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Archive for the ‘Cancer Humor’ Category

Even after my several years of experience with cancer it never ceases to amaze me how oblivious to the symptoms I can be.  Especially when they’re being waved in front of my face like a checkered flag.  I’ll get a bit more into that further on.  Otherwise I also wrapped up my chemotherapy sessions.  This, of course, means that I get the round of CT scans and MRIs followed by the traditional ‘wait and see’ phase that follows.  A full torso/abdomen checkup and a brain scan to cross our T’s and dot our I’s.  Last Thursday was the CT scan, Monday was the MRI.  I’m so very accustomed to these, though, that I choose to not worry and panic over the wait for results.  See, going through cancer you have to wait…a lot.  Blood tests, scans, samples from tumors and biopsies.  When I first started this almost twenty years ago the wait was sometimes two weeks to a month and it was absolutely excruciating.  Sometimes it’d be even longer.  Presently it’s typically a week at the most, sometimes shorter than that if my doctor wants to fill me in and move me through the process of things quicker.  He’s quite good at keeping me in the loop, even if it means Sunday night phone calls

So instead of fretting I move forward with my plans.

On Saturday, before my son set off to summer camp for the first time, we got to meet and partially pay for our newest member of the family.  She is a beautiful Great Dane that we’ve dubbed ‘Anora’.  All black save for a few white specs here and there and has, to my delight, dubbed me as hers.  If I sit in her vicinity she is my shadow, on my feet curled up,  or snuggling into my lap.  If I’m not careful I will have an over-sized lap dog in a year.  Oddly enough, I’m not too distraught about this.

Anora

Anora snoozin’ it up at my feet. Between her crate and my shadow she has also adopted the space under the Japanese Maple in the back yard as her outside ‘den’.

Before picking up our newest addition, legs and all (and her legs are exceptionally long!), Jenn and I took my youngest minion to the coast.  It was…admittedly exhausting but at the same time lots of fun.  Due to my recent need for pain killers I’ve formed the unfortunate habit of napping on car rides as the medication takes hold.  Luckily my daughter is very good at filling the quiet with song and ideas and kept Jenn awake on the ride home with her chatter.  It’s odd for me to be the passenger still.  We’ve been close friends since we were fifteen and it never occurred to me that over the hundreds of times we’ve visited the coast that Jenn had never been in the driver’s seat.  It was almost always me or our friend Leah.  The fact that I can’t just hop into my car and drive still feels surreal, something I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to.

That leads to the whole need for pain killers thing.  Back in April I had a run in with pneumonia that left a lot of water pressed between my chest wall and my lung.  The pain was pretty bad, but it slowly started getting worse over the few weeks after I left the hospital.  Both my husband and I figured it was the fluid not draining, as it wasn’t getting better like a rib break or a muscle sprain would.  Because of so many possible factors that could contribute to chest pain for me, my doctor and I agreed to hold off on a scan until after my latest chemotherapy treatment.  In the meantime the pain went from my shoulder blade and then down into the chest right under the bra.  Sometimes a constant ache, other times sharp stabs, but it was always present.  Sleeping comfortably has become near impossible.  So hydrocodone was what I was given to hold off until we could properly diagnose the issue.  I regret to say I need it daily now.  There’s no shame in having to take the pain medication, I know this.  I just detest having to rely on it with such frequency.  The alternative though … not so pretty.  I’m not the kindest person when I’m in pain, especially when the pain won’t go away.  I say things, snap things…on those closest to me when I’m in pain because all I can think about is how to make the pain go away.   Nobody around me deserves that.  So I’ll buck up, kick my pride in the butt, and take the medication. I hate it, but I hate how pain makes me act so ugly a lot more.

There was also a minor incident about six weeks ago where I had a major dizzy spell while waiting for my daughter and husband to get their hair cut.  It was briefly terrifying, giving me the impression at the time that I was going to experience a major seizure in the middle of the waiting room in front of several kids.  The only seizure I’ve ever had, back in February, I don’t recall anything from…so I had no idea what to expect if I started experiencing one.  Vertigo, dizziness, imbalance, my vision going wonky and my jaw locking up on one side.  I sat there, trying to carry on conversation with the lady next to me to help distract me from the symptoms…until I noticed my speech was starting to slur.  She noticed it, too, her expression going from friendly to confused…to a little concerned.  We fell into silence for a few moments as the symptoms passed and I was left with a bit of dizziness at best.   I fumbled through grocery shopping and then shortly after we took a quick trip to the ER to double check.  Nothing came back to mark that I’d had a stroke, seizure, or anything of the like.  The official diagnosis was, I believe, “It’s a thing…that happened?”

