Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

What breast cancer awareness should mean:

October is the month when society focuses the public’s attention on the cause of breast cancer research. I’m going to use the next month to share postings by some of the courageous people I have met online who are responding to diagnoses of breast cancer.

I used to accept the PINK breast cancer culture: pink ribbons on yogurt containers and everything else. If you read the breast cancer blogs as I now do, you get an education on how deceptive some of the breast cancer charities and activities can be. The pink ribbons on products may have nothing to do with charitable activity. Moreover, some advertisers put pink ribbons on products that offend breast cancer patients. For example, naked starlets with pink bows endorse the cause when they really advertise their own careers. Last year someone had bare-breasted women jump out of planes and called it a breast cancer fundraiser. Outrageous! Breast cancer is not something you can wrap with a pink ribbon. Moreover, the word these days is that we’re curing cancer. No. We are disfiguring people to remove precancerous conditions that might never become cancer and calling people cured. We’re encouraging women who have no signs of cancer to undergo mastectomies and calling that prevention. Thirty percent of people who do have breast cancer will not be cured. They will develop cancer that spreads and compromises the length and quality of their remaining lifetimes. We spend very little of the enormous amount raised by breast cancer charities on those with metastatic cancer. Yet 30% of those with breast cancer will have metastasis.

Read more about this in this posting. Give generously to the cause of finding effective treatment and cures of cancer, but give wisely. Allocate your efforts to charities that have their priorities on what matters, not on what is pink. Try http://www.METAvivor.org/Donate.html. Save lives through research that focuses on the lives of people with metastasized breast cancer!

Dglassme's Blog

  • Be aware it is a horrific disease that has taken many lives
  • We need to find a CURE, about 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at ANY stage will develop distal metastasiswhich is NOT curable todayCure 30
  • This high percent creates a frenzy of lifetime emotions for ALL who have been diagnosed, what if it comes back? For about 1 in 3 it will
  • Cancer is a huge money maker so key players may be in no hurry to see it go away
  • We need to be vigilant that large fund raiser aren’t being misappropriated
  • We have to move past “I bought this cool pinK thing so I’m aware” – aware of what? That breast cancer exist?
  • It is a demoralizing disease that devastates all parties involved — patient, family, friends, doctors, etc.
  • Cancer is an overwhelming whirlwind of information for all involved, most have no idea where to…

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The Anniversary

My two-year uterine cancer anniversary is 21 days away, so Mike’s 5-year anniversary after being diagnosed with brain cancer sounds like cause for major celebration. My eyes are wet with unshed tears at the thought of all he’s been through just since I found his blog. I am very mindful of al the cancer statistics that apply to me, especially those relating to secondary cancers and returns of cancer. When I think about it I imagine that I–the person who has never had the slightest interest in sports–has been handed the ball in the last 60 seconds of a hometown football game. I’m at the 56 yard line (because I’m 56) and I need to run or we’ll lose everything we worked on all “season.” The pressure on you when the clock is running down has to be incredible. When I imagine this I get tired. So I go online and read the blogs of the men and women who are my heroes. The survivors who know better than I do how tough it is to run down the field and the clock making memories. And then I pass the ball to this guy–Mike–and he just keeps carrying the team. Stand up and cheer with me. Yeah, Mike! Yeah, Mike! Okay, now I’m crying. Sorry for the typos–my eyes were filled with unshed tears!

Fire Drill

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

Photocredit: depositphotos.com

At about 9:37 am yesterday the fire alarm went off in my building. I was already in my ninth floor classroom preparing for my 10 am class. I had to power down my laptop and stow it because I once carried it down six flights and knew that I could not do that again. I tucked in a corner where I hoped it would not be noticed if someone came looking to steal it. Theft and a fire drill in the same day would be too much a bummer.

We have property crime here. We are steps away from public transit. People walk out of the school talking on their brand new smartphones or studying the oh so remarkable tablets I think I should try next. Someone knocks them down and steals their technology like people used to steal wallets and purses. Who carries much money anymore? We have cards for buying more things and we can disable them pretty swiftly (if someone else has a phone to lend us).

Because it was Friday and early the building was not as filled with people as it is at other times of the week. When I entered the stairwell I still did not know if this was a drill or a fire. I did not have to merge into a stream of young people that would move like floodwaters. I was able to grip the handrail with my best hand and walk down one step at a time. I felt the vestiges of the last few years’ physical suffering in every footfall and the painful connection to the handrail.

Darn this whole cancer experience! I am not a fit person, but I can still recall what it felt like to bounce my way down stairs. In fact, during my last fire drill I made it ten flights and I had the cancer still inside me. I performed much better than I did yesterday.

Someone who observed my labored escape said something to a maintenance person who climbed to the fourth floor and told me I could stop. It was only a drill. I still had to walk down another flight because there was no entry to the fourth floor from that stairwell. The door was itself “alarmed.”

Moments later the drill ended and I could take the elevator back up to the ninth floor and begin my class. However, last night I was feeling the effects of the six floor descent. My hands haven’t stopped tingling from neuropathy. My knees were clicking and grinding like bent gears. I took some Advil and went to bed at about 2 pm and stayed there until later in the day when I could hear my cell phone in the next room playing that awful AT&T ringtone set at five instead of vibrate–another false alarm because the voicemail from my mom said, “Don’t bother calling back. I’m seeing you tomorrow.”

Photocredit: wunderground.com

Rainfall in Boulder, CO. Photocredit: wunderground.com

I watched TV. The news was filled with stories of people for whom yesterday was not a drill. There were clips from Colorado’s raging floods. I have never been in a flood. But a great-aunt of mine survived one when she was a young woman. She and her husband were caught in their bedroom as they dressed. The brother who came to warn them had taken their baby to safety. The couple climbed up on bedroom furniture and stood on their tiptoes in cold, black, raging waters for an entire night. The water rose to their necks and, after part of their home broke off and was carried away, their dead farm animals floated in and around them.

