(19-02-26) Financial Slap In the Face

I know i am not supposed to be worried about anything while i am here. My one task here is to invest my body and mind into a positive healing space and just do what it takes to get this cancer out of my body. Sigh… I know. But I’ve been dealing with bills the past couple of days, and money has been on my mind… So the conversation down in the kitchen with Elma May threw me into a widespread panic about how the heck i am going to afford this once i leave. I thought that, once i returned to the States, if i got a second job AND a third roommate, i would be able to afford both the home programs and the maintenance visits. I won’t. Elma May said her first home program cost her $15,000. FIFTEEN GRAND. It’s the shots that are so expensive, the daily injections of the vaccines and the stem cells. I don’t know how long that one home program lasts, but i still have to come back here in April ($8k), June ($8k), probably October ($8k), and December ($8k). So, with just one home program (and i know i’ll need more than one), I’m looking at a 2019 medical bill of at least $47,000. Forget a part-time job; that’s a whole second full-time teaching job… which is why positivity and healing spaces are out the window right now, and i am hiding in the bathroom in the community room, trying to quell a rising panic attack. Did i really come this far just to find out that ongoing treatment will not be a reality for me???

(19-02-26) Conversation w/the Doctor

Dr. Rubio, Sr’s devious glint in his eyes let me know he was starting off our daily check-in with a bit of teasing.

“So, i heard you had a good Sunday.”

“I did NOT have a good Sunday. ”

He laughs at my pouting face, and we discuss symptoms, Sunday staff, and changes in drip bags for the next two days. At one point, he mentions the magnet vaccine.

“It hit faster and harder because you went for two hours. Next time, we go back to one.”

I protested. “No, i want to keep it at two. I’m here to beat this cancer. I know it’s going to be painful… but i want to do the maximum.”

He agreed to keep it at two, so I’ll probably get another round of that on Friday? (I forgot to ask him that.)

From there, we proceeded to discuss my timeline here, and here is the basic gist of our conversation.

  • He wants me to stay for two more weeks. His goal is for me to get my TNF number down to 45-50 before i leave. I don’t see that happening in just two weeks, but we’ll see….
  • Then, he wants me to come back in a month for a week of treatment. I have already booked my flight to return here the week of April 29.
  • He wants me to return for another week of treatment in June. Well, he said another month, but i would hold off until my students are on their school break.
  • At that point, we’ll decide whether i can just start coming for maintenance treatments once every six months or if i need to keep it at three for a while longer.

We also discussed the home program in more detail – specifically, the shots. I learned that the shots are doses of the vaccine and my stem cells. I didn’t realize I’d have access to my customized vaccines and stem cells at home, so i got a little excited about that. I’m a little less excited about giving myself shots every day, but he once again reassured me that he would show me how to do it properly before I left. He also confirmed what Erin told me a few days ago – that following the home program will allow my TNF number to continue going down even when i am not here in Tijuana. Hearing him say this flooded me with light inside, as it was yet another reminder that cancer is right now, in this moment and all future moments, losing its war inside my body. I’M GONNA WIN.

(19-02-25) Sunday Not Funday

Reactions to the magnet vaccine hit a day earlier than expected, and I learned this weekend that Sunday is the worst day here to need some extra personalized attention.

  • There are only two staff present on Sundays: Dr. Melissa (bilingual) and Nurse Mari (almost exclusively Spanish-speaking). This means that two people are responsible for nine different patients, which is a lot, considering some of us can be a little needy when they’re not feeling well (ahem, ahem).
  • Because these two are only here on Sundays, they really don’t know our needs and routines like the other staff do. Hence, we waste a lot of time reviewing information that I feel they should already know.
  • They both pull long shifts on these days: Dr. Melissa, 36 hours, from Saturday night to Monday morning; and Mari, 24 hours, from Sunday 7am – Monday 7am. They get tired. They sneak naps in the middle of the night. They don’t always respond quickly to 3am panic buzzes from my room.

So yeah, if I can figure out a way these last few weeks to get my symptoms to act up any other day of the week besides Sunday, I’m gonna work that out.

On a positive note, Dr. Melissa gave me a bottle of specialized arnica and eucalyptus cream as a pain-relieving topical treatment. Holy cow, this stuff works way better than the Arnica cream I commonly buy back home at Sprouts. She said her friend specially makes it, which makes this gesture even sweeter. Hopefully, I can find a way to order it back in the states…or sweet talk Dr. Melissa into adding some into my home treatment program.

(19-02-24) My First Quincenera

It’s kind of amazing, that it took being a cancer patient in Tijuana for me to finally attend a quincenera. Back when I taught middle school at Rose Linda Elementary, I had to have been invited to about a dozen of these… But I already declined, feeling weird about the idea of being a teacher and shitting up to my students’ parties. sooo… Tonight broke the seal.

Getting ready was fun. Spotify played my “Get Hype” playlist, and I reunited myself with heavy eye makeup and fancy shoes. I was NOT happy about squeezing my fat ass into a second dress after the first one groaned in protest under the stress of five weeks worth of drip bags for 10+ hours/day. My vanity is SUCH an issue, and I’m really struggling with not being able to do anything to correct it. Yeah, yeah, beauty’s on the inside… Curves are welcome… Tell that to a face that can’t fully smile at her reflection in the mirror because her cheeks are so bloated. Sigh…I know. I’m working through it.

The place, of course, was beautiful. It was in some banquet hall at what I think was a country club, and the room was bedazzled with large bouquets of flowers (one of which i brought back to my room, despite Blanca’s protest) and shiny pink decorations, to match the designated color of the evening. (I also stole the pink satin napkin placed upon my lap by the server.)

Drinking was…interesting. With just one tequila shot and one Pina colada that may actually have had no liquor in it, my insides warmed up… Which was what I expected, considering I haven’t touched alcohol in over a month. But the drinks flowed freely for five hours after that, and I never got drunk. Not even close. Blanca did. Jesus Christ, Blanca did, to the point where I worried about the future backseat of our can driver, but not me. I don’t know if it’s somehow because my treatment here, but the only effect that the alcohol had on me was to fill up my bloated stomach even more and give me so much acid reflux that at 4:44 in the morning as I type this entry, I am still vehemently burping up margaritas, Pina coladas, and red wine.

It was also freezing. At one point, I ordered a coffee – not to drink, but just to hold and blow into in an effort to warm myself up a little. Blanca almost fell over in her chair laughing as I intentionally fogged up my glasses just to retain a bit more heat.

Regardless, I’m glad I went. People watching is always fun for me, and even though drunk Blanca drove me crazy after a while with her insistent need to try to pull me on the dance floor (I went out once, hoping to placate her … It didn’t….), just being around people so excited to introduce this 15-year-old into symbolic womynhood was a beautiful moment to observe. Plus, choreographed dancing to “Informer” by Snow? Are you kidding me?! That’s a once in a lifetime opportunity right there.

Thanks, Tijuana, for putting another memorable experience in my arsenal. And Kyana, on account of raiding the dessert buffet not once but twice, I promise not to eat a stitch of sweet stuff for a solid week – even when or on my plate directly by the cook.

(Just love me.)

heart-shaped cleavage
icing on the nose
She straight up bit me, at one point.
no shame in this girl’s makeup game
ONE of us is getting tired at 1am….
I found her a substitute dance partner. It still wasn’t good enough.
Still dancing after 2am!!
Even the wait staff caught the fever.