Probably one of my favorite medical summaries so far, one that had us joking with the doctor and nurses for a few minutes.  Is it weird that I get along so easily with hospital staff?

Do we really need to answer that question?

Ehh…likely not.

I’ve had a few speech problems since then, but most I had attributed to the pain medication.  Hydrocodone or any powerful pain medication tends to knock me out pretty quickly, so it wasn’t a surprise at all that I’d start sounding mildly drunk after taking it.

However, I really should start paying attention to my symptoms more.  My body, while I pride myself on knowing it really well, loves to throw curve balls at me.  I know better than to expect anything ‘textbook’ (my cyberknife therapy) to turn out as such.  I try not to be paranoid, but every time I turn around cancer finds a new and not so entertaining way of keeping me on my toes.

Now I know that I posted the picture of my first brain tumor back earlier in the year, possibly at the end of last year.  That’s right.  I said first.  It is my pleasure to say that the cyberknife treatment worked beautifully on that first tumor and it is now a bit of dead tissue shaped like a tiny jelly bean that is slowly fading away.  As it fades I’ve also noticed any vision problems I was having have also done the same.  Unfortunately it decided to invite a few more unwanted guests.

0627171542

This one apparently decided it had to be bigger than the last. Really, I could do without the internal competition. As if my body would listen, though.

Yeah, that’s one of three new tumors in my brain that have popped up.  Obviously the biggest.  When I asked what sort of side effects might happen with a tumor in that location, the doctor swiveled in his chair to look me over and asked, “Have you had any slurred speech or balance problems?”

Hindsight is always 20/20.  The good news for these is that they can be treated in the same way as the last, but we won’t be taking me off the steroids quite so quickly this time while we’re doing it.  My doctors came to the conclusion that halving my steroid dosage at the same time I had my cyberknife therapy last time was likely what caused my grand mal seizure.  As much as I dislike steroids…I think avoiding a seizure might be the dominant priority here.  This does mean no driving for a bit longer.  Who knows, maybe it’ll be a good Christmas present at this rate?  One can hope.  My van is getting pretty dusty and is in dire need of some cleaning.

As for the rest of the scan?  I can’t say it’s good.  Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words, so let’s start with that…

0627171547

OK so a picture with scribbles in neon is worth a thousand words. Same idea, right?

Unfortunately the cancer has metastasized considerably.  There’s no way to pretty it up.  This means my current chemotherapy isn’t working and I will be facing radiation again.  Those who have been following my blog or that know me will realize that localized radiation is likely what got me into this mess in the first place.  We’ve surmised that it caused the breast cancer and the lung cancer even though it completely destroyed my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  But we’ve tried immunotherapy and just about every chemotherapy we can fathom.  Some have slowed it, some temporarily got rid of it…but every time you go through chemo your body starts to build up a resistance to it.  You can’t often do a treatment again after you stop, so our options are pretty limited.  Luckily the liver and kidneys are areas that haven’t been radiated before on my body.  While they are a cause for concern, it’s considerably less so than what’s going on inside my head.  My body won’t be worth a damn if my head no longer functions.  So…head first, and then the body.  I will be in months worth of radiation treatment at this rate, but it’s to be expected.

This leads to a question that some have asked me.  Have I been given a time?  No.  I don’t ask for one.  These therapies will extend my life for a while, but there’s no guarantee that they will rid me of the cancer.  Especially if you consider that my upper right lung is riddled with tumors (and not fluid anymore at all).  Those we’re not even sure what to do with just yet.

There is one chemotherapy that my insurance company has denied more than once, stating each time that we need to look into a chemotherapy that is meant for lung cancer treatment.  It doesn’t seem to matter that each time we’ve pointed out that we have done these therapies and that they aren’t working.  The beautiful picture up above dictates that pretty clearly.  You would think it’d be obvious, but when companies just look at the paperwork and not the person it’s hard to get the message through.  We’ve exhausted just about every chemo out there.

