(15-12-30) Cancer Hair Care

I can honestly say i never anticipated the day when i would see a line of wigs in my closet.  Earlier this week, my amazing hair stylist, Melinda (owner of Switchblade Salon) actually spent time on her day off to meet me at United Beauty Supply Hair & Wigs and help me with the selection process.  This was not something i was looking forward to.  Less than two weeks ago, Melinda cut most of my hair off, and we donated it to Locks of Love – better to put that eggplant-purple mane to use creating a wig for a cancer kid in need, rather than watch it fall to my bathroom floor in clumps as the chemo treatments progress.  According to my readings, my hair is supposed to start falling out this week or next.  Every day, i wait for today to be the day.  I avoid washing it.  I avoid brushing it.  Today was the first day since my hair cut that i actually had the nerve to put a blow dryer and a flat iron to it, and several times i caught myself holding my breath as i was trying to style it.  (“Seven pieces you can flat iron, tarah – just seven.  After seven, leave your hair alone … that is, if you still have it.”)  This shouldn’t be a big deal, right?  It’s hair.  So what if my hair is the shortest it’s ever been?  It’s just hair … not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things … yet i cried the whole time Melinda cut it all off, and I cry when i notice it’s so greasy that i have no choice but to wash it that day, and i cried today when i finished my seventh strip of flat ironing and saw a piece i wasn’t happy with but wasn’t “allowed” to touch.

The United Beauty Supply store at 7th Street and Bethany Home Road deserve a shout-out, for they helped make an awkward, self-conscious experience a bit less miserable.  In fact, there was even a time i found myself laughing, after Yaneika pulled down this one long, wavy, blue-and-black-colored wig for me, and i realized that wig could be my ticket to a Shakira impersonation for Halloween, 2016.  (I tried on a Beyonce-looking wig, too, but let’s face it: me trying to pull off Beyonce for Halloween would be as pitiful as Avril Lavigne trying to pull off Whitney Houston’s rendition of “I Will Always Love You.”)  I tried on a total of 11 wigs, Yaneika and Melinda remained patient with me the whole time, and i walked out of that store not as an embarrassed cancer victim but as a secure cancer survivor who just found another way to plan ahead for one of my treatment’s most common side effect.  People routinely make fun of me for my ongoing need to plan, to organize, to write lists, and to color-coordinate … but there is (for me, at least) both power and comfort in doing this, and having wigs waiting for me in the closet on that day when my hair starts falling to the floor in patches will help make that day a little less traumatic.  I mean, i’m still going to cry about it – and then get mad at myself for crying – but at least i’ll be able to take comfort in knowing that i planned ahead.

(And i’m not gonna lie … the curly-haired wig i did end up purchasing is SUPER bouncy and crazy awesome in an old-school-big-hair-is-in-again kind of way, and i’m kind of excited about busting out some wild-looking hair on random days when i am feeling a little extra spunky.)

(15-12-29) Kitchen Remodeling

Naturopathic doctor’s orders: Do at least one fun thing each day.

I’m serious.  That was typed up in the orders given to me by the naturopath i met with last week.  In the days during and following chemo, this order seems laughable.  I can barely get out of bed, much less consider the prospect of fun.  I noticed, though, that there is a precise timing that i need to (and will!) get down with all of this.

Day before the chemotherapy treatment: FAST
(This seemed counterproductive, but it was discussed in a podcast where Tim Ferris interviewed Dom D’Agostino (bodybuilder, professor, and expert in the field of metabolic therapies, so i am going to give some credence to what he says in his TedTalks [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fM9o72ykww]).

1-6 days following chemotherapy treatment: REST, SLEEP, ISOLATE, and CRY
I don’t have much of a choice, so i might as well embrace.  (At least i have over half a dozen animals to cuddle with during this process.)

7-10 days following chemotherapy treatment: START PUSHING MYSELF AGAIN
Exercise, even if it’s only to take the dog for a walk around the block.  Take showers EVERY DAY.  Write longer blogs, with visuals.  Take the time to connect individually with at least two loved ones.

Week before next treatment: ENJOY LIFE
This is the period where i feel like myself again.  Today, for example, i felt strong and motivated enough to be woken up by a phone call, told i had 25 minutes to get ready, and then spend the day with Melinda, my hair stylist/friend, engaging in a DIY project involving my kitchen remodeling.

Now, i am not the most artistic or crafty of persons.  My mother did most of my art projects in elementary AND high schools.  Melinda, however, has a knack for getting interested in a new project where she has to create something artistic, and she immerses herself in how-to-guides, networking sessions with friends, and countless YouTube videos before finally accomplishing the task herself.  Now, me?  I’d rather pay someone to do the job, while i go read a book about an alternate reality or something … but i didn’t have $10-20,000 to have my kitchen completely remodeled when i first bought the house, so i had to pick and choose what i could do then and what i can do now.

December, 2012

My initial kitchen was a throwback to the mid-1990’s.  Hunter green and brown?   In Arizona, known for its integration of 3-5 bright, splashy, warm colors?  No, this would not do.

January, 2013

Quite a bit of work went into priming and painting that kitchen – a whole week, actually.

later January, 2013

I was quite proud of all the work we had done to transform hunter green into poppy red, but those counter tops and cabinets are awful!  Too much brown.  So we started with the cabinets.

