Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Day Before "The Day"

I should be pretty happy about the final chemo tomorrow, and I have moments where that's true. But I'm not feeling good today, so it's hard to "look forward" to chemotherapy. I'll look forward to being done with it, which requires me to ignore the fact that I'm about to feel like crap again for a few days. Oh, wait, I already feel like crap. Huh. Okay, so I look forward to nothing changing, two weeks going by and voila! I'm through with chemo. Mostly. I hope to learn tomorrow when I can go back to normal--as in, go back in the jacuzzi, eat sushi, eat mushrooms, strawberries and all other sorts of "dangerous" foods. And how long before the energy returns? Inquiring mind needs to know. And I have to say, I have great admiration for folks who've gone through chemo for months on end. This will be my fourth treatment--and that's a short cycle. Many folks have to do 6 or 8 or even more (and in times past, even more was common; science has moved ahead and they find so many chemos are not necessary). I'm pretty sure whatever positive attitude I've managed to muster would completely evaporate if I thought I had 6 or 9or 12 more weeks of this. No, thank you.

So because I'm not feeling well, I'm going to bed early and not doing much blogging. I'm sure there will be plenty to say post-chemo. Any bets on whether I even see the doctor tomorrow?

(Don't forget to scroll down and vote on the TWO polls on the right. I find the results so far extremely interesting!)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The 100th Post!

I'm a little shocked...and possibly embarrassed...that this is my 100th post! Kinda talking your ears off aren't I? (Or is it typing your eyes, that can't be right....)Well, thanks for hanging in there with me. And in other milestones...with the help of reader comments, I have come to the conclusion that it isn't wine that is causing hives (more on how I know this in a moment). Clearly what's causing the hives is the chemo. Therefore, I'm giving up chemo. After Thursday there will be no more chemo in my life. Ever. It's a brilliant solution. Also, I understand that giving up chemo cures baldness. This is going to be awesome. I'm so glad I thought of it.

So how do I know it wasn't the wine? The weekend of course! I've been so tired (um, yeah, that might also be the weekend) I forgot to tell you all about the fun-filled busy weekend. Saturday night was our dinner with Dr. Karam at basically blog Break-out stars #1, #2 and #4 (sadly, Seamus aka Blogbos #3 was not able to join us; he's still howling about that) were all together in one place. Yes, the place had to be cordoned off with red velvet ropes and the paparazzi was barely kept at bay. And just to arrive, poor Dr. Karam spent nearly 3 hours in his car (a Prius!! ) to get out to Riverside. No, he doesn't live in Santa Barbara, he just got caught in some awful traffic on the 60 freeway. And yet he didn't give up and turn around. What a guy. Luckily the dinner at Omakase was more than worth it. He said he couldn't decide which was better the food or the wine. I suggested maybe it would be the company but he said no, definitely the food or the wine. (We kid. We kid.)

Dinner was fabulous and chef Brien does some just incredible wine pairings so there's no way I could not have a glass of wine. And maybe a sip or two of some of the pairings that went with Chris's dinner. No bad reactions. No hives. This may only mean that in the third week after chemo I can have wine, but hey, that's a start. We finished our evening with a nightcap at Mario's listening to some jazz. We had to make sure his visit was at least as long as the drive out. Oh, and I was a brunette for the evening (photo above). Dr. Karam claims he has emailed friends about the fabulous dinner he had in Riverside (that echo you hear is his friends collectively shouting "In Riverside????" Yes people. In Riverside, California. Omakase. Don't forget it.

We made it to the Festival of Books in time to see and hear TC Boyle (a favorite author) at 11. We also saw a panel on Fiction and Humor, which sadly was nearly ruined by a really crappy moderator who thought she was funny (and she was so, so wrong). But at any rate, Chris and I got to see our old writing instructor, Tod Goldberg, who is basically responsible for our meeting. We even met up with Dr. Karam again (so now we can probably call him Amer; until he puts that white coat on again) to roam the aisles of booths of books and books and books. Yep, two days of hanging with the good doctor and I never had to take my top off! I must be getting to the end of this cancer thing.

