Sunday, December 30, 2012

Couch time

As I log untold hours on the couch, I have been sitting here reading other people's breast cancer blogs.  You know, it is amazing how many ways there are to be treated, to experience hardship and complications, to carry on because what else is there to do, really?  I am appreciating all of the experience of others, if only to confirm what I never seem to know for sure, that I think I am pretty lucky.

Today's good luck includes Jon and Ani making mushroom rissotto and roasted butternut squash for dinner.  I am not sure how much better it can get than this.


How do you tell the difference between good luck and bad luck?  Sometimes I feel extremely unlucky, and other times I feel lucky.  Obviously, getting cancer is a stroke of extreme bad luck.  However, I got a treatable cancer (so they tell me; I try to believe them).  It was found before it had metastasized, so that is pretty lucky.  It is not pancreatic, or lung, or ovarian, or liver, or kidney, etc. etc., all harder to treat than the breast cancer I have.  I acquired my cancer after the HER2 marker was discovered and also a targeted therapy for it.  That is pretty lucky.  I would have been out of luck on that score a dozen years ago.  I have been pretty lucky with relatively (it's all relative) mild side effects, and I haven't had to delay any treatments due to complications.  My husband and children are healthy.  Believe me, I am filled with gratitude for this simple fact.

And yet...  I still feel pretty unlucky.  Like when I went out to dinner with girlfriends, observing all of their excellent and intact hair, listening to the chat about normal things in people's normal lives, trying to participate when nothing feels normal.  Then again, I just love my girlfriends, and there I was, out for Thai food, so it's also lucky, right?  I realize over and over that people have done what I am doing and much worse, with aplomb and good attitudes, and I do try to maintain a good attitude much of the time, but having crossed over into this world of cancer, it is not easy.

Many will point out that viewing oneself as either lucky or unlucky is a choice.  For some, depending
on temperament, one or the other would be the default mode.  I am reluctant to admit, but will, that unlucky is probably the default mode, and I have to make a conscious shift to feeling lucky, which is why I constantly list out the reasons for my good luck with this whole thing.  Not to use my Jewishness as an excuse, but the Jews have not been the luckiest group, and I am pretty sure that fear and uncertainty, and worry, have come down through my completely unadulterated, un-mixed Russian Jewish line.  My nature is admittedly not a glass-half-full one, a lemonade-from-lemons

temperament.  I wish it was, but I know myself and I am what I am.  So I need to force the issue of what might be the good luck in my situation (see above list of lucky points, of which there are many).

Strange, the chemo is done, and I should be relieved, and thrilled, and excited to start feeling better.  I am all those things, but there is simultaneously the scary fact of no more poison.  Whatever the poisons have accomplished on my behalf is done.  I know for others and myself, who have gone through chemo treatments, there is definitely a desire/dread relationship with the poisons.  I could not wait for each three weeks to come and go, so I could have another dose, while knowing how badly I'd feel as a result.

It is amazing how tired a person can be.  I have been too tired to reach over for my glass of ginger ale and drink it.  I have been too tired while standing in the shower to turn it off and get out.  Luckily, that part lasts only three or four days.  And I will continue to look for the good luck wherever I can see it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Last chemo

Well, I've had my 6th and last chemo treatment (I hope).  Anyone who has had chemo knows though, that the last chemo will not be done for two weeks or so, when I start to feel better.  So, more accurately, I have started my last chemo treatment.  As you might know, then I will have surgery and likely radiation.

Then, the return to whatever normal I can muster.  I read the blog of another woman also finishing chemo the same day as me.  I have to share what her doctor told her, when asked how she will know she is cancer free.  Essentially, the answer was, we'll know the cancer did not come back when you die of something else at age 96.  I found this to be succinct and pretty real, and will not soon forget it.

I will be curious to see what my normal is like.  And a new life of coping more concretely with the unknown than even a worrier like me coped with in the first place.  

Anyway, onward: one more visit with the plastic surgeon, one mri to get final measurements for the surgeon, surgery and recovery, and the pathology report that will tell whether radiation will be forthcoming or foregone.  Day by day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All good

Dr. Garreau was thrilled with my progress.  Though the scans do not tell her whether there is any cancer left, they do tell her that whatever is there, scar tissue, dead tissue, or cancer, is much smaller. She believes the surgery will go very well, and has only positive predictions about everything.  Surgery is scheduled for January 22nd, and the pathology results from it will tell us if there is to be radiation.

