Friday, November 18, 2011


Today I think I shall talk about fakes. Not that fakes are a such bad thing.  In fact, if you will flip your brain a little bit and adjust your way of thinking, you will come to realize that fakes can be a really, really good thing.

Before mastectomy, I never thought much about the positive side of fakes -- fake personalities; people trying to be who they clearly were not, that is what a fake was to me.  But used correctly, fakes can be worn to your advantage; make you feel like a million bucks.  They can give a recovering cancer patient (like me) an entirely new outlook.

Here is what makes me such a delightful fake.

Breast Forms (see former post):  Which can be purchased in every size, shape, and form. Made to fit nearly every person, regardless of circumstance. The nice thing for people (like me) who choose NOT to have breast reconstruction, you can be any size you want on any given day -- Twiggy today, Marilyn Monroe tomorrow. The advantage to breast reconstruction is, of course, you do have cleavage and you can wear a regular bra.  The forms inside your skin, though, are as fake as the ones I wear outside.  Either way you go, they will be fake.  Not a Hollywood Boob Job glamorous type fake (that would be nice, wouldn't it?) but at least it's an option women have nowadays, thank God!  

Wigs:  You know, I used to think that wigs were the tackiest things on earth.  Honestly, I felt so sorry for women who, for whatever reason, "had" to resort to wearing them.  They looked like wigs.  Stiff, heavy, hot and unyielding as a statue.  Either that or they looked like costume hair -- the kind you wear on Halloween or to a crazy clown party. The next misconception was that good wigs would cost way too much or they had to be made from real human hair.  Guess what?  I was wrong on all points.

The American Cancer Society, once again, comes to the rescue.  They sell the most amazing synthetic, affordable wigs in the TLC catalog.  They have styles to fit every ethnic group, every type of hair style, every hair color, even highlighted hair.  They have hair that swings in the wind, that you can style and brush and part wherever you want to part it.  They have curly hair, straight hair, short hair, long hair, Farrah Fawcett type hair, pixie cuts and page-boys. 

One lady said she purchased five wigs and has loved every single one.  You know, I can understand.  And you don't have to have gone through chemo to need a wig either.  Some women just plain have very thin hair -- thin to the point of bald. The nice thing about a wig is that you simply never, ever have a bad hair day. Never. I do not have any idea who design, cut and color the wigs for the American Cancer Society, but they are truly amazing. The ones that come with highlights are like something you would paid a high-end hairdresser a ton of money to do. 

It's really funny, but when I took chemo many people never even knew I wore a wig at all.:-$ don't tell anyone shh!  Never.  Not even my own doctor who was concerned that I had not lost my hair (if you take the type of chemo I was taking and don't lose you hair, it means it's not working). I had to lift my wig off to prove to him that I had.

Of course I am thrilled that my own hair is growing back.  My breast surgeon said what is coming in now is called Chemo Curl -- very tight little screwed up ringlets. No matter what I do, I can't make my hair straighten out even a little bit. Evidently it will take approximately two years for my real hair to come back in normally. So, thank goodness for the many varieties of wigs.  Only the people who know me well are even aware that I am on my second wig.  And I love that I never have to experience a bad hair day.  And that it only takes me about three minutes to fix my hair.  And that I only have to gently wash my wig about every two weeks. ;) winking

Anyway, that is my fake post.  Yet I know that there are so many delightful fakes out there waiting to be discovered. Suggestions or anyone?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mastectomy Bras and Breast Forms

This is my husband Dwain and me -- posing at a regular tourist stop in the fall, mainly because of the incredible beauty of the sugar maple trees.  But this is also where most of our family, friends and dear loved ones are buried -- Maplewood Cemetery. 
I could not start this blog without a couple of updated photos, now could I?  I mean, it's been, what?  nearly 4 months since I last wrote.  I won't make excuses.  Let's just say, I've been having so much summer fun that writing was probably the last thing on my mind.  Actually I'm glad I waited because I believe the last thing that I said was that I would write about mastectomy bras and breast forms. HA! And I thought I knew so much in June.  NOT!  

And by the way, for those of you who may be new to this blog, let me give a very brief back history.  I had a double mastectomy last November with no reconstruction.  I don't intend to have reconstruction.  That is not everyone's choice, but it was my choice.  My take on it is that I can be any size I want, any day of the week, AND I'm just plain skiddish when it comes to pain, infections and abscesses, and I don't like surgeries that last 14 to 20 hours. I'll just leave it at that.  Breast reconstruction is not for everyone. 

Anyway, the breast form lady, Kim, who fitted me said that in her opinion my breast surgeon, Dr. Dana Abraham, was a most skilled artist/surgeon, and she's seen a considerable number of mastectomy scars.  She said mine was so thin and perfectly straight.  For a mastectomy patient, that is such a lovely thing to hear.  I mean, it's not like we women go around looking at each other's bare chests, comparing scars -- although we do talk about whether or not we liked our surgeons.  Of course, I adored mine.  The second thing Kim told me was that although my insurance company would pay for six mastectomy bras a year, that I should pick maybe three now (this was last winter) and get three more later because oftentimes our weight fluctuates due to chemotherapy or other medications.  She also said, I might want to wait to get the other three because plain and simple, the first three might just feel worn out by the end of summer.  