My grandpa’s sister survived and lived a little while, but not very long. A year or two later she died of what we would call PTSD. There are things we can survive that we can never quite get over.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

photocredit: abcnews.go.com.

On last night’s news there was devastation to be faced at the New Jersey boardwalk that burned on Thursday so soon after it was rebuilt in the last ten months following what the newsman called Super Storm Sandy.

This past week one of my students suffered a fire that swept through part of his apartment building. He has had to look for a home. His belongings were destroyed or damaged. He has to start over just as he starts his second year of law school.

I was a new general manager at a small luxury hotel when someone set his hotel room on fire. I can remember walking down the street from DuPont Circle when my beeper went off, I heard sirens, and arrived in front of my hotel in time to see someone from my staff fling the smoldering mattress from a balcony. It landed on the street with its weird, black and red maw of still sizzling bedding smack in the center.

I had no way of knowing whether that was the worst of it, but I can recall running up the stairs toward the fire. My first thought was that I had a staff that was up there tossing items still burning. I wanted to reassure them that they should get out. I needed to be there with them if I could not convince them to leave. There are horrors that we can face with others–because of others. Disasters are times when strangers help strangers, too. Sometimes escape is not possible unless you first do what you can to help others.

The truth is that I reached the floor and found thick black smoke confined to one short corridor and the fire “out” once the mattress went flying. My adrenaline levels started to drop and my hands trembled as I wondered what I would have done if I had faced flames instead of the somewhat giddy coworkers who greeted me and wanted me to look at how smoke alone had done its worst. The memory always leaves me wondering how those first responders manage to do what they do again and again.

It was only a few months later that my husband and I evacuated our basement apartment in the middle of the night because of a fire in a top floor unit of a neighbor’s attached home. The fire was extinguished with water and the soot-stained walls showed afterward where the water carried the smoke. On that occasion, I was out on the pavement watching, not running back inside to see if I could help.

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

Photocredit: egyptindependent.com

The news from Syria came with a clip of writhing citizens and white-wrapped corpses. Is this still news to anyone? My guess is that decades from now someone will still be denying that a nation’s leader gassed his citizens in much the same way that some still deny the atrocities committed in countless prior incidents–some of them so immense as to constitute attempts at genocide.

And last night’s news was filled with stories of death. Shootings, accidents, and other tragedies happen every day–decimating families and communities. It is mere days since we marked another anniversary of the terrorists’ attack in NYC on 9/11. Life sometimes forces us to contemplate death on a scale that defies comprehension.

All I had to contend with yesterday was a drill. Sometimes we have to face the real deal. I put on some clothes and went back to unpacking. I’m good.

Worst Case Scenarios

Two Rooms to Go

Two Rooms to Go

I manage fear by imagining the worst case scenario and convincing myself that I can “handle” it. Once I have done this, I do not think about it any further. I am very stubborn about this. If I find myself worrying over the “what ifs,” I get up and enter into an activity and focus on the activity. My tactic has not been working as well as it usually does. I am not happy about this.

Lately I have been as worried about the side-effects of cancer treatment as the return of cancer. All of the packing, move, and unpacking have coincided with the end of summer term and start of fall term at school. There never was a summer vacation. SO many projects are waiting for me and I cannot give them my full attention until I unpack at least one more room. I am down to having made some progress on four rooms. My living room and storage room are a shambles (see photograph taken minutes ago). Ordinarily I would take my mind away from obsessing about my health by working on a project. I used to write a novel every summer (I have several in my desk drawers). I researched my family tree back to the 1400’s one summer. This year my activity has proven inadequate to take my mind off of what ails me because my primary activity has been making things worse.

My ears are ringing. TV would distract me from that, but my TV is piles of boxes away from where I sit. My hands are alive with neuropathy. The left hand tingles the most. I took almost all of my six chemotherapy doses in that hand. My joints rarely bothered me before treatment. Now my knees hurt. When I say they hurt I mean that I sometimes have to use a cane to climb the back stairs. I rock back and forth before getting up from a low chair. It has not been this bad since the last weeks of chemotherapy and radiation. I have what appears to be arthritis in the joint at the base of my left thumb. It has me grabbing things gingerly–always contemplating the possibility I will drop something. Aargh! My doctors want me to get my hernia fixed. It feels like it is a little bigger when I measure it with my eyes or hand. I have to lift with my knees. Oh wait. They are already iffy.  I’ve considered the worst case scenario (that things will go downhill) and now want to move on to activity, but the only activity available is more unpacking, which keeps getting me focused on my health concerns.

I'm so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

I’m so dizzy, my head is spinning. Photocredit: clker.com

 

I work for awhile but then have to stop. There isn’t a comfy chair in the place right now. I climb up into my bed and lie down. Sometimes I take a nap, but it is tough to sleep. Right now my landlord Zen is scraping the wood frame around my big front window. The noise is intermittent but deafening. This started Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. and continued until after 11 p.m. It resumed Saturday night at 11 p.m. and went on until 2 a.m. I could go out and complain, but I am SO tired of conflict. I have considered the worst case scenario and have resolved to hold off a little longer before pursuing it–an argument that could mean I will have to move at the end of my 1 year lease. How long can it take to scrape that big picture window? Surely this is the last day his toil will interfere with mine. When the noise got so loud I could not continue work on this blog I went back to unpacking.

Currently my home is filled with waiting “activity.” There are boxes upon boxes still waiting to be opened, organized, and re-stored. It has become a mindless activity. Yesterday I assembled ten power strips not already employed somewhere in my apartment. Of course, there are three rooms without a single power strip plugged in so they may yet find usefulness. Are power strips like cats and bunnies? Do they reproduce every season regardless of need?

I love office supplies. My dad and I used to enjoy going to office supply shops together. I must miss him even more than I acknowledge. I have a four-drawer vertical file cabinet half-filled with office supplies and there are boxes I have not yet opened. Everything is now moving into space with other like items, but I find myself wondering, what if I cannot recall in what storage bin I assembled all my highlighters? Will I go back to the Staples store and buy even one more? The concern that I will has prompted some worst case scenarios of its own.

