Friday, December 19, 2008

Mission Free

Okay, forget what I said about loving that mission project. After a few hours wielding a hot glue gun and tending to the emotional needs of a stressed out 9-year-old with a project deadline looming over her head I'm ready for some serious fun. Why did I stop drinking? That's right, too much fun. Good thing I saw the light at 26.

This week saw a 6-hour field trip to a nearby mission complete with foot-stomping-in-a-mud-pit to make adobe bricks (brrrrr!); several major tests; two class parties and a class trip to an ice rink; regular class assignments. AND THE DUE DATE OF THE MISSION REPORT! Pity the poor parents who have a few fingers in school activities, prepare for Christmas holidays and try to breathe at the same time. How many days left until Christmas, anyway?

Danny has been listening to a CD called "The Sleep Fairy" at bedtime. I just heard the opening words. "Hi, Sweetie, it's me, the Sleep Fairy." Someday years from now I'm gonna try the phrase on him and see if he konks out.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nothing Wrong with my Brain

According to the MRI, there is nothing wrong with my brain. Wonderful news that is, isn't it?

After Christmas I will head on down the specialist trail to learn the cause of the headaches, cognitive goofiness, balance problems. Anyone dealt with thyroid issues after breast cancer treatment? An endocrinologist may hold the answer.

I'm giving myself the gift of No Worries for Christmas. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go wrap your present. (Hint: I tend to give what I like receiving.)


Painting the Mission

In some weird moment of teaching wisdom it was decided that scheduling the Big Mission Project of Fourth Grade should occur the uber hectic week before Christmas break. We're on top of it, of course. The model is glued and awaiting paint and things; the almost-final draft has been typed and just needs a final check, the bibliography and TOC; cover page art is percolating in the 9-year-old girl's brain. Hey, it's only Wednesday morning. We have hours to go.

Last night I encouraged Gracie to go on to bed and let me give the foam model a little "wash" of adobe-colored paint. Maybe a test of trim color. Nothing too much, there'd be plenty for her to do. She agreed, perhaps a bit reluctantly. At last, this homework supervision aspect of parenthood is paying dividends. I kept my involvement to a primer coat of custom, creamy brick tempera with darker tan edging on the window and door trims to reflect aging. Added a chocolate brown running strip below the roofline. Will wait to consult with Grace on the roof color.

Umm, really, I held back. She gets off today at 12:30 and we'll work together then. The bells need to be affixed, nests built and swallows attached, cemetery fence painted, grass and trees landscaped, farm critters arranged...

Two hours, thirty minutes and counting. I will not go near the paint, glue or supplies. Need a hobby, need a hobby, need a hobby...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Life is (almost) a Dog Park

I used to think life was a playground. You know, there were bullies in pinstripes and ball hogs in pumps. In a corner would be the fair play buddies, the sunshine sisters smiling in all weather, the go go guys running their sweat-dripping games. No more. Now I really believe life should be a dog park.

We spend 6 or 7 hours a week at a nearby dog park with Puppy Face, "we" being me, son and daughter and Puppy Face being the year old Roscoe, half German Short Hair Pointer and half French Bulldog. People watching has nothing on dog watching. The subtleties of the canine social gathering is an intricate weave: the give and take, nip and bump, bark and growl, tug and push. Roscoe is a regular in the 4-6 pm bunch. He's the happy guy, a runner who delights in being the fastest. He's sleek and beautiful to watch when he races against another sprinter, or glances over his shoulder to see the pack chasing him. A pitbull owner described Roscoe as an undercover bulldog, since he looks mostly pointer but will growl when his boundaries are being encroached. Confident, not arrogant. He never tires and rarely wants to head home. I scoop his 40 pound body up and walk him out, with him riding my hip and mouthing his squishy ball like a pacifier.

The dog park has all kinds. Jake is the shepherd mix who has been known to start fights. He's come a long way, I heard, thanks to the work his owner devoted to him. Roscoe outran Jake's nips and learned quickly to neutralize his aggressive body language; a week ago I saw Roscoe try to get Jake to play tug.

Duke, a 70 pound Rottie a few months younger than Roscoe, is one of his best friends. They greet each other with face licks. Before Roscoe developed a great affection for the squishy ball (he carries it continuously at the park) he used to play tug with Duke. A piece of rope would work, and often Roscoe would be the one to offer an end to Duke. Despite their mismatched sizes, Roscoe held his own; he's 40 pounds of solid bulldog MUSCLE. The complete delight of two dogs testing their strength against each other compels humans to stand still, watch and smile.

Yesterday a new bloodhound showed up. Lucy is a referee. Whenever another dog became a little too pushy or crossed some canine line in the sand she would let loose with a string of deep baying reprimands. Lucy approached the offending dog while talking, loudly; even Jake backed down with a slightly irritated look on his face. Lucy was either irreproachable in her reasoning or simply too annoying to argue with on the matter.

Honesty is a common language in the dog park. A dog might not like another dog; they will communicate that in various ways, in varying degrees, and if they can't avoid each other or resolve the problem they'll escalate it until it is resolved. Few dogs carry around hurt feelings or nurse grudges for long. Not at the dog park. Take me to the dog park.

Will the other dogs play with me, I wonder?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom

November 26, 2008. Today is my mother's birthday. The day is a marker now, as another year has passed without her at the other end of the phone, her melodic voice dancing across the wire.

Our voices are the same. As a teen it was funny how many of her friends launched into phone conversations with me before my giggle alerted them to the fact that they had the daughter, not the woman. Now when I want to hear her voice I can comfort myself by talking, using her cadence, phrases and sighs. What I can't do is replicate her singing voice. Standing next to her at Mass I would feel warmth flow down through my body as I listened to that voice resonating with deep timbre. When a song ended I would look up at her and silently wish, "Please don't stop." Maybe I continued attending Mass to hear her voice; I know that the chords of certain hymns will bring me to tears. Somewhere, imprinted in my heart, she's singing to me.

Mom was only 67 when she died. The cancer was diagnosed mere months after my dad died — from cancer — and she went from a relatively good prognosis at Stage I to spine and brain mets within two years. When I discovered that I, too, had breast cancer I was not surprised. Her father had been diagnosed with breast cancer and later died from prostate cancer. It was a matter of when, not if my turn would come. I did think I'd have more time, though.

By some weird coincidence today is also the day I went to the oncologist to talk about several falls I've had and can't really explain away. Back pain, aching ribs. Headaches when I rarely get them. It's the first time I've gone to the oncologist out of fear. Agent of Doom #2 says he doesn't think the symptoms are cancer-related but he wants to reassure me and in oncology that's with a brain MRI. The date for that test happens to be the day before the anniversary of my mom's passing. Symmetry. I find comfort in that.

