Thursday, October 30, 2008

Drama

I went to the biopsy appointment with my aunt. She has leukemia. She knows medical jargon. She knows doctors. She felt strongly that the second lump should have been biopsied at the same time that the other lump was removed. I figured that it would be good to have an ally. We were taken into a little room. The first thing that I noticed was that there was an open packet of neosporin on the counter along with some covered containers. It looked like it had not been cleaned up after the last patient. This surprised me. I told my aunt that this made me not comfortable. She agreed.
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The nice surgeon came in. He began to explain that he had told me repeatedly the second lump was gone. Of all the things that I expected, this didn't even come in to the top 100. I could only gape. "You never said that. I told you prior to the first surgery that if you found that the lump and the lymph nodes were cancerous in the left breast, that I was requesting a mastectomy. I also requested that if you found cancer in the right breast as well, that my wishes were for a double mastectomy, and I assured you that if I woke up with nothing at all, I'd be okay with that, that I just wanted the cancer gone. You told me that you should have never told me about the second lump. I reminded you that I already knew it was there, and that as soon as your hands stopped, I knew that it wasn't my imagination, that you had found it too." He looked at me with an incredulous look on his face. "Women love their drama," he said. I called him on that right away. I am not a drama lover. His response was that he was trying to lighten the mood, and that he would be all business, since this is what I wanted. He went on to tell me that he had not only told me, multiple times in the recovery room, with nurse Trudy at his side (I remember nothing until I woke up in my own room, freezing, with Elaine putting a blanket over my head, like a hood, while my teeth chattered.) , but that he had told Tim this, post op. "No. You did not. Tim would have been overjoyed to tell me that. He would have remembered that."
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Here's the thing, people. This thing I know for sure. The day before surgery, that lump was there. Do you want to know how I know? Because I laid for long hours in the dark, my hands wandering back and forth between the two lumps, wondering how I could have possibly missed them. I prayed about what was going to happen the next day, I wondered what I would be left with when it was done. I made up my mind that if I came home with no bust at all, I was okay with that. The lumps were both still there Sunday night. Monday, it was gone. Or Wednesday, if he made the discovery during the insertion of the mediport.
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I commented that I had been told that I was coming for a core needle biopsy. He told me that I had never been told that. I know what was said. Tim begged not to come. He can't stand needles. The surgeon said that I had merely been brought in so that he could tell me, again, that there was no second lump. 'What do I need to do to make you happy?' he wanted to know. "Show me,' I answered. "Show me where you addressed the issue of the second lump. We have your initial report of a 2 cm lump in the right breast, pre-op. I want you to show me any documentation that the lump was not found. Anything." "I can do that," he said. He left the room and returned with a copy of the mediport insertion surgery. I left the office with my aunt. I retrieved my reading glasses and read the report. As expected, the second lump was not mentioned.
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My aunt and I talked in the car. She is not impressed. 'He did not answer your questions. He talked over you. He was not listening.'
Tim met me at the door when I got home. I cried trying to tell him. He said, "He never talked to me at all after the mediport surgery. I was upset because they sent me out during the prep, and no one ever called me back in. I waited about an hour." I remembered the nice anaethesiologist, and our political discussion, and felt guilty. Poor Tim had been sitting out there waiting. I was pretty exhausted that morning. It hadn't even occurred to me. Tim continued, "I finally went out to the girl that had signed us in. She called back and said, "Oh, she's already gone to the OR." He said, "I went to the restroom, and to the snack bar and grabbed something to drink. I was coming back, and the girl said, "Your wife is back in her room. You can go right on back.'" Tim said, "I never saw the doctor at all Wednesday morning." Monday, after the original surgery, he and Trudy did come out. They talked to Tim, Mr. Feeny, Mary, and our pastor. There was no discussion at all about the second lump then according to Tim.
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There are the facts. As presented by both sides.
I'm so flabbergasted, I can't even think.
Okay. I'm asking.
What would YOU do?

The Second Lump

I've gotten my way.
The second lump will be biopsied this afternoon. It is 'to set my mind at ease', according to the surgeon's office.
I am very relieved.
The strange thing is this: I've got my appointed cancer 'buddy', friends, families, medical folks...really, the amazing thing is every single person I've spoken to seems to believe that this biopsy should have been done at the same time as the first, back on October 6th. The surgeon is the only one who doesn't believe it to be necessary. But I'm still self conscious about pushing this issue. I'm learning a lot about the stuff I'm made of. Sometimes I confuse me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seasons

Just a couple weeks ago, we were in the throes of autumn.This was taken overlooking the Kinzua reservoir.
We live in the mountains to your left, at the top of a mountain, in an area known as Scandia. We are noted for the fact that the snow seems to fall heavier in Scandia then anywhere else in the county. We are also considered to be 'remote', although we are not, not really. I've can be at the mall in maybe 15 minutes. Being that I am not a big shopper type, I've never timed it.

Pretty, isn't it? It was a nice drive. Beautiful day.

This morning. Out my front door.

These pictures are for Mikey, who was the one that nagged me into blogging at the beginning of the year. (She and Wade just brought in Sugarfoot, a wild horse, and are taming it. It's a good read.) Anyways Mikey wanted to see our snow.

Here it is.

This is our first 'sticking' snow. We had snowfall earlier, but the ground was too warm, and the snow melted on contact.

This snow did not. It laid there.


This is the view out my front door, on my way to get the newspaper.

Better find the scrapers and snowbrushes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Today

Today, at 7 AM, we were back to one day surgery. That nice Elaine was there again, and since we were not her patient, she was surprised to see me again. She said that I was absolutely right, I was a much more agreeable person after coffee. I told her that I hated to say it, but really, I had told her so. By 8, Tim was gone to the OR, and the minister and I went to the dining room for coffee.
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I'm touched that he's there. His family's had a rough time. His daughter in law, had a brain mass removed the Friday before I'd had my own surgery. She was originally given the all clear. We'd all stood in my little room and praised God for that news the morning of my surgery. I had been surprised to see him that day as well. I thought he was still down in Pittsburgh. By the time that I'd received my own good news on Friday, shared that news in church on Sunday, received a more cautious assessment on Monday, by the time I told Karen, our church secretary about the questions on Tuesday, the minister's family had also received a new diagnosis. Karen said, "I know this is going to be hard to hear, but about the pastor's family....and she went on to share that not only did the daughter in law have cancer after all, but they used two other words. 'Inoperable' and 'terminal' and ended it all with the phrase '3-7 years'. She was right. It was hard to hear. It shocked me speechless...the preacher's son is a preacher as well, looking for his first appointment, the couple planning to start their family soon. I cried for them as soon as I got off the phone, and I cried also about the fact that there it was: proof positive that good news can be revoked without notice.
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The pastor and I talked about his family, we talked about the uncertainty of my own situation. We talked about Tim and gall bladders and children and parenting in the easy way that people do. It was a pleasant visit, and he was there when Dr. O, the nice surgeon came out to tell us that Tim was fine. I should have asked for a family discount, but did not think to. The pastor left, and I went to wait for Tim to be returned from recovery. He came back, dopey, and sleepy. He tried to talk, I told him to sleep, and he did. I read quietly.
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Tim's never sick. One of our family tales is the time that an intestinal flu went through our house. It was wicked stuff, knocking us down, one at a time for a full 24 hours. And Tim kept saying, "It can't be that bad..." Not the kind of stuff you want to hear while your head's in the commode. So finally, it had gotten all of us. The last child had shakily made it to supper, and for the first time in a week, we all ate together. Tim suddenly pushed away from the table and said, "I don't feel so well," and everyone sympathetically said, "now you'll see..." and Tim staggered to the couch, dropped like a stone, and fell sound asleep. He slept for 45 minutes, woke up completely restored, and went off to the garage to work on a car while the rest of the family said, "You know, if he ever dies, his body needs to be donated for medical research, because his immune system is not like ours."
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Tim woke up. No pain. But he was shakey, and sick, and wobbley. I hated to leave him, but I had my own appointment at the cancer center across the street, this time with the Radiology Doctor. The nurse assured me that they'd take good care of them while I was gone. Moreover, Elaine suggested that maybe I could use the fact that I had a post-op husband as leverage to get in and out of the cancer center in short order. (I love Elaine. She's the best.)
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This doctor begins his talk. He's recommending 6 weeks of radiation, daily, five days a week. He says it will commence right after chemo finishes. We talk a little about the upcoming week, and he mentions the MRI of my spine the following day. "For my spine? The bone scan was last week. I thought the MRI was to take a look at the lump in my other breast," and he says, "Another lump? Why wasn't that biopsied?" and as he's flipping through my charts for the surgeon's report, I explain that the surgeon said that cancer would never appear in the same place in the other breast (even though the explanation had ceased to comfort me several days past). This doctor looked at me and said, "But it does happen. It happens so frequently that it has a name. We call it mirror image cancer." I stare. He pauses. "Not to scare you or anything, but really, that lump needs to be looked at." He seems even a little more surprised when I say that he won't be able to feel it, because it is under my medport, and he finishes my sentence for me, the one that I've been saying right along. He says, "so if the thing is growing or changing in any way, you can't tell anymore." And I say, "Yes. That's what I'm afraid of." The chemo doctor had said she needed to talk to the surgeon to hear his line of reasoning. She was very careful in her wording. She does not disagree with his decision, not to me. This doctor is a little different. He says, "I wonder why he didn't just take it out when he put in the medport. I mean, he was right there." and I said, "Listen, I'm not trying to be a big baby here, but I'm uncomfortable leaving the lump there, and I've been saying this since October 6th before I went to surgery." The doctor reads the surgeon's notes out loud. "The unfortunate woman also has a 2 cm mass in her right breast." Nothing else. Unfortunate woman? This doctor is very matter of fact. He will speak with the doctor at chemo the following day. A third doctor will be brought in. He also says that if the surgeon has a problem taking the second lump out, it will be time to get another surgeon. He assures me that I should never feel bad about sticking to my own instincts. He also tells me that I shouldn't hold my questions until I have an appointment, that I can call them directly, whenever.
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I walk back over to the hospital at a half jog. I'm anxious about Tim. I'm also relieved beyond words that I politely stuck to my guns, and that furthermore, the doctor had agreed with my concerns. I feel as if, (in Hal's words) 'I've lost a hundred pounds.'
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Tim is sick. He doesn't get released until 4. I load him up and take him home. He gets carsick but does not throw up in the car. He wobbles to the house, almost faints before he gets to the sofa. I ease off his boots, and he's asleep before I get the afghan over him. He sleeps for an hour and has a bowl of homemade chicken/wild rice soup that I made yesterday afternoon. He gradually loses the unflattering 'fish belly white' pallor.
At the end of today, both Tim and I feel better.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Back to Normal