May, 2015

MOST of us liked the brightness of the red, turquoise, and white kitchen.  Not everyone was a fan, but it’s okay that everyone doesn’t see the world the way i see it.  I mean, that just provides me with more opportunities to educate society, right?  😉

Now, on to the countertops.

Or not!  … after i was sadly informed that i should expect to pay between $3,500-5,000 on marble, granite, or quartz countertops – installation included.  You don’t think *i* am sizing, cutting, and installing marble anything – do you?

Then Melinda came across a product that seemed too good to be true:

white diamond marble kit(company: Giani)

$80 for the kit; 1-2 kits needed, depending on the size of your kitchen.  So, we tried, and we DID it.  With Melinda’s artistic flair and my sheer hatred for that brown pattern on formica material, we turned our countertops into something way more aesthetically pleasing.

December, 2015

Kitchen island down, three counter tops to go.  The island was literally a two-day project, with all the drying time … but oh, how it was worth it.

I felt like a real person today – a person with friends who want to do something crafty on their days off work, a person who WANTS to spend time with that friend who wants to do something crafty on her day off of work, a person who has the ENERGY and general HEALTH to spend 12 hours priming and painting and drying and sanding and polishing.  It’s important for me to remember this day because i need to do whatever i can to ensure that i am “doing at least one fun thing a day” on days 11-19.  I can’t be that person who gets sucked into her illness, to the point where that is all that she becomes.  I need to be a person who remembers she’s an individual whose life is worth saving.

 

 

 

(15-12-28) Energy Healing

When Maya asked me whether i would be interested in doing some energy healing work with her friend’s mom, i jumped at the opportunity.  I have no personal experience in this area, but i definitely believe in the concept of energy all around us and the power that comes from understanding the energy that a person creates in, around, and for her/him-self.  Having a better understanding of this could aid in my recovery from cancer.  I scheduled an appointment with Annette at Desert Lotus Healing Center for December 28 at 13:00.

The entire experience was gratifying.  Something i noticed about Annette right away was her focus on communication.  She wanted to know some basic information about my physical, emotional, and spiritual states at the moment, and she also made a point to disclose how and when she got into this field of energy healing.  I didn’t really know what to expect from the energy session itself, and she did a wonderful job of explaining her process and her reasons behind each step.  She also warned me about possible metaphysical circumstances that might happen so that i wouldn’t get freaked out if something did happen.  Finally, she asked me if i wanted her to disclose any thing revealed to her during the session in regards to  trauma in my current or past lives.

Once i lay down on the massage table, one of the first things she did was hold individual bottles of essential oils over my core to see which ones my body was drawn to and repelled by.

Essential Oils
I wasn’t the least bit surprised about the myrrh or rosemary, but the others i knew next to nothing about.  (I found out later that both cedarwood and cypress essential oils are often used to aid as a diuretic; no wonder my body was like, “Um… hell no!  I can’t take any more of that.”)  Annette used those “drawn to” essential oils to help me get into a state of deep, meditative breathing.  As i was counting in 6 and counting out 9, I could feel her hands pushing into me, through the blanket and through the clothes.  My mind wandered, as it tends to do whenever someone tells me to relax or stop thinking, so counting was the only way i could stop my mind from wandering (although the mere fact that i was counting showed that my mind still needed to think about *something*).

I fell asleep at least twice; that much i know.  The first time, i woke up with a snort and a startle.  The snort embarrassed me, so back to 6-9 counting it was until i returned to a sleep state.  The second time i awoke felt more metaphysical.  It’s hard to describe.  The closest words i can find is by saying it felt like there was a bungee cord around my core, and i was being jerked upwards into the room by my core.  I don’t remember feeling like i physically jumped upwards, though; it was more of a spiritual jolt.  I find this interesting since i don’t consider myself a spiritual person, but i know my body didn’t actually move when i felt this sudden pull into an awake state.

Afterwards, she told me she focused her healing work on my pituitary gland, endocrine system, and respiratory system (particularly the upper chest where there was all this tightness).  None of this was surprising.  As i understand it (and anyone, *please* correct me if i am wrong about any of this science stuff), the pituitary gland communicates with the endocrine system, which has to do with my digestion – a significant issue before i had cancer and an even bigger issue now that i have started chemotherapy.  As for the upper respiratory system, it’s not surprising that there is extra strain in the area where i have had two surgeries within a one-month time span: first the bilateral mastectomy and then the port implant.  She also said she did a lot of healing work on my left knee, calf, and ankle.  She mentioned that work twice.  “Whatever trauma you had that impacted this part of your body, i addressed it today.”  I don’t even know what trauma she is referring to.  I have problems with my left shoulder blade area, from a car accident back when i was in 11th grade, and my friend (Kelly-Jean Erwin) was speeding so that we weren’t late to first period final exams.  (We missed them.)  I also have problems with my knees in general (especially when i go hiking), but i just chalked that up to (1) getting old and (2) being a descendant of the Lanning family.

I asked Annette about the bungee-cord-pulling-up feeling.  Apparently, that was at a time when she was doing some reiki work on me: energy healing on my body without actually *touching* my body.  During this part of the conversation, she also mentioned that she worked on my root chakra.  I looked that up later, the root chakra, and i couldn’t help but notice that the location of the root chakra is pretty close to the area of my body where i felt like i got metaphysically pulled upwards.  When i see her for my 2nd appointment (January 8), I plan to ask her if there is a connection between these two things.

I’m also not surprised that my sense of security and grounding are both currently thrown off, considering i am in the middle of fighting for my life right now.

