Happy New Year – 2019

It’s amazing what old age will do to you. For the hubby and me, it means you find yourself addressing “Christmas cards” on New Year’s Day. Somewhere around December 22nd, the hubby and I realized we weren’t going to get the Christmas cards out on time after all. So, because there was little other choice, we decided to purposely wait and make them a “Seasons Greetings” as soon as we could in the new year.   

Much of the year was spent keeping doctor’s appointments and “having procedures.” In March my “routine mammography” became anything but when, instead of being called in and blessed with the “You can go home now, everything looks normal” reply I’d expected, I was led to a quiet side-chapel room to await a private talk with the oncologist. Yep, it was the old “lower case c” announcement every woman dreads. This time, instead of a recurrence of the 2010 non-Hodgkins lymphoma found in a lump in my breast, it was a ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the other breast. Then came the usual procedures including another colonoscopy and endoscopy to make sure it hadn’t spread. Then the lumpectomy, and hopefully all the affected skin cells duly removed–all with waiting periods in between. Then another three weeks of daily radiation, and it was determined that I had at that time “no (further) evidence of the disease. From now on I’ll face each mammography I have with dread. During this time, I had to twice reschedule a complete knee replacement we had expected to do in April much later than expected. 

I finally got the new knee in August. You’ve probably heard the old adage. My version goes “surgery went well, but  the patient almost died due to complications from low sodium and bad reaction to pain medication. It’ll make a good story if you like that sort of humor.

Now, four months later, I’m beginning to feel it might have been worth it. I walk well now, and that means there may be more travel possibilities in our future. Hubby’s bucket list is very long, so we’re hoping for a good year in 2019 that may include some travel. During this down time, and so much time on the couch during the various recovery periods, we made a new best friend of Netflix–who was always there for us. We both got hooked on NYT crossword puzzles. Even though I know many words–I have the very best words–Hubby is so much better, but I’m getting better, both health- AND word-wise.  In spite of all our bad new habits, we hope to get better organized in 2019 and do everything on our “must do” list on time. We’re grateful we’re ending the year better than it began. It’s all in the attitude. For now, we’ll just raise our virtual glasses to wish everyone a Most Healthy and Happy New Year.

wine glasses

 

 

 

 

 

ready for a new look at india

Monday was my six month checkup with the cancer institute. No scans, just bloodwork and a consultation. So uneventful it didn’t even merit a pitcher of Margaritas.  Everything still looks good, so now Hubby and me have finally scheduled the visit to India that got interrupted last year by chemo and radiation. We’re scheduled to leave New York January 15 and return there February 12. For part of that trip we’ll be accompanied by the Pittsburgh friend who accompanied us to Utah’s southeastern canyons recently.

What I’m particularly looking forward to showing our friend on this, my second trip to Agra in northern India, is the legendary Taj Mahal. The last time I was there was in 1980 on a Tuesday in May, and would you believe it?! The reflecting pool, shown here in a photograph from Wikipedia, had been drained for cleaning. What are the odds? Since this trip will no doubt be my last–to the Taj Mahal at least–I’m driving Hubby crazy saying “we have to find out what days and how often they clean the reflecting pool.” He’s much more laid back than me and it wouldn’t bother him one whit if it happens again, but not me!

There’ll be other wonderful re-visits to forts and palaces and temples in Delhi, after which we’ll spend a few days in Goa where I’m hoping for at least one feast of seafood in a fabulous restaurant. After that we’re looking at a short houseboat journey in Kerala, to explore through its backwaters and watch beautiful sunsets and sunrise while somebody else drives, makes the beds, and cooks. Sounds like a pretty good way to work the stress kinks out of the body and soul. Then on to Kanayakumari, which is literally the bottom of India and bordered by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.

I feel great in body and spirit, and there’s no sign yet of my rheumatoid arthritis (!). My oncologist tells me that it’s not uncommon for RA symptoms not to return for a long time, but that eventually–if I live long enough–symptoms will probably appear again eventually. That’s because one of the treatments used in the chemo-regimen chosen by my doctors, mega doses of Rituximab, is also used to treat RA. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy being in remission–of both cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. And get ready to explore India and visit as many of those relatives who were so supportive of both Hubby and me during the treatment.

A few months ago on one of my cleaning-out sprees, I found the calendar I had on my kitchen wall in 1980. I had forgotten that I’d posted daily notes on it about that trip–my very first to India. Where, who, what and little experiences I had. Travel really is broadening and that was just the beginning of a lifelong journey for me. So now that my Osher class is almost over (next week) I thought I’d spend a few posts to jot down a few of those experiences, so they’ll be fresh in my mind to compare with the new/old me looking forward to the upcoming trip which will be number five for me, or is it six? That ought to make the time go faster, huh?

hair apparent and other after-treatment news

Driving by my old hair dresser’s shop yesterday after my first Osher class of the new season, I decided to stop in and surprise him, sporting as I was, my new au naturel look. I have about two inches on top, with slightly less on the sides. New growth from formerly bald, I’ve learned, is erratic and uneven. The color is salt and pepper, leaning a little more on the salt side.