I found some items I have no recollection of purchasing, too. Last night I collected several containers of tools and hardware supplies. I can never find a screwdriver when I need one. Somewhere in the storage room I cannot even enter yet, there are two tool boxes. I needed a screwdriver last night and started opening and shutting boxes in search for one. I discovered I have power tools! I thought I had one electric screwdriver, but my brother Danny gave me one as well. Is that too many for a single woman to own? Can I host an evening at my home and invite others to use the tools with me so that all may be happily employed at the same time? Maybe I should choose between them and give one away? Should I keep the one I bought because it has many great features? Or should I keep the one Danny gave me? Because there is something really sweet about my brother imagining there is anything material in the world of which I am in need.

He and his wife Lisa rode their new motorcycle to my home last Sunday. Danny installed my two air conditioning units in windows for me. I was afraid to lift them as I already need to be getting my hernia fixed soon. Lisa stood in awe of the piles and told me she thought I could get a million dollars if I sold all of it. I dismissed the idea at first, but if I sold them for $1 apiece . . . . What might be the worst case scenario for that concern? How many paperclips can I get with $1 million?

Just in time, Zen is taking a break. I think I’ll try resting. Maybe I can manage a short nap before I succumb to the urge to drive to the nearest Staples store for paperclips!

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Photocredit:abcteach.com

Drive-By Shooting at the Mickey D’s

This is a work of fiction. People and events in this story have no relation to actual people and events. Any similarities are coincidental.

When my mom told me she was present for a drive-by shooting at the “Mickey D’s” I did not believe it. She lives in a lazy suburb of Chicago with all the excitement of a nap in a hammock. Then she told me she was out with Doris and Sy.

My mom met Doris and Sy on the first day of kindergarten. They have been friends for about seventy years. In that time they formed a four-way friendship with my dad, married, all moved out to Rolling Meadows, Illinois, raised their families, emptied their nests, and buried my dad. My mom has been very lonely since my dad died. The woman does not have a hobby (other than watching crime shows on cable TV) and is one of those “people who need people.” It has not made her one of the luckiest people in the world.

Widows are like bachelors. It sounds like fun to live free and carefree, but married friends do not know what to make of life’s loose ends. One of my mom’s friends confronted her in the parking lot after church on Sunday and asked why she was dressed so “slutty” for mass. “Are you trying to tempt Father John to stray from his vows with your open-collared blouse and your high-heeled shoes?” Mom, who was on her way to her job at the bridal department at the mall looked down at her clothing and could not imagine how anyone could find her slutty. No one could see her breasts. Her shirt was buttoned high enough to conceal any hint of a cleavage. Her skirt fell to the middle of her calf and was pleated, not pencil slim.

It did not do her reputation any good that she looked up from her Pay Less black pumps and smiled. “Sylvia, that is the nicest thing anyone has said to me since my husband died. Here I was feeling frumpy and you’ve gone and made me feel as fast as I was back in high school.” Then she patted Sylvia’s arm and headed for work.

It was tough to get an invitation to dinner parties without a date. There were women who thought their husbands appreciated Mom’s trim figure a little more than they could tolerate. Mom considered asking one of the widowers in town to accompany her for an event, but confided in me that most of them were “icky.”

“My friend Betty has been a widow for twenty years,” she told me. “She went to the movies with a man she met at the senior center. He scratched his arms until Betty thought she would go crazy!”

“I don’t get,” I said. “Maybe he had an allergy.”

My mom shook her head. “So close to the popcorn? No woman wants a strange man’s dust all over her popcorn.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Dust. Is that some kind of date rape drug?”

My mom looked shocked. “Date rape? What is that?”

Once I explained the concept, my mother was happy to avoid dating.

Doris and Sy never bothered with any of others’ preoccupations. They knew my mom well and loved her too well to abandon her because she was a pretty widow. The three have spent a fair amount of time together since my dad’s death.

What does preoccupy Doris and Sy is their health. They are hypochondriacs. I ran into them one day at the local Walgreens. They were sitting in two of the chairs near the pharmacy, holding hands, looking like lovebirds while in their seventies. It wasn’t all about the love they have shared for the last fifty years. It was the happy glow that surrounds them when they are about to be medicated.

When they are not picking up prescriptions, Doris and Sy are making, attending, or coming from doctor appointments. They have enjoyed their health insurance benefits and are making sure there is no money left for Medicare when the rest of us retire. All this health care has kept that marriage intact.

For many years they took turns having surgeries and treatments. She had a hysterectomy. He had a gall bladder removed. She had a “trick knee” replaced. He had exploratory surgery for a mysterious back pain. It got to the point where they saw her doctor on Monday and his on Tuesday, her specialist on Wednesday, his on Thursday, and so on.

The illnesses have not always been far-fetched. Doris’s ovarian cancer is in remission now. Sy’s Alzheimer’s is not. She looks a little shaky when I see her now. She sometimes needs her walker to get around. The radiation and chemotherapy have done a number on already “tricky” joints. Sy appears to be the same guy I have known all my life, but he has days and moods and some of us have been called in at times to search for him, like the winter night he walked out of a rehab facility in his pajamas and slippers because no one would make him a sandwich at ten at night when he woke with a hankering for one.

Doris still lets Sy drive the car sometimes. I guess the doctor has forgotten to ask for his driver’s license because he showed it to me when I last saw him. If they are staying in town and Doris is along to keep him on course, he drives her to the grocery store and they remember what it was like before she had to take over the checking account and the taxes and figuring out how the Medicare prescription drug donut hole works. That’s what it means to love someone in sickness and health in your seventies and beyond. You sometimes have to risk your own good health to help the other’s.

Luckily for Doris, Sy, and their passengers, they drive a big Cadillac. If they hit anything driving twenty to thirty-five miles per hour, that car will protect them. The rest of us need to be a little more concerned.

