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.

open letter to god on hair

Are you there, God? It’s me. Alice. I miss my hair! No kidding!

I’ve been bald for only two months; it seems like two years! My arms and legs are as smooth as a baby’s bottom, my eyebrows look like the thin penciled line popular with ladies of the flapper era. I have eyelashes but they’re very sparse. The oncologist tells me I will probably see new hair appearing in a few more weeks, with enough to really notice around three months after the LAST chemotherapy, which would be around the middle of July.

When I was shopping for wigs and setting aside hats and scarves–“to have fun with” at my oncology nurses’ suggestion–I was only concerned with vanity. A very long time ago someone told me that he’d never seen anybody, other than me, whose looks were more determined by how my hair looked. He meant it as a compliment–I’m sure, because he was a nice, older man and my boss–but it was sort of true. If I missed one day without a shampoo, my thin baby fine hair hung as limp as a dishrag and made my chipmunk cheeks look fatter as if I were using using an upside down spoon as a mirror. Sadly, I realized it was true: the way I felt about and carried myself depended far too much on whether or not my hair was properly washed and styled.

I’ve noticed lately that lots of people think You make bad things happen to people in order to teach them lessons they need to learn. Naturally it occurred to me that my getting cancer was Your way of teaching me that hair did not define me. Well, it’s true. I’ve learned that lesson well. That’s why I’m writing this letter now as a way to cry “Uncle.” I concede to You on the matter of hair, vanity, and all that! Now I come to ask that–if it be Your will (I know that it has to be Your will from my Sunday school days and I know You’ll forgive me for saying “You” rather than the King James term, “Thy”)–if at all possible, please speed up the re-growth of my hair, no matter what color or texture you choose to send me.

You see, I’ve been having the devil of a time keeping my head warm at night to sleep. Scarves slip and either come down over my eyes to leave the back of my head exposed and cold. Most knitted caps add a layer of bulk that feel uncomfortable. The one I’ve been using lately, a soft fleece-lined stockinette stitch, otherwise perfectly soft and comfy sometimes gets too warm now that the weather is getting milder and I wake up and have to pull it off. Then it starts feeling chilly again, so I lay it carefully over my bald pate and try to go back to sleep without moving. So that’s why I’m so looking forward to having my hair back. I can look perfectly okay with wigs of color and styles which my own hair would be incapable of holding without a whole can of hairspray, but wigs are not comfortable to sleep in, thus cannot keep my head warm at night, trust me!

You already know this I’m sure, but I’ll say it anyway:  I’ve always had an insatiable curiosity (Hubby calls it impatience)  which I’m sure You stamped into my DNA before I was even born, so if there’s a way please send me a hint about the color I might expect. And this time, maybe the message could come in a much less dramatic way, an email perhaps.

All Clear and So, No More Mr. Nice Guy?

Hello everyone:

It was a great day yesterday.  Alice had her post-chemo PET/CT scan in the morning and we met with the oncologist in the afternoon.  When the Dr. came in she was all smiles and said that everything looked good.  No traces of cancer cells anywhere and her lab results from the blood sample were good too.  We had expected these results and neither one of us was all worried.  However, the impact of this message is taking its time sinking in.

On the way home, I told Alice that now that she is all well, she will have to start taking care of herself and start cooking and stuff.  NO MORE MR. NICE GUY, I said to her.  She had her answer ready.  She says that she had been reading about the treatment and it is usual for the caregivers to drop their caregiving  as soon as the treatment is over.  The article she read said that it is a mistake to expect the patient to pick up their pre-treatment schedules because the effects of the treatment last weeks to months and sometimes years.  Not having seen the article, I decided not to challenge her.  And then she says, as she was getting ready to heat up some leftover food, “I hate cooking!”.  Well that did it for my “no more mr.nice guy” proposition.

Well, today my proposition got another setback.  We went to see the Radiation Oncologist to plan her radiation treatment.  They talked about how it should be relatively easy to deal with as it should not make her sick like chemo, and the only thing she may need is a moisturizing cream of some kind to apply to the treatment area as it is likely to have the feeling of sunburn.  ALSO, they said that she would suffer from general fatigue and feel drained for a while during and after the treatment.  So, there it is, my near-term job is to continue to be the nursemaid, chief cook, dishwasher, picker-after and run errands.

Well, seriously, as I am writing this post, my delight in the great news is slowly washing over me and I hope Alice gets the same feeling when she reads this post to correct my grammar.

What is next?  She goes through a verification step for her radiation treatment set up (where she lies down into a mold specially made for her to position her in the treatment room and they’ll check all the marks) next Friday (May 28) and her first of the twenty  treatments  will start on June 1.  It will be two days after our 41st wedding anniversary.  We definitely know how to celebrate our birthdays and anniversaries.  If you all remember, her first Chemo session was on my birthday.  That’s all for now.