Friday, March 28, 2008

A Visit To The Zoo

Today I chaperoned Intuitive Monkey's kindergarten class at the zoo. I was responsible for him and two little girls, one of whom was obsessively compulsive about knowing what time it was and how many minutes were left until our departure deadline. Constant time-checking aside, it was a lot of fun, although the animals did seem somewhat lacking in enthusiasm.




Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And It Just Gets Better...

I realize that I am in danger of turning my blog into non-stop whining about my cancer diagnosis. Maybe I already have, but I can't say that I really care about that at this point.

It's not that I am not interested in other things. Several times I have come across posts or articles I thought would make good blog fodder..like the one about how burglaries are less common nowadays because so many people have everything already....or the one about swearing in cartoon/comics fashion(some offensive language)...and then there was the one about how I shouldn't talk on my cell phone while driving...which I mostly never do.

But in the face of what I'm dealing with, I recognize that my musings about miscellaneous stuff isn't all that essential, not that I had deluded myself into thinking it was beforehand.

Yesterday, I saw a radiation oncologist. The doctor went over what radiation treatment would entail, when they would be able to begin treatment, and what to expect. When the doctor stepped out for a few moments, I picked up my chart and began poring through it. My hematological oncologist had called me last Friday, sharing the results of the isolated tumor cells that appeared in my lymph nodes, but we didn't discuss anything else. As I looked through my labs, I realized that the spots the MRI had found before my surgery had turned out to be cancer. When the doctor reappeared, we talked about those other, very small, cancer deposits and she told me that they were too close to the margins of removed tissue. There was only a 1-2-mm space between cancer tissue and healthy tissue, not a wide enough area of healthy tissue.

I would probably need to go back for more surgery.

I processed that and was disappointed, but figured there was little I could do about it.

This morning I saw my breast surgeon. I thought she might push to take out more of my lymph nodes because of the isolated tumor cells that had appeared in my lab results. I was prepared to push back on this issue. Everything I had read in medical articles and online cancer resources indicated that ITC's are not equivalent to having a positive result for breast cancer in the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes with ITC's are technically negative, and there isn't enough information available for doctors to associate them with more advanced cancer, or to use the results in any sort of diagnostic way. When she first started going over things, I listened politely and let her know that I had read up on everything and understood the issues surrounding the lymph nodes. There was already a good chance that I was going to have chemo, so what was the point of removing more technically negative nodes? The chemo would most certainly kill off isolated cells. That's the whole purpose of chemo.

I wasn't ready for what came next.

As we began to discuss the rest of my lab findings, I realized something that I hadn't put together when I had read them myself the day before; there was more cancer than the two spots that the MRI found. In addition to that, the cancer, although very small, was located in completely separate areas of the tissue. The deposits weren't clustered together in the same area where the first lump had been. They were all over. I had multi-focal breast cancer.

They had found things they hadn't expected to find....kind of like has been happening at every turn in this little adventure. The problem is that my doctor could go in and remove more tissue, to have clearer margins, and find even more tiny, little, cancer spots. There is no way to discover how many may be lurking around. The only way to be certain that all the cancer has been removed from me is to undergo a mastectomy.

It was at this point that I started to cry.

It was difficult to wrap my brain around how removing a minuscule, pea-sized lump that hardly rated as anything, cancer-wise, had turned into hearing bad result after bad result. The cancer is slowly moving from being diagnosed as a barely stage I, to an early stage II. No single factor has pushed me towards this. The tumor sizes are small, but there have been at least four that we know of. The lymph nodes are technically negative, but then there are those pesky ITC's floating around in them.

The doctor tried to discuss breast reconstruction with me, but I told her I would need time just to process everything. Reconstruction means more surgery...multiple surgeries...and the possibility of complications.

My head is spinning as I try to piece this all together. I am so grateful that we have found it early, because with all that has been ascertained, I could have easily missed this until it was too late. Still, the sudden seriousness of it all is slowly washing over me. The next year of my life will revolve around surgery and chemotherapy, which might last anywhere from six to nine months.

I won't be "normal" again for a long time.....not that I was ever normal before. If my blog posts about this subject become tedious, depressing, or whiny just skip over them. I'll try to shake it up every now and then, but posting my journey will be an essential outlet for me as I process all that's happening.

thanks for understanding

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Explanation Please?

Why is it that my husband, a Computer Science/Math major, totally kicks my butt in Scrabble, yet finds Sudoku to be torturous..and I, an English/Language major, hate crosswords and lose to him in Scrabble, but am totally awesome at Sudoku?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Existential Angst

So, what happens when you take Garfield out of the Garfield comic strip?

