Crap

My life is crap and revolves around crap, My last chemo is next Friday 3/21. this chemo journey has been more than i bargained for and so much more difficult than i naively imagined.

Chemo began on Dec 13 and has continued EOW since. My treatments are on Friday but the misery begins 48 hours later and takes various forms but nearly always includes the inability to crap or, alternatively, crapping too much. Surely my stomach feels permanently distended. i have considered stabbing myself with a juice box straw just to get some relief but decided against that since that would just be another thing for BCBS to NOT cover.

My troubles with BCBS are too lenghy for a blog post so I am thinking about chronicling that in a white paper followed by a screenplay that would be turned into an Erin Go Brockovich (Happy St Pat’s Day) type film.

Back to crap, etc. I know I didn’t corner the market on chemotherapy trauma. i just share here because it is a safe haven for bitching among others who read without judgment and who may feel the same.

In addition to crap issues I have experienced twitchy legs. sleeplessness, insomnia, redundancy (wait-did i already say that?), forgetfulness,  itchy breakouts on my chest and arms, skin cracks/peels on hands and feet, neuropathy, sore throat, and of course I am bald.  But it all comes back to crap.  Nothing throughout this journey has caused me as much misery as the inability to crap or the inability to stop crapping.

At this point I am looking forward to my colonoscopy just so my GI tract can start over at zero.

oh cancer, how I loathe you.  Oh chemotherapy, how I hate you despite all the good you do. Oh former life – life before cancer – how I miss you.

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As i was showering today i noticed my scalp felt like it was sunburned. It was kind of sore in spots. As i began to investigate  i realized my hair was indeed falling out. I knew it was inevitable and had been wairting for it much like you wait for the audit team or a colonoscopy. So anyway the balding is underway.
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I am still debating the wig.  I may just stick with ballcaps. I have a great selection and i love ballcaps. Today i am wearing a cap i bought at US OPEN tennis 2009. It was one of the greteast trips i have ever taken. A friend and i flew to New York and caught a Mets game,  a couple US OPEN matches and then got to see Derek Jeter’s hit to pass Gehrig. It was heavenly! We also killed time over wine and cannoli in Little Italy. Just a really good time. Travel is such a great educator as well as an excellent recreational activity.
This time last year i was in the final stages of preparing for trip to Iceland. What a difference a year makes.  But i will get well and i will make plans and i will travel again.  I need to visit Yellowstone in winter and New Mexico for balloon festival. I want to stroll Savannah and catch the ferry to Cumberland island. I want to witness the incredible tidal action in the Bay of Fundy. I’d like to visit North Captiva Island in summer and stay in a glorious mountain cabin in the Smokies maybe for Christmas. I have lots left to see and do – just might have to be patient until i am no longer a patient.
I keep telling myself that delayed is not denied.

I will prevail.

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Tomorrow is my first chemo.  Chose Friday afternoon so I can consider it my Happy Hour.  Sister is taking me and I will be wearing Depends just in case I crap my pants (dohhhh). Also placing puppy pee pads on the car seat. Semper paratis and down the hatch!

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Remember when Joey on FRIENDS said “this is a moo point – a cow’s opinion”.  Priceless.

When would I have gotten “sick” and what would that have been?  I keep going back to that question.  Obviously I had a big ole tumor that had spread a bit so when was I going to feel sick?  And what would my symptoms have been?  In the long run it truly doesn’t matter and is more of a curiosity now.  But still I wonder.

And I wonder what the genesis was and how long the cancer was parked in there.  I am a regular visitor to my docs and keep a faithful schedule of exams and checkups for all my body parts – boobs, teeth, eyes, uterus, colon, etc., so…so…so…this sneaky little bastard hid from view for some period of time that is now and will be forever unknown.  I don’t like not knowing.  Makes me feel powerless.

So cancer will be my constant companion even if I make it to remission.  Because I have read enough to know that once it identifies a host, it is most reluctant to vacate the premises permanently.   Like an extra layer of belly fat or crow’s feet or skin tags, it is just a part of my life from this point forward.  But unlike those items, it more likely an aggressive participant in my death.

I am not depressed.  I am just thinking this through at least partly because I got the lab report today from second surgery.  3 of 16 axilary Imagenodes removed were positive for cancer.  That means 13 were not (paging: Glass Half Full).  Lucky 13.

I hope those lucky 13 are not a moot point.

So my second surgery went well.  I a home and working remotely so less time to post on the blog.  Also, my mom is now at a rehab center and showing a will to get better and get home.  We are all encouraged.

Just a quick acknowledgement that my sisters are champions.  They have diligently taken great care of both me and my mother.  Not sure how they managed but they did.  I used to tease my mother asking why she didn’t stop having babies when she had me?  Why try to improve on perfection, you know?  But since it has been my younger sisters taking care of me I am finally grateful she had more children.  