I only rested a little at Chris's sister Kati's very cute Beverly Hills apartment (there was Real Housewives of New York to watch!) before we headed out to meet the rest of his family for dinner. Great dinner (gnocchi gorgonzola...mmmmmm) and again I tested the "wine does not cause hives" theory to great success (albeit in moderation). But in hindsight, I can see that schedule was perhaps a bit much. I've been pretty tired these past two days. I think I may have now gotten enough rest.

Which is a good thing, since I had the blood test today which is the official start of chemo week. Tomorrow is the steroids. Then of course Thursday is the last, the final, the never to be experienced again chemo. Fingers crossed it goes as well as this last one. A little queasiness, a little weight gain (okay, 3 maybe 4 pounds...see gorgonzola gnocchi above)--that much I can handle. And speaking of weight gain, we're headed to Pizzaioli tomorrow night for a pre-chemo wine dinner. I won't be having wine (the night before chemo, even I can figure out that's a bad idea!) but I will be carb-loading in preparation! Chris will handle the wine portion of the evening. Look, if you ever have to go through chemo....I highly recommend eaiting and drinking well throughout. It's getting me through.

(PS...Seamus is feeling better. As anticipated, the hard part is keeping him from running around like a maniac and re-injuring himself.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Monday

That about sums up today. It was a Monday. The morning started with Chris picking up Seamus from Ruff House and bringing him back home. As I'm petting Seamus and giving him some love, he starts howling his head off, clearly in pain, and sits down, awkwardly but he won't get up for awhile. The back/hip problem is clearly worse. We get a vet appointment at 3:15, but our usual wonderful Dr. Davis is on vacation. I head into the office and have a perfectly crappy morning in the office arguing with stupid people on behalf of clients (said stupid people work for the government and again this causes me to fear for us all). Lunch appointment at 11:30. Person I'm having lunch with shows up at 12:30. Back to the office for more annoying phone calls. Leave at 2:40 to race home to pick up Chris and Seamus then back to my office so I can make a 3 o'clock conference call and Chris can take Seamus to the vet. (We have only one car currently--Chris's is in need of some attention, which it will get on Tuesday; Seamus took priority.) My 3 o'clock conference call never called.

Seamus's x-rays show a little hip dysplasia, but they think he probably injured it and needs to rest. No stairs. No jumping. This is nearly impossible to accomplish because 1) he's a beagle and 2) our house is multi-leveled and has stairs pretty much everywhere. He now has anti-inflammatory medicine as well, and judging by the effects of the first one, it makes him feel like he can run up and down stairs...until he can't. And Seamus hates to be picked up (he hates not being in control actually), so this carrying him up and down the stairs is going to be interesting.

At any rate, our evening at least went well. Brein and Roryann came over for the Forgotten Grapes wine tasting and brought some fabulous food. That helped a lot. I think it helped Seamus too. But, I couldn't even stay awake for the whole thing. I took a nap when they first got here (my usual nap when I get home from work) but was not too successful. Then around 9 o'clock I had to lay down on the couch and nap again (not a very good hostess, but they were understanding). So I guess with the compromised immune system comes the compromised ability to deal with stress. I blame the government. At any rate, this was a long way of saying I'm also too tired now for much of a blog post. Sorry. The next one will have to be special though. It will be the 100th post! See you then.

Confusing 2-Part Poll

So I guess I am wordy. There is a new poll and it is a two-parter. It's on the right and you have to scroll down a bit. But note there are two polls--they look similar but there is a key difference. The first poll is what epiphany I'm likely to have and the second one, right below what epiphany I should have. Big difference. Some of you only voted on the first. Scroll down. Vote on the second. I need encouragement toward an epiphany!

