Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday, Jan. 30 (2011) - Day 17 - Still have hair ... barely!



Holy Bathair! Hair's falling out by the handfuls. We all know, this will be a very temporary condition.
I will have a new hair style by Tuesday - a cueball.
Don't poke me with a pool cue.


This is what I pulled out of the drain this morning. And I thought my dog Alice Ivy could shed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This Pixie Cut Is Not A Wig


One could look at this picture two ways, I'm visiting a friend.  We are both relaxing in Lazy Boy recliners, laughing it up, telling jokes.  Obviously, I'm knitting, as usual.  And I'm holding my knitting project up for the photographer (Dwain) to admire; adult-size slippers, which I will probably end up gifting to some precious soul, like I did recently to my friend Jane who broke her hip.  Now she can wear these slick-bottomed things and fall again.  Sorry, Jane.  Just kidding.  Just for the record, Jane did not break her hip because she was wearing my slippers.   That's my friend Janell Bush in the chair on the other side of me.  Prior to this picture being taken, we had not previously met, although we've both lived in this little town most of our lives.  Janell also has breast cancer; was diagnosed about the same time as I, although her diagnosis, surgical treatment and doctors were different.  Nonetheless, we both had our very first chemotherapy session on the same day, at the same time -- different chemo medications, though.  Hers has a side effect of neuropathy, which the doctor decided not to give me since I am a court reporter.  Neuropathy can cause nerves to tingle in the legs, toes, hands and fingers; and occasionally it causes numbness.  Nope, that just won't do.  My fingers seriously rely on the sense of touch to feel the position of those keys below them.  My chemo drugs come with a whole set of other side-effects (all chemo drugs have side-effects) that I just refuse to Google up or delve into very deeply.  I'll end up obsessing and having phantom symptoms.  But when Dr. Abdelaal mentioned neuropathy and steroids, those were two words I did not have to look up to know what they meant or how they would affect me.    I informed Dr. Abdelaal that I don't do well with steroids.  Explain, he said, with great patience, what they do to you.  I said, "Have you ever seen a hamster wildly running in a wheel going nowhere, eyes wide and glassy? That was me about an hour after I'd taken a steroid.  Then everything started to itch, even my hair.  Have you ever felt your hair itch, Dr. Abdelaal?"  

Even though my chemo drugs were different from Janell's chemo drugs, they are made to do the same thing; attack fast growing cells.  Doesn't matter if they are good cells or bad cells, the mission is to obliterate them.  Cancer cells are, of course, fast growing.  But so are the cells that create your lovely locks of hair -- and eyelashes and eyebrows (sometimes even your fingernails and toenails ~shiver~). 

Janell is taking her chemotherapy every four weeks and I'm taking mine every three weeks, so it turns out that we may never have another chemo session together again.  But that doesn't make us any less chemo-buddies.  Janell has become a "friend" on Facebook, and we message each other often.  She messaged me yesterday (Thursday) when her hair started falling out while she was taking a shower.  She asked if I still had mine.  I didn't see her message until I got home from work, but I felt her sorrow -- belatedly.  She said it didn't bother her that much, but then again, I think Janell has a fabulous attitude.  She says that means the chemo is working.  Well, I guess that's one way of looking at it.  Still, I so resent that this had to happen at all -- breast cancer, that is.  NO FAIR!  

I reported to Janell that, yes, I did still have my hair.  Hummm...  I went to look at myself in the bathroom mirror and pulled on it a little.  It seemed to be firmly intact.   All Janell had, though, to cover her head was a scarf that her daughter brought over.  What?  You have no head covering?  Do you have a tlc catalog, I asked her? No? You're kidding?  How could she have escaped getting one of those?  I think I have four or five of them floating around the house right now.  She asked me if I would drop a tlc calalog off at her daughter's place of business.  Duh! I'd have been happy to take it to Janell's house, but she said she lived too far out in the country (as if I didn't).  Well, anyway, I got to meet Bev, Janell's very pretty daughter. 

When I awakened this morning, I halfway expected to find my hair in a heap all over my pillow.  When I didn't, I tentatively ran my fingers through my scalp to see what I would draw back.  Nothing.  The tentative tug came next.  Still nothing.  Then I took a deep breath, found  bravado buried somewhere in my bowels, pulled it out and jerked my hair.  Hard.  One or two little hairs fell out.  I wasn't sure what I was going to tell Amy, my hairdresser.  You see, today was the day I was scheduled to get my regular, ever-four-week haircut.  Should I still go?  What if she started washing my hair and it all fell out in her hands?  How embarrassing would that be?  Well, I went anyway and just told Amy the truth.  Mostly she was sad that I might not be back for months and months and months for my regular appointment.  She asked me if I would like for her to cut my hair in a pixie cut today.  


Amy and I have both decided that if I still have hair this summer, we are definitely going to keep this pixie cut.  I LOVE it.  But better than that, Dwain loves it.  In fact, he was the one who took this "after" picture. 

I may wake up in the morning with my pixie cut all over my pillow, but at least I had my own hair for one more day.  And I'll thank God every day for this blessing of having hair  every single day that I have it; a blessing that I always took for granted before. 

I took a lot of things for granted before. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I'm Hungry All The Time & Freezing to Death.. But I have a Theory

I have a theory.  It's only MY theory, mind you.  I tested it out already and the nurse belly-laughed into the phone at me.  She really did.  So I know at this point, without asking, that no doctor is going to say, yeah, that's it.

Seven to 10 days after chemo,  resistance to infection begins its descent.  On day 10, you get to have a blood test to see where your blood levels are.  Day 10 you are at your lowest, resistance-wise, so staying away from sick people and crowds is stressed with much vigor.  I guess that's why the oncologist office sends you to the hospital to have your blood drawn.  No sick people or crowds there, right?  Anyway, after day 10, your resistance starts to build back.   
On day eight of the descent, which would have been last Friday, I started getting this hungry feeling that simply would not go away no matter what I ate or how often.  I drank tons of water and hot tea to try to fill the void.  Nothing worked.  Oh, and as a by-the-by, a big thank-you to Dr. Lynn and Margie Keener and their granddaughter Lily for saving the day (and my starving self) by bringing over a huge bag of Chinese take-out from Yin Ching in Ozark, MO.  It was unbelievable, all our favorites:  Yin Ching Soup, rice, Shrimp Chop Che, duck sauce, fortune cookies.  Their adorable granddaughter even sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town while we ate.  I have no idea what inspired that particular song, but as far as we are concerned, Lily can sing anything she wants to sing, and we'll be a rapt audience.  She's absolutely precious. 