We went to the new house today. It just needs some cosmetic repair work done, updating things. It should be ready to go in a couple weeks. I cleaned cupboards, wiped down walls for repainting, scrubbed. Tim painted, began a list of leaky faucets, things that need bought: lightbulbs, furnace filters, batteries for the smoke alarms, etc. I listened to the radio while I scrubbed, and from time to time added an item to Tim's list. It was a pleasant day, blessedly normal. I have a very nice life, and today, I got a glimpse of it once again.
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Tim tried so hard to stick to his routines. Today, I better understood why. Next week starts another round of challenges, but today it was business as usual, and it felt great.

Whew.

The bone scan is clean.
*whew!*
I'm starting to get better at this 'waiting'. As the encouraging news trickles in, I find that it's getting easier to tolerate the wait. I feel much more like my old self again. Prayers have words again. I have resumed job hunting. I'm beginning to feel confident again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tim

Yesterday's post about Tim got a comment that took me back. It began like so:
"So. Your husband, who you've pretty much maligned in this blog..."
I responded to it in the comments, but it's been eating at me for the day. It bothers me, because I think that I am, by nature, a pretty practical person. I married Tim knowing that he was not demonstrative, and to be honest, I do not need flowery displays of love. They're plenty nice, and I take them when I get them, but I think that I know Tim's heart well enough that our relationship doesn't depend on the 'displays'. We've plodded along, working well together for nearly 11 years. We are to all outward appearances, a close couple. I talk a lot. I'm the communicator. Tim talks a lot more than he did at the beginning, but he is what he is. We're a fairly good and hardworking team.
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Suddenly along comes this bump in the road called cancer. Believe me, it set me back on my haunches. Re-evaluating, staring down the barrel at my own mortality, trying to explain it to 5 kids, one of whom is mentally ill, trying to process a huge amount of information very quickly. Some of this information had very large (and unfamiliar) words. I was trying to comfort the people who were comforting me, and I was trying to behave as a woman of faith would behave. I think I've been doing a fairly good job at this.
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While I am fairly straight forward, Tim ignores things that he doesn't want to deal with. He simply doesn't acknowledge them. This is not to say that he doesn't worry inside, but he will not show it. It's all business as usual, and he finds comfort in his routine.Tim has a pretty bad case of scoliosis. It's bad enough that it actually stunted his growth. At 5'4", he's exactly the same height as me. I say this because his height had made him the butt of practical jokes growing up, because people perceived him as weak. Surprisingly, one of his greatest tormentors was his father (a preacher). Tim had pretty low self esteem when we met. I've spent a lot of time nurturing my husband, and he's come a long way. He'll tell you that, himself. He's a lot more asssertive. He's more of a risk taker, because he's begun to view himself as competant. There, in a nutshell, is the dynamics of our relationship.
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This time around, I needed a little bit more. Initially, he balked. After all, I am the care taker. I am the person who nurtures. That's what it says in my profile, and it is true. So Tim dragged his heels and I insisted. I need my support, and it's what he promised in our wedding. At no time in our relationship, have I ever been 'needy'. Now I am. I need to know that I was valued, and I need to know that if the worst happens, he will be able to step out of his shell to comfort our children. I need to know that if I was weak for a while, he'd be strong. Sometimes I need a hug without asking for one, or without giving it first. Sometimes, I simply need him to cut me a bit of slack. I need him to understand that some days are difficult, and not to give me guff if I cry, or if I'm quiet, or if supper is slap dash, etc. I need to know that I'm more important than his routine.
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In last month, Tim has begun to 'get it'. He is not perfect, nor do I expect him to be. But we've cried together (a first in our marriage), and we've begun to cling to one another (consolation sex is pretty...well...consoling, I'm embarrassed to say). We pray with one heart. All these things are good things, and like I said, we're all learning valuable lessons and will be better for it. I know that what Tim and I have had has always been strong, but we are becoming stronger. I just wanted to make it perfectly clear: my posts have never been intended to malign my husband, but to highlight the challenges any relationship faces when it hits a bump in the road.
Thanks.

Surprise

Tim will have his gall bladder removed on Monday.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Redlefty Asks

Comment from Redlefty after the last post:
"I like how you're taking advantage of the seasons.
Any "God" moments lately?"
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Answer: Yes, Redlefty, oh yes. In this time of uncertainty, what I am learning is to step out, each day, expecting that His Grace will be sufficient, and, each day, I find that it is. I've also found that you don't need words when you pray. I've also found that being ministered to is just as faith-growing as ministering to others. The seasons are one of many blessings, and I am mindful of all of them. I find my heart rejoicing in small, bright sparks of joy. My dream continues to explain things to me, to make them clear.
I'm reading a book that Mary gave me, written by David Jeremiah. A minister diagnosed with cancer refers to it as 'a disruptive moment'. But he also goes on to list three products of a disruptive moment. They are: more power (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), more holiness (Hebrew 12:5-11), and more fruit (John 15: 1-8). This was a galvanizing moment for me, because coming hand in hand with turning 50 has been a powerful desire to be a more Godly presence in this world, to bring about positive change, to do good. I realized that the by-products of the so-called 'disruptive moment' were exactly what I'd been praying for in my own life. The astonishment of that realization was akin to being struck by lightning, not much different at all, as a matter of fact, to being struck with the powerful knowledge that God exists, which happened to me when I was 29, a full 21 years ago, when I did not believe, but found myself face to face with The Truth.
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What I feel, Redlefty, is that I am on a path. This is part of a journey. Scary? Oh, hell, yeah. But a journey has a beginning. It also has an end. I am just stepping out, and I know for certain that my steps are guided, and the outcome sure, and that in the end, I will be better for it. Tim will be better for it. My children. My family unit. My friends. I am mindful to share the blessings with everyone, whether they believe in God or not. The blessings of this journey are for everyone who wants to tap into them, my friend.
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Redlefty asks, 'Any "God" moments, lately?'
My response? 'All of them.'
Thanks for asking.

Season

Yesterday was a long day. I was released to go about my business for 3 hours. It was cold, and blustery, but I had my long red wool coat, so I shrugged it on, wrapped my gray scarf around my neck, and headed out the hospital doors. I walked through the old area of town, with the big houses, and the nice gardens and the big oak trees lining the sidewalks that rained leaves down like confetti every time the wind blew. I could smell the leaves as they drifted by. I remembered leaf piles from my childhood. Do children still jump in leaves?
I walked out across the bridge that spans the Allegheny River in the center of town. I thought it was neat that if you looked to the left you saw 'old town' with old brick facades, statues. If you turned to the right, you saw 'new town' with the obscene blue parking tower, and the riverfront condominiums that the rich folks are snapping up for a couple hundred thousand dollars (mystifies me...) I lean on the bridge, chin in my hands, watching the ducks. The wind is wicked cold, and it has begun to spit snow. It is a new season.
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When I am cold enough, I continue on. I'm meeting my auntie for coffee. She's not much older than me actually, maybe 9 years. I push open the door to the warm, warm coffee shop, and as I walk back to a table, I am greeted by strangers who actually stop me to talk. I visit too, and end up joining a polite political debate with some die-hard Republicans. The waitress bringing my coffee is a book fan, but when she picks up my book and reads the title, she looks at me, shocked, makes a sympathetic noise, and sets it down quickly, as if she could get breast cancer from touching the word in the title. She pats my shoulder and tells me that she'll pray for me.
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When my aunt comes, we visit at the table, talking for a couple hours. What a luxury, truly. I've never had the time to just sit and visit, to walk and notice, to ponder, and to think. There are blessings in this season, and I am careful to savor them.
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Our waitress is very attentive, taking good care of the both of us.

