I can no longer shop happily

12 08 2020

Cancer requires stuff.

If you’re getting chemo, then there’s a good chance that you’ll need something for your head: wigs, scarves, hats—something to cover you and keep you warm.

Happily, I will not be getting chemo, but my particular surgery and the radiation has required me to buy:

  • sports bras (aka cheap compression bras): to keep the girls in place
  • saltines & ginger ale: to deal with post-surgical nausea
  • Aquafor: to deal with the “skin irritation” (aka burns) from the radiation
  • hydrocortisone cream: to deal with the “skin irritation” (aka itching) from the radiation
  • cheap undershirts: to protect my clothes from the Aquafor and hydrocortisone cream
  • aluminum-free deodorant: presumably to somehow not mess with the radiation
  • fragrance-free soap: presumably to avoid further skin irritation
  • cloth masks with filter inserts: Strictly speaking, this is more about the corona virus than the cancer, but since I’ll be commuting into Manhattan every day for four weeks to get zapped, I wanted something that would be both more environmentally-friendly and more effective than surgical masks. (The clinic will still give me a surgical mask to wear instead of my cloth one, but that’s on them.)

My radiation oncologist also suggested I use ratty old bras, since “you’re not getting them clean” after all of the creams; since I already have those, however, that’s not a required buy.

Again, had I needed chemo, I’d probably have had to buy even more stuff, to deal with the nausea (for the tummy) and the effects of nausea (for the throat and mouth), and things I haven’t even considered, and won’t consider, because, honestly, I don’t have to, and this is already enough.

So, yes, I am learning *so much* from this cancer; I would have preferred to have remained ignorant.





I got some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days

5 08 2020

My world, along with everyone else’s, dwindled as COVID spread; with the cancer diagnosis, it tilted.

Less than two months ago and I was wondering about fall teaching, how long New York would be shut down, the election—the election!—and trying to get back to sustained writing.

Well.

You know how a fish-eye lens distorts the view, bringing the center object in too close and pushing everything way far back? Yeah, that’s a cancer diagnosis. I’d guess that’s how it would be in normal-ish times, but in a pandemic, that contrast between fore- and back-ground is vertiginous.

Oddly, the pandemic has made my treatment. . . easier. That I’m teaching online gave me all kinds of flexibility for the many appointments I’ve had (and will have), and that clinics want to minimize contact means that I can fill out most of the “paperwork” online ahead of time. I’m not yet sure of my radiation treatment schedule (besides that it’ll be daily), but I won’t have to race up to/down from the Bronx before teaching my first/after teaching my last class to get that treatment.

And the trains are empty, which means I always get a seat coming home.

Cancer is terrible, and this pandemic is terrible, but their combination, for me, is somehow not twice as terrible, and may even be less terrible.

I don’t know if it’s that abrupt shift between the intimately personal and global, between the entire set of tasks I have to do to deal with my cancer and that feeling of helpless rage over the absolute and complete fuck-up that is the response of the US to this horrible virus that somehow lessens the impact on me.

Or maybe it’s recognition that before the diagnosis I was avoiding something that could make me very sick and perhaps even kill me, and now I’m dealing with something that could make me very sick and perhaps kill me—but probably won’t, because doctors have a better handle on my type of cancer than they do on this type of corona virus.

And while my anger at the cancer has pretty much dissipated, it has only increased at the response to the virus. I live in a city in which over 20,000 of us have died, lived through days in which hundreds and hundreds of people died. Both the mayor and governor made mistakes early on, mistakes which cost some portion of those lives, but they got better, and in the past 3 days zero deaths have been reported.

Other states, cities, could have learned from our mistakes, could have avoided the spike in cases, in suffering, in death, but too many of them didn’t. And even when politicians did the right thing, some portion of the public continues to insist on doing the wrong thing.

And the federal government and current occupant of the White House? My rage has gone supernova: I am blank.

There are no magic incantations against cancer, no magic incantations against this virus. The options are all unpleasant, and have a cost, but just as I as a cancer patient at least have options to avoid even more unpleasantness—and death—so too does the government and we as a society have those options.

Pity too many of us aren’t taking them.