 Dr. Lynn Keener and granddaughter Lily

Sunday I was famished, and yesterday I though I would collapse from hunger when Dwain and went to Little Rock.  We ate lunch at ZaZas, and I ate like a ravenous mad woman.  I would have eaten more if I had not held myself back so Dwain could have some lunch, too.  On the way back we drove through the drive-through at Starbucks and got a medium chai tea and a blueberry muffin to share.  At this point, Dwain was probably worried that if we'd gone inside Starbucks I might have gobbled up every cookie, muffin, or scone in the place .  And I'm telling you what, it was a good thing to worry about. 

Today (Tuesday) has been a wee bit better.  I was in the wanting-to-scarf-down-everything-in-site mode until about mid-afternoon when the ol' appetite sort of mellowed out.  It hasn't completely died, but has indeed mellowed.  

Right along with the famished stomach came the my body's big chill that seemed to build into a core cold that just would not warm up.  No matter what I did, I just could not completely get warm.  Saturday night I basically froze during my sleep.  Dwain found me the next morning buried somewhere in the bed with extra covers and my bathrobe piled over me and my head.  Didn't matter what I wore as everyday clothes, I had a coat and a hat on the livelong day.  Before we turned to sleep Sunday night, Dwain tried his darndest to warm me up (poor guy).  My hands were the coldest part of my body, hard to thaw, but he made headway.  And I think I slept better that night.  Monday I pretty much wore my coat all day, but I felt somewhat warmer.  Today I was so sick of feeling cold to my core that late this afternoon I finally decided to take a hot, hot bath.  I did not want to climb out of that tub; I could have slept in there, that hot water felt so good.  And I do mean, pure hot water.  I'm finally warm now.  

My theory, the one that the nurse and receptionist laughed at me for, was this;  I think there is something about your resistance going that low that makes one crave food; makes you supremely hungry.  Why shouldn't it?  Your body is trying its best to fight back, to build back its resistance.  I also believe that's why I got so very, very cold.  My resistance was low; white blood count at 2.4.  I mean, what else can your body do when it's fighting with everything it's got to resist sickness? 

If anyone else has experienced this sort of thing while going through chemo, I'd like to know about it and how you handled it.  I honestly would. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When You Wear A Hat You Are... you are whatever you want to be

When my Mother first dressed me in a hat as if I were a Lady, I owned the title.

Dwain (my husband who has started his very own blog here on blogger) sent me the above quote from hatladies.org.   Isn't it perfect? 


  
That's me on the far right holding an Easter basket, wearing a hat, of course.  We all were (except my cousin Steve). The other children in the picture are (left to right) cousins: Shelley & Steve,  My sister Susan eating a piece of candy; she never could wait, cousin Vickey, freezing in the back, Kim, the baby cousin in the front, and then back to me.   


But it was my cousin Kim who insisted, Megan, why don't you just get a bunch of fun hats to wear?  When I lived in Orlando, we used to give hat parties to our friends who had to go through chemo.  Hats are way cooler (especially, I thought, when you live in hot, humid Florida) and lots more fun than having to wear a wig all the time.  


So that's what Dwain and I did.  We went hat shopping.  In fact, not only did we purchase hats, we dug around here at home and found several older hats.  I even found beautiful black velveteen hat that belonged to my very own mother.   

That's bald me on the far right (again) and my cousin Shelley sitting on my grandmother's lap.  Sadly, bald just doesn't look adorable on this end of the age game.  Bet my grandmother would still love me anyway, don't you think? 




Why all the interest in hats?  Well, according to my calendar, my days of shampooing and conditioning are limited, at best.  If what everyone tells me is true, by the end of the week, I will need hats in the worst way.  Check out the recent post by Connie, my new friend and neighbor, from Bentonville, AR.  She's just ahead of me in her chemo treatments.  You'll see her new "do," her new hat, and her new "I Hate Chemo" pin.  She's adorable.  


Dwain and I spent Saturday afternoon trying on hats and taking pictures.  Come with us, take the tour...



This is my ultra-fancy hat, and that's my new Fight Like a Girl Shirt that my Chicago friend Paula sent me.  Paula, you are a doll!


This is me wearing my new wig.  Got some "tweeking" to do to get it right


 This is me wearing my new wig topped with my mother's black velveteen hat. 



 This is Dwain wearing HIS shaggy wig.  I think he looks like Fred Flintstone.  HA HA!


 I absolutely could not look at Dwain with that wig on long enough to take a picture without totally cracking up.  

 Last night I dreamed that I saw a huge owl.  Guess that means I'm very wise.  WHOOO ME?

 Dwain thought this hat made me look like a Baldknobber (a very bad group of people who used to live in the Missouri Ozarks a long time ago).  So he wore his best Baldknobber-looking hat in support of mine.  

 Mattie Mae (my mother-in-law) crocheted me this beautiful hat and poncho.  I told Dwain that I looked like an odd sort of bird.  

This is one of the T.J. Max hats we found made of angora.  It's really soft and so pretty.  I think it will be one of my favorites; I know it's one of Dwain's already.  By the way, that's Sir Winston, our Norwegian Forest Cat that I'm holding.  And yes, that IS his happy look, isn't it, Jayme? 

This is one of those hats I found in my closet.  Kind of old-fashioned looking. I think it will be perfect.  


Dwain wrapped a very long scarf around his head.  I told him I couldn't quite place who he looked like.  Then he said it, just like that -- The Grand PooBah.  That's it!   I love the "Magic" hat, I'm wearing, too, don't you?  


 Dwain gave me this knitted cap for Christmas.  It's already a favorite, and I'm not even bald yet.  


I've had this cap for a couple of years, so it's already proven itself to be quite warm and quite cute, too.  

When you wear a hat, it is like medicine for the soul.  The hat is the expression of who you are as a women in every moment!  The hat is your dreams of who you can be.  It facilitates the different parts of who you are:  With the wave of the hat, voila!  You are mysterious...no, you are sexy...now proper...now playful.    

I have no idea how it's going to really feel to lose my hair, and I do dread it.  Initially when I first found out that chemo was in my future, it was the thing that I feared the most. Since then I've come to realize that hair loss is temporary; that there are lingering cancer monsters out there that I should fear far more than losing my hair.  

But Chemo Really Does Suck!   

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Warning, Might Cause Nausea

After feeling so pumped and rejuvenated on Monday, imagine my shock when I slammed into wall of incredible nausea in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.  Here is a great definition for nausea Dwain found (perfectly spelled out) on chemocare.com   Other terms:  upset stomach, retching, stomach ache, throwing up, queasy, heart burn, motion sickness, dry heave, puke, and sick to my stomach.