Most of the summer I’ve been waiting for my hair to grow. Technically, it’s supposedly been growing since about three weeks after my last chemo treatment, which was sometime around the end of April–how quickly we forget. That means sometime in May, maybe around my birthday on the 12th, I noticed the straggly hairs on my eyebrows that grow low nearly on the eyelid itself, which mostly disappeared during treatments leaving me a Clara Bow hint of brow, were the first to pop their ugly coarse hairs up again. Not much luck with the more important kind–that on top of my head–but lo and behold, sometime around the end of the month there was definitely more than a five o’clock shadow up there! And HOPE. That a new, full head of hair was indeed in my future. And that there was a future, indeed, to look forward to!

The bad news about the new hair apparent is that the texture is just as soft–like cotton–as it always was.

The good news is that it takes less than 10 minutes to have a perfectly fresh “do” to go out with in the mornings. The color’s not bad, and I’m planning to try one of those “silver” hair shampoos and save a lot of money not having my hair blonde-streaked ever again. I still cling to my wigs for backup, but they’re no longer out waiting on top of my dresser anymore. I’ve packed them away into their boxes. Just in case. Most of the time, I’m very happy to go about sporting my own–yep there’s enough to call it that now–HAIR.

The funny thing is how I feel as if I’m really presenting myself as myself now, perhaps for the first time in my life. I had a neck injury when I was young that left me with a lump on my neck at the top of my shoulders that makes me look a little like a turtle with his head sticking out of his shell if you see me sideways. I will always believe that my grandfather’s teasing me and pinching my breasts at a crucial period of my young life resulted in my rounded shoulders. If he didn’t notice the “Sunday bumps”–as he called them–he wouldn’t pinch them. I began hunching my shoulders when he was around. Eventually, I stopped noticing how I was hunching more and more, even when Grandpa wasn’t around.

I always feel as if I’m standing perfectly straight but candid glimpses of myself reflected in storefront windows and in pictures reveal the truth. For most of my adult life I’ve hidden this anomaly with either the “right” hairlength or the “right” kind of blouse or jacket as a disguise. Wearing wigs made this even easier because there was a heckuva lot more vinyl than I had real hair. The wigs are tiresome after awhile though, and they get awfully hot some summer days.

Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. It was time to get over it. Going cold turkey with my appearance–figurative warts and all–seemed the only way. Why now, you may wonder. In the spirit of looking for the good that comes from every bad thing that happens to you, I’ve decided that cancer has taught me it’s time to let go. In spite of how we tell ourselves we do, I know that none of has any real control of his life. The best we can do is learn to roll with the punches and simplify life as much as possible. At 68 I have nothing to prove to anybody anymore.

It’s been very hard to present myself to the world without all the props, especially when SIL reprimands the grandson in my presence to stand up straight. At the same time it’s been so “freeing”, so I just give SIL the benefit of the doubt and not infer that he’s reminding Thomas that he doesn’t want to wind up looking hunched like Grandma. It is a parent’s job to teach their children to stand up straight and proud, after all, and another thing I learned from having cancer is that people care a lot more than you can believe. You just have to be honest with everybody. This is me, folks. Get used to it.

So Kim, my hairdresser, a guy not a girl despite his name, tells me he kinda likes my new “do.” So for the future cuts, I gave him carte blanche from here on out to cut it however he wants to. And I think he’s already planning to go with the new look, beginning with a “shape up” in a few more weeks when I have an inch or so more hair to shape. And then, a trim every five weeks or so to keep it neat. Now THAT’s when I figure my hair will really start to grow. I’m sure you’ve noticed how fast your hair grows when you have to get trims at $xx.00 a pop every five or six weeks! In spite of Hubby’s sorrow, I’m so-ooooooooo looking forward to it.

Yaaay it’s margarita time!!!

Hi all:

It is Hubby again celebrating the good news.

Alice had her post-treatment PET/CT scan this morning and we met with the Oncologist this afternoon.  While we were not expecting any bad news, it was good to hear from the “horses’ mouth” that everything looked fine with the scans and there was no evidence of disease (NED).  What was even better, as far as Alice was concerned, was that the good news was initially delivered by none other than Dr. McG as in DrMcdreamy.  Alice wants me to call him just Dr. G as in “G for Gorgeous”.  If you all remember, he is the good looking 6’8″ doctor with excellent bedside manners and exhibiting extreme competence.  As it turns out, Dr. G was doing his turn as a Fellow in the Oncology clinic working with Alice’s Oncologist (another Dr. G as in Michelle G).  Dr. McG explained to us some of the results of the PET/CT scan and told us that there was nothing to be concerned about.  A little later, we had a short session with both Dr. Gs and we were told to go ahead and re-plan our trip to India  and start to live our life normally.