She told me one more thing that she noticed during the session.  “There was only one metaphysical moment i felt when working on you.  It was at the beginning of the session, when i first started.  This presence of you in your current form flew by me in a state of total panic and fear.  You mentioned before we started that you’re not really one to live your life in fear … but your spirit is afraid right now.”

My only response was to nod my head.  I’m not quick to jump on the train of talking about my feelings.  I wonder if most people reading this think that i am afraid of dying.  I’m not.  I’m afraid of making the decision to fight for my life but then losing that fight to Death, my opponent in this match.  I’m not afraid to die; i’m afraid to LOSE.

(15-12-27) Castor Oil Packs

In college, i took this class called Sociology of Health & Wellness.  Dr. Finnegan Alford-Cooper, a professor i will remember for the rest of my life, opened my eyes to the medical model of illness.  She challenged our narrow-minded, privileged perspectives to be more open to Eastern medicine philosophies (and less trusting of the Western medicine that we are all trained to automatically invest our time, beliefs, and money in).  Don’t get me wrong; i am still a product of this society.  My six-tiered medicine cabinet is clear proof of how quick i am to pop a prescription or over-the-counter pill any time an ailment appears at an inconvenient time.  However, i recognize that the way our society handles sicknesses and overall health creates … well … MORE sickness and LESS health.  I also know better than to automatically turn my nose up at naturopathic, homeopathic, and holistic remedies.  That college class opened my eyes, but personal past experience has shown me that naturopathic medicine can provide authentic, complete healing in times when all my “regular,” covered-by-insurance doctors can provide are temporary band-aids to much larger problems in my body.

A few days ago, I spent $300 for a consultation appointment at Nature Works Best, in Tempe.  That visit deserves a different entry all in itself, but there was one recommendation made by Dr. Nguyen that day that i tried for the first time this evening: castor oil packs.  She gave me a handout and specifically advised me to put castor oil packs on my entire abdomen every night for 45-60 minutes.  Following the doctor’s orders took some preparation: buying castor oil and a piece of wool flannel from a health food grocery store earlier in the day; heating up a hot water bottle; putting old towels on my bed, in order to prevent my sheets from getting stained; lying in bed for an hour while a castor oil-soaked  piece of flannel laid across my abdomen, and a hot water bottle perched on top of that allowed the castor oil to better penetrate into my skin.  Before i settled into bed, i threw on an episode of How to Get Away With Murder, seeing this as an easy opportunity to watch a TV show while honoring my doctor’s request to do this every night.

Within a half hour, my stomach started cramping.  I figured it was the two (okay, four) garlic sticks i ate an hour before; with my treatments, i am not supposed to have ANY processed foods, and my body has been quick to teach me lessons this past week each time i ignore the eighteen pages of dietary restrictions laid out by three of my five doctors.  I barely made it through the 42-minute episode before rushing to the bathroom.  Yucky experience.  Afterwards, i returned to my bed with my tail between my legs and a pout on my face.  Immediately, i started doing some research on just what this castor oil pack treatment is doing to my body, and i had another wake-up call about the miracle of NOT-so-modern medicine.  Castor oil, a product that has been around so long that the New Testament of the Christian Bible refers to a time when Jesus allegedly blessed the plant that creates the castor oil, has all these AMAZING benefits. I wasn’t even looking for benefits.  I had, after all, just come back from an unfortunate bathroom trip, so my exact wording in the Google search engine was “cons of castor oil pack treatments.”  It took me more than 15 minutes of reading before i could even find ONE drawback: upset stomachs and bathroom issues that occasionally led to people calling out of work the next day.   Apparently, this oil penetrates into our skin to clear toxins that have built up.  Frequent trips to the bathroom – while an inconvenience in the moment – can be a clear sign that our body is trying to get rid of something unhealthy, something that shouldn’t be there.  I also read that castor oil on the abdomen is just one of many ways that this product is used.  People use castor oil and castor oil packs orally AND topically to prevent bacteria and yeast infections, alleviate joint pain, prevent cold sores from abscessing, reduce swollen glands, address sun burn, reduce arthritic inflammation, stimulate internal organs, soften calloused and dry skin … and, from one husband’s testimony, reduce the size of a pot belly that his wife couldn’t shake off after giving birth to their child.  Whether ingested or applied topically, castor oil could fill a resume page with a whole list of credentials … and i had never even HEARD about this until a few days ago.  I read information from eight different sites and was blown away by what this home remedy could do.

And now, as i wrap up my entry for the night, i can honestly say that my stomach is no longer cramping, i don’t have garlic breadsticks weighing down my body as i get ready to go to bed, and i am feeling a *bit* less disgruntled about that $300 i spent the other day to see a doctor that my insurance company refuses to cover due to political pressures (particularly those involving the pharmaceutical industry).

No one can say that having advanced cancer isn’t a learning experience.