Thank Me Later

I've been thinking. It is said that 'what doesn't kill you will make you stronger'. I'm figuring that by the time this is all said and done, I'll be pretty strong. I mean, armed with my trusty ass-kicking boots, I'll be truly a force to be reckoned with.
So.
Once I get through all this, I'm headed for Darfur. Once I get them all straightened out, I'll head for the Mid-East.
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...you're welcome.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Snow

It was windy last night, and cold.
This morning a light blanket of snow covered the cars.
The first of the season.

Life's Funny Like That

Yeah.
Obviously, I'm not a pro at this Cancer Center Stuff. I talked to a nurse, she took me to see another lady. I finished with her, and walked out, never realizing that there were other people to see. I suppose I'll get the routine down. After 3 1/2 hours there, I thought that Mary and I were done.
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Bone scan today. Go there at 7:30 to be injected with radioactive dye. This time, I'm free to go about my business, so I'm meeting my auntie for coffee while I wait for the radioactive dye to course through my veins.
Again.
Back at 11:00. Scan takes an hour.
Radiation appointment on the 27th.
MRI on the 28th.
Something called a 'mugascan' on the 31st. I thought of Harry Potter, and muggles, and Halloween, and smiled to myself.
November 7th back to the cancer specialist for what is supposed to be the moment of truth. Yeah. They said last Monday was the moment of truth.
This time, hopefully, they really mean it.
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You know what I realized? As stupid as this sounds, I can't not blog right now. I simply can't. It's almost like a compulsion. I've got to write it down. As fond as I've gotten about a great number of you who have taken the time to step from the shadows and become friends, I've got to tell you, even if no one read this, no one at all, I'd still be writing it all down. I'd like to be able to say why, but I can't. Not exactly. I've got these vague ideas that down the road at some point it's all going to come clear to me, reading back through these posts. Maybe that's it. To clarify these events in my own mind. Give a glimpse of the American Heath Care System to people like Bush Babe, who can't conceive of a country that tucks you back into your car, less then 4 hours post-op, drugged, with a bottle of drugs for when those drugs wear off, and written instructions for draining the suction tube dangling from your side (ack. revolting) Maybe it's to document a faith that will surely grow. Maybe it's words for my children to have, to remember that their mother was wise and brave. Right now, I couldn't tell you, not for sure. But when I wake up in the morning, my mind is creating words, and as soon as Tim heads out the door to work, I head for my blog. In any case, I apologize, because the point of this blog was to entertain. Life's funny like that. And it is, even now. But it's also big, and it's moving fast. I hold on tight, and try to process this all as quickly as I can. I'm also hoping that this is one chapter in a bigger story, and that around the next bend, I discover that life's funny like that once again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Had

I took a great deal of happiness from the word 'had'. Sounds like a strange word to be so pleased with, but really, you team 'had' up with 'cancer' and it puts everything into a very comfortable place, comparatively speaking. So yeah. 'Had' was just about my favorite word, even up against words like 'chocolate' and 'laugh' and 'friends' and whatever the winning word in the latest Scrabble game is.
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Monday, for whatever reason, I was dreading the chemo appointment at the Cancer Center. I mean, I did not want to go to the Cancer Center. I showered, but then I sat down at the computer and spent more time than I should have reading blogs. Then I did dishes. I sat back down and typed a letter to Trevor real quick. I owed him a letter, but couldn't bring myself to write him until I had my facts all in. His wife just died of cancer. So I typed Trevor a cheerful little letter about how I 'had cancer'. Addressed it. Wandered into the bathroom to start getting ready. Decided that my stray chin hairs needed waxing, so I carried my little pot of wax out to the microwave. I punched the numbers and was thinking that maybe I should put a coat of polish on my nails. The phone rang and it was Mary, making plans to meet me at the cancer center. (Before you jump to conclusions about Tim, he's lost a lot of hours off work so far. His company is showing all the signs of going belly up. They were not able to make payroll last week, and are hoping to make payroll this week. We need the insurance. So this is kind of a worrisome development. Tim can't just go looking for a new job. If he loses this one, no insurance company will touch a 'preexisting condition, which is me. And breast cancer). Anyways, Mary called, and I explained the dreading, and she hurried me along, and we agreed to meet in the parking lot of the Cancer Center in an hour. So I headed back to the kitchen, and realized that the microwave was still running. I had managed to punch in 20:00 instead of 2:00 and the wax was boiling merrily. In fact the stick had burned black. Fortunately there were no flames.
*note to self: stay away from appliances today*
I went back to getting ready, and packed the paperwork, a couple books, the DVDs that I needed to return, and left the house. I did not remember to put the dog out one last time. I did not remember to fill the woodstove before I left. But my chin hairs? Gone.
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Mary pulled in, and I walked over to her car. "What are we doing here?" She laughed, gave me a hug and said nothing. It was a stupid joke, but it was the best I could do. And so we went in, and we sat in a freezing waiting room (no joke...I actually went and retrieved my coat). We laughed and we watched people come in and have a seat with us. There were some sick, sick people there. I was sure that I knew one guy, but he was so thin and wasted that I couldn't be sure. I didn't feel like it would be polite to walk up to him and say 'hey, do I know you?' And what would we talk about anyways? I did not want to talk about cancer. So Mary and I visited. Of course, we laughed a lot. We always do. We kept pretty quiet, but still people were giving us sidelong glances. If her husband Danny had been there, believe me, things would have been worse. Lots worse. The man cannot sit quietly to save his life. His eyes would have been rolling skyward, and his drooping mustache would have begun to do extraordinary things, and Danny would have begun to mumble. Once it gets to that point, anyone within earshot is done for, rolling around in their chair groaning through teary laughter, 'Stop, Danny, no more...shush..."
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Finally, about an hour and a half later we saw the specialist. She seemed nice. She explained that the PET/CT scan is not the last word, as far as detecting cancer. "Did the surgeon tell you about the cloudiness on the spine?" Surprised, I said, "No." "Does your back hurt?" Mary and I looked at each other. She was there the last time, and it had scared her. "Yes," I said. "Did the surgeon tell you why he didn't biopsy the lump in your other breast?" The answer that I gave her didn't make sense to her. She said she needed to call him and find out what his thought process was. There's an 'onc' report that needs to come back to determine what kind of chemo needs to be done. No one had done that, so she'd taken care of it that morning. It would take ten days. I started to get a little incredulous. I mean, a medport was installed ASAP for chemo and it did not occur to anyone to send the tumor off to be tested to decide what type of chemo needed to be done? And wait...what happened to that word 'had'? Suddenly we are talking about bone scans and MRIs and another biopsy...
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I walk out of there with an appointment for November 7th. They'll be calling me in the meantime for the other tests. I realize that I've been waiting for them to tell me what comes next. I realize that I'd better get cracking...it looks like I'm going to learn to be more proactive. Passivity will get me lost in this system. I am also angry. I am angry at assurances that may or may not be true. I'm unaccountably pissed. I drive home forgetting to drop off the DVDs. I've got a shit load of reading to do, and I might as well get cracking.

Fine Fettle

Mood still dark.
This is life.
This is also not funny.
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Bright note:
Tim's been very compassionate.
(Probably fears for his testicles.)
I'm a woman of phenomenal humor.
Most of time.
Except when I'm not.
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Will be taking short break while mood brightens,
seeking solace from Mr. Bean
and
the blogs of others.

No Answers

You know, I got up today thinking, "Well, today I'll have answers. Today, I'll know what's going on. Today, I'll know about chemo, and what comes next, and...."
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Today they've decided to do more tests. There's that other lump on the other breast. The PET/CT scan shows some inconclusive spots on my upper spine. Biopsy, MRI. Back on November 7th. Answers on November 7th. They'll know what they're going to do on November 7th.
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It was Tom Petty who sang "the waiting is the hardest part..."
No shit.
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I really try hard to keep the faith. Today it got a little harder.
I'm ashamed of that, but its the truth.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bright (or Not)

I was in the shower this morning, and amidst the cloud of steam and sandalwood and cinnamon, I got the shock of my life. Soaping up, I found a huge lump in my other breast. I went so lightheaded with the discovery that I actually thought that I might faint dead away in the shower. I stood there with my hand frozen. The lump was large, round...my God, how could I have possibly missed this?
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It did not take me long to figure it out. I realized that what I was feeling was my new medport for the chemo. It had been installed a couple Thursdays ago. I've just now gotten to the point where I can soap up without wincing, so feeling this foreign object was new.
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Really. I'm not the brightest crayon in the box. I've always known this, but sometimes it strikes me afresh.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sinking In