What ended up happening was that by the end of June, my breast forms were not fitting properly in any of my bras, especially in my little camisole bra.  I wore that thing one day to work, and by the way, it was a l-o-n-g day, my chest hurt because the breast forms kept slipping up and down.  Here is an example of what my (heavy) breast forms looked like: 

The next morning my chest was red, covered with blister-like things.  Plain and simple, the forms were too heavy for that particular bra. They would also sort of slip under my arms when I wore a regular mastectomy bra. Dwain solved the problem by looking in the TLC catalog (that's the catalog put out by the American Cancer Society that sells everything you could possibly need if you have cancer -- amazing wigs, adorable/affordable hats & scarves, soft soothing items, and it's especially nice for women who have breast cancer) and finding some very lightweight breast forms that look like this:

These are filled with micro-beads and are so light you almost would not know they were there.  They are absolutely perfect for hot weather and to stick into a camisole. 
And I wore these every day for a couple of months, especially during the hottest months of the summer. I liked them so much that Dwain bought me another pair in a larger size, because guess what? a larger size isn't any heavier.  I love that we can do that -- change size.  HA!  The down side to these is that they are sort of like a bean bag -- they sometimes mash and flatten, depending on what you are wearing, causing your bust to look smaller -- sort of formless, if you will.  Then came the new breast form, also from the TLC catalog:

These are called lightweight silicone breast forms.  Unlike the micro bead forms, these are extremely sturdy, easy to slip into the bra pockets and they hold their shape perfectly. The key word here is light weight.

Dwain suggested that maybe it was time for me to visit Kim again, that perhaps my older mastectomy bras were not fitting properly.  I had to admit, I wasn't wearing any of them very much, preferring instead to wear the two free "training" bras I received from the American Cancer Society because they (a) fit (b) were comfortable (c) my new breast forms fit inside the pockets without slipping and sliding around.  

Kim took out her measuring tape.  "You've lost weight.  A lot of weight.  You're definitely going to need smaller bras, and probably a new set of breast forms.  I will see what you insurance company says about that." Kim told me that it was no wonder that my breast forms had been slipping and sliding around.  She said that I should have come to see her long ago, that she could have helped me.  I had no idea that it had to do with weight.  

Anyway, I came away with three new, very pretty, bras, a cup and two bra sizes smaller. Here is what they basically look like (and that is NOT me modeling the bras). 

Pink Lace Bra

I love this bra because it gives me the opportunity to wear a low-cut top. The down side of not having real boobs is that I no longer have any cleavage.  But I do have lace, right? 

AHHH!  And then there is the t-shirt bra -- all smooth lines.  Just sooo sporty and perfect for my I'm-not-working-today clothing style. 

Although my insurance company will not allow me to have a new set of breast forms this year, I am approved for a new set in January.  Hey, I can live with that. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Toss That Wig

This (before haircut -- whatdoyathink?) photo was taken in early June when Dwain and I traveled to Salt Lake City to visit our daughter Jayme and our three grandsons, David, Mark and Gabe.  Those snow-capped mountains behind me are the Wasatch range that totally surround Salt Lake City in every direction. 
Dwain is the one who suggested that I needed to get my hair cut.  It's hard to believe.  I actually thought Amy, my hairdresser, would laugh -- not exactly laugh AT me but with me when I wandered into her little styling booth.  She didn't even blink.  "Of course you have something to work with," she announced with her usual perky smile as she seated me in the little stylist chair that folds back into the sink to wash my hair.  "We will just give it some shape this time.  Next time... well, we'll see. Maybe we can even apply some fun color."  She and I both laughed when she insisted on charging me for a little boys cut. 

Relay for Life.  Walk of Survivors and their supporters/caregivers.  Believe it or not, I am in that group, second row behind the sign, wearing a pink t-shirt, dark shorts and a pink ball cap that previously belonged to my dear cousin Mary Spiece.  It reads: "Cancer Sucks"  Mary has been a breast cancer survivor for over 15 years.  She said she thought I needed the cap.  Thank you Mary!  I love it!.  My pink shirt is a Girly-Girl brand shirt that says, "Save the Hoo-Haws"  

Check out the temperature reading in the background. Ninety-two degrees. Whew!  That's one of several reasons I simply don't want to wear my wig any longer -- my head gets really hot under there.  Good ol' wig.  I'll always love you.  But I hope I never need to seriously wear you ever again, unless it's for fun.  That's one reason I wanted to get my hair shaped up.  I'm just ready to be me again.  That along with several people who have encouraged me to just shed the wig already.  Even my own oncologist told me, You don't need that wig.  You look just fine now.  Hey, he's my doctor.  If you can't believe your doctor.... right?  

The ever-smiling lady in the middle is my sister-in-law, Carolyn (Dwain's sister).  She sponsored me in the Relay for Life as a caregiver and purchased a luminary in my name. The gentleman next to her is Virgil (96 years).  God Bless him, his wife died from cancer last August.  The gentleman in the orange t-shirt was about to drive Carolyn and Virgil around the track to look at the luminaries -- especially the ones with the names of their spouses on them:  Audrice and Chuck
Carolyn's husband was diagnosed with lung cancer about the same time that I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  So that meant that Carolyn and Dwain, brother and sister, were both caregivers for spouses with cancer.  ~sigh~  Sadly, Chuck died just days before his birthday in May.  This was a very emotional walk for me as I saw luminary after luminary with names glowing, names I recognized; survivors of cancer, or in memory of someone who fought hard.  I had no idea that that walk would hit me so darn hard emotionally.