(19-02-23) Breakfast Conversation

Erin. She’s a returning patient here, one who has been coming back and forth to the Rubio Cancer Center for several years now to get treated for Hodgkin Lymphona. She cornered me in the laundry room one morning weeks ago, but considering she’s one of the few female patients not wearing a bonnet on her head, I took to keeping up conversation with her over the next few weeks, even inviting her into my room one day to play with Botas. This morning was the first day all week that I took a meal downstairs, and we had a conversation about TNF numbers.

me: So, how much longer do you have to be here? Do you know?

Erin: We leave on Wednesday.

T: Oh, so then you got your TNF level down to 20 again?

E: Actually, it’s at 11.

T: 11?! That’s great. I thought the goal was 20.

E: Well, 10 is considered remission. I wanted to stay until I got to under 10, but my husband’s grandmother’s 90th birthday party is this weekend, and I don’t want to miss that.

T: Of course. The whole purpose of being here is so that we can enjoy our lives out there.

E: Exactly.

T: I was a little disappointed when I got my TNF level this week because I have been here almost five weeks now, and it’s only at 66…and I’m supposed to stay until it’s down to 20, right?

E: Well, I don’t know about your case, but the first time I was here, I left when mine was still in the 60’s.

T: You did?

E: Yeah. It started at 92, and I left a little over two months later. And every time I come back for more treatment, the number continues going down.

T: Now, when you return, is your number still the same as when you left, or does it shoot up a little?

E: Actually, it goes down … because I’m doing the home program the whole time I’m gone.

T: Oh, I hadn’t even factored that into the equation. That makes sense, though. So, since 10 is considered remission, is that your goal?

E: My goal is 0.

***

This conversation was eye-opening for me. One of the reasons I was disappointed with this week’s TNF number was because I was under the impression that I shouldn’t leave until I got down to 20 … and since it has taken me five weeks just to move down 22 points, I was worried I’d have to stay several more months. However, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. Obviously, metastatic breast cancer and Hodgkin Lymphoma are different cancers, and I need to consult Dr. Rubio, Sr about my case specifically … but this gave me hope that I will be able to leave here sometime in March after all.

(19-02-22) General Updates

Not much to report today. I’m in a bit of a funk – probably a combination of being sick and confined to the bedroom for the past several days, as well as exhaustion from only sleeping 3-3.5 hours last night. I did actually leave my room today to take a walk and eat one meal. I also had my second round of electromagnetic vaccine today, and the doctors kept the magnets on my body for two hours this time instead of one. I’m anticipating a more harsh reaction in a few days because of this. I’m just hoping I clear that hurdle before my cousin gets here on Tuesday.

On a more positive note, I got invited to a quincinera celebration tomorrow night…so I guess I’ll be partying it up in Tijuana this weekend a little!

(19-02-21) TNF Update

1/23: 88%

1/30: 84%

2/6: 78%

2/13: 71%

2/20: 66%

Secretly, I was a little disappointed. At this point in the game, I was hoping to be more than halfway to the ideal goal of getting down to 20%, especially considering that my FMLA runs out in three more weeks, so I will need to leave here by then to return to work – whether I reach that goal or not. I’m currently reminding myself that another round of the magnet vaccine should help, as will the fact that he upped my other vaccine dosages this week. Gotta stay positive… Gotta see all progress as good, even if it’s not the leaps and bounds I’m hoping for…gotta work on my patience, as usual….

(19-02-21) Battle Time

Yesterday was rough. Dr. Rubio, Sr. warned me that by raising the dosage of the vaccines by 1,000cc’s, I was going to experience an increase in side effects, and he wasn’t exaggerating. Meals and drip bags were brought directly to me as I spent the entire day inside my room, alternating between crying real tears of pain in the bathroom and rolling around in my bed making obnoxious moaning noises that probably made my Amish neighbors blush and say extra prayers for my fallen soul. I got to experience another round of that intense joint pain, where the dying cancer cells are fleeing the battlefield and all rushing towards the same places – in this case, my right knee, both elbows, my hands, and my feet. My mindfulness activities failed me once they hit my hands, and I begged for (natural) pain medication at that point, which they administered from 12:30pm all throughout the night.

Right now, I have a temporary reprieve. I’m still feeling sick, but showers help with the fever flushes, and the pain meds are masking the body aches and stomach cramping. My stomach is even growling for solid foods right now … and today I am going down to the kitchen PROMPTLY at 7:59 because we currently have some bigger, farm-sized Amish patients who leave me NO eggs in the morning when I get there at 8:30. Not today, boys. Not today.

I have been warned another round is coming, especially since I am getting the electromagnetic vaccine tomorrow. I am preparing my mind for battle once again. Luckily, I have a little soldier in my corner who brings me both comfort and joy in my time of need ….

4am snuggle sessions
taste-testing my dinner
watching TV with me after I just finished crying

(19-02-20) Random Acts of Kindness

Even though I know my purpose here is to focus exclusively on my own healing, one of the things on my daily To-Do list is to commit one random act of kindness. No matter what I am going through in my own personal life, everyone else in this world is also working through their own struggles, and it helps me keep perspective to remember and respond to that. I am also a firm believer in putting positive energy out into the universe, energy that often returns to me when I am not expecting it. This isn’t *why* I commit daily acts of kindness; it’s just something I have noticed along the way in my journey throughout life.

Yesterday, I called ICU Security, my home alarm system company, to settle my annual bill. I’m a little late on the bill (due February 1), due to problems with not receiving paychecks anymore at work, some checks getting delayed in dropping into my account, and technical difficulties with making phone calls from here in Mexico. I explained in detail my situation to Shirlene Spearman, ICU’s office manager – just so this local Scottsdale office could know my delay was legit and not just inconsiderate.

And do you know what she did?

She gave me a 50% discount on my annual bill.

For absolutely no other reason besides the fact that she felt compelled to help a struggling stranger, she reduced my yearly annual fee from $399.60 to $199.80 for the 2019 year. She also made it a point in an email to offer to help me with shopping or errands upon my return to the states.

I have never met this womyn.

It is yet another reminder in this scary Trump-bully era right now that there continue to be kind people in this world who want to do right by others, just because.

And that inspires ME to do more… Because that’s how positive energy in the universe works. Paying it forward is such a beautiful concept.

(19-02-19) Test Results

Get out the tissues, and take a seat.

Some background information, before I get started.

  • A normal-sized cancer cell is 1cm. What this means is that cancer cells smaller than 1cm are not really cause for concern (remember that we all have cancer cells in our bodies), but larger ones are because that means they’re active and on the prowl to kill my healthy cells.
  • A lesion is an area of abnormal tissue. Lesions can be cancerous or benign; in my case, I am only referring to cancerous lesions.
  • When I mention nodes, I’m specifically referring to lymph nodes that have cancer in them. As you may recall, back when I had my mastectomy, I had 21 lymph nodes removed, and they found cancer in 20 of them. So even back in 2015, my cancer was quickly moving throughout my lymphatic system, trying to get to other places.
  • “Necrosis” essentially means “death,” so when I say a node or a lesion shows necrosis, it means the cancer cell activity is dying off. (It’s basically what those TNF numbers are showing each week; these reports just illustrate that a different way.) This is what we want to see happen.

LUNGS/NECK

JANUARY

3 nodes: 2.2×1.5cm, 1cm, 1.2x1cm

TODAY

1 node: 0.8cm

CHEST

JANUARY

multiple nodes less than 0.5cm

1 node: 2×1.3cm

1 lesion: 1.9×1.4cm

TODAY

The lesion is GONE.

ABDOMEN/LIVER

JANUARY

2 lesions: 1.8×1.4cm and 4.5×1.9cm

TODAY

The first one has reduced in size to 1.2cm and is showing signs of necrosis. The second one – the biggest one in all of my body, actually – is GONE.