This weekend has been a 'sinking in' time. All the the things of the past three weeks are sinking in. It is sinking in to my husband that he needs to be different, and to his credit, I think it is sinking in. He understands that what remains is for him to begin putting this new thinking into action.
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Me? Things have been sinking in for me, as well. I spent Friday in sort of a relieved fog, indulging my secret passion for Mr. Bean, and getting the ironing done. For the nth time, I wondered why I love jeans and a crisp ironed shirt, because I sure do hate to iron. But, Mr. Bean made it better. It felt good to laugh, and to laugh hard. As three weeks of tightly coiled tension begins to unwind and slither off, this is what has sunk in.
I had cancer.
I don't anymore.
The most dangerous part of the battle was done and over before I even knew I was fighting. All I have to do is make sure that he doesn't come back. Chemo. Radiation. Estrogen suppression therapy.
All I have to do is endure.
Heck.
I can do that.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Precipice

A lot of you have expressed concern for Tim. I'm sure he's grateful for that. He doesn't read my blog, but he's got a general vague idea what's going on there. He doesn't mind. He's a good egg. We've been married for over 10 years now.
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To be fair here, I also should report that the surgeon was a little amazed that I did not accept Tim's apology on the spot. He felt that perhaps my own independent, take-care-of-business personality was causing Tim to retreat. I told him that I felt more that Tim had married me because of the independent take-care-of-business attitude which allowed him to remain aloof and emotionally unattached. We've discussed this through our years. I'm pretty matter of fact about things. Tim and I have a good marriage, but his independent, take-care-of-business wife needs him to be taking care of business for a while. He had already told me that I was over reacting once in the Lowe's parking lot the day before the mammogram.
We discussed it then.
He said it again, the morning of surgery, while we waited, with three friends for the dye to circulate.
We discussed it then.
This was the third time, and as they say, third time's the charm. You can only be tolerant for so long, and then the 'fecal material hits the rotary oscillator', as they say.
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There have been a lot of changes in this past three weeks. A lot. I've been dealing with the prospect of losing a part of myself, of my own mortality, agonizing over the right words to deal with the children. You cannot be negative, or cause fear, but you do not want to paint a phony picture, or lull them into a land of sweetness and light. It is what it is. We must all look at it plainly, and accept this hand that life has dealt us. Every child in the world deals with, at some point, the passing of their parents. If they do not, well, let's be honest here: the tragedy of that is even worse. Scary tests, uncomfortable tests, kind people, as well as people who mean well, but...
OH. MY. GOD.
I will not listen to one more scary cancer story death followed by "Oh, but that was a different cancer...it won't happen to you." A lot of stuff. I've been dealing with a lot of stuff this past three weeks. Tim has been working hard to stick to his comfortable (and comforting) routine.
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Whether Tim likes it or not, he's along for the ride. What has happened here, is that, in effect, I've led Tim to the precipice. He's blinking a little, because this is new and uncharted territory.
My husband loves me. No doubt in my mind. Sometimes he displays this in spectacular ways. Mostly, though, he goes along quietly, expecting that I'll realize this, and not bug him about it.
I need something right now, however. It is his responsibility to provide it. This is one of those non-negotiable areas that all marriages have. So we both stand at this precipice. The ultimatum has been issued. I wait.
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This morning, right after I read 'Zits', a comic strip about the raising of teenagers, I read my horoscope. Like I said, it's not something I put stock in. It's just something that I do, automatically. This morning's horoscope read: 'Your kind, forgiving heart will make it easier for you to negotiate with unprepared and otherwise less than perfect counterparts. The rewarding end to this interaction will be well worth the patience required.' That made me smile, big.
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We are standing on a precipice. All of us. And we have no choice but to leap. We will discover that we can fly.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thursday

Thursday was a long day, and although I'm pretty good at keeping things on an even keel, it was hard to do Thursday. Mary came to be with me. We picked up the keys to the new house. I tried to explain how 'jangly' I felt inside. I couldn't even have my beloved morning cup, because I felt so jangly that I did not want the extra 'buzz'. Mary assured me that she was quite impressed with me. "Debby," she said, "the day that I was supposed to get my biopsy results I was a wreck. I burst into tears every time someone spoke to me. I just wanted to be alone. It was awful!" That made me feel a little better. In the three weeks since I found my lump, I have found myself trying very hard to put this in a Godly (for non-believers, I guess you'd say 'wise') perspective. I was helping my children deal with the news, and after long discussions, really, they all bore up beautifully. I have to say, I did a good job with my kids. At church, I was telling the wide eyed teenagers in my Sunday school class that this was a chance to watch God work, close up. In church, everyone gathered around to comfort, and I thanked them all and tried my best to encourage my encouragers. I dealt with new and scary things, and there were lots of tests. But I was brave, and I was funny, and I chatted pleasantly with everyone. There was one person that I had trouble with during this whole thing and it was, unfortunately, my husband. He tried very hard to assure me that I had nothing to worry about. This was because if it were decided that I had something to worry about, well...he would be required to do something about it. You know...comfort me...say comforting things. This is not his bag. We've talked about it through out the three weeks, and he has tried hard to be better. It is not that he does not love me, and love me dearly, at that, but he is not a man to show emotion. It is how he was raised. Right now, however, I've needed him, and I stressed to him over and over, that very thing. But it's been pretty much business as usual for Tim these last three weeks.
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We got to the surgeon's office just before my appointment at 4. The waiting room was crowded. There was a two year old boy there, who did a lot of screaming. Two year olds scream, by nature, but this one had very young parents. He wanted a pink 'hi-lighter' pen he had been coloring with, until he started coloring off the paper, and onto the furniture. When he began to get hot pink scribbles on his parents' clothing, the pen was taken away. Carson wanted it back. He began to scream. His mother said, firmly, holding the pen before her face so that he could see it, "No. You won't color on the paper. Mommy's taking it away. I'm putting it back in my purse." Only she didn't. She sat there holding it in the air while he screamed in frustration. She smiled broadly at this display of firm parenting. To my credit I did not snap, "Two year olds have the attention span of broccoli. Put the damned pen where he can't see it and he will forget about it, you stupid thing." (That right there should be proof of my noble nature, by george.) But we got through it (and no blood was shed), and finally we were the last ones in the waiting room. Tim held my hand a little, but really neither of us had much to say. I'm sure that he was nervous as well. We had another wait, in the little exam room, which was freezing, and finally, it was our turn. He gave us the news, which was good. I mean, I've got cancer. We knew that, but if you've got to have cancer, mine's a decent one to have. He answered questions, and seemed surprised at my relief. I said, "Well it's been a long day." And my husband, in his relief, spoke up and said, "She's overdramatic." I looked at him, and friends, I was pissed. I was pissed with a white hot rage. Very carefully, I replied, "I am NOT overdramatic Tim, but I was worried, and I had every right to be." The doctor, sensing trouble, tried to smooth it over. He really could have been a marriage counsellor I suppose. He put it to Tim like so: "Say, for instance, that you come to see me and I rip off one of your testicles, and I tell you that, maybe, I might be back for the other one....would this concern you?" And Tim, knowing he had stepped in it big time, allowed that it would. The doctor then said, "So what do you have to say to her?" And Tim apologized. The doctor said, "Things like this will either break a marriage or make it stronger. You have to decide," and he went back into discussing estrogen receptors, and progesterone receptors, and Her2 markers.
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We left the office with our good news: My cancer was moderately aggressive, stage II, had begun to affect the lymph ducts, but had not made it to the lymph nodes, which is why he removed a lot, a lot of tissue. He explained that if anything felt funny at all, he took it out, which explained how it came to be that he took 17 lymph nodes instead of the 'couple' he planned to. I don't care, really, I just want the cancer gone. I sure as heck was not going to be weeping over missing lymph nodes. But all of the lymph nodes biopsied 'clear'. The PET/CT scan showed no cancer anywhere else. I had cancer. They think they got it all. I will have chemo. I will have radiation. I will have estrogen suppression therapy, and the good doctor thinks that I have a very good chance that this will not recur. All good news.
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I was happy, but still, really, I was pretty mad at Tim, and on the way home, he got it. I was crying the passionate sobs of an overwrought, exhausted woman, and man, they did not stop. I told him that I was not overdramatic, but that he was an ass, and that he had embarrassed me, number one, and number two, it seemed like, just once in a while, he could tell me that I'd been doing a good job, or that I was being brave, or that he loved me, fucking anything, besides quietly going about his routine as usual. I ranted. I raved. He told me repeatedly that it was a stupid thing to say. He told me repeatedly that it was not even true, and he shouldn't have said it. He even said, "I'm sorry" a couple more times. I told him that really, really, really, this one had hurt my feelings big time, and that I needed to be alone for a while. I took myself upstairs, and I fell soundly asleep.
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I had a dream that I couldn't sleep, so I got up and came downstairs. Cara came out, and we talked, and we curled up on the couch together, and dozed off. The dog padded over. Sleepily, I thought, "He's not allowed on the furniture," but I couldn't bring myself to stop him, and the three of us slept together in a comforting pile. Soon the room was full of people. Old people, young people, even children, and babies. A little girl was crying wandering around, so I knelt down, and she came to me. She had brown hair, and I cuddled her. Other children came, and I watched a small baby crawling my way, and I comforted children, while talking to the other people there. And it was pleasant. It was very comforting to visit with them all, a lapful of children. Tim wandered in and out, and it was nice to see him, but he did not stay. Strangely, I heard my mother's voice calling a couple times, but she was in another room, and she did not bother to come in. I didn't see any sense to trying to yell back. I knew she wouldn't hear me anyway. And then I woke up. I was in my own bed, and Tim slept next to me.
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I know what that dream was. That was God. I realize that my lesson is 'it is in comforting that we are comforted'. I lay there in the dark thinking on these things in my heart. Before long, I realize that Tim is awake too. I tell him that I'm no longer angry at him, but I tell him also that the fate of our marriage rests in his hands. He says that he realizes this, that I have been strong, and honorable for a long time, and that it is time for him to step up to the plate. What does the future hold? I don't know. I know that my husband loves me dearly. I know that he is a man of his word. I know that he believes in God, and believes that our marriage is by God's plan. I wait. Like I said, there are lessons for all of us here, and when it is all said and done, I don't think any of us will be the same.

