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Monday, July 27, 2015

Hair and Boobs-a tribute

I have only two physical gifts in this life - my hair and my boobs. Well, I used to.

Of course the boobs are long gone, replaced by scar tissue and hazy memories of their amazing 1980's superpowers. That was a good decade for us...fables of the reconstruction can never come close to the originals. Damn right - they were exceptional. Perfectly shaped, perfectly sized C cup, perfect nipples, all of it.  I know I was lucky. 

As for the hair, it's back but has changed personalities. Whereas it used to be thick, soft and straw straight, it is now still thick, but oddly wavy and coarser. Like I always wished it was. It takes moments to style - towel dry and hair paste. That's it. It will stay all day, and does whatever I want it to. 

It is very normal for the hair to come back differently after chemo. Some say that eventually, it will return to its usual pre-BC state. Some say it won't. 

I hope it stays though - it's one reminder that I can live with. 

Back to the gym again

San Francisco did leave me with an awful cold, a mutant strain that caused non-stop sneezing, eye weeping and runny nose. Hard to breath through all the mucous. Really, it's disgusting.

Luckily I decide to try sinus irrigation with simple saline spray. I am relieved instantly, and astonished at the stuff in the sink. This, lots of fluids and rest, and zinc seems to cut it short. Still, it is impossible for me to get to the gym for a week. I am able to do some ab work and stretching during my sick leave. 

Today was 45 minutes on the treadmill, doing a hill program. Worked up a sweat all over and feel good. Proud of myself for not giving up, like I normally would do before BC. With all the treatments ending except Tamoxifen, it's vital that exercise become part of my routine. The stress reduction and health benefits are clear. I do want to be able to walk up that real hill in Maine this year!  

Pulling the Port

Last week we meet with Dr. Nora to schedule my port being pulled. Chemo and Herceptin are over and there is no need for it. 

Had my last Herceptin a few days prior. The hospital is in the midst of vast construction, and the new infusion center leaves me cold. It's about 1/4 the size of the old one, and there are rooms, just cubicles with curtains. No privacy, it does not feel right to even talk in a normal voice, much less that guffawing, never-ending giggling that we routinely engage in. Even my last infusion is lackluster and muted. They bring me hospital cake and some fruit. Somehow I expected more relief, or to feel free. Instead, I just feel more lost than ever. One of my favorite nurses is not there to say goodbye, and this bothers me all weekend. 

But Dr. Nora is as cute as ever, and he says he likes my hair - he actually ruffles it a bit. He asks me about reconstruction, how I feel and how radiation was. I reply later, good and it sucked. It's a short visit and likely that last time I will ever see him, if I am very lucky, unless he says a quick hello before the short port pull in a few days. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Meet my new Tits!

The fitter is interesting - she used to be a fashion designer. She has an natural intuition of my likes and dislikes. She loves cats, so gets bonus points for petting mine. The very first boobs she brings in (38B) are perfect, as are my bras. It's the perkiest B cup I've ever seen.

Wearing them is fun at times, and no bother. But the summer kills any ability to wear them more than a few hours a day. Good news! Your chest will still sweat after a double bmx! They are a pain at the gym, but better than not wearing them and getting the curious, pity looks. 

My clothes look better, I feel quasi-normal and people no longer stare. They are like a training set for my planned reconstruction. These are exactly what I want. 

Am I Crazy or is this Chemotherapy

The first time you have chemotherapy, you will understand what it feels like to be in an asylum. It's a contrast of physical, mental and spiritual extremes that must be close to madness. 

There is a fine horror flick called "Session 9", that was filmed at the abandoned Danvers Mental Hospital. It's truly frightening, deeply disturbing, with themes of entropy, isolation and hopelessness, not to mention the deranged killer hiding in the shadows. There is no light, and the tunnels and rooms are steeped in gloom. The ruins are loaded with long-forgotten rotting medical debris--rusty wheelchairs, mildewed and semi-burnt medical records, dubious looking instruments. There are no special effects, no CG monsters because none are needed. It gets through. 