Only twelve years ago I was holding her hand, telling her in the voice we shared to go, to find peace, hoping she could hear me through the morphine haze. My brother had finally fallen asleep in the hospice bed a few feet away, and my sister had just gone into the bathroom when the labored breathing stopped. While I waited for her to take another breath I held my own. How could she bear any more? Yet I wanted her to open her eyes and be my mom again. I remember the mix of raw emotions flooding through me as I realized my mother had taken her last breath in my presence. By the time I told my brother and sister what had happened I felt the whirl of grief being replaced with sweetness and calm, like the sound of her voice on Sunday morning.

You went first, Mom, and I learned a few things about advocating for the patient. Now the patient is me and I'm doing my best to get the right care, the right tests, the right docs. Thank you for taking some of the fear away.

Love to you, always.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

One More Dip into the O.R. Pool

All is well in post-surgery land. I've learned my lesson and will not take any body-altering procedure lightly in the future. Maybe now I care because for the first time since knowing I would lose my breasts I feel that I've reclaimed me. Yeah, I have those funny scars, numbness here and there, scar tissue too. But I am soft and it is all me. Everything, scars included, is me. I would like to make them look "real" because they are very real to me.

Onward we march to the next oncology visit... in six months. I visited Dr. A last week, without crying, and graduated to the new six month regimen. Doc did not give me grief about my having stopped Arimidex and all endocrine therapies. I asked if he thought I was being foolish and he said no, he thought I recognized and accepted the risk just as any ball player accepts the risks of the game. (Not sure I quite got the analogy there but hey, beats being dismissed as a whacko.) He did say he had never seen me look better and that I was obviously at peace with my decision. Dr. A even apologized for the tough time I had working with the doctors there and he hoped they would do a better job of supporting me in the future. Although, when I discussed the changes I had been making in place of the Arimidex, aka "my program" he didn't really add anything. This occurred to me this morning as I was taking a shower. I do some of my best "ohmygod" thinking under warm water sprays. Dr. S in San Francisco, a previous consult, mentioned that if I couldn't tolerate the AIs he'd recommend a program to replace endocrine therapy. Adding "phone Dr. S for that plan" to my weekly call list.

What am I missing? That's been my private nag since childhood when I spent more time in the world of the book I was holding than in the world I was living in. Of course these days it feels like the stakes are pretty high. Instead of having to take some unnecessary science classes in college because I didn't realize I had "clepped" out of the requirement I might actually die a little sooner because I'm not pursuing the right treatment, or seeing the best docs.

One day very soon this blog will be cancer-free, all the time. Really. Most of my life is lived beyond the diagnosis. This little corner of cyberspace is the last place where I can dump the cancer crap and walk away.

Next post, see Hedgie laugh.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Back to Bed, Hedgie

Tuesday was Drain Removal Day. At least, I wanted it so much that I maybe fudged the truth a bit about my output in order to squeak under the "removal maximum" number. Children, never lie to your plastic surgeon. No one suffers but you.

Seromas happen when fluid fills a vacuum inside the body. It is a serious side effect of surgical procedures. Drains prevent seromas by letting the natural draining of blood and really gross liquid and not-so-liquid matter take the fast track outta Dodge. Taking out drains too early means all that fluid pools up somewhere. See where I'm going with this? Even my lovely, biker-type Spanx, the 24-hour-designer-wear prescribed by plastic surgeons following tummy surgeries, couldn't squash the buildup. A solid mass starting poofing out my belly yesterday. Remedy? More NOTHING! Check-in with PS tomorrow, then a real visit on Monday to make sure I haven't done more damage to his work I suppose. Meanwhile I'm trying to get in to the acupuncturist for her help on getting things flowing.

I do believe that the name "Spanx" should be changed to something more descriptive of the product's effect on one's body. So far I've come up with "Sausagettes" and "Poof-a-Roos."

Test Your BC Knowledge and Donate a Buck to Komen
Here's a simple way to contribute a dollar to the cause. You can even do so in honor of someone you love. Mine went to my mom, who lost her life to breast cancer but not her spirit on December 12, 1996. See Purina Cat Chow Pink and do some good.

And last, but not least, that photo way up there is of Roscoe, our crazy Puppy Brain. At last count he's eaten or nibbled on a pair of scissors, the antennae to our cordless phone, rocks, homework folders, a slow-moving squirrel, library books, the back seat of the minivan, pencils and pens galore, several tennis balls, Lego pieces and Finn, a recently deceased goldfish buried under a potted plant. (Please don't tell the kids about Finn.) I'm sure there's more. We should have his stomach x-rayed but really, what's the point?

P.S. See the little "Followers of..." box on the left hand side of this page? I have a follower! You, too, can have your name listed there. Yes, all you devoted Hedgie readers. Oh, you're shy, are you? Well, just send me a note then. It'd be nice to hear from those of you who stop by, read my nattering and run off without a word.

Love to you,

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Just an Incredible Day

Lead with the best, or save it for last? Begin at the beginning or work back from the end? Devour dessert first or graze leisurely through the courses, savoring every bite? I'll label the parts of the day for you, friend, and you may choose.

Saturday. Not any Saturday, but a Saturday in late September. That means blue skies, warm breezes and a day long enough to pack in some adventure. Our destination was somewhat low-key (see entry on "doing nothing all weekend" below) yet decidedly fun: we were going to Moss Beach to visit the 3 Zero Cafe. It was a scouting trip to see if the location would be suitable for Gracie's upcoming 9th birthday celebration. The main party event will center on tide-pooling under the guidance of our marine biologist cousin Dean. Lunch for a half-dozen girls in a fun, coastside location? Tiny airports are entertaining, and they are famous for having yummy food. We had high expectations.

Puppy Boy Roscoe could not be left behind, however, despite his recent gnoshing on the van's rear seat. We decided to bring him along and try out the new canvas travel crate Danny and I spotted at PetSmart a few days ago. The crate would make the half-hour journey safe for dog, humans and van; once there, Joe and I figured we'd take turns eating while the other held the leash.

So, off we head, happy to be together. Roscoe was the least happy member until he settled down with a Smelly Bone. Now, traffic might have been thick on such a beautiful Saturday during High Pumpkin Season, being that Half Moon Bay is the land of all things pumpkin patchy. We guessed we lucked out because at least 500 million people must have been circling San Francisco trying to get into the opening of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. (See, there is some justice for having to take it easy and do almost nothing.)