You get a sad, sad, little man.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter

Good Friday wasn't so good for me.

I got news I didn't want, and heard words I didn't want to hear. It wasn't a Good Friday.

I felt bad that I was so distracted by everything. I didn't really take any time to pray or meditate on the day and its significance. I shut down and wallowed in my frustration and dashed hopes for good news. Things didn't work out the way I had thought they would...the way I had wanted. The confidence and relief I had felt were scattered in a few moments.

As I lay in the dark tonight, trying to sleep and feeling awful that Easter was upon me and I had completely relegated it to nothing in the midst of my current trials, a gentle nudge from God came to me. I had lived my own Good Friday out this year. There was no need to fast, or attend a service; the meaning was upon me.

It was not Jesus' death I pondered, or even my own exactly. I am in no imminent danger from the cancer that has been removed. Yet, the threat of death hangs over us all. At any moment it can claim us for its own. Occasionally, it makes a cameo appearance in our lives, reminding us that it does, indeed, still exist and will come to visit on a more permanent basis in the future.

The uncertainty before a diagnosis causes the mind to wander to futures that may or may not come to pass. What if I only had 1 year, 5, years, 10 years...maybe 40 more...what then?

I think of Jesus who knew exactly how many years he had, how many moments to impress upon his followers the urgency of his message, how many meals he would eat with them, and which one would be his last. That's living; living in the face of death while it bides its time tick-tocking its way to us.

Jesus' disciples were disappointed on Friday and Saturday. Their faith was crumbling under the weight of the forward movement of time. Sunset...sunrise...sunset, and still Jesus lays in the tomb--motionless, stiff, and decaying.

Sunrise is coming again. Let it not catch me unaware. Let me rise up to greet it and the one who has overcome death's stalking pace.

Spontaneous Sympathy

Rain falls in a steady rhythm as I fold clothes in the living room. Intuitive Monkey climbs onto the couch, wraps himself in a cozy blanket, lays down, and watches me for a moment.

"Mom, I'm sorry you have cancer."

I stopped for a moment and smiled at him.

"It's OK. The doctors are helping to get rid of it all. I'll be OK."

"I know...but they are doing it in a painfully way....with needles and everything."

"That's OK. Needles don't hurt as much when you're all grown up."

"Still...I'm sorry."

Sweet words from a six-year-old....and one of the many reasons I'm thankful even in the midst of it all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Unique. Special. Overachiever.

That must be what I am. Why else would every time the words,"99% of the time, it's nothing," are spoken would my body feel the need to respond, "Oh yeah?!"

It has happened at every stage of this journey.

"Oh..it's probably just a cyst."

"Oh...I'm sure it will come back normal."

"Everything looks good."

"Only 1 in 100 times do we have the final labs show something different"

And yet those damn pathologists feel the need to ferret out every little piece of information they can find in my body to say,"Not so!"

My final labs came back...the ones that 99% of the time show exactly the same thing as the preliminary labs. Once again I have fallen into that 1% margin of exceptionality. They found a few, microscopic cells that came back positive for breast cancer. Maybe five or ten years ago they wouldn't have had this accurate of a test to find such a small amount and my lymph nodes would have been deemed cancer-free. I would do radiation, tamoxifen as a preventative, and would have gotten on with life. Now, there is a stronger possibility that I will have to go through chemo, something I really haven't wanted to endure.

Chemo.

Chemo means I'll probably have to quit my job.

Chemo means medical bills will become an issue because of the loss of my income.

Chemo means I won't be able to to take care of the kids, or myself, by myself.

Chemo means I'll feel sick and might lose my hair.

Chemo takes this battle out of my scheduled, controlled hands and puts me at the mercy of toxic chemicals.

Up to this point, I've been viewing this whole thing as a sort of cancer-lite. The tumor was so small. It almost seemed weird to tell people I had breast cancer. It seemed more like I was having an ugly mole removed...an unsightly wart. No muss, no fuss. A little radiation just to be safe and bada bing, bada boom...back to normal life.

The fact that at every turn my doctors find just a little more to worry about has become frustrating to me....just a few small spots on the MRI....just a few cells in the lymph nodes...just a small possibility that things might be worse.

Knowing is better than not knowing, but the uncertainty of what it all means is weighing heavily upon me as I try to see down the road ahead.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Good News

Yesterday, DH drove me to the hospital in the dark, early, morning hours. We weaved our way through a crowd of nurses and doctors, all rushing to their 7:00am shifts.