I have a difficult chemo, and do not share the true horror of it with my friends till much later. I barely make it through my last round and only do so for my husband. The whole time though, Session 9 and Danvers keeps running through my dreams. Sometimes I escape, sometimes I don't. I never see the thing that gets me but it somehow surrounds me. 

Sickness and soup

Brought back a cold from travel, despite all my precautions. Of course, I get some mutant strain, causing marathon sneezing, swollen eyes and itchy throat. My sinuses feel like they have been packed with concrete. It rapidly takes me down to zero, a hacking, sneezing, snotty disaster. Worst of all, we have to reschedule my last Herceptin infusion.

I sleep nearly non-stop for two days and feel much better. Well enough to start a load of wash and make a pot of healing chicken soup. I highly recommend it for its healing power. It has is a hybrid Thai/Chinese concoction, spicy and warming. It can be tweaked as you wish. All ingredients are best organic, but regular is fine.

Candy's Healing Chinese Chicken Soup

1 leftover roasted chicken breast meat (1 cup)
1 can Chicken broth (low sodium)
1/2 package of mixed veggies, frozen
1 tsp Sesame oil
2 tsp Soy sauce
1 tsp Red curry paste
3 tbsp Garlic
1 tbsp Cilantro
1 tbsp Ginger
1 tsp horseradish or wasabi
1 bunch (4 each) green onions
Ramen noodles (without the spice packet), cooked.
1 cup water
1 can coconut milk, unsweetened
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
1 tsp Siracha

Heat sesame oil in a frying pan. Add mixed veggies and all spices and sauces, mixing well and stirring on med-high heat till veggies begin to soften.

In a soup pot, heat the chicken broth,  cut up chicken, water and green onions, mixing well. Add the veggie/spice mix and heat till to a medium simmering boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cooked ramen noodles and coconut milk and stir well. Let sit for a few minutes to cool, then enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On Friends

Friends are precious to an introvert. It's not easy for me to let people in and I have always held back from emotional attachments. Maybe it was the mother abandoning thing, or something else genetic. I like solitude and peace, am comfortable in my own company and (used to) be able to live a rich dream life in my head. As a teenager I will escape into radio for years on end, developing a vast and useless encyclopedic knowledge of obscure 80's bands, songs, and lyric sheets. 

Now's different for me.

I realize my time here is finite and a gift. It is obvious to me immediately after my diagnosis that my friends are amazing, kind, lovely women. They save me time and time again, together, individually, early in the morning, late at night, crying with me in person and on the phone, listening to my deepest fears and horrors and not trying to fix anything. See that's the key - they know they cannot do anything other than be there for me. And most times, it's more than enough to get me through the night, the day, the minute. How did I, a child of poor West Virginia Hillbillies and German pig farmers, get so lucky? 

So, this post is for my girls. Kim L., Cheri, Robin, Anni, Lauren, Theresa, Haley, Jean, Elaine, Lori, Cassie, Jacqueline, Angie, Eileen, Denise, Gwen, Kim W., Rebecca, Kim H., all my BC support group. I love you guys and you make me want to be a better friend. 

3 Tips for Eating during Chemotherapy

Well, what can I actually eat during chemotherapy? The answer is nothing and everything. Nothing usually won out with me, because absolutely everything made me sick. 

Chemotherapy is a carbohydrate addict's sick dream - all I could stomach was carbs. Potatoes, noodles, rice, white bread, saltines. You see where I'm going with this? 

Oh sure, you will hear the tales of Chemo Carrie, who only ate fresh, raw veggies from her own organic garden and/or juiced her way through chemo, whilst running a business, family of four and writing a memoir of her cancer journey. This woman is not your friend right now. And also, for the record, I do not believe she exists. If she does, she can fuck off. 

Because the truth is, everyone in my support group had a difficult time in chemo with food. Most women do. 

Despite being medicated with conventional medicines (4 kinds of rx) and non-traditional therapies, I could not eat much and was nauseated for months. What I was able to get down was bland, processed and bad for me. Still, it beats the compounded issued associated with eating nothing at all. 