Gates of Hell

dog
see more puppies

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Winnable War

I sat in the waiting room today, with Tim at my side. The appointment was at 4. I did not get seen until 5. Summing it up: While the tumor was large and had begun to invade lymphatic ducts, there was no lymph node involvement. They removed 17 nodes, which was a shock to both of us. The PET/CT scan showed no cancer found anywhere else. This is a winnable war. Thank God.
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Did you ever just feel sick with relief?
I'm also, right this minute, speechless.
(That doesn't happen often.)
Thank you all for everything.
You've been great.

Ack.

My dad had a saying. "Anyone can quit smoking. It takes a real man to die of lung cancer." My dad was a real man. He was diagnosed, and he went quickly. It seemed like his fight was over before he even stepped out of the corner. He was the strongest willed, most stubborn SOB you'd ever want to meet. He died 8 years ago on Thanksgiving Day.
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Today, at 4, I've got an appointment with the surgeon. Cancer is a scary word. Words like 'inoperable' or 'mestasticized' or 'terminal' could make it even scarier. It's going to be a long day, but at the end of it, I will know.
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For all of my practical nature, I stand here, feeling like a deer must feel when she stares, frozen, into oncoming headlights.
Ack.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dead Cat

Cynthia's blog is just plain fun. If you have not read about Dr. West, you need to heist your hinder over there right away to here what the renowned pioneer in women's health has to say. I've never laughed so hard in my life. Thank goodness he's dead all these many years, or someone would have to do it. Probably some crazed hormonal woman who was darn sick and tired of hearing what he had to say, I'd wager. What a hoot. Anyways, Cynthia posted a Halloween post, and asked for our scary stories. Here's mine. It's replete with a body, and this is a true story which took place when I lived in Midland, Michigan, out on Badour Rd.
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Being the mom, of course my home ran like well oiled machinery. This explained why I was throwing on clothes and darting out to the little country grocery store at the end of our road to buy a gallon of milk at 6 AM. As I pulled out of our driveway, I saw, much to my horror, our cat, lying squashed in the road. I did not want the kids to see Mosey, so after I got milk and got them settled with breakfast, I sneaked back out to scrape the carcass off the road. I put him in the garage, and pretended that everything was normal. I figured there would be plenty of time for a really good cry after I got everyone where they needed to be. So that's what I did, and when the house was empty, I had my coffee, and I had my cry, and then I headed out to dig a hole in the back yard.
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Now as holes go, this was a work of art, because Mosey was a really good cat. We'd had him since Brianna was 5 and we were living in Baltimore. Mosey had yowled his way from Baltimore to Michigan, nonstop, but seemed to really enjoy country living, despite all his fuss. I was driving the car with the cat, and with a newborn infant, having given birth just a month before. Really, it was a miracle he didn't find his kitty self plunked somewhere along the road half way in between, but really this is a testimony to my fine and noble charactor, I think. We were stuck with each other for the duration of the trip, the other car containing one husband, two children, the dog, two parakeets, and a very large ficus tree. So when a beast is part of your family like Mosey was, without question, you dig a very nice hole for him, and you weep copious tears remembering all the Mosey stories. When the hole was done, I went into the garage, and I wrapped him carefully in an old receiving blanket, crying a little bit more, and when I stepped from the darkness of the garage to the bright outdoors, I almost tripped over Mosey who was licking his bottom in the driveway right outside of the garage. At my stifled shriek, he stopped what he was doing, and stared at me curiously from beneath his hind leg, tongue still extended. I looked at the blanket wrapped bundle in my hands, and I looked at my cat.
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Now comparing the two, side by side, there were some obvious differences...the sock on this leg was a little higher, and the patch on his chest was shaped differently, but really, these cats looked a lot alike. Problem was, one was dead and one was not. The live one was mine. I didn't know what to do with the dead one. It didn't seem right to just toss him in the hole in our backyard. I mean, if it were my cat, I'd want to know. It didn't seem like a very nice thing just to put him back where I found him either. Thus began the strangest afternoon of my life.
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You cannot just walk up to someone's door with a dead cat in your hand and say, "Hey, I found this on the road. Is it yours?" So I began at one end of the road, and I knocked on doors. I said, "Do you happen to have a cat, a black and white cat, neutered, 4 socks, patch on his chest, well fed?" And actually, a surprising number of them did. But everyone assured me that it wasn't their cat, who had slept on their bed last night, or who had had breakfast with them, or was standing at their side looking through the door at me as we talked. I left a phone number and brief message on the doors of folks that were not home. I hit every single house on our road. And when no one claimed the cat, I buried him in our back yard. The kids were quite helpful in this, and it was a very nice funeral. It wasn't their cat after all, so they could feel quite bad for him with no tears at all. Our cat followed along with the procession, showing no signs of grief, but you know, cats are kind of like that. But 'Cat Doe' was buried on a fine autumn day, with appropriate ceremony, and the funeral was well attended, the mourning well done.
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And at the end of that very long day, I was padding through the house in my flannel nightgown, doing the things that moms do at the end of the day, after the kids are tucked in and asleep. The phone rang, and I grabbed it quickly before it woke anyone. A sobbing voice said, "Is this the lady who found the cat?" With a sinking heart, I said, "Yes." I was speaking to the owner of this cat. I was right. He was well loved. He had a family. They wanted him. I stammered, "Well, gees, I buried him in the backyard when nobody claimed him. I didn't know what else to do." Damn. Wouldn't you know? They had a back yard too. They wanted him in it, which explains what I was doing, just minutes later, in the backyard in the dark, in a cold autumn rain, in a flannel nightgown under my coat, and big rubber boots, digging up the cat while a sobbing woman held the flashlight.
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Now if this were a great Halloween story, it would wind up with a dirt covered cat yowling at my door a few days later, but it didn't go like that. This is merely a funny Halloween story. The cat had the good grace to stay buried this time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stillness

Today was the big PET/CT scan day. I won't know anything for a couple days. I have the follow-up appointment with the surgeon Thursday at 4. I guess that we'll learn the biopsy results for the lymph nodes as well.
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It was a sobering day, a day for reality to set in. After the IV with the radioactive dye is injected into your veins, you wait alone, for 45 minutes. There was an older man there waiting on the other side of the partition. He had cancer. You could tell. He was gaunt and thin with tufty hair. He had some piercing eyes though, and on his way out, he gave me a quick glance, waiting there, shivering (boy, it was cold in there) and he gave me a big smile and an encouraging thumbs up. I felt like I had been saluted by a veteran.
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Before long, it was my turn. My feet were strapped down, a huge band held my arms to my side. I was cautioned to remain as still as I possibly could, and for 25 minutes, I did. My mind danced all over the place. I am haunted by the quote on Hal's sidebar. "...you don't lose the other ages you've been." My mind dances around those other ages. I talked with Dylan yesterday. His big fear was that I would not tell him the truth. "Of course I would," I said. He talked about moving back to the area. "Dylan," I say, "job security is kind of hard to come by." I also make it clear to him that he will deal with the fact that, at some point, his mother will die. For selfish reasons, I hope it's not going to be for a long, long while, but, you know, it is what it is. That's life. You can tell that he was digesting this for the very first time. I think about that conversation. I think that I handled a difficult topic as wisely as I could. I think about my kids, as teenagers, as children, as babies. I think about life before them, and strange glimpses of my own childhood begin to pop into my mind. High school, and grade school, and even before that. My very earliest memory is standing on our new front porch in Fredonia, New York. I remember stepping on the concrete and being surprised that it was solid. I remember walking around on it and being let back into the house. I was shocked later to see a picture of myself on that newly poured front porch. I was wearing diapers and rubber pants. I could not have been more than two, but I remember it clearly, being astonished that the concrete was solid. My mind dances around all the other ages I've been, and even dances ahead to the ages I hope to be, and I hold very, very still.