Links:

(my favorite link, although more credible sources are listed further below) –>  http://www.curezone.org/forums/am.asp?i=617583

articles.mercola.com/sites/…/castoroil-to-treat-health-conditions.aspx

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/castor–oil–pack-detoxification/

http://www.oohoi.com/natural%20remedy/…/castor–oil–packs-benefits.htm

http://www.edgarcayce.org/are/holistic_health/data/thcast1.html

http://www.livestrong.com › Diseases and Conditions

https://www.caring.com/articles/castor-oil-packs-benefits-and-side-effects

http://www.drdavidwilliams.com › View Health A-Z › Immune Health

(15-12-25) Exercising With Cancer

December 25 marked the first time since November 15 that i was actually able to exercise.  I probably wouldn’t have done it without the gentle urgings of Maya.  I have grown stagnant in my king-sized bed these days, allowing the astonishing fatigue and persistent pain to quell my otherwise incessant need to stay in shape.  Maya must have had enough because today was the day she got me out of bed for something other than an appointment or a quick trip to a retail store for some minor item that i couldn’t manage to find on Amazon.

We went to Estrella Mountain.  Had someone taken me to this mountain a year ago, i would have laughed at the sheer lack of challenge these trails provide … but today, it was just what my (naturopathic) doctor ordered.  For 1.25 hours, I hiked an easy trail at a moderate pace, stopping occasionally to hold my face out into the sun and inhale deeply – partly to account for a couple of my chemo side effects (shortness of breath; unexpected coordination problems), but mostly just to take a moment to feel GRATEFUL.  I’m outside.  I’m walking.  On a mountain.  With my re-girlfriend and a dog i already love as much as my own pets.  We get to have Chinese food after we’re finished.  Today rejuvenated my spirits a bit, and the magnitude of that is *not* lost on me.

20151225_154042

(15-12-24) Starting the Re-identification Process)

I’m already starting not to recognize myself.  I stare at myself in the mirror – the semi-filled expanders sitting where my breasts used to be; the subcutaneous port implant above my left “breast,” with a line leading up to some veins in my neck; the new scars swirling all around my upper body      ; the chopped off hair; the pale skin, since tanning salons are out of the question at this point; the ever-decreasing muscle tone from not going to the gym in six weeks; and the face that now goes days without makeup – and it takes a moment to realize that this person is me.  My “good” days are the ones where, by some miracle, I don’t walk past a mirror … but today is not a good day.  Today is a day with multiple appointments outside the house, which required getting ready, which required looking at myself for more than a brief moment … today reminds me yet again that I have a “new normal,” both physically and psychologically.  I don’t like it.

(15-12-23) The Learning Process of Medical Marijuana

Okay.  Let me start by saying that i have pretty liberal views when it comes to recreational drugs.  I find it absurdly hypocritical that the pharmaceutical, alcohol, and tobacco industries have a long-standing SUPPORTED history of capitalizing off of people’s needs/wants to adjust their realities in particular ways, while our country has simultaneously spent four decades and over a trillion dollars on a “War on Drugs” that never actually showed any success (thanks, Nixon, for spearheading that campaign back in 1971!  You were an awesome president in SO many ways).

With that said, I work at a correctional facility, so i keep my views to myself and my drug use legal.  I’m not trying to get investigated by I&I for admitting to incarcerated youth that i *agree* with many of them about legalizing weed, nor am i trying to get convicted of some petty possession charge and subjected to some ridiculous mandatory sentencing laws that would leave me in prison longer than a rapist.  When Arizona legalized medical marijuana back in 2010, i silently applauded the state for finally not being one of the LAST states in the country to make progressive changes, like it tends to do … but i continued to keep my opinions to myself and my drug use legal.  Medical marijuana use did not apply to me, after all.

But it does now!

Obtaining a medical marijuana license was clearly at the top of my priority list.  I was released from the hospital on November 19, and by November 20 i was already showing up to clinics to fill out the paperwork.  A consultation session on November 21 ended with official approval for me to obtain a license, which was issued to me via mail on November 25.  The card arrived the following Monday, and by Thursday, I was already being chauffeured by my awesome roommate, Renee, to the Herbal Wellness Center to start stocking up. By this point, i was MORE than over the prescription medication that had lined up along my bedroom window: Oxycodone, Valium, Dilaudid, Xanax – not to mention the Colace and Zofran medication that had been prescribed to address the side effects of the pain pills.  I was doped up zombie-style on pain meds all day long, with no appetite and no ability to use the bathroom like a normal person.

So.  Now i am officially on the list of Arizona residents who can legally obtain and use marijuana to address the pain and side effects of having Stage 3C Invasive Cancer.  The hard part is over, right?

Ha, ha.  NOPE.

Remember: I wasn’t really a recreational marijuana user prior to this, so it’s safe to say that i am quite ignorant about the plant itself.  I mean, sure, we all know that THC is the component in marijuana that gives you the fun deep-thinking-laughing-over-nothing-now-I’ve-got-the-munchies high, but when Zach, the employee over at the Herbal Wellness Center, starts talking to me about THC vs CBD vs CBC vs CBG vs THCU in various marijuana strains, i suddenly realized how my students must feel when i am droning on about drawing parallels between central ideas and themes in multiple informative texts that we’ve read over the term.  I was LOST within moments of him speaking.  He was patient, informative, and conscientious about my ignorance, but i *still* left that facility with the most limited understanding of what this $500 worth of weed was about to do to my body.  Yup.  $500.  I had some experimenting to do.