This second surgery is a little more uncomfortable than first surgery.  Kind of feels like a shark took a huge bite out of my left side (as if I know what a shark bite feels like) but not taking pain pills and managing to sleep just fine.  I sleep quite a bit but I reckon that is what I am supposed to be doing right now.

Looking forward to the day I can jump on my bike and pedal away.  Soon, I hope.

So instead of using lovely, descriptive terms I will just be crude and say I feel like I am caught in a shit-nado right now.

Preparing for additional surgery on Tuesday to get what I hope are the last of the cancer-infested lymph nodes out of my body.  Chemo starts in mid-December so I should be bald by Christmas.  I am still debating about a wig.  I love baseball caps and have about a million.  I don’t ever buy souvenir T-shirts.  Instead I buy ball caps.  So maybe I will forego that wig and just wear hats.

As if there weren’t enough crap swirling about, my 82 year old mother fell at home last Saturday and broke her arm.  She already sufferers from a variety of ailments including COPD.  She is in hospital and is struggling with hydration issues as well as breathing and congestion.  Not sure she isn’t just tired of the fight.   My sister is my mother’s primary caretaker and she is with her around the clock.

Picked up the cremated remains of my sweet little black kitty cat yesterday.  She and other now departed furry companions that have graced my life will ultimately be poured into concrete along with me and we will become a haven for the fishies in the ocean as part of an eternal reef (www.eternalreefs.com).

Shit-nado.  Let me know if you can thing of something better to call it.

Visit to breast surgeon today and I have to have more surgery.  I probably don’t have a good command of the terminology but the cancer had spread to 2 of 4 axillary nodes so I go back under the knife on November 19.

Chemo will begin about 3-4 weeks after that 2nd surgery and radiation will follow chemo.

I hope that I do not have to hear “everything happens for a reason” anytime soon.  Additionally, I hope not to hear, “you are only given what you can handle” because both of those cliches stink.

Shit happens – often without reason – and right now shit is happening to me.

And again, I am afraid.

Comparing schedules we decided on late February 2013 for our Iceland trip.  I love to travel and love planning trips almost more than actually going on them.  So beginning in November 2012 I started my packing list, my countdown, and my online shopping spree.  Such fun I was having.  Sherri didn’t need to make many purchases since a Minnesotan already owns lots of robust cold protection items.  Besides, she was pursuing her doctorate and was keeping busy with that and all her other responsibilities.

We discussed how long to stay based on the things we really wanted to see/do.  Tops on both of our lists was witnessing the Northern Lights.  So after some research, I decided that we should spend a few days and nights in Akureyri which is the second most populated city in Iceland topping out at 30,000 hardy souls.  Sherri agreed so we made plans to land in Reykjavik at the international airport, catch the Flybus across town to the domestic airport and fly north to Akureyri later that same afternoon.  Our international flights landed within minutes of each other (which is how most of the international flights operate) so Sherri and I made plans to meet at the waiting area just after customs.

We did indeed meet there after our overnight flights and let me just say that flying Icelandaire is exceptional even in the cheap seats.  Sherri and I both loved our separate overnight flights with comfy seats and personal media in the seatback.  She and I chatted it up for a few minutes, I hit the ATM and nearly drained my bank account because I forget that commas and decimals points are reversed in Iceland and off we went to the domestic airport.  Sherri was a bit fatigued but that was to be expected for someone battling cancer.

We parked our bags at the domestic airport and had a few hours to kill so we headed to University of Iceland.  We both are drawn to academic settings and we just wanted to be on campus to get a feel for our surroundings, catch up more, and maybe get a bite to eat while we waited for our domestic flight to the north.

We were dropped off at a student center with lots of activity, a cafeteria and a bookstore.  HEAVEN!  So we chatted, browsed, noshed and marveled at the surroundings both inside and outside.

Reykjavik is tucked in between mountains and sea and the vistas are glorious.  The weather that day was just awful as we left the international airport.  We were fully prepared for awful weather the entire week and our first day was all that we expected.  But as it turned out, the worst weather we encountered was during the first 4 hours we were there.  We had moderate temps and very little precipitation for the rest of our stay.

We left campus shortly after noon and returned to the domestic airport so we could collect our bags and get checked in for our 3pm flight.  That was a huge waste of time.  Domestic flight is as convenient as catching a taxi.  You get dropped at the door or park about 20 yds away, show your ticket and check your bags and that is it.  No one sniffs your shoes or looks at you naked or makes you queue up.

The flight to Akureyri was gorgeous.  It is only about 45 minutes but you leave the bustle of Reykjavik and head north into desolate, barren, isolated territory not far from the arctic circle.  As soon as we were airborne, the landscape reflected deep, deep snow and lots of ice.  Air Iceland is the domestic carrier and they rival Icelandair for gracious hospitality.  It was a wonderful flight.