Totally screwed up, I think that’s alright

28 07 2020

First there was the mammogram, and then the ultrasound. Then the second mammo and ultrasound.

Then the ultrasound-guided biopsy.

Then the blood tests.

Then the MRI.

Then more blood tests.

Then the ultrasound, and the mammo, and the MRI-guided biopsy.

Then the COVID test.

Then the pregnancy test (!), the surgery, and the excision of the lump and some lymph nodes.

Tests at every turn. The first few indicated a problem, the first biopsy confirmed it: cancer.

The blood-work checked for receptivity to hormone treatment (yes: good news) and whether I was HER2+, which would have meant chemo (no: good news).

I also paid out-of-pocket for some additional genetic tests, on behalf of my nieces. Sixty-six of sixty-seven were normal; one contained a SNP of uncertain consequence. I passed that information along.

The second set of blood-work were just basic panels: all fine.

The second biopsy indicated no cancer, but not quite right, either. Something to watch.

The COVID test was negative.

The pregnancy test was negative. The surgeon was able to get a clear margin around the tumor; the lymph nodes were clear—so no chemo on their account.

Now, I wait for the typing of the tumor’s genes, the third reason I might need chemo. I have no expectations on the results.

I don’t want to do chemo—I mean, really, who does? It’s good that it’s available and can be effective in lowering the risk of recurrence, but it’s even better not to need it in the first place. I’m already dreading the radiation; add chemo, and, ugh.

(Okay, my response would almost certainly be more than “ugh”; that’s just a placeholder, preferably for a reaction that won’t be necessary.)

But if I need it, I need it, and I’ll bitch and moan and do it.

I realize that in my last two posts, I’ve been all “whatchagonnado?”, as if I were all brave and determined and “chin-up”. I’m not. I’m not hopeful and self-encouraging. And while I admire stoicism, I am manifestly not a stoic.

I am resigned.

I did have a choice—to treat or not to treat—but since I’ve chosen treatment, this is what I have to do, regardless of how I feel or think about it. (I’m still working through both of those, by the way.) That’s it. I’ve chosen to do this.

So I’ll do radiation and hormone treatment, and chemo if necessary, because I want to be cancer-free. I want to get past this, and the only way past is through. That is the most mundane of realities, one to which I can only bow.

That’s it.





Cut it up

25 07 2020

Surgery over.

It wasn’t bad, all things considered. I got there at 6, was home before 1—and that included the time it took to get my prescription.

I mean, last week I had a second biopsy uptown that ended up requiring an MRI, and that took me even longer, so, really, no complaints about the time.

Because being sick takes a lot of time. That biopsy, for example: half of the time was spent waiting, and even on Thursday I spent 1 1/2, 2 hours waiting. Waiting to get processed. Waiting for the pregnancy (!) test results. Waiting for the radiologist. Waiting to talk to the nurse, the anaesthesiologist, the surgeon, just . . . waiting.

And then it was done.

A strange feeling, to walk into the OR—which, in stark contrast to all of the dim imaging rooms I’d been in, was bright and busy—climb on to the table, put out my arm for the IV, hear them telling me what they’re doing, and then verrrrrrrry slowly waking up, later.

It was that kind of wake-up where you think, I should be awake, but you just can’t, so you close your eyes again; you repeat that a couple of times, and then, and then you’re really awake, with the nurse offering you water (“Do you want it warm, or cold?”) and saltines.

And at some point you notice you’re wearing a surgical bra.

I don’t know why I find that odd—it helps to keep the swelling down—but the thought of them dressing me in a bra while I was unconscious, well, I find that, I don’t know, kind of remarkable.

It’s not, I know. Maybe because it’s such an ordinary thing after what was, to me, an extraordinary event; maybe because I haven’t been dressed by anyone since I was a small child; regardless, that small act has stayed with me.

The ride home wasn’t fun. My mom had suggested I bring a plastic bag with me, just in case; I didn’t use it, but my nausea didn’t fully subside until today. Saltines and ginger ale have been my mainstay. And while acetominophen works well enough during the day, I find the Percocet helps overnight.

Oh, and not that I recommend cancer, or any kind of surgery, to anyone, but if you do get sliced open, check if they’ll seal you up with surgical glue. I apparently have internal stitches, but externally? Glue. I was able to take a shower the next day, and wound care is a breeze.

