(19-03-01) Melissa’s Visit

As children, my cousin, Melissa, and i spent a lot of time together. With only one year difference between us, we naturally gravitated towards each other at family functions, and i have lots of memories of us swimming in lakes, doing each other’s hair during slumber parties, her trying to teach me how to draw cats (and me miserably failing), having racing competitions in her pool, playing Sonic the Hedgehog back when Sega Genesis first came out, and catching fireflies on summer evenings in our mom-mom’s front yard. When i left for college at 17, i severed my contact with much of my family for many years. As a result, Melissa and i had not spent 1:1 time together in close to 25 years – until now.

And let me tell you: Melissa’s mothering nature was exactly what my psyche needed this week.

From bringing me presents that brought soft joy to my head and hilarious confusion to Botas’ curiosity …

… to willingly leaving the room and giving me privacy every single time i had to make a mad dash to the bathroom (and it was a lot!) …

… to massaging my knees and legs when the pain from the magnet vaccine was making me cry …

… to fixing me hot chamomile tea at night to settle my stomach …

… to doing, folding, and putting away my laundry for me while i lay around in bed trying not to move too much …

… to distracting me from my pain with entertaining stories about alpacas, goats, and her charismatic daughter …

… to providing me with company during all my treatment sessions …

… to bringing me heating pads and ice packs and cold water and Saltines and buttered toast and breakfast in bed sometimes even before i knew i wanted/needed those things …

… to watching terrible movies on Netflix together and then laughing at our bad picks …

… to patiently waiting for days before i had the strength to venture outside for a walk around town to look for cool Swap meet finds and eat local Mexican food …

… to helping me find my boyfriend just the right t-shirt to add to his nerd collection …

… to keeping Botas fully distracted and entertained when he was feeling rambunctious, but i was too sick to engage, to the point where he would just pass out next to her from sheer exhaustion …

my cousin was in FULL-ON nurture mode the entire time, and it was probably the only thing that kept me from having a meltdown this week.

Melissa, i love you. Thank you for everything. Botas and i already miss you.

(19-03-01) Insolent Moments

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. One of my favorite psych theories to reference. According to Abraham Maslow, seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth is what sustains our motivation in life as human beings. The first month i was here, i was in full-on self-actualization mode: visualization activities during my vaccine treatments and nebulizer sessions, mindfulness practices when receiving the four rounds of chemo each week, deep-breathing moments in time of doubt, daily reflections via blog and personal journal entries, etc. I was working hard to understand the kind of person i want to make sure i am once i survive all of this (again), along with what steps i need to be taking this year to get to that version of myself. In this past month, often between the hours of 2-5am, i realized some things that have been holding me back, and how to move forward from those past experiences and personal barriers that i have put in place. I also had a couple revelations about myself in regards to what i want my future to look like. Being here has opened my eyes in more ways than one.

But alas, staying focused on self-actualization only lasts as long as all of the other needs on the triangle are being fulfilled … so threats to my basic needs take me away from the space I’m trying to stay in and instead thrust me into the spaces that are necessary to be in in order to get my physiological and safety needs back on point. Sleep: not getting it. Healthy food: still somewhat of an issue. Physical wellness: spotty after a week of intense side effects from cumulative vaccine and chemo doses. Sense of security: wavering in the face of looming financial concerns. I bring all of this up to say that as I’ve regressed back into addressing some of my deficient needs, I’ve also regressed in my approach to getting some of those needs.

In short? I’ve been a little bratty.

Yesterday, i petulantly told the nursing staff that i would not get hooked up to another drip bag until they figured out a way to de-swell my body. I’ve been bitching about being swollen and bloated for weeks now … and yes, a lot of it revolves around superficial vanity, but it’s also uncomfortable. When my entire midsection is extended, eating becomes painful. When my legs swell up, walking around town and up/down stairs becomes problematic. And by yesterday, my body had swollen so much that we could no longer identify my ankles or knees in either leg. My thighs looked like tree trunks, and Blanca even cracked a joke about my emerging double chin (not fucking funny, Bianca). So after throwing a slight tantrum, Blanca gave me some liquid version of a water pill, compressed my ankles with gauze, and had me elevate my legs for most of the night as i waited for the medication to take effect. Twelve hours later, i have peed four times, my ankles are back, and i feel a little relief in my legs and abdomen … but until i can button up my jeans again, i am going to insist on daily water pills BEFORE allowing them to hook me up to any more drip bags.

I also got into it with Dr. Smith last night. Dr. Smith is the weekday nighttime doctor. I have very limited interactions with her, but she is the doctor who handles a lot of the clinic’s paperwork needs … So for four weeks i have been trying to get her to give me itemized statements of my treatment here. She blew me off the first week i asked, so i took to stopping by her office every few days around midnight to follow up with her. When that didn’t work, I consulted with Patient Advocate Carolyn about how to better approach the situation; upon Carolyn’s suggestion, i handed Dr. Smith a list of exactly what information i need the invoices to include. Still nothing. As of last night, i had had enough.