So now I have a court date with a lawyer in August.  I have the option to not show as it’s presented to the insurance board…but I plan on paying them a visit.  I am not a frail thing, ready to die.  I have two kids, a husband, a puppy and friends and family that need me.  I have a strong will to live and desire to at the very least see my kids graduate from high school.   If that means I have to show up ready to lay my situation down in vivid detail in front of a panel of strangers then I will do it.  In my experience showing up in person almost always gets the point across much more clearly than on paper.  I will not be written off as an unfortunate case or a sad story.

Don’t get me wrong though, I know this cancer will kill me eventually.  Ever since lung cancer started rearing it’s head repeatedly I’ve not since been under the delusion that I would live a long and drawn out life.  In truth I’m pretty sure I’ll never see my 50th birthday, the same age that my aunt died.  The same age my sister’s mom died.  Their deaths described as tragic and how they went too young at an age that I am almost one hundred percent certain I will never see.

That doesn’t mean I give up, though.  I have no intention of letting cancer dictate when I go for as long as I can help it.

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Off week.

That happy time where you’re in between cycles of chemotherapy.  When you get that chance to have a little recovery from the medication you’ve been hammering your body with steadily for months.  That time that you squeeze in every bit of social activity that you can without overdoing it because the last thing you want is to crash during the only week you have a little freedom.  Vacations are planned for off week.  Social get-togethers are planned for off week.  Chores you’ve desperately been putting off are reserved for off week.

It may sound a bit like I’m waxing poetic about off week, but really…it’s a whole week without chemotherapy.  Not that I dislike my nurses or anything, but as they say;  “We love you, but we don’t want to see you again.”  This is the week I have a little more energy and I feel a little more normal.

Or it’s the week that my children bring home some sort of elementary school plague and I end up, ironically, sick on the only days I’m supposed to be recovering.

And yes…yes it’s happened several times.

This time around off week is a grand total of at least two weeks.  This isn’t too unusual, as I’m due for a CT scan to see if this chemo is even working.  We’re hoping for stable.  We’re also hoping to see what might be causing the chest pain I’ve been experiencing since early April.  When you have such a laundry list of things that could be causing the symptoms it can be hard to diagnose.  This time around we’re waiting on the CT scan, though, which you also tend to want to limit exposure to because…oh right, it’s one of those cures/diagnostic tools that can also cause cancer!  Sometimes I wonder if the human race just really likes shooting itself in the foot in that regard.   Yet I’ll find out if it’s broken ribs, bruised ribs, torn or sprained muscles, fluid pressing against my chest wall (there was some stuck between the lung and chest wall in the last CT scan), or the cancer itself pressing against my rib cage.  Maybe it’s scar tissue, that seems to be the bane of my existence quite frequently.

So, again, during my beloved off week I also get to play the waiting game.  Everybody knows the waiting game, but it seems to be a constant for cancer patients.  One thing we share in common with this widely varied disease.  You scan and then you wait for results.  Has it spread?  Has it gotten smaller?  Is it simply holding steady?  Is it causing problems with the rest of how the body is functioning? Most of the time only a CT or a PET scan can tell.  I wish a simple X-Ray could, but the detail needed to see most cancers isn’t going to be picked up with a quick run through an X-ray I’m afraid.

Though this does also mean I get two off weeks.   Granted one of them has a few doctor appointments to follow up on scans but…

It means I get to go to the beach.

Now if only the weather would stop pretending it’s early April.  That’d be awesome.

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Really, I want to know who came up with that.

Especially the followup of ‘make lemonade’ part.  This would thrill my husband and son, as are both avid lemonade enthusiasts.  Me?  The one with the ample supply of lemons?  I can’t imagine wanting to risk diabetes just from the sugar alone you’ll have to throw into the lemon juice to make it a drinkable treat.  Perhaps not Kool-Aid recipe sugar dosage (though I’ve seen some recipes come close…), but lemons have a pretty good chunk of natural sugar that you add into the mix.  Nice for one glass or two.  But if life is throwing a peak harvest California lemon orchard at you there’s only so much lemonade you can really handle.

I mean…does it have to be lemonade?  What about a nice meringue?    Lemon bars?  Cheesecake?  Pie?  Sorbet?  Trifle?  Panna Cotta?  How about some pudding or pastries?  Lemonade just seems so limiting by itself.

Granted pretty much all of the options above will have you sitting in a nice diabetic coma or a sugar rush eventually.  That sort of sugar rush and crash will have you busting through walls like the giant Kool-Aid pitcher guy.

Suppose that explains a few things about that guy, doesn’t it…

There is too much of a good (or just flat out sugary) thing, too.