LOWER BACK/SPINE

The lesion in my L5 is still there, and it’s the same size. However, a hernia protrusion that used to be there is GONE.

RIGHT HIP

It’s still pretty inflamed from my hip replacement surgery, and PET scans can’t always differentiate between inflammation and cancer cell activity. With that said, there are no new spots indicating activity in that area.

BRAIN

I never had the chance to get an MRI of my brain before I came here, so we didn’t know if the cancer had gone to my brain yet. I was sure it hadn’t. I was wrong. There is currently one tiny lesion in my occipital lobe, measuring in at 1.8mm. There is not too much edema (swelling around the tissue from the fluid in the brain), and it’s showing signs of necrosis.

The only piece of bad news I got from these test results today is that I have a stone in my gall bladder, which is why I have been feeling slight pain/pressure there at times. Dr. Rubio, Sr. said that I will likely need an emergency surgery to have that removed at some point, so I need to pay attention to that from here on out.

Are you crying yet? … because I certainly am.

(19-02-18) General Updates

TESTS

Tomorrow morning, Dr. Godinez is taking me to the local hospital to get an MRI and a CT scan. Dr. Rubio, Sr. said it’s a little early to be looking at tests, but he does want to show me whether my tumor sizes are reducing. We know from the TNF levels that the amount of tumor activity is decreasing, but tumor sizes is another way to show progress (plus, I think that results from those kinds of tests are in a language that more people [like American doctors] can relate to).

EATING

Eating has become a problem. Two things are contributing to this. First, I am getting so pumped up with liquids for 8-16 hours a day that my stomach always feels full. Secondly, the only time I ever go #2 here is when they give me weekly enemas or when I’m having side effects from chemo. So, everytime I eat, my stomach feels like it’s about to explode, yet no relief comes. Today, for example, I skipped breakfast AND lunch. The only thing I ate before dinner was a handful of almonds and six spoonfuls of prune yogurt. 5:00 was my first meal – boiled vegetables, brown rice, half an avocado, salad, and cuachalate tea – and now I am rocking myself back and forth in fetal position because my stomach hurts so much. I’m thinking about fasting for a couple of days to see if that helps. Probably not because as soon as I put another meal in my belly it’s just going to cause pain again. I have been feeling like a beached whale for the last 2+ weeks now, though, and I need a solution that goes beyond weekly enemas.

VACCINES

I will now get the second electromagnetic vaccine on Wednesday. In the meantime, Dr. Rubio, Sr. is upping the dose of the other vaccines by 1,000 CC’s. Now that my body has been routinely introduced to them, it’s time to step up the battle. He warned me that I will get flu-like symptoms this week/weekend.

BLOOD & SHOTS

They started giving me shots to up my white blood cell activity. Also, my hemoglobin level is a little low – nothing too serious, just at a 10 when a normal level would be 12. Dr. Rubio, Sr. didn’t seem worried.

(19-09-18) Times in Tijuana

It’s 6:07am, and the driver just came to pick up Estela. An unexpected perk of being here at the clinic is that I have gotten to spend some extra quality time with some friends from various parts of my past – Dinah Shore ex-girlfriends, old teaching comrades, coworker-buddies, and (in Estela’s case) college friends. These visits have allowed me to remember pieces of myself that I had long stopped consciously thinking about. It’s actually been an interesting part of my reflection periods while I have been here, to have old pieces of Tarah come popping back into the spotlight, to remind me of who I am today compared to whom I used to be 3, 6, 11, 14, and 20 years ago.

I had two poignant memories from this weekend that I wanted to share.

The first was dinner on Saturday. From the moment Estela arrived, she was talking about getting tacos. We asked the staff here for a recommendation, and the next thing we knew, Dr. Godinez was driving us to a taqueria 25 minutes away. We were just going to take a cab, but he insisted. He became our tour guide, pointing out features of the old Tijuana compared to the urbanizing new developments happening and sharing tidbits of information about the city’s history. He then dropped us off to eat and came back for us half an hour later, after our bellies were stuffed with tacos, gorditas, and horchata. What doctor does something like that for his patients? A doctor at Rubio Cancer Center, that’s who.

The second was lunchtime on Sunday. An old teaching colleague drove down to spend a few hours with me. I always get a little nervous, blending different parts of my world together… But I don’t know why I was even concerned. The beautiful, genuine souls of both Estela and Julieanne instantly vibed with one another, and we spent the afternoon talking about politics, relationships, fond memories, and personal goals. They even made friends with a sculptor/soccer coach/business owner when Estela took me to a barber shop to address the burgeoning mullet that was sprouting in the back of my head. Sometimes I feel like a broken record on this blog, but I really do have the most amazing group of friends. I fully recognize many people in this world are not as blessed with such an extensive collection of pure spirits who make conscious decisions based on love, compassion, and collective consciousness. Sitting back for an afternoon and watching that, yet again, unfold in front of me filled me with a degree of pride and gratitude that I can’t even fully describe with mere words.

Poor Estela did have to rough it a little with me this weekend, though. Tijuana was not ready for all the rain that hit it, unfortunately; a number of water and sewer leaks occurred from the multiple storms, causing parts of the entire city to lose access to running water. Our toilets still flush, but we haven’t had sink, shower, or laundry water since Saturday morning. (The water officially turned off right in the middle of my shower, actually!) It’s about to get real funky in the common areas. I don’t think Amish and Mennonite clothing use the most breathable fabrics… Plus, we are encouraged here to use lime or lemon only as a natural deodorant so that we’re not adding toxins into our bodies at the same time that they’re trying to detox us. Yup, aside from my morning walk, I’ll be hiding in my room until Tijuana can get this water situation back on track.

(19-02-17) Exhaustion, Then Insomnia

Well, Estela escaped the wrath of bathroom side effects because I had none of that. It’s so interesting how my body continues to respond differently every day to all these treatments. I didn’t get sick at all yet. What did happen these past two days was a series of intense bouts of sleepiness, where, mid-day, I couldn’t keep my eyes open mid-day conversation. This was very weird for me because I do not/cannot take naps normally… But I took three yesterday, and two today, and then I never went to bed last night. Instead, I stayed up all night playing games on my phone and telling Botas that he is safe and loved as he snuggled in the crook of my arm and twitched from dreams.

(19-02-16) Starting Trends

When I first arrived, I committed a gaffe by using someone’s condiment in the kitchen. It didn’t occur to me that not all of the food items were provided by the clinic and thus available to everyone, and nothing on the shelves or in the refrigerator was marked to suggest that certain items belonged to individual people.

Once I realized my mistake, I went to the grocery store and bought myself a few staple items: peanut butter, hot sauces, nuts, and Tahin. Upon returning to the clinic, I marked every item with “por todo / for everyone.”

Imagine my delight this morning when I went downstairs to get some cuachalate tea and saw this on three bottles of sugar-free jam:

(19-02-16) The Cat’s Out of the Bag

Well, I made it to yesterday, but everyone now knows about Botas. Between the daily cleaning lady; half a dozen nurses coming in all day and night to do drip bags, enemas, cabbage therapy, ozone treatment, vitals, and med deliveries; doctor drop-ins; and Dr. Rubio, Sr.’s habit of never knocking before coming in, hiding that kitten was just becoming impossible.

And guess what? They’re letting me keep him in my room while I am here. I was all prepared with fact sheets about the benefits of pet therapy in hospital settings, but I didn’t even need to argue my case. How cool is that??

