(16-03-26) Perspective Reminders

  1.  Reminder #1: Kourtney
    I’ve been searching online for my childhood best friend for a couple years now.  We were in touch until 2009, when all of a sudden she stopped replying to my emails.  I had no idea why.  After months of no response, i thought maybe she died.  Then, one night when Mercury was in retrograde (and i was feeling more nostalgic than usual), i did some more comprehensive online searching (a.k.a. stalking) and found out that she was alive, married … and a cancer survivor.  Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – Stage 3.  No wonder why she fell off the face of the planet.  After discovering this, i still sent her the occasional “thinking of you” email, but i stopped expecting a reply.  More recently, i found out through a mutual childhood school acquaintance that she not only survived her cancer, but she got it AGAIN.  She was trying to raise a baby girl with her new husband and had to battle the same type/stage of cancer a second time.  She won – again – and then had to deal with her husband dying in an awful car accident last month.  At 36, she is now a 2x cancer survivor, a widow, and a single mother raising a young child on a $22,400/year salary.
  2. Reminder #2: Uncle Bob
    My uncle has been battling Stage 3 cancer for a couple years now.  He pushed through chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries.  He had half his stomach and esophagus removed, along with 7 lymph nodes (3 of which were cancerous).  His tumor was over 30 inches long.  He was told that he had a 20% chance of beating his cancer.  As if that wasn’t scary enough, one of his surgeries had a 3% survival rate, and it left him hospitalized for a couple months.  He couldn’t work, and he fell behind on his mortgage.  He almost lost the house he lived in for decades, and the only reason he was able to keep it was because his son took out a $10,000 loan, and his daughter coordinated a fundraising event.  To this day, he’s not out of the water and is continuing to spend a lot of his time and energy into just staying alive.
  3. Reminder #3: Happily Ever After League (HEAL)
    Next weekend I am attending a fundraising event put on by HEAL, a nonprofit organization that assists moms who are going through cancer treatment.  A fellow ADJC teacher, Catherine, arranged for a bunch of our coworkers to chip in $60 each to get a table; she and another teacher, Amy, have spent numerous weeks organizing our fairytale theme (Wizard of Oz) and designing our table area.  I can’t even imagine how many hours they clocked preparing for this event, hours that included donating me a Dorothy dress, messing up expensive manicures from hot glue gunning adventures, and making miniature decorations that – had i had to do myself – probably would have led to someone being killed.

Earlier today, i was on HEAL’s website (www.happilyeverafterleague.org), and it hit me how difficult it must be to be a MOTHER going through cancer treatment.  There are days i am too weak, or sick, or sad to get out of bed … but moms don’t have that luxury of just lying around, immersing in their weakness, or sickness, or sadness.  They have little ones depending on them to be fed, clothed, and cared for.  Their children’s lives depend on them to be parents, regardless of whether cancer pops up in the mix … and *sometimes* these womyn have to bear this responsibility without the help of another parent.

* * *

While my situation is painful and scary, it doesn’t come close to what others have to go through.  I’m trying to keep that in mind this week.

