Archive for July, 2009

Long time, no update

dscn1411Round Five yesterday, and so far everything seems to be proceeding according to schedule. Dr Joyce (my oncologist, natch) was encouraging – she can hardly feel the tumor anymore, it’s shrunk so much, and although she confirmed that I am probably, essentially, in menopause right now, she doesn’t think that will be a permanent condition.

I also got back the results of my genetic testing, which were … confusing. I do indeed have a mutation in the BRC1 gene, but it is “of uncertain significance,” not necessarily the kind that means I’ll be getting more cancer forever. They’ve put me in a file, and they’ll be watching me and people with similar mutations for the next several years. Right now, given this result, Dr Joyce isn’t recommending the bilateral mastectomy. I need to discuss it a little further with my surgeon in Buffalo, but right now it looks like a lumpectomy is in my future – which is awesome, given the aforementioned tininess of my tumor. It seriously used to feel like a ping pong ball; Herceptin is an amazing drug!

What else has been going on? Ages ago my parents sent me some mail-order frozen steaks, and on Sunday Josh and I had the schmorgasboard of steaks, grilling three steaks three different ways and sampling each. The fourth I sauteed according to Julia Child’s recipe, with a simple red wine reduction – very tasty. I also had some nice green beans and little fingerling potatoes from the market, which tonight I’m having with a turkey breast Josh scored for free from work. (Don’t ask how.) I feel pretty under the weather – let’s just say Jeeves’ pick-me-ups would be a godsend to the cancer community – but I have so far managed to brine and roast the breast, so good for me.

On Sunday I went to a mall in Indianapolis with my friends Kari and Misty, which was very entertaining. I’m not sure when I last went shopping with female friends, but it must have been years. It was, perhaps, even more fun since Kari and Misty are terribly stylish and frequent very high-end shops I’d normally be afraid to enter, like Saks and Nordstrom. In Saks I tried on, at Kari’s insistance, a pair of $170 skinny jeans, which looked surprisingly good – I’d thought they were a style no one could pull off. I didn’t get them, of course – as Josh pointed out, $170 is only the starting price, I’d also have to pay for years of therapy to get over the guilt, plus I’d probably have to have them hemmed. But it was fun to pretend, if only for a moment, to be a fashionista.


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All summer, I’ve been saying foolish things about how chemo isn’t that bad, and how lots of stuff they said would happen to me didn’t, like sores in the mouth. My doctor at Roswell warned me that I’d have sores in my mouth that would hurt so much I might not be able to brush. “Sores in your mouth,” I used to say, “doesn’t that sound awful? Like something that would happen to Job.”

Now, of course, because I tempted fate, I am starting to get the sores in my mouth, I think. But at least my fingernails haven’t gone all wonky like they were supposed to. Wouldn’t that be gross?

Anyway, I’ve been sublimely indolent lately, spending all my time knitting, reading mysteries, and playing on the computer. I haven’t done anything I’m supposed to do in ages, and I don’t plan to today. I’m more or less set to take Advanced German at Buff State this fall, which to my mind will make finishing my incompletes much easier – I’ll have a schedule, other homework, access to a library, and all that.

I’m feeling much better after the unpleasantness of Round Four, but still very low energy. I’ve been taking a lot of naps. Next week is my last shot of poison in Bloomington, which I’m excited about in that Stockholm-syndrome-y way I have. I dimly remember something about chemo making me feel like hell, but it’s so hard to remember feeling sick once you feel better, so I always look forward to infusions as a break in my routine.

A friend from college sent me a postcard the other day with a quote from Winston Churchill: If you are going through hell, keep going. I’m adding it to my library of encouraging remarks.

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Marvel Divas

I went to the comic book store yesterday for the latest New Mutants (which was quite good, but a bad guy threatened to rape Danielle Moonstar, which I thought was gratuitous and irritating) and, rather against my better judgment, picked up a copy of Runaways and the dubious Marvel Divas, which I wrote about earlier.

Runaways is one of my very favorites; created by Brian K Vaughan (of the even more awesome Y: The Last Man), it’s also been written to good effect by Joss Whedon. The writing has traditionally been so good it made up for the art, which was indifferent at best. Now it’s being written by Terry Moore, for whom I have mixed feelings, and penciled by Humberto Ramos, who is terrible. Terry Moore did a series called Strangers in Paradise, which I read in college. It was very well-drawn – nice clean black-and-white line drawings – so it wasn’t so bad when the storyline was the same damn thing over and over for years and years. But this new Runaways is so awful I had to avert my eyes, which makes it difficult to read a print medium. I really want to keep following the characters because I’ve grown very attached to them, but I can’t stand to look at bad art.