We will return to regular posting tonight.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Never has a girl been so excited to have stubble on her legs!! Or to have her boyfriend point it out to her. So last night Chris and I and Seamus are on the couch watching a movie in our usual position (Seamus snuggled down between us, my legs across Chris's lap, Chris with one arm around me and Seamus and the other hand on my legs...or holding a drink. Sometimes both). And suddenly Chris says, "You have stubble!" What? Huh? Alert the media! That would mean hair!! Or the start of hair. Now it wasn't a lot, and it's on my legs, not my head, but it's stubble! After 6 weeks of hairlessness, this is rather amazing. And sure, it's likely to fall right back out next week after chemo #4, but how exciting to know there's hair under there just dying to make a comeback! I find this inspiring. Like the moment chemo #4 wears off, the hair growing will begin in earnest. My bald days are numbered. Which means I really need to do a bald photo soon, for all posterity. After all, I really don't plan on doing this again.

I did make it to a full week of feeling good and working. Felt very, very good to accomplish that. Seamus is also feeling better. Seems he pulled a muscle or something in his back. He gets a bit better every day. And last night Chris and I made our plans and reservations for 1) La Jolla/ San Diego in May, 2) an estate planning/work conference in Chicago in August (with a few extra play days), and 3) The big island of Hawaii and Maui December 15 to 26th! I will admit I bought the travel protection plan in a bit of caution over the August trip. I finish up radiation in mid-July and we'd leave August I'm cautiously optimistic. Really looking at that bright, shiny light at the end of the tunnel (no train jokes, please).

This will probably be the only post this weekend. We've got dinner with the great and good Dr. Karam at Omakase tonight and the LA times Festival of Books tomorrow, followed by dinner with Chris's family for his sister Courtney's 25th birthday celebration. Luckily, we can go to his sister Kati's apartment between events so I can nap (only way that schedule would work!). But this will leave no time for blogging. So, just to tide you over, a new poll has been posted--look over to the side bar. It's even a two-parter. This should keep you contemplating all weekend. But don't worry, I'm sure I'll have plenty to report by Monday night. And next week is "chemo week"--the blood tests, meds prep, final chemo and aftermath week. So you know there will be some serious blogging then. Let's all rest up.

P.S. The picture? Come on, the dude has stubble!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I May Have the Hang of This

This week (if all goes well tomorrow), I believe, will be the first week since the start of chemo, that I was able to put in 5 eight hour days of work with no naps, no doctor's appointments, no medical emergencies, no blood tests, no phone calls with nurses, no special foods, no metallic taste in my mouth, and no pharmacy visits. Plus, I wore the same (red) wig the entire week and thus did not need to explain "chemo" or "cancer" or pretty much anything to anyone. I just got to go about my normal days, feeling darn close to normal. Other than the feet thing, and of course the bald thing (but it's not like I'm the one looking at me all day or night), and the fact that I'm reading a breast cancer memoir, there isn't much that reminds me of my status as "breast cancer patient." I was so much not thinking about my patient status that I only just tonight remembered to make my blood test appointment at my favorite hidden Quest Diagnostics location. I'm all set for Tuesday. Okay, the fact that I can't drink wine which really pisses me off, does remind me of the chemo/cancer status, but that's only an issue when I come home from work and Chris has made some fine meal that really needs wine with it, or just, you know, when it's evening and I want a glass of wine. So anyway, I think I'm getting the hang of this chemo thing. Just in time for my last round. Now only 6 days away.

And in great anticipation of that milestone, Chris and I started planning our mini-vacation in San Diego/ La Jolla (now May 15th to 20th) and our huge/gigantic/ cannot wait for it/ lounging on the beach sipping umbrella drinks and ignoring Christmas Maui vacation. A friend and client was spectacularly kind enough to give us a week at their ocean-front condo December 20th to 27th, so that really got the planning going. We're considering a few days on the big island ahead of time--it's way cheaper to fly out on December 15th or earlier, as it turns out. So hey, we're up for a few extra days. As we're planning it I keep saying stupid things like "yeah, but I'm supposed to stay out of the sun" or "what if I don't have the energy to walk up to see the volcano?" And Chris has to remind me that come December, I'm no longer "cancer person."(Of course, that still leaves the second question entirely relevant.) So an odd dichotomy there--it's not on my mind all the time, but apparently my status as "cancer/chemo person" is now ingrained. I can't quite see the end yet. But it's true. It will be over then! I will even have hair at that point. Short, darker and probably curlier hair, but hair! Did I mention I can't wait for this trip?