(16-03-25) Simple Updates, Nothing Fancy

  1.  How are you feeling?
    My oncologist reassured me that it’s normal for me to feel terrible right about now.  I’ve been beating myself up about it, telling myself that it’s been three months of chemo and that i should be used to it by now.  Apparently not.  Apparently, every time my body recovers from a session, it never returns to its full function and wellness.  In other words, every session takes a little more out of me that i don’t get back – that i *won’t* get back for several months after all the treatment is over.
    chart showing blood cell counts over time
    It makes sense, when my doctor breaks it down like that (and anyone who truly knows me understands that color-coded charts just make everything better).  This knowledge helps me berate myself a little LESS for feeling awful every day – every … single … day.  I just need to embrace it, my new normal.  This new normal includes repeatedly throwing up even two weeks after chemo, binge-eating while justifying that my body is going to reject the food in some way anyway, being satisfied with less than 10 hot flashes a day, feeling like it’s a good day if my temperature stays in double digits, taking breaks to sit down from walking ON FLAT LAND FOR LESS THAN HALF A MILE, accepting that i can’t remember the last time i exercised, bathing (as opposed to showering) every OTHER day of the week, falling on my face after trying to do just one pushup (i used to do 30 at a time, before the sun had even arisen yet), attending 1-4 doctors’ appointments each week, tripling up on sleeping agents just so that i can get up for work the next morning, and accepting the sad reality that the best compliment i ever get these days is about how nicely my head is shaped.  Most of this i just accept … but i am going to admit that i am quite disappointed that i didn’t reach my goal of making it through chemo without throwing up once.  Thanks a lot, CVS, for not having my anti-nausea medication in stock on Wednesday night.  I mean, it was probably me who used up your whole supply in the first place, but STILL.
  2. How is work going?
    Monday – Adam banned my wig and added a bunch of restrictions on which hats and head scarves i could wear.
    Tuesday – I wrote a long-winded email in response to that.
    Wednesday – I discovered, to my utmost surprise, that Adam had responded.  In about two typed lines, he told me that he was referring this situation over to HR, and they would be in contact with me.
    Also on Wednesday – I was summoned to Carissa’s office to talk to her and Adam.  When i got there, i sat down and opened up my notebook to the pages showing print-outs between me and Adam.  Adam started the conversation. “Well, this isn’t going to take very long at all.  Basically, you’ve got a number of ADA accommodation requests under review … I don’t even know what all of them are for.  While they’re under review, we’re just going to have you teach one class.  You’ll teach the English class, but Containment will go to someone else.”  I wrote down his statements and then paraphrased them back to him, to make sure we were on the same page.  As soon as he verified what i had written down, he stood up and left Carissa’s office.  No “bye.” No side-talk.  No fake interest in what projects i have recently done on my house.  He’s clearly pissed … i would be too if that was the best excuse i could come up with to allow a persistent teacher to go down to teaching just one morning class.
    Thursday – I *missed* my meeting with HR because i was throwing up from 6-9:30am.  It has been rescheduled for Wednesday.  I also missed my echocardiogram, which was the *2nd* attempt with that appointment.  I wonder what my oncologist will say if i just don’t go get that done.  I’m kind of over all these appointments!  (I know: I’m whining.)
    Friday – I met my new group of students for the first time today.  There were only 10 on the roster, and 2 of them were in separation.  They were polite to me and gave a convincing show of pseudo reading, writing, and pre-testing.  One youth got a violation for behavior, three youth got redirected, and all nine of them earned at least one Mane Catch Ticket for being respectful, mindful, honest, and/or driven.  After they left, i graded their workbooks, stared at the 59% class average they had already accumulated, and had an epiphany: If their class averages are 50-60% when i put my Instructor Ausburn Game Face on, and their class average is 59% when i throw textbooks in front of them and tell them to work on whatever they want, then it’s possible – i mean, TRULY POSSIBLE – that i have been approaching this whole teaching thing ass backwards.  Someone please explain to me why i spent all those weeknight evenings, weekend days, and summer “breaks” trying to find new innovative ways of teaching, when the end result looks remarkably similar to the Traditional Textbook Teacher.  On the plus side, none of the youth were outright rude to me, my subpar teaching, or my bald ass head.  (<– See?  That’s me, trying to get back on the positive pony.)
  3. How much more chemo do you have left?
    * the quadruple cocktail – just one session left (next Thursday and Friday)
    * the single cocktail, Herceptin – 11 more sessions, 3 weeks apart – should stop in Nov
  4. When do you start radiation?
    late April
  5. Is there anything i can do?
    Sure!
    I like presents that i can eat or color-coordinate with my house.
    Care packages are awesome.
    Greeting cards are sweet, but handmade cards are the ones i’ll keep after it’s all over.
    Keep feeding me – food is my preference, but i will accept gross teas & supplements.
    Find a way to get me to exercise again.
    Don’t come visit (unless you’re Sacha, Kyana, or Linda).  I’m tapped out on visitors.
    Color-coordinate with me at work – ESPECIALLY when it comes to head scarves.  😉
    Coworkers, stay healthy so that i don’t have to go sub in your germ-infested classes.
    Roommates, don’t be scared about throwing away the junk food i keep bringing home.
    Stop asking me if there is something you can do; just do something.  I’m sure i will appreciate the sentiment, regardless.
    Smile, whenever you see me.  I automatically smile back, and then we have *both* tricked our brains into thinking we’re happy (if only for a few moments).
    Give props to Catherine and Amy at work next week; they really have put in a lot of work for this HEAL cancer-fundraising event.
    Hug me from the left.  I’m getting used to all the touchy feely stuff that’s happening right now.  (I reserve the right to delete that last statement the instant it comes back to bite me in the ass.)