When we arrived at 3 Zero Cafe I had a flash: what if that dog-loving coast had a dog-loving airport cafe? Before unloading the crew, I walked into the funky restaurant, through the lobby and out the back to the airport side where people were sitting at picnic tables. Sure enough, I spotted one dog under a table. Then, another. Yes! A dog patio! Joe and the kids, and I'm including Roscoe here, settled at a table while I checked in at the front. A thin layer of fog edged the hills around the airport as we watched planes take off and land. Roscoe took delight in his Nasty Bone, happy to be included in a human adventure. And we soon learned why the cafe has been rated, as the menu declared, best breakfast joint on the coast for some 10 years running. The chocolate milk arrived with thick whipped cream piled high; the orange juice was freshly squeezed and sporting seeds to prove it; french toast, fresh fruit, eggs and coffee did not disappoint. We spoke to the manager about having the birthday lunch there and it's a go.

Main Course
After convincing Roscoe to allow his puppyness to be recrated, we drove north to Poplar Beach, a coastal access point and entry to the bluffs. The trail stretches for miles along the coast, thanks to conservation efforts of many to snap up land and place it into trusts for recreation. I parked myself on a bench at the head of the trail, with a view of the ocean looking north along the coast. Ann Patchett's Run kept me great company while the rest of the family headed south for a Pup Walk. When I'm off nothing duty I'll return with Roscoe as this is one of our favorite walks.

As I'm reading, looking up now and then to check out a passing pooch or toddler, I'm conscious of an everywhere kind of happiness. This is normal. It isn't a big deal or a special thing we're doing. We're all taking for granted that we can have a Saturday together, as a family. The kids are down the trail but they'll be back and full of news about the horse poop that Roscoe ate and which dogs he seemed eager to chase. I'm resting but it isn't because I'm sick; I'm healing and will be back to full-speed in a week or so. I take note. I'm grateful. Life is so very sweet.

A familiar voice brings my head up. A young friend of Danny and Gracie's is on a bike riding with his parents. I call out to them. They come over, we talk about their new school, Roscoe, our breakfast at 3 Zero. How wonderful a day it has been, and the unexpected meeting anoints it.

Back home, I am stretched on the sofa with my novel, doing more nothing. Joe has taken the kids to the new Redwood Shores Library for some down time. Just before 4:00 pm the phone rings and, letting it go to the machine, I hear my SIL Cory breathlessly announce that her daughter will be delivering her first child by emergency c-section in about 30 minutes. I make it to the phone in time to catch her, telling her I'll be there. The baby is early but we knew he would be. He has made it to 35 weeks.

Hayden Miles entered the world safely today. He is only 2lbs, 13.5 ounces and 14 inches long. He is breathing without help, though; his lungs are okay. He is feisty, strong and incredibly beautiful in the way only new life can be. His mother is exhausted and recovering. She may wonder why her aunt insisted on hanging around the hospital, peering through the nursery glass and haunting the hallway.

Through the glass of the nursery my children saw their new cousin on the day of his birth. They saw him get his first bath from a neonatal nurse wielding a washcloth. They saw him hold his mom's hand. They celebrated his birthday with Lauren, Hayden's 7-year-old aunt (his mom's baby sister) over pizza at Toto's. While laughing and sipping lemonade we talked about what we would tell Hayden about the day he was born. Driving back to the hospital, we stopped at Shaw's candy store so we could bring back chocolate cigars for new father Owen.

After Dinner Mint
Being present. Bearing witness. Defining family and marking passage. These are the things we offer one another as proof of our love.

Amen. And wecome to the family, Hayden Miles.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I've Been Revised

Tuesday was the last reconstruction surgery, known as The Revision. When having the DIEP the plastic surgeon mentions that within several months you will be having a second surgery, to "revise" the big deelybop surgery. It makes sense, really. The first surgery is all about moving mass to a new location. There are bound to be issues to address, nips to tuck, flops to flip. And so with me.

We scheduled the surgery to take advantage of the full school days, not realizing that there would be half days this week on account of Back to School night. Drat. SIL Sandy stepped in to help with childcare coverage, Joe took a few days off work, and I breezed through a 2 1/2 hour surgery and overnight recovery. Very little pain. Doc promised this would be the easiest of the scalpel sessions to date and he was right.

This time there were three drains. One was removed in the hospital and two are my constant buddies. For the uninitiated, drains are tubes attached to fairly large collection bulbs. They remove fluid from wounds to prevent seratomas. Patient activity increases fluid; the drains can be removed, in my case, when the collection level is less than 30 ml in 24 hours. This morning, the high bulb was 50 ml.

Nothing happens on a weekend. I'm sitting here, doing my best to do nothing, so my fluid level can decrease to the desired level by Monday. That's 3 1/2 days and many fun activities away. Did you know that the new California Academy of Sciences is opening tomorrow? And that there is a Pet Parade in Burlingame that Roscoe would love to attend? We want to check out the Three Zero Airport Cafe and the park in Half Moon Bay for Gracie's birthday party, too. Sigh. I think I may just have to read a few books instead. Wouldn't hurt to update this blog. Maybe get some photos in an album.

Or I could curl up for a nap until it's time to pick up the kids.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Not a Model Patient

Face it, we all want to be liked. When it comes to having a serious illness, we want our doctors to really like us. Would it be so bad if our surgeon or oncologist had a little daydream about our tumor and how they were going to annihilate it? Nope, nada. Dream on, docs. And we would love it if our doctors remembered the specifics of our cases without having to be corrected during appointments. "No, I can't have the drug to induce menopause; I had my ovaries removed last year, remember?" But I digress.

I'm not a model patient. I don't pretend to be "glass half full" when I really feel like I'm dragging around a load of concrete. I want to be listened to with respect when I speak even if I pause longer than normal to retrieve a word from a treatment-impaired brain. I want a treatment plan tailored to me, to my specific cancer state and characteristics. I reserve the right to decline a recommended course of treatment and do not expect disparaging looks or comments from the medical professionals involved in my care. And while I'm up here on my high horse I would really, really appreciate a helping hand back down to Mama Earth.

You see, I spoke to my Agent of Doom tonight. He's actually Doom #2, since Doom #1 proved to be more condescending than I could tolerate. I had to let her go. The current Agent is in the same practice, or "Cancer Center," because there are simply no other options short of changing my medical group. (HMO Blues, let me tell you. I could switch to Stanford or UCSF but would then have to travel 15 miles+ just to see a primary care doc.) ANYWAY, the Agent of Doom was calling to discuss my request to see a gynecologic oncologist for regular GYN care. I had a specific one, out of network, in mind. Even without ovaries I still need GYN exams, and it makes sense to me, at least, to see a specialist.