I’ve got some nasty bruising, but no blood.

As for what’s next? Heal from this, and then, pathology results willing, radiation—and no chemo.

Not looking forward to that, or to sorting through my insurance and the hospital bills which have already begun arriving, but, whatever, I’ll deal with it. And if I do need chemo? Well, I’ll deal with that, too.

I mean, I’ll bitch about it, because of course I will, but in the meantime: keep on keepin’ on.





You spin me right around, baby

14 07 2020

Nine days to my surgery, and I’m impatient.

It helps that I’m teaching this month; it gives me something to concentrate on besides my immediate future. And while I don’t love teaching online, it does give me the flexibility I need to deal with the surgery and recovery (and, in the fall, my radiation treatments).

Anyway, I think at first I underplayed how much this cancer would fuck around with me life, but then I think I overplayed it. I went from “this is a pain” to “this is a disaster” and now I’m, like, “I dunno”.

And I don’t. I mean, I know this is going to suck, but I have no idea how I’m going to deal with the suckage.

Consider the pandemic, and how it’s affected each of us. I’m guessing that for most of us, life has gotten harder. I’ve had some really bad days the past few months, but, mostly, I’ve managed. My life is worse than what it was, but not unbearably so.

And maybe that’s how my life will be for the rest of year: worse, but not unbearably so.

Or maybe it will be unbearable; I’ll  bear it, nonetheless.





You may ask yourself, Where does that highway go to?

12 07 2020

So I have cancer.

Stage 1A breast cancer, to be treated with surgery and radiation, possibly chemo, and long-term hormone treatment. Prognosis is good.

~~~

I was years overdue for my first mammogram, when I finally followed through on one of the many scrips my doctor urged on me and scheduled one for early June.

They did the mammo and a breast ultrasound, and sent me on my way. Less than a week later, I got a call: Hey, there was an issue with one side, could you come back for another round?

It’s probably nothing, they said.

So, second mammogram/ultrasound in my life, less than a week after my first one. Then another call: Yeah, we found something, we’d like to biopsy it, just to be sure.

It’s probably nothing, they said.

Biopsy, then. The radiologist was very nice, told me everything that she was doing, said, you guess it, It’s probably nothing.

Four days after that: It’s something.

The first days after the diagnosis, I was simply annoyed. What the hell, I griped to friends, like 2020 hasn’t been bad enough. Then I was angry, because anger is What I Do—and that was useful, because I had follow-up appointments and arrangements to be made and anger gave me the energy to do what, as I griped yet again, was basically a job.

Cancer is a job.

But now, now I’m in the lull before the surgery. I have one appointment at the end of this week, a covid test next week, and then two days after that, surgery.

Anger doesn’t work so well for lulls, for waiting. It worked when I thought that cancer was something I’d have to fit into my life, but not for the reality that my life is something I’ll have to rearrange around the cancer—for the next few months, at least, likely longer.

I’m not afraid that this will kill me. It might, but it’s been caught early, and if it does kill me, it likely won’t be anytime soon.

No, I am unsettled by what I do know—that I am in for a hard time—and uncertain about the rest.

This is my life now, my life with cancer, and I’ll have to figure out how to live it.





Tracey ‘Quinn’, 1965-2014

2 02 2014

She lied.

“If you text me, Terri, I’ll text you back.” I laughed as I headed for the door. “I will. If you text me, I’ll text you back.”

~~~

I first met Tracey at my second Big & National bookstore. She was a cashier, not much bigger than me, with a leprechaun tattoo and a scowl.

If you’ve ever worked retail, you know how it goes: You’re new, so nobody knows you or has much use for you. You have to show that you’re not going to make your co-workers’ lives harder, and prove that maybe there’s some point to you, after all.

Nothing personal; that’s just how it is.

I worked front desk with a bunch of people, among them C. We became friendly pretty quickly—she’s one of those people who others are drawn to—so when Tracey would lope over for some conversation, I tried to join in.

She wasn’t having it. She didn’t say anything nasty to me; she just looked at me like Who are you and Can’t you see I’m talkin’ to C.?

The Bronx accent; did I mention the accent?