Honestly, I do not believe the upset was totally the fault of my systemic treatment [chemo], it was the prescription add-on that I took Monday night just before I went to bed.  You remember?  The little 1/2 pill that my doctor said would help lift my mood but that sometimes had a side effect of nausea?  Well, let me tell you what, it does and it did.  I was in pure agony from about 2 a.m. until I tentatively put my shaky feet on the floor this morning.  I don't think that [chemo] drugs and mood-lifters should be taken together.  Just my opinion, mind you.  Maybe I just have a very sensitive stomach.  Thank goodness for my anti-nausea medication, which also comes with side-effects that aren't happy ones for me [sleepiness/dizziness/vertigo].  But I took them anyway because at least they stopped the above listed definition of nausea and allowed me to sleep.  And sleep I did.  A lot.  Supposedly my cell phone rang and text messages came in.  Did I hear them?  Not a chance.  Dwain, my red-haired angel, was nice enough to check my phone when he came home.  Thankfully he returned calls and texts for me.  Unless he woke me up, I didn't even know what time it was, nor did I care.  How sad is that?

During his lunch hour Dwain came home to check on me, bless his heart.  He insisted that I try and eat something, even though I told him that I had already eaten a few bites of Jello, which seemed to be sitting in my stomach like a rock. Can you imagine Jello feeling heavy?  He came to where I was sleeping and asked me to take a few bites of some warm noodles that he fed to me like I was a baby bird.  They tasted okay inside my mouth, but once the noodles hit the undigested Jello, my stomach rebelled, and made this fact known to both of us immediately.  And that, as they say, was that.  

Dwain did some Internet research as I slipped back off to sleep.  Before he left the house again, he woke me up, holding out a cup, insisting that I drink something.  He said,  "I've been reading about what to do when you get sick like this."   Actually, he read this to me because I could not sit up and focus.

  Things you can do to guard against chemotherapy nausea:
Fluids:
  • Drink fluids throughout the day like water and juices.  Many persons on chemotherapy need to drink at least two quarts of fluids per day.  Ask your doctor or nurse if this applies to you.  Also, if you are vomiting it is important to replace the fluids lost to avoid getting dehydrated.
  • Avoid drinking liquids at meals.  
"You need to replace the fluids you lost from throwing up.  This is pear juice.  Take a few sips.  I think you'll like it."  
All I could think was, this is going to come right back up.  But it didn't.  And I have to say, it was good and it was cool.  Dwain's mother canned these pears this past summer, so they were fresh and organic.


Dwain also brought home these two little viles of oil that he picked up from Prairie Market, a natural food store.  I had previously met Darla, one of the owners, on Monday when I was out shopping and feeling so great.  She was the one who helped me pick out something that would help with my everlasting nausea; Ginger tablets and Ginger Tea.  Honestly, I think they really did help to calm my nausea.  But if you are already in the middle of that vomiting snowball, forget it.  Everything with a strong aroma smells just awful. 


Darla had evidently called my cell phone and left two messages.  She said she made up some essential oils that she thought would help with my nausea.  If I wanted to come by, she would just give them to me.  Dwain ran that errand for me, bless him.  He came in holding the two little bottles that I could smell even with the caps tightly sealed.  One is peppermint and the other is DI-GIZE.  Both say:  Rub on tummy, cup hands, inhale.  



Darla says they will sooth an upset stomach just by rubbing the oil over the skin above your tummy.  Then you are supposed to take your oil covered hands, place them over your nose and breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.  I can't say that they helped yesterday, but they didn't hurt me either.  This is an exception to the strong-smell rule.  For some reason these oils are soothing and comforting to breath.  

Well, I guess now that I've ruled out taking a mood-lifting drug (believe me, never again will I take those, and they were very expensive) I guess I'll go back to the Prairie Market and see what she has for lifting moods. 

You can bet I will pay close attention to the warning "might cause nausea" from now on

Monday, January 17, 2011

Better. Better. Better. Getting So Much Better All The Time. -Beatles-


ThursdayFridaySaturdaySunday

So here it is Monday and I'm starting to actually feel human again.  Not the red-rimmed-bleary-eyed, nauseated, Do-Your-Ears-Hang-Long "Thing" that I was for about 48 hours after (I can't even make myself say the word).  I'll just say after.  Anyone who has had poisons or toxins flowing through their body know exactly how it feels.  To say the word (chemo) gives it new life in my brain, so I'm just not going to talk about it.  Instead, I will concentrate on Sunday (yesterday) and Monday (today), better known as I'm feeling much better, thank you.  

Carolyn, my sister-in-law gifted me a little inspirational bracelet on Thursday morning that says:  "Stay Positive" on one side, and "Attitude is Everything" on the other side.  Every time I feel myself losing ground, I look at my wrist and think, I wonder (besides me) who is watching how I handle this?  What kind of example am I setting?

So maybe I should pay attention to my happiness factor, the colors I put forth.  I know that I am going to lose my hair, so how will I handle that publicly?  Dwain thought I should shake things up a bit.  Why don't we look at hats, he suggested?  Hats, what a fun idea!  So yesterday (Sunday) we drove to Branson to do a little hat shopping.  Surprise, surprise.  We found four at T. J. Maxx.  Two of them are really la-de-da fancy wool hats, one is a knitted light gray angora and the other is a simple multi-colored beanie.  I've got to get Dwain to take some pictures to post later.  I'm really quite pleased.  After digging around in my closet, I've turned up a few other hats that I think will work nicely.  Hats!  I might like these better than wearing a wig. Imagine that?

Every day I've been dealing with constant nausea, kind of like the nausea you have when you are pregnant.  Some call it morning-sickness.  I never had morning-sickness when I was pregnant; I had the constant, all-day-long sickness.  And that's what I have now.  Same thing.  YUCK!  Yes, the oncologist gave me something to control nausea, and it did keep me from throwing up.  It also kept me knocked out pretty much the whole time or else I had that woozy/seasick/vertigo feeling when I was up walking around.  So this morning I decided it was time to call our family doctor for an appointment and have a little chat about what I can do to lift my mood, my energy and my nausea.  Lucky me.  I got an appointment first thing this morning.  

First thing she told me was, "I totally understand what you are going through.  I've been through it myself and I know how depressing it can be.  Before I was finished I felt like I was 7,000 years old."  And this nurse practitioner is young!  I was so shocked at her revelation that it didn't occur to me to ask what kind of cancer she had been dealing with.  She's a radiant picture of health now, that's for sure, with a very thick, head full of hair.  She told me about how it felt to lose her hair, eyebrows and lashes.  She even laughed about the process, stating that her children begged her not to come into the kitchen for fear that clumps of her hair would fall into their food.  She told me how her husband, a radiologist, cut her hair very, very short to make the transition easier; suggested that I might want to do the same thing. 

The next thing she did was put me on a mood-lifting prescription, a light one, that is easy to stop whenever I am ready.  It's non-addicting.  She will monitor it's effect over the next four weeks; 1/2 a pill to be taken every night because it may cause nausea.  She said by the time I awaken, the nausea caused from that pill will have worn off.   However, she warned, these also have sexually-diminishing side effects.  Then she smiled,  "But don't worry, the chemo drugs will have already taken care of that, so the side-effect from these won't matter much anyway." 