My first stop was at the Radiology Department to receive my nuclear medicine. The breast and its surrounding area is connected to a series of lymph nodes, which can be a pathway for cancer cells into other areas of the body. In order to determine which trail of lymph nodes most actively drained my breast tissue, it was necessary to inject a radioactive substance into me, wait 40 minutes and then scan the area. The radioactive lymph nodes would light up, mapping the path that the doctors would need to biopsy and test.

Once mapped, it was time for surgery. The nurses whisked me into a changing area, dressed me in baby blue socks, a billowing hospital gown, and a lovely blue shower-cap thingy. I was stunning.

My doctor suddenly appeared before me, also blue and smurf-like...she's a little short and had blue scrubs on.

"We got the results back from your MRI. It showed the left breast was clear, but the right breast did have some positive areas close to where we removed the lump. The areas were small and may be cancer or may be scar tissue from the biopsy, but nothing else showed up in the films."

"Yay!"

We talked some more about the surgery and whether I would see her afterward, and then the nurse snuck some "relaxants" into my IV and things seemed nice and groovy. I said good-bye to DH, and was wheeled to the operating room by an older nurse with teeth so brightly white and perfectly formed, they had to be dentures, at least that's what my drug-induced mind was focusing on...the mystery of the dentures.

They told me they were starting my anaesthetic and that's all I remembered.

I woke up, well sort of woke up, to the chattering of nurses in the recovery room. Really, I washed in and out of consciousness like a piece of driftwood on an ocean wave, never in control of my awareness. When I did finally "wake up" I had a splitting headache, felt nauseous, and could feel all of the areas of cut flesh. ouch

My doctor stopped by and gave us the good news. The preliminary labs showed the lymph nodes were free of cancer. She removed any other questionable tissue during the lumpectomy. So, unless the final labs caught something that was missed, everything looks great. It's the best possible outcome I could have.

I feel hugely relieved and grateful, as does DH and all of our family.

The only bad thing that happened yesterday was caused by a crazy, lady in a red SUV who sideswiped our car five minutes after leaving the hospital. We're OK and the car still functions, but our headlight is dangling by its wires over the mangled front panel of our car.

It was a busy day!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Stand By Your Man

I am not going to comment on Eliot Spitzer and his resignation from a political point of view. I mean really...a powerful politician involved in a sex scandal...it's so cliche that I'm sure it will soon be an episode of Law and Order.

What I will say is that I am tired of the wives having to stand stoically by their men as they publicly repent of their wrongdoing. Time after time, they quietly pose by the side of their betrayers, putting a brave face on a devastating situation. For once I'd like to see a politician have to face the music without further injuring their spouse by compelling them to attend a choreographed apology.

I am not against forgiveness if the wife chooses to stay and try to salvage the marriage with her husband, but for a man who has already put his self-interest before that of his family's, wouldn't the first step to repentance and reconciliation consist of protecting them by not bringing them to his confession?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Premonition

I had a dream last night about my upcoming surgery.

It was being done in a Holiday Inn with two double beds filled with patients. We worked really hard and were nervous, because we had to perform a rock-opera musical number before it was our turn for surgery. I was late to the performance and my understudy took over until I could get on-stage at a later point.

I'm not sure what this means.

Maybe my subconscious anxiety about the surgery has combined with the fact that it is scheduled on St. Patrick's Day.

Here's hoping my doctor isn't drinking any green beer beforehand, and that my performance will get four stars.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Kats or Dogs?

We don't have cable, but we do have an excellent library system that allows us to borrow DVDs of popular cable series.

We just started watching Meerkat Manor and we are all hooked!

K(c)at is in their name, but their babies are called pups. Go figure that one out. Whatever they are, they're cute....even when gobbling scorpions and foot-long millipedes.

*official Meerkat Manor site*

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Not Voting?

There is this whiff of a suggestion circling throughout the blogosphere that evangelicals should stay home this November, refusing to vote for the candidates for President on the basis that none are truly "pro-life" and all lack an acceptable amount of faith in God, in the evangelical mind anyway. I think what I have come across is an aftershock from James Dobson's February declaration that he would not vote in November if McCain was the Republican nominee.

What I find most shocking about the growing popularity of this idea is the direct opposition it presents to the patriotism that evangelicals usually embrace. Countless times I have read articles, books, and editorials from right-wing, evangelical conservatives about the Founding Fathers, the Biblical principles that are at the core of the Constitution and our legal system, and our duty to participate in government. Now that the winds seem to be less favorable to the ideology of evangelicals, they want to take their toys and go home.

Ridiculous.

