(19-03-04) A Crappy Day – Pun Intended

3:32 am.

I awake with a start at the all-too familiar feeling of something moving around in my left knee. The cancer cells are on the run. Within three minutes, I’m already buzzing for the nurse. Gotta try to stay ahead of the pain this time.

The Spanish-speaking Sunday nurse takes her sweet time getting to my room. I’m guessing i probably woke her up, so almost ten minutes pass before she opens my door.

“Tarah?”

“The pain has started. It’s in my knees.”

“Pain?”

“Yes, pain.”

“Estomago? ”

“No, joint pain.” I point to my knees.

“Oh, okay,” and she leaves.

I expect her to come right back. With every passing minute, the pain intensifies and travels, moving along my left elbow, hand, and foot. The tears flow, and my moans are probably waking up the patients across the hall. Five minutes pass, and i press the buzzer again. I know i am being impatient, and I simply don’t care.

At 3:54, she brings me a shot of pain medicine, then leaves. I settle into a breathing activity to push through the pain and return to sleep … which works for about an hour.

5:05. Again, I wake with a sudden start from the jolt of joint pain. I knew that shot wasn’t going to cut it, but the weekend staff doesn’t understand the magnitude of this pain. By the time the nurse returns to my room, i am sitting in a pile of my own shit, rocking back and forth crying. I had literally shit myself, needing to go to the bathroom but unable to stand up due to the amount of pain in my feet, at this point. I don’t tell the nurse about the mess in my bed – partly because all i can focus on is the pain and partly because i am beyond mortified. Instead, i just lay there in fetal position, silently crying and slowly rocking while she hooks me up to a drip bag that contains more pain medication. When she leaves, i continue rocking, crying, and deep breathing for about a half an hour before the pain subsides enough for me to get out of bed and clean myself up. By this time, it’s after 6. I rinse myself off and then strip my bed. Laundry facilities are only open to the patients from 4pm-7am because the cleaning crew needs them during the workday (and i have already pushed my limits with this timeframe twice since i have been here). I attempt to run the bedding and my robe downstairs to at least get them in the washer before the staff get there, but i am too weak, and i buckle under the weight of all the linens. So instead, i throw the smelly pile down into a corner of the room, move over to the spare bed, and curl up in defeat as i wait for the pain meds to take effect.

* * *

That was how my day started. It really didn’t get much better from there. The day itself was filled with low appetite, non-functioning taste buds, cotton mouth, fatigue, head fog, weakness, a sore throat, nasal drainage, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, heavy sweating, and – according to Blanca – yellow skin. Luckily, the joint pain never returned for another round, and the cleaning lady took the soiled bedding from a very embarrassed me to launder. And now, it’s 11:35pm. The idea of (1) waking with a start to more joint pain or (2) defecating on myself again has me afraid to go to sleep… but my eyelids are heavy, and falling asleep brings me one day closer to going home.

And I*really* want to be one day closer to going home.

(19-03-03) It Takes a Village

A recurring theme throughout these 3.5 years of on-again, off-again cancer treatment is this: Accept every ounce of love and support sent your way because there is no way you will make it through this alone. The first go around, this was a difficult lesson for me to learn. My fiercely independent nature not only shied away from accepting help; it straight up refused to reach out and ask for it in times of clear need. I remember having a wake-up call one specific day. I was driving home from an appointment with my first reconstructive surgeon. Dr. Walsh had just inflated my expanders, which had required me to take some Valium (on top of pain medication i had already taken earlier in the morning). As i was making the 45-minute drive from her office to my next appointment with my dentist, it became clear to me that there was no way i should have been on the road driving. My head was nodding, and i know i swerved a little on the I-10. Did i pull over and call someone? No. I slapped my cheeks a couple of times and kept going… but i remember the guilt i felt the rest of the day about the danger i put myself and other drivers in. Someone could have gotten hurt. I could have gotten a DUI if pulled over. And the WORST part? I had three different people offer to take me to that appointment that morning, but i declined because i wanted to handle my own business. Someone could have died because i wanted to “handle my own business.”

It takes a village. I have come a long way in my understanding and acceptance of this.

So when i had this great idea to turn my weed garden into an actual garden filled with cancer-fighting foods, i knew just which members of my village to turn to.