And as for the nausea?  It's just something you learned to live with, she said.  It's like, yes, the nausea is there but your body eventually accepts it and adjusts.  It sort of learns to ignore it.  But she did have a suggestion that she said helped her and has helped some of her other patients who suffer with nausea.  Go to the health food store and purchase some ginger tablets and some ginger tea.  Guess what?  It does help. I've already taken a ginger tablet (put something in your stomach first).  I sipped on a cup of ginger tea while writing this blog this afternoon.  I think maybe it even boosted my energy level just a little bit.  At this stage in the game, I'll take whatever I can get.     

As an aside, the doctor told me to take it easy at the gym and not work out too long or too strenuously.  "If you do, you will pay for it.  Five or ten minutes at the most of aerobic exercise for you right now is really good.  Try to stick to that".  

She also told me that about five days before my next treatment that I would start to feel really good again;  kind of a good news/bad news thing.  

You can bet that Dwain and I will make plans in advance to take advantage of those five good days.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What to Expect When You Are ... Expecting Chemo

In 1974 when I was expecting my first child, I had no idea what to expect.  Honestly, back then we really had no idea how to find out.  Childbirth was something our mother's did not talk about, nor did our doctors.  They'd pat our hands and say something like, oh sweetheart, women have been giving birth since the dawn of time.  It's a natural thing.  My mother even went so far as to give me two books:  one by Dr. Benjamin Spock,  Baby and Child Care, and Better Homes and Gardens Complete Book of Baby and Child Care.  I devoured them and still came back confused about childbirth.  Nowhere was the subject discussed.  Heck, back then, until the child presented him or herself, we had no idea what we were getting, let alone if we would have multiples.  

My mother was a wonderful help about preparing for all things post-pregnancy, though.   How to set up a complete nursery, for instance.  She knew how many cloth diapers I would need (and how they made wonderful dust clothes later), what type of baby detergent was best (Ivory Snow), what type of baby bottles and, oh let's not forget the importance of the stainless steel bottle sterilizer.  She wisely said, "Once that baby is born, you will never sleep soundly again, Megan.  You will walk a million and one miles comforting a colically sick child.  For the rest of your life, you will be 'Mama' to every child you hear cry the name. You will throw out your arm protectively over the chest of any child passenger in your car (mother did this very thing, even to my father).  You can never be sicker than your child (amen to this one). This is the life of a mother."   

I was young. The telephone lines between my house in Waco, Texas and my mother's house in Harrison, Arkansas buzzed non-stop for years.  But advice got me through.  So much advice from my mother, my aunts, my friends and the elderly nursery workers at church. To this day I am so grateful.  I remember all of it.

Isn't it funny how much advice comes by way of  friends, acquaintances, family and people you don't actually know at all?  But very little comes from doctors.  Why is that?  Getting practical advice from a doctor is sketchy, at best.  I remember a story my mother told me once upon a time about her sister, who was pregnant with her first child.  She asked her doctor if her body would return to its normal size after birth.  The doctor said, [loosely quoted] "well you know, the heifer was never the same after she had a calf."  And by the way, this doctor was not a vet, he was her family doctor. 

I've spent a great deal of time asking tons of questions, trying to find out about what is going to happen to me during and after chemotherapy.  Most of the details and answers to my questions have not come from my oncologist or his staff, they've come from close friends and some bloggers that I've found right here on Blogger.   It's not like I haven't asked my oncologist and his staff very direct questions, it's just that I've been sort of redirected like a child who is playing with something she shouldn't.  It's like, let's get the conversation going in another direction and maybe you'll forget you asked this question in the first place.  Today when I asked a nurse if chemo would give me a headache and would the doctor give me something to stop a headache if I got one, she told me that I needed to stop talking to people who have had chemo about chemo; that everyone reacted differently.  I felt like I did when I was pregnant with my first child and no grown ups or doctors would tell me anything about childbirth.  It's like the whole subject is just taboo.  

Well, thank God for friends who are willing to talk and tell about their experiences, good and bad.  I'm grateful.  So so so grateful.  If it weren't for them, I would not know how to prepare.  For those of you who are about to begin chemo, as I am, this is what I've learned,  so pull your ears out and listen up:

Post Chemo Feel-Good Products

Stuff to Drink:  I probably should have set a huge jug of water out for the photo, because everyone says drink lots and lots and lots of water to flush the chemo toxins out of your body. But my daughter, Shaynan, sent me this fabulous caffine-free tea that I absolutely love by Good Earth called Spicy Sweet.  If I don't feel like drinking water, or if I'm just plain ol' cold (because it's really, really cold in Arkansas right now), that tea will be the ticket to ride.  

Mouth Sores:  My friend Margie Keener (a dentist's wife) told me to purchase Biotene toothpaste to relieve oral irritations due to dry mouth.  Her husband, Lynn, told me to swish Listerine in my mouth to prevent mouth sores.  Through a patient, who had undergone chemotherapy and had developed painful mouth sores, Margie learned the lady had found relief by swishing Milk of Magnesia over the sores (then spit it out).  The Keeners also gave me a new toothbrush.  Isn't that just like a dentist?

This has nothing to do with mouth sores or chemo, but it does have to do with scars, and I have a long one that goes from one side of my chest to the other, due to my double mastectomy.  Margie suggested I get Mederma.  Believe me, she knows plenty about scars.  A car wreck several years ago nearly took her life.  She pointed to a nearly dissolved scar, claiming that Mederma was the miracle cure. 

Constipation:  Some of the bloggers have warned me of the danger of constipation.  "Eat plenty of fiber, stock up on prunes, and get some Senokot (a laxative) just in case, oh, and walk.  You'll be tired, but walk as much as you can."  I also learned that fatigue is a constant friend.  One lady said she starting taking One A Day Energy; "I honestly believe they helped a lot," she said.  I took one this morning.  The tablets are bright green.  Well, at least they are a fun color.  

A Weak Immune System:  A bailiff in one of our courthouses told me that he and his wife were taking ProBiotics for immune system health.  Evidently, while on chemo, your immune system is at risk, something about white blood and red blood cells getting low.  According to the box of Probiotic we purchased at Walgreens, it's not only good for your overall immune health, it's also a "digestive regularity support".  Good, Probiotic will do double-duty.  I can add it to my stash of fiber/prune/Senokot.  
In the background is a tower of Clorox wet wipes and a smaller box of individually wrapped wet wipes to carry in my purse. They will be good for keeping my work space clean.

 Hair Loss:  My wig arrived today.  Yes, it fits but it is going to take some getting used to.  In the meantime, I'll just be grateful for the hair I have, every day that I have it.  And like the doctor said, the one thing he probably tells every chemo patient, you might not lose your hair; some people don't.  In the meantime, I've got the wig on it's Styrofoam form with my mother's velveteen 1940's hat resting atop her pretty head. It looks pretty classy.  Maybe I'll just wear it that way.  I wonder if I wore fake eyebrows and eyelashes, would I look like Groucho Marx?

