Surgical tales, volume II

It has been a few days since my surgery, and I’m happy to report that I made it through. Thanks to those who have written to me. I’ve been a bit slow on responding but I appreciate your concern and warm wishes. Thanks to Katie S. for that sweet hospital gown, and Tiffany for the nice tea, and Maytal for the lasagnas and banana bread (which made the hubs very happy as well), and the Rock-it Promo team for all the fun products and DVDs, and everyone else who has sent cards and nice things. Thank you!

The surgery went well, from what I can tell. I didn’t get to actually speak to my surgeon after I woke up, but I assume if something had gone terribly wrong, I would have been informed. I don’t remember too much, because the anesthetic tends to do strange things to your memory, which is probably for the best. I do recall crying like a baby when a nurse started my IV through my wrist. I’m not sure why she chose my wrist, but she poked me several times and the pain was way more severe than I expected. I was in the middle of talking to a surgical fellow, when I realized I was in pain. So I did what any normal adult woman would do, and I pulled the blanket over my head and sobbed. Lately I have realized that my hospital crying sessions are about a 50/50 mix of emotional and physical pain. The instant my brain receives the signal that I am again in pain, however small or fleeting it may be, I am overcome with the realization of how much my body has been attacked and how much I have gone through since finding that lump, and the sheer absurdity of the entire thing. The tears come more from exhaustion than from anything else. I am tired of the pain, I am tired of feeling like some sort of botched science experiment. The tears are just inevitable at this point, and I let them flow freely, as they wish.

I also remember the mask being lowered onto my face, which I do not enjoy, as I am highly claustrophobic. Upon realizing this, the kind anesthesiologist did his drug magic and gave me something to knock me out before the real knock out. I made a comment about how ugly the ceiling was and how there should be something more pleasant to stare at while you wait to lose consciousness, and then that’s the last I remember. Lights out.

I was not in the hospital very long this time around. I wanted to go home that evening, and I believe I said to the nurse, “Get me the eff out of this place.” So she got the approval for me to be discharged and I didn’t have to sleep in the hospital and hear the chemo machines beep all night. A sound which now triggers a queasy feeling inside whenever I hear it.

I’ve been doing well at home. As people had told me, the recovery for this surgery is definitely much easier than the first, which I’m very happy about. I was only on the heavy drugs for a couple days, and now the pain is tolerable with no drugs, as long as I don’t move around too much. I have my stupid surgical drains, which I hope to get removed by my home care nurse in the next couple days. If you have no idea what drains are, consider yourself lucky. Don’t google it. It’s about as gross as it sounds.

The weather finally seems to be getting a bit nicer outside. I went for a walk today. And by a walk, I mean a few steps out my door and then back. But I got to feel the sun for a bit, which was nice. It’s days like these that it’s best for me to stay away from social media, where everyone is making grand proclamations about their love of springtime and all the fun things they’re doing today. It’s hard to relate to everyone else when you have tubes hanging out of your body. Right now, I am most looking forward to getting clearance to take a bath. You don’t realize how wonderful something like taking a simple shower or bath is, until that privilege is taken away from you. The little things.

I don’t have a current photo to post because I am not feeling particularly photo-friendly at the moment. But posts that are all text are a bit boring, so I’ll leave you with this old photo of me. At some department store, in Paris, laughing over something that probably wasn’t all that funny. I hope to be doing this again sometime in the future.

 

An update

Update on Steph for those who truly want to know the mundane details of my life right now. For those who prefer the happy dancing cool cancer chick moments, feel free to skip this one for now and I hope to provide some more of that soon enough.

-I’ve been ignoring most emails and phone calls. It’s nothing personal. I have very little energy and it’s been another rough week, probably the worst yet, and I’m finding it hard to talk to anyone right now. But as always, I appreciate the love so much and really really hope to have at least one or two friends after all of this.

-I have styes on my eyes. I’m sure Dr. Seuss would be able to make that into some sort of interesting storybook, but in reality, it’s not very exciting. Itchy. Red. Styes.

-My skin has turned grey. Not pale, but grey. I used to think being pale was kind of lame, but now grey takes the prize.

-I took a walk today. Spring has sprung. I’m still wearing a black hood with big sunglasses because I can’t really bear for anyone to see my face right now. I seem to get stares wherever I go. Sometimes I just want to shout at strangers on the street, I have cancer, it’s not contagious, get over it. I have come to realize how oblivious we all are to other people’s suffering. How we just walk by, stare, and ignore. I’m sure I have done it a hundred times. Now when I see someone who I think has cancer, I just want to hug them and cry and ask them to come to my home and build a fort with me and hide in it.