Tips for Chemo Eating:

1.  Now is not the time to rehaul your diet.   Yeah, I know you think that your eating got you into this fine mess, and that may or may not be somewhat true. However, you will have a looooong time after chemo to fix it, that is why you are doing this, right?  So eat whatever appeals  to you. If you are able to eat the healthy plant based diet, that's great!  Don't count on it though. 

2. If you have to eat processed, get the best quality you can afford.  Buy the canned soup without so many fillers and salt. Eat veggie pasta. Get organic fruits and veggies pre-cut so you need not handle it as much. Buy chemical free and organic whenever possible. What, you can only drink milkshakes?  Fine -- organic milk or almond milk, natural honey and nuts, etc. 

3.  Most important-do not eat anything that will contribute to bowel issues.  I know you love spicy food, like me! A most violent and painful parting it was.  Just. Don't. Do. It.  I am sorry, but dairy, spicy, and beans are out of your life for a few months. You will thank me later. 

BONUS TIP:  If you have any perfume, lotion, soap or item that you love the scent of, do not use it during chemo. Smell is a wonderful and horrible thing - it has strong associations to moments in time and you can be transported back to chemo just from a whiff of anything you smelled during it. This is also true for food - even thinking about the eggs at the hospital makes me feel like hurling now. I had to give away my former favorite body lotion-it makes me dry heave. Put those favorites away for now, and come back to them after you are somewhat more whole. 

Is it Fall yet?

San Francisco is over now, so back to the gym tomorrow.

There is personal trainer that wants to school me back to fitness for only 70.00 per hour. My stretch marks are older than he is. I do not doubt his abilities though, it's just that there is a little medical debt thing and I have not worked a full-time job in a year. Sorry kiddo, maybe next year for a session.

My legs and arms feel so much stronger. I have more flexibility now. A simple resistance band has greatly improved range of motion. There is a yoga class that I can do, shaking and with lots of effort.

Feels like this Fall will be wonderful for us.  Looking forward to cool weather and cozy nights working on things that time used to never allow--mastering Chinese and Asian recipes, art projects and house decorating, possibly knitting, writing a book or two, reading more and planning our next trip.  New York is very appealing, as is Seattle and British Columbia. Maybe Spain?

More than my heart in San Francisco

San Francisco is extraordinary-full of magical strangeness. I'm lucky here - things happen right. I find money, get to stay in a 4-star hotel on business, and then enjoy leisure time and touring. The locals and other tourists are nice and mostly well-behaved. We enjoy the city and each other, and do not resist the urge to gawk and be enchanted by the place and its beautifully bizarre nature.  

I met some new friends that are also post BC treatments. All of us are so different, yet the same. Middle-aged, childless, mothers of twins, young, healthy, thin and overweight. All kinds of ethnicity and from all over the world. We all admit to being sort of surprised to be alive and kicking, and walking around Fisherman's Wharf. We eat chocolate croissant with G's French bulldog Oliver on Powell Street and I cannot believe that the sky is so blue, the air is so clean and cool and that I am able to breath at all. 

How much difference a year makes. How much fun can we cram into this trip. Isn't the sky/street/building beautiful? How much time do we have left?

July 29th is my Cancerversary. This time last year I'm just about to feel my tumors for the first time. And that began the endurance trip down  to Cancer Hollow. Along the way, there are stops long and short, mundane to terrifying, with lots of waiting in sterile, cold rooms with bland colors and gut-churning odors. Lights that are too bright, people in scrubs that are mostly good but sometimes nasty. Needles--sticks by the dozens, in your arm and chest and triceps. The locations pass on and on, while I hold on and grit my teeth: Port Insertion Place; Chemo Circle; Bilateral Mastectomy Parkway, and Radiation Alley. Then there are the darker places not on the map they gave me. Pain. Fear. Anger. Depression.  The surprising stops at end of the trip that I thought could only end quickly and badly - Resolve, Grateful, Abundance, Acceptance and Joy.

Would like to think that I left something out West too. It's not any baggage that ever needs to be returned. Never do I wish to see it show up again, uninvited and unexpected, at the worst possible time.