My mom was in the backseat of the Cadillac when shots rang out. The three were coming from a senior center event and decided to pick up some burgers and fries at the Mickey D’s drive-thru window on their way back to my mom’s house.

The senior center invites the local police to make a presentation on safety on the third Tuesday of every month. You have no idea how much crime there is in sleepy suburbs like theirs. Solicitors ring your doorbell and offer to give a free quote for gutter replacement. While you take them on a tour of the property, a confederate will enter through your unlocked doors and make off with the family silver. Over on Wilson Street, just two blocks from my mom’s home, that poor darling Mrs. Jones with the yellow Toyota had to call 911 when Billy Jones, her twenty-something, unemployed son threatened to rough her up when he didn’t like her dinner menu. “Isn’t that something?” my mom asked me. “You put food on the table and let your adult kids live with you for free and they don’t like the menu and get rowdy about it? Why didn’t the boy call up a friend and get himself invited there for dinner? That’s what happened when I was a kid.”

On a few occasions there have been some serious crimes. Folks are still talking about Mr. and Mrs. Leonetti, owners of the pizza parlor right next to the funeral parlor. Everyone gathers at Leonetti’s after a wake so everyone knows those two are hotter than Tabasco sauce on a Ritz cracker. One night Mrs. L was managing alone with two teenage kids while her husband was supposed to be in New York City for his father’s funeral. Mrs. L called the Motel 6 to see how the ceremony had gone and the phone was answered by none other than Angela, a waitress who had called in sick for the last few days. Mrs. L knew what that meant.

When an embarrassed Angela handed the phone to Mr. L, the rest of the town knew what it meant, too. Mrs. L started screaming about her husband’s infidelity. “You fucka her, you fucka me. You fucka me, you fuck over our restaurant–all we built together all these years.”

She screamed so loud and cried so hard that some of the patrons started to get nervous that their pizzas were taking a little long to come out of the kitchen. Someone who did not appreciate the free floor show offered with dinner that night tried to interrupt the tirade and wrecked it for everyone else. Mrs. L looked at her rapt audience and yelled, “He fucka her, he fucka me. All the rest of you get out of my fuckin’ restaurant!” That’s right. She threw them out. Some people left without paying their bills. Some left without getting their dinners. Some of the seniors had questions the police could not answer during the senior center info session, but everyone enjoyed hearing about the whole thing all over again. None of them admitted to swearing, but hearing others repeat Mrs. L’s incendiary language was more enervating than a Niacin flush.

For the record, Mr. and Mrs. L kissed and made up, but Angela is now working over at the Sunnyside Up breakfast bar. Lowell and Mr. Clean (as the locals call the owners) appear to share a bond that even Angela cannot tear asunder.

Fresh from an entertaining information session, Doris, Sy, and my mom were on the look out for criminal activity as they drove into the Mickey D’s parking lot. They were preparing to exit the parking lot when shots rang out.

Everyone in Doris and Sy’s car fell over onto their seats–at least as far as their seatbelts would allow. Sy recovered first. “Has anyone been hit?” he asked.

“No,” Doris declared. “But keep your heads down,” she admonished the rest of them.

“Are you okay in the backseat?” Sy asked my mom.

“Yes. But that was close,” my mom said. “I can still smell the gunfire.” They all could.

“The windows were open,” Doris said. “Maybe it was what they call a through and through!”

They were still pondering what to do next when the police pulled into the parking lot in response to others’ 911 calls. The local police are just as excited by small crime as the seniors. It’s so rare that anyone has to rest a hand on a handgun that all of the town’s squad cars ended up in the parking lot to see what happened. Half the cars had been on the way from the senior center to Mickey D’s anyway. It was on the way back to the station and it was lunch time.

At this point in the story, I was stumped. There is no serious crime in my home town. I live in Chicago. We have drive-by shootings here in Chicago. They can happen just about any place, but they are often gang-related. There’s only one elementary, middle, and high school in our town. You have to wait for the Pace bus and make a couple of transfers to reach a neighboring town and carry on a little hometown football rivalry. “It wasn’t a drive-by shooting,” I said.

“Oh, I think it was,” my mom declared in the voice that used to make me think that even my dad couldn’t spare me one of her punishments.

“Convince me. Tell me what happened next.”

My mom raised her eyebrow. “One theory is that we got caught in the crossfire in some gang matter. The car windows were open and the bullet may have passed in one side of the car and out the other without hitting anyone.”

I folded my arms and waited.

“The police don’t want to admit that this can happen in our town. They think that Billy Jones may have bumped the Cadillac with Mrs. Jones’s Toyota and driven off before anyone got a good look at him.”

“Is there a dent on the Cadillac?” I asked.

My mom shook her head. “No. Folks are already saying that’s enough to get Billy off if the fuzz tries to pin this on him.”

I blinked at the new lingo and wondered how long it would be before there would be a Law and Order: Small Town Crime show for the Baby Boomers like me to follow. We’re getting to be seniors these days. “They can put that show on every cable station in the country and you still cannot get enough of it,” my mom likes to say. She likes Chris Meloni a lot since she saw him in some shower scene and asked me what you call that vee at the bottom of the screen. I have no answers for questions like this.

“Did anyone see the yellow Toyota?” I asked. You cannot come from that town and not know the yellow Toyota. It was not a professional paint job. Someone did it after Mr. Jones drove the previously white car into the ditch on Route 14 on an icy night in December and someone else filled in the dents with a gray patching compound that Mrs. Jones found depressing.

My mom shook her head. “No one is willing to say anything to the fuzz. Everyone knows that squealing in the neighborhood can bring on retaliation.”

I started to laugh. “You smelled gunfire, right?” I asked.

Mom nodded.

“Did you feel the impact?” I asked.

“I felt nothing,” my mom said, “but it got close enough for Doris and Sy to stop in to see Dr. Joe this afternoon. He prescribed some Valium for them. Do you think I might need some of that to get to sleep tonight? I swear, I’m all jazzed up.”