Amusement:  Keep good reading material around, especially something to read while getting chemo treatments.  My daughter Jayme sent me a book on CD, called Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I can't imagine anything more positive.  And I love to knit, so I can knit a new pair of slippers and listen to the audio book at the same time. How great is that? 

Exercise:  That was another piece of advice that several bloggers suggested.  Walk, if only for a few minutes.  Take the steps.  Just move around a bit.  So Dwain and I joined one of those pay-as-you-go gyms.  It's frosty wintertime here in Arkansas, so gym exercising is probably the best idea for us right now.  If I'm too exhausted to do very much, I'll watch while Dwain does the He-Man thing on the weight machines.  If nothing else, it will do us good to just get out of the house.  

Dwain straining against muscle builders






And I guess the MOST important thing is to have a sense of humor.  Dwain's not likely to let me harbor the feel-sorry-for-myself-blues for very long.  

Dwain & Megan making Jack-Frost faces on the ice crystals on the front door this morning

Honestly, I have to say, earlier this week something shifted in my perspective about this whole chemo thing.  I can't put my finger on what it was exactly, but mostly it was just one of those ah ha moments when I realized, 'You Are So Fortunate, Megan'.  And I am.  I really, really am.  It would take another whole blog for me to count just a few of my blessings, but I will say this right off the top of the heap, I am so grateful:

  • My cancer was caught so early.
  • We found a breast surgeon/oncologist who is amazing and saw me the very first day.
  • My double mastectomy was perfect; no infections, no problems, no pain [went home the day after surgery]
  • I have a husband who is my twin spirit, the other half of me.  I am so blessed he is beside me.
  • I am not a young mother with dependent children.  I can not even imagine the horror, and I know it exists.  
  • I am grateful to the breast cancer bloggers who have taken time to write about their journey.  You've helped me (and Dwain) more than you'll ever realize.   
  • For prayers lifted up for me.  
  • A super-understanding and supportive boss.
  • Unbelievable friends.
  • List to be continued....

By the way, no one could have ever prepared me for childbirth by telling me about it.  It's truly something you have to experience and it's not always cookie-cutter the same for everyone.  But I daresay, it's got to be close.  And all those things my mother told me about what it's like after you bring the baby home...  You hear the words, you read the books, you see the pictures.  It's absolute heaven; you always think that your baby will somehow be an angel, your baby won't be one of the nightmare fussy ones.

 When I think about it, after raising three babies (and experiencing others), I've decided it all depends on the attitude and nature of the parents who care for them.  Calm, patient, soft-spoken, non-tense parents, who seem to take everything in stride, appear to have babies and children who follow suit.  Sadly,  as a young mother, I was not wired up to be calm and patient.  I wonder if I would be different now?

Chemotherapy tomorrow at 10 a.m.  I may be low risk as far as breast cancer returning, but the doctor says this chemo thing is a battle to save my life. Who am I to argue?  I will always have plenty of questions because I like to know what's coming next.  Does that make me one of the "fussy ones?"  But I've planned ahead to be that good attitude winner -- a breast cancer survivor.  I'll let you know how it goes.  

Thumbs up!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sampson-Size Strength

 Jane and her cat Sampson

I don't think it was a coincidence that my friend Jane named her cat Sampson.  Jane likes strength stirred into her life along with a little cream and sugar.  

Sampson, written about in the book of Judges (in the Bible), was given uncommon strength by God to combat his enemies and perform heroic feats unachievable by ordinary humans.  He wrestled a lion, slayed an entire army with only the jawbone of an ass and then destroyed an entire temple by pulling two pillars together, thus killing the rulers and all the people in it.  He died during that last feat, but he was considered a hero to his people.  

Since we all know that the name Sampson means ultra strong, I wondered what the name Jane meant, so I looked it up.  Jane is a Hebrew name and means "God is gracious"

It's not that I think Jane's cat has been given super-feline strength. Sampson hasn't even, to my knowledge, done anything extraordinary, like saved anyone's life.  It's just that she had that much confidence in him when he was yet a teeny tiny kitten.  But that's Jane, always believing in the unseen, in the unbelievable.   She has an unshakable faith that makes mine look wobbly, at best.  How she maintains it is beyond me.  


Jane in first grade

The first time I remember Jane, I was in Hudson's Grocery Store, (my uncle Doug's store) when all the shops in town were located on the south, east, west or north side of the Harrison square. Jane's father owned Trotter's Paint and Paper, which was just across from Hudson's on Stephenson Avenue.  We were two six-year-olds, quite taken with a display of Bobbie socks while our mothers pushed their grocery carts, confident that they'd either find us eventually or we would find them.  I was not only taken with the Bobbie socks, I was mesmerized with the color of Jane's hair.  I'd never seen anyone with hair that light; almost white.  So were her eyelashes and eyebrows.  Amazing.  I remember she kept talking about wanting these Bobbie socks and I kept staring at her, nodding with approval, thinking the whole time, wow what beautiful hair!  Did I get some of those socks?  I have no idea.  Probably.  Everyone wore them with their saddle oxfords to school.  Jane and I ended up in the same first grade class at Central Elementary.  The rest, as they say, is history.


That's me, top row, fourth kid counting left to right.  Jane is third row down, third from left.  

Our lives since graduation have zig-zagged along.  We never lost track of each other. 



Jane married (as you can see from the announcement), gave birth to two great sons.  In fact, her last son (Josh) and my last child, a son (Chris) were born within weeks of each other.  Somewhere I have that 1982 picture of us and another friend, Anne, proudly holding our sons and Anne's newborn daughter, Sara, up for the cameraman.  Life was SO good.  But that good life sort of started a downward spiral for Jane in 1994 when she was diagnosed with cancer (not breast cancer like me).  I believe she called it non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Thus began her decent into utter hell. 

On Friday I received an e-mail from Jane's son, Josh.  Dwain and I didn't have to think about it twice.  We drove west to Fayetteville's Washington Regional yesterday (Sunday). 

