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.