“Mom, when a car gets hit by another, sometimes the airbags deploy. Did the airbags deploy?”

My mom blinked a few times, but she was silent.

“There’s a little gunpowder in an airbag,” I explained. “You might have smelled something like what we used to smell when we fired a cap gun as kids. The gunpowder causes the airbag to pop open when the car is hit.”

No response.

I rested my case.

But my mom is no slouch. You don’t watch cable TV all day and study The Herald’s police blotter every day without wondering what it would be like to be at the center of the most interesting crime story since the police were called to Leonetti’s to investigate some cancelled pizza orders. The fact that everyone got out alive meant that you could repeat the story as many times as you liked without seeming morbid or weird.

“That’s another theory,” she finally said. “And one we can discuss at the senior center crime briefing next month.”

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Checking In

Back at the hospital

This morning I went for my six-month exam. Other than fatigue from having survived a swift move, I have been feeling well. In late February/early March. the daily, serious pains associated with radiation cystitis abruptly stopped. In June I determined that the other side-effects of cystitis–distress and incontinence–were well behind me. I stopped taking the Oxybutynin that had been prescribed for me. My bladder and bowel seem to have healed from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

I have had several “clean” pelvic exams and tests for cancer cells. My last scan was June of 2012. It showed no signs of cancer. In October it will be twenty-four months since my hysterectomy. In December it will be twenty-four months since treatment ended. I was thinking there would be a scan and blood tests, but there were no tests today.

My oncology team wants me to undergo surgery to correct a pre-hysterectomy hernia. The surgeon who originally diagnosed my cancer was going to repair it as part of my hysterectomy, but he ended up having someone else perform the surgery. That doctor did not touch the hernia. But it was in the way of his reaching my lymph nodes. As a result, no lymph nodes were tested–which explains why my chemotherapy and radiation treatments were “adjuvant.” They addressed risks unknown. I learned that the scans also can be confounded by the hernia, and that my radiation was more extensive because of the state of my “habilis.”

Everything looks good right now, but, if cancer were to return, everyone would feel better if things got “tidied up.” There’s no question but that I would like to get this addressed as well–EXCEPT–I do not have health insurance, I do not have the money to pay for this surgery, I am about to start school and cannot imagine undergoing surgery during “school time,” and the very thought of checking in to the hospital after my December 2011 experience there is out of the question unless it would save my life.

I am returning this week to teaching at the law school that terminated me the day of my hysterectomy. The law school is facing declining enrollments and has decided to cut the compensation paid to adjuncts, like myself, by 40%. At the same time, it has increased class size by 25%. The school has conducted its own internal investigation of my case and has cleared everyone involved of any breaches of university policies.

I suppose that means that the school would support my termination a second time if I underwent surgery–even if my surgeon said, “You can return to work next week.” That’s what the surgeon said last time.

The EEOC is examining my case now. I would like to wait for the results of that investigation before chancing fate on the subject of job security. As if an adjunct has any job security.

The Affordable Care Act will go into effect this fall. I would like to wait to see whether I can afford insurance when the new exchanges open in my state. I might have new options for treatment at a hospital that does not scare me.

The doctors think the charity that covered so much of my post-surgical care would agree to pay for this surgery if I appealed to it. That will take some time.

The doctors want me to go now for a mammogram. My cancer was estrogen-related. Some breast cancers are estrogen-related. So, I’ll do that. My maternal aunt died after more than a decade of dealing with breast cancer, so I will have the test.

My weight had dropped somewhat. My blood pressure was much better. I’m only taking a water pill for that. The doctors put off until my next check-up an ultrasound of my legs that might rule out varicose veins as the reason for my sometimes swollen right leg. No one else reacted when I mentioned the possibility of lymphoedema–which means nothing. I know that it could be the reason for my swelling from reading the excellent blog http://lymphnodetransplant.wordpress.com/. Check it out if you have unexplained swelling after surgery or other treatment that might have affected your lymph nodes’ ability to function.

I am seeing a GP in late September. I see the P.A. for another gynecological check-up in October. I can investigate my insurance/charity/surgical options between now and my next oncology appointment in February 2014.

I am feeling relieved to have gotten through this check-up, but my definition of “relief” has changed from “phew” to a sort of uneasy reduction of the alarm level from orange to yellow.

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

Photocredit: ripsaw-defence.co.uk

A lot can happen in six months. And I have some checking to do before checking in again with my oncology team.

Man-handled Pedicure

pedicure chair

Photocredit: uspedicurespa.com (NOT affiliated with the salon discussed herein)

I’ve been getting the occasional pedicure since chemotherapy ended. The Taxol worked my finger and toenails over pretty badly, and I lost the sense of relaxation I once had in tending to my own nails. My nails had all of these strange bubbles that looked like fizzy, orange soda percolated up from the nail bed. There were white and yellow cloudy marks. My nails peeled. And my skin was bone dry. I read about how a pedicure could expose me to infection and read a number of reviews of places before choosing one. The place I chose for my first pedicure was clean and the owner was a breast cancer survivor. It was a very positive experience.

At some point since 2012 the salon was sold. All new chairs and tables were installed. There now appear to be three or four family members working there. A mother and her daughter have handled my pedicures on most occasions. Both are very gentle. I chose to have only clear polish applied so that I could monitor the appearance of my nails. This summer–about 18 months after chemotherapy ended–I appear to have no more cloudiness or marks on my nails. But they are weaker than they once were, prone to peeling unless I keep them polished. I do plenty of polishing between pedicures and apply tea tree oil to my bare nails before polishing them to diminish the possibility of infection.

This week I had my pedicure handled by a male attendant. According to reviews on yelp.com, this is the owner’s son-in-law. I wasn’t sure how I felt about having a male provide this service. It is a personal service. No one else touches my feet. I grew up in a family in which hugging is strange. We sometimes have gone long periods of time between visits without hugging when reunited. It’s not quite a head nod greeting we exchange, but it’s close. I actually had to think awhile about overcoming my aversion to casual contact to have the first pedicure. But I like to think I’m “equal opportunity” when it comes to workplace matters so I made no objection.