Dwain and I standing on the track with hundreds of luminaries glowing all around us.  Near the top of the bleachers was the word HOPE spelled out in gigantic bright letters (can't see it in this photo).   Hey,  and you can actually see my funny t-shirt and glow-worm necklace, lol!
  Anyway, my wonderful husband, who is a super good writer, did a blog about this whole Relay for Life.  In fact, he has a great blog that you can link to from my site. He writes about such interesting subjects and takes super pictures. I'm his biggest fan, so don't even try... hahahahaha.   In fact, he took all of the pictures I posted today.  You can link to his blog right now by pressing here

Now, I'm off to have lunch in a public restaurant with my husband -- without my wig.  Tomorrow I will have to discuss some problems I am having with my mastectomy bras.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dear Diary - Story of a lock-box auction

I was reading a story the other day about a strange type of auction; one in which you bid for the mysterious contents of unclaimed bank lock-boxes.  Can you imagine?  What I can't imagine is that people have bank lock-boxes that go unclaimed by their family for such a long time that the bank eventually auctions them off.  I'd be intrigued at the thought of attending such an auction and at the same time left feeling a little bit sad at the thought.  After all, the possessions in these lock boxes would have to have been treasures to the owners, wouldn't they?  

Anyway, one of the things that intrigued me was that this particular lady said the lock-box that she won contained an old diary, which she read from beginning to end. Here before her were the thoughts and deep feelings of someone she did not know before, but it did give her some insight into the person who had once rented this lock-box.  How neat is that? 

When I was in about the fifth grade, I stumbled upon a little diary for sale at Sims Drug Store.  I had never wanted anything so much.  I don't remember how much it cost, but I remember dropping hints that I would really like to have one as a gift.  Evidently no one felt that I needed a diary.  So a diary was what I bought for everyone else -- birthdays, Christmas, whatever.  Suddenly they became all the rage.  All my friends talked about how they wrote every day in their diary or how they (uh-oh) forgot to write in their diary, how they carefully locked them with that special little key, where they hid them so their parents would not find them (that was absolutely vital).    All I felt was left out of something so big and important that was taking place all around me.  Everyone was recording their lives, I imagined, like Anne Frank did when she was hiding from the Nazis.  Someday their diaries might be  "discovered" and they would be famous.  And poor me, I didn't even have a diary.  No one cared.  No one would gift poor Megan a diary.  

This diary would have been perfect!  In fact, the one I wanted looked a great deal like this one.
The thing I never realized, I guess, was that I could just purchase one for myself.  It was as if, for some reason, you had to be given one.  And it never occurred to me to maybe just get a notebook and write in it.  I guess I just wanted what was popular at the time, which was a store-bought diary that came with a little key.  The little key was really important. 

Nancy Drew!  Oh man, I loved her.  I never saw this type of diary in any store where I lived.  I'd have been on my knees begging... please, oh please.  Christmas present.  Christmas present. 
The thing about young girls is that they write without editing themselves.  In a diary they can express what they feel without guilt or rejection or judgment by anyone other than themselves. The pages of a diary feel safe -- like telling God your innermost secrets, hopes and wishes.  That lock and key is what it's all about -- oh, plus the hiding place.  

After my mother died, I found a diary she kept when she was about twelve.  She wrote the whole thing in pencil.  I will give her this, she was diligent.  It had a definite beginning spot and ending spot -- and a purpose.  She wrote in it every single day, and she wrote in first person, present tense -- as if whatever was happening was happening right at that very moment (and of course, for her, it was).  It was about 1935, and her extended family took on a long vacation from Beaumont, Texas to Arizona to Colorado.  That was a pretty amazing trip for a family just coming out of the depression.  And it's all recorded from her point of view -- what they ate (sometimes warm milk and bread  for supper) and when (late at night, beside a campfire, under the stars), how they slept (in tents), who all went (uncles, aunts, parents and siblings), where they rode in the car,  how she felt when her parents embarrassed her and shocking prejudices. It was insightful and delightful to me, her daughter, who only saw this woman has a mother and a grown up until I read her diary. 

These days I wonder how many people still keep a personal diary that is not computerized?  

Recently, in court, we had a woman who was on the witness stand whose brain loops did not follow a natural course, if you get my drift.  She presented the judge with notebook after notebook of handwritten journals that she said she had kept for most of her life.  She said that she wrote in them about every single thing that had ever occurred to her (I'm not sure if she meant occurred to her mentally or occurred to her in actuality).  They were very detailed. 

The thought went through my mind that perhaps only insane people kept journals?  But no.  Everyone is entitled to jot their thoughts. Sane people  (and insane) obviously have been keeping journals and diaries since time eternal.  These days we have Blogger and Facebook and Godknowswhatall out there on the Internet.  I've even noticed that Blogs can be downloaded into little diary books, should we so choose.  But there is just something endearing about those handwritten diary pages. 

Bob Dylan says, Oh, the times they are a changin'  I guess we better just get used to it. 


Sunday, May 1, 2011


"a goofy tribute to hemp recorded in a much higher version by the Horse."
The sun comes up in the morning
Shines that light around
One day, without no warning
Things start jumping up from the ground

Well, Homegrown's all right with me
Homegrown is the way it should be
Homegrown is a good thing
Plant that bell and let it ring... Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Monday, April 18, 2011

Stupid Chemo or Chemo Stupid

Today I had my well-woman check up at my primary physician's office.  I mean, it's standard practice; I have had one every single year for the last 22 years.  I'm not quite sure why I'm here today; at least that's what I told the nurse when she asked, what are we checking today, Ms. Megan?  I mean, I have no female parts anymore that need checking on.  So, yeah, why am I here? 

Well, I told the nurse, I have a couple of suspicious little brown spots on my arm as well as on my back that I'd like the doc to take a look at.  And ever since I had pink eye in February, my right eyelid occasionally sticks to my eyeball, especially when I first open my eyes in the morning.  And I'd like to ask her a few questions about my memory.  You know, stuff like that.  But as for pap smears and breast exams, I'm not sure if there is anything left to check on. 

