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...