We spent a bit of time while I provided reasons to justify why I needed to see a specialist. This was for the benefit of the HMO, apparently. Agent #2 assumed the role of "processing clerk" which made me wonder, Does he really think he has to mollify me? Toss me a bone? There's nothing like defending my position to tweak my Bawling Babe gene. Instead of shedding tears I confessed: I stopped Arimidex. Would that be a good reason to see the specialist?

Silence. I imagined him cursing Agent #1 for palming off a cancer patient with a suicide wish. When he spoke it was to ask why I stopped the drug. I mentioned my hands, the all-over-body pain, a sense of diminishing health. In Bawling Babe mode, all my words sound lame, my reasoning foolish and irrational. (Ooh, that was another reason: I couldn't think on Arimidex.) I seem unable to muster the strength to say how much thought went into the decision, and how I am trying to replace the estrogen-suppression action of the drug with changes in nutrition, supplements, exercise and acupuncture. He doesn't pursue it or tell me, as he has in previous conversations, how rare my side-effects are, and I am spared the need to disagree. I feel plenty stupid anyhow, and definitely Not a Model Patient. I can almost hear his voice, a year or two from now, holding me responsible for a recurrence.

After our lovely chat I sat on the bedroom floor, in the midst of my clear-the-office-and-prepare-to-write project, snagged Nikko the fluffy gray feline and let loose with the tears. We need the Agents to be on our sides, to listen to us. Somewhere in this effing universe there must be a scientific study to prove that doctors who disapprove of their patients inflict damage far beyond the disease they are treating.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Anywhere But Here

Clarity is a cancer byproduct. It's easy to see what's important, what doesn't fit anymore when the diagnosis first hits. Harder is making that clarity a companion on the road of daily life.

Here's what I do to keep the clarity muscle in shape. Say I'm at a social function. An acquaintance is rude, the event tiresome. I ask myself, "Would I rather be cleaning the toilet?" If that option is appealing, I make a graceful exit. I do not, however, go home and clean the toilet.

Lately I've been considering income opportunities. I flip-flopped the toilet question and started asking myself, "Would I rather be writing?" while imagining myself doing every conceivable job. So far writing is what has me leaving the party.

I have even come up with a kind of writing I believe I can earn money doing. A little more research and maybe I'll get started.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Good and Bad

We started a family dinner game a few years ago. Simple rules. Everyone takes a turn stating something "good" about their day and something "bad." No interruptions during another person's turn, and unless requested, no one may suggest the good or bad of another person's day. Today we added a new rule: one person's good cannot be at the expense of another. No insults, wisecracks or rude remarks.

The game has lasted while others have faded away. We don't play every night but frequently someone will call out in sing-song voice, "Good and Bad, Good and Bad" and Gracie or Dan will throw their hands in the air, eager to be the first to recite.

Let's see. The kids are asleep and no one really reads this blog anyway; I'll just come up with Hedgie's Good-and-Bad Part II. Today my Bad is that my husband and I realized how deep a hole we are in financially. My Good is that we talked to each other about it calmly and made a few plans. A good financial planner is at the top of the list, as is some help with our aging cat rescues; we simply cannot care for them any longer. And I do need a job. One more surgery next month, maybe get the energy and stamina back, stop the arthritis-like symptoms in my hands and I'm good to go.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lost in the Future

Selfish. Totally, absolutely selfish. That's the only way to describe my feelings about losing another loved one to cancer. She says the disease is progressing and I'm looking beyond the immediate future to the time when she is safe from harm and I am without her. The loss of her laughter, her irreverent outlook, her understanding of this bond we share. I won't mourn her loss of life; she tells me she is tired of the devastation to her body. I am pre-mourning the loss of her life intertwining with mine, a plant we were only just beginning to grow.

Selfish. And I can't be selfish with her. Some day months from now I will go to a quiet place and allow myself to wallow in self-pity and desolation, shedding tears of the one left behind. No tears for Marian; she would be so angry. Tears for myself, new on the journey and grieving a companion of the heart.

Selfish. Maybe I should tell her. She should know how selfish I am.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dogs on the Couch

Dogs have always recognized my inner beauty. Since childhood, with the exception of a boxer in Alexandria, Virginia that chased me into the family car and held me there until my mother rescued me, dogs and I have had an invisible connection.

At nine I gave my heart to our Miniature Schnauzer, Gypsy. A bowl of popcorn was all it took for her to learn Sit, Shake, Down, Dance and Kiss. She reserved a healthy portion of love for my mother, who allowed her to ride in the front seat and sleep in her bed and my father, who walked her every evening. Gypsy, who I nicknamed "Oofie" after her usual vocalization, had a special affection for 9-year-old girls and our Siamese cat. Heaven was getting them roused into a good game of chase, with each taking turns at chaser and chasee. The day I packed for college I had my suitcase open on the living room floor. Oofie Dog, a veteran of two previous college moves, knew the signs. She climbed into the suitcase, settled in amongst the sweaters and jeans and would not budge. I think the only time the dog ever growled at me was when I tried to get her out of that suitcase. I grabbed a Polaroid camera and snapped a picture. That picture stayed on my college bulletin board for four years, then my work desk for years. I still have it in a box of photos. I need to find it.

When my father was dying of cancer I searched my heart for a way not to let myself collapse in grief. I realized one thing that connected me with my dad was our love of dogs. Dogs do not let people give up on life. Dogs are life on four legs! So, while living in a San Francisco apartment, I set out to find the perfect dog. The dog I found was living in a woman's home-based rescue in Menlo Park. He wasn't a Keeshond, the breed I originally considered. No, after viewing a dozen Kees at the rescue I hadn't found the right dog and the woman, whose name was Wayne, pulled out her ace in the hole. A dog she normally didn't show because he had been through so many shelters and homes she was just going to keep him herself to prevent more stress on him. But, there was something about me... Well, the red dog, who looked like a tall fox, came into the room and made a beeline for me. It really was an instant connection that amazed Wayne, who said the dog, Erik the Red, rarely responded that way to anyone. Trust issues. Erik was 3, a Finnish Spitz, and he became my first dog.

There were many dogs who passed through my heart over the next decade. I helped Wayne with the rescue, fostering other Finnish Spitz, American Eskimo and Keeshonden and placing them in new homes. One dog, a Chow/Akita mix named Jenna, came in because she was mistaken for a Finnish Spitz. After persuading Wayne not to send her back to the shelter in Modesto I worked hard to find her a home, walking her, grooming her and even taking her for an overnight and pet strut. Finally a friend commented that Jenna seemed to have already found a home. Dog Two, in a very small San Francisco apartment. Did I mention there were several resident cats as well?

