Thursday, November 29, 2012

My religion

Well, I know I said I have no religion, but last night I did find it!

This week has been pretty craptastic, physically.  Sunday I started feeling weirdly sick, and by Monday was down, down, down...  It turns out that what two doctors have told me is an upper respiratory virus or infection looks really nothing like any upper respiratory thing I have ever had.  This should be par for the course by now.  I forget, every time some bizarre thing happens to me, that this stuff has happened before and will happen again.  Chemo makes everything weird.  This one has taken the form of a hard, swollen lymph node in my neck, making everything from my neck up to my teeth hurt, and hurt a lot.  Go figure... I think my pain tolerance is pretty high, but this has been ridiculous.  I am on a course of antibiotics, and Vicodin after failing with Tylenol and Advil.  Of course, suddenly having a gigantic lump in my neck did cause a ridiculous panic attack, with doctor visits in which I had to be talked down from the certainty of having cancerous tumors invading my neck and head.  I am loathe to admit any of this, but why bother concealing?

Back to the religion bit.  In the midst of this little mini-crisis, loomed last night, the date of the long awaited Bruce Springsteen concert.  I saw him perform in 1979.  I did not even know if I should try to go, but figured I could just sit in my chair and hope the person in front of me sat occasionally.  Jon carted me in to Portland, to our fancy hotel where I lied in the bed until it became clear food should be eaten.  Long story a tiny bit shorter, the concert was amazing.  It was so sentimental to me.  He played every song I hoped to hear (almost), but told myself I probably wouldn't.  It was basically undescribable, for me, to be there.

The religion and rapture of my teenage years returned to me, if only for a night.  I spent from about the age of 13 to I-don't-know, worshipping at the altar of Bruce, as did my peeps, especially my beloved summer camp peeps.  And last night, I got to return there, briefly, with all the other middle-aged folks at the Rose Garden.  It was definitely worth powering through the crap to be there.  So there you have it, my own personal religion story.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This is a test

Blogger just does things, without my permission, like change my fonts and send the text out beyond the borders of the box.  Tim says, bla bla bla ipad platform bla bla blogspot bla platform bla bla not compatible bla bla bla.   At least, that is what I hear.  I am picky about fonts, lord knows why, something to control, so I need to post and see what blogger gives me.  If you are reading this, I could recommend some good books or magazine articles, as you must be incredibly bored to stay with me like this!

I believe we had an excellent meal and excellent pies last night.  I can't be completely sure because the food did not taste like much of anything to me.  I cooked and seasoned a lot of it, and I know I am a pretty good cook, but I found myself salting and salting again and hoping the rest of the table wasn't eating the same bland food I was.  I hope this lovely side effect goes away after chemo, that my taste buds aren't permanently dulled or dead.  It is no wonder I love eggs right now.  The texture is comforting, and their blandness is a triumphant quality of their perfection as a food.  Brownies are sweet enough to taste, and taste good.  Ice cream is adequate.  Lots of things taste pretty good if I salt them enough; potato chips are especially sublime.  I am a cook and an appreciator of food, and for the most part I can enjoy eating and rely on texture and memory to sustain my meals, but somehow the standard Thanksgiving fare last night did nothing for me.  My husband, children, and in-laws were adamant that the meal was spectacular, so I guess I'll just believe what they say.

I walked into Powell's the other day and, without blinking an eye, dropped money on three hard cover books.  It is pretty easy to spend money these days, on books, or a new couch, show tickets, or rockin' boots... Whatever.   I have talked to other people who, when in their cancer universes, had a pretty blase attitude about money spending, as in "it's just money..." I will leave it to Jon to keep track of when this gets too over the top, which for any that know both of us, is playing a dangerous game.  I am the usual cheapskate, the keeper of the money spending gate, and all bets are off with me right now.  I have to say though, it is really pretty fun, and will likely abate as my taste buds and hair begin to return.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Me, seeing a plastic surgeon

Re: the title... Not something I ever imagined doing.  It is almost funny!  But we really 
liked Dr. Popowich, and this is the next thing to begin thinking about, or not, along the way.  
For now, the details might be a serious breach of way too much "TMI" but if you want them 
email me.  The Pearl Women's Center was the highest end doctor's office I have ever 
been in.  If you are Grey's Anatomy watchers, it was 
reminscent of Addison's trip to LA, with a Portland twist of course, and Deschutes 
Brewery and Powell's right on the block.  Both were utilized after the appointmnent.

For today, swim, make several pies, prep stuff for which there will be no oven space 
for the bulk of the day tomorrow.

Do not worry (if you were) about the erratic nature of the posts here.  It's just life, 
and each day is different.
It has been exciting though, in my brain compromised state, to get all the tv recs.  
Those should get me
through the rest of chemo, and maybe even into radiation!  