(19-02-15) Symptom & Treatment Update

CHEMOTHERAPY

* I started another four-day round of chemo last night. From Thursday to Sunday, I will have a different chemo drug each night (based on the four drugs that my blood tested positive for my first week here).

* Bathroom symptoms have already started, after just one round. Poor Estela … not gonna be fun for her, sharing a room with me this weekend. Guess we’ll find out just how deeply our friendship bond can withstand hours of vomiting and shitting!

VACCINES

* This week, I continued to get the two generic vaccines (DK-25 and DK-27), as well as the specialty dendritic vaccine.

* I will get another round of the electromagnetic vaccine on Monday.

ENEMA

* I had another one yesterday. This time, it was straight up coffee – no shark cartilage or shitake mushrooms included. This third one wasn’t as bad; I guess my body is adjusting. It’s not something I am currently willing to do as part of my home program once I leave here, but I stopped putting up a fight to get them during my stay, on an as-needed, once-a-week basis.

OXYGEN SHOTS

* On Wednesday, I got oxygen shots in both my knees, as well as my lower back. Two days later, there is no pain or tightness in any of those spots. I still can’t believe a remedy as simple as this is not being utilized in the States.

* I also got an oxygen shot yesterday in my right hip. My hip seems to be fine at this point, from the replacement surgery back in December. I can’t jog or anything yet (not that I’d want to!), but all my other basic functions – walking, crouching, kneeling, lunging – have returned to a normal state. Maybe I *will* get to crush Tyler again on the racquetball court after all!

BREAST BLISTER

(warning: ugly picture below)

* That blister that showed up on my right breast on Monday is being addressed. Dr. Rubio, Sr. lanced it on Monday and again yesterday.

* Dr. Rubio, Sr. said the blister was probably caused by a number of factors: being out in the sun for an hour and a half, responding to the magnet vaccine, and possibly getting burned from the cabbage therapy. The thing with the cabbage makes sense. There isn’t a lot of sensation in the breast area now after all those surgeries, so if the cabbage was too hot on that part of my skin, I might not have noticed.

* I am using an oxygen treatment in my room 2-3 times a day to help it heal. According to Dr. Rubio, Sr., oxygen is just as good as an antibiotic for the healing process – just without the side effects of a drug.

* Looking at it is gross. When I think about all the trauma my chest has endured just to try to look “normal” with breasts, my heart hurts a little.

(19-02-14) To My First Valentine

Dear Daddy,

Growing up, I had quite the rollercoaster relationship with you. As a baby, I wouldn’t sleep unless you were there. My mom would be dealing with my insomnia for days, ready to pull her own hair out of her skull, and then you would just show up, put me in your arms, and I would pass out immediately.

You were the first man I ever loved and trusted.

As I grew older, our relationship got more tricky. There was so much “butting heads” between us. I didn’t realize at the time that it was because you and I were cut from the same cloth: fiercely independent, headstrong, smarter than most of the people around us, stubborn, calculating, manipulative when we had to be, secretive, opinionated. Our similarities drove a wedge between us that took almost two decades to close. We lost a lot of time, and there were certain things I had trouble letting go of – like the violence in the household, the drinking, the financial decisions you often made that none of us (me, mom, or Russell) could ever understand.

But I get it now. I see things in a very different light, and I now understand what kind of man you decided to be in order to try to do right by your family.

And this world needs more dads like you.

I was having a discussion about you with a friend this morning, and I want to pass along our text conversation.

(him) On many things, he’s my kinda dude. I love hearing you talk about him. Having a daughter, it’s really cool for me to watch.

He makes me really want to get my money right in a big way, so if my daughter (or son) needs something, I can make that happen for them. That kind of preparation for the unforeseen is the dopest dad shit ever. I never had an inch of that kind of support or net. He’s upped my dad goals. Straight up.

(me) Yeah, my dad is one of the most frugal people I have ever known, and it was always such a source of contention growing up. And now, decades later, that frugality is paying the way to save my life.

So fucking dope! That kind of vision. Often we plan and make decisions folks around us don’t understand and get crap for it just to be right way later. It’s like, to be a true hero, we have to survive being the villain in people’s eyes first. That’s leadership. Leaders see what’s needed before everyone else. By the time they catch up and see what the leader sees, it would be too late to act. So when the leader acts and no one sees it, they think he’s tripping. That can be lonely and a little painful, so many opt out and aren’t strong enough to do it anyway. They give in to the sway of the people. Your dad didn’t, for years. That type of strength is uncommon and amazing. I’m blown away and definitely need to step up.

Daddy, not only are you helping to save my life right now, but you are also inspiring men you have never even met to become even greater father versions of themselves.

I am in awe of you.

Love,

your golden child

(19-02-13) Self-Talk Playlist

Friends and Family,

I need your help.

I have this Self-talk: It Works playlist on Spotify … and while it’s by far my favorite playlist, I have been listening to it every day while receiving treatment here, so I’m playing out the songs.

That’s where you come in.

Please review my playlist and see if you can provide any additional songs that fit into the category of “self-talk.” In other words, I’m looking for songs that send positive, feel-good messages to the soul. You can just post your suggestions in the comments section, and I promise to consider each and every suggestion. I’ll even let you know which ones end up being my favorite suggestions.

Love,

Tarah

(19-02-13) Stem Cells

Earlier this week, Dr. Godinez broke down some information about the stem cells that I’m getting. I found it rather fascinating, but in the midst of vaccine side effects, cat smuggling, and a friend visiting, I never got around to sharing what he told me.

When they take my blood, the lab is able to isolate different components in that blood: hemoglobins, erythrocytes, plasma, lymphocytes, neutrophils, and platelets. This is important because different blood components are responsible for doing different things in the body – like fighting infections (white blood cells), transporting hormones (plasma), or carrying oxygen out of the lungs and into the body (hemoglobins), to name a few. So, depending on what I need on a particular day or with a particular vaccine, the lab will isolate that blood component. From there, they incubate and feed it for days (up to 8), where it replicates itself … so basically it’s growing in both size and strength. After the incubation period, these stem cells are injected back into my body, where they can then work side by side to battle the cancer cells. Nothing artificial is added to my blood. No chemicals are needed. Just a blood draw, a lab space with suitable technology, and an adequate incubation period gives my human cells super hero powers.

That’s pretty fucking dope.

Blood isn’t even the only way they are using stem cells here. Last week, they came in and did a culture swab of my vagina, and Dr. Smith told me that, in the last couple of years, Dr. Rubio has figured out a way to use cells from a womyn’s cervix to create stem cells for breast cancer. See, the cervix and the breast both contain the same kinds of hormones, and many breast cancers (like mine) tend to latch on to at least one of those hormones (my cancer cells bind to estrogen, which is why it can so easily come back even after I successfully complete treatment… because my body continues to produce estrogen on a regular basis). So, creating stem cells from my cervix provides a heightened opportunity to go in and fight hormone-receptive breast cancer cells.

Does anybody else reading this suddenly want to go back in time and pay more attention in science class? Geeezus.

(19-02-12) Pet Therapy

It was just another morning, with Glenda accompanying me on my pre-breakfast walk around town. We took a different side street this morning in our hunt to find that first cat I encountered more than a week ago (whom I have not seen again since that day). After making this one new turn, we found ourselves staring face to face with a new fuzzy friend.

I sat down on a curb, ready to slowly lure the kitten over with promises of food…but luring clearly wasn’t necessary for the Cat Whisperer over here. Within seconds, he was on my lap and rubbing his face on my body and clothes.