-I haven’t had a good sleep in a long time. Between my nightmares, body aches, hot flashes, and the raccoons that seem to enjoy scratching under the window, I can’t seem to make it through the night.

-I have collapsed into a puddle of tears on several occasions the past week. I’m not sure where it is all coming from, most likely exhaustion and the fact that I am almost completely cut off from the outside world and am in some form of pain most minutes of my day. In a moment of sobbing hysteria, I asked my husband if he could cover all the mirrors so I wouldn’t have to see myself anymore. It made me think of all the shiva houses I had been to when I was younger and how I would stare at the foggy mirrors. But I have no idea what people spray to fog the mirrors and am also far too vain to stop looking at myself, so my mirrors remain as they were.

-I watched The Princess Bride last night and it was the first thing in awhile that made me laugh, so thanks to Rob Reiner and all who were involved if you ever read my blog.

-I ate some beets today. Straight out of the jar. It’s a crazy, crazy life.

Things I’m grateful for today:

The sunshine
The comments people leave on this blog
Toast
Health insurance
The few eyebrow hairs I have left
Movies
My friend Rebecca who always says “that is so so shitty” whenever I describe the gross and weird things happening to me, instead of “it’s ok, you can do it!”
My friend Lily who buys way too many things for me
My good friends who check in on me constantly and stick around through the dark days
My husband who lets me soak through all his shirts with my tears and who tells me I’m pretty when I have styes on my eyes
My mother-in-law who sends me photos of rainbows
My parents who do everything
My siblings who are the only friends I see anymore
Everyone who sends me cards and nice things in the mail
The fact that I’m still here
Tomorrow

Looking in the mirror

Last week I think I hit a new low of sheer misery. The fatigue that comes with chemotherapy is truly cumulative, and with each new treatment, it is growing increasingly difficult to do any of the things I once enjoyed. Such as taking a walk. Or lifting my laptop. Or lifting my head. The tiniest things we all take for granted have become incomprehensible to me. Memories of the past. Of a life I once lived, where my body would do whatever I asked of it, with ease. I feel as though I have been thrust into old age almost overnight. My bones ache when I try to move them. My body cries out for rest after walking up a few stairs. I wake up at night with hot flashes, my cheeks burning, thanks to the menopausal effects of chemo. Creases are starting to form on the outer corners of my eyes. My stomach and face are bloated constantly from all the drugs, making me look like I am five months pregnant. I can’t follow a basic conversation without losing focus, or feeling like I need to shut my eyes. I am an old lady. At the ripe age of 28.

Chillin with my Goodnight Moon bunny in bed, where I spent all of last week. I am looking super cancer-y these days. Yikes.

It has been difficult for me to look in the mirror lately. I don’t like what I see. A bald, puffy face, with red patches all over my cheeks and glossy eyes. Is that really me? It is hard to feel healthy or strong, when the image reflected back at me is anything but. Lately I am starting to feel as though I will never get my old self back. I can’t imagine having life in my face again. Or having hair. It seems like appearance should be relatively low on the list of things to feel bad about, when you’re dealing with all the crap that comes with a cancer diagnosis. But it is proving to be one of the biggest challenges for me. Looks aren’t everything, but when you’re already feeling just about as low as a human can feel, it really does add insult to injury.

It is hard for me to look at pre-cancer photos of myself now. I feel very disconnected from the girl I see. She’s pretty, and healthy, and happy, and completely unaware of what is about to happen to her. It’s as though I am looking at someone else’s life, even though I know she is me. Did I really do all those things at one time? Did I really look like that? Did I really have hair? I want to go back into those photos, just for one minute, just to remember what it’s like, to be happy and pretty. To soak up those moments. Because they are starting to slip away from me.


I hope that eventually I can start feeling better about what I see in the mirror. View my reflection as an image of a brave warrior, rather than one of a sick cancer patient whose body has been continuously cut, poked, and poisoned. I don’t want to be that girl who cries when she looks in the mirror. I have never been that girl. I refuse to let her win. And anyone who knows me knows I always get my way.

Huffington, hairs, and hearts, oh my

Thanks for all the love from my last post. Sometimes before I click the “publish” button, I start to doubt myself and worry that I might come off sounding a bit too angry or a bit too sarcastic that day. And then, ultimately, a voice that says who gives a s— gets in my head, and I click the button and hope for the best. Turns out people tend to react quite positively when I am at my most blunt and honest. So I thank you for that, and consequently, I will try to not doubt myself in those moments where I am feeling particularly truthful.