I was instructed to put on that all too familiar open-in-the-front gown. At least this one was made of soft cloth rather than paper. That gown was just determined not to fit quite right --  I don't have breasts to give it form anymore.  It gaped open here and there, no matter how cleverly I tried to tie those ribbon closures. One sidelong glance at the small stainless steel table over one side, covered with a white cloth, and I knew exactly what lay beneath it; sterilized and painfully ready for the next poor "well-woman" who still had all her female parts. I am sooo thankful that my primary doctor is a woman -- a woman who has known cancer in her lifetime.  She totally understands what I've been through.

My cousin Vickye and her husband Harry sent me this funny little mug earlier this year. I still love what the mug stands for.  I openly laugh at its slogan, especially now that I'm totally done with chemo.  That said, I am still having problems with "remembering," to the point that I asked Dwain to watch me for signs of dementia.  I explained this to the doctor.  You know what she did?  She laughed.  She belly laughed.  She sputtered when she tried to talk.  When she regained her composure she said, there is nothing wrong with you.  I'm still having problems with forgetfulness, even today.  She said that she used to be the most organized woman in the world.  Today, she, like me, prepares and carries lists with her everywhere.  She said, whenever I forget stuff, I call it chemo-stupid or stupid-chemo, depending on the circumstance.  Either way, just (take a look at the mug up above) blame it on the chemo.  

And now I know what a liver spot is; those suspicious brown spots on my arm and on my lower back.  Exposure to the sun popping up on my skin.  Believe me, this doctor would know exactly the difference between a liver spot and a skin cancer because skin cancer is the type of cancer she had a couple of years ago.  And it was bad!  She's been through the worst chemotherapy a person could go through.  Believe me, she checked my skin all over for any sign of it.  But no.  I'm good.

She asked me when I was going back to see my breast surgeon.  Then informed me that every year I would have to have some sort of x-ray or imaging exam to check "the area" for signs of occurrence, also to make sure the cancer had not spread to my lungs or other organs.  

She then asked if I was considering reconstruction.  That would be a big fat NO.  I'm sick to death of surgery and drain tubes.  I do not want any more surgery that involves drain tubes or pain after the fact. I'm good.  She told me that if she had to have a mastectomy, she would just wear Band-aids and be happy.  I told her that there was a wonderful prosthetic place here in town.  They fit me with several lovely bras and two prosthetic boobs that were just perfect.  And by the way, did you know that Land's End sold the most darling mastectomy swimwear; you can fill the little bra pockets with swim prosthetics OR you can use a tip that I found on someone else's blog:  fill the bra pockets with those little round shower sponges you find everywhere.  They do the job, they are light as air, and dry quickly. I've already got mine. 

Speaking of prosthetic wear, Dwain found a web site that had some [boobs] that stick on.  STICK ON!  They are on the way to our post office right now.  And you would not believe where he found them The Breast Form Store.  I'm not entirely positive, but I think -- I think -- it may actually also be a cross-dressing site.  Hilarious!  But it had what we were looking for at an affordable price.  The thing I find appealing about stick-on boobs is, there will not be a scar running over the top of them, which is something you can not get away from if you have breast reconstructive surgery.  No matter what you do, you're still going to have that scar running across your boobs. So, I'll just keep my flat chest with the scar to remind me of what I've been through.  Then I can pick my chest size randomly

Anyway, the main reason I wanted the stick ons was so that I could wear some of my sundresses and summer tops.  Before I would have worn a strapless bra to give the garment shape.  So far I have not found a strapless bra made for prosthetic boobs

This is a picture of me (wearing my wig) holding a portrait of me taken when I was 10 years old.

The last thing my doctor wanted was to see what was growing underneath my wig.  When I jerked it off, she rejoiced with me as only another former chemo patient can rejoice, by giving me a gleeful hug. 

You know, I was wondering, faulty thinking notwithstanding, if I had enough wigs in different colors and lengths, and enough [fake] stick on boobs in different shapes and sizes, do you suppose I could be a different woman any time I felt like it, even if I don't have any more [real] female parts? 


Monday, April 11, 2011

Chemo Brain -- Myth?

Right from the beginning, as soon as I learned that I was going to be taking chemotherapy for my breast cancer, I started trying to learn everything I could about what would happen as a result; side-effects, in other words.  And one word that kept popping up was Chemo Brain.  Chemo Brain?  

What is chemo brain?

Here are just a few examples of what patients call chemo brain:
  • Forgetting things that they usually have no trouble recalling -- memory lapses
  • Trouble concentrating -- they can't focus on what they're doing, may "space out"
  • Trouble remembering details like names, dates, and sometimes larger events
  • Trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, without losing track of one of them -- less ability to do more than one thing at a time
  • Taking longer to finish things -- disorganized, slower thinking and processing
  • Trouble remembering common words -- unable to find the right words to finish a sentence
For most people chemo brain effects happen quickly and only last a short time, while others have long-term mental changes. Usually the changes that patients notice are very subtle, and others around them may not even notice any changes at all. Still, the people who are having problems are well aware of the differences in their thinking.

If anyone would like to read the entire article, click here.  The American Cancer Society uploaded it, so I suppose we can trust the contents. 

Anyway, I didn't notice myself having too many problems with chemo brain until after my fourth (and last) treatment.  For years Dwain and I have been having problems with memory lapses.  But so have many of our same-aged friends.  We just laugh at ourselves, compare stories and ask each other to remind us of commonly well-known objects, such as say... 