Erik and Jenna co-existed peacefully but were not great friends. Each dog was dearly loved by me and returned the love. That was enough for them. Both lived to meet my husband, my children.

Being without a dog is foreign to me. As much as I grieve the individual animal I grieve even more the absence of a dog in my life. Charlie Brown occupied space in a very different way than any other dog. For two years he took a great deal of energy from me and while he gave me much, he did not give me what I needed from a dog. At first I thought I would wait a long time before attempting another dog relationship after Charlie. And then, the quiet got to me. The yearning for the companionship. Enter Roscoe.

Roscoe is a cross between a German Short-Hair Pointer and a French Bulldog. He's 9 months old. Roscoe came through a rescue, having been fostered by several different women in his short life. We knew going in that he was great with kids, dogs, people and cats. And he is. He's been with us for 2 weeks now and is feeling quite at home. His major fault is that he is a puppy, wants to put everything (including us) in his mouth, and absolutely hates it when one of us leaves the room. Obedience class starts Wednesday.

Oh, and does he recognize my inner beauty? Not as much as he does my son and daughter's! I can either be miffed that the dog adores kids or take the high road and rejoice that my children have the dog love gene.

Besides, once school starts I'm going to win his lonely heart.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A friend has a blood cancer. It's not a "popular" cancer and doesn't get a lot of press. In fact, I'd have to scramble through my notebook (yes, I keep notebooks these days) to tell you the exact name. Wayne has taken risks in his treatment that show what a SuperMan lurks inside his Clark Kent facade. He's funny and gentle and pushes on when the way becomes rocky and tiresome. We're all dealing with challenges. Wayne tackles his with more grace and tenacity than most.

Check out the The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and their mission to eliminate blood cancers. There is a totally cool blog event going on this week, the first ever for blood cancers. Be there or be square.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When Fear Looks Like Something Else

Charlie Brown broke a rule between humans and dogs. One day a few weeks ago he pushed out of the laundry room, ran over to the woman who helps clean our house, and attacked her. I witnessed the event. As someone who loved and trained the dog for two years I think I know something of what was going on in his mind. He was afraid, he was trying to protect me, and he lost control. Alessandra had one deep puncture wound on her forearm and spent several hours waiting to be seen at a local ER. A prescription for antibiotics and perhaps an increase in her fear of dogs were added to her take-home that day. She has recovered. 

Charlie spent his first year in an East Bay backyard, neglected and poorly socialized. He learned that the world was a dangerous place and people were not to be trusted. Dumped at a shelter, he languished in a cage, demoralized into a tight ball of fur that did not stir when I knelt by the wire. When I brought him into my family's world I was sure that our love would save Charlie, that training would channel his anxiety into a dog sport like agility where he would thrive. We didn't know then about fear aggression, how it cannot be "undone" with love or training. 

For two years Charlie lived with us. He was dearly loved, and he loved each one of us as only a rescued dog can. Clever and funny, he was a good buddy. To watch his lean form race through our backyard, chasing his favorite ball or simply running to run, was to witness beauty in motion. Sailing over the 44" dog gates in our house (barriers to allow the cats some Charlie-free territory) the dog was both annoying and awesome. 

By the time we realized that Charlie could not be trusted with other dogs, our cats, or anyone outside our immediate family it was too late. Our world had become a small island where few were allowed passport. We did not host playdates for our children, were reluctant to have friends over or even to hire babysitters so we could go out. Daily activities were orchestrated around Charlie. We began to realize that we weren't the perfect home for Charlie and worried that unless we found a trainer-type to adopt Charlie he might become even more unmanageable.

But the day Charlie crossed the line and bit Alessandra we knew there was no going back. Our efforts to find that mythical "perfect rehome" for him ceased. He was no longer a dog who might bite. He was a dog who bit. He was dangerous. 

There is no need to go into the details of those last few days with our funny, beautiful Australian Cattledog. Difficult discussions were had with our young children to prepare and help them understand why those two years were a gift to us, and a gift to Charlie, but he could no longer be trusted to control himself. Tears, laughter, much heartbreaking grief surrounded us the week that Charlie lost his struggle with fear. 

The right thing is rarely the easy thing. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Goodbye, Arimidex

Poof! That's it. I'm taking my body off Arimidex as of today. I will not run down my health for a slight decrease in the risk of recurrence. That's not even extending life, friends, it is just a big maybe in the reduction of recurrence for some people. No one has conducted any studies on the long-term effects of this drug because it hasn't been around long enough. The short-term effects are rather devastating and debilitating. I'm 47-going-on-87, with trigger finger in multiple fingers, rheumatoid arthritis-like pain in my thumbs and hands, loss of bone density in just one year that moves me into osteopenia, and an overall sense of unwellness. 

I'm joining the women who say no to being guinea pigs and yes to living life fully now, not a maybe life that might never materialize. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Finding the Words

I've been trying to find the words to write about Tom. What happened to Tom is that he died. He was tired, went to bed next to his wife and died in his sleep sometime before sunrise. 

There are more words to the story. Words about the colon cancer that shortened his life to 57 years. Words about the three children, two still at home, he wasn't done parenting.

Tom was a writer and newspaper editor. He'd have no trouble finding the words I've been searching for these past weeks. 

What can I possibly say? Tom was my friend. The kind of friend you recognize the moment you meet. Writing to Tom was like chatting with a close family member; we wrote daily, often several times a day. Email was such a gift to both of us in this golden year of friendship. That's all we had. One year from the day we met at a cancer retreat in Bolinas, California to the day I stood next to his casket in Wisconsin. 

Words are hard to come by when the emotion is strong. Tom was a big brother to me, a loving friend, a companion on a tough journey. Maybe I'll be able to share more of this story over time. It's not a sad story. No, mostly I smile and feel great love when I think of Tom. I know he'd be really ticked off if I sat around bawling anyway.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown

A year ago, on another blog, I wrote about our pooch Charlie and his never-ending quest for chow. He's an ACD (Australian Cattle Dog) in search of his own cattle; we're substitute cows in his universe. The boy is quite adept at scaling gates; he scaled the standard babygate at one end of the kitchen until we installed a supergate with an extension raising the bar, literally, to 44". He flew over that one day when he really, really wanted to join us in the living room. Here, take a look.

Anyway, tales of Charlie's uncanny ability to scout food wherever it may be -- and to sometimes set up unsuspecting human males to leave food unattended just long enough for a sneak attack -- have passed into family lore. A few of them are worth repeating.