(16-03-23) There’s a Time and a Place, AZ Cardiology Personnel

(Pre-blog side-note: That website front page for AZ Cardiology is kind of ridiculous.  Maybe it’s just me … but look at it.  I mean, really look at it,  Notice anything just … off… about any part of it?)

8:19.  I know i am late – by four minutes.  Normally, i’d be all harried and apologetic … but cancer has seriously impacted my daily pace and pretty much everything i try to do; i no longer seem to feel guilty when i am late anymore.  I check in but don’t get too comfortable; i anticipate them calling me back for my echocardiogram any moment.

8:30.  I look around at the almost empty waiting room and wonder what’s taking so long.  Maybe i am being punished, for being late.  My dentist does that.  Whenever i am early or on time, i get sent into one of the rooms right away … but when i am late, there is always a 10-30 minute wait.  It’s passive-aggressive, but i don’t blame them; i am pretty sure i would do the exact same thing if i were a doctor, and my patients were late to my appointments.

8:40.

8:46.  “Miss Ashburn?”

There’s no “h” in my name, but that’s cool.  I’ve heard it all my life.  Hooked on Phonics didn’t work for everyone.

I follow the technician into a room and proceed to change into a 3XL dressing gown.  Pink.  Again.  This makes the third time.

I wonder if they give males blue gowns.  I ponder what they would say if i brought my own dressing gown with me.  (I have two.  They’re my size, and they’re pretty.  I wore one for my mastectomy and will wear the other for my reconstructive surgery in a few months.)

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I lay down and stick my head inside the slightly enclosed part of the machine.  I wait.  for minutes.  I think about getting up and grabbing my phone to track how long this will take.  I wonder why i care; i am in absolutely no hurry to get to work.  I pass time by recalling the 87-point word i played in the waiting room on my Words With Friends game, criticizing myself for playing that word but STILL being behind in the game.  I have a coughing spasm, and my nose starts to run; i wipe it on the dressing gown because i have no tissue with me.  I end up being glad that i didn’t bring my own gown after all.

Seriously, what time is it?!

The technician comes in and starts fiddling with the machine.  I hear some noises.  I can’t, for the life of me, remember how my last echocardiogram went.  I don’t even remember when it was.  Was it before chemo started?  How long does it take?  What’s the difference between an EKG and an echocardiogram again?  Why can’t i seem to remember any of this???

More time passes.  Slowly.  Suddenly, from inside the machine, i hear the technician pipe up.  “Either there’s something wrong with you, or there’s something wrong with the machine.”

“That’s not funny,” i instantly reply.

Silence.

“Um… hello?”

It turned out there was something wrong with the machine, so i had to reschedule for tomorrow.  Twelve hours later, as i sit here typing this, i am *still* wondering what the heck is wrong with some of these medical personnel.  Last month, i had that Lab Corp lady tell me all about her parent dying of cancer as she’s doing my blood work for chemo, and now i have this AZ Cardiology technician making jokes about my heart when there is actually a serious risk of heart complications from taking Perjeta.

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I mean, seriously lady – CONGESTIVE HEART FAILURE is a potential risk of this chemo drug.  It’s serious enough that my oncologist has required that i get echocardiograms each month for the duration of treatment, and you think that it’s a good idea to be cracking jokes about my well-being while i am inside of your ultrasound machine?

(16-03-19) Telling More People

Throughout this whole ordeal, i have procrastinated in telling people about my cancer.  For a month, i discussed it with no one, except for the lucky/unlucky/unusually observant individual who found the lump in the first place.  I waited to tell my roommates until two days before my mastectomy.  I waited to tell my parents until i was already in the recovery room at the hospital.  I waited to tell my coworkers until *after* i was out on FMLA.  I waited to tell close friends for as long as i could get away with them not knowing, and there are still so many people from my childhood, my high school, and my college years whom i haven’t told.

FRIDAY NIGHT

Nikita and i went to Red Thai restaurant.  It’s an awesome place in a not-so-awesome part of town: 12th Street and Northern.  Phoenicians – go there.  It’s amazing food.

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Nikita and i were reading over the menu, appreciating the live person mixing music, when i happened to see a very familiar face.