[This is my own true story]  I could not for the life of me remember what that thing was, and I needed it badly because I had a hangnail.  I said to Dwain, "I need...  uh... I need... oh, you know...?"  I tried to mime what it was by demonsting near my distressed fingernail.  He looked utterly confused.  I needed something feminine and it's a man I'm talking to, right?   I tried again. The word just would not come to me no matter how hard I tried.  Then I said, "You know, it's like a tiny ruler with sandpaper glued to either side.  I used to have them all over the house"  Aha!  Dwain's eyes brightened.  "You mean, a fingernail file?"  YES! YES! YES!  

This event and events similar to this happened to both of us all the time BEFORE chemo ever became a household term.  So I can't blame the chemo for everything.  However...

It all started with my cell phone after my fourth chemo.  Monday (after chemo) I got away from the house and forgot my cell phone, but I was not at work.  Okay.  No big deal.  That happens to people all the time.  It happened again on Tuesday, but I was at work.  I was a little frustrated when I called Dwain from the circuit clerk's office to explain.  Wednesday I got to work (an hour away) before I realized that my cell phone was not with me.  I had to call Dwain from my bosses land line and tell him that he would not be able to reach me because guess what?  Thursday I put my cell phone into my purse first thing!  But somewhere between leaving the house and getting to work it left my purse and landed on the kitchen bar where it remained until I returned home and asked it how it got there.  

Follow me, if you will, into the next week (if I don't mention a day, it means I remembered my cell).  Tuesday, I dropped my cell phone into my purse; by golly! it would remain there until I got to work.  Dwain helped me load the car with my court reporting equipment, coat, bag of snacks.  We even started the car so it would be warm when I left.  I was sooo prepared.  I got about halfway to Yellville (a town 30 minutes away) when I realized that I had not seen my red purse.  You know?  The red purse with my red cell phone inside?  Maybe it was under my coat.  Nope.  Maybe I had absentmindedly placed it in the very back with my court reporting equipment.  I pulled the car over on a wide shoulder of the highway, put on the hazard lights, and opened the back of the Subaru wagon.  No purse.  No purse in the back seat either.  I could not believe it.  I had not only forgotten my cell phone, but I had forgotten my purse!  A forgotten cell phone I could do without, but a purse?  I had to have my purse.  It has my driver's license and money and fingernail file and lipstick.  I mean...  I immediately turned the car around. When I arrived home, there it was, right where I left it on the stairway.  Remember how early that morning we had pulled the keys out of my purse and started the car early?  I was beginning to think that maybe I would need to make a check list of what not to forget every single day -- maybe someday soon I'd need a list of the towns and courthouses where I needed to appear each day posted on the dashboard of my car.  What a scary thought!  

Oh, but it gets better.  We still have Wednesday to  go.  The car was loaded, and believe me the purse was in the car.  I had checked and doubled checked the contents of my purse and the contents of my equipment.  The car was full of gasoline.  I had my coat.  I had money.  I had my cell phone, lipstick and nail file.  And yes, I had my keys.  I was one happy camper.  Wednesday was one day that I didn't want to drive all the way back home because court was in Mountain Home, an hour drive.  Somewhere along the way my cell phone buzzed. [my cell phone buzzed; a happy sound!]  I pulled over on the shoulder and dug it out of my purse.  Uh Oh! Why couldn't I see the name or the number on the screen?  It was a text message and it was all one big blur.  What was wrong with my eyes?  I pulled the mirror down to have a look at myself. Where were my eye glasses?  Why, they were right where I left them.  In the bathroom on the counter.  ~sigh~


Sunday, April 3, 2011

They Say It's Your Birthday -- Happy Birthday To You

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you... ~The Beatles~

And as the Beatles said, "You say it's your birthday; It's my birthday too -- yeah..."  I quietly celebrated my 58th birthday on March 26.  And if you want to read about it, you can go to my husband's Dwain's blog, which you should check out because his blog is excellent.  You can find what he said about my birthday here

Say Happy Birthday to Janell Bush! Today is her 65th.

Janell Bush and I took our very first chemotherapy session together (God help us!).  In fact, as we talked along, we discovered that our breast cancers were discovered nearly at the same time.  Although we used different doctors in different cities, our paths eventually crossed right there in Dr. Abdelaal's office one Thursday morning in early January, 2011.  Since that time, Janell has called me quite often and become a new friend -- even a Facebook friend, which is where I acquired her image for today's picture.  

Janell phoned me last night after she read my post about not having to take chemo anymore.  She asked me if my hair had started to grow back.  She said hers had not.  Except... she said, wouldn't you know that those persistent gray hairs would be the ones that would pop out firstDo you have any gray hair? she asked.  Sadly, yes.  Before.  I even used to purchase hair color.  But her daughter is a hairdresser, so I suppose she'll keep Janell looking spit-spot.

Anyway, Janell, these two picture are for you.  Dwain took them last night while I was on the phone with you while we were discussing the hair/no hair issue.  Forgive my appearance in that sleeveless t-shirt.  Actually you'll probably understand.  Just before Dwain took the picture, I had been wearing a long-sleeved hoodie, which came off when I had one of those without-warning-type hot flashes we post-menopausal women famously experience.  ~whew~  You'll see it draped over a chair in the background.

Talking to Janell -- hot flash! cap on.

Talking to Janell - hot flash! Cap off.  See?  I told you that I didn't have any hair. No gray.  No nothing.  And it's not shaved.  It's just non-existent. 