Dear Amy and Marcia,

What you did for me this weekend was phenomenal. I have cried twice already looking at the pictures you sent me. From going to multiple stores for supplies; to coordinating access times with my roommate; to reweeding the space, which i SWEAR was just done a couple weeks ago by Jose; to planting basil, beets, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kale, mint, oregano, parsley, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes – you two gave me the perfect gift to come home to. Genuinely healthy eating is going to be my biggest barrier when i return home. I’m going to need willpower i know i don’t have… friends willing to make adjustments in where we go out to eat on special occasions… coworkers who no longer cheer up my rough days with deliveries from Starbucks or Elevate Coffee … a roommate who won’t enable me anytime i am stressed at home and giving her puppy dog eyes to go run to the store for some chocolate or Doritoes…. And when i find myself in moments when I’m sitting at home, stressed about whatever and on the verge of wavering, i can go out to that garden to weed it, water it, thin it, pick it – whatever it needs in that moment as i push past my cravings and concentrate on the bigger picture, the end game: me staying alive. Amy and Marcia, the gift you gave me today is a tool i will use for months to come. Thank you for being such a vital part of my village.

Love,

Tarah

P.S. A special shout out to Tyler and Jenna as well. Tyler, thank you for going over to the house to fix the wiring on the sprinkler system. Jenna, thank you for going outside tonight and making sure that all the plants were getting watered evenly. I appreciate you both being a part of my village!!

Hi, Marcia!!

AFTER!!!

various vegetables
assorted peppers
herbs

(19-03-02) Mini Rants

I am convinced my physical and mental states have deteriorated so much this week as a result of the cumulative effect of all the treatments i am getting. When i first got here, they dosed me exclusively with immune-boosting drip bags, building up my body to prepare for the fight ahead. (Sigh – i was feeling so invigorated then!!) From there, they introduced two of their standard cancer vaccines – nothing too serious yet – then one round of chemo. Now, though, as Week 6 comes to a close, my body is juggling four different vaccines and four different chemo drugs every week … and it’s running out of steam. Add sleeplessness, unsatisfying food, very uncomfortable body swelling, and official homesickness, and yeah: Grumpy Tarah is out on the prowl. Big time.

Dear Blanca,

You are, by far, my favorite nurse here. With that said, if you come in my room one more time and deliberately wake me up from a nap for no good reason, i might bitch slap you. No, i don’t want dinner. Yes, i know i have been sleeping all day. I’m fucking tired. I’ve been up since 2:30 and on the toilet since 4. Go away. Stop telling me to go downstairs and get dinner. Look at my stomach. Does it look like it needs food right now? It can eat the gas and the feces in there, for all i care, and wash that meal down with all the fluid retained from the drip bags. … Are you seriously not going to turn the light off when you leave? Blanca, do not TEST me today.

* * *

Dear Nahaliel,

I’m pretty sure that it’s your fault i feel extra shitty today. Saturday is supposed to be one of the two days in the week that i don’t experience any symptoms … yet here i am, clammy, exhausted, body-heavy, with a sore throat and extra mocos in my nose. Yesterday, you were supposed to come take those magnets off of me after two hours. You forgot, and i fell asleep waiting, and those magnets were left on my body for almost three hours. I don’t think that’s going to end well, especially since Dr. Rubio, Sr. told me that he caps those magnets at two hours for anyone. I’m a little nervous about the pain that’s going to hit tomorrow now, but you won’t even be at work tomorrow for me to take my frustration out on you, dammit.

* * *

Dear Dr. Smith,

While I do want to thank you for FINALLY getting me those itemized statements after i hounded you for over a month, what the hell am i supposed to do with a 22-page hardcopy edition? Do you see a scanner in my bedroom? There was a reason i asked you to email me this documentation. I swear you did this on purpose. I thought paying for your stupid tacos the other night would have worked as a subtle peace offering – apparently not. You’re welcome, by the way. Guess I’ll be back in your office on Monday night… You can’t get rid of me that easily. I’m just saying – if you dislike me as much as i feel you do, you should just give me what i want the first time around so that i leave you alone.

