to this.

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