 And this next picture is for Janell, too.  And for anyone else who might be interested.  Let me explain.  When I was taking chemo my mouth would occasionally feel like it was burned, you know?  Like the kind of burn when you eat a too-hot pizza and the melted cheese sticks to the roof of your mouth and the tip of your tongue. That's the only way I know how to describe the sensation.  Except that the burn would creep down my throat and make my tonsils feel swollen.  Only the burn would not go away in a couple of days.  Food tasted bad and drinks could only be tepid or cold.  Anyway, when I described this problem to Nurse Priscilla at Dr. A's office she said, I can call you in something that will work like magic.  Magic Mouthwash. 

This RED bottle truly is Magic Mouthwash.  In fact, the pharmacy mixed up two bottles of the stuff  -- one red, one green.  The other square, squatty bottle is my aromatase inhibitor. 

Other Interesting Stuff

These are our good friends, Dr. Lynn and Margie Keener, who surprised us.  They took US out to eat yummy Mexican food Thursday evening in Ye Ole Hollister, Missouri (just a mile from Branson).  Margie you probably recognize from other posts I've written -- she saw me through those l-o-n-g chemo treatments; I must say, she saw me at my worst.  Said I nearly drove her crazy when I was going through my coughing stage.  (Me too, Margie. You deserve a crown).  And she sat with my husband Dwain  when I was in the hospital getting my port surgically installed.  Next time, it's OUR turn to treat you guys!  If these people are your friends, they are indeed  *there for you*  in every way possible.  And I almost forgot to say, both Lynn and Margie rejoiced with me when I got my good no more chemo news.  
This is the picture the Keeners took of Dwain and me from across the table at the same Mexican restaurant.   Look how good they made us look!
One more Happy Birthday picture to add to the mix.  This is my mother-in-law, on the far left.  Mattie Mae Lair, who turned 86 on April 1.  Don't laugh.  She's no fool, believe me.  Both of her maternal grandparents lived to be 100; died within 6 months of each other.  This woman still mows her own lawn and grows a vegetable garden, climbs on the roof of her garage to nail down anything that come loose, plays a ukulele in her daughter's popular ukulele band.  That's her daughter, Carolyn, sitting beside her.  Carolyn's husband has lung cancer, so be sure and keep him in your prayers.  He's suffering serious problems right now. 

That's about it for this random post.  I will say that so far, knock on wood, I have suffered no noticeable side effects from the Aramidex.  None.  I feel simply wonderful.

Today, April 3rd, is absolutely beautiful.  Finally! It's supposed to be nearly 80 degrees today.  Dwain and I are getting ready to grab our camera, and go look for early spring wild flowers. Everything in northwest Arkansas is either popping or getting ready to pop.   

Stay tuned...


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unbelieveable News!

This is how it happened.  On Monday morning I called Dr. Abdelaal's [Ab-de-la] office (my oncologist).  I wanted to make an appointment to speak with him before the end of the week to ask him some pointed questions about my chemotherapy.  

At 3:40 I signed my name at the receptionist's window and was instantly taken back to Nurse Priscilla's office for weigh in and blood pressure check -- you know the routine, right?  She went over my chart, ticking off notes on my blood draws, asking questions, telling me things about what they check for when a patient takes chemo.  In my case, there is no tumor, she said, in which to measure to see if the chemo is workingThere is only the blood and blood markers.  If the blood shoots off a strange "marker" they will have to look and see what the marker is to know if it is possibly a cancer cell.  That's how they have to look at my lab work.  That's how they know if the chemo I am taking is doing it's job.  She then took me to a waiting room and told me that the doctor, who would be with me momentarily, would go over this information and lab work with me in more detail. 

He was very kind.  He said basically the same thing Nurse Priscilla did before adding that my blood work has come back consistently clear.  No markers.  No strange cells.  He then told me that the tumor that had been removed (along with my breasts) had been very small as were the four lymph nodes.  The one lymph node that contained cancer cells were so small that they could only be seen with a powerful microscope.  My cancer stage was low.  He said the chemo drugs that I had been given were the strongest you could give to a breast cancer patient.  I had endured four chemo sessions.  He did not feel that by my taking two more that I would receive any further benefit; I had received the maximum benefit for the minimum number of chemo sessions.  He felt comfortable stopping chemo at this time.  

I thought I would fall out of my chair.  Was he kidding?  Would I wake up in a few minutes and find that I was dreaming?  Pinch me.  Please somebody pinch me and tell me that I am NOT dreaming.  

He continued.  You will have to take an aromatase inhibitor, like we talked about at our first meeting.  This you can start after your white blood count starts to rise.  It does not have the dangerous side effects of chemo drugs, like heart problems or kidney or  liver failure.  However, it does have some side effects that people have complained of.  Most often it is arthritis-like bone pain and hot flashes.  You will need to take calcium pills and vitamin D.  Do you have any questions?  

YES!  Will the hot flashes be worse than the hot flashes that I have now?  (this is a question that I am asking of a man who has never been through menopause or experienced a hot flash in his life).  He shrugged.  Of course he shrugged.  He has no idea.  Dumb question.  Next?  How bad is the bone pain?  He shrugged.  Again.  Okay, let's try it another way.  What do I take for the bone pain?  Oh, you can take regular over the counter pain medication like Tylenol or Extra Strength Tylenol.  

Evidently Dr. Abdelaal has never had bone pain.  And to tell you the truth, I haven't really ever suffered long term bone pain either.  So I have no idea what this is going to feel like.  But what choice to I have?  I don't want my cancer to come back and I certainly don't ever want to take chemo again.  EVER!  So I'll suffer through the aromatase inhibitor, which is called Arimidex or Anastrozole.  There are a whole slew of side effects, according to the Pub Med Heath web site, but I guess the bone pain and hot flashes are probably the worst of the bunch.  Dr. Abdelaal recommends taking them before bedtime so that most of the effects will have worn off by morning. I have to continue to see Dr. A. once a month for a year, but I have to take the Arimidex for five years.  I have no idea what happens after the one year mark, as far as seeing a doctor is concerned.