Jessica Cataldo.

ex-girlfriend

haven’t told her

don’t want to tell her

don’t want to see her

don’t want to hear her

don’t want to tell her.

Nikita switched seats with me, and i spent the rest of the dinner (1) burning holes and sores in my mouth from the all-of-a-sudden-too-spicy-for-me-to-handle Thai dishes, (2) watching her coke friends head back and forth in a steady single file line to and from the bathroom, and (3) cringing every time i heard her nasal voice dominating the conversation.  It kind of put a damper on the ambience of dinner … but, when all was said and done, i was relieved for being able to avoid having that “coming out with cancer” conversation to yet another person.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Back out into the public Nikita and I ventured, this time for stuffed french toast at Cafe Zu Zu.  The place was packed; who doesn’t love spending their Saturday afternoon with Mimosa/Bloody Mary bars, food prepared by an award-winning chef, and the option of lounging all day by a saltwater pool?  We were both excited to being coming back here again together, even if it had been too too long since our last trip to this place.  In fact, i was so excited that i did some things that, in normal circumstances, i would have scoffed at the mere suggestion:

I checked in at Facebook.

I took selfies.

I uploaded them and tagged people.

check in at ZuZu

 

I know, i know.  This is routine, everyday stuff.  It’s also not me – not usually.  And it was only after i channeled my giddiness into a post on social media … and after the comments and Messenger emails quickly started pouring in that i realized what i had done:

I just told the Internet that Tarah Ausburn has cancer.

It’s a day later.  In the last 23 hours, I have had several in-depth conversations with some people from my past: my Summer of 1999 All-time Favorite person, whose emails starting with “hello, sport” still get me close to 20 years later; the Stetson hallmate with a mesmerizing singing voice and the willingness to sleep in my dorm room to protect me from crazy ex-roommates; the twinkle-eyed girl i slept, chanted, and protested beside in a 10-day sit-in during my final days at Penn State; the ex that permanently, drastically, incredibly changed my whole worldview on sex and gender; the Dinah Shore fling that took me years to get over; and the former student/T.A. who used to push my buttons more than any other student i taught “on the outs.”  Some of these conversations were brief; others lasted hours.  Every single one of them had me crying at some point.

Throughout this whole ordeal … frequently … like, on a daily freaking basis, I keep getting reminded that i am loved.  I don’t know why i keep forgetting in the first place.

 

(16-03-15) Still Recovering

This was, by far, the worst session of chemo.  I knew it would be; i said as much going into it.  There were a combination of factors:

  • BIGGEST ONE – The amount of stress and germs that permeated my body from having to go back to work took a huge toll on my sleep, energy, attitude, and immune defenses.   I cannot emphasize this part enough.
  • My immune system has been too weak to deal with my bronchitis and subsequent 9-week stint of coughing, which was so persistent that i sometimes ended up vomiting in my mouth.  (How’s that for descriptive???)
  • The day before chemo, I had to get my expanders drained and stitches put in by my breast scars – on both sides.  My body isn’t responding efficiently *or* efficaciously to any infection whatsoever, apparently.  Dr. Curley warned me this would happen.  Every time i get a treatment session, my body does not recover back to 100% of its normal capability, so after 5 sessions, my body is at approximately a 50% capacity, compared to  Pre-chemo, Pre-cancer, Super-Tarah.  For the record, i view anything below an 80% average as failing; this 50% nonsense is practically foreign to my whole worldview.
  • I couldn’t fast this time around.  Okay, i suppose “couldn’t” isn’t the most accurate term … I made a CHOICE not to fast.  For one thing, I’ve been on antibiotics for the last three weeks, and life does not treat you well if you try to take antibiotics on an empty stomach.  The stomach also doesn’t appreciate being thrown a batch of vitamin supplements when it’s running on empty.  This was *part* of my reasoning for just abandoning the fast.  (The other part was having a “fuck everything” attitude when i had to come home on Thursday without being able to get my chemo treatment.)
  • Since Thursday’s chemo session got delayed until Friday, Friday’s treatment portion also had to be moved back a day.  The normal Friday shot i have to take ended up being injected into my skin via a patch on Saturday.  This pushed back my whole recovery by one day, leaving me stressed out about having to justify my six consecutive days of (unpaid) absences to apathetic job bosses.
  • “Cat tongue” and “metal mouth” have been particularly prominent this time around.  With the exception of strawberry and coconut popsicles, everything tastes like metal and hurts the inside of my mouth to chew.  Since Sunday, I have been making food, taking 1-2 bites, then throwing the rest in the compost bin.
  • Weakness and fatigue continue to be the same … although i will say that i feel the pain of this bedridden status even more when, like now, i have a loved one in from out of town to try to handle me in the aftermath of chemo.  I know it has not been the least bit easy for her these past 6 days.

