Thursday, July 26, 2007

Me, Myself & I - with Auntie's help

Hmm, support groups. They weren't for me. I tried to be good, and follow the pink brick road, but I just couldn't make myself take that step. Luckily for me, in the midst of all that procrastination, I had a chat with my Auntie who'd been down this road ahead of me by a couple of years. She called to offer (wait for it!) support, and she told me of her experiences going to a support group. There were some very nice people there, she said, but then she added they were more than trumped by the people in the group who whined all the live long day. She dropped in a few times and then, if memory serves, decided it wasn't for her.
My auntie was not a person to put up with whining; I learned that when I was a teensy niece. I thought my mom was fierce about that, but Auntie took no prisoners.

So I found solace elsewhere, bending the ears of my dear friends & family and my ever patient spousal unit, and the fantastic nurses at the Casa de Chemo. They'd heard it all but they always listened as though you were the first one telling them about whatever trial you were enduring. Goddesses on earth, they are.

It would have been nice to have a kind of anti-support support group, but how would we ever find each other? This must be what it's like for the procrastinator's club trying to set up a meeting.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"You are old, Father William, the young man said..."

I was walking out of Ye Olde Quaint Market when I glanced down at my receipt and saw that the checker had given me the 5 percent senior discount.

This is getting $%*!@ing tiresome.

My husband shrugs it off: The checker is in his 20s; anyone with a wrinkle or gray hair looks old to him.

But the fact is, now I've had cancer, I have an investment in how I look to people. I don't want to look 12 to 17 years older than I am; I want to look damn good.

Also, hey: check it out. Being in a cancer support group does not make you live longer. It just feels longer when you're listening to other people's problems.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Cancerella's Cancer Back-Story

Cancer the First-

I was diagnosed with my first cancer in 1997. While it was as upsetting as you might imagine to get that ominous call from the gynecologist in which she says, "Come in and see me as soon as possible...can you come this afternoon?" it wasn't a complete surprise as I was looking back at a family history that produced breast cancer in the three previous generations of my maternal family. Whether it was genetics or environment or both doesn't seem to matter so much when you hear the doctor say that the results of the tests revealed a malignancy.
So there we were, my devoted husband and I, getting the life changing news together. (Sometime after that fateful day he reminded me of the first thing I said after hearing that I had cancer; I said I didn't want to die.) I think I said it because my family data points for the disease were, someone gets cancer and then not too long after the diagnosis they die. So in spite of my diligently getting mammograms every year starting at age thirty-one, after my mother succumbed to the disease, and having to fight to get insurance approval for said mammograms, I became another family data point. And even though it was caught early, I had the thought that I could die from this disease, that I would die from it if I didn't do everything I could to get rid of it.
Needle (punch) biopsy, lumpectomy, mastectomy and chemotherapy were the experiences I was bound to endure but destined to hate hate hate with the white hot heat of a thousand suns. Each one worse than the one before, with chemo being a sidestep into a whole other realm.

Cancer the Second-

Here's the thing. When you get cancer, there's this five year clock that begins ticking after your diagnosis. I don't know who decided it should be five years, but after five years I guess you are dubbed cancer free if there are no re-occurences within that time.
The clock starts ticking and almost every day you think about how you are holding your breath until that five year anniversary is reached, where you think you can go back to your pre-cancer brain, the one where life is good, and you might just be the one to beat the odds of humanity and live forever, but you can't ever go back there after. In that way it's like sex; you are never the same after. No judgements here, I'm not saying whether you are better off or worse off, but you are forever changed.
So it was a real punch in the breadbasket when we got the news four years after the first occurence that I had cancer again. Every year between the first and second diagnoses the hard working radiologists found something that needed removal, so every year I had to go in and have a little bit more of my remaining breast cut out. By the end of the third year my breast was looking like it had been through its own disfiguring car wreck. It wasn't pretty anymore, and it didn't feel so fabulous from the inside, and my nipple was now pointing as if to say 'Hey, look at that up there' instead of pointing ahead into the mirror and the future as it had done for so many years before. I had grown comfortable with the idea of a prophylactic mastectomy when my breast beat me to it and spoiled before I could throw it away.
Take two. Cancer the second time meant having the oncologist decide to use the "stronger chemo" just in case this was a reprise of the first cancer. Would I be sick? For days. Would I be bald? Like the proverbial cue ball, except a cue ball doesn't need hair to keep the dust from falling in its eyes or the snot from falling out of its nose (oh yeah, thank your nose hairs for being there; talk about a thankless job).

I celebrated reaching the five year mark after Cancer, Part Deux by having a colonoscopy. The onc. suggested getting one done given my family history even though I wasn't yet fifty years old. Thankfully I passed that test with flying colors.

Sadly, near the sixth anniversary of my second diagnosis, my co-blogger Carny Asada was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Which brings us to here and now. We are blogging it out, talking about the journey that begins after the treatment ends.

Thanks for reading, and do stop by again. We so enjoy having visitors.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Unexpected Feelings

I'm not talking great emotional tidal waves of heart wrenching angst or crushing depression. No, what I'm talking about are phantom feelings. "Strange" sensations. Sensations that made perfect sense when the breastages were still attached and hadn't even had any core samples or divots taken out. Things like that feeling that something is brushing against your breast right through your shirt/bra, or my personal favorite, the itchy nipple.

I ask you, how might you scratch an itchy nipple that is no longer there where you kept it tucked away for so many years? Because when you get cut on in a surgical way, the nerve pathways are disrupted, sometimes damaged, and forever changed. Things like an itch or a pain or a tingle don't respond the way they once did when attended to with a relieving scratch or other kind of physical contact. For me, even if I scratch where I think that pesky nerve is saying it's itchy, the scratch no longer satisfies because that nerve is sending me down a neural dead end. Literally, a dead end. Places where I could scratch with a garden tool and find no relief even as that mystery nerve continues firing the "hey, it's itchy here!" message.
Nowadays I have to literally beat my (faux) breast in order to send some distracting sensory signals along that messed up nerve pathway in order to get my mind off the itch.

So if in your travels on your life path, you come across a woman punching herself in a place that you wouldn't expect any rational woman to be punching, just know that you are witnessing one rational woman's response to a most irrational neuron.