The Marvel Divas, on the other hand, are drawn in a very cute, simple style that I like a lot. The one who gets breast cancer, Firestar, is especially adorable and is apparantly a graduate student, which is nice. I think that every single page, however, may have contained some word or phrase or concept that made me gnash my teeth:

Page 1: “We want chocolate fountains! Hot, gay cater-waiters! Celebrities! Super-powered and non-super-powered!”

Page 2: “Where’s my pomegranite martini?”

Page 3: Captain Marvel and the Black Cat discuss whether they would ensexen various men at the party. “Absolutely I would. In fact, I believe I already have.”

They even go for “mani-pedis,” a turn of phrase I abhor. Who does Marvel expect to buy this stuff? Surely most self-respecting geek women are happy reading about superheroes doing actual superhero stuff. I just wanted to see how the cancer thing is portrayed, and it looks like I’ll have to wait until next month to even do that. Which means shelling out another $3 to line Stan Lee’s coffers. Curse them!

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More Baby Hats!

Baby HatsHere are the two latest baby hats! The one on the left is a nod to the new Harry Potter movie, and the one on the right was supposed to have flowers but they didn’t work out. I still think it looks pretty neat, though. Last night I took the plunge and bought two new skeins of yarn, one white and one rose, so I’ll be branching out today with what I hope will turn out to be a blue hat with white flowers. We’ll see.

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Terrible night last night; I was up at quarter to five and spent the next three hours reading Dorothy Sayers, casting on my next baby hat, and feeling like death. I’m feeling better now, but wary. My body is tricky – there’s no knowing what it’s plotting next.

I took a moment this morning to look through some of the resources the Olcott Center gave me when I was first diagnosed – I wanted to read about radiation, but it didn’t have much information, so instead I answered some questionnaires designed to help make surgical decisions. I still haven’t found out the results of my genetic test, but according to the survey I’m leaning towards mastectomy. On the other hand, I don’t like the way some of the questions are worded. For example, it asked whether I agree or disagree with the following:  “My goal is to preserve my body image (breast) if possible.” That makes it sound as if your body image is your breast, which is an unhelpful equivocation, I think. And what the heck do they mean, “if possible”? If it were impossible to keep your breast (if, say, the doctor strongly urged drastic measures) you wouldn’t be filling out the survey, you’d be signing a release for your mastectomy. (If signing releases is what people do.) Basically the question seems to be “Would you rather keep your breast than not?” and who wouldn’t?

Then, too, I think my views on body image and breasts may be a little unusual.  “I don’t want to lose my breast and be required to wear a prosthesis or have reconstructive surgery.” Required by whom, the federal government? “I don’t want to have to put on a prosthesis to walk around the house” – why on earth would you? The people in your house presumably know you had cancer, I think they’ll be okay with seeing your flat chest.

And that, in the end, is what a lot of it comes down to for me – the sky will not fall if I have no breasts. You’d think that breasts were as essential as hands the way this stuff is written.

On the other hand, at no point does the questionnaire mention the idea of nursing one’s young, probably because most people with breast cancer have already bred. But for me, that’s still an issue – though after last night I wonder whether I will ever want to put myself in a position to feel this nauseous again.

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The Hump

Since my last post I’ve actually started to feel a bit better; I think I’m past that despair-inducing low point and into a more manageable place. Often I find myself with about twenty minutes of manic energy in the mornings, which today I used to tidy up my apartment (which was in desperate need) and bake more cupcakes for a cookout. (The book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World has become this summer’s standby – though today I just made chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and toasted walnuts, I look forward to delving into their more esoteric selections in the future.)

This is chemo in a nutshell: I can make cupcakes, but I can’t make them too fancy. I can go to the picnic, but while everyone else is playing Bocce, I’m sleeping in the car. If having cancer means that I am still going to picnics, still having fun, still getting through the days, then what the hell am I complaining for?

Greg is right: it doesn’t matter how I’ll get through this. I know that I will.

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Possibly the worst thing about Round Four so far is that the nurses seem to think it is utterly par for the course that I should be feeling this way. I thought chemo would get better as time went on, but in fact it tends to get worse, which makes sense. They don’t give your body enough time between cycles to completely recover; if they did, the cancer cells could regroup. So I am feeling as bad as I have since Round One, and there’s every reason to believe the next two cycles will be every bit as miserable.

On the bright side, I’m managing to knit a little; I started my sixth hat today, using a pattern from the library. It’s ribbed, which represents a huge leap forward for me, assuming I’m doing it right. Pictures to follow!

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