Blessings

Mary came to visit. She brought supper. She wants to do stuff, clean or whatever. I tidied up before she got here, changed sheets, did two loads of laundry, cleaned the bathroom, and did dishes. The house was neat. With just Tim and I, really, it doesn't get messy much. But Mary needs to be useful. I say, "No. Really. I want to visit. I've always worked hard. Now all of a sudden it is different. So let's visit. We take our drinks to the table, to sit down with Scrabble. I'm trying to explain about really trying hard to see the blessings in all of this. Suddenly, I find that I don't need to. I am staring across the room and out the window, where a buck stands at on the road precisely at the end of my driveway. "Oh, look, Mary!" I breathed. And two old friends see the blessings.
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Later, while we prepare lunch, Mary says, "I probably shouldn't tell you this, but I felt so bad the night before your surgery, and I was trying to pray, and I asked God for a sign. I opened my Bible and it fell open to the scene where Christ is brought before Pontius Pilate. The very first words that I saw were 'I see no cause for death.' And so my friend was comforted, and in turn, I was comforted as well.
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Seriously people, blessings everywhere.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Prayer

That PET scan thing is tomorrow. I know that not everyone out there believes in God. I do. Never felt that I had to justify that. I know what I know. Neither do I feel that it is my job to convert people or to tell them they're wrong. God got my attention 29 years ago. He can do it again, if He chooses. I'll talk about what I believe if people ask, but it makes no difference to me whether you believe or not. I expect my beliefs to be respected, and likewise, I will respect your beliefs (or lack there-of).
But, as usual, I digress.
If any of you are pray-ers, pray for good results tomorrow. I've got to say that my worst fear is that they will find more cancer. So I've been praying. My church has been praying. I'm asking you to do the same. If you're not a prayer, could you just keep your fingers crossed, maybe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hair

I dye my hair. I've been dying my hair regularly for probably 15 years now. It needs to be done again. I study the gray roots in the mirror.
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Mary and I were talking a couple days ago. I met Mary on the first day of seventh grade, our first day at the high school. The place seemed so huge, although, actually it wasn't. We were lost in the halls, the bells had rung, and we were scared to death that we would be in trouble, and we were both looking for room 208. We found it. We also found a friendship that has lasted through thick and thin for the 40 years since. When we were teenagers, we agonized about our skin, and about our looks, and, (oh horrors!) our hair, which was not long enough, and not straight like the popular girls' hair. I'm going to lose my hair, but Dixie had told me how a friend's hair had grown back after chemo, and it was beautiful, and thick and even better than it had been before. Mary said that she had heard the same thing.
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I need to get my hair colored, but cannot bring myself to waste the money. I'm practical like that. I look at my hair in the mirror. The hair thing, that's gonna be a toughy.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

My Backyard

Our home faces west, and the sun comes up behind it. I was making coffee, looking out the kitchen window and this was my view. It is not a good picture, but the original was breath-taking, like a promise.
I find hope everywhere.
Even out my own back door.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Celebrate

On the drive in to the hospital, it was still dark, and I was lost in my own thoughts, Tim's cell phone rang. It was Stacey calling from Korea. She was full of excitement at her new post, and she and Tim chattered away. She was surprised that we were headed back to the surgery, and asked to speak with me. I was glad for the chance because, days before, I had bungled it. Big time.
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Before she left, Tim told her, even though we hadn't told anyone else. We didn't know anything for sure, and were hesitating to get too dramatic about things, but Tim wanted her to know that she needed to stay in touch. Broken marriages leave their mark on our children, I'm sorry to say, and Stacey has been no exception. She and Tim went months without seeing each other, or calling each other on the phone. He was very bitter about his ex-wife's anger, and how that affected his two children, but really, it's as much his fault as his ex's. He certainly didn't work very hard to fix things, but as previously reported, he's quiet, and his tendency is that when he doesn't know what to do or to say, basically he says or does nothing at all. We've talked about this through the years, but I couldn't fix that for him. I was the step-mom.
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Anyways, Stacey has been good about staying in touch. She bought phone cards, and through these past two weeks, she has called home. I know that has been a great comfort to Tim, and it makes me glad to see that rift being bridged. So I was glad. On one of the phone calls, she had asked to speak with me. It was the day that I had had my emotional phone conversation with Dylan. Cara had fallen apart a bit as well, so I was a bit overwhelmed. We talked about Korea, and my memories, and her impressions, and then the conversation began to drag. Awkwardly, she asked, "How are you doing?" "Good," I responded automatically. And her voice cracked when she said that she was sorry to hear. I assured her that it would be okay, but didn't know what else to say, so I gave the phone back to Tim. I felt terrible about it for the rest of the day. The girl was grieving too, and far from home, and I felt that my comforting had been inadequate and perfunctory.
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So I jumped a little when the cell phone rang. Who would be calling at that time of the morning, but it was Stacey from across the world, and our morning was her night. After Tim handed me the phone, she asked how I was doing. She was concerned about how Cara was taking it. I told her about the 'celebrate' card, and she said, "Aw. She's so wise. It's hard to think of her as grown up, and wise. I always think of her as a little kid instead of a college girl." "Me, too, sometimes," I allowed. And Stacey asked again if I were okay. So I said, "It's a hard time. But really, like I told Cara and Dylan, it's a learning time for all of us. There will be great lessons in it. Your father will have to learn to be a bit more connected, emotionally. That change will make your relationship with him better as well." She agreed that it would. She said that she couldn't believe just a couple weeks ago, she was home on leave and everything was normal. I told her life's funny like that.
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We talked across the parking lot, right up to the entrance of the hospital, and when we said good bye, she said that she loved me, and I said that I loved her too. She asked me to tell her dad that, and I said, "Why don't you tell him yourself? It will mean a lot." And I handed Tim the phone.
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The doors automatically opened. They've got the lobby decorated for breast cancer awareness month. Pink balloons, and pictures of survivors every where, giant pink ribbons, written testimonials. I heard Tim say, "I love you too." Cara is wise. We need to celebrate the days that bring us closer. And as tired as I am, I take a moment to do just that.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Success

Two weeks ago, if someone would have asked me how I measured success, I would have had a very different answer than I do right now.
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I had a good sleep. That makes a big difference. Yesterday, I went to the one day surgery, and Elaine was there again. She is a nice lady and we had a good talk about positive attitude and courage and faith. She says I've got it. I'm glad. I had arrived there exhausted to the point of simply feeling ill. I wasn't sure what I had. But we ended up having a good laugh, which is always a bit of new life for me. She looked at me quite seriously. "Have you ever considered stand-up comedy? You'd be good at it." Really, she's pretty funny stuff herself. The anaesthesiologist came in and we got into a great political discussion about the presidential debates. He's from Ethiopia, and it was fascinating to listen to his take on things. He's an idealist, like me, so next thing you know, he had pulled up a chair, and we were talking away, hands waving, fingers pointing, the whole nine yards. We were interrupted by a nurse with an unmistakeable no-nonsense attitude. There had already been two calls from the OR wanting to know where the both of us were. And when I woke up, that Elaine, who I had trained to perfection less than 36 hours before had a nice hot cup of coffee right there waiting for me, bless her pea-picking heart. I turned down the percoset. It's easier to deal with pain than it is to deal with the effects of the pain killer. I told them that I needed sleep, and wanted something to take at night. I got it. Tim and I stopped by DEP on the way home from the hospital, briefly, to thank them for the flowers, and we found plenty to laugh about there. Dinner has been dropped off. I had another nap. Even though, selfishly, I turned the phone off for a bit, people been calling. People have been helpful. I feel rested and lively. My spirit has been restored by sleep, by people, by laughter, by debate.
I feel good.
I feel confident in myself again.
This day, people, this day was a success.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sleep

I shower carefully, 'do' my hair, remove the five earrings from my ears. I do not put on make up. I do not get my morning coffee. I do not get breakfast. I wonder if Elaine will be working at one day surgery again. She's very nice. The one thing that I know is that I will sleep this morning, and I am glad for that. I am so tired. I don't need the pain killers. (This high threshold of pain is coming in handy, friends.) I need sleep. I'm not afraid, but goodness, there are so many thoughts that need to be thunk whenever I lie down. They come crowding into my mind, all pushing to go to the front. Today, I've decided that I will ask for something to help me sleep. I really believe if I could sleep at night, it would bring the rest of the situation into perspective. So I'm going to tell them what I need, and I won't worry about looking like a big baby.