C. was my in with Tracey, the signal that maybe I was okay. We talked history and World War II—Tracey read everything she could about WWII—and finally bonded over, you guessed it, cats. She and her girlfriend had a beautiful kitty Sammy, and whenever I asked about him her scowl would transform into this huge, toothy, smile, and she’d show me pictures of Sammy on her phone.

The day she put her arm around me and told me Sammy died, I cried.

She and E., her partner, got Piper, and oh did Tracey love that cat, pouring herself into that kitty. Unsurprisingly, Piper is as irascible as Tracey was.

C. has her now.

~~~

Her last name wasn’t Quinn, but it’s what she’d sometimes tell people. I didn’t know her real last name until this past summer, when she went into the hospital for another round of cancer treatment.

But, for whatever reason, she wanted to keep her name to herself, so I’ll keep her alias, for her.

~~~

When Tracey got sick, it was E. who told everyone.

E. and Tracey fit together, although you had to get past the “Really?” to see that. Tracey was almost twice as old as E., but it was E. who first hit on Tracey. And E.’s as open as Tracey was wary.

They took such care of each other, and as Tracey got sicker and sicker, E. stayed right there.

They loved each other; they were lucky to have each other.

~~~

It was fall when it was determined there was nothing more to be done. A year, maybe.

C. and I trekked out a couple of times to a neighborhood hospital in Queens, where Tracey presided over her room. This table had to be here and that table there, and the chairs just so and don’t mess with the curtains or anything.

When she wanted to move out of her bed she needed her morphine drip unplugged, so I did that. Whenever she shifted, I’d jump up. “Not so fast. Stay away from that plug, Terri. Whaddya trying to do with that plug?”

Don’t ask so many questions and don’t make any decisions for her. She knows what she wants, so just do what she says.

And give her a kiss before you go.

~~~

At her sister’s, yesterday, she held court over the chairs in front of the t.v. She was comfortable, she said. She could lean back in one chair and put her legs up on the other, and her nephew’s cat would jump up on her and they would fall asleep together.

I brought her peanut butter (Skippy’s, creamy) and C. brought her cookies and E. helped her into her over-shirt so she could “look presentable”.

Her stomach was hurting her and it hurt when she laughed but she wanted to laugh, so she did. I nagged her about her pain meds, but not too much: Tracey wanted to remember. She didn’t want to go before she was gone.

Tracey asked about Piper and C. mentioned that the cat was, ah, difficult. Tracey and E. laughed. Yeah, that’s how she is. Get a towel, Tracey said, and throw it over her. Something soft. She spied her blue robe. Like this. Take this.

Put your scent on it, E. suggested, so Tracey wrapped herself in it, rubbing her face and hands into the soft blue.

As we got up to leave, she directed me to take the robe. Fold it nice! she demanded.

I went back over to her chair. You want to move this? What about the stuff up here?

Don’t touch anything! (I’m not! I’m just pointing!) Don’t you point at anything!

I laughed. There it is, I said. Now I feel better that you yelled at me.

I hugged her, longer than I ever hugged her, and kissed her goodbye. She hugged C., then got a little time, too little time, with E.

We’ll see you soon, we said. I’d text you, I said, but you never text back.

“If you text me, Terri, I’ll text you back. I’ll text you back.”

~~~

She died in her sleep, early this morning. She was there, and then she was gone. Just as she wanted.

Tracey to the end.





No comment

24 02 2010

From RH Reality Check, Jodi Jacobson notes the case of  ‘Amelia’, a 27-year old Nicaraguan pregnant woman and mother with advanced cancer, who has been denied both an abortion and treatment itself. She quotes from a release by Nicaraguan women’s groups:

In order to treat the cancer and improve Amelia’s chances of survival, doctors determined that termination of the pregnancy was necessary.  However, because abortion is illegal and punishable with criminal sanctions in Nicaragua, this lifesaving abortion was denied by hospital administrators where she is being treated. Furthermore, her doctors have not provided Amelia cancer treatment claiming this could harm the fetus or interrupt her pregnancy. According to Nicaraguan law a pregnancy takes precedence over a woman’s right to life. (emphasis added)

(h/t: Shakesville)