The experience was not the same as it has been in the past, and I have since asked several friends who have a long history of having manicures and pedicures and they have not had a male attendant so I don’t yet have a complete handle on what troubled me. Maybe you can help.

The attendant was polite and spoke excellent English when he greeted me and asked me what services I wanted, but he did not use English again until I was ready to leave and he suggested I wait a little longer for my nails to dry. During the pedicure process, he used hand gestures and spoke in another language to the other two attendants in the shop. The air conditioning was not on and it was 85+ degrees outside. After my feet had been sitting in some warm water awhile, I started sweating. Everyone else in the shop (the three attendants on duty) enjoyed a good laugh after a lively exchange in another language right before the salon owner turned on the air.

Why do people do that? I don’t care whether or not they found my discomfiture amusing as much as I care that they spoke so that I would not understand them. There’s more courtesy in talking in the storeroom than there is in doing this in front of me. I was reminded of an episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine realizes the Korean nail attendants are using the same word to discuss her as to discuss a customer’s dog “princess.” She takes George’s father to translate and opens a new can of worms.

I understand that I may be overly concerned about the possibility that I have been discussed in my presence:

The narcissists or paranoid customers might think that nail technicians are talking about them when they speak to each other in other languages across the room, but they aren’t. Apparently they don’t care to share with each other how lovely your nail beds are or how gross your big toe is. “In general, they mostly gossip about their family and friends and the shows they watched last night,” says [celebrity manicurist Jin Soo] Choi.

http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/nail-salon-secrets#4.

This attendant did not display the pampering that is part of getting a manicure. He barely had me soak my feet before he got to work. The hot soak in bubbling water is one of the best parts of the experience. He used a rotary tool to file my nails. I found myself wondering how clean it could be when, following his use of it on me, he just plugged it into the wall to recharge and did not place the rotary head into the steamer for cleaning. He did a good job handling my cuticles, but he had me keep both feet on the footrest the whole time. I am accustomed to more soaking between some of the stages of work being done. This helps with exfoliating. He didn’t do much exfoliating. My feet were in pretty good shape to start. It was only a month since my last appointment, and I don’t wear open shoes, which means my skin is not that dry now that chemotherapy is further and further behind me.

The foot massage was minimal. Have you seen the commercial for a spray-on lotion in which the woman in the commercial sprays a stripe of lotion onto her legs and steps into her clothes and runs? That’s only a little less attention than I received. All the time, he’s using these hand motions to communicate. Usually the word “manhandle” implies unnecessary roughness. Here, I use “man-handled” to convey a lack of attention to detail by a particular man.

I came home, stripped the polish and covered my nails in tea tree oil. Then I soaked my feet in a combination of Listerine and vinegar (thanks to a tip from pinterest.com) and used a pumice stone to finish exfoliating my feet.

I hoped the pedicure would counteract some of the punishment my body has taken during the month of packing, moving, and unpacking, but I ended up feeling like I had subjected myself to new suffering. My knees were painful from thirty minutes of sitting with them flat out while he conducted his checklist of activities.

I don’t think this service needs to be performed by a woman, but I don’t think I’ll be giving that shop my business again. I tend to be pretty direct with people when I am unhappy. But I did not speak up during the process. I just kept thinking this was wrecking my effort to pamper myself. I’m not sure why I did not say more. I only know that I grinned and bore it and then skedaddled home to fix things.

Nails are a $6 billion business, according to totalbeauty.com. Manicures were one of the few things I did to pamper myself. Now I have to go check out new places. Bummer. But the suspicion that the rotary tool might not be properly cleaned is reason enough to choose another place. I found this online:

Podiatrist Dr. Robert Spalding, author of “Death by Pedicure,” states that “at this time, an estimated one million unsuspecting clients walk out of their chosen salon with infections — bacterial, viral and fungal.” And no matter which salon you go to, there is always a risk of infection. He claims that in his research “75 percent of salons in the United States are not following their own state protocols for disinfections,” which includes not mixing their disinfectant solutions properly on a daily basis, not soaking their instruments appropriately, and using counterfeit products to reduce costs (for example Windex substituted for Barbicide), says the doctor. And the problem is that there is no way to really “verify an instrument has been properly soaked and sterilized,” without watching the process.

http://www.totalbeauty.com/content/gallery/nail-salon-secrets#2.

I don’t mind having men cut my hair. I’ve had that experience several times in my life. I worked several times with a male trainer at a gym. He was fine. My opthamologist is a man. He crowds right up against me to study what’s going on inside my eyes and behind them, but it is impersonal. I have had many male doctors. But this guy rubbed my feet the wrong way. Is it me? Or have you had a pedicure that killed your buzz?

Unpacking

Photocredit: www.indianajones5.com
Photocredit: http://www.indianajones5.com[/caption%5D

It’s been more than two weeks, and unpacking has a long way to go. I am so physically weary of the process that I now unpack for a day or two and then need a day off. The largest room in the house is my office. I have made headway there. Books fill the bookshelves. A file cabinet is filled with supplies that are in some order. My desk is assembled and has space for me to work. Most of the furniture that will remain in this room is in place. My kitchen table will now become a conference table. I have not yet attached two of its legs so that I can set it in place. A mover handed me some washers and screws during the move. I put them in a “safe” place, but that box has not yet appeared from the rubble that is my storage room. That room still looks like the government storage room at the end of the movie Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark of the Covenant gets filed away.

My bedroom is 90% unpacked. It needs a little organizing. When the movers were unloading they filled my closet with things that should have gone into the store-room closet. I need to move them to make room for what is waiting to go into that closet. Then I can finish that room. Of course, the storage room is filled all the way to the door. The work must wait.

The bathroom is small, so I unpacked it first. It looks pretty good.