All that said, I cannot shake the anxiety of the whole thing.  I guess that is not surprising, since I do have cancer and all.  So, I will just continue to try to breathe deeply, be in really good shape going into surgery, and wait.  I liked that Dr. Garreau said that chemo is the worst part, much worse than surgery, so I'm glad I will have it behind me very soon.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What to say

Well, since I last wrote of my paltry problems, like whether to run when it is raining, and how tired I felt, twenty families lost a child, and seven more famillies lost loved ones, in really the most senseless way I can possibly imagine.  I have two friends that have lost a child, in very different ways, but the bottom line in there is nothing worse than that, not breast cancer, or chemotherapy, or being bald, or even worrying about my own possible death.

My wonderful cousin, who I've mentioned here before, lives with her husband about seven miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School.  They have lived in Newtown for a long time. I am sure that like all of us, they did not imagine their town would ever be spoken of on a list that includes Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech...  It is a pretty New England town like the one in which I grew up, and now it is shrouded in shock and grief and sadness, and it will never be the same.

I am not going to write a diatribe about gun control, which I believe should have happened long ago.  To what end does someone own an assault weapon?  Our humanity, and the U.S.'s assumed status as a first world country is questionable to me, when we allow the potential for something like this to happen.  I am just going to say, as cliche and useless as it sounds, that my heart is with the parents and families whose children and loved ones are dead, and with a small town that will have to move through this somehow.

As far as my situation, just as a quick health update, this week I have felt better than I have felt in a long time.  I think that means I am at about 50% of my normal capacity, but I am not sure, as my normal self was here a long three months ago and it's hard to remember.  Tuesday I will have a routine visit with Dr. Raish.  Wednesday I will have a CT scan and and appointment with Dr. Garreau in Portland.  As routine as all that is supposed to be, the scan definitely causes some anxiety, and one way or another I will be happy when it is done and reported.  I think.  I hope.  Anyway, I will also visit the plastic surgeon in early January to finalize plans for my new rack.  And that is about all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Running in the rain, and a pathetic advance

I will try not to be corny when talking about the rain.  You know, all that stuff about the many words Eskimos have for snow, and all that.  Here on the Oregon coast, we do need many words for rain, as there are many, many different kinds.  I have run in all of them.  Today, since there is no name for it, it was doing that medium-hard drizzle thing that seems hopefully drizzle-like when you step out in it, but quicky soaks you, your shoes, your fancy dog if she is unlucky enough to be with you (I have learned to leave her home - she really does not like it, so she was not out there with me today).  It has since morphed out of "drizzle" and into a perfectly honest, very hard RAIN, with a little more wind thrown in.  There should also be consideration given to temperature.  There is a vast difference between 50s (totally comfortable) and 40s (with rain, very cold).

This morning I made the strategic error of being in front of two episodes of Homeland while it was actually very lightly drizzling, which is not very wet at all.  Then, it started pouring.  I decided to wait out the pour and hope for a less wet interlude, during which I killed another 40 minutes watching Modern Family (yes, people, some days are like this).  After realizing I was not to be gifted with a little dry break, I got dressed, ate some chicken salad for fortitude, and headed out.

As is unfailingly, always the case, it sounds worse on the roof and windows than it actually feels.  If you live in a place like this, like to run, and hate treadmills, you too will be dressing in appropriate gear and heading out the door.  I have to say, now more than ever, it makes me happy to do this.  There is something incredibly cleansing in it.  I wear a liner beanie I got years ago and never used until now, underneath my trusty Portland Marathon ball cap, and wait for the sensation of a prickly, sweaty head.  Every time I go, manage it, get through it (today I crossed a line, people, and talked to myself out loud), I am better than I was before I went, physically, mentally, emotionally.

As every wet winter begins here, without fail, I am heard repeatedly to say, "Why the fuck do we continue to live here?  Isn't it time to get out?  Live somewhere normal? With sun, and snow?"  Ask anyone in this house, it is a chorus on repeat.  I try to watch my mouth.  It doesn't always work.  The chorus is exacerbated by strong winds, which I have extra bad feelings about.  But maybe this challenge of getting myself out in it, when it is neither pleasant nor easy, is one reason we are still here.  It is helping me be stronger, and requires a certain determination that frankly, you just can't exerience in a place with pleasant weather.