He had white mucus coming out of two red eyes, and his coat was dry and dusty. One of his front paws looked like it was still healing from a recent injury, and I could feel from the bones in his rib cage that he hadn’t had a decent meal in a minute. I pulled out a packet of wet cat food from my bag and spread about a third of it onto a piece of paper; he gulped it down in 15 seconds. I gave him a few minutes to digest that and put some oxygen back into his lungs before feeding him the rest. He purred vigorously while he ate, and afterwards I wiped his face and his booger eyes with a tissue.

“You know, in all my walks here, I have not seen a single veterinarian,” I told Glenda.

Perhaps I just wasn’t looking for that, though, because when I checked Waze (which works in Mexico, by the way!), there was a vet 0.8 miles away. We decided to take the walk.

When we got there, the sign on the door said abierto, but the padlocks indicated no one was there. It was just after 8. I called the number on the door.

“A que hora tu estas abierto?”

“Nueve.” 9:00. It was 8:15. We had already missed breakfast, and my foot bath therapy was scheduled for 9:30. We decided to wait for the vet. I’d deal with the consequences later of missing one treatment; I was in Mommy Mode, and there was an animal to save. We sat down on the curb and took turns playing with the kitten and entertaining an adorable husky in a cast who had clearly found a way to break out of their cage sometime in the middle of the night.

1.5 hours later, I am walking out of the vet with a collared kitten named Botas (Spanish for “boots”), a bag of food and medicines, a bill that cost less than one office visit in the states, and not a clue what I am going to do with him once I get back to the clinic. Waze guides us the 1.3 miles back to Rubio Cancer Center as we devise a plan to smuggle Botas in to the clinic and up to my room.

Cat Whisperer. Cat Burglar. Cat Smuggler. All true.

It is now 8:30pm. My secret is stashed in my bathroom as I wait for the night nurse to come in and take my vitals. Blanca almost blew up my spot an hour ago, when she headed to my bathroom to fill a tube for the oxygen tank with water from the faucet. When I loudly exclaimed, “No, don’t go in there,” she made a joke with her hands indicating I must have just blown up my bathroom; I held back the urge to remind her that I use Poo-Pourri, so my bathroom NEVER smells funky.

I have no idea how long I will successfully keep this secret stashed. What I do know is that pet therapy should be incorporated into this program…cuz the amount of bliss I have felt all day walking this kitten around town, getting some food and meds into his system, playing with him in my room, watching him crawl in my hamper and nap on my sweater from this morning, and hearing his purr in my ear as he rubs against my face has provided me with the only thing I have been missing since I arrived here three weeks ago:

Mommy Love.

(19-02-11) Delayed Reaction

{Warning: boob shot below}

… And here I thought I might not have anything to blog about today.

A BREAKDOWN OF EVENTS

11:00 – I get my third drip bag of the day: a bag of iron. I take a book outside to read by the pool.

12:30 – Adrian comes out to ask me for my credit card so that I can pay my weekly fee. As I hoist myself up off the lounge chair, I feel a weird twinge in both my knees. I shrug it off, although I do notice I struggle a little walking up the stairs to my room.

1:15 – As I am changing out of my clothes and into my ozone therapy suit, I notice a rash has spread across my right breast. I also notice that I am having trouble lifting my legs to get into the suit. Something doesn’t feel quite right in my knees.

1:35 – Lying in bed receiving my ozone treatment, the pain in my knees is starting to intensify. Initially just some tightness, it has now escalated to pulsating and throbbing.

2:10 – Nurse Nahaliel comes in to stop the ozone treatment and prepare me for the cabbage wrapping. As I step down off the bed, jolts of pain rip from my knees, up and down both legs. It brings tears to my eyes.

2:45 – I’m back to lying in bed, submerged under cabbage. At this point, it feels like someone is taking a hammer to both of my knees and going to town. The initial silent tears that were coursing down my cheeks minutes ago have evolved into low groans and sobs. When Mario comes in to deliver a package, I ask him to get Dr. Godinez for me.

2:48 – Dr. Godinez shows up, takes a verbal report of my symptoms, and checks my knees, which are swelling. I show him the rash on my breast as well, which has now started to blister. I am crying through this whole conversation, and I’m starting to shake internally from the pain.

2:50 – Nurses come in with drip bags containing pain medication and an anti-inflammatory. I can barely move my legs at this point. Dr. Godinez lets me know Dr. Rubio, Sr. is on his way.

3:10 – Dr. Rubio, Sr. arrives. He asks me what my pain level is, and I tell him, “8…maybe 9.” He takes one look at my panicked expression and immediately unleashes his exquisite bedside manner, letting me know that all of this is perfectly normal, and he’s about to explain why.

Here is what happened.

Remember that nanomagnetic particle vaccine I got on Friday – the one I was worried didn’t work because I felt no side effects whatsoever from the treatment?

Yeah. It worked all right. And today was the day my cells went to battle.

The iron drip bag I received this morning obviously contains metal in it. The metal from that bag triggered some cell activity from the vaccine, and my healthy cells were spending the day attacking the protein casings surrounding my cancer cells. My cancer cells, realizing they were getting beat the fuck up, were scurrying to retreat to someplace safe: my joints. According to Dr. Rubio, Sr., cancer cells commonly retreat to four places to hide and/or die: the liver, the kidneys, the joints, and the bones. That’s why my knees suddenly felt like they were being smashed to pieces; I had a bunch of injured cancer cells rushing in and overcrowding the area, and the metals attached to them were spinning wildly and out of control. Now, they were stuck, and my body needed to figure out a way to flush them out of my system. Nurses returned to the room with more drip bags (containing electrolytes, among other things) to help with this process. Additional pain medication was also administered in 20-minute increments, ice was placed on both knees, an oxygen breathing tube was put inside my nostrils, and Dr. Rubio, Sr. told me to relax and breathe for the next hour in darkness. In an hour, he said, my pain will be gone.

It took about an hour and a half, but eventually the pain subsided to a 2. I felt the pain head to other joints in my body – particularly my elbows, where I can still feel it now at 5:50pm. But I can now stand up and walk around again without wanting to buckle and fall to the ground.

And now I know that the nanomagnetic particle vaccine worked…

…and what to expect later this week when I get the vaccine again: mind-crushing pain to remind me this war is still very much in full effect.

(19-02-10) How Am I?

Friends and Family,

PLEASE stop asking me how I am doing or how I am feeling. I recognize it may be an easy way for you to reach out and let me know you’re thinking of me or trying to be supportive. However, it’s overwhelming and redundant – overwhelming because I get about a dozen of those messages every day via text, email, Messenger, and Instagram; and redundant because I post at least one blog every single day giving you the answers to those very questions.

Also, with the exception of Kyana, my dad, my roommate, and my significant other, I will no longer be answering phone calls. Reception is spotty here in Tijuana, and most of my calls are just wasted minutes of people not being able to hear each other. Also, my schedule here is pretty regimented with treatments and visits with doctors, and I don’t like any of that getting interrupted by phone use. If you have a pressing matter, please reach out to Kyana.

Thank you for understanding…or at least appeasing me for another 3-5 weeks.

With Respect,

Tarah

(19-02-10) Sunday Funday

“Everyone needs a cheat day.”

Usually, I am the bad influence on others, but today I was merely a pawn in Glenda’s plan to get me to eat ice cream and spend money. Shame on her, right?

Just kidding. Today was delightful.