* * *

Dear Botas,

Stop fucking scratching that one wall. You are literally peeling the wallpaper off. If i have to pay to get that wallpaper strip replaced, I’m gonna toss your ass back out on the street. You have toys. You have a hamper and a chair you can claw. I know you need a damn scratching post; I’m trying to find you one. In the meantime, show some restraint. Are you seriously attacking my foot right now, as I’m ranting about you? Are you serious? How’s this water bottle blast feel right about now? Yeah, run away. You be working my nerves too, today.

* * *

Dear Weather,

Can you PLEASE not rain again tomorrow morning? I’m going stir-crazy in this room, and my window of opportunity for walking tomorrow is going to be minimal – especially since Nahaliel left those magnets on, and i don’t know what time that joint pain will hit me. Please take pity on this miserable White girl from AZ and just hold off on raining until later in the morning. I know the forecast says there is a 40% chance it will be raining by 7. Please. Work with me here.

Sincerely to all of you motherfuckers,

Tarah

(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.

(19-02-23) 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.

(19-02-11) 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) 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) 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.

(19-02-07) 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.

(19-02-04) 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) – 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.

(19-01-29) Weekly Regimen

It took me an entire week to get my schedule down, but I think I have got it.

MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, & FRIDAYS

  • 8:00 – nebulizer
  • 8:20-8:40 – eat breakfast, with freshly squeezed orange juice
  • post-breakfast – morning meds: multivitamin, B17 vitamin, and two anti-cancer drugs (Arimidex and Talidomida)
  • 8:45-10:00 – chelation therapy
  • 10:45-1:45ish – drip bags of amino acids and electrolytes
  • 12:00-12:30 – eat lunch, with cuachalate tea
  • 1:00 – coffee/mushroom/shark cartilage enema
  • 2:00-2:30 – ozone therapy
  • 2:40-3:40 – cabbage therapy
  • post-cabbage – take a shower
  • pre-dinner – daily check-in with Dr. Rubio, Sr.
  • 5:00-6:00 – dinner, with electrolyte tea and/or ozone water
  • 6:00-12ish (Mondays and Wednesdays only) – 3 bags: stem cells, cancer vaccine, and meds (antibiotic, antihistamine, and pain med)
  • 6:00-2:00ish (Fridays only) – 2nd of 4 chemotherapy meds
  • 8:00-8:20 – nebulizer

………………………………………………………….

TUESDAYS

  • 7:45 – blood drawn, to be mixed with cancer vaccine for next week
  • 8:00 – nebulizer
  • 8:20-8:40 – breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice
  • post-breakfast – take meds
  • 8:45-10:00 – chelation therapy
  • 9:15 – lymphatic foot bath
  • 9:45 – Rife therapy
  • 10:15-3:45ish – drip bags with amino acids, minerals, and electrolytes
  • 12-12:30 – lunch, with cuachalate tea
  • 1:14-1:45 – ozone therapy
  • 1:55-3:00 – cabbage therapy
  • post-cabbage – take a shower
  • pre-dinner – daily check-in with Dr. Rubio, Sr.
  • 5:00-5:45 – eat dinner, with ozone water and/or electrolyte tea
  • 6:00-12ish – 3 bags: stem cells, cancer vaccine, and meds (antibiotic, antihistamine, and pain med)
  • 8:00-8:20 – nebulizer

………………………………………………………..

THURSDAYS

same as Tuesdays, except I get one of my four chemo meds at night

……………………………………………………………

SATURDAYS & SUNDAYS

(basically, no cabbage, foot bath, enema, or Rife therapy treatments; no vaccines; no blood draws; and no daily check-ins with Dr. Rubio, Sr.)

  • 8:00 – nebulizer
  • 8:20-8:40 – eat breakfast, with freshly squeezed orange juice
  • post-breakfast – morning meds
  • 9:00-6:00 – drip bags of chelation therapy, amino acids, minerals, and electrolytes
  • 12:00-12:30 – eat lunch, with cuachalate tea
  • 2:00-2:30 – ozone therapy
  • 5:00-6:00 – dinner, with electrolyte tea and/or ozone water
  • 6:00-12am – chemotherapy
  • 8:00-8:20 – nebulizer

(19-01-28) Coffee Enemas

(Dad, don’t read this.)