Now, to the pathetic advance.  The whole time I have been bald, I have been pretty self-conscious, unless I am in my house. I pretty much wear a hat everywhere.  At the pool, I got into this ridiculous routine of transitioning from my hat to the swim cap in private, and then wrapping my head in a towel in the shower and doing the transition in reverse.  Ridiculous.  I don't really mind how I look without hair, it's the concept, and the potential for having to visit the issue with others that keeps my head covered.  Anyway, yesterday I just wanted to feel my head in the air.  I was so sick of having it covered that I sucked it up and did my locker room stuff, fully exposed.  Know I am not a modest person.  I have never felt the need to cover up in the locker room, ever, until now, with my head.  So there I was.  One woman witnessed me, we chatted about the usual stuff (water pressure in the showers, hot water, etc.), and that was it.  My big psychological advance, there you have it.  I probably won't need to uncover myself while running, as by the time the weather is good enough I should have some hair.  I tell you though, fresh air on a bald head feels really, really good.

Jon Here: A funny Hanukkah story. So we do little fun presents every (or) most nights of Hanukkah. After the first night we were aghast that we forgot Mia in the presents... Well I went to the local dollar store and bought her some raw hide chew toys since we have never given her one before. The second night of Hanukkah, I got excited and so did Mia and gave her a mini raw hide bone. She just looked at it like what the heck am I supposed to do with this. We tried throwing it and playing with it, but she just basically looked at us. Then last night, the third night, I gave her a longer different shaped raw hide and she just looked at me incredulously as if to say, Um, we went through this last night, I don’t do raw hide bones!!  Or is it she knows we are not allowed to buy food for us to eat ath the dollar store and she won't eat it either because it is old...  It is so strange because she is such a food hound... Ok, this really has nothing to do with anything, but she is such a character and Mia has been the one really taking care of Laura!

Monday, December 10, 2012


I do have some fears about finishing with all this, which I guess is a good sign, that I sense I will finish with it.  Still, my fears make for another Catch-22.  There are a lot of those.  I am afraid I will come out the other side of this and be completely different.  And, I am afraid I will come out the other side of this and be just the same.

I don't know how to picture what would be so completely diffferent about me afterwards, but I fear the potential.  Of course, there are good ways to end up different.  I could find my passion, my life's purpose.  Not to brag too much about my cousin, but post-cancer she has created a fulfilling and purposeful life of being a patient and research advocate for breast cancer.  She is brilliant and well informed, and of use to many, many people, including me.  I could finally have the epiphane of what I want to do with my life, which if it happens will have been a LONG time coming.  I could find myself gainfully employed or focused and on the path back to school, for something I am sure about wanting to know.

I could spend the rest of my life grinding my teeth down to nothing with worry, which I realize is what I am doing now.  I could remain hidden away in my house, removed and permanently different from most of the people who know me, except for the people who have or had cancer, feeling like an alien.  I know I have always been a worrier, but I could end up a pretty different type of worrier than the standard Jewish girl I have always been.  I could be permanently stuck in my foggy chemo brain, unable to really function outside the house, in quick or lively conversations.

Or, I fear I could come out just the same - uncertain of my prospects, sending out resumes for work I don't have the confidence I could do.  I can't think of anything more depressing than coming through all of this only to once again be sitting around with the Daily Astorian help wanted ads.  And yet, I knew when I sold my lovely book shop that gainful, satisfying employment would be hard to come by again, especially after having a job I loved for many years.  Granted, the last years were difficult, and I had stopped being able to love what the business needed to become to survive.  Another Catch-22 was before me.  I loved being a bookseller, but there was no longer a place for the bookseller I wanted to be and had been.

Even before the cancer, I began to realize as my bookselling days became more distant, that I had forced myself to lose a large piece of my identity.  I would see people in the grocery who knew me in the book shop, and eventually over time, some literally stopped recognizing me.  For real.  My bookseller self actually began to disappear.  I had another identity, of which I was very proud.  I was an elected school board director.  That identity closed itself up quickly, by necessity.  At the swim meet Saturday an aquaintance asked if there were to be budget cuts in the upcoming year.  I had no idea whatsoever (though here in Oregon "yes" is a pretty good guess).

So, people say that cancer kind of strips a person bare.  Many people say that there is a very clear line that separates life before diagnosis and life after, and I find that to be true.  As soon as I was diagnosed, I literally had trouble remembering before - the immediate before, two lovely weddings during August, our trip to Maine, and actually the whole year became a blur.  So inevitably, I have to wonder what the distinction will be between who I was before and who I will be after.  I was somewhat of a neurotic, messy person before... The mystery awaits.