So yes, I'm looking ahead. Planning some things. Focusing past last chemo and over radiation (not wanting to think about that yet. One thing at a time.) It's helping.

Oh, and Seamus is feeling better today too. And that of course, makes me feel much, much better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

10 to 15 Years

Two different people, who didn't know I'm in chemotherapy and therefore, actually bald, have told me I look "10 to 15 years younger" in this particular look. So I figured it was time to show you my "day to day" look--since I've really only posted the fun looks (all hail Britney, bitch). And yes, I had bangs cut into the wig (it's the same one you voted on, only now with bangs). I couldn't tolerate the fishing line like hairs in my face all day. The handy thing about wigs is I can make the bangs as long or as short as I want (within reason) by moving the wig forward or back on my head. I usually start out with the whole sultry, wispy bangs down in my eyes look and by the end of the day (when this photo was taken) I've pushed it back on my head to get it out of my eyes. I don't really think I look younger. In fact at times I think it's sort of a "mom" look. Not necessarily my mom, although she did have red hair for most of my childhood and this is probably the most I've ever looked like her. Just a more conservative "mom in the burbs" look. And speaking of the burbs...the picture was taken on the balcony off our bedroom. A nice burb to live in.

I still felt fine today. I even worked until after 6pm. The feet were a little better. Perhaps because I wore sensible flat shoes (still cute; adorable Coach ballet flats) and then followed Doctor Dad's orders and soaked my feet in cold water and then elevated them for a bit when I got home. Seems to have helped. That and I'm distracted from my own health issues by the fact that Seamus clearly isn't feeling well. He was waiting for me at the gate when I got home...all sad and moving slowly (which almost never happens with a beagle). He took a nap with me but was slow to get off the bed and then yelped when he jumped up on the couch with me later. I think he injured something (back possibly) so we're letting him rest and see what it looks like in the morning. I've tried to feel around and he let me without any more yelping or wincing, so I can't really figure out what's hurting him. He's awfully cuddly/needy though. Currently, he is sleeping soundly in his own bed, snoring up a marching band's worth of noise and I'm hoping that's a good thing. Poor Chris. Too many patients in the house. (Oooh, good place to remind you to check out the new Forgotten Grapes posting on Thursday!!)

Thursday marks the one week countdown to the last chemo!! While I'll be happy to be through with that and moving on, I'm mostly looking forward to getting 3 weeks past that--I will consider that the true end of chemo and all of its crazy side effects. Hence the planned trip to San Diego for a quick getaway celebration. The plans for Memorial Day weekend aren't really working out, so it may be the weekend before. Hard to say right now. But we're going!! Break #1 will be in May one way or another. I need something happy and distracting between chemo and radiation. Especially now that I've learned more about radiation. (Let's just say there should be some exciting blog posts during radiation...but probably not too many photos).

And on a final note, the Biotene Gum Fairy was indeed STACEY ALDSTADT. She's leaving on vacation and probably worried about me still driving all over town looking for gum. So she handled it. Gum online. Who knew?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two Feet Short of Seven

I'm still going to say I made it to 7 days in a row of feeling good. Because this falls more in the "weird things that happen on chemo" category than it does "bad day." But I think I'm experiencing a little of the neuropathy they keep mentioning and asking about. You know the feeling when something, say your mouth at the dentist, gets numbed and then just as the numbness is wearing off? How you can feel things but not feel things? Yeah, that's my feet. Particularly my left foot. And both feet are swollen sausages, with little red dots all over them. And my toes keep getting little cramps. The swollen and tingly/numb feeling started yesterday...but I'm wondering now if that didn't contribute to my fantastic fall UP the stairs on Sunday (I just missed the stair--part of my foot was on it but part wasn't and down I went). The red bumps and toe cramps just started tonight. Cancer dork, indeed.