Scrabble

It always makes me feel better to laugh. Mary came up yesterday. She brought a meal, and, most important, she brought a Scrabble game. I love Scrabble. So does Mary. The difference between Mary and me is that I play it from the words in my head. Mary has a Scrabble dictionary. They have words there that you would never use in a million years. Except if you were trying to whup someone's butt in Scrabble. So usually, Mary beats me but good when we play Scrabble. This day was different though. I was really, really winning decisively, so decisively that I thought perhaps she was letting me win. Suspiciously, I asked. She assured me that she has never let someone win at Scrabble. We played on, talking about this and that, and wouldn't you know, she started narrowing the gap. I took a long haul off my water and said, musingly, "You know, this game has become a metaphor, in a way. I find myself thinking, 'You know, if I can actually whup Mary at Scrabble, why then it's a sign...a sign that I can whup cancer too.'" And Mary yelled, "Oh, no you don't! Don't you dare!" And we laughed ourselves stupid. Still though, I beat her. By one point. Not decisive by any means, but I won. And when she left, she tucked the game underneath a living room chair. This battle is not yet done.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Best Fight

I have surgery tomorrow, to get the mediport. That was a shocker, and, as Bush Babe and Jeanie would put it, 'it made my wheels wobble'. I hadn't expected it, not so soon anyways. I have an appointment for a pet scan on Tuesday to see if the cancer has spread, or metastisized anywhere else. Chemo begins on the 20th. Radiation on the 27th.
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I imagine that there will be plenty of unimaginables. I imagine that I best 'buck up'. It's time to fight my best fight.

Lessons

The day begins as normal. I get up, I make myself a cup of coffee. I put the dog out. I don't go out to get the newspaper because I am not dressed for it, and I can't get my night gown over my head by myself. Tim is coming around. It's been a big shock for him. Cara sent me a package yesterday. She tried to find a 'cope' card, but being her mother's daughter, could not find any 'funny' ones. So she found a card that sings 'Celebrate!' She sent pink balloons, and pink candy, and pink socks. She thinks that we should celebrate the days that make us a better, stronger, closer family. I smile.
Let the lessons begin.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Update - By Cara

My mom came out of surgery at 1:30ish this afternoon. She had to have two lymphnodes (they do not think they were cancerous, it was a precaution only) and two lumps removed, but as of now, the doctor believes that they removed all the cancer, although more tests are probably going to have to be run to ensure this. They're still going to have to do radiation and chemo treatments, but in the words of Charlie Brown, "Life is easier if we just dread one day at a time." : )

Thank you for all of your support and prayers, this has been a difficult and stressful time in my family, and you have been a wonderful network for my mom to lean on. I'm sure that she will need you guys even more in the months to come.

- Cara

Taking Care

I've always been a person who takes care of things. As my profile puts it: 'I take care of things. My children, my husband, my dog, the birds outside, and the rabbit who lives under the garden shed.' That is my nature. At church, I appointed the two official information sources, Jean and Karen, so that Tim is not inundated with a zillion calls, repeating the same information over and over. He'll be tired. Jean and Karen will talk to Tim, and then they'll be the ones that people call throughout the day. I've also cleaned the house, and I made a big casserole for Tim so that he does not starve to death. I've appointed Dixie to take care of Dylan (he lives not far from her, and with her sense of humor, she'll be a big help to him when the wheels start to wobble). I've appointed Mary to check in with Cara. They'll be a good match. I've also suggested that Cara call Dixie from time to time. Yes, indeed. I am a person who takes care of things. And now that all these things are done, it's just me, and a computer, and a clock. We will be leaving the house in 3 hours. This day has begun. I don't ever know what to expect. Not really. It depends on what they find, and where they find it, etc. But I think that I can expect that people will be kind. I think of the mammogram lady. She took one look at me and said, "You need a hug," and I got it. I think of my church. George cried at the news. I took his face in my hands and said, "Don't now, or you'll have me crying too." There were tears, and encouragement. I found flowers, and a pumpkin pie. I've had tons of supportive written words. Casseroles are being made all over town. Mr. Feeney is dropping everything to come sit with Tim tomorrow. And for the first time in my life, really, I feel myself exhaling and falling back into that comfort, allowing myself to be wrapped in kindness, in the caring of others. I'm pretty lucky.

TTFN

Oh, my gosh. I'm getting ready to head out, but I have to tell you:
I made the very worst pun.
It's Stevyn's fault.
I thought of it in the shower, soaping up,
wondering what I will look like tomorrow.
Where I will be tomorrow.
Etc.
I looked down at my two little friends,
(Remember: the louder the groan, the better the pun)
I looked down, and thought,
'Ta-ta for now.'
And laughed out loud.
*clears throat*
Remember: ALL STEVYN'S FAULT...

Sing With Me, People

Today, the first thing that will happen is that I will be injected with a radioactive dye. After a couple hours, when it is through my system, the surgery will begin. I will turn blue. Like a Smurf, they tell me. Dear heavens. They also tell me that I will be peeing a lovely aqua marine for a while. Delightful. Everyone presents this information in such a cheerful, hilarious manner. With no choice in the matter, I laugh too. I've never thought about Smurf pee before. Perhaps Smurfs pee a lovely aqua marine ever single day of their cheerful lives.
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All together now.
La la la la la la, la la la la laaaaaaaaaa....................
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Okay.
I'm saying it.
I've never been a big fan of the Smurfs.
Even less, now that I am one.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Fairy Tale

Yesterday was everlastingly long. At the end of it, I stood at our dining room table wrapping gifts to go in a box that will go in the mail next week when we get a free minute. Tim was on the computer looking at a Savage-over-and-under something something with a scope. Because he needs a gun. Truly. This gun is special. A collector's thing. All the other forty-11 guns that he has are special too, for one damn reason or another. I think mostly, he just wants to hear me tell him no. He just wants me to explain why he surely doesn't need another gun. It's one of our traditions.
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So I say, "Tim. You don't need another gun," but it's absent minded. I've been thinking. Last Friday, I found a lump. A large lump, to be sure, but still. I went to my own doctor within the hour. I walked out of there with an appointment at the hospital, and 9 days after that, an appointment with a surgeon, 'just in case', she said. So I went to the hospital to do the radiology stuff. And the nice mammogram lady (mammogram lady: does that not sound like she should be singing and tap dancing and handing you a heart shaped box of chocolates? Sorry. I digress.) said, "I need to talk to the radiologist, but do not read anything into it if he comes in here with me." And I said, "Uh. Okay." and wrapped their inadequate gown just a little tighter. And when they came back, She said, "Would you like someone to get your husband to be here with you?" And not realizing that he had come in after I'd arrived and been taken back, I said, "No. He is not here." and the radiologist said, "This has to come out, and it has to come out quickly. I will have a copy of this to your doctor within the hour, and the doctor and you need to get a surgeon as soon as possible. "I have an appointment with a surgeon," I said. "On the 9th." and he said, "Who is it?" I told him. He said that the surgeon would have the report within the hour as well. By the time that I got home, the surgeon's visit had been moved from the 9th to the 2nd. And at the surgeons office, after a looong wait, Mary said, "Debby, it seems like they're saving us for last." I said, "Well, I think they squeezed me in." The surgeon came in to explain that the operating room was already reserved for Monday. He found two other lumps. He explained what would happen, about radioactive dyes, about removing as much tissue as he needed to remove, etc. By the time that I wake up, he will have the answers, he says. and we will know what kind of treatment is necessary. It's going to be a very long day, he tells us, but when it is over, we'll have all our facts. He also mentions that when he sees my husband, he's going to have a stern talk with him. He does not like it at all that he is not here. "He is your life partner," he scolds. "It doesn't matter if he's having trouble dealing with this. You're the important one at this moment, and he needs to get over it." He also asks if I've ever thought of hitting him with a shoe. I look at my ass kicking boots and laugh a little. But I'm starting to be afraid. I look at Mary's shocked face. I look at the surgeon. I say it, "So you think it's cancer?" Pause. "I am very direct. I don't bullshit," says the nice surgeon. Me: "Either do I. Which is why I asking you flat out. I'm not asking you to be God, or predict the future, but you've seen things like this before and you have a strong feeling. What is it?" Pause. I stare square in his face. He looks back, because he does not bullshit. He says, "Yes. We are probably dealing with cancer."
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Today with my hands in piles of tissue and gold, glittering paper, it occurs to me. Maybe the surgeon's hunch is wrong. It could be, you know. And so I say this to Tim. His face twists a little. Cautiously, he says that he hopes it is, but he doesn't want me to get excited about that. And as I look at him, a quiet man trying so hard to say the right and honest words, not just comfort me with fairy tales, I realize that I don't believe me either. I go on wrapping.
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Tomorrow will come soon enough.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Presque Isle


About 11 years ago, about this same time of the year, a divorced man took a divorced woman and a carload of kids to Presque Isle. The kids scampered along the beach ahead looking for shells and beach glass, and the quiet man said to the woman that he wanted to be married. The woman was having no truck with that. She was lonely, and having a rough time of it, but the last thing that she needed was a husband. Good Lord! I'm afraid the divorced woman was rather empathetic about the fact that she was not going marry again. Not ever. Ever, ever, ever. (She felt that she really had to make it clear to this divorced man, who had, after all, asked this question before...let he who has ears hear, dammit.)
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The divorced man got very quiet, and then reached down and picked up a stone and put it in his pocket. He cleared his throat, and said, "Well, God is telling me that I am to be your rock. If that's all I can ever be, that's how it will have to be."
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He walked on without noticing that the woman had stopped dead in her tracks with her mouth open in shock. It had been a hard couple of years being on her own with the kids. The worst part was the loneliness of it. There was no one to talk to. The situation could not be discussed with her family. Her mother said things like, "You made your bed..." and her father had said, "You contaminate this family with your filth." She had been muddling along, and praying in the quiet of the night, "Please God. Just send me someone that I can talk to. Nothing more. I just need a rock."
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Even with the miracle right in front of her face, the woman was still lacking in the faith department. It took a few more months to say yes.
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Today we went back to Presque Isle. It was windy, windy, windy. The cold wind felt refreshing on my hot face. It just seemed so big. And embarassingly, I found myself crying at the bigness of it. And 11 years later, my husband reached out to hold my hand.