The funny thing about all this is that last night I was talking about it with Jon, and for the first time I can remember, he had no answer.  I left him without speech, which if you know him, is darn funny.  He did finally come up with the idea that he thinks my fifties will be powerful years.  I will hold on to that, and hope for the best.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Tasmanian Devil

The pork was pretty good, but the movie was not.  Why do I continue to believe that a recent Will Ferrell movie might be good, and not just stupid, offensive, and, um... stupid.  Ah well, there are worse mistakes...  We have seen some good movies recently, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, and yes, Skyfall.  And on lonely weekdays, Homeland and Downton Abbey continue to prop me up, especially Homeland.  Just the right amount of stress and tension that belongs to someone else.  Perfect.

True to pattern, yesterday may have been the worst of it.  Three full days post chemo, when the steroids wear off and just the poison remains.  Today, I will head to the pool to try to get myself back to my "normal."

Last night, my sainted husband ( have I mentioned lately how sainted he is?) roasted a chicken and made the latkes.  I cannot remember a Hanukah where I did not make the latkes, and usually five to ten pounds of potatoes'' worth for friends as well.  Last night I just could not do it.  I peeled three potatoes and left the rest to Jon and Tim.  The great thing is they tasted really, really good, as nothing had all day.

I love how much my son loves holidays.  Hanukah's cool partly because of playing with fire every night, but he really takes them all pretty seriously.  He likes rituals, presents of course, he ate about twenty latkes, and he is gearing up to help Jon get a tree today.  I have always been neglectful with holidays.  Presents, cheeriness, decorating - not my forte (don't laugh).  But my husband and son take it on and Jon has never let any go by neglected.

I have gotten lazier and lazier lately.  I know it is a bit unavoidable, but I have no idea how the family would even be functioning if not for Jon.  He cheerfully does Everything.  I manage some of the dog walking and very occasional cooking, I have been seen sweeping a floor once or twice, but that is about it.  Everything else is him, and the kids, and friends.  I am also glad that Ani is so on top of her own life and obligations.  She seems to exist in a plane of ultra-responsibility, competence, and organizational skills that rival anyone.  So, I will attempt to let the holidays happen around me, eat some food, enjoy my humorous son and straightforward daughter, and my husband, like the Tasmanian Devil, making it happen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Here is Laura during chemo # 4.  Eating some sort of delicious made by Jon's workmate Brian.

Help is good.

Have I mentioned my friend who came over and cleaned my house, and I mean really, really cleaned, the day my in-laws arrived?  I don't think I have.  I have to say, it was stunning.  I am sure I could have rallied and faux-cleaned up for them somewhat adequately, but this was just so cleansing (literally) and completely generous.  This happened before Thanksgiving and I am still not really over it.  This friend showed up in completely no-nonsense fashion, told me not to wear myself out, unpacked her bucket of supplies and went at my mildly disgusting house, which is also mildly large.  One really amazing thing is just how much of an energy drain it would have been for me to do, and do that well.  Scary, but true.

Chemo takes its toll.  Even with the nausea preventive drugs and the mitigation of some of the worst side effects, it takes its toll.  Between the exhaustion and the overthinking, it is definitely taking its toll.  I am attempting to prepare myself for a morning of timing a swim meet tomorrow, and from my vantage point in chemo-land, it seems like a really big deal.  I have always had the nice perk of people being surprised that I am as old as I am, which is 49.  Now, I feel old, I feel like I look old, and normal things like grocery shopping seem daunting and hard, as if I were very old.  I may be forgetting what I am normally like.  This is probably a surreal side effect of chemo, not much discussed in the literature.  I wonder sometimes, if my brain will ever feel at all quick and curious again, if I will feel fit and strong running, even sometimes if my hair will really grow back, even though they say it will.  Some states begin to feel permanent, and after a mere 12 weeks of this, it does.  I can't decide whether time is going by quickly or terribly slowly.  Jon pointed out that in early September when he bought our Springsteen tickets it seemed so, so long to wait for a treat.  And now it is passed.  Was it quick or slow?  From my vantage point, living in my three week increments, I honestly can't say.

Sorry for the postings that always seem to skew towards the miserable.  I start to write and let it go wherever.  I will try to end on a positive note: the trajectory of my evening includes pulled pork over toast, and a trashy Will Ferrell movie with my man and my boy.  In any circumstance, that really does not sound too bad.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Live from the chemo lounge...  Jon just left to go back to work.  Which leaves me with the ipad and my book.  The ipad wins out.