Luckily, in this absolute agony, there is one thing that brings a continual joy to my face: these goddamned pets.

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(16-03-11) A Medical Update

This week threw me for a couple of curves – both medically and interpersonally. I’m just going to totally avoid dealing with the interpersonal stuff for a little while longer and instead just report on the medical matters.

  • Over the weekend, I noticed some discoloration (again) on my right breast. At first, it didn’t look that serious.

20160307_032150-1

  • Within a day, though, the redness was accompanied by a small, dark, circular splotch. That spot then turned into two spots, and by Sunday night, i observed a third splotch that had popped up on the other breast. The area around my port implant wasn’t looking so great, either.
  • I know i *should have* made it a top priority to call Dr. Walsh on Monday morning. The problem is, their office opens at 9:30, and there is no way for me to leave a message outside of their office hours. Also, i needed to email the pictures to them, and it’s kind of a hassle to do this. Option 1 involves emailing pictures of my boobs to my work email address (which could end up causing some very misinformed drama with the IT department and HR). Option 2 involves walking across the facility, turning in my keys, getting scanned out, sitting in my car while i turn on the phone and email the pictures, remembering to ask the doctor’s assistant to send her replies to my work email address instead of my Gmail account, going back through the metal detector afterwards to get scanned back in, checking my keys back out, returning to my desk, waiting for an email reply to come from the doctor’s assistant, and then hunting down my supervisor so that i can call my doctor’s office to discuss Dr. Walsh’s recommendations. Let me tell you: i do not have the energy for all this. I’m still getting out of the shower in the morning and lying down in bed to rest because doing just that much is, on some days, already TOO much.
  • On Monday, i missed my doctor’s office hours, but i did email the pictures on Tuesday as soon as i left work. Angie, Dr. Walsh’s assistant, called me back within minutes. Dr. Walsh had seen the pictures. Dr. Walsh wanted me to come in first thing the next morning. Apparently, my skin was tearing from the inside. No, this isn’t normal … it does happen, but not usually. Usually, the body repairs itself enough to prevent the tearing from occurring … but the body is kind of busy dealing with all the chemotherapy drugs and aftermath, so it’s not up to the task of getting distracted by other issues going on in the body. SO – appointment tomorrow. Dr. Walsh will drain some of the fluid and make a further assessment once she can get a closer look at the site. In the meantime, go home and cover the areas with Xeroform dressings and the binder (two things i had to use after my mastectomy). Also, don’t shower.
  • Initially, i had planned to drive myself. I’m grateful that i didn’t. My roommate offered (and kind of insisted) to chauffeur me – first to get my blood drawn and then to see Dr. Walsh. On our drive over to Scottsdale, i popped a Valium and tried not to freak out. Once there, Dr. Walsh drained 60cc’s of fluid from each breast and then put stitches in two of the three torn areas. This was the first time in my life i have had to get stitches. I’ve had those stitches that automatically dissolve, but this was different: I was awake, and a doctor was using black thread to sew into my skin, and i’ll have to go back to get the stitches removed. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but the whole process scared me. It’s an indicator that my body is just not prepared to deal with little obstacles popping up. It’s a sign that my body can’t fight all these battles, the way i am expecting it to. When Dr. Walsh told me that i might not be able to have chemo tomorrow because my body needs a few days to heal from this tearing and stitching, i cried. I’m so focused on the concept of *no interruptions in treatment.* “No interruptions” = 47% chance of success. “Interruptions” mean something less than that. Dr. Walsh called Dr. Curley. Dr. Curley wanted to try to keep the chemo schedule unchanged, so Dr. Walsh acquiesced and scheduled me to see her again first thing Monday morning. On Monday, she said, there will be three possible treatment decisions: (1) remove the stitches, if all looks well; (2) drain more fluid and replace the stitches; or (3) go to outpatient and have the expanders surgically removed until after chemo (and probably radiation).