Back at home, I found myself with smokeable weed, a variety of edibles, and concentrated cannabis oil – and not a clue with where to begin.  Do i start with CBD-based product, THC-based, or a hybrid?  Should i even bother smoking it since i have never been a smoker to begin with, or should i follow Zach’s suggestion and research how to cook the marijuana with coconut oil, in order to use it in future meals and baked goods?  What dosage do i start out with, and how will i know whether i need to take more?

d5445a07edf6febc5ebf47e5e99379fb

As i type this backdated entry on December 28, i can honestly say that i am still in the experimentation phase of this learning process.  Here’s what i know so far:

  • Much like hybrid cars, THC/CBD hybrid edibles are the preferred way to go – at least for cancer patients.
    CBD-Bhang
    by FAR my favorite product purchased
  • When ingesting any THC-based product, i need to be STRICTLY monitored by loved ones because i will eat every g*d*mned thing i can get my hands on.
20151223_200209
  • THC-based marijuana + holiday times = TOO MUCH SNACKING
  • A seemingly insignificant piece of a marijuana-infused chocolate bar can keep me high for 24 straight hours … which made for an interesting appointment with my oncologist the Friday morning i decided to tell him i would try chemotherapy.
  • Marijuana is toxic to dogs … but that won’t stop dogs from climbing up on countertops to get to a marijuana chocolate bar.
  • Making sure your loving pet doesn’t die from a drug/chocolate overdose will easily cost you $1,000.
  • Learning my limits continues to be an ongoing process that amuses the h*ll out of my friends and roommates.

THE END – for now

Helpful Links

http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock <– (There is a cool clock here that generates the amount of money we spend on the “War on Drugs” BY THE SECOND.)

http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/06/opinion/branson-end-war-on-drugs/

(15-12-18) Port Implant

Today, i had an outpatient surgery so that Dr. Gunia could implant a port near the left side of my collarbone.  This port reminds me of when i was involved in the Phoenix BDSM community, and i would see people walking around events with objects implanted just underneath their skin.  For them, it was about aesthetics and shock value; for me, it is about having a stronger avenue to receive the seven bags of medications i will receive intravenously through chemo: 2 anti-nausea, 1 steroidal, Taxoteral, Carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta.  The port wasn’t necessary.  I could have just received these meds directly through my veins … but i was told that sometimes people’s veins collapse after continued chemotherapy doses.  I didn’t want my veins collapsing.  I also didn’t want track marks … which, admittedly, i don’t know would actually happen but was worried it could.

My life already feels like there is nothing beyond medical appointments … medical appointments and body modification.

(15-12-16) Cancer Hair Cut

I cried today.  A lot.

Melinda handled it gracefully.  She has been doing my hair since 2006.  She’s walked me through styling lessons; red streaks, brown streaks, purple streaks, blue streaks; gray roots coverage; bangs, no bangs, bangs again.  She has patiently handled my tantrums when i couldn’t get my hair to lay right after a new style, taught me how to braid (i already forgot), and given me professional up-dos for i-don’t-know-how-many formal events.

And today, she chopped off years of her hard work.

I had to do it.  I didn’t want to.  I have had long hair almost every single year of my life.  It’s a part of my feminine identity, and i wasn’t ready to let that part go.  However, the thought of my long locks falling out in large clumps once chemo drugs took effect made me sick to my stomach.  I had a choice: drag myself through this painful, arduous process of losing my hair slowly; or proactively take control, cutting it all off now and donating it to Locks of Love.  When i put it in that perspective, the choice seemed obvious.

… but that doesn’t mean i didn’t mourn the loss.

(15-12-15) Letter To My Colleagues

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dear colleagues:

It has taken me a long time to muster the courage to discuss my situation with others. For those of you who love me and those of you who can’t stand me [smile here], you all likely agree that I am a bit of an overachiever who prefers to do everything on her own, and I’m also protective over my personal business. Because of this, you can probably imagine my procrastination when it came to admitting to others what happened to me: I got diagnosed with cancer. In October, I found out after a round of mammogram/ultrasound/biopsy/and sentinel node injection testing that I had Stage 3C Invasive Breast Cancer. For those of you are not familiar with the details of this type of cancer,   I am one step away from the most serious, most fatal kind. In ADJC PBIS terms, I’m basically the Adobe youth who is upper-Tier 2 and getting discussed regularly by the “powers that be” regarding whether (s)he should move up to Tier 3. My cancer is going to require the most aggressive treatment plan. On November 17, I had a double mastectomy and 21 lymph nodes removed. Initially, that was all I was willing to do, but a number of people staged TV-like intervention sessions and convinced me to at least try some Western medicine to fight this; I eventually remembered that I am too young and valuable to die, so I changed my mind. Going forward I have a 4-month chemotherapy regimen, 2 naturopathic treatments, another surgery, 5-7 weeks of radiation, potentially an additional surgery, and then hormone therapy. My goal is to be working at ADJC during certain periods of this time, which requires two things: (1) I am medically cleared for light duty, and (2) Dona Markley and HR approve one of the proposed substitute job(s) for me.   I might be back for a little while sometime in January. Do you think Dona will approve a cotton candy pink wig for me to wear on the facility, in honor of breast cancer? I’m thinking “official uniform policy change” for that one.

I always hated watching the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes mostly because the “thank you” speeches always seemed so obligatory and cliché. I think I get the motive behind them a little better now because I *do* want to throw a shout out to several of you specifically. I have seen or heard that some of you are going out of your way to help me during the scariest, most emotional time of my entire life.

