Archive | November, 2010

Mikey Minus an Eye

21 Nov

I love my friends and I love their dog…please click the link and read on!

Workin’ On My Night Sweats

17 Nov

I sing that title, Bob Seger/Liz Lemon style, to Chris pretty regularly now.

Sometimes I’m a menopausal lady.  When we took my ovaries out, to you know, take out the cancer, we effectively shut down my body’s estrogen factory.  I still produce minimal amounts of estrogen in my liver, adrenal glands, breasts and fat cells, but we took the big guns out.  This launched me into a cataclysmic menopause overdrive, or the change of life, as Dr. Great calls it, at the ripe old age of 24.

So what is that like?  Well, by the time I checked out of the hospital, four days after my surgery, I was having regular throw-my-blanket-off-me-get-red-in-the-face-dripping-sweat hot flashes.  I don’t know why, but I thought the whole menopause thing would take longer to set in, so I spent most of this time convinced the small fever I’d had after a blood transfusion was back and raging.  I made the nurses take my temperature a whole bunch.  Turns out it was the flashies.

I’m one of the lucky oophorectomy kids, though.  My cancer was an estrogen producing cancer (which makes me think I must have really been cruising on an estrogen high what with the softball sized tumor and all).  Because my cancer produced estrogen, as opposed to feeding off of it like some breast cancers, I’m allowed to use estrogen replacement therapy.  I don’t need full hormone replacement therapy with progesterone, because I don’t have a uterus anymore and that’s all you need progesterone for anyhow.  Once we figured out that I was starting to flash away like rudolph’s nose, I started using my estrogen patches, which I’ll use for the rest of my life.  Without them my doctors said I’d probably start seeing signs of osteoporosis in five years, my skin would start to lose it’s elasticity and get wrinkly, and I’d basically age like Robin Williams in that movie Jack.  Lack of estrogen can also make you feel pretty blue, and who needs that?  I’ve heard that menopause can also make you pretty cranky.  I have to say that overall, I don’t feel that cranky, but when I am it’s hard to say what makes me feel that way these days…the cancer, the chemo, basketball season, baldness, boredom, etc.

Now, this is all well and good…unless you sometimes forget to change your estrogen patches on time….then you end up sweating and panting and trapped under the layers of winter clothing you put on.  Oh and chemo gives you hot flashes too.

Hey, at least I don’t need birth control anymore.

And at least I’m not wearing that blue snuggie, Liz Lemon, looks like a hot flashaster.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

12 Nov

Alright. So you saw that post title coming from a mile away. Sorry about that.

We did it!  We buzzed my head!  Within a few weeks I’ll be totally bald but buzz-cut makes that process a bit easier on everyone. This way there won’t be long clumps of hair in our coffee or tons of these chemo tumbleweeds snarled up in every corner. The drains in our bathtubs and sinks will be spared. I won’t have to look like Cousin It. It’s better.

Having my hair start to really fall out was tough. I thought I was looking forward to it, but it was pretty shocking the first time I shampooed my head and my hands came away full of hair. And it doesn’t stop. It’s not like, oh good, got out all the hair that’s going to fall out today, phew. Every time I touch my hair a clump comes out. I’m not so upset about how I’ll look bald, I think it’s kind of cool, but it made me feel really unwell to have chunks of hair just falling out all over the place. I don’t like feeling sick. It’s not even the cancer that makes my hair fall out, it’s the treatment, but having my hair jump ship is not exactly a sign of health and well-being. It’s like having your teeth come loose and fall out.

I’m curious about what it’s going to be like to be out in public now, without my hair. Will random people say things to me? I’ve heard pregnant people complain about strangers touching their belly – will strangers give me inappropriate encouragement hugs and shoulder squeezes? Meaningful arm pats? Will people let me cut them in line? Give me free stuff? Will I get a lot of pitying looks? Will every interaction I have out and about in the world now be in terms of my cancer? Because of my cancer? I’m not just buying this 50 pack of toilet paper on sale…I’m buying it AND I HAVE CANCER. I’m not just walking my dog dressed like a homeless person because I’m lazy…I’m walking my dog dressed like this BECAUSE I HAVE CANCER. I’ll let you guys know how that goes…

So here are some photos of the buzzing process. We had fun. Chris did a great job and our esteemed photographer, Erika, took some great photos/videos.

Chris, looking confident with the clippers….

Obviously we should have left it like this…

An outfit change was required on account of all the hair!