Don’t get me started on the mouth sores that come with too much lemon.  God forbid you have a cut on your lip.  I mean, chemo mouth is bad enough, but add your body weight in lemon juice and you’re asking for a month of pain. So … let’s look at it in a different way, shall we?

I like savory things.  Let’s go in a savory direction.  Gotta do something with these lemons…

Lemons can go into all sorts of sauces, marinades, can be squirted onto poultry and fish, into drinks…the opportunities are endless!  Roasted lemon chicken, lemon drenched veggies and pastas,  lemon fish of all kinds, lemon rice, lemon soups and stews, stir fry, shrimp…

I really should stop right here and point out that my doctors have had me on a pretty high dosage of steroids, so just about anything food sounds good.  That being said…this is still a bit of an overdose on the lemon scale, even for me.

That doesn’t change the fact that my life is, at the moment, an orchard of lemons.  Not to say that it’s terrible, just a bit more challenging than usual.   I try to be positive (and apparently ravenously hungry at the same time), but there’s only so much lemonade a person can take.  I get creative, flexible, come up with as many recipes as I can manage but in such a large dose if I can’t start selling these lemons I’m going to start turning yellow myself.  Yet somehow I persevere.  Being positive is what keeps my head afloat in this giant lemon juice swimming pool.   At least I hope it’s lemon.  I do have kids.  Is this a public pool…?  I really don’t want to know now.

So in my positive rhetoric that I’m sure some of you are tired of, I have decided to completely change the stupid saying so I’m not drinking lemonade until my stomach lining sloughs off into an acidic whirlpool of lemon-scented pain….

When life gives you lemons…

At least you won’t get scurvy.

It's my lemon! Love him!

Because what’s more confusing than a lemon with scurvy? I mean, other than my medical history…

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There’s always that lapse of time between diagnosis and treatment that is riddled with tests and multiple doctor appointments.  Over the last two weeks I think I’ve spent a vast majority of my time in my car driving to and from the various doctors offices.  To my list of specialists I’ve added a new radiation oncologist, who has, as of yesterday, had me fitted for a new pillow.  There’s a technical term out there, but it’s essentially a plastic bean bag pillow that they lay you on and suck all of the air out of so that it forms neatly to your back.  Line it up with my old radiation dots and you’ve got a pre-posed position suitable for every radiation treatment.  After doing a little fitting the official word is that my treatments will begin next Friday.  I’ll be continuing radiation treatments for six weeks and after that there’s still the possibility of chemotherapy on top of it.  Both my oncologist and I are a bit hesitant to jump into that just yet.

Radiation is going to be a bit different, from everything I’ve been told.  I will likely have that deep sore throat that will last for far too long once more.  My heart will be exposed, as will my spine, lungs, and esophagus.  There’s a whole list of things that could turn wrong, including the risk of secondary cancers from the radiation. (Hah!  Secondary.  I think I’m a bit beyond that, somewhere in the quaternary and quinary arena.)  My radiation oncologist seemed a bit surprised that, due to how the cancer is pressing on both my esophagus and my bronchial tract that I’m not coughing up blood.  I’m not sure what to think when I’m not having an expected symptom.  Am I not coughing hard enough to make the cancer cells hemorrhage? Should I be aiming for this?  Somehow…I think I’m going to count myself lucky in this case.

Image

I live in the shadow of a volcano. This isn’t metaphorical for anything, I just..really like that volcano and this update was in dire need of a picture.

Amid all of this what do I do?  I live on.  My daughter will be registering for Kindergarten today with the same teacher that my son had.  I’m working on getting the Day Camp I help run planned and ready to run, and also trying to wrap up what commissions I have so that I’m not leaving those who’ve requested them out in the lurch.  It’s the day in and day out chaos that most people expect on some level or another.  I get by, press on, and enjoy every minute I can.  Really, what else should I do?

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Ok, so this is something that’s bugged me for a very, very  long time now.  I thought, perhaps, that I was imagining it when I was a teenager looking into possible support groups, that there was a bit of a cancer hierarchy.  The only support groups I could find were for women in their 40s and up (which is ancient to a 16-year-old) who had gone through breast cancer alone.  When I was re-diagnosed I found the same situation.  The only support group that was relatively close to my needs was at my college campus: which consisted of people my age who had known somebody who had gone through cancer.  Usually a mother, father, or grandparent.