  • Thursday rolls around. I don’t feel well. I take 40 minutes just to push myself to get out of bed, and i’m almost late. Once there, we review the standard information. Weight – back up to 133, thanks in large part to currently not giving a *fuck* about what i’ve been eating. Blood pressure – normal. Heart rate – normal. Neutrophils – … – not so great. In fact, they’re terrible: 0.8. Three weeks ago, i was at 3.3 – my highest level this whole time! But a lot has happened in three weeks … and by “a lot,” i mean that fucking facility made me go back to work in a germ-infested environment, and sub in all these different classes and buildings, and be around kids who are sick, and be around coworkers who are sick, and go through the motions of an 8-hour day without lying down to rest every couple of hours … and now, after just TWO WEEKS of that, i am at a 0.8 and not allowed to have chemo. Remember, the rule is that my neutrophils have to be at a 1.0 or higher. If they are any lower, then i risk having NO neutrophils to fight infections that i might incur right after chemo. Again with the tears. Dr. Curley did his best to console and encourage me; he clearly had a tougher time watching me cry than Dr. Walsh did. He told me they would draw my blood and check the results later in the afternoon; if they went up, i could have chemo on Friday and then go home wearing a patch that gives me my 2nd-day chemo treatment. I kept crying. All i could focus on was “interruption in treatment.” It was like one of those gaudy light-up beer signs, going off in my head: “INTERRUPTION IN TREATMENT!!! SUCCESS RATE REDUCED!”
  • Nikita and i drove back home in mostly silence for the hour-long commute. I was still crying. I was angry with Dona and Adam, whom i largely blame for my WBC count. I was blaming myself, too, although i couldn’t pinpoint why. I spent Thursday morning sulking and eating donuts with a haphazardly apathetic attitude. Early that afternoon, Lisa called me to report that my neutrophils had gone up to 1.3. Chemo was back on. I calmed down enough to take a nap. My body felt drained and heavy, and i haven’t even started the 5th session yet.
  • This morning, i sat down for chemo knowing that this is probably going to be my worst session. I’m not prepared for this upcoming battle. I’m still coughing (going on 9 weeks?). I am on my 12th day of antibiotics, from multiple infections. I’m extra tired and weak. I’m drinking coffee just to have the strength to pick my legs up and walk all throughout the workday (and I’m not supposed to be drinking coffee). My blood count is dangerously low. To be clear, I’m not complaining. I’m just acknowledging that there will be definite backlash from this 5th chemo session.
  • Jen sped up the chemo drug infusion today. I’m pretty sure that they made an exception for me; their office normally closes at noon on Fridays, but even with a faster infusion tempo, i was there until after 1:00pm. After the infusion, Jen put this high-tech patch gadget on my right arm. A needle, or hook or something, latched into my skin, but there were so many lymph nodes removed in that area that i didn’t even feel it. Jen informed me that, in 27 hours, a beep and a green blinking light will warn me that the patch is about to start releasing the medication into my pores. After 33 hours, the patch will beep again, and a solid green light will inform me that the process is complete, and i can remove the patch. Pretty impressive, all this technology. I guess that’s something positive to focus on.