  • Carissa, Kate, Amy, Clayton, Christie, Craig, and Braxton – Thank you for managing to perfectly balance giving me enough space with sending me intermittent texts or phone calls. Each time I read a text or heard a story from you, it put me in a more positive space because it reminded me that people were thinking about and supporting me.
  • Christie and Carissa – Thank you both for figuring out how to get me out of the house and do something normal for a couple of hours. I now have a favorite Glendale coffee shop, thanks to Carissa … and Christie, I got the experience to know you more as a person (not just a coworker) on our movie-and-dinner night.
  • Sergeant P, Amy, Katie, Braxton, and Hart – Thank you for all stepping up and taking a lead to organize my donated time, which will help me keep my insurance coverage. Ms. Hart, I heard you were even talking about making a spreadsheet; it’s gonna be color-coordinated, right? [smile here]
  • Langbehn, Earl, Christie, Amy, Kate, Katie, and Ms. Hart – Thank you for approaching Sergeant P to specifically discuss donating me time, once it expired.
  • Adam and Michelle – Thank you for communicating with Carissa to provide further options and possibilities so that I don’t lose my job with this facility during this difficult time.
  • Kate – Thank you for providing me with contact information for another cancer survivor, in the event that I may, at some point, need some guidance or support from someone who went through this herself .   Thank you also for facilitating a thank-you card handwritten by the students; that made me cry! (Just kidding. I’m a robot. Robots don’t cry.)
  • Amy, Kate, Karen, and Masura – Thank you for subbing for me that last week of the block. This “thank you” also mandates an “I’m sorry” to Karen and Masura for having to endure that 2nd period group.
  • Clayton – Thank you for using your superior logic skills back on July 23, 2015 to convince me to pay for that supplemental cancer insurance. If you think about it, you were one of the four people who may have contributed to saving my life when it comes to this cancer.

I’m sure there are a number of you who have also gone out of your way to do something, but I just don’t know about it. If your name wasn’t specifically listed, please don’t take it personally and know that I *do* appreciate you and your assistance, even if I don’t know exactly who you are.

 

Sincerely,

Instructor Ausburn

(15-11-18) Hospital Stay: Day 2

 

 

Fuck.

Last night was the “moment of truth.”  I woke up in the middle of the night, without any more pain medication in my system to trick my body into thinking everything was fine.  I had to pee for the first time since before i went under, but I couldn’t reach my remote control to call for the nurse.  As i lay there, the ache in my chest and the pressure in my bladder built up and became overwhelming.  Tears trickled silently at first, then led to all-out, gut-wrenching sobs.  Crying hurt my chest even more, but a part of me knew i had to vocalize the agony … so i continued.

Eventually, my bawling was loud enough to alert the nurses.  I didn’t have the strength to make it to the bathroom, so they sat me in a chair with a built-in plastic toilet.  Afterwards, i begged them to keep administering me pain meds even when i was asleep.  They wouldn’t do it … said they needed my explicit permission each time … so i asked them to wake me up every four hours to give me the opportunity.  They feigned agreement, drugged me up, and left me to process my pain.

Dilaudid, you’re my only friend here in this hospital.  Please don’t leave me.

(15-11-17) A Good Patient Is a Compliant Patient

6:30 a.m.

“My, you have a lot of stuff with you. Is there someone in the waiting room you can leave that with?”

With whom you can leave that. “No, I drove myself.”

“Well, you’re going to want to go put that stuff in your car.”

Tell me again what I am going to want to do? “No, that’s all right; I’ll just carry it with me.”

“But there’s no place for you to put it.”

Don’t roll your eyes, tarah. “That’s why I will carry it WITH me.”

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was going to annoy the hospital staff as much as they were going to annoy me…and I had had a head start.

 

Who is texting me at 5:00 in the bloody morning? I see Tyler’s name pop up across my Samsung Galaxy.

“What time are you leaving? I have something I want to drop off.”

Part of me – the fiercely-independent-bordering-on-isolationist part – wanted to ignore his text. It was just after 5:00. The sun was still down. I was on my way to get my breasts sliced off of my body, and I was a little busy trying to physically and mentally prepare myself. I was also trying harder than usual not to trip over or drop something so that I could sneak out of the house without having to talk to anyone. If I were quiet enough, Renee might not wake up; if I got ready quickly enough to leave early, Jenna wouldn’t be home from work yet. The words “nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy” kept playing over and over again in my mind, and that phrase took up so much room that I didn’t have the mind space for friends’ departing words.

… but it was Tyler, the Tyler who broke my strict coworker barriers with his reference to Judith Butler one day in the teacher workroom; the Tyler who encouraged me to buy a house through the Good Neighbor Next Door program; the Tyler who let me stay at his place for three months, while I closed the deal on my first home; the Tyler who carpooled with me to work for almost a year; the Tyler who loaned me his tools and his fix-it skills time and time again, as I learned what it meant to be a homeowner; the Tyler who helped me up my game in racquetball (even when I sulked profusely about how hard he would hit the ball); the Tyler who almost died from a brain infection and didn’t put up a fight when I insisted on sleeping in his hospital room for almost a week straight during his recovery time. I put myself in check and replied to the text.

“Leaving in 45 minutes … still getting ready.”

Forty minutes later, I found myself engulfed in a mini Bon Voyage party. Renee, Tyler, and Jenna were all there, all taking turns giving me hugs, words of encouragement, and gifts to take with me: a canvas shopping bag

20160105_145141

filled with chocolates and snacks, wireless headphones, and a blue pillow to match the

two designer hospital gowns that I had

purchased online two weeks prior. If the sun had been out by then … if any of them had looked a little closer at my face … they would have seen the frustration building, slowly building … but they weren’t looking hard enough. They were struggling through this moment just as much as I was. In my heart I knew that they were giving me something they thought I needed before I headed out alone to an undisclosed hospital, where I would spend the next two days recovering from an amputation and processing the official diagnosis that I already knew in my gut but could not get confirmed without a final pathology report.