From June, 2007
Is there nothing this dog will not eat?

Not long ago, his nose sniffed out two bags of deer repellent that I had stored that day in an outside bin. The lid was ajar, just enough for him to stick his paw in and pull out the bags. There he was in the yard, actually snorting this vile powder that is designed to repel deer from tasty vegetation. What's in it you ask? Here's what's in it: powdered egg whites and WHITE PEPPER! Heavy on the pepper. The stuff stinks like the Easter egg that rolls behind the sofa and remains undiscovered until the horrid stench of it drives everyone on a mad post-Easter hunt. He is a dog of non-discriminating appetites.

Earlier in the week he pawed down the huge jar of Skippy Extra Chunky that was foolishly left on the counter and worked the lid off. The kids shrieked that I had to come to the kitchen and quick. There was Charlie, the peanut butter jar secured between his front paws while his muzzle was pushed deep into the oily goo. The smacking sound of his tongue as it circled the inside of the jar, still about 1 1/2 lbs full, was enough to make me swear off PB sandwiches for years. He gazed wistfully at the jar when I placed it on top of the refrigerator high, high above his reach. The jar had now become 'Charlie's PB' for special treats.

The next day the kids and I were joking about Charlie and his peanut butter adventure when Joe became very quiet. 'I wondered why the peanut butter was on top of the fridge,' he said. 'I just wish someone would have told me about this yesterday.'


Thursday, May 29, 2008


Lymphedema School is out for the summer. No more early morning treks to the hospital, 23-hour mummy finger-to-arm wraps or challenging wardrobe decisions. The measurements reveal appropriate reductions in the fingers, hand and arm. I've become somewhat confident of my wrapping skills; I am now in charge of managing that aspect for sleep, air travel and high altitude excursions. Daytime wear involves a Compression Class 2 custom sleeve (in a lovely lavender shade: see Juzo Dreamsleeves) and a custom compression glove. The glove is blah beige, but is minus the fingertips and much more attractive than the stringy gauze look I've been sporting of late. These "compression garments" are late arriving so will necessitate another trip for a final fitting. Two more sets will be ordered from another vendor once the sizes are finalized; we hope insurance will cover those two sets. The garments and the bandages/wraps need to be replaced every 6-9 months. Haven't worked out the total cost yet. It's an investment.

A rocking cool armsleeve and gauntlett company, co-founded by a breast cancer survivor who passed away this spring, makes gorgeous sleeves. Lymphedivas has several patterns I'd shell out $110 for without too much guilt. Hey, it's a new gift category for birthdays!

Just Another Mediocre Cancer Blog
Suppose I had too many spare seconds on my hands the other night when I submitted my blog to Technorati for review. They did, and with whatever standards they employ, my blog was rated. Low 6 something. "Good." Pretty much a pity ranking. I shouldn't complain considering the amount of time I've devoted to writing. Will this motivate me or just totally bum me out?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bandaging the Swollen Paw

Week One is history. A sweaty, sizzling heat wave rolled into the Bay Area and settled on top of my swaddled arm for the duration. My, this has been challenging. Doable in a time-consuming, claustrophobic sort of way.

I booked the crack-o-dawn appointments in physical therapy mostly because I'd get in and out before the kids needed to be picked up at school. This means I'm driving to the hospital at 6:45 am, getting unwrapped and measured, and in the shower before the lymphatic massage (sounds better than it is) and rewrapping. The shower is the best part of the experience. No bandage, no arm or finger constriction. You know how much you love that first hot shower after a camping trip? Well, this is better.

The bandaging has something of a steep learning curve, at least for the memory-impaired. Consider that there are two rolls of gauze-like webbing to wrap the fingers and wrist; an arm net; a ribbed pad over the back of the hand for added compression; a fuzzy cotton wrap like quilt batting from palm to armpit; and a series of three ace bandage-like bandages for the hand, wrist and arm. All require different techniques, directions, start and end points, tension. As you'd guess, the result is massive bulk of the scary medical kind. During a heat wave it is tough to disguise the bandaging; I went with the casual, business-as-usual approach. A few people, including the kids' friends, asked questions. Mostly I settled on an easy, "Oh, just some swelling. The bandages help it go away." Those who wanted more learned it was lymphedema and a few excessively curious moms at a t-ball game discovered that Danny's mom had breast cancer.

I've noticed that every time something new and visible related to cancer happens to me, the kids regress. Arguing increases, meltdowns occur over little things, anger erupts in hot spurts. It's happened enough that I've come to expect it. If the good that has come from this disease is a Cancer Perk then these horrible family side-effects shall be christened Cancer Crap. It does no good to hide the disease from anyone; those who love you will always feel its power. I hate the Cancer Crap but my kids will learn how to wade through it and leave it behind. That, I think, will one day be a Cancer Perk.

Hedgie is Back!
The heat wave gave me permission to return to my short, short hair style, the one I had when my hair was growing in after chemo. I was one of the few women post-treatment who liked their first hair. The growing-it-long-again hair drove me nuts. Well, Hedgie is edgie once again. Wash, gel and go.

Goldfish Emergency, What Else?
On top of everything else, Pooh and Tigger, my dear Comets (handed off to us four years ago at a church festival by their rightful teenage guardians) became terribly ill following a medication and tank treatment. Good thing we have multiple tanks and healthy fish; juggled the big goldies around until I could set up a safe tank for them. It was touch and go but at this point it looks like they have recovered. I still need to re-establish the original tank for them but at least I don't have to do so at a frantic pace with a bandaged hand further encased in a plastic glove on the hottest day of the YEAR! (I really think Pooh and Tigger are living metaphors for something else... haven't worked it out entirely yet.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mummy Arm on Monday

The threshold has been crossed. I'm there: Stage 2 lymphedema. The therapist says it's early and we may have caught it in time for the bandaging, massage and self-care to prevent further progression. What's the cause? She thinks the DIEP surgery stirred things up, the flu and complications, plus life, simply overwhelmed my lymphatic system and it shut down. A complication from any surgery that removes lymph nodes, lymphedema is a chronic and potentially life-threatening disease. Yet another Cancer Gift I've yet to develop a Cancer Perk for.

The two week intensive therapy involves an early morning appointment at the Lymphedema Clinic where I will have the opportunity to shower. The Lymphedema Therapist (there's a special training program for this specialty) performs the massage that will move the excess fluid through the lymph system and "teach" the system the new pathway since there are missing nodes. After that, my left arm, hand and fingers will be bandaged with the compression bandages. I'll be taught this method so I can perform it myself in the future. The bandages will remain in place for 23 hours. When I return the next morning, the aides will remove the bandages, I'll shower, and the routine begins again. This goes on for two weeks; I'm not sure what happens over the weekends/holidays. Thinking about being bandaged for 2-3 days is too much. I'm sure they'll let me wear the basic sleeve and glove.