Within the last few weeks, mom has suffered two falls.  The first occurred on the 17th of December, and the second was on the 28th.  Both x-rays were negative.  She struggled after each fall but was able to get around using a walker.  It appeared as though she was going to be alright.  However, due to extreme pain and immobility, we took to Washington Regional on Thursday morning.  A CT scan showed that mom had fractured her upper femur.  Therefore, yesterday she had a partial hip replacement to fix and secure her femur and hip socket. The surgery was a success, and today she will begin slowly rehabilitating her hip. 
She should remain at the hospital for a few days.  For rehabilitation, we are assuming that she will be at Health South.  I will keep you updating on her condition in the coming days.  She is doing well and resting well.  We appreciate your thoughts and prayers. Have a great weekend.
Josh

Dwain and I found Jane alone in her fifth floor room sitting in a chair, absolutely thrilled to see us.  She told us all about her partial hip replacement surgery.  She pointed to a walker across the room, calling it her salvation.  Jane seemed to rejoice in the tiniest things: her strong, muscular physical therapist "I just love him," she smiled; the surgeon who performed her partial hip replacement; the ambulance drivers who carried her to the hospital; the nurses who constantly attend to her.  Her gratefulness list was endless.  I asked her if she was in any pain.  "Oh, no.  They give me good medicine for that. But my hands hurt where the IVs were inserted. " (and still were, in both hands.  BOTH HANDS!).  Jane mentioned it was most painful in her left hand, which bothered her mostly because she is left-handed.   I'd forgotten that little detail about Jane.  She's one of those ultra-intelligent, left-handed, blonds. 

She seemed more than a little anxious to talk to me about my upcoming chemo.  "You know, Megan, chemo is hard but I credit it for my life.  If it weren't for chemotherapy, I don't think I would have been around to raise my boys.  I stayed in remission until 2007 and it's in remission again, thank the Good Lord.  I know all about the books Suzanne Sommers has written, all the natural stuff she believes and swears will work, if we just give it a chance.  But I'm not about to trust my life to something that science hasn't proven.  All I can say is, I took chemo, and I'm still here." 

She told me what to expect.  Jane's never been an alarmist.  Never been one prone to overactive imagination or exaggeration.  She just told me the truth, as she'd experienced it through the years.  She said, just get a calendar and mark off your days; mark off each treatment.  One down, this many to go.  Look at it as a victory.  She said it would be hard and that I might need to take some time off, especially near the end of my chemo when the doses would start to take a toll on my body.  She told me about wig care and where to find other good ones, health care, foods that would taste good, and so on and so on.  

Jane hold's a master's degree and is  a long-time school librarian.  She loves the kids, loves helping them in spelling bees and other projects, never regretted what she chose to do for a living.  She hates to miss a single day of work.  She fell and then continued to go to work because she LOVES her job so much.  But in the end tearfully admitted that she was in such excruciating pain that she needed an ambulance.  She said it made her cry. 

Oh, and did I mention that all the chemo drugs from this last bout caused her to develop cirrhosis of the liver?  And did I also mention that Jane counts her oncologist as the biggest blessing of all?  "He saved my life and he's kept me alive to this day." 

And still she gives thanks and says, God has been so good to me.  Jane, that's exactly what your name means.

Well, Jane, you've always been a Sampson-size blessing to me.  I hope I can be as strong. 





Friday, January 7, 2011

Girl Scout Motto: Be Prepared

What can I say?  I was a Girl Scout.  Brownie Scouts through Senior Scouts.  Back in the 60s, Girl Scouting in my hometown was kind of like being in a club.  It was your patriotic duty to be civic minded.  Scouting for boy and girls was a great way to accomplish that.  I think the Be Prepared motto was the same for both, but since I was not a boy scout, I won't swear to that.  

Anyway, the things you learn as a child are hard to shake.  I stand ready.  I make lists constantly.  I'm organized.  There is a huge difference between being prepared and being organized though.   You have to be prepared because things don't always happen in a nice, neat organized way.  Our dominoes, all lined up like the instructions tell us, don't fall like the the cute videos on You Tube.  Darn!

I'll try not to get off on a tangent here, but as an aside, I have to say that Mattie Mae, my mother-in-law (who lives right next door), was a Girl Scout all her life and didn't even realize it.  She's lived the Girl Scout life ALL her life.  If she'd had a badge-sash, it would have been full, full, full.  I'll wager that she could have taught Juliet Low (Girl Scout founder) a thing or two or three.  I could start a blog about my mother-in-law, which would be an incredibly fascinating read.  Take my word, at 85, she's prepared for anything.  She could survived anything.  She could mend anything with bailing twine or cure you with a combination of vinegar, honey, rubbing alcohol, baking soda, berries and who knows what all. I like to tell people that although she was born in the late 20s, it was as if she had grown up in the 1800s. But that's the way it was for most folks in the Ozarks of Arkansas.  They didn't know any other type of life.  Mattie Mae is one of a kind and I'm a much, much, much better person for having known her.  She's still  here, by the way, for those of you who do not know her.  I'll probably mention her name again from time to time.  She's one of life's blessings.  

As chemo time grows closer, I am reminded, yet again, that I need to be prepared.  As I blog along, new acquaintances pop up along the way; friends who also have breast cancer.  They offer advice that I'm so grateful to receive.  Here is one e-mail, (or part of one) from Koryn.  You'll find a link to her blog Koryns Story among my favorites. 

Other side effects from chemo I had besides extreme fatigue were constant nausea. Nothing they gave me helped and I found queezy pops from three lollies dot com on my last cycle. I highly recommend them they are the only thing that helped me. I also had Emend, Dexamethasone, and tried everything under the sun to include Zofran, Phenergan, etc. but nothing helped. I also had terrible migraines the first cycle.
My finger nails came apart from the nail beds and so did my big toe nails. It was painful.  I got acne. I had numbness in my feet and hands and still do wake up every morning with numb hands but that goes away once I begin moving around.
I got mouth sores. Food tasted awful but I didn't gain or lose over all in weight.  I actually lost some weight when all was done - I really lost my appetite about 3 months post chemo.  Odd, but it didn't last. 
When do you start??  I and a friend went to one of those food preparation places and stocked my freezer with 12 meals to get me started....I couldn't cook for months.  That was a good move. My husband was working a very high powered job in The Pentagon at the time and didn't get home until late most nights. Having the meals really helped. My church also helped us out a lot and brought  meals to us frequently.
I hired a teen girl who needed money to help me clean the house. I just didn't have the energy. It was a win win!  My neighbor walked my golden retriever every day for 6 months.  She was an angel from Heaven to me!
Walking will help and so will drinking lots of water. You have probably heard this. Chemo will back things up...keep your bowels moving....walk a little every day even if 10 minutes...add as you are able....seriously this is the single best thing you can do for yourself to get through. It helps boost your mood too.

In my past life, being prepared was an occasional challenge.  I didn't think much about it. Without a doubt, this chemo thing will prove to be my biggest. How do you prepare for the unknown?  Some people tell me that I'll just breeze through chemo.  No problem.  I've been told:  You won't have nausea; they give you medicine for that.  You might feel a bit fatigued the first couple of days, but after that you'll be okay.  You'll be able to work.  Just rest when you can.  You might not lose your hair; some people don't.  Oh please, please, please let this be me.