Well, THAT was humiliating.

For the record, I see why bulimic people get down with enemas. The results are immediate. I have been bloated and stopped up all week, but after just one treatment I can (vaguely) feel my hip bones again.

Yeah, if I had an eating disorder, I could see this process being the way to go.

But I DON’T have an eating disorder, so this experience was straight up horrible.

First, I had to pull my pants down and lie facedown on my bed, on top of some pee pads. Having my pants pooled around my ankles and my shirt still on reminded me of childhood whippings, which – in hindsight – explains the wave of panic that crossed over my body as I started to lie down. Then, Nurse Becky told me to relax (‘cuz saying that ALWAYS helps) as she shoved a lubricated hose up my asshole. As she pushed the tube in farther, the pressure slowly built – in a way that suggested things should be LEAVING that space, not entering it. Then, when she started flushing the area with the liquid (which includes coffee, shiitake mushrooms, and shark cartilage!), I could feel the pressure continue to expand, this time all along my stomach. It felt like a ridiculously long time; in reality, it probably lasted 30 seconds. She then took the tube out and immediately I felt the liquid start draining out. It felt like I was peeing all over myself, from my butthole. Nurse Becky told me to continue lying there for 5-10 minutes … “but if you feel you have to go [poop], get up and go to the bathroom.”

She could not get out of my room fast enough. The second the door closed, I had those pee pads wrapped around and between my legs, and I raced to the bathroom. Enemas are efficient; I’ll give you that. Still, I’m hoping I can keep these treatments to a MINIMUM; I’ll take the fart smell of boiled cabbage all over my upper body ANY DAY to a womyn flushing out my rectum.

(19-01-24) Ozone Therapy

As I lay in my astronaut suit in my hospital bed, I am thinking about how much they infiltrate ozone into my treatment.

(1) ozonated water – They have a certain way of treating the water with ozone, which is said to remove parasites, bacteria, chemicals, and viruses from it.

(2) ozone cutaneous therapy – This is where the astronaut suit comes in, and a tube inserted inside the suit fills up with ozone, permeating the pores all throughout my body.

(3) ozone injections – I received this last night. Essentially, Dr. Rubio used a needle to inject ozone into my right knee and right hip. The ozone creates an enlarged space between the bones in those spots, which then allows oxygen and blood flow to improve. This, he said, would help eradicate the pain in those areas, in just a day or two.

What if increased ozone exposure was enough to prevent more people from getting cancer???

(19-01-23) More Treatments

Two treatments were added to my weekly regimen today: detox foot bath and Rife therapy.

Yo. The detox foot bath was kind of nasty; I’m not gonna lie. Here’s what the water looked like before my feet – my CLEAN feet, mind you – entered the premises:

Here it is, within the first minute of coming into contact with my feet:

Two minutes later:

Ten minutes later:

… and twenty minutes later:

Every single nerve line in our bodies ends in our feet. Our feet store a lot of stress and toxins from having to hold up the rest of the body all day (literally and figuratively), so the premise behind this treatment is to clean out the body by removing toxins stored in the feet.

Next: Rife therapy

I have no pictures for this one; I think I was still reeling from how disgusting that foot water was. I have Rife therapy every Tuesday and Wednesday, so next week I’ll take a photo of the device itself. For now, all I can say is that I held onto these two metal joystick-looking bars and allowed low doses of electromagnetic currents to enter my body through my hands for 10 minutes. I didn’t feel much, although it did bring back fond memories of being barefoot in my childhood basement, playing Pac-man on large arcade games and getting small shocks every time my wrist hit one of the metal buttons on the dashboard.

On a side note, Kyana left today. 😢

(19-01-22) Day 2: Adjusting to the Routine

First thing this morning, I get a knock on my bedroom door. It’s one of the nurses, swinging by to give me meds to take.

…except I didn’t take last night’s medication, either. And when I insistently questioned what these pills were (because anyone who has seen the movie, Girl Interrupted … or better yet, read the book [which is WAY better] can understand my fear about medical staff just handing me pills without explanation), I was then taken into a back room where two men speaking almost-exclusive Spanish injected me with what felt like a series of really awful bee stings (anesthesia) and then planted a device underneath my skin (temporary PIC line/port). After that, I didn’t ask any more questions…but I didn’t take the pills, either – at least not until later in the day, when I had my daily check-in with Dr. Rubio and listened to him explain what each of the pills were for.