Oh woops, that’s not me…that’s my little brother…we just look so much alike now!

Yep, there’s my little bro again…we look badass…

Zebra Boyfriend, Esq.

9 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write since cancer came knockin’ and while I’ve been processing all that’s changed in our lives, I’ve yet to come up with a coherent thought. Yet, there are a few things worth noting:

1. The “Girlfriend” Problem

I feel awkward when explaining Colleen’s illness on several levels, but for people who don’t know who Colleen is in relation to me I am forced to use the word “girlfriend,” as in: “My girlfriend has cancer.” As an aside, the word girlfriend immediately reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke: “I don’t have a girlfriend but I do know a woman who would be mad at me for saying that.” The word girlfriend has always bothered me mainly because it doesn’t match the feelings I have for Colleen, and yet I struggle to find a better word. “Partner” is more fitting, but confuses people because we’re not gay. In addition to not being gay, we’re not married nor engaged so neither “wife” nor “fiancée” work. So I’m stuck with a word that almost trivializes our relationship and begs a response from Liz Lemon a la “Deal Breakers:” “Not married after six years? That’s a Dealbreaker!” So I’ve been brainstorming some other options:

  • “Intimate Life Partner”
  • “Future Spouse”
  • “My Lady Friend”
  • “My Special Lady Friend”
  • “My Consort”

Recommendations welcomed.

2. Babies make me sad (and then angry, and then sad).

As time has passed, the fear and uncertainty surrounding Colleen’s mortality has subsided. But it has given way to a fear about the reality that Colleen is unable to get pregnant. The two of us contemplated and talked about adoption pre-Cancer. But there is  a lingering sadness, more for Colleen than for myself, that we may never have a child that is “ours” in the biological sense. There is of course what I refer to as the “Sci-Fi Option:” a surrogate pregnancy using eggs from the frozen strip of ovary in storage in some lab with the help of Doctor Cool and sponsorship, oddly enough, from Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation. This isn’t so much of a long shot as it once was especially given how rapidly the technology needed is changing (is it not weird to associate technology with reproduction?), but it’s no certainty. In essence, I have a visceral response to young children lately but maybe more significantly, I’m anticipating Colleen’s response to children in the reality we inhabit now. I don’t begrudge the fertile or the child-rearing among us nor have I become self righteous about how adoption is so much better anyway. But I’ve contemplated these responses and kept them to myself (which is, of course, for the best). I’m sure at some point clarity will emerge, or some semblance of it, but for now, I’ll be satisfied to muddle through. So it goes.

3. The Young and the Hairless

There is a theme of hairlessness in our family and by family I mean me, Colleen and the dog. I am, if only slightly, balding. Colleen is losing her hair as a result of chemotherapy, and our dog Penny has had oddly naked armpits and stomach for as long as we have known her. In solidarity with Colleen (and to lessen the effect of my own balding) I have cut my hair very short and Penny has agreed not to grow any more hair on her stomach for the time being. We plan to buzz Colleen’s hair before it starts coming out in massive clumps and we’ll put up some pictures of this process as soon as it happens. For now I’ve been telling her, “enjoy your hair while you still can.”

Before her hair disappears, I have this to share: Colleen, with her new-ish glasses, and current hair style looks A LOT like Michael Douglas in the film adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel “Wonder Boys.”


Totally looking for levity,


The Greatest Danger…

8 Nov

For the past few weeks my mom has been documenting some memorable moments with Dr. Great. Here’s a few that she wrote up for the blog.

Late Monday night, before surgery and before cancer is discovered
Dr. G: Just because you hear hoof beats behind you doesn’t mean a zebra is approaching.

Thursday morning, to family after surgery, he has to tell them a zebra has indeed approached
Dr. G: We are all very sad. The entire OR went silent. If you are wondering what to say to her, say anything you want. Tell her whatever you want. She will see it in your eyes anyway.

Friday, the first day out of surgery
Dr. G: Hundreds, if not thousands of people in this hospital know your story and their hearts go out to you…(pause)…not because they think you are dying!
The Zebra: Laughter…

Saturday after surgery, the Zebra is worried and nervous
Dr. G: Imagine you are in Vermont, in a canoe, floating down the river, but you have no paddle. Next week, you will get a paddle. Until then, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Saturday after surgery Zebra complains that Percoset makes her “loopy”
Dr. G: Enjoy the high.