Here's what Koryn said about that in another e-mail to me (her last sentence is hilarious!):

As for chemo, I will tell you what my oncologist told me. Yes, some women who go through chemo do not lose all their hair. The women with breast cancer? THEY lose all their hair. Period. It is a matter of the chemo drugs (all of them) given for breast cancer. Some chemo regimens for, say, lung cancer, doesn't affect the hair as much. So you can pretty much plan on needing that wig. I had fun with the wigs. I never left home without it. And the only day when I did, I wore a scarf and was going to chemo treatment that day and I hated it. I felt like everybody was staring. If I should have been okay with it anywhere it should have been going THERE, right? But I didn't feel comfortable at all but it was hot and I was tired and I just wanted a break from the tight itchy wig.  Other women feel totally free going everywhere being bald. I had a friend who was younger than me going through it and she met me at Starbucks one day for coffee with about 1/4 inch gray fuzzy "after growth". She looked like a refugee. She is a beautiful woman. She told me that she thinks people need to know that this is what cancer looks like and that very young women get breast cancer and she is not going to hide that. She is out to eductae the world about the evils of hormones and doesn't care how she looks in the process. So you will find where you fit in there, or somewhere in between. At home I didn't even go bald because I couldn't stand how I looked passing by a mirror. Plus, my dog growled at me!

The other day Dwain and I scanned a catalog that the American Cancer Society gave me, "tlc."  I guess that stands for Tender Loving Care.  They have all sorts of lovely hats, scarves, post-surgical necessities (oh how I wish I'd seen this catalog before my mastectomy because they feature a brand new item: surgical drain belt with pockets.  For those who have dealt with the horrors of drain tubes, you will know precisely what I'm talking about.  If you're about to get a mastectomy or know someone who is, you've got to check this out.  A life-saver, if you ask me.), bras and foam breast forms, and so so so many wigs.  I asked Dwain to help me find a wig that didn't look too "wiggy."  We looked and looked.  Dwain made big Xs over the ones he disliked the most.  We finally decided on the wig pictured below.  The color will be rich brown with golden highlights (the one pictured is light reddish brown).

I'm not sure that you can ever wear a wig that doesn't actually look like a wig, but hey, what choice do you have if you're a woman and you're basically bald?  You can wear a wig, a scarf, a hat, or you can go around looking like one of the Coneheads from Saturday Night Live fame.  "tlc" has a super great return policy, too.  If for some reason I don't lose my hair, I can return my new unused head of hair. 

I guess I better get busy and start using my days to prepare.  Dwain and I have already started stocking the freezer with quart-sized freezer bags of homemade soups.  Mattie Mae gave us tons and tons of fresh fruit that she grew this summer -- also in the freezer.  Those will be good for those low energy days.  How many of those days can we expect?  

I'm usually such a high-energy person and I love to cook.  I love to be out and about.  I don't like to be waylaid by anything.  Ever.  I hate the idea of this whole chemo thing so much.  I dread it. It's on my mind constantly.  But I hate the idea of breast cancer coming back even more.  So I guess I better just suck it up and get used to...  But get used to what? 

I can prepare for most things.  My parents instilled a strength in me about everything, including sickness; if you're sick, go to bed, take your medicine, take care of yourself, get well and then go on.  Don't linger.  Don't enjoy being sick.  Believe me, I don't enjoy being sick.   That said, how do you prepare for the unknown?  How do you prepare your mind for such a thing as this?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chemotherapy This Friday? But. But. But. My Chemo Port Still Hurts and...

Picture this.  My cell phone rings.  Caller ID pops up a number that I do not recognize and I'm driving along a curvy, mountainous highway in a backward county where cell towers mostly do not exist, let alone cell service.  I try to answer anyway.  Call was dropped, the screen said.  Okay, so big deal.  It was probably an attorney who will text me later or e-mail me or call me this afternoon.  Right away the phone rang again.  Same number, same circumstance, same call was dropped on the screen.

Now, picture this.  Court is over. Everyone is gone except the judge and me.  We are discussing my upcoming chemotherapy sessions and I tell him not to worry.  "I'll be fine. The doctor says I will be able to work during chemotherapy and that I might not even lose my hair.  But just in case, I am planning to get a wig; already have a wig catalog that I'm thumbing through.  The doctor explained that I can have my chemo treatments on Fridays, so that will give me all weekend plus our Monday office day to, quote, recover.
"When do you expect you'll start chemotherapy?" he innocently asks.
"Well,"  I say with great confidence, "my chemo port incision is not completely healed and we have that week-long jury trial next week, so I'm guessing not until the following Friday.  So I should be good to go all next week,"  I smile.  In fact I'm beaming because for the first time in weeks, I feel that confidence.  I feel healthy and physically strong. 

As soon as my car climbs back into civilization, I hit my cell phone's SEND button and redial the number that called me earlier.  It was my oncologist's office who politely informed me they would start my chemotherapy treatment Friday.  Not that they would like to start chemo on Friday, but that they would begin on Friday.  They were being decisive.  They were calling the shots. 

THIS FRIDAY?  I was incredulous.  I started by saying, in as calm a voice as I could muster, "Oh, but we can't start this Friday because my port incision is not completely healed."
The nurse said, "Oh,  that port incision is going to hurt for weeks.  That's okay.  We're going to need to start on Friday."

 I said, (picture me with hands on hips, wagging a finger, mouth pursed)  "NO WAY am I starting chemotherapy this Friday.  NO WAY!  We have a jury trial every single day next week and it's going to be an arduous trial.  I have to be ready.  I can't be fatigued or sick or unhealthy.  I have to be ready -- on the top of my game."  (Picture me with my arms crossed over my chest, eyes blazing).  I may have been driving a car, but I think the person on the other end of the line clearly got my message.  And to think, I once sang a song in a talent contest called, I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No (from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma).  Who me?  Can't say no? Just watch me.

Seriously, I honestly believe it's more than that.  I talked myself into believing that I would begin chemo the week after next.  I already told my boss that I would begin chemo week after next.  So it's more of a mental preparedness thing, don't you think?   Can you actually be mentally prepared to take chemotherapy?  Why is it harder to do this (chemotherapy) than to surgically loose two breasts?

*UPDATE:  I got my way.  No chemotherapy for me this week.  The appointed time (to be negotiated, not told to me) will be later this month. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Not All Surgeons or Hospitals Are Equally Created

My positive word came to me in the middle of the night when I was mostly half asleep.  But still, I was aware that the dreamy message in song was meant for me.  Where had I heard this before?  The words were so perfect.  Over and over they rolled through my fuzzy brain.  I was so glad because I knew that I'd wake up this morning and remember.  I'd have my perfect mantra to get me through the day.  Only I didn't remember.  I couldn't.  I only remembered that the words were from a song from the part of Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar.  Dwain tentatively suggested the title, I Don't Know How To Love Him.  No.  That was not it.  Good try though.