Here is a summary of my past week, for those who are interested in that kind of thing.

  • Hung out with some nice lady friends where we talked non-cancer things and ate delicious pizza, the remainder of which I ate the next morning for breakfast (Judge me at your own risk.)
  • Blasted songs from The Lion King with my sister and then danced around to some P!nk song. Both bizarre choices, yet very therapeutic nonetheless
  • Had a nice visit with a friend from out of town and discovered we both have the same belief that cats are evil and trying to kill us
  • Watched Silver Linings Playbook. Two thumbs up
  • Got completely sucked into the American Idol auditions and all of the I’m an orphan with three children and I have cancer and lost my leg and my dog is blind and I’m deaf but I’m still singing anyway type of stories. I love it. I can’t help it
  • Started losing my eyebrow hairs and some lashes, although most are being stubborn and hanging in there for now, so I give them an A for effort
  • Realized showering when you’re bald is much easier than showering when you’re not bald. So that’s something
  • Got some back/spinal bone pain which is an unfortunate side effect of an injection I receive to give my white blood cells a boost. Nothing ventured, nothing gained
  • Had another heart echo test where I got to hear my heart beat very loudly, which I think had a pretty solid horror movie beat to it, if anyone needs me for any sound effects in the future
  • Was invited to publish my blogs on the Huffington Post, the first of which appeared a couple days ago, enabling thousands more people to suggest magical cures for my cancer
  • Had two doctor’s appointments which I had hoped would be helpful, but left me feeling more frustrated and stressed than I had been in a while
  • Got home after appointment #2 and sobbed and had a pity party of one and maybe punched a thing or two (No humans were harmed.)
  • Received this handmade card from a very kind person who doesn’t even know me. Turns out it was just the reminder I needed:

I may have cancer, but I saw Les Mis before you did

CHEEEEESE!

I snapped this photo last night as evidence that I am back to looking like an acceptable human being, and smiling once again. I did not post a photo last week because a) I couldn’t lift a camera and b) I looked like something you might scrape off your shoe. I have been to Hell and back, and will probably be taking the trip several more times, but am happy to report that as of this minute, I am feeling quite good. I do believe that my hair is starting to shed. My scalp is killing, and I am pulling out tiny hairs when I run my fingers through. That’s the thing with this cancer treatment business. Just as you are moving on from one unfortunate event, another one begins before there is much time to celebrate. But right now, I’m wearing actual clothes, I have some makeup on, I am eating lots, I have been out of the house, and I haven’t taken a single drug today. So I’m a pretty happy camper. Except for the hair thing. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Here are 10 key survival tips I have learned for getting through a very crappy time:

Ask for help. Last week I finally had to ask for help as I was not able to do much on my own. There are a few key people who completely saved my life and took care of me and I am so grateful to them.

Eat chicken soup and crackers when nothing else works. Although, as a warning, be prepared to forever associate chicken soup and crackers with bad times and bad feelings. I hope one day chicken soup reminds me again of holiday dinners rather than forcing myself to eat something while feeling ill.

Have a really good family and loving husband. Sorry, I realize you can’t really force those things, so it’s not a great tip. I just got pretty lucky in that area.

When your appetite comes back, ask my uncle to make food for you. I really attribute my small weight gain this week to large plates of mac ‘n cheese. The best.

Cry a lot. Life is poop sometimes. Can’t pretend it’s not. Sometimes a gal just needs a good sob. I probably could have filled a small kiddie pool with my tears last week.

Stop crying. Don’t be a baby. Eventually the tears must stop, mostly because you look like a snotty mess, and no one wants to look at that. Gross.

FaceTime/Skype with your parents. Laugh at them while they say weird old-people things and take many screengrabs while your mother makes crazy faces.

Watch the movie Pitch Perfect three times. I never would have thought this would be on the list, but I swear, that silly movie somehow brought me back to life. And yes, I watched it three times. Gotta stick with what works.

Listen to upbeat music and go for a walk. And dance while you’re walking like you’re in some kind of romantic comedy, and hope everyone else will be infected by your positive attitude and start dancing too. Except don’t be disappointed when that doesn’t happen and people just stare at you instead. Because truth is, most people are pretty lame and don’t dance in the street. Their loss.

Attend an advance screening of Les Miserables as your first outing in weeks. Ok again, I realize this wouldn’t be too easy to achieve. I mostly just want to make people jealous that I have seen this movie before the general public. There are not many reasons for anyone to be jealous of me right now. But this is one. So be jealous of me, please. I’ve earned it.