From almost getting hit by a rock in an intersection as an angry taxi driver jumped out of his vehicle to unleash vengeance on a truck that cut him off …

… to peeing my pants a little in the grocery store when some muscle men came bounding in with huge guns

(It turns out they were just emptying the ATM machine) …

… to making a new fuzzy friend as I stop to marvel at yet another beautifully colored and decorated home …

… to finding the hole-in-the-wall ice cream parlor on some random side street …

… to realizing I got cheated in the ice cream department for getting my scoops in cones instead of a cup, and then – being envious that Glenda still had ice cream left twenty minutes later – dipping into another ice cream shop to rectify the situation …

… to scoring a SWEET DEAL at the local swap meet on two pairs of shoes that will make a certain someone pretty darn happy …

… to having some insightful discussions about the politics of cancer while joint reading this incredible book, Breaking the Cancer Code (Amazon.com, people – trust my recommendation on this one, if you are a reader and at all interested in learning real truths about this disease and how to get cured) …

… Today was a good day.

(19-02-10) Weekly Reflection

As my third week here draws to a close, I find how easily I have settled into my new routine here. Morning walk around the city (today we walked for almost an hour and a half! Damn, was my right leg sore after that.). Breakfast and morning meds. Chelation. Electrolytes. Reading outside in the sun, or sitting in the massage chair in the common room, or turning water black with my toxin-ass feet. Lunch. Ozone. Cabbage. More bags. Dinner. More reading, perhaps journaling. Asleep by 10. Up before 3. Rinse and repeat.

Three to five more weeks to go of this, and then I return to a world that I was told I would soon not be a part of.

It still blows my mind, this extra chance at life I’ve been given – a chance that would not have been plausible without the Internet giving me knowledge on alternative treatment, without HB giving me the contact information of someone who successfully received treatment here five years ago, and without my dad finding multiple ways to make sure this trip continues to be funded. I am so filled with gratitude today that my heart feels like it’s swelling out of my chest.

Tomorrow my blood will be drawn again to see if the magnet vaccine had a significant impact on my TNF levels. I’m a little concerned it didn’t, solely because I really experienced no side effects from the vaccine. I felt nothing during the hour the magnets were attached to my body, and other than getting a little clammy sweaty Friday night, I felt nothing in the aftermath, either. I didn’t get sick at all this weekend, like I did last weekend from the dendritic vaccine. When I got sick last weekend, the doctors said that meant the vaccine was doing its job…so does that mean that a lack of sickness shows the vaccine didn’t do what it was supposed to? I guess we’ll find out when we get my levels on Wednesday.

(19-02-09) City Walks

I had the pleasure of taking Glenda on two walks around the city since she first arrived yesterday. Wearing a hat and my coat, she braved the 48° at 7am and allowed me to flitter up and down overpasses, inside urine-smelling tunnels, and alongside side streets with possible drug cartel houses. She even acquiesced to my intent goal of finding my feline friend from last week, even though I have been back to that street three times now and have yet to see her again.

Luckily, I found a new gato to love on and feed this morning.

(19-02-09) My Immune System

An old college friend noticed from the blog that I’ve had visitors here, and he raised a good question that some of you might also have wondered:

“…you can be around other people – you don’t have any chance of catching a cold or bug from other people?”

That question makes sense if you’ve ever been around someone going through cancer treatment in the United States. Chemotherapy wreaks so much havoc on your immune system that there are periods of time when self-isolation in a heavily sanitized room is the only thing keeping you out of the hospital. I remember one time my white blood cell count dipped below 1.0, and I couldn’t go to treatment, work, the store, or any place involving other people and their germs.

Here, though, they use immunotherapy, which means they supercharge my immune system with vitamins, nutrients, and stem cells to make it stronger in battle. I feel completely healthy here. I am able to get by on 4-5 hours of sleep each night, without ever feeling groggy the next day. I take hour-long power walks every morning around the city. My body doesn’t ache when I get up in the morning, and I haven’t been bogged down with any cold symptoms like I used to get during chemo. I mean, aside from this pesky little burden of metastatic breast cancer throwing tumors out all over my body, I’m kind of a pinnacle of health right now. This is what we *should* be doing to our bodies, when we have to wage war against cancer cells that show up to battle. Unfortunately, the United States just doesn’t see the benefit in making us a healthier nation – not when there is so much money to be made in keeping us all sick.

(19-02-08) Vaccines & Stem Cells

Exactly one month ago, I sat across from Dr. Curley as he delivered my death sentence: 6-12 months to live. What a mindfuck to think about that now, here, as I feel myself not weak, but stronger; not sickly, but energized; not hopeless, but motivated.

I had the magnetic vaccine today. Nurse Blanca first hooked me up to a drip bag that contained magnetic nanoparticles in it. Then, Drs. Rubio, Sr and Godinez taped magnetic strips to the outside of my body, where there are known tumors: my lungs, my liver, my bones around my hips and pelvis, and my lower back.

It was a little anticlimactic, honestly – I didn’t experience any of those crazy hot flashes during the session, and I was able to last the whole hour without incident. Doctor Godinez came in every 20 minutes on the dot to check my vitals, which I found curious. I’m guessing some people have had serious reactions to this? Not me, though… ‘cuz I’m a warrior. My body handled the session like a boss.

Side note: I discovered another way they use stem cells here. Last night, Dr. Smith came in my room and took a culture swab of my vagina. Today, Dr. Rubio, Sr. explained that he creates stem cells that come from those cultures in my cervix because that area has the same kind of hormones as my breasts. All of this just continues to boggle my mind.

(19-02-07) Basic Updates

Not a lot of news today. It’s kind of the calm before the storm, I think. The doctors eased up on some of my drip bags these past few days; I think they’re trying to let my side effects settle more before dosing me up with two vaccines tomorrow.

My foot bath water was orange today, instead of black or brown. That means my joints were getting detoxed instead of my liver. (Sorry, Tyler – no pictures today. I’ll try to remember to bring my camera so that I can feed your foot fetish with photos next week.)

Stomach still hurts. A lot.

I haven’t seen Dr. Rubio, Sr. all week; he’s been at a conference. The other doctors here continue to be very attentive, though.

I’ve decided I need to plant plenty of cabbage in my garden this year. When I leave here, they will send me with a home program, to continue some of the treatments I am getting here … and considering they use 1.5 cabbages on my body every day, I’m going to need a steady supply. Fellow gardening friends in Phoenix, any tips for how to NOT kill my cabbage in my garden this year would be extremely helpful; I have not had the most stellar track record with gardening these past five years….

I found a morning walk route that will help get some tone back in my leg muscles. That was pretty much the highlight of my day.

(19-02-06) TNF Numbers

Every Monday, my blood gets drawn. They use that blood for multiple purposes: to mix with the vaccines, to test for sensitivity to medications, to create stem cells that get placed back into my body, and to monitor my TNF number. My TNF number is essentially how many of the cancer cells in my body are active right now, which I know I mentioned in a previous blog. TNF numbers take 1-2 days to get after the blood is drawn because it involves them incubating the blood, casting some scientific mojo on those cells, observing their activity under a microscope, and then analyzing the results. We then get our updated TNF numbers on Wednesdays.

1/23: TNF = 88%

1/30: TNF = 84%

2/06: TNF = 78%

… We’re getting there, loved ones.

THIS TREATMENT IS WORKING.

(19-02-05) Shout-Outs

For now, at least, the worst of the side effects from the vaccine and chemo seem to have dissipated. My stomach feels like someone punched me repeatedly and extensively, leaving some clear internal damage, but this is a step in a better direction, compared to what I experienced over the weekend. I have a few days’ reprieve from both those medications, and on Friday, Dr. Rubio, Sr. will introduce me to a second type of cancer vaccine – the one involving magnets and nanoparticles. He told me yesterday that he will administer that vaccine in 20-minute increments. If, after 20 minutes, I can handle the heat, he’ll do another round…then another… then another…up to two hours, if I can tolerate parts of my body heating up 50° for that long.