And the hives are back a bit. Sadly, it's probably my fault. My office went to Ciao Bella for Happy Hour as a "Administrative Assistant's Appreciation" get together (a day early; I have a busy staff with busy schedules of their own). I did not try yet another glass of wine in yet another futile science experiment. I had Rum & Diet Coke. Clearly, Diet Coke exarcebates the hives. It might also be this 100+ degree weather we are having. I know the hot shower makes the red bumps show up in all their glory, so perhaps the heat does too. I'm going with that.

I once again also learned that two client meetings at work is about my energy limit. Today I had two meetings and a conference call and that was it for me. Nap time. Or, er, happy hour time. I still consider today a good day though. Many of you assured me in blog comments and emails that not crying was okay and some of you even know others who didn't cry when they were diagnosed and dealing with cancer either. Phew. Thank goodness, because I had no idea how I was going to start faking drama and "real" emotion. Luckily, Lori offered up that she'd been in a car accident and I could cry for her. And I will. I just need to know which Lori it was! I sent flowers, wine, chocolates and a gorgeous card...if you didn't get it, I obviously had the wrong Lori ;-) (Lori, Kathy, Nancy and Monica-- if you have no photo next to your name when you leave comments--I need a last initial!!).

I also received a fun surprise in the mail. Another mystery! Someone way smarter than me found Biotene gum online and sent me a big box!! (I think it has 8 packages of gum in it!!). There was no card or name though. So I'm thinking Zee Beard strikes again? Or, it could be Stacey Aldstadt since she's twice driven me around in search of the gum (and other products). Or it could be Holly Gunnette since she in essence left a comment that said "I have Biotene gum and you don't! neener neener neener!" And then told me she couldn't remember where she bought it but it was somewhere local. Maybe she felt bad after teasing me like that. The package did ship post tax-season, she would have had time then. Hmmmm..... The mystery deepens. Whomever it was--thank you very much! I've already tested it out and it will work nicely.

Tomorrow is day 14 after chemo that will be the end of the "danger zone." I think this was the easiest of the three. Days 15 to 21 should be smooth sailing. Okay, smooth-ish. Let's not jinx this. I still have to try to get shoes on my sausage feet tomorrow morning.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Am I Supposed to Cry?

I'm doing well. So that's 6 days in a row. Which is starting to really endanger the blog. I mean, if I'm not chemostein bald and in hives, or bloated and red and having allergic reactions to the poison pumping in to me, or flopping out of bed with my 300 lb limbs, what on earth are you all going laugh about at your desks when you're bored at work? (I note most of the blog reading gets done on Monday and Thursday....hmmmm.) Instead I'll just have to start forwarding the Novena chain email that was miraculously started online by Saint Teresa (it's no doubt how she achieved sainthood) and has been sent to me twice now--because you need a laugh and if I don't forward it apparently my 2009 will suck. Can you imagine? I don't want my 2009 ruined since it's been going so well thus far, so I'm obviously going to forward my namesake's email. And yes, Saint Teresa was totally on's the only one that existed back in the day.

Luckily though, there are always people's comments to rile me up or get me thinking (or, um, wanting to scream via blog. Is that a blogscream?). So here is my cancer thought of the day.... Why do soooooo many people think crying is the "correct" or "normal" response to breast cancer? I haven't cried. I honestly haven't. I don't even really see the point. I'm not a crier (unless it involves an animal or a funeral--then, I'm a basket case). That just isn't how I deal. But I continue to get these looks or comments from people that make me feel like said person thinks I'm not really "dealing with it" or that I'm hiding something (hello???) or that I'm going to totally crack later because I'm not crying and being all emotional over this. Why is that? And for the record, my therapist thinks I'm doing just fine. And so does the person who spends nearly 24/7 with me. That's right, Seamus thinks I'm perfect. Chris is also not expecting a breakdown and is quite happy I'm not falling apart on a regular basis. Or crying. (Men really hate it when women cry, don't they?).