I had been thinking for a week or so about how we were going to celebrate the good news but had no real plan.  However, having run into Dr. McG the only thing I could think of was to make a big pitcher of margaritas and invite Alice to help me drink it.  So we stopped at a State Liquor Store on the way home from the hospital and bought a bottle of tequila and margarita mix to go with it.  I always thought that nothing  symbolizes  celebration better than a margarita.  Besides, I knew that Alice, who is a non-drinker, liked margarita more than any other alcoholic drink and this was the only way for me to do a “one up on Dr. McG”.  Also, we may not see him any more as the next appointment for Alice is 3 months away.

Here are a couple of pictures of Alice helping me with the margarita.  You can also see that she is not wearing her wig in the pictures and her hair is about half an inch long.  I am trying to convince her that she really does not need her wig any more.  I am sure that she will stop being self conscious in a week or so.

Salute

lickin’ all the salt off

no longer a “baldy”

As I expected, we are at a loss.  We had always expected the good news, but now that it is here, we are not sure how to deal with it.  I am sure you all will help us.

H

we are all done for now!

Hello friends of Alice:

Sorry about sneaking in a post from me while you were probably expecting one from Alice.  In a weak moment I mumbled something like, “you want me to do a post for you?”.  She, ever the slave driver, jumped at it.  She is always trying to get me to do her work.  So here I am stuck with doing the post and I welcome all your sympathy.

Alice had her last radiation treatment yesterday and we really did not know how to celebrate it.  There were no side effects to worry about and the whole treatment regimen was rather mild and boring, at least from my viewpoint.  The worst part was  having to drive to the hospital every day, five days a week for four weeks.  Now that she was done with that, Alice felt like she was just freed from prison and didn’t know what to do with herself. Now neither one of us can handle a free morning.  It is a good thing that we are dog sitting for our daughter and I can occupy my mornings with a long walk with him.  Otherwise I would be nagging Alice about going to the gym.

We did have a celebration of sorts yesterday evening.  When I asked Alice what she would like for dinner (I still cook dinners most of the days) and gave her several choices including going out to a nice place to eat.  She wanted to go to a Vietnamese restaurant Indochine, where we had nice meals before.  So, that is what we did to celebrate her freedom from the daily drive to the hospital.

What is next?  We wait about four weeks for her next PET/CT scan and meet with her oncologist about the results.  Being an optimist, I expect a clean diagnosis “no evidence of disease” or NED.  Alice has already decided that NED is going to  be her new friend and we both hope that “he” is going to be around for a very long time.

We both are doing okay having gone through weeks and weeks of angst.  I am sure that we could not have handled it as well as we have without the support of Alice’s blog friends from all over the world.  For all of that a big Thank You.

end the week with humor

Tomorrow will be number nine of the 20 scheduled radiation treatments I’m currently undergoing. So far, no obvious side effects–not even a breast tan. Today I fell into chatting with two fellow radiation patients while we waited together in the waiting room. One, a young college student, today marked her next-to-last session. She had an aggressive tumor removed from her brain and will have undergone 30 rad treatments, just to–as her doctors say, “make sure any miniscule bad cells were hiding in there. I failed to register in my memory the cancer site of the other woman who looked to be in her early 60, perhaps ovarian but I’m not sure.  Her initial scan showed no surviving cancer cells, but I was struck by her remark–done in a “thinking out loud” sort of way–that survival rate for her cancer on a first-round basis was generally good, but NOT so good should she suffer a relapse. After her topical radiation is finished–6 more of 25–she’ll be back to undergo more radiation therapy, this time internal.

What I learned from this casual but surprisingly intimate conversation with strangers is that we all learn to cope, but we have in common that every one of us looks at life a little differently as a result of the experience. It’s probably redundant to say that we’ve all learned to separate the small stuff from the important stuff. Even better we now really understand that most stuff is small stuff, that’s just the way it is, and it’s too bad it takes a life altering experience to drive it home.

I was particularly struck by a remark from the older woman, that if by some magic she were given the opportunity to live her life completely over except without the cancer, she would say no. We all agreed we’ll never feel completely free anymore; there will always be that nagging fear no matter what all the scans reveal that it’ll come back.

That said, I think it’s a good idea to end the week, even though technically it’s not over, with a spot of humor.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

After closing time at the bar, a drunk was proudly showing off his new apartment to a couple of his friends.  He led the way to his bedroom where there was a big brass gong and a mallet.

“What’s up with the big brass gong?” one of his guests asked.

“It’s not a gong.  It’s a talking clock,” the drunk said.