Normal

I wake up, and surprisingly, I feel rested. I get up, come downstairs, put the dog out, flip through the blogs I follow daily, drink the first of my two cups of coffee. It all seems so normal. Today, I will spend a big part of my day at the hospital. The new normal?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Horoscope

I read my horoscope every morning, and forget it promptly. I don't believe in it. It's on the comic page and I just glance it right after 'Zits' and 'B.C.' and 'Garfield'. This morning's though, I remember.
Gemini: Whether you believe that life is too short or too long, either way you slice it, frivolous fun is necessary. Get wild, get fabulous, and even if you go a little too far, you'll later appreciate your full commitment to life.
I like that.

Life is Funny Like That

I talked with Dylan this morning, and that made me cry, because he did. I'm a sympathetic crier anyways. I did the pre-op stuff at the hospital. Tim and I went to brunch with Mary. I thanked her again, and I explained carefully to them what I needed them to hear. Then we tucked into our omelets, and found plenty to laugh about. Dix called this morning. When she told her husband, the Robert, about this, he said, "So. When are you going out?' She was prepared to throw her stuff in the car and be here this weekend. "No," I said, 'don't.' Dixie is one of those rare individuals that can find the humor in any situation. Loads of it. Indeed we had laughed ourselves to tears the previous night picking my new boobs. I promised not to get so attached to the new ones as I have with the present ones. It just seemed like such a monumental waste to have her here while I was unconscious. "Wait," I urged her. "I'll be needing a good hard laugh. Come then." She made some comment about not being the village idiot. I told her that she needed to stick with the script. (She's actually brilliant, probably.) I'm not part of a huge circle of friends, but the ones that I've got are keepers. The strangest thing is that surprisingly, I've become awfully close to a group that I've never met, my blog mates. How strange. You're the dearest friends I've never met! I've been thinking that in all of this, there will be big life lessons. Not just for me, but for all of us, for everyone that hops on for the ride, for everyone that has the courage to see it through.
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Mary said, wistfully, "Isn't it strange how quickly things change?"
Yes, my friend.
Life is funny like that.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Beast is Named.

....and it is cancer.

Hours

I polish my nails.
Because that will make the difference.
My hair is set.
I decide to wear my Ariat boots. They make me look like I can handle things. Black, sensible, ass kicking kind of boots. Real comfortable, too.
I spend a lot of time getting ready.
Like it will make a difference.
I've been up since three this morning. I've called and made arrangements for one of the men from church to call Tim, or to stop by. I don't want him to be alone, but really, for this one time in my life, I've got to do the selfish thing, I've got to focus on myself. I need someone to help me, and Tim cannot. Not because he doesn't want to, but because he simply cannot.
Cara has called. She's funny, a natural comedian, and we are able to quip back and forth.
Now I sit in the silent house, and I cannot bear the silence, but when I turn on music, I cannot bear the noise.
The weather cannot make up its mind either. Quick flashes of sunlight break through and just as quickly the light fades and it is raining again. For some reason, this reminds me of being a very small child. I remember a day much like this one, and I remember being transfixed, fascinated by the phenomenon, watching the sun fade, and then burst back. I was a small child. I remember my father, dead of cancer for 8 years now. It reminds me of Hal's blog. "The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you’ve been." Really, I feel like I might shatter into a thousand small pieces. I wander over to Stuart's blog for the political comments he's got going on. Stevyn's book has come out today, and it is exciting to watch events unfold. A comment makes me laugh out loud, hard, and I am glad for it. Scotty and I had a chance to IM briefly this morning, but it is night in Australia now. I've whiled away some time playing a game with the Brummie. The hours of this day click by more slowly than a day has ever passed before. I've already had a glass of wine.
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These hours pass impossibly slowly. Will three o'clock NEVER get here? I have a headache. I am a 51 year old woman who walks the straight and narrow, and let me tell you what I'm wishing for this very minute. You'll probably think that I'm horrid. It's been 25 years or more. But dear heavens. If only I had a joint.

Swimming

Tuesday night, after that diagnostic mammogram, when life shifted into high gear, I came home stunned and silent. At some point during the night, I sat down to my computer and began to read up on 'biopsy'. One site showed pictures. Reality reared up and bit me hard. I realized that even if I dodge a bullet, even if that biopsy comes back cancer free, I am going to look different. Way different. Without being too graphic, allow me to say that my form will be altered. Substantially. I stared at those pictures, shocked, speechless. I could think of one thing only. Last month, coming out of the grocery store, Tim walked at my side. I was chattering away, like I do, and he kept giving me sideways glances. I finally stopped in my tracks and said, "What?!!!!" and he got a wicked little grin on his face, and leaned in to say, "Man, you've got a nice rack." I hissed, "Geesh, Tim, hush now!" and he smiled his way back to the car. That's all I could think of. It hit me that this experience is going to 'mark' me for life. I'm disgusted with myself for even worrying about such a thing, but there it is. Plain and simple. This is a big lump. Getting ready for bed, I stood in front of the mirror for a moment and measured that lump with my fingers. I'm going to lose a substantial amout of tissue. If I'm lucky that's all I'll lose. As reality sunk in, so did the emotions.
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Tim is quiet. He was raised in a home where no matter what happened, the answer was, "Have faith, and it will be alright". The girls used to joke about it. "Momma, momma, my head's been chopped off." and one or the other would call back, "Have faith, it will be okay," in a soothing voice. Nothing wrong with that answer, except that momma wasn't listening, not really, and there was no problem solving being learned. Tim's father didn't allow them to talk when he got home. He did not like chatter. So I am married to a quiet man, who loves me dearly, but isn't all that good about expressing himself. Usually, I deal with that just fine, being a pretty self-contained unit myself. Until now.
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I had gone to the radiologist's appointment straight from work. Tim had come straight from his work. We had missed each other, and I was already in when he got there. When the radiologist came in, I was asked if I wanted my husband there. "No," I said, "he's not here," never realizing that he'd arrived. So I got the news alone. While I dressed, I stared at myself, marveling that I looked the same. I felt quite different. But I looked the same. What the heck was up with that? When I walked out, and saw Tim in the waiting room, staring woodenly, I didn't know what to say. It wasn't really bad news, but it was definately not good news either. So, just as woodenly, I gave him the facts. Just the facts. He walked me to the Mercedes. We did not hug. We did not touch. "Are you hungry?" he asked. "Not really," I said. "But if you are, I'll have an iced tea while you get a bite." "No," he said, "We'd best go home. I've got to get the chimney cleaned and start the wood stove. It's pretty chilly." And he was right. I'd been shivering all day. So I drove him to his car, and headed out in my own car. I drove carefully, thinking 'pay attention...don't let your mind wander...you'll have an accident'...sensible things like that. And when he got home, he cleaned the chimney, and then heated up spaghetti in the microwave. I answered the phone and handled the changes, and answered the questions and agreed to arrangements that were being made way too quickly. And then it was quiet again, and we had nothing to say.
So I got on the internet, and scared the bejeesus out of myself.
Tim told me to have faith and everything would be fine.
24 hours later, his wife was an emotional basketcase, weeping while he stood there with a blank look on his face. And when the crying did not stop, when the wine was gone, it was tee totalling Tim that went out and bought another bottle. After three glasses, the hiccupping sobs subsided a little, and we talked, finally, and I realized how helpless he felt, and he realized how afraid I felt, and we both fell asleep in exhaustion on the sofa.
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Tim's not going with me today to the surgeon's office. My request. My oldest friend, Mary, is going with me. Her husband Danny is leaving work early to drive her school bus. They had their own scare with this a few years back. Danny got so woozy they made him sit down before he fainted. On our own, we decided that this is no place for husbands, they being merely male. Tim will come home from work and wait at our house. Mary will drive me home.
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It may seem strange. Tim was quite upset when I told him how it was going to be, crying my eyes out. He's so intent on 'business as usual', as if ignoring these grim things will make them less grimmer, maybe. I don't know. All I know is that I am not sure what is going to happen today, but the thing I need to know, with no doubt in my heart is that if I get really bad news today, I want to know that I've got someone with me who will know exactly what to say, and who will talk to me, not respond with some quick little sermon about faith. I want to know that the hug will be immediate, and heartfelt.
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This is a hard time for Tim. This is a hard time for me. This is uncharted water. We've never been this far out before. We struggle in currents that threaten to overwhelm us. When it is said and done, I know that I have my 'port in the storm' waiting. But when you're drowning, that port is not nearly as comforting as having someone dive in who knows how to swim.