***

“All right, ma’am, the first thing we’re going to need you to do is provide a urine sample.”

“For what?”

“It’s standard procedure, ma’am.”

“But what’s it for?”

“We need to check to make sure you’re not pregnant.”

“Oh, I’m not pregnant.”

“We still need a urine sample, ma’am.”

“Why?”

“Standard procedure.”

(Now, most people would just shut the f*ck up and pee in the cup. Most people would not think this is a big deal. I, however, am not “most people.” It’s heterosexist for hospitals to assume that all womyn are (1) straight and (2) having sex with men, and I don’t see why this is acceptable in 2015. For those of you who still don’t think this is a problem, consider the financial aspect: Someone has to pay for that urinalysis. Maybe it’s your insurance company, who will find a way to pass expenses off to its members in other ways. Maybe it’s you, if/when your insurance company decides not to pay for it [which happened to me once, during a routine wellness exam. I was a lesbian then too, but ended up being ordered to pee in a cup anyway, and then later I was billed $110+ because my insurance company wouldn’t cover two STD screenings in the same year.]. Maybe it’s the hospital itself, when they bill the insurance company AND you, but neither one pays. “Standard procedure” isn’t automatically a procedure that is both diversity-sensitive and economically sound, and I had a point to make.)

“I’m a lesbian. I can guarantee you 100% that I am not pregnant. I don’t need to have a pregnancy test done because I don’t have sex with men.”

“You can still be pregnant, even if you are a lesbian. I knew this one lady who …”

bitch please

Oh, here we go. Gotta love the straight folk who think their one queer acquaintance makes them an authority on the topic….

“… was a lesbian, and she used artificial insemination so that she and her partner could have a baby.”

“Okay, well, I don’t have a partner, I’m not trying to have a baby, and I’m pretty sure I would know if I was being artificially inseminated, which I’m not. I’ve been forced in the past to pay for urinalysis tests, so unless the hospital wants to sign some sort of document guaranteeing that I’m not going to have to pay for this heterosexist test later, I’m not giving you a urine sample.”

She sighs. “I don’t have time for this. Put the hospital gown on, and a nurse will be with you shortly.”

When the nurse arrived, I was still in my street clothes.

“Why didn’t you put the gown on?”

“I brought my own. It’s in one of the bags that the other lady took from me.”

“You need to wear the one we provided.”

“Why?”

I’m sure you can imagine where this conversation might be going. Luckily, Laronda was a no-nonsense kind of nurse who had a better answer than “It’s standard procedure.”

“Look, when you’re in surgery, your body temperature drops – a LOT. This hospital gown has built-in warming compartments. They can connect it to your bed and adjust the warming compartments to make sure that you don’t get too cold. If you get too cold, it can cause complications during surgery.”

Finally, a logical explanation. “Okay, I’ll wear that hospital gown for the surgery. Before I head to recovery, could you make sure they change me into the hospital gown I brought with me? I’ll feel better if I am in my own clothes and not one of those extra-large burlap sack gowns they make everyone wear.”

“Sure, we can do that.”

I was late to my own surgery, by the way. At one point, I went and spoke with one of the staff and tried to warn them that I would be late. They told me to go sit down and wait for my name to be called. I ignored that directive and reminded them that my surgery was scheduled for 9:45, and I was supposed to get a sentinel node injection done beforehand. That lady gave me the same look I had already seen two other times this morning: the look of an authority figure who doesn’t appreciate being questioned by someone “beneath” her/him. It turned out that they had my OLD surgery time (10:15) still written down on their paperwork, so at 9:35 when they finally figured it out, they had to start scrambling to get everything in order. And at 9:37, when I *still* wouldn’t give a urine sample, a waiver form magically appeared, excusing the hospital from any liabilities in the event that I did end up being pregnant.

Now, if they HAVE such a form, why can’t that be an option for their “standard procedures?”

***

My first moment waking up from anesthesia was fuzzy, but I do know that it was right at the time staff was changing me from their hospital gown to mine. I vaguely recall one of them asking something along the lines of, “Why are we doing this?” I didn’t hear the answer, but I did hear someone chuckle in response, followed by someone else saying, “It’s pretty, though” (the gown, not me – I was a hot mess coming out of surgery). The chuckle stayed with me all during my 2-day stay at Virginia G. Piper Cancer Surgery Center. It was the icing on my lesson cake: Good patients are compliant patients … and I certainly didn’t win the “good patient” award on this day of November 17, 2015.

(15-10-28) Mammogram Day

The day was finally here.  For weeks, i had waited for this day, a day where modern science could tell me what i already knew in my gut: Cancer is growing inside you.  I made arrangements with my supervisor to leave work after class to attend this appointment.

“I’ll be back in the afternoon for the staff meeting,” i told her, fully believing this was the truth.

I never made it back to work that day.

The mammogram was essentially pointless.  A former coworker/breast cancer survivor had warned me this would be the case.  Mammograms detect lumps that are dense enough to arouse suspicion, but they don’t tell you much beyond that.  They don’t tell you whether what is growing inside you is actually cancer … and if you have already detected the lump on your own, there is nothing more a mammogram can do for you.  Despite this, insurance companies often require this to be your first step in the cancer journey, and United Healthcare was no exception.