“A talking clock?  Seriously?” asked his astonished friend.

“Yup,” replied the drunk.

“How’s it work?” the friend asked, squinting at it.

“Watch,” the drunk replied.  He picked up the mallet, gave the gong an ear-shattering pound and stepped back.

The three stood looking at one another for a moment.

Suddenly a voice on the other side of the wall screamed …

“You asshole!  It’s three-fifteen in the morning!”

learning new things every day

Every day in life, there are new things to learn, and every experience–even the most mundane of them–can teach you something important.

Several days back, having completed my chemotherapy program and an approximate three week break from medical routine, I reported to the hospital for a CT/PT scan which would tell us if it had been successful. I reported to the cancer hospital blood lab to have the intravenous line necessary for the test inserted.  After my relatively long break from needles, I generously held out both arms to the phlebotomist and tried hard not to think about anything while they poked around.

Then I was taken to a small room not much larger than a closet where I settled into a huge reclining chair. I hardly had time to wish I’d brought a magazine when two technicians entered. One inserted a syringe containing what he called “medicine” into the blood catheter while the other explained the procedure to me. The “medicine” was a radioactive sugar and an ionized contrast material that allows doctors to see detailed images of internal organs and other parts of the body.

In layman’s terms, cancer cells love sugar and being greedy and all, they absorb it more quickly than normal healthy cells so they light up like neon on the images created by the scanner. Hopefully there will be no neon lights on my scan. Before the scan could proceed, it would be necessary for me to lay quietly in the little room and wait for a hour so the medicine could get evenly distributed into my body.

My only question was “do you have a magazine I could read while I’m waiting?”  I was informed that they did not want me to read. In order for the medicine to evenly distribute through the body, I could do nothing but relax. Reading or conversing, which ruled out both catching up on PEOPLE or Hubby waiting with me to alleviate boredom, was out of the question because the organ of the body doing the most work for an activity–the brain in the case of reading–would absorb more of the dye and they didn’t want my brain to eat up all the dye (my wording, not theirs).

After they left, there was nothing to do but to turn the overhead lights to dim, adjust the recliner to a comfortable position, put my feet up and look around the room. There was nothing particularly interesting to look at–a few machines of some sort, the usual monitors that could be necessary in a medical facility, a gray medical cabinet with lots of narrow little drawers in it. Then my eyes were drawn to a small metal plaque on the wall where words were inscribed. “Mustn’t read,” I instructed myself over and over, but try as I might curiosity got the better of me. The words gave me something to think about:  Please be advised that this room is being monitored by security cameras for the safety of our patients.

Well! I hadn’t even thought about security in a hospital examining room before. What could happen in those closet sized rooms with dim lights and relaxing, maybe even sedated, patients. I couldn’t help thinking of every nervous fuss and fidget I’d done so far that could embarrass me. Had I picked my nose like some I’d seen waiting at traffic lights? Didn’t think so. Tugged at a wedgie? Nope. I was pretty sure that hadn’t happened either since as a mature adult I only wear comfortable underwear that doesn’t ride up like bikinis and French cuts. I was blackmail free, I decided, so I began to relax and think about all the other implications of those security cameras. Like, I’d read once about patients under sedation being molested in rooms very much like this one.

Of all people, ex-hostage Terry Anderson popped into my mind. I couldn’t remember the names of all the others, but I wondered if the room they’d been kept in was even smaller than this one. They had invented games in order to keep from going crazy in their isolation. I thought of many things of similar nature, and from time to time I worried that my brain, in spite of my not reading, was getting lighting up from all the thinking. Then I realized something about myself I hadn’t really known before.

I, who always thought of myself as a fairly relaxed being, did not know how to relax. What I’ve been doing all these years is called distraction. There’s plenty to distract you as I think about it. If I’m not doing some chore or other, I’m going someplace where I have things to focus on. Or I read. Books, blogs, for information online. I play card games online. I’m always busy, going from one thing to the other all day long. I have to work on that. I think most of us have become very adept at distraction, but most of us probably need to work on learning to relax.

Postscript: The scan was a good one–no cancer cells detected–so the final part of the treatment, a 20-day regimen of radiation at the tumor site–has begun. Today session was number two, and I’m already well into the routine which requires about an hour and 45 minutes of my day and puts me on a first-name basis with some of the hospital staff. I’m trying hard to inject my own little procedure into all the others used during this fight with the cancer that I’ve designated with a lower-case c. I project positive images while I’m in position on the table in the radiation oncology lab. As the radiation equipment delivers its beams into every direction of the original tumor site, I imagine each little rat a tat tat noise the machines makes in several spurts as tiny little replicas of me dressed as soldiers with machine guns, and I’m inside there machine gunning every little greedy, sugar loving, cancer cell, mowing them down even if they were too small to have shown up in the good scan. That ought to kill them all I think.