I've been meaning to thank, again, all the friends that have brought us food on the 
meal train.  It has been amazing and uplifting, in ways describable (like the food has 
been really phenomenal) and not (the   
effort our little, though bigger than I imagined, community, has made on our family's 
behalf). I hope my 
people are not in need of meal trains any time soon for reasons like mine - we are a bit 
beyond the 
new baby meal train stage - but if it happens I will be at your door with hot food.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


I feel like a big baby.  But it should be understandable.  I am sick of smiling and pretending to be a good sport about this.  I am also sick of pretending that I am a good person who is not experiencing some level of uncontrollable bitterness at others' seeming lack of problems.  As stated before, it is not that I am interested in anyone else being stuck in my shitty situation - I'm not - but it would require the Buddha not to have some resentment, and I am not the Buddha.  So, I write today in full admission of my unenlightened, shallow viewpoint on life right now.  Even though it does no good, I wonder why me, which is a huge, crappy conundrum that implies if not me, then someone else.  And that does not make me feel too good.

I have not found the silver lining that people with cancer sometimes discuss, where they say their lives are actually enhanced, improved, enlightened by the necessity of dealing with this crisis.  I have read and heard interviews with people who end up glad they got cancer, that it changed their lives in ways they could not have anticipated.  I have not found God, or faith in any religion.  I remain the atheist I have been, and satisfied with that.  Try as I might (I am not actually trying very hard) to investigate whether some faith in something outside of medicine and science could help me, I am coming up empty.  Please don't encourage me in this vein.  I don't mind my pragmatic lack of religion, and am simply reporting the process in my head, as always.   I have not found a way to spiritualize the teachable moments in this journey, though there are plenty of teachable moments.  But... they are just that, nothing more and nothing less.  

On my run this morning, which Ani so kindly got me through, as I felt shitty and winded the whole time, I practiced keeping going.  I guess this is as close to the spiritual as I am going to get.  I figure if I can mentally keep going in the pool or on the street in the pouring rain, that simple act trains the mind to keep going in other ways, as in day by day through cancer treatment.  So... That is all I have... the act of keeping going, which will have to be enough.

I have no idea whether sometime during this year the epiphane will arrive and I will suddenly "understand" the purpose of my journey.  I am skeptical though, and am apt to conclude that it is a piece of shitty luck, which some people have to deal with at some point, or points, during their lives.  I have become one of those people, and my job is to accept it, take the medicine, and deal.

For years I have carried around a "This American Life" story told by a radio broadcaster who had one of those heinous cancers where you're literally living in the hospital for months, getting chemoed just about to death, to give you a chance at a life after.  She said, and I have never forgotten it, that "we think we are the sick and the well," (as if if one is not sick one is safe from sickness), "but we are actually the sick, and the not yet sick."  She admitted to this being a matter of semantics but I have carried the distinction around with me for years.  Maybe as part of my doom-seeking Jewishness, maybe as some form of fearful enlightenment that I understand quite well right now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A long list

I had my fourth chemo today.  It feels like it will eventually end and I will move on to another phase of this bizarre journey.  Dr. Raish thinks everything is going along very smoothly.

In the next month I will have another echocardiogram (apparently I need these after every four doses of Herceptin, of which there are 13 more).  I will see a geneticist, I will have scans and see the surgeon, Dr. Garreau.  I will see the plastic surgeon.  I will have a shot of Neulasta tomorrow to grow white blood cells, I will have blood work and another chemo.

Tragic news.  I am done with four seasons of Mad Men.  I think season 5 is in progress so it will be a while before I get back to it. Tragic, tragic, tragic.  I got disc 1 of Homeland at the video store today.  Unfortunately it is not on Netflix on demand so I will have to be more organized to watch it.  I went there to get Season 2 of Downton Abbey (also not on demand).  It is, however, in demand with the locals so it wasn't there.  If any of you loyal readers know of a great show that is on demand Netflix that is a much easier way for me to watch stuff.  However, I am happy also to support my local, independent video store so this is not a bad thing I guess.

As shitty as my situation is, I am realizing there are people in much, much shittier situations.  So, I am trying not to whine a lot.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  It is easier to whine in the privacy of my house, so Jon might have a different experience of my attitude.  Still, as far as getting cancer if a person got their pick of them this is a pretty straightforward one to deal with, and for that I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Long time

It has been a long time since I last wrote.  The days are just flopping into each other, as I have waited through another three week cycle, which ends tomorrow with my fourth chemo.  My brain, as stated previously, remains a huge issue.  Yesterday I completely forgot to go and get my blood draw.  This is so unlike me, to miss an appointment, not even to realize I had the appointment, which was written clear as day on the calendar.  Oh fucking well!  I'm sure I can get it today or tomorrow morning, before the chemo.

I believe that after the fourth chemo I will have another set of scans, so the powers that be can evaluate whether our plan is working, and whether the path we are on is the right one.  Jon's cousin had a word for this: scanxiety.  I'm sure that all reading this have felt completely fine, had some kind of medical test or mammogram or x-ray or blood draw and suddenly found themselves imagining all the horrific findings that are possible.  Or maybe you haven't.  Maybe it is just what I do, or maybe what us Jews do.  We Jews tend to worry about what can go wrong more than most, I think.  Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong! I have done that with every pap smear and mammogram and x-ray I have ever had, and these upcoming scans will be no different, except that the imagined nightmare has actually come to pass.  The marching on of days is the only cure for scanxiety, just to push up dates so things happen as quickly as possible and get these things over with, hoping that the wait for results is not too long.  And of course hoping that nothing complicated or surprising is happening inside my body.