Nausea.  Nausea is one of the side effects of this pill.  Let's just hope it doesn't wake me up in the middle of the night.  Nausea and I don't get along very well.  Maybe if I take Benedryl before bedtime as well...  

Here are the side effects.  I am listing them because some contradict each other like "loss of appetite" and then, "weight gain"  Take a look:

What side effects can this medication cause?

Anastrozole may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:
  • weakness
  • headache
  • hot flashes
  • sweating
  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • heartburn
  • weight gain
  • joint, bone, or muscle pain
  • breast pain
  • mood changes
  • depression
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • nervousness
  • dizziness
  • vaginal bleeding
  • vaginal dryness or irritation
  • pain, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • dry mouth
  • hair thinning

    I'm starting to look like a granny with all my little pills and vitamins all neatly arranged in a basket on the kitchen counter.  The good news is, I DON'T HAVE TO TAKE CHEMO ANY MORE!  I am over the moon, and have still not come down.  Stay tuned... 


Monday, March 21, 2011

You're Invited To Come To Chemo Party Number Four

It was a party of three most of the time.  And then others dropped in, left and came back intermittently.  My dear childhood friend, Anne (Todd) Miller drove from Heber Springs to Harrison, two plus hours to help cheer me on last Friday.  She was joined by my friend, Margie Keener, who has supported me throughout this entire ordeal.  Well, that's not completely fair.  Anne has supported me throughout this whole ordeal, too.  It's just that she does not live here.  Anne has always "been there" for me.  Always.  Since we were little girls.  You've heard me mention her in previous blogs.  Anne is very, very special to me.  God Bless you, Anne!  Not everyone is privy to see me completely bald.  But hey, she was with me when I was 16 years old and toppled head-first off the hood of a car.  She got to see the scar that would otherwise be covered with hair.  She helped save my life that day.

Margie and Anne got to meet each other for the first time on Friday.  They both settled into LazyBoys in the oncology clinic while I received the four IV bags of chemicals.  Dwain's sister, Carolyn dropped by every so often to share in the story telling as did Dwain.  Carolyn, also drove me to the clinic Friday morning.  Good thing, too, because I'd taken two Benedryl before I left the house.  I was trying to be pro-active this time because the last time I took chemo, the nausea almost overtook me.  

It was enlightening and entertaining to listen to Margie and Anne tell stories of mysterious events that had occurred in their lives.  You'd believe in angels too if you had heard the stories.  And these people don't lie or tell tall tales (hey, look how I used those those three words in a sentence).

Margie, as usual, brought a small ice chest filled with all sorts of goodies.  Seeing as how I got so nauseated the last time, decided not to eat anything stronger than a cracker. Margie brought Cheese-Its, my absolute favorite. She pointed out that they have soy in them.  Everything I love to eat has soy.  But I ate some anyway.  That chemo better be killing the soy, was all I said.  And I drank the ice cold bottled water she brought-- all the better to flush the toxins out as quickly as possible.  Anne ate some Cheese-its, grapes, cheese sticks and some water.  See?  It really was a party.  And nobody got sick this time. 

Four and a half hours later, after an exhausted and yawning Anne dropped me safely home again, I decided to access the damage.  Did I feel sick?  No.  Did I feel fatigued?  A little, but nothing to write home about.  What did I feel, then?  I felt strange, that's how I felt.  It's very hard to put my finger on a description that makes sense to anyone who has not ever experienced chemo. And as the hours wear on, this is sort of what happens:  It's almost like you feel pinched all over.  Like someone emptied your blood and refilled your vessels with ice water and chemicals; you can taste them.  Your legs feel a little boingy, like rubber bands.  The taste buds on your tongue get this chemical flavor that lasts for days -- well, it never goes completely away, really.  Your whole body shakes and churns involuntarily.  You feel like you've been spun and spun and spun -- dizzy.  The rims of your eyes actually turn vampire red (or mine do); the whites feel dry and gritty every time you blink.  Sometimes the lids even stick to the whites.  Thank goodness for eye wash.  Your legs, ankles and feet ache so bad.  Then comes the horrible fatigue.  Maybe it's a good thing to sleep.  At least you don't feel anything when you sleep.  And sleep I did.  For hours and hours and hours.  

Today I feel much better.  No more ice water in the veins feeling.  Nausea is under control.  No dizziness.  No more vampire eyes.   No rubber band legs. 

Here is the scary part.  Usually on day 10, after chemo, you hit your lowest on the immunity scale.  Your white blood count will be low, then it will come back up.  Imagine my surprise when I went to take chemo number four and they tell me that my white blood count is dangerously low.  What?!  But I feel so good.  How can that be?  Are you sure?  Nurse Priscella showed me my blood work from the day before.  She wasn't sure that the doctor would even give me chemo.  He did though.  He said he was going to give me a lesser dose this time.  He warned me to stay clear of crowds and the public in general until after day 10 (March 28th) to give my body and blood a chance to rebuild. 

Have I mentioned how much I hate chemotherapy?  Why can't I find a way to just be grateful?  But I am not, and that's the truth  (sticking out my tongue!)