Bring on the heat, Dr. Rubio. I live in Phoenix.

*** *** ***

As you know, this weekend was rough. I was quite sick and regressing to a childlike state where I just wanted love and physical comfort, not broken Spanish conversations, solitary rainstorms in Mexico, and only a stuffed animal to hug. I cried a lot this weekend – both from the pain and from the frustration of being alone when I didn’t want to be. But you, my loved ones, refuse to let me think for even a day that I am in this alone. And now I am dealing with a whole new set of tears falling, as I remember you – my village – coming together the last time I went through treatment and finding any and every way you could to support me. THANK YOU. You are making this experience endurable yet again.

One of the mistakes I made the last time I went through treatment was not keeping up with all my personalized thank you’s. I had people donating leave time and GoFundMe money, taking me places, sending me cards and gifts, and helping me get insider information so that I could fight some evil people inside a corrupted state system. I failed to stay on top of personally thanking people – especially during periods of extreme sickness or despair – and I don’t want to make that same mistake this time. Someone recently RE-taught me the importance of verbally expressing my gratitudes. Granted, usually I am holding up a shot of tequila while stating what I’m grateful for, but let’s improvise (or, feel free to take a shot if your name pops up).

Dad – This starts with you. You funded this trip immediately. Had I waited until I closed all my retirement accounts, it could have delayed my trip by 3-4 more weeks. With cancer this advanced, that extra month of waiting could truly have been the difference between life and death for me. You handled business efficiently (like always!), and this probably saved my life.

Ms. Bowers, mom-mom, Kyana, Charmaine, and Carol – Thank you for the cards. They proudly line up on my eating tray in my room, so I reread them every time I take meals in my room.

Charmaine – Thank you for sending me dried mango and homemade tea. Those packages of mangoes were inhaled within a matter of hours.

Kyana – Thank you for being semi-willing to send me some of those potato chips you know I love. Thank you also for being my rock – both during your trip out to Phoenix to escort me to Tijuana and when it comes to communicating with my friends/family when I am too overwhelmed or focused on healing. I don’t know if I would have been able to hold it together like you did had our roles been reversed. You are, hands down, the best person to come into my life, and my relationship with you for the past 16+ years has continually helped elevate me as a human being.

HB – Thanks for making me a priority and visiting me that first weekend I was here so that I didn’t have to be alone. Even in my lame attempt at stoicism, you knew I needed someone here for me, and you made it happen.

Amanda – Thanks for setting up a GoFundMe account, to ensure that I have money if my treatment lasts longer than expected and that I still have a house to go back to WHEN I beat this.

Pietrini and Glenda – Thank you for both reaching out to people and coordinating donated leave time at work so that I am getting at least partial paychecks while I am out on FMLA.

Jenna – Thank you for holding down the fort at home. One of my biggest stressors when deciding to do this was knowing whether my pets would be sufficiently cared for. You’ve been on top of that, though: ordering my picky array of cat food online, walking Wishbone daily, taking Athena to the vet, intercepting birds from Kiki’s murder mouth, and doing your part to make sure they don’t all kill each other.

Glenda and Sacha – Thank you both in advance for coming to see me later this week. I’ve only been here alone for a week and a half, but it’s having an impact on my psyche.

Sacha – Thank you for getting me healthy ginger-ale and cruelty-free lotion. I had been unsuccessful in finding either of these on my daily walks around Tijuana. Plus, it’s been a torrential downpour for the last five days, so I couldn’t venture out even if I wanted. You’re helping both my aching stomach and my ashy skin.

Tyler – Thanks for checking on my pets and giving them an extra dose of attention in my absence. Thank you also for getting my garden gutted so that I can start planting cancer-fighting foods upon my return. (I’m NOT going to kill my garden again this year, dammit! It’s sixth’s time a charm…right?)

Aaand a special shout out to a person who should win an award for sending care packages:

Michelle.

Michelle, the items in your box had me laughing AND crying. Everything in there is functional and personalized, and it was an eclectic blend of things that will educate me, entertain me, feed my tummy, feed my soul, address my vanity, and keep me warm throughout it all. You know me way better than I realized you do.

(19-02-04) Breathing Through It

For the past three days, I have refused some of my treatments here. Between being hooked up to multiple drip bags constantly for the past 60 hours and being so bound by side effects, I was in no state to be dealing with cabbage body wraps, ozone therapy, or nebulizer sessions. My only priorities were rocking myself in fetal position as much as possible and making sure I could get to the bathroom in time before shitting or puking on myself.

Carolyn came to visit me today. I haven’t seen her since the day she and the driver first brought me to the clinic. She spent almost two hours with me, finding ways our cancer experiences mirror each other’s and searching to see how she could make my journey here more meaningful.

“How do you breathe?” she asked me at one point.

As a singer, I thought I knew the answer to her question. “Through my diaphragm. In through the nose, out through the mouth.”

“Will you breathe with me?”

I knew three things in that moment.

(1) She was about to take me through a mindfulness exercise.

(2) I didn’t want to do it.

(3) I was gonna do it anyway.

It’s not like I don’t recognize the importance of activities like these. I do. But I am also one of those people who tend to find these kinds of activities a little too hokey for me. This is my ego speaking; I know that. I think I am strong and insightful and enlightened enough to just automatically center myself without having to take extra time out of my day to engage in things like breathing exercises. But that’s ridiculous. Sometimes we have to actively put things in the forefront of our consciousness in order to pay closer attention to them. Sometimes we miss things because we spend too much of our time running on autopilot. So no, Carolyn, I don’t want to spend five minutes breathing with you… But I’m gonna do it anyway.

Through the deep breaths, she helped me take my oxygen to different parts of my body, particularly the parts that are working overtime to handle these vaccine and chemo meds: the stomach, the liver, the gall bladder. She kept reminding me to oxygenate my parasympathetic nervous system, my hips, my bones. At one point, she told me to start thinking of colors coming into my body with the oxygen, and I told her I could already see the colors with the breaths; they were light blue and pastel purple. I pushed the swirling colors all around the organs, the bones, the battlefield, the two armies fighting one another on that battlefield.

Did it make my pain go away? Of course not. But it did leave me feeling a little more open in my core, a little less restricted. And it was definitely calming. I agreed to do it again tonight when I get injected with another round of the dendritic vaccine.

Aaaaand… Right on cue. Blanca is here with my vaccine now.

(19-02-03) Conversations From the Day

I got praised and admonished in the span of an hour.

Dr. Godinez lectured me for skipping meals and not drinking water. I don’t know how they expect me to do either of these things. I have pains in three different areas of my stomach, so the last thing I want to be doing is putting MORE things in that space. And when I am getting intravenous fluids for 10-13 hours a day (19 hours yesterday), who has room for water??

But then, out of the blue, I got this really sweet note on my public Facebook profile from an old co-worker:

I won’t front; I cried a little. Teaching is such an interesting profession, the way it has ripple effects down the road that most teachers never even find out about. I am grateful to have gotten a glimpse of one of those ripple effects today.

(19-02-03) – Explaining the Pain

Yesterday was awful, and when I woke up at 12:15 this morning with shooting pains in my stomach, I thought today would be a repeat. It hasn’t been nearly as intense today as it was yesterday, but I am still mostly lying around in bed, rocking myself while in fetal position and reminding myself that my skin will break out if I don’t stop crying. Dr. Godinez said I should have about four more days of this pain. Anything past that will require me getting taken to a hospital in San Diego for an ultrasound.