Tiffany, my therapist (one of the ones I had a year ago when I was just borderline), told me that if I'm lucky I'll be able to leave the clinic treatment and do the compression bandages at night, with the self-massage and compression sleeve for daytime treatment for perhaps several years if my lymphatic system kicks back in. Go ahead and adjust your glasses. Several years. The luck here is that if lymphedema progresses, then the heavy-duty bandaging becomes a permanent way of life, infections and tissue damage a constant threat. There's even a cancer related to lymphedema. (Isn't there a cancer for everything?)

In the grand scheme of things I suppose this isn't the worst that could happen. Took me a day and a lot of sleep to get my head wrapped around the idea but as they say in trendy-speak, "it is what it is." Here's what I'm wondering.

How do I explain to people what is going on with my paw? My monstrous wrapped arm? Shall I use the occasion to educate the poor unsuspecting folks about the never-ending nature of breast cancer treatment and survival? Or joke about being stung by a bee? There may be some people unaware of the cancer diagnosis; how I hate to ruin their day with the announcement.

Anyone who has faced a similar experience, advice please.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ode to Nordstrom

It's not what you think. Forget the shoes, I'm paying homage to the women in the lingerie department. The ones trained as "fit experts" for travelers on the breast cancer express.

Twice I've made the journey to the third floor of the nearby mall for help with bras. The first time was shortly after the mastectomies when the plastic surgeon advised me to find a gentle compression bra to use while undergoing "expansion." Turns out I only used the little bandeau beauties (think elastic bands) for a month before surrendering to the bliss of camisoles and nothing-at-all, since there was little need for support of any kind. The memory I have from the Nordstrom fitter, certified and trained to be absolutely nonplussed in the presence of mutilated mammary glands, was how utterly professional and kind the woman was. No pity, no sadness. I felt petite, not flat-chested. She was gifted, that sales woman.

Today I decided it was time to support The Girls. Ms. Choy was my guide back to the new world I'm living in. She did not blink when my scarred skin was exposed. Instead, she found exactly the right fit for me. Pretty, feminine. Real bras. I'd forgotten what it was like to buy lingerie. Goodbye, camisoles, love you though I do.

Here's to Nordstom, the best place I know for women post-mastectomy to visit when looking for a little "lift."

Friday, April 25, 2008

She's Alive! A Little Pale, But Alive!

Wow, has it really been nearly three months since I've visited my own blogdom? Goes to show how out of it I've been. A little surgery/flu/sinusitis/bronchitis/exhaustion will do that to a gal. The immune system ain't what he used to be.

Just placed an order for a lymphedema gauntlet. What a fitting term for it. Throw down the gauntlet I will! Damn swelling has my left hand the size of a puffer fish in full puff. It's been a week and the pain is less now; I won't be able to see the lymphedema clinic folks until mid-May so I'm on my own. Between the lymphatic massage I was taught last time, the new sleeve I purchased this week and the gauntlet (to replace the Isotoner glove I was using for compression), plus acupuncture treatments, maybe I can get the swelling down somewhat. What caused it? Who knows. Stress of being ill, poor sleep. Maybe it was trying the new softball mitt out with the kids. Dang. I hope that wasn't it. A new low: "Cancer kills softball with the kids."

The DIEP surgery went very well, as did my recovery. Took a lot of steam out of me, obviously, but no serious complications. The result, or results, are okay. I still feel the pressure under the pectoral muscles but I guess that is no surprise. At least now there is softness on top, and hugs are squishy. There will be another surgery (a revision) but it should be minor, perhaps even outpatient. After that, nub creation. Last, but not least, tattoos! Thought this would involve a trip to a seedy tattoo parlour but a friend tells me she went to a woman who specializes in tattoos for BC reconstructions. Drat. Maybe she'll give me a hummingbird on my tush for free. Thinking about August or September for the revision...

I've come to realize this spring that I may have rushed into acting 100% before I was ready. There is a lot of unspoken pressure to be well, to participate in activities as though everything is normal. Heck, I want to be normal. I don't have the stamina to pull it off, though. My memory isn't there (ask the poor mom who carpools with me) and the energy to get through the day leaves before the sun does. I know that people are tired of hearing The Excuse. I'm beyond caring, most of the time anyway. What's difficult is being with new groups and feeling absolutely worthless as a contributing member. I know why my kids miss practices, or why we're late for games, or why I don't volunteer to toss the ball with the team. What's the etiquette for explaining to people that you're spacey because of chemo? Tired because you haven't recovered your stamina following cancer treatment? In pain with swelling due to lymph node dissection? Of course I don't want to whine about any of this but then what do I say? I'm lazy? I forgot? I don't like to play sports?

Where's the user manual for this part of the game?

Friday, February 1, 2008

HMO Moves a Molehill for Me

Insurance companies have been known to be villains in medical dramas. Who hasn't spent hours chasing down referrals, checking the status of authorizations, filling out claims forms and punching their way through the voice mail menu at the customer "service" center? I've been a member of HealthNet HMO since 1988. I've jumped through hoops for them over the years but have always been able to receive coverage for the services needed. Okay, maybe a few exceptions but they've come through with the big items.

Today, it was the Medical Group that screwed up and pushed me to tears. HealthNet and most insurance companies get such a bad rap that I want to say they were the White Knights today. They made up the three weeks delay caused by the Medical Group in less than an hour, approving an out-of-network second-opinion visit to an oncologist of my choice for case and treatment review.

The Medical Group sent me a letter several weeks ago telling me they had faxed the information to HealthNet for review. When I followed up today, realizing that silence is never golden when it comes to insurance, I learned that the phone number listed in the letter connected me to the Alabama Department of Agriculture. Not HealthNet. (Off by one pretty important digit.) And the Medical Group had sent me the wrong form letter to begin with; I was supposed to get the one telling me follow up with HealthNet and get my own information faxed. Or something. End result: HealthNet had received nothing.

Well, the urgency to the matter is that on Monday morning at 10:00 I have the second opinion appointment. If it isn't preauthorized we're responsible for the $500. Maybe HealthNet would reimburse us, maybe not. On Wednesday we take the second opinion to the New Patient appointment with my new, improved Agent of Doom. These appointments all require supporting childcare, husband work rescheduling, records gathering. At 4:30 pm today it looked like the calls back and forth between the Medical Group and HealthNet would get me an answer by Wednesday of next week. Too little, waaay too late. Oh, that's all it took to get the tears flowing.