Monday, March 7, 2011

Aisles of Spring -- Makeup, Hats, Food

The most wonderful thing happened.  Not even one week after my last chemo the vicious nausea that plagued me without mercy suddenly dropped a step behind late Monday afternoon.  By Tuesday afternoon I totally ditched that devil nausea -- it seemed to have lost the trail completely; couldn't quite sniff it's way back. HA HA!

Wednesday morning the substitute court reporter that had promised to take court for me on Thursday phoned that she had a family emergency and would not be able to take court for me, but not to worry, she would find someone to work for meAt that point I thought, hey, you know what? I actually think I will be able to do this.  Don't worry about it, I told her.  I really did believe I could manage just fine.  She lined up a just-in-case/yoo-hoo-type sub for me anyway.  I felt so cared-about :)  But I did it!  I went to work and did just fine. 

A court reporter's job is a little different in that a courtroom setting is completely random.  Most people with jobs can count on regular 15 minute breaks -- one in the morning, one in the afternoon; always a lunch break.  They are to be at work at a certain time and clock out at a certain time.  For a court reporter, one never knows what will happen or how long a session might last; when or if you will have a lunch break -- or a break at all.  Things get mighty intense sometimes between witnesses and attorneys.  I am charged with the duty of making a verbatim record of it all -- every single word exchanged between everyone; the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the outbursts.  Needless to say, my job is stressful.  Getting sick or upchucking in the middle of it all is completely unacceptable.   I have no idea how elementary school teachers who are on chemo manage their jobs either; the stress levels must be similarly random -- not to mention how they manage to stay away from the germs children unknowingly fling around.

Anyway, my strength has improved daily.  Dwain's got me on a diet high in lean protein, low on acidic food, which I think goes a long way toward improving my stamina.   I have almost no feeling of nausea, which is also a first.  AND no horrible fatigue.  I like this train I'm on, so I think I'll just stay on it .   Prayers are also deeply appreciated. 

In my last post I touched on the subject of make-up.  I haven't worn makeup in many years, just sunscreen and a touch of lipstick for color.  Suddenly I've delved into a world that is literally over my head.  Some have suggested having an Estee Lauder makeover.   Estee Lauder?  Hey, I'm a huge fan, as was my mother.  But that's a makeup investment I'm not really willing to  make for something so temporary.  Once this chemo thing is over with, I'll go right back to my old clean-skinned ways.  The collars of my shirts  get so smudged and dirty when I wear make up.  I just want the bare necessities.  Thanks!

The Jungle Book - Bare Necessities (Mowgli and Baloo)

Look for the bare necessities, the simple bare necessities
Forget about your worry and your strife
I mean the bare necessities, that's why a bear can rest at ease... 

Sorry, I couldn't help it. Those words just popped out.  Feel free to get up and dance.  

Anyway, here are some pictures that Dwain took on Sunday of our efforts at makeup shopping.  This was the first time I've ever gone out in public without my wig -- just a little knit cap to cover my cold, bare head. And believe me, it was very, very cold on  Sunday. 

Target in Branson.  Aisles and Aisles of every makeup product I never knew existed.

After applying a good moisturizer, start with a good base foundation, my mother always said.  How does one select the correct color?

Blush and lipstick.  Color, color, color.  Which one would be right for me? BTW, how do you like cool the new straw hat?  Hint:  I love it!  Very cool on a hot day (I think).

This mascara promises to volumize my lashes -- all five or six of them that I have left, you think?
This hair color  for $4.50 was on the clearance aisle.  Hey, it's just my color, too.  I asked Dwain if he would help me get the color on the back of my lovely locks.
T.J. Maxx had many Easter products.  I was especially intrigued with this Yankee Candle.  Has anyone else on chemo notice their senses of (smell, taste, touch, hearing) being highly exaggerated? Or is it just me?  My sense of smell is especially strong, many times not in a good way. Happily, this candle was nice -- ultra sweet
Not quite sure what this is -- absolutely certain I did not want to try it.  Has anyone actually sampled this? If you have, PLEASE give me a review.  I promise to share it. 
Before we left Branson, we HAD to have a late afternoon snack -- starving were we! IHOP was just the ticket!  That's Dwain with his pot o'coffee (he never gets coffee at home, so this was a real treat!). 

Dwain likes coffee, I like tea; I want Dwain to share a snack with me. 
This is Rhonda.  Rhonda took good care of us, even asked if she could take a picture of us together.  I said, how about I take a picture of you at work and e-mail it to you.  Bet you don't get many pictures of yourself doing your actual job, do you?  She wrote her e-mail address on our ticket.  Rhonda is a good sport!  If you work in Branson, MO, being a good sport is sort of an unspoken  requirement.

Thank you, Rhonda!  

We tried not to leave her too big of a mess.   I almost forgot:  Dwain and I shared two spinach/chicken crepes, which were so filling that it ruined our appetite for dinner.  So when we got home, we ate dessert instead. 
Back to the courtroom I go tomorrow armed with my little cylinder of Clorox wipes.  This is day number 10, my lowest immune day, so I'm staying at home today,  away from everyone.  Here is a notable note:  A friend of ours told us that her sister had breast cancer and wasn't careful enough to heed the advise about low immunity.  She died not from the cancer itself but from pneumonia.  That is a sobering thought on which to end this blog.  So, I won't end it this way.


Dateline: Waco, TX, March 7,1974; Hillcrest Baptist Hospital -- painless childbirth was unheard of, the gender of your child was announced by the doctor; extra family was not allowed in the delivery room. I lay in a labor room wondering about the mystery of it all. Shaynan Lewis Johnston, my first child, was delivered by Dr. Scanio. She was perfect in every single way. Happy Birthday to my precious first child. I have loved you always. Mom