Monday after surgery, Percoset makes the Zebra especially adept at crossword puzzles while waiting for Dr. Great to come by the room for a chat before departure
Dr. G: Well, John Lennon did some of his best work under the influence of similar stuff.

Chatting before departure Monday
The Zebra: When can I have a glass of wine Dr. Great?
Dr Great: Tonight. I like your attitude.

I do love my doctor. He’s a UVM grad, drives a big gray pickup truck and calls menopause “the change of life”. Which I find sort of charming and funny. I don’t think I could have trusted anyone else to cut out my uterus and ovaries. It is strange to think of how intimate I’ve been with so many of these doctors. I was talking with another doctor, my reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Cool, and it just came up in conversation that she held my bladder out of the way throughout my surgery. This image really struck me. Dr. Cool, cradling my bladder, my organ, up and out of my body a bit. What a fascinating transaction.

As I was leaving the hospital, Dr. Great gave me a hug and told me to keep the faith. That was good advice and I keep coming back to it. I can’t spend my day googling ovarian cancer survival statistics, or treatment options or frantically researching every twinge I feel in my pelvis. I have to keep the faith. I have to believe that I will be ok, that my treatment will work. I kind of can’t wait for my hair to fall out because it will be a sign that yes, the drugs are doing something!

I recently listened to the audiobook of Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” (highly recommend it!!) and in it he described the magical thinking, the almost deliberate self deception that some people employ to sustain a long term relationship. He equates this suspension of disbelief to the old Road Runner and Wilie E. Coyote cartoons. You’re fine, you can keep running, until you look down (evidence below). My relationship with cancer, and it will be a long term one, is like this. If I look down, I’ll fall. So I’m going to keep the faith and keep running. Having weighed my options, I choose to believe in all the things that are in my favor against cancer, I choose to believe my smart and optimistic doctors. I choose to believe that my belief, my state of mind, is just as important as my body’s condition when it comes to kicking cancer’s ass.

I leave you with one last quote. Chris got this in his fortune cookie the night that we found out my CT scan was all kinds of messed up. It’s always possible, right?

P.S. Added a link on my birthday/baseball post from a couple of weeks ago to one of the best baseball songs of all time “The Ball Game”. I hope it works on your computer and I hope you like it.

**UPDATE: just added the baseball song link here, makes more sense…

The Ball Game by Sister Wynona Carr

Port Authority

3 Nov

Well, the port is in. It’s a neat but strange little device and it only took half an hour or so to put in. The doctor who did the procedure was a very nice interventional radiologist. Before the procedure they had to tape my boob down flat, so that was interesting. They also covered me up with a sheet, making a little tent, so they could make a nice sterile field and so I couldn’t see what they were doing. I didn’t really feel much, they gave me some Lidocaine and Versed. I think it must take a bit of effort to get the port in place because they had to do a good bit of stuffing and shoving, but at least it didn’t hurt. I’d say the one downside is that I can’t shower for a week. Ick. Oh, and I had to sleep sitting upright last night…like the elephant man.

At this point I’m just tired of feeling unwell. I’m bored and this whole cancer thing is getting old. It was kind of fun at first, but I’m done. I’m ready to get back to my normal life. I don’t do well with this whole sitting around thing. I actually miss medical school but it takes all the energy I’ve got to walk the dog around the block. That and my capacity for emotional stimuli is maxed out by episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. Wah-wah-wah. Here’s a list I’m developing of things to do and look forward to:

– Knitting; I’ve rekindled my interest and have learned how to cable, I’m also going to learn yarns overs and how to make socks
– Read Moby Dick because I never have
– Make extravagant and elaborate three course meals and bake luxurious and complicated baked goods
– Learn more about ancient Egypt
– Play chess

That’s all I’ve got so far. But I’m open to suggestions. When chemo is over I’m looking forward to a fabulous vacation somewhere and getting my zebra tattoo. I’m looking into volunteering at the Yale Smilow Cancer Hospital, I’d really like to help out with the pediatric patients, but I can’t decide if the patients would be terrified by a volunteer that also has cancer, or delighted. I’m going to give them a call, see what they think.

I hope everyone had a good Halloween, I can’t believe it’s November already. My hair is still hanging in there, I may just be shedding a big more than usual, but nothing dramatic. We did buy a set of clippers though…buzz buzz buzz….I promise a photo as soon as the hair goes. For now, back to trashy daytime television!

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