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(16-03-04) Reality TV Shows

(warning: spoiler alert)

I’ve never watched Grey’s Anatomy in my life.  I don’t have any fiercely charged opposition to it … but considering the fact that i can get queasy when someone starts talking about veins or blood or intestines for more than five seconds, i figure it’s a safe decision to stay away from this particular show – no matter how many people and awards ceremonies give it props.  However, i was totally drained from my first full week back to work, so when Hulu’s autoplay transitioned from How To Get Away With Murder to Grey’s Anatomy, i was – quite frankly – too lazy to get off my bed to turn the show off.

Somebody please tell me WHY – out of ALL the episodes from TWELVE SEASONS of that show – i just happen to watch the episode where someone fucking *dies* because their port implant (the one they had put in for their cancer treatment) got infected.  First, Steph on The Fosters gets diagnosed with the same exact type of cancer i had, prompting her to have to get a double mastectomy … and now, four weeks later, i find myself once again dropping to the ground and bawling at some new fictional TV show character finding out she’s cancer-free after ten months of treatment (only to then turn around and die from an unexpected port infection).  I’m watching my life’s events – real and imagined – play out on TV.  It fucking sucks.

I think i’ll go get that *second* bowl of triple-flavored ice cream now.

(16-03-03) “What happened to your hair?”

There was a time i thought i would never stop having to come out of the closet.  When i first identified as bisexual-then-lesbian-then-queer-then-stop-putting-me-in-a-box-goddamnit, the Internet was alive and well … but it was pre-MySpace and pre-Facebook.  In other words, it was well before the days of just putting all your business out there in an instantaneous post (a post that might end up ruining your day if you didn’t get enough likes or comments).  To share information with people, you actually had to TALK with them (gasp!) – and face to face, no less!  It took me decades to come out to *myself,* then months to share the news with all the particularly important relatives and friends, then years to tell the rest of the people who dangled on the fringes of my world.  Coming out was …
* sometimes excitedly reinforced (thank you, Womyn’s Concerns and Lambda Student Alliance);
* sometimes tear-inducing (except my grandmother already knew, so I’m not sure why i was crying);
* sometimes infuriating (my dad asked if i was going through a phase, even though i was twenty effin years old) (guys thought that gave them free reign to offer me opportunities to have three-ways with them and their girlfriends);
* sometimes disappointing (I misjudged the open-mindedness of a few of the people in my life); and
* mostly just a temporary inconvenience that ends up not being that big of a deal.

Regardless of the outcome, the point was that the process never really stopped.  There are always people coming in and out of my life – both new faces and old – that require me to have that conversation with them.

It turns out that i get to start this process all over again in regards to having cancer.

It’s kind of a pain in the ass.

I have this urge to have T-shirts and announcement cards made: “Ta-da!  It’s cancer.  Now stop staring.” and “How the fuck do you *think* I’m feeling?” and “I am not the least bit interested in hearing about your _______ who has cancer.”  I know that sounds mean.  On other days, i have cared more about that.  Today is one of those days i really don’t.  I understand that people are trying to relate or give support or just fill the void of awkward silence, but it gets exhausting.

… except, apparently, when i tell little kids.

Let me set the stage.

I’m washing dishes.  The sliding glass door in my living room is open, so i can hear the kids playing in the park.  I like to listen to them.  My dog doesn’t.  She barks not-so-ferociously whenever any of them get too close to my fence, which apparently is happening right now.  I towel-dry my hands and venture out into my backyard to silence the unnecessary yip-yips that might wake my nightshift-working-roommate.  Two little girls are clearly arguing with each other behind some bushes, far enough away from the group of kids to let me know that they’re having a private conversation.  I’m nosy, so when i pick up my dog, i walk closer to the kids to see what they’re arguing about.  I listen to their words, and i observe the flies and the paper towels crumpled on the ground.  The younger girl had pooped on the ground and unsuccessfully tried to clean up after herself.  The older girl was ordering her to go home.  The younger girl was crying and walking away, alone.  The other kids started putting in their two cents about what had happened and what the older girl should do.  They were not coming to a resolution.

Most people would just head back into their house and let the neighborhood kids work it out (or not).  And then there’s me.  What do i do?  I put on my Instructor Ausburn hat, walk out to the park with some rubber gloves and a trash bag, and gently but firmly direct the older sister to go check on her younger sister to make sure she got home safely, then return to the park to help me clean up the mess behind my house.  I would have bet money that the older sister wasn’t coming back, but i still sat down on the park bench and had a conversation with the other kids about NOT teasing the park pooper the next day in school.

“She’s probably really embarrassed.”

They nod – maybe in agreement, maybe just to placate me.  Then, a brave girl about six or seven pipes up.  “What happened to your hair?”

So forthright that i couldn’t even be angry at her.  “I have cancer.”

“Oh!  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  I’m gonna make it.  I’m taking medicine, but it made my hair fall out.”

“Oh.  My hair’s down to here.”

“My hair used to be that long.”

And just like that, the conversation about cancer was over, and we talked about hair and tag and recess while we waited for the older sister to return.  And she DID.  And she held the trash bag while i picked up the feces of a 6-year-old i’ve never met before in my life, and i told her that i was proud of her for being responsible and doing the right thing by coming back to the park.  And she admitted that her sister was home crying, and i requested that she not tell the other kids that because they might make fun of her.  And she agreed.  And i told her that she was a good older sister to have around.

So, to sum it all up, today i learned that i would rather pick up fly-infested, paper-towel-smeared feces in a park while talking to little kids in a park about hair loss than have the cancer conversation day after day with adults.