I am still able and glad to run or swim every day.  Yesterday we actually had a family run on Ani's birthday.  All four of us together is a rare occurence out running the river trail.  It was pretty sweet, though I am sure a bit slow for Ani.  My daughter is 17, hard to believe, as cliche as that sounds.

Not to bring politics into this venue, but hey, it's mine and I would like to say how relieved I am about the election, both nationally and the state wide elections.  I truly believe that the lives of my children, my family, and the country and the planet would have changed for the worse if Romney had been elected.  Below find just one of many stories, in which the subject could be me pretty easily, that explains why.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


A friend sent this most perfect poem.   It describes very well some feelings I have previously attempted to describe.

No Lifeguard on Duty

it is difficult
when one is drowning
to wave to the people
on shore

one wants to be
friendly, of course,

but perhaps it is
more important
to keep

- Lois Tschelter Hjelmstad


People often ask how the kids are doing, so it is probably high time for a report.  They are both such intensely private people that I opt not to write about them.  I doubt Tim is reading this blog, but Ani may be.

As different as they are from each other, they share quietness, a sense of logic, and a minimum of emotionalism and drama.  These traits have colored their responses to my cancer.  Tim has Aspergers, for those that don't know.  He is extremely literal, and emotes minimally.  He understands that I and by extension our family has a crappy and challenging year (approximately) to get through.  He informed us early on that breast cancer used to be one of the deadliest diseases for women, but that now most women survive it.  I am loathe to admit, but will, for a laugh, that he cited South Park as the source of this hot gem of information.  He has always been hard to read emotionally, but I think what you see is what you get.  He seems calm about it, and I don't particularly think he is concealing anything.

Ani is a practical girl.  She also the kind of girl that would watch a surgery on youtube that she was about to have.  I know this because she actually did it.  She had a back surgery in March and actually watched one on youtube beforehand.  She is planning to be pre-med, and would never turn away from insertion of a needle, or an injury.  The rest of us find this scary.  Watching her over the last year and a half, I have been amazed at her distinct lack of bitterness about what life throws at her, and at us.  She seems to be addressing my cancer in this same way.  I am pretty sure she has done internet research about my cancer, which is braver than I have been (I confess I have looked up not one single thing, except articles in one cancer magazine and a blog or two).  Like her brother, she is extremely undramatic, and would never be described as wearing her heart on her sleeve.  Years ago when I read the novel "Chocolat" I absorbed the description of the little daughter, "my beautiful stranger" as a pretty apt description of my own little daughter.  Again, as with Tim, I have searched for and worried about all the stuff that might be being repressed or concealed, but each bout of worry has me concluding that what I am seeing is what I am getting.

My teenagers seem to be taking this latest curve ball pretty practically.  They are helpful, they are focusing on school work, which is what I want them to be doing.  Ani is exploring different colleges. Tim is building things in the garage.  Ani usually stops by the chemo room to say hi when I am in there.  She just seems strong, and practical.  I hope I am not completely high to think they are doing ok, but I actually think they are doing ok.  My treatment appears to be working.  The doctors say it is a pretty straightforward path, and that is how the family is operating.

Friday, November 2, 2012

See "The Bull"

I am thinking a lot this week about the Cheryl Strayed passage I wrote about previously (see The Bull).  It really gets to the crux of doing cancer treatment.  I can't veer off, or change my mind, or decide to do something else.  I literally have very few choices, I have to make the choices, and none of them are what anyone in their right mind would consider appealing or attractive choices.  My oncologist often reminds me, none of this is fun.  I am in the process of deciding what to do among the often two things I don't want to do.

For instance, breast reconstruction or not? is my latest of these.  Where the bull is, I have no idea, but I am going to have to pick a direction.  And really, who would say either of these outcomes will be satisfying?  Neither will, but one or the other is what I am going to do.

Yesterday while shopping in Portland I was able to ignore, or sort of tamp down or almost forget about the cancer for a while in little moments of conversation or rabid hunting through sale bins.  I am grateful to my friend for sensing my need to get out of dodge and have some distraction.  I did buy a couple of summer dresses, which I made sure to choose with flat fronts and no shelf bras, in case by summer I have a flat front.

I am starting to wonder whether I really want to deal with plastic surgery.  I know it is more procedures, more time, more pain, and the risk of not being happy with the outcome.  I am the type of person who walks into the house, pulls her bra off through her sleeves, and sighs with relief.  Hate bras, always have.  Being flat, or concave (?), will require dealing with self consciousness, in the locker room, in a swim suit, in life in general.  If practicing this by being bald is any indication, it is one of the many, many things in life that are harder than they look.  I don't know where the bull is, but I am going to have to pick a direction and go.