The kitchen, living room and storage room are overrun with boxes and shelving units. The movers brought in the boxes first and the shelving units at the end, so I have to move boxes out of the way before I set the shelving units in place and then can store the boxes on shelves.

Sifting through the haphazard collection of a 56-year-old woman’s life in boxes marked no more specifically than Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, Office, and Stuff has convinced me that much of this must now go.

Seals and Crofts
I had no time to weed through stuff before the move. But this time capsule in which I now live feels like a confused jukebox. One minute I am opening a box in which I relive high school. I keep hearing Seals and Crofts singing Summer Breeze and We May Never Pass this Way (Again). I find journals from college in the next box. The soundtrack from those years is very disconcerting and revolves around guys I was dating. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Elton John, Weekend in New England by Barry Manilow, and C’est la Vie by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, do battle with countless disco songs. I still have the LPs, cassettes, and CDs. In the next box there are wedding photos from the marriage I hope will finally be annulled this year–today would be my 32nd anniversary. I hear Dan Fogelberg singing Longer, a song sung at our wedding, but our song was Babe by Styx, and he did leave me, so it is the song that lingers longest in my memory as I encounter items I received at the time we wed.

I collect. I have a number of blue and white porcelain items: lamps, vases, pots, figurines, and boxes. I have pink and green Depression glass. I have children’s books, mostly written when my mom was a child. I have thousands of books on various subjects. Long ago I imagined these would be interests I would pass down, but I never had a child who would be saddled with my proclivity for assembling collections.

I suppose I should do my family a favor and get rid of them. After all, I might only live as long as my dad did (59). I may sell them off now. But this is the “wealth” I accumulated in my life and it is difficult to “spend” it when I could live as long as my great grandmother did (99). What I do know is that it takes too much energy now to pack, move, unpack, or even experience all of this again.

I don’t need another thing, except a couch or maybe a chair or two. See how easy it is to keep accumulating. Barb and I were in the store buying moving supplies a couple of weeks ago. She saw me looking at a display and started scolding me not to even look at anything!

Thanks to www.fotosearch.com

Kevin, my former naturopath, once told me that the reason why I collected and could not part with so many things was that I am a Pisces with a south node in Taurus. The Taurus south node was tied to things that provide comfort. It also made me stubborn so that I would not part with them. I don’t know if I believe it is that simple. I think, however, that I might have enough containers to open my own Container store. Maybe life would improve without at least some of them.

Taurus-NASA Public domain photo
(Image of Taurus)
It does not help that I am physically affected by cancer treatments in ways that linger. My knees have had it. The joints were never a problem before my 2011 diagnosis with cancer.  I think it was the chemotherapy that rendered all of them “tricky.” At the end of the day I lie on my back in bed and listen to little clicking sounds every time I adjust my position. The neuropathy in my hands has become more than annoying after weeks of packing and unpacking. I am very conscious of the fact that I have an uncorrected hernia. My mom keeps telling me, “Enjoy this moment. It’s going to get worse!” She’s probably right.

From my desk

I’ll tell you what part of me feels younger than ever though. My mind. As I have pondered thousands of reminders of days gone by I could not help but think of what is just around the bend for me. Today it is raining. I sit at my desk that faces a busy street. Cars rush by, their tires making that shushing sound that draws me down an unexplored road. If I got in my car with no itinerary, where would I drive? My current home is mere blocks from Lake Michigan. Today I would drive north along the lakeshore until I could drive no farther. There is nothing that makes me feel happily tied to my world like a shoreline. Perhaps that is my water sign directing me.

There are trees in front of my window. As the rain strikes the leaves and then bounces down to the ground below, my eyes are drawn up to the sky. It is gray with clouds, but a plane passes just to the north, and I think about travel. Where would I be today if free to fly away? I think I would choose to sit in some huge cathedral in Europe to contemplate lives spent on the construction of a single building that could not be completed in one person’s professional lifetime but would still draw in people many, many years after its architect’s death. Imagine using your life to leave such a monument. This must be that Taurus south node at work again.

In the back of the building there are workmen finishing a new deck that makes me think of parties. If I could have the party of my dreams, who would be on that guest list? Ah, that I will keep to myself, except to say that I might need the help of a higher power to assemble everyone whose company I would enjoy even for an hour.

If I disentangle myself from some or all of what now holds me down, will I catch the upsurge of a breeze and fly away? Who can say?

It almost is enough to make me forget that I see Dr. H on Monday for my six-month check-up. Bummer.

What have you hung onto that ought to now wind its way somewhere else so that you can feel free for new adventures as well?

I Did It

Laura has stage 4 ovarian cancer and has exhausted her former employer’s disability benefits. She has been surviving on food stamps and the fumes from a prior, more financially productive life. But she’s at the point where she and her rescued pets share the same meals. She is recovering from her cancer treatments slowly. And she has had to ask friends for help to hang on.
You may have read some of the blog posts that circulated last week after someone questioned another cancer patient’s statements about how our community of patients and caregivers were lazy and only interested in handouts. If so, you know that is not true. This disease is a scourge. It robs you of your strength. It depletes you financially. It is wonderful when your insurance, state aid, or charitable assistance help you hang on. But everyone isn’t lucky enough to get such help, sometimes the help isn’t enough, and sometimes it doesn’t arrive in time.
I am re-blogging this posting from Laura in case you are in a position to help. As it indicates, Laura is appreciative of prayers as well as financial support. If it is in your power to pray, then say a prayer for better days in her future. And thank you for reading her story and recognizing that this blithe spirit deserves our support as she deals with cancer and all the suffering it brings.

Cancer: My Journey Back to Health-Kicking & Screaming the Whole Damn Way

http://www.gofundme.com/3yfbqg

I finally had to do it. I had to ask.

A prayer from the heart is gratefully accepted as well.

I’m sorry to say that the past couple of treatments have left me worse than ever BUT…I’m still standing. I’m still here and I’m still fighting.

I am going to go on vacation. Really. I’m going to my brothers house and I’m going to shake this feeling off and I’m going to have fun. See my nieces and nephew.