No one heard me crying. I pulled it together between phone calls. The customer service folks were actually kind, something I've noticed now that "oncology" shows up next to my requests. And when the HealthNet folks understood the issue they reviewed the request while I was on the phone and two of them gave me the news on a conference call. I mean, wipe me up off the floor and tuck me into bed.

I guess it says a lot about our health care system that getting a "yes" from an insurance company in a reasonable time frame, with respect and kindness shown to the individual, is news. Forget that I had to spend the day chasing the "yes" down. It is still a "yes" and one I am grateful to have received. Go, HealthNet. Be kind to the little cancer chicks.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Another Cancer Perk arrived via UPS on Monday. A chubby box stuffed with ceramic dishes bearing "made in the USA" on their darling behinds. Bright colors. Peacock. Tangerine. Scarlet. Emerald. Oooh. Ahhhh. Fiestaware!

Okay, the uninitiated might wonder how Fiestaware China (unleaded, never had it, never will) can be considered an authentic Cancer Perk. Fiestaware resists chips. Is known to survive falls from counter to kitchen floor. The darn things actually come with a 3-year-warranty for pete's sake. Another plus is that they are microwave-safe plus come in heartlifting colors. Fun to collect. Once my dish dropping became a daily routine courtesy of Aromasin (numb fingers can't grip much of anything) I decided it would make sense to invest in some hardworking-yet-inexpensive dishes. So without these clunky fingers from chemo and hormone therapy I'd never have been able to justify new dinnerware. Voila! Cancer Perk.

I'll let you know what happens when the first dish hits the hardwood floor.

Unexpected Event of the Day:
One of my favorite blogs, A Woman of Many Parts, listed this site as one of her Reads. Minerva is most kind, and I send her some California sunshine in return.
Just as soon as it stops raining.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Cancer-Free Post

Hope is where you find it, and sometimes it all depends on where you look.

A product of a mixed marriage (Dad was a Republican, Mom a Democrat), I sided with Mom in nearly all matters political. After all, when she was organizing League of Women Voter committees through kitchen table meetings and phone calls who do you think was listening to every word? Despite leaving Illinois for California I've kept an eye on current players from the home state. Back in 2004 I ordered an Obama for President 2008 sweatshirt from Cafe Express. Never, ever anticipated that he would run so early. As he would say, I had the audacity of hope.

During the past few years this sweatshirt would often bring a "yeah, wouldn't that be great" remark from strangers or even "who's Obama?" from the unenlightened few. Now when I reach for the sweatshirt I pause, knowing that I'll be stopped for political discussions. Do I have the time? Am I dressed for discourse or really beyond repair, hoping to sneak by without notice? Should I slink back into longshot candidate attire and wear my Anderson for President t-shirt instead? Get this: Obama is no longer a long-shot candidate. Mom, are you watching this?

Today, in light of the Kennedy endorsements, a reminder of the moment when the possibility of change became more than a dream. If you missed it the first time, read the words now. Powerful. Hopeful.

If you want you can order an Obama shirt off the site while you're there. Most are backordered but, unlike Cafe Express, anything purchased goes into the campaign.

Go on, get a shirt. The red ones are totally hot.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Crazymaking stuff, that Aromasin. At least for me. Everyday I've been circling nearer and nearer the surface, shedding layers of gear, hoping to break the surface. Me, a hapless scubadiver in a sea of chemicals. I stopped taking this last drug December 26 after only 26 days of a proposed 5-year-run. The side-effects are still with me although less now. Every day my brain is clearer, my thoughts more focussed, my ability to stroke through the rip-tide of a medical wonder drug more sustained. The numbness, pain and heaviness of my hands have lessoned but not enough; I'm wearing carpal tunnel wrist braces to bed. I'm starting a Fiestaware collection, always wanted one, to replace all the dishes I've dropped recently. (Did you know that these dishes are guaranteed against chipping and breakage for 3 years? Wonder if I can get a guarantee like that.)

Not sure what I'm going to do for estrogen-stoppage. Maybe I'll bail out of this part of the program completely, or return to Tamoxifen. That one was nasty, too, though, with a kind of fatigue that made me question what I was getting up everyday for, anyway. The body does need some estrogen to function, afterall. This concept of "kill the tumor by killing estrogen" might be a tad overkill if you ask me. So far no one is asking. It's been a problem.

There's a lot of good going on. Dear friend Mot is journeying out from the frozen midland of Wisconsin for a vacation in the chilled coastal territory fondly known as Northern California. We'll play tourist, have quiet time and just pal around.

February will take me to yet another oncologist in San Francisco for a treatment plan review. Afterwards, I'll be returning to my same practice (no choice there, really, thanks to our lovely health care system) but I will be seeing a different Agent of Doom. This one is older, considered a "brilliant mind" and perhaps more able to communicate directly with patients than my current young doc. Both steps are huge for me, and long overdue. Being an advocate for oneself is hella hard.

The survivor support group for women I've searched for is finally happening. We've created one for ourselves with a therapist, retired now, from Stanford. Four women with different cancer diagnoses, backgrounds and intents will gather in a cozy church parlour for love, knowledge, friendship and support. Yahoo. You would think one of our hospitals or cancer care centers on the San Francisco Peninsula would offer a support group for cancer survivors, right? We see their lips moving but nothing much happening.

At the end of February I will begin the "end" of my surgical program. I'm scheduled for DIEP reconstruction. The reality of the surgery is pumping tension directly into a few muscles along my neck. You know, the ones that make it impossible to move your head right or left? Besides worrying about the pain, 7-week recovery and whether I'll have anything at all to show for the effort except thick scars and a flat chest, I'm stressing about the kids. Joe will be home but it will be disruptive for everyone to have me unwell. Hospital time, then resting at home. More evidence to them that their mom isn't well. And yet, I want to finish this up, get as much of my real body back as I can. For me, that means flipping my finger at being "less than" and asking for "real breasts." Okay, they'll be made of tummy fat but it's my tummy fat! No implants, no silicone, no apologies. After 19 months of camisoles I'd like the discomfort of a bra again. Slipping straps. Yes, I'm more than a pair of tits. I don't have to prove it. I would like to have soft, natural breasts to fill out a sweater, bounce when I walk the dog, cushion my children's heads, and be squishy when I hug. I like to hug. Lately, I've been keeping everyone at arm's length - literally - because it hurts when the psuedo-breasts (expanders) are pressed.

So, I guess I really am ready.