7:30ish – morning meds

8-9 – breakfast

post-breakfast – chelation therapy – Here, they hook my PIC line/port up to a bag of yellow liquid. This liquid serves to go deep inside my body and eliminate traces of metals, toxins, fatty plaques, and mineral deposits – things we ingest, inhale, or consume in miniscule amounts from day to day, which then get stored in our bodies and cause damage later in life. After chelation, I get 1-2 more bags of IV fluids: saline, electrolytes, and B17.

12-1 – lunch. I can already see I will be eating a lot of salad here.

See my pills? Still haven’t taken them….

2-2:30 – ozone therapy. Now this was interesting because it involved a little costume play. I put on an astronaut-looking suit, and a long tube was inserted inside the suit. From there, one of the med staff taped the suit down at my wrists and head, flipped a switch on the machine connected to the tube, and then left me alone for 20 minutes while my bedroom filled with the smell of ozone. Did you know that ozone smells? I did not.

3-3:30 – cabbage therapy. This will likely be my least favorite therapy during my stay here. I like cabbage, to eat. I like the idea of boiled cabbage on my body, since it’s warm. Unfortunately, boiled cabbage smells like farts – really bad ones – and this treatment is done in my bedroom. I spent the whole rest of the night worrying that anyone passing by my room thought I had gastrointestinal problems.

my buddy, Nahaliel

You can’t tell here, but i am secretly singing songs from The Little Mermaid right here.

pre-dinner – daily check-in with Dr. Rubio. He wants me to change my toothpaste. And stop wearing lip-plumping lip gloss. And take my meds, now that I know what they are.

5-6 – dinner

After dinner, the day staff have left, and the rest of the evening is mine to reflect and explore. As of next week, I’ll be getting a cancer vaccine injected into me right before bed, but for now it’s just a time to read, write in my blog, and self-talk my way through this very strange (good strange) experience.

(19-01-21) Day 1 @ RCC

Kyana and I began getting ready for our trip to Tijuana before the sun had even risen. Just a little before 7, we were in the car and starting our 5-hour car ride. I’m pretty sure if Kyana had not been in that car with me, I would have cried the whole way…probably pulled over on the side of the road a few times too, just to bawl a little harder. But she was a rock and setting the example for me; that’s been her role in my life more than I care to admit.

Five hours later, we pulled up to a house in San Diego, where a womyn who had only met me once before took the key to my car and assured me repeatedly that it was no problem to leave my car in her driveway for the next six weeks. It was such a small part of the day but one that deserved a moment of recognition because it served to remind me of one very crucial point: I am not alone in this. And I KNOW I am not alone, but sometimes I do forget just how extensive an army I have fighting here with me – including cousins of ex-girlfriends who are happy to house the Truthmobile for six weeks and essentially save me $425 in parking fees at the San Diego International Airport. Thank you, Nicole. Thank you, Sacha.

We took a Lyft from Nicole’s house to a random strip mall in Bonita, CA, where we stood by a curb with a mountain of suitcases and bags and waited for our driver to take us across the border. I won’t pretend I didn’t fight back waves of anxiety-induced nausea – I was silently freaking out a little, courtesy of Hollywood movies and a Masters degree in Forensic Psychology. I had to remind myself these fears were irrational. Tarah, you checked the credentials on their website. You watched a number of videos about their business. You looked them up on the Better Business Bureau. You read every single review of them online. You talked for over an hour with someone who went there.

Thank you, psych degree. That self-talk strategy comes in handy at LEAST twice a week.

So…against every thing I learned during the Stranger Danger workshops I attended every year in elementary school, I put myself and all my belongings into a dark SUV and allowed a mostly Spanish-speaking man named Adrian drive me across the border. The fact that border patrol agents just waved us through and didn’t even bother to inspect any of us or our belongings should have freaked me out a little bit, but I was waist-deep in self talk at this point and barely noticed.