But that’s not where I’m going with this.  See, on the list of importance Hodgkin’s is somewhere on the low scale, mostly affecting people who are young.  Non-Hodgkin’s is far more popular, and diverse, and therefore given much more attention.  But not nearly as much as breast or cervical or ovarian or prostate.  However, when I was first diagnosed with Breast Cancer it wasn’t a sudden get-in to the pink cancer club.  It was disbelief.  “What? You’re 27?  Everybody knows it doesn’t happen that early. Go on your merry way, now, back to being a normal twenty something.  This club is for 40 and up.”  Of course, until I had a breast removed.  That apparently makes you qualify for the club.

Now…now lung cancer.  You see, for me this is all very simple.  It’s a cancer.  Cancer sucks.  I do what I can to get treatment, same as the last three times thinking that there’s no possible way I could face any more disbelief in my situation.  Most people I know, including doctors and nurses, are used to my odd predicament.  They don’t bat an eye when I say, “Guess what!  I’m back!”.  My insurance company, however, is convinced I’m doing this to myself.

Ever since they’ve processed my claims I’ve had non-stop pamphlets on how to quit smoking.

You know, that’s funny, since I’ve never smoked a day in my life.  I never got a pamphlet on how to prevent Hodgkin’s.  And instead of a pamphlet on how to prevent breast cancer I was showered with pink, given stuff on how to find support groups and tips for early detection from my insurance company.  But, now that I have lung cancer, I should have been able to prevent this.  All that smoking I didn’t do has caught up to me!

Funny how certain cancers can be made out to be your fault, while others are simply a tragedy that sympathy must be showered on.

Thanks, guys!  I’ll do my best to quit cancering, but somehow I just haven’t figured it out.  No worries, I’ll keep working on it though, wouldn’t want people to think that I’m not trying to cure myself.  This disease totally would’ve been prevented if I had just known that I should quit smoking those imaginary cigarettes.

Too much sarcasm?

Probably.

But just FYI?  Breast cancer = tragedy.  Hodgkin’s = Tragedy.  Lung cancer = Why did you not take greater measures to prevent this?!

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Sometimes I’m not really sure how I did this in college.  In bed by eight, up at four to make it in to work by five.  Then again, I’m not sure how my husband does it now.  But, when you have to make it in for an early morning PET scan to follow-up from chemotherapy and live over an hour away from the clinic you frequent…?

Oh yeah, really wishing I didn’t have to fast right now.  Not so much because I’m hungry, but because the sweet siren song of coffee is ever so powerful this morning.  At least I get to look forward to a 45 minute nap before the scan.  Gotta look at the bright side of things, y’know?

But in all honesty PET scans don’t really bother me.  Out of all the doctor visits and procedures and surgeries that I’ve had to go through, PET scans are the spa-trip in comparison.  Sure, there’s a needle prick, but it’s once as opposed to an IV they have to run during CT scans.  Then there’s laying there in the dark with a nice warm blanket for a little under an hour so that the medication can seek out and cling to any glucose masses throughout my body.  After that? The scan is quick, usually in a room with soft jazz playing so that I’m border-line sleeping once more.

And then I get to hop in the car with my kids (who now argue with each other at least once for every car trip over ten minutes) and divert myself to the nearest Starbucks for my caffeine fix.

Because, after all of that? I’m going to need it in order to drive all the way home and keep at least some small sliver of my sanity.

Hello, Mr. Coffee, you handsome devil.

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…when you go to put mascara on and realize that while one eye is rich in eye lashes, the other is missing over half.  I suppose this is what happens when allergy season comes early and your eyelashes are already holding on by a thin thread.  It’d probably be a good idea to stop rubbing my eyes.

Even though I can say that chemotherapy is done my hair still hasn’t quite gotten the message.  Nor has my body, not completely anyway.  While things are slowly starting to feel normal again (Normal…wait, was I ever normal?) other things are taking their time catching up.  Hair is still thin, eyelashes are trying to fall out, and the internal plumbing is still acting up in just about every way that it can.  Regardless, I’m happy to be done.

I still have my follow-ups, which are things that are never truly done.  PET scans, CT scans, blood draws, port flushes (why yes, I’m keeping that port in.  With my veins it’d be folly to get rid of it.), echocardiograms and all sorts of other fun things are a constant in my future.

To be fair, so are my kids’ birthdays, summer, day camp, and Christmas.  So I think it balances out.

Because I really, really like Christmas.  It’s when I get the most chocolate.

 

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