Thankfully, Dwain has the Jesus Christ Superstar Rock Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice box set from 1970, which includes the songbook with all the words of the entire cast.  He dug it out and found exactly the words I was looking for --


Mary Magdalene
Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to
Problems that upset you oh don't you know
Everything's alright yes everything's fine
And we want you to sleep well tonight
Let the world turn without you tonight
If we try we'll get by so forget all about us tonight

So my positive words for today: ... Everything's alright, yes everything's fine.  But I mean, how perfect and how strange that those exact words, ... And we want you to sleep well tonight, Let the world turn without you tonight...  would come to me as if in a dream.  And I did sleep well and sound. 

Now on to the subject of my post for today, surgeons and hospitals. 

This past Thursday I was hospitalized in our local hospital for an outpatient procedure to have a port installed.  You can read about this (click here) if you missed it. 

What is Chemotherapy Port?
A chemotherapy port is a relatively simple and painless way to deliver chemotherapy drugs into the body. Chemotherapy is a medical treatment for cancer, which can have many harsh side effects. A chemotherapy port can be a more comfortable way of administering chemotherapy and also prove safer for the patient’s overall health.


This is not a picture of me, but an image I captured off the world-wide web that accurately depicts what a chemo port looks like right after it's been surgically implanted.  I've already removed the surgical tape that covered mine.  But oh wow, is it ever sore and bruised. 

Like I said in my post about my most recent surgery, it felt rushed and hurried and not very personal.  Let me delve even deeper.

My double mastectomy was scheduled after a long and deep consultation with my breast surgeon/oncologist Dr. Dana Abraham at the Abraham Breast Clinic in Little Rock, who could not have been more compassionate and caring, as was her entire staff.   She told Dwain and me that our consultation about what came next would take time.  In fact, it took about an hour.  Dr. Abraham had done my lumpectomy about a week prior and was prepared to give us all our options.  She went over each option step by step and the consequences involved, including breast reconstruction. She could put us in touch with a plastic surgeon, if we wanted.  Believe me, breast reconstruction for a mastectomy patient is not like getting a Hollywood boob job.  It is a very painful, painful process that takes about a year to complete.  Dr. Abraham said that the pain level for a double mastectomy would be about 2 to 3 on a level of 1-10.  If I had opted to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy she said it would have been about 8 out of 10.  Our heads were swimming.  Dwain finally asked her what she would do if it were her.  She simply said, I have a special needs child.  I have to live as long as possible for her sake.  So if I were in your shoes, I would have a mastectomy, which would offer me the best chance for a long life.  She said the only thing she would do differently is she would have to have breast reconstruction because of her husband.  She smiled weakly.  You should have seen the look on Dwain's blazing face.  I thought his eyes were going to pop right of his sockets.  He blurted out, NOOOO!  I knew immediately that WE had already opted NOT to have breast reconstruction.  The State of Arkansas has a law that says a mastectomy patient can make that decision at any point, even 10 years later if they want.  But I guarantee you, that will never be an option for me.  But the decision to have a double mastectomy was a total thumb's up.  Why a double mastectomy? Because it was only a matter time for the left neighbor breast, the one with the atypical cells swimming around in there.  We did it as a matter of prevention.  Believe me, I don't want to go through this twice.  Dr. Abraham told her scheduling clerk what we wanted to do, and to schedule it for November 22, 2010 for 10 a.m.  She knew we had a three hour drive, so she put us as late in the morning as she could. 


That's Dr. Abraham, front and center. Her loyal staff surrounds her constantly, and they are as calm and nice and helpful and available as can be.  Isn't that what you want to see when you are scared to death? 



This is a picture of the entrance to the Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock, where both my lumpectomy and double mastectomy were performed.  I was informed up front that Dr. Abraham is a part owner in this hospital.


This is a picture Dwain took of me just prior to surgery.  I was saying, Go Go Go MEEEE!  And I wasn't even high on anything

The nurses treated me like I was the only patient.  Was I warm enough?  They had a machine that gently blew warm air under the covers.  Hospitals, I found, are always freezing cold because they want to discourage the growth of germs.  How about that?  My vital stats were monitored constantly. How was I?  How was I?  How was I?   But one random question took me completely off guard.  In fact, I thought it was a joke;  Does your husband mistreat you or beat you?  I said, no, but my cat does.   The questioner did not seem in the least amused.  I mean, I thought the guy was kidding.  By the way, he did not ask this question in front of Dwain.  He asked a whole series of questions before Dwain was allowed in pre-op. I wonder if they ask the same questions if the patient is a man?

Here is where surgeons part ways, I guess.  Both times I was at Arkansas Surgical Hospital, Dr. Abraham came into the pre-op area to check on me.  She smiled reassuringly and told me everything would be okay.  She asked if we had any questions. She told me that my pain would be managed.  She even initialed my boobs with a Sharpie. 

My port surgeon on Thursday did not bother to come in to see me pre-op and say diddly squat.  I mean, I honestly felt that he should have.  It wasn't a life or death thing, but surgery is surgery.  He could have come in and said something.  A smile and a nod would have helped a little.  I never saw him once.  The only way I know he actually performed the surgery is that he came out and talked to Dwain afterward. 


Dwain's friend, Jeanne, who is a surgical nurse at UAMS in Little Rock said this is called the ET finger.  

Dwain said it was the only thing I was hooked up to when I was wheeled into my patient room after the double mastectomy -- no IV, no nothing.  All I remember is when I woke up in recovery I was in pain like you would not believe.  Someone said, how bad do you hurt?  Bad, I said.  Really bad.  She did something, then said, how's this.  The pain was letting up but still I could feel it.  She did something else.  How's that?  Suddenly, I felt no pain at all.  In fact, I felt all warm and deeply comforted, like being enfolded in a blanket.  The next thing I knew, Dwain was whispering something in my ear.  What?  I have no idea.  But I knew it was him, and that's all that mattered. 
Before surgery, he had given me a strong whiff of his cologne. He said I would recognize him by that smell.


He must have said "smile" and I reacted because I had no idea that Dwain had taken any pictures of me at all, post surgery.  I told him this is my happy morphine face. He said that between naps I said some of the funniest things he'd ever heard.  Well, at least I'm a happy drunk, right? 

All I can said is, Dr. Abraham has never lied to me.  She told me the truth from day one.  And she never, ever hurt me, unless you include the time she told me, you have to stop taking my bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.  How long? I said.  Forever, she replied.  You can never take them again.  You have estrogen receptive cancer.  She gave me one month to taper off my hormones.  She said, you have till the end of November to be completely rid of them. I'm the mean, bad doctor, but I'm here to save your life

So many life-changing circumstances in such a short period of time.  Dwain and I have learned not to say, what next?  But we  have also learned, choose your doctor, your surgeon and your hospital very, very carefully.  Any other major surgeries to come down the pike will not be rocket science for this family -- we know where we're going, even if it is a three-hour drive south. 
We really shouldn't have to tell doctors or nurses what we expect.