I swam a mile before coming here.  Every day of chemo with probably five exceptions in total I have swum or run.  I have insisted on swimming no less than a mile, and running no less than three, usually 3.5 - 4.5.  I feel like I have to do these things, to feel like me.  I am gaining some weight, probably due to steroids, and that is an oh well.  Jon says it is probably better than losing weight at this point.  Anyway, when running I don't use an ipod or any devices.  I just leave it open to thinking (sometimes dangerous), observing how I am doing, noticing what is around me.  What I am noticing is how much harder it is getting to do it.  It is hard to make myself get ready and go, either swim or run, and it is so much harder to do than it was.  Basically it feels like I am not very fit, and while I don't keep track of time I know I am a lot slower than the slow I have always been.  But I have insisted on doing this one thing, excercising daily.  The days that I haven't I have just felt more lethargic and sad.

My town of Astoria is chock full of brutal hills, all of which I have run, and cycled, over the last many years of training for this or that.  These days I keep it to some variation of the loop around the lagoon by my house, which is flat.  There is a small hill leading back up to my house, which in the old days I did not consider to be a hill at all, and now I have to talk myself up it.  I tell myself I have to run, not walk, up it, as part of the keep going mindset I feel I have to have.  I scold myself that if I can't run up this poor excuse for a hill I will never make it through the rest of chemo, surgery, radiation.  And so, with one exception two weekends ago, I have run my whole runs without stopping.  Swimming is similarly taxing, though it has always been less laborious and more rejuvenating than tiring.  I am always, always immensely satisfied after I swim, even if I am extra
challenged during it.   I am grateful to be able to swim and run.  The yoga never panned out into a habit this time around, but I am happy with what I am doing.  I wonder how it will all go during the last and probably most fatigue-ridden third of the chemo.  I know that post surgery I will not be running for an extended period, and not swimming for a more extended period, and that will be a challenge for me both mentally and physically.  I think moreso mentally, and will have to cross that bridge when I come to it.  For now, I hope to stick with my mileage, and simply keep going.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Bader Ginsburg, that is.  I did in fact buy Jeffrey Toobin's new book "The Oath" during my little spree last week, and am managing to read it.  The other night I learned that in 1999 Ruth Bader
Ginsburg had colon cancer and received radiation and chemotherapy for it, during which she did not miss one single day on the bench.  And here I sit, most days, alternating between the couch and the other couch, occasionally doing an errand or a mellow excercise session, coming back home, complaining.  I need to think more about this tiny, amazing woman.  I am certain these treatments made a person feel a whole lot worse in 1999 than they do now.  How did she manage it?

Jon says that were I a Supreme Court Justice I would manage it too; I am not, so I don't have to.  Still,  it is intriguing, isn't it?  I admired Ginsburg plenty before, but now that admiration has turned into more scary-stalker-fandom.  My own little Catch-22 problem is that I have nowhere I need to be.  If I had a job, I would still manage to do it on a lot of days of chemo.  I don't have a job, and did not plan on cancer being part of my transition from bookseller to something else, but here it is.  The catch is that it does not feel appropriate to look for a job until my treatment is done.  I still have the hardest third of the chemo to do, a major surgery, and likely radiation, which I believe will involve day trips to somewhere, five days a week.  Plus, my job hunting confidence will improve with hair growth, I have to admit.  So....  the upshot is, unlike Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or my mother or cousin (who also worked during their cancer treatments), I am not working, and thus spend a lot of my time feeling like I don't have enough energy to do anything.  It just goes to show - context and circumstance are a lot of this.

The solution to this conundrum?  I have no clue.  As with much of what life throws at a person, as lucky or unlucky I can feel when inappropriately comparing my situation to others (that pendulum swings very, very widely on any given day), I just have to muddle through it.  On a good day I go with the flow and enjoy watching Homeland or Doc Martin or Modern Family, and reading magazines, guilty pleasures in another life.  On a bad day I feel useless, and like a spoiled baby.

I have six more weeks of chemo to work this stuff out, or not, and then I will have a big surgery from which to heal.  As my friend told me in the pool yesterday (actually, in the hot tub - the hot tub was longer than the swim, unheard of!), next year when we are in the hot tub getting ready for a hard swim, this will all be a distant or not so distant memory, but a memory nonetheless, and I will have made it out the other side.