According to Dr. Godinez, a combination of factors is causing the intense pain in my stomach. The smaller issue is that having enemas twice in one week likely caused inflammation in my intestines, which is why I was getting such intense pain in my lower stomach, below my belly button. For now, we’re going to hold off on doing any more of those, and I will walk to the grocery store in a couple days to try to find foods with more fiber. They also said they could give me pills to keep everything regular, but I prefer to use food, not technology, to handle this process.

The sharp pain underneath my right rib cage is a direct result of both the vaccine and chemotherapy. While smaller meds typically get broken down in the kidneys before the body disperses and eliminates them, larger meds (like chemo drugs) get broken down in the liver. The liver produces this orange-yellow substance called bilirubin, to help digest things like greasy foods (or, in my case right now, chemo drugs), and the gall bladder is the container that kind of houses all this stuff during the process. As both the vaccine and chemotherapy do their thing in my body, my liver and gall bladder are getting a pretty active workout, and that’s why they’re both screaming in pain right about now. It’s all part of the detoxification process.

Side note: Dr. G assured me that this pain I feel is NOT the result of all the tequila I consume on a regular basis. That helped me feel a little better about myself. 😉

Other side note: One of the Mennonite moms stopped me this morning just outside the laundry room to ask me if I was feeling better today.

“Better,” I said, “but not good.”

“Well, you didn’t look good AT ALL yesterday.”

Bitch, don’t you think I know that already?

Of course, I kept this last comment to myself and chalked it up to inferior Mennonite social skills…but I’ll be spending these next few days isolating in my room until I’m ready to go back out there in shorts and a tank top, just to antagonize them. 🤭

(19-02-02) Bedside Manner

I’ll spare you the details of the last 13.5 hours of my life because they are disgusting. Suffice it to say that my body is definitely responding to this vaccine. I can only hope that all this pain I feel is conveying the battlefield inside my body as my healthy cells continue to grow super-arms and wage war against the cancer cells.

At one point, Nurse Blanca was in here, trying to hook up a bag of stomach medication into my IV. A sudden cramp hit me so intensely that I grabbed onto the IV pole to stop from doubling over. Then, I just started crying…and to my absolute shock, Blanca moved in and gave me a tight hug. I felt like we stood there for a solid minute, her hugging me and me snotting all over her scrubs while she said soothing words and rubbed my head. When I finally pulled away, I thanked her, and she smiled.

That would have NEVER happened in a hospital in the United States.

(19-02-01) Highs and Lows of the Day

Fifth day in a row that I took a morning walk around Tijuana before breakfast. I’ve started taking different streets each day to see if I can find my way back, and I’m proud to declare that I haven’t gotten lost once. This, for anyone who knows me, is monumental.

HIGH #1
While walking down into a tunnel, I noticed a little boy standing on the steps, gripping the bar and not moving. As I passed him, I saw tears in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” I asked him, before quickly switching to, “Que paso?” No answer. “Donde esta tus padres?” Reluctantly, he pointed to a woman in the distance, who was beckoning for him to come down to her. He seemed scared to move. “Are you okay?” He made a sound, indicating he didn’t understand me. “Es tu madre?” He nodded. “Dame tu mano,” I said, which I HOPED was “Give me your hand,” and I reached my hand out for him to take. He looked up at me, and I said, “It’s okay.” He couldn’t have understood that phrase either, but he put his little hand in mine, and I walked him down the stairs the twenty or so feet to his mother. “Lo siento,” she said, to which I replied, “No problema.” I smiled at the boy, said “Adios” to both of them, and continued on my walk.

It was my most successful conversation in Spanish yet, and that probably includes the six years of it I took from 8th grade to college. Sad, but true.

HIGH #2
Later during my walk, I turned down a side street to look for colorful houses or some hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I can visit on a day when I just can’t take this food anymore. A man yelled at me for trying to take a picture of his house, so I scurried along and saw a cat licking water drops off a car. It’s the first cat I’ve seen since I arrived. Dogs are everywhere, and always unleashed – even when they’re walking with their owners. That probably explains the scarcity of cats. So when I saw this one, I got unnecessarily excited. One of the biggest drawbacks to being here is missing out on all the snuggle time with my four pets back home … so I took a chance and approached the cat, and wouldn’t you know it? She was clearly feeling just as lonely as me.

LOW #1
Today was enema day. Honestly, it wasn’t quite as physically uncomfortable as the first time, but it was mentally just as bad – especially because one of the nurses here, Blanca, has never given an enema, so Nurse Becky brought her in to watch and assist. I mean, I have some exhibitionist tendencies, but this isn’t really what I had in mind….

LOW #2
Hot flashes began today, and I’m having some abrupt mood swings. I think I might be starting to feel some of the side effects to the vaccine and/or chemotherapy and/or stem cells. I keep reminding myself that this is NOTHING compared to what I would be feeling at home in the states, undergoing intense chemotherapy. Self-talk helps, to a point. Twice today, I found myself on the verge of tears, and both times, a nurse came in my room to check on my drip bags. Even with my own room, there’s not a lot of privacy here. I’m still adjusting to that.

Looking forward to the Swap Meet tomorrow. I need a change of scenery.

(19-01-31) Science Stuff That I Don’t Understand

Okay, standardized test scores have shown me my whole life that I excel in math first, then writing; am significantly above average in reading; and am abysmal in science. I’m talking in the 30-35% range – meaning 65-70% of students my age all around the country would test better than me in that subject. Consistently. Of course, early scores like that didn’t exactly boost my confidence, so I spent the majority of my school years devising elaborate cheating systems, kissing up to teachers, and finding easier science courses in an effort not to let grades in science classes drag down my GPA. Now, that’s all gonna haunt me as I try to break down the science behind these 2-3 cancer vaccines that are being used on me here.

CANCER VACCINE #1 – DENDRITIC

(which I got for the first time on Monday)

Yesterday, I actually got to see my own blood cells under a microscope. This is what they looked like, and Dr. Rubio, Sr. confirmed that the round ones were the cancer cells, and the long skinny ones were my healthy cells. When I saw them under the microscope, they were all just kind of hanging out together. This, of course, isn’t normal. Typically, my healthy cells should be moving around, looking for bacteria and other unhealthy things to attack, in order to keep my body healthy. However, because of this protein casing that surrounds the cancer cells, my own cells don’t even realize that they’re there. The cancer cells basically have an invisible cloak that hides them and allows them to move freely about my body. We all have cancer cells in our bodies; the only difference between me and you is that my cancer cells have been activated. When Dr. Rubio, Sr. took my blood the first day I was here, he discovered that 88% of all the cancer cells in my body are active right now. That’s a lot.

What this first vaccine does is go in and poke holes inside the protein casings. Holes then make the cancer cells visible to my healthy cells, and now my healthy cells know there is work to be done. My healthy cells then develop these long finger-looking strands (called dendrites) that reach into the holes and attack the cancer cells.

CANCER VACCINE #2 – MAGNETIC NANOPARTICLES

(which I will get this Monday)

First, Dr. Rubio, Sr. will attach magnets on the outside of my body, where there is cancer: my back, my hips, possibly my lungs. Then, he will insert this vaccine. This vaccine has magnetic nanoparticles that spin around inside the body so fast, it heats up the area by about 50°. This increased temperature is intolerable to the cancer cells, so they start dying.

CANCER VACCINE #3 – VIRAL TRANSFECTION

This is Dr. Rubio, Sr.’s “back pocket” vaccine that he will only use if my body is not responding adequately to the other vaccine(s). Quite frankly, I’m not ready to share what this one involves because it kind of freaks me out a little. We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.

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Science nerd friends, how did I do?