Try to start to live again. I signed up for a program called go fund me to help me pay my bills. I have lost quite a lot of flexibility financially. What a funny way to put it. I’m SO broke and now, me and the dogs and the cat all eat the same thing. Rice, hamburger and carrots all cooked until edible. Very tasty. I can’t buy dog food…

View original post 64 more words

Changed

Living in and out of boxes. Thanks to http://www.clker.com/cliparts/d/2/6/5/1257091961369948851sheikh_tuhin_Packing_and_Moving.

Thanks to http://www.clker.com/cliparts/d/2/6/5/
1257091961369948851sheikh_tuhin_Packing_
and_Moving.

Many things have changed in the last few weeks. I am doing my best to stay focused on what matters and not let myself feel overwhelmed. Some days it has been harder than others.

I had plans for my summer. I have not managed to act on them. I planned a trip to DC to visit my sister and her family. My mom and I were going to head east together and stay ten days. I had to cancel the trip. Mom did not go without me. I was going to reunite in DC with John, an old college friend I had not seen since 1978 or 1979. I have many friends in DC, some of whom were amazing sources of support during cancer treatment, like Mary, Roberta, and Paul. It will have to be some other time.

I was going to start a new independent contractor position handling executive searches of partners and practice groups for large law firms. I spent many hours learning all about the firms and trends. I could not start the searching because of the big task that ate my summer. All that research must sit another week or so. By that time summer will be over. Fall classes start in about nine days.

I planned to clean house. Life has become tougher since cancer. I could see that I needed to house clean, not just with broom and mop but by tossing things. I did get that house clean, but now am in a new, smaller apartment that costs me more money, and it is a mess. I’m not sure when I’ll get back to what used to feel like a mess. I’m taking life one box at a time and dealing with whatever I find there.

I planned to rest. I am very tired. The last semester of school was particularly tiring. I taught some part of twelve different classes in the months from January to July. I wanted to take a few naps. I wanted to sit in the shade somewhere and read a novel. I wanted to continue juicing and work on a few good habits.

Instead, I MOVED. It has left me exhausted. The new apartment is on the first floor of a two-flat. The landlords live upstairs. Things did not go as planned. The new landlords ripped off the decking behind the house as soon as I signed a lease (news to me as the subject did not come up until after I gave them a security deposit agreed to sign a year’s lease). The deck did not get finished until Thursday of this week. During my move I could not use my off-street parking space. I paid for street parking and got a $50 ticket one day for coming out five minutes too late to feed the meter. This home has more front steps than the last one did. I feel each one as I climb and climb dragging stuff I no longer care about into a new place I don’t like.

 

It was not cleaned well before my lease started. It was supposed to be, but was not. So there already has been conflict to resolve. It took five days to get that resolved.

My friend Barb helped with the packing, but there was no time to weed out the unnecessary from the necessary. In the final days of the move I shed plenty of stuff but some of it I wanted. I have so much junk that just got carried along. It feels like I will still be unpacking until my next move.

I hired movers and a cleaning service to get me out of the old apartment. (There went the money saved for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.) By Tuesday, when I was sitting on an empty can in my old apartment watching Irena clean the old place I had no physical strength left. I could not manage to make one more trip to my car. I just left when the place was clean. As Barb said, “It will have to be enough. Let it go.”

I slept on my mom’s couch all last week. She had my brother’s dog Shamus for the week. It was not restful, but it was better than sleeping in my bed in its new, tiny space. I still have not managed to make that bed and had to discard both my couches because they would not fit in the new place. There was no place to rest in my new place.

My hands tingle all day long. My joints are so painful I dug out my seven remaining, unexpired pain pills, originally taken after surgery, to go to sleep at night. I have had two showers all week. I am too sore to climb into the tub at my mom’s house. I’m not sure how she does it, the sides are so high.

The movers dumped things in my house, sometimes (often) ignoring my color coding of boxes. I already have a pre-surgery hernia that the surgeon did not fix. I have to be careful dragging things around. I have one room that is corner-to-corner filled with boxes. If I need anything in that room I must kiss it goodbye for a long time.

Other stuff has been happening at the same time. In the last days before the move I heard my ex-husband’s application for an annulment from the church was moving forward. The application was welcome. The timing is not so convenient.

I gave up my home phone after AT&T wanted to change it for an 18-block move. Why is that necessary? They could move it to a cell phone–giving me two AT&T cell phones that never get more than two “bars” any place I want to make a call. Why can’t they assign the number to a different landline? Now I have one phone that rarely gets a line. I get messages hours after the calls and have to get in the car and drive to get them.

I kept working, part-time, but it kept me busy. I finished three classes. I held an information session for people wanting to become paralegals. I attended a meeting at which I was trained in responding to an armed shooter in a school setting. That was eye-opening. I gave a presentation on using social media to network for a job. It was well-received, which means that I am still getting requests for help from people two weeks later. I will finish another 12-week class tomorrow. I got out an issue of the biweekly newsletter that I write and edit. I learned that both of my fall classes that start in the next 30 days will have new textbooks. What were the chances?

Thanks to http://www.picturesof.net/_images_300/A_Colorful_ Cartoon_Cubicle_Drone_with_a_Mess_Moving_Boxes_All_Over_Royalty_Free_Clipart_ Picture_100805-171487-856053.

Thanks to http://www.picturesof.net/_images_300/A_Colorful_ Cartoon_Cubicle_Drone_with_a_Mess_Moving_Boxes_
All_Over_Royalty_Free _Clipart_ Picture_
100805-171487-856053.

 

I keep going with a new mantra–Cancer did not kill me. This move is not going to kill me if cancer couldn’t. I am not happy about many of the recent changes in my life, but I am tough and resilient and hopeful that things will work out if I keep working at it. I am tougher inside even if weaker on the outside. I have seen my worst fears draw close and know that most of the rest of this stuff is just stuff. I will handle it in time.

I remain not down or out–but changed. Wish me luck with the unpacking.

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