Akureyri is a ski town.  It is cozy, warm (despite the snowcover), and charming just as you would expect of a ski-town. We checked into Kea Hotel which sits at the base of the iconic church that appears in most photos of this inviting town.  This hotel offers across the street access to restaurants, sundries, shopping, and browsing.  We checked in and went exploring.  We were delighted to find the restaurant right next door offered soup and bread (sounds like prison food but it was savory and delightful) for less than $10US daily.  It was self-serve so you could eat a loaf of bread and consume a couple gallons of soup if you were so moved.

A long day chased by warm soup and a glass of wine meant an excellent night’s sleep awaited.  Heavy cloud cover all but assured there would be no chance to see the lights on our first night.  So we tucked ourselves in, and in the few seconds that separated me from deep sleep I counted myself among the luckiest on the planet.  I was pursuing a dream and loving every minute of it.

ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

To be continued. Again.Image

Sherri and I first met in 1986.  We were both short-term contract employees working seasonally at Grand Canyon, AZ.  Sherri was from Minnesota while I was a Kentuckian.  We met just hours after I arrived simply because we sat beside each other at dinner and she introduced herself to me and we didn’t stop chatting for hours.

So we ended up doing a lot of hiking that summer and made plans to do a cross-canyon hike at the end of our contracts.  It was a nearly 50 mile hike from the South Rim, to the bottom of the canyon, up to the North Rim, back to the bottom and back to the South Rim.  This was an inordinately ambitious undertaking given that neither of us were seasoned hikers and didn’t really have proper equipment.  But we trained all summer, and ultimately did the 50 miles in  3 nights/4 days.    I guess that is when we proved to each other that we could travel well together.

I was her maid of honor when she got married, which was just days before i left for England to work with horses.  Time passed, lives changed, I moved a couple of times, Sherri had a couple of kids and we eventually lost track of each other.

In the summer of 2007 an interstate bridge collapsed in Minnesota.  It was a heavily traveled bridge and it collapsed during evening rush hour.  Around that same time, a sightseeing helicopter crashed while touring Grand Canyon.  Both events made me wonder about my long lost Minnesota friend so I began searching the internet.

Sherri had an unusual last name before she got married and I had a vague memory of her being a teacher.  So it didn’t take very long to find someone by her name teaching at a Catholic university in St. Paul.  I emailed.

It was indeed my old friend Sherri.  After a few cursory emails we made arrangements to chat via telephone on a sunday afternoon.  We talked for what seemed like forever, exchanging info and filling in all the missing details that accompany 20 years apart.  It was on that day that Sherri told me she had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

I held the phone so close to my ear it hurt.  And I listened to her describe the onset of symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatment, and the expected outcome.  “I know this isn’t going to kill me,” she concluded.  I accepted that.

We stayed in touch over the past few years and in early 2012 I hatched a plan to see the northern lights.  It was a bucket list item for me and I have been checking those off consistently since turning 50.  I discovered that Iceland offered excellent opportunities to witness the lights and then realized that Icelandaire offered direct flights from a regional airport about 20 minutes from my house.  I had already decided that I would probably have to make this trip on my own since it was a winter trip to one of the coldest places on the planet.   I casually mentioned it to Sherri and she immediately  interrupted me to ask if she could go with me.   DING DING DING DING DING DING!  Of course, I would welcome a good friend who loves cold weather and lives in cold weather and has mastered cold weather.  I’m a Floridian who has already forgotten everything I ever knew about snow and ice.

So, Sherri and I began making our plans.  We emailed and skyped and exchanged packing lists and all along Sherri would keep me up to date with current cancer  treatments and how she was feeling.  Always concluding with “I know this isn’t going to kill me”.  And I believed her because I had no reason not to.Image

So we planned our trip.

So I guess this must be the easy part.  The surgery to remove both breasts and a couple of nodes occurred early Tuesday.  I am already showering, changing my own dressings, dumping grenades, and off pain meds.  My situation is slightly different from most because I elected not to have reconstruction.  I’m 56, single and just made the decision to forego adding breasts back into the mix.  So I don’t have spacers or anything else in there, other than drains.  All is well.

Daily nurse visit has been excellent.  She checks my vitals and dressings and drains and teaches me the things I need to know in order to take care of myself.  My sisters and friends have been beyond believable and I am more grateful than I can convey.  

Monday prior to surgery was excruciating but by Tuesday morning I was feeling calm and peaceful and relieved that surgery was the next step. 

Now, I have follow ups and visit with oncologist to determine proper course of action.  Already knew I would be radiated but may need chemo as well.  Maybe this is when the hard part kicks in.

It is my nature to fight.  So cancer, beware.Image

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