Whatever LabCorp technicians saw on the mammogram test was enough to push them to immediately schedule me for an ultrasound.  Immediately – as in, “Don’t bother taking off your gown; we’re going to move you right into another room for now.”  The ultrasound tech slathered me with cold jelly, rubbed a tool across my whole upper body, and captured dozens of images.  While she worked, she told me all about her problems with both her marriage and her inability to find genuine females with whom to form friendships.  I am used to this; i have long played the clinical role with friends, family, coworkers, girlfriends, exes, and complete strangers.  But today, i wasn’t in the mood to be some stranger’s therapist.  When she suggested we go hiking together in the upcoming weekend, i looked her dead in the face and said absolutely nothing.  By this time, she was wrapping up her task.  She started typing an email, and it was then that i found out that nobody would be discussing the results of my mammogram and ultrasound with me.

Had i not been warned by that same coworker that this is what would happen, i probably would have gone ballistic.  So when the lab tech slid a name and number on a piece of scratch paper across the table towards me and told me to call this person immediately to schedule a biopsy, i didn’t even bother to put up a fight.  Well, okay – maybe a little fight, since that’s the kind of person i am.  I pushed for details and could only surmise from her repeated use of the word “immediately” that my suspicions had officially been confirmed.

I then got dressed, left the building, walked to my car, opened the door, sat down … and promptly lost it.

Keep it together, tarah.  This is seriously JUST THE BEGINNING.

Mammo report, page 1 - 15-10-28Mammo report, page 2 - 15-10-28

ultrasound pic

 

(15-10-13) The Day I Knew

The Southwest Airlines plane was packed.  We were sitting in one of the back rows, nestled next to each other, my head on her shoulder.  For the last six days, we had been traveling all around Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  She came along as my girlfriend … which wasn’t really the case, but this was a particularly stressful trip home, and I needed a buffer.  I was flying home to see my father for the first time in 14 years; it had been 16 years since we were last on speaking terms.  For six days, she remained supportive and patient as we visited my dad and stepmom; my mother and mom-mom; and my Uncle Ken and Aunt Crystal.  We stayed at four different houses in under a week.  We crossed state lines half a dozen times and easily put close to 1,000 miles on that rental car.  Now, here we were, flying on the same plane back to our prospective home cities – Austin for her, Phoenix for me.

She breaks a long silence.  “Would you rather I bring up a serious topic over the phone or in person?”

It was a bizarre question, awkwardly phrased.

“That’s a weird thing to ask.  Um… in person.  Always.”

“There’s a lump on your right breast.”

“I know.”

She told me later that my response shocked her.  I gathered as much, for in that moment, she had no reply to my statement, and the air grew overwhelmingly heavy with each passing second of silence.  Usually, i am not the one to break a silence.   This time, i made an exception.  “When did you notice it?”

“The first night.”

The first night.  That makes sense; it was the only night we had sex.  Every day after that was filled with family visits, road trips, and mundane adventures that were good for story-telling later but not remotely sexy in the moment.  More silence.  This time, she broke it.

“Are you going to get that looked at?”

I told her no.  It wasn’t avoidance.  I had discovered the lump ten months ago.  At that time, i immediately scheduled an appointment with Dr. Mansfield, my primary care physician.  On a typical afternoon on January 21, 2015, i laid on her clinical table while she moved her hands around my breasts, feeling nothing.  She asked me to guide her to the area where i felt the lump.  I couldn’t find it.  We readjusted my body.  Still nothing.  “Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family?” Nope.  “Is anyone in your family of Jewish descent?”  Not that i know of.  “Did you ever use birth control pills?”  Yeah, but only for two years.  “How long ago was that?”  I stopped in 1999.  “When did you first start menstruating?”  When i was 12.  “And you’ve never had kids, right?”  Hell, no – i mean, no.  Sorry, doctor.  No.  “Do you smoke?”  No.  “How often do you drink alcohol?”  3-5 times a week.  “How often do you exercise?”  2-3 times a week.  After the breast exam and the extensive questions, Dr. Mansfield told me straight out that my risk for breast cancer was low, and it was perfectly normal for breasts to be lumpy or dense.  A lump felt one week and then gone the next didn’t necessarily mean anything.  When she wrote me a referral to get a mammogram, she told me it was up to me if i wanted to go that route.  She didn’t sound like she thought it was necessary, and i specifically remember her telling me in an off-handed manner to just hold onto the referral, in case the lump came back or in case i needed the testing to reassure myself.  I went home, posted that referral on my refrigerator, checked my breasts every week for over a month, and took that referral off my refrigerator six weeks later.

“You should at least consider getting the scan done.  That lump is large enough to warrant more attention.”

“I’ll think about it.”

We both knew i was brushing it off, brushing HER off.  She didn’t push it further, and we quickly moved on to other subjects.

Later that day – after the airplane ride, after the pit stop to visit with an ex-girlfriend who lived by the airport – after the drive back to Phoenix, after the check-in with my roommates and a half-hearted attempt to start unpacking – i went to my bathroom.  Alone in my own house for the first time in over a week, I took off my shirt and scrutinized my right breast.  It didn’t take long for my eyes and my brain to work together to register just how large this lump had suddenly become, and when that happened, i knew i didn’t need a mammogram.  I had cancer.