Once I arrived, I had a tour and then settled into my room. The place is nice. It’s clinical, but not sterile. There is a familiarity in the air that is clearly the work of the employees and not the patients (more on that later). Around 2:30, I had my first meeting with the head honcho himself: Dr. Rubio, Sr. The guy who started this clinic over 30 years ago was going to be my personal doctor. The guy who is credited with doing immunotherapy before other doctors around the world started hopping on that bandwagon would be treating ME.

I was starting to feel less nervous. It was here, in this moment, sitting in front of his desk, that I felt what a few other loved ones had been whispering in my ears for days:

You are in good hands here.

my first meal here

taking my blood, to be used for developing a cancer vaccine that will be injected into me on Monday

making friends 😉

(19-01-14) Prognosis & Plan

I swear: in an alternate dimension of reality, I *must* be a superhero(-ine). My cells just grow with such an alarmingly efficient ferocity that I picture my superhero self as being essentially infallible because all her organs, blood, and internal systems are in constant cell re-development and evolution.

Unfortunately, in THIS reality, those cells just mean my cancer is the number one gang on the block.

Bones.
Lymph Nodes.
Organs.

Left hip.
Right posterior hip (which is fucking BULLSHIT because I just got a right hip replacement, so that whole area should be clean as a Muthafuckin WHISTLE right now).
Liver.
Lungs.
Mid-sacrum (I had to look that one up. It’s the triangular shaped bone that forms between the top of your ass crack and your spine. Even my ass crack has cancer.).
Pelvis.
Right knee.

“Uncurable, but treatable.”
Let me break down what this essentially means, according to Western medicine.
This means that I consent to being infused with poison every couple of weeks until my body can’t take it anymore. This means that doctors pump me full of these drugs right here for a little while, and then when these drugs “stop working,” doctors start pumping me with those drugs over there. This means I spend my remaining days on this Earth, inside this body, in doctors’ offices, on the toilet, over the toilet, and in bed.

Fuck. That.

I’m going a different route.

On Monday, I will be waking up before the sun rises and driving from Phoenix, AZ to Tijuana, Mexico. There, I will enroll in Rubio Cancer Center, an immunotherapy clinic that works with Stage 4 Cancer patients. See, other countries don’t all approach cancer the same way that the United States does. In the United States, we attack cancer by flooding our entire body with poison, and then afterward, when everything inside is gasping for its very last breath, we say, “Okay, go enjoy life now! Your immune system will be fine in time.”

Except my immune system DIDN’T end up being fine in time. Have you ever sprayed Raid on a bunch of bugs on the ground? Some seize up the moment the Raid hits their bodies. Some writhe around in the liquid for a while, and you can’t tell if they’re swimming or dancing or screaming or dying, but eventually they stop moving too.
… And then there’s the ones you see moving around in that same room a few days later, and all you can think as you stare at them is, “How the fuck are you still here???”

Hey, breast cancer cells.
HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL HERE???

Chemo and radiation didn’t kill them. They killed enough, for the remaining cells to hide under the PET scan radar for two – count them, TWO – years. But they didn’t kill all of them. Poisoning didn’t work. Neither did amputation.

So instead, I turn to immunotherapy. For the next 3-8 weeks, I will be injected, infused, and immersed with cancer-fighting foods, juices, supplements, and herbs. I will be replacing traditional water for water that is ionized and/or ozonated. Teas that detox my lungs, liver, and skin will be incorporated into my daily routine. I will give vials of my blood that will be used to create one of seven custom-made cancer vaccines that will then be injected into my veins every night before bed. I will participate in bathing rituals that involve removing toxins from my feet. I will essentially consent to a 10-12 hour/day regimen that no oncologist in their right mind would endorse here in the United States. And since my insurance company won’t pay for any of it, I am closing out all three of my retirement plans to pay for it.

I might lose tens of thousands of dollars.
I might die in that clinic in Tijuana.
I might help the US oncologists feel justified in their disdain for all non-Western medicine.

Or, I might invest tens of thousands of dollars into a life that survived and thrived beyond all odds, thereby giving an extra smug “In your FACE!” taunt to all those US oncologists and their disdain for all non-Western medicine.

Anyone who has spent fifteen minutes with me knows which one of these options sounds more like me.