“Dr. Smith. Every night i come in here, and you tell me the same thing. You’re working on it. You’ll have something tomorrow. Why does it take a month to give me a rundown of my bill?”

She proceeds to tell me all the same excuses I’ve been hearing for the last four weeks. I bite my lip a lot to keep myself from interrupting her. I can feel my 4-year-old Tarah waking up.

“Yes, Dr. Smith. I have heard all of this before. I know you’re busy. I know you have other patients coming and going. I know we got new inpatients this week. I know you’re trying to cross reference nurse logs to make sure everything is 100% accurate. … But i also know you have promised me these documents half a dozen times already, and you still didn’t answer my question about why it takes a MONTH to get this paperwork. I pay my bill on time every week. I should get the same respect in return. I need that paperwork for insurance and tax purposes.”

“I know, Tarah. I will have something for you tomorrow.”

“How much do you have finished right now?”

She swindles her computer monitor for me to see, and i notice the date at the top: 28 de enero.

“You’re still working on the second week?!”

When she nods her head and offers no apology, my mature self folds into itself and moves aside to let bratty Tarah come out to play.

“This is ridiculous. I have been patient long enough. If I don’t have my statements by Monday, i am not paying my weekly bill. My dad will not pay for it [lie]. He’s been on my case to get this paperwork for weeks now, and he thinks i am not following through with what he asked me to do [more lies]. So if i don’t have these documents from you by Sunday, i will be refusing to make any more payments until i get them.”

She tells me she’ll have something for me tomorrow before she leaves around midnight. I give her a long look to let her know i don’t believe her, sigh melodramatically, reply, “Yeah okay, Dr. Smith,” and leave her office.

So yeah, i’ve been kind of bratty these last 24 hours. Distracted from my goals and bratty about getting my needs met. As my sixth week here crawls to a close, i can definitely say i am over being a patient who has to rely on hospital staff to help me get my needs met. I’m ready to come home.

(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.

(19-09-18) 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.

(19-02-16) 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??

(19-02-12) 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) 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.

(19-02-07) 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.

(19-01-28) 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.

(19-01-28) Grumpy

I know I am supposed to be 100% positive the entire time I am here.

This morning, I am failing.

I’m grumpy because I was up a lot last night, coughing and rubbing my screaming stomach with calculated clockwise motions.

I’m grumpy because I don’t think the food here caters enough to a cancer patient, and it’s DEFINITELY not giving me enough fiber.

I’m grumpy because later today I have to do an enema, and I am REALLY not looking forward to that. In fact, Dr. Rubio Sr told me a week ago that I needed to be doing coffee enemas, and I have purposely NOT brought that up to any of the nurses because the mere thought of it grosses me out. I mean, I can handle a finger in there every once in a while (and once a glow-in-the-dark baby Jesus butt plug, but that’s a whole different story) … but a hose? Up my bum?? Fuck, man.

I’m grumpy because I have to talk about gas and feces with a cute doctor who has twinkle eyes. I would like to officially request that all my doctors going forward are ugly. Ugly and old. But especially ugly.

I’m grumpy because I miss my half dozen pets back home.

I’m grumpy because Hulu doesn’t work here in Mexico.

I’m grumpy because my treatments leave me to have to wait until 3 or 4 in the afternoon to take a shower, which means I walk around half the day with some jacked up bed head, and I didn’t think to bring a hat.

I’m grumpy because most days I am hooked up to bags of chelation, electrolytes, amino acids, and/or chemotherapy for 13 hours at a time. Wheeling around a metal pole every where I go basically means I am confined to the clinic.

I’m grumpy because I don’t have any chocolate in my room, and I know the pharmacy is just a five-minute walk outside, but I am trying to be good.

I’m grumpy because i won’t see my significant other for weeks.

I’m grumpy because I agreed to replace my deodorant with limes (yes, limes), and now I am paranoid about going outside by the pool and inducing a level of funk that could parallel some of these Mennonite lady patients.

I’m grumpy because it has now been four months of me not exercising. I can see the difference, and I can FEEL the difference. I would give a LOT to be able to play a racquetball game right now…or feel my feet start to go numb as I pass the sixth or seventh mile on the elliptical.

I’m grumpy because even though those ozone shots fixed the pain in my knee and right hip, it’s only made me more conscious of the pain in my back, left femur head, and pelvis.

I’m grumpy because every time I try to go into the common room, to use the computer or try out the massage chair, the room is filled with Mennonites who just stare at me.

… It’s only been a week, but I am missing my old life something fierce right now.

(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.