We have been told in the past, that we must vote our consciences and that each vote must honor God in its entirety. The equation of our religion with our vote has brought this identity crisis to full bloom. The illusion that candidates exist within the narrow parameters of evangelical opinion has contributed to the dilemma before religious conservatives. We have let candidates speak in our churches. We have passed out voter guides by the Christian Coalition. We have created litmus test after litmus test for candidates. Bit by bit, politics has rooted itself into the evangelical ethos and we have welcomed it, believing that we had some sort of right to a candidate who fit our mold.

The problem is evangelicals have gotten their way and have grown accustomed to it. The thought of dirtying our hands and choosing between candidates without the full approval of evangelical leaders has become too much for our gentle souls to bear. To do so would be to lower ourselves and compromise.

I find this interesting in several respects.

One, isn't not voting and assuring the victory of a more liberal candidate, over and above a less liberal candidate, pretty much the same thing?

Two, doesn't not voting smack of a Pilate-ish response? "Oh it's not me Jesus...you see..it's those people out there who want you dead....I'm just a neutral, passive agent." Trying to wash our hands of the whole thing is immature and illogical.

Three, do evangelicals really not understand that a large portion of Americans do not share the same ideological views as they do? The outrage I have come across shows no sense of reality about the vast gulf between what many average Americans believe about politics. There is always a sense of "those liberal conspirators" hanging about, implying that most people don't really back liberal politics but are simply manipulated by the media and Democratic leaders. That happens on both sides, to be sure, but detracts from the millions of people who really believe in certain political issues and vote accordingly. It is no coincidence that our last two elections have been so close.

Four, isn't choosing not to vote because you don't morally approve of the candidates awfully similar to not funding the Iraq war because you don't morally approve of it; something over which evangelicals have cried "Foul!" ?

Five, has evangelical leadership really wanted "godly" candidates(as defined by them), or do they want candidates who also fit their view of non-religious conservative values? I noticed Dobson didn't bother to endorse Huckabee until after Romney dropped out of the race. Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. John Hagee endorsed McCain. Huckabee....an obvious "evangelical" candidate, snubbed by evangelical leaders. I guess religious values weren't as important as they seemed. Personally, I don't have a problem with that, but don't cry me a river complaining that evangelicals don't have a candidate they approve of in November.

Citizens who participate in voting only when the wind is blowing in their favor, are not good citizens. True patriotism lies not in using the governmet to achieve our own ends, but revering the laws and processes which make our country what it is even when we are temporarily dissatisfied with its current leadership.

Vote, people.

Community

We missed church lst week because Intuitive Monkey had a cold which eventually became pneumonia. He has been on antibiotics since Tuesday and feels much better, but still is battling a nagging cough.

DH had to leave for the ariport at 10:30. The time change went into effect last night. We started visiting churches last month, looking for one to call home. Those three factors coalesced into the decision to not attend anywhere this week.

Instead, we decided we would have church at home today. We read from Matthew, the passage about the Last Supper. We stopped every few moments explaining the backstory to the kids, explaining words like "indignant", "betray", and "chief priests." Both of the boys were very interested. They have heard the Easter story many times, but I think they are old enough to catch nuances in the story that would have been difficult to understand previously, such as the enormity of Judas' betrayl of Jesus, the false prosecution of an innocent man, and people conspiring in back rooms. Afterward we prayed for DH's safety as he travels and that God would be with him as he presents material to a large group. It's an important step for him and his job, one that he is eager to do, but one that's also a little nerve-wracking.

It was a sweet time. Even though I am longing for a larger church community to belong to, this morning my family was all the community I needed to worship. I actually felt peaceful and encouraged that God is still guiding us. May He lead us to where we need to be and help us grow together in community with each other as we search.

Dumbfounded

My mom called last night and mentioned she might be in town in the next two weeks. I seized the opportunity to tell her about my diagnosis realizing that my surgery was going to fall in the time frame she was talking about. I explained everything to her and when I came up for air we had the following conversation:

Mom: "So, are you worried?"

Me:"Not yet...we don't really know enough yet to know if we should be worried."

Mom: "Well..you know....I have a mass in my left breast."

Me: "What!?"

Mom:" Yeah...a couple of years ago my right breast was hurting and the doctor sent me in for a mammogram. They think the right breast was just a clogged milk duct, but they also found a mass in my left breast. I get a mammogram every six months."

Me:".........have they biopsied it?"

Mom:"No. They said it was probably nothing."

Me: "You're kidding me."

Mom: "No."

Me: "Mom, my doctor has repeatedly asked me if we have breast cancer in my family, and I have said 'No' every time. I need you to get home, talk to your doctor, and get that lump biopsied right away! If they haven't biopsied it, there is no way they can tell you for sure that it's not cancer."

Mom:"Well, they didn't seem worried...."

Me: "It doesn't matter! They can't know without a biopsy. Does your right breast still hurt?"

Mom:"...well...off and on."

Me: "Mom...I don't think a clogged milk duct would last for two years. You have to get this taken care of right away. Cancer doesn't always just grow from one lump outward. Tiny cancer cells can be carried through the blood stream to other areas of your breasts or body. You have to go to your doctor, explain about your 34-year-old daughter's diagnosis, and make them take this seriously."

Mom: "Oh....OK."

I could just bang my head against the wall out of frustration; first, because of idiot doctors who are taking a wait and see approach with my mother, who has higher risk factors than I do because of her age, life-long smoking habit, and former hormone use, and secondly, because of my mother's trust in idiot doctors. She suffered through a horrible surgery at one point, one that she could have rightly sued for malpractice. She didn't ask questions, get a second opinion, or go to someone else when she encountered numerous problems because of it. Later a doctor would tell her that she had been butchered and would need two more surgeries to fix the problems left behind by her previous doctor, who had left the state and his medical practice by that point.


rant over

Saturday, March 08, 2008

More Catching Up

This past week I finally began telling people about my diagnosis. I started with DH's mother, a breast cancer survivor herself. I knew that I was going to need her to take care of the boys on the day of my surgery. She listened, was encouraging, and told me she would support us in any way we needed. It wasn't as bad as I thought it might be.

Next came DH's sister. She lives closer to us, about 45 minutes, and I knew I would need her this Tuesday when I go in for my MRI. DH is going to be out of town and the test is scheduled in the afternoon, right when the boys are done with school. That was a little harder. She was also supportive and encouraging, but at a certain point her voice began to crack and I thought she might lose control. Her husband had just been through a skin cancer scare a few months earlier after his biopsy came back positive for melanoma. They removed it all and seemed confident that it should solve the problem, but it has left a shadow in the background of their minds about what might have been or still could possibly happen in the future.

I actually haven't told my family yet. I made the call to my mother, meaning to tell her, but she was very sick with walking pneumonia and was listing a whole litany of problems that she was dealing with....so I decided to wait for a week or so until she was feeling better and more present.

After I tell her, my dad will be next. That one will be interesting. My dad is a cranky atheist. Curmudgeon is a word that might capture his essence. He can be good with the boys, but overall most of his conversation revolves around how stupid people are, how everybody drives like an idiot, and how the health care crisis would be solved if we simply stopped treating everyone who couldn't pay, and let them all die like they did in the good old days. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

However, this cranky, atheistic, politically incorrect man can also be affected deeply by death and impending physical suffering. Many years ago my cousin's wife committed suicide. It was very tragic. She left behind an eight-month-old daughter and my grieving cousin. My dad was torn up about it. It was the first time I have seen him cry. Last year my sister-in-law was diagnosed with Huntington's, inherited from her mother who is now a bed-ridden invalid. My dad was depressed for weeks. My aunt was in the hospital a few months ago. She had gotten a blood infection that became quite serious. My dad was furious that he hadn't been told about it until after she was better, because she might have died, and he would have visited her if he had known. This man, so full of contempt and vitriol for the world at large, hides a heart that is sometimes difficult to see. I am hoping that he doesn't over-react to the news.

All that being said...I am doing OK. DH is doing OK. The kids know, and they are doing OK. DH and I have each had a bout of panic or worry overcome us at unpredictable moments, but overall we acclimated ourselves to the concept and are not as consumed with it as those first few days.

There is an obstacle before us. We will take steps to overcome it. We will maintain normal life and be present in the moments before us.

Thanks to all of you who have been mindful of me and my family.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Catching Up

I'm ending the BlogFast simply because there's a lot on my mind and blogging lets me vent those things without having to make those around me suffer through my verbal overload. Not blogging was constructive in the amount of time I saved, and several times I realized it helped me focus on other areas of my life more completely. Oh...how I missed it though....not even for important things, but in not being able to record the cute things my kids said or post pictures of fun outings we had.

bummer.

so without further ado......

In February, we went to the Florida State Fair. It's an annual outing for us. We invited my dad to come out and took him with us as a way to try and connect with him. Intuitive Monkey climbed to the top of The Big Yellow Slide and rode down it's four-story high slope on a burlap sack.



He lived to tell about it.

We also checked out the miniature horse show. Many of the participants were hardly older than The Rationalist.




Inspired to be cowboys, the boys found just the right horse for them; easy to care for, gentle, and just the right size.





No unsightly droppings to pick up either.
I am coming out of the blogfast over the next few days because there are some things I'd like to talk about.