Here's what happened recently. I'm toying very gingerly and with great trepidation at the remote possibility of turning the blog into a memoir (greatly pared down, of course; with names changed to protect the innocent--me, from lawsuits). The world does not need another memoir, let alone a breast cancer memoir, so that's my hesitation. But then there isn't a lot out there that deals with the situation in a humorous manner, and since I've already established that my particular "pink clique" wears black (humor) and is the minority in the Cancer Club, I sort of feel like it might be something useful to my clique, or future clique joiners. I don't know--I don't have the distance to know if it would be helpful or not. Or even interesting. And so, I brought a sample chapter to my writer's group last night. The chapter was basically the two wig shopping experiences-- the good and the bad (wig teen anyone?). (If you are really bored--or newish to the blog-- and want more's the links to the original blog posts on these adventures: Good Wigs and Bad Wigs)

One of my friends, who does know me...for over 15 years now...said that it was lacking emotion. And I was kind of floored. Huh? It's seething with emotion--anger, fear, humiliation, and finally relief and happiness. I just wasn't crying or sad or at all sentimental, because I'm not any of those things. And yet that's what people expect. Then I came home and I was reading "The Middle Place"-which is a NY Times bestselling breast cancer memoir. And it's really, really good. And she cries all the time. And people hover around her all the time. And they all cry too. When she shaves her head, as we chemo folks all do, she doesn't go out of the house for several days (I went to a dinner party less than 24 hours later and took the wig off halfway through). When she leaves the house it's with a scarf covering her head and to take her two small children and the neighbors kid to school. The neighbor's kid, who is all of 3 years old, says "You look like a monster." The kid's mother frantically explains that the kid has been watching Monster's Inc. Too late. Doesn't matter. She bursts into tears and hands her keys to the neighbor so the neighbor can drive the kids (in her car) to school. Then she walks home, calling her husband (she gets him out of a meeting!!!!) and tells him what happened. The husband says "That f***er!" And she says "I don't know what you call a man who calls a three year-old a f***er, but I called him 'my hero.'" Again, I have to say, I was floored. It's a 3 year old!!!! They also say "I hate you!" when they don't get their way. I read it to Chris and he said "It's a 3 year old!!" and I suppose, that's why he's my hero and not, say, someone like this author's husband. I will always remember (and you may too, since I posted about it before) when I had a brief moment of almost sadness when I saw a woman with the "post-chemo" hair out walking and said to Chris "There's my future," and instead of indulging me in the pity party, Chris said "Future Teresa goes walking???" And that snapped me right out of it and made me laugh. But the thing is, this crying, fit-throwing, kinda self-indulgent behavior seems to be the far more accepted and expected and "normal" behavior. So again, I'm left feeling like cancer dork.

I do have a clique however. And its fearless leader, Cancer Vixen, emailed me today!!! Yes, I was ultimate cancer dork and emailed her what was basically a fan letter through the "My Breast Cancer Network" site (yeah, I know. I hate the name too...but Cancer Vixen is a contributor, so I overlooked it.). She responded today and here's what she said:

DATE: Monday, April 20, 2009
SUBJECT: re: Love your book
OMG JUST got this! thank you LOVED the dog lived how are you feeling? You made MY DAY!! xo

I know, short but sweet and probably texted from her phone, but hey, she cares. I'm just going with that today. Today was a good cancer day. Even if I didn't cry.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Think I've Got the Hang of This

Yep. Five in a row. Five days of feeling good. I can't complain. Sure, I fell up the (wooden) stairs today, and I'm sure my right leg will be eight shades of purple tomorrow, but that's nothing compared to chemos 1 and 2. And I'm even in the dangerous "days 10 to 14" (I'm on day 11). Fingers crossed, chemo three may indeed be the charm. I was feeling good enough today to be telling myself I really, really, really need to be working more. I will pace myself (I promise) but I plan on having a very productive work week ahead.

I had a nice quiet weekend with some reading, some writing, a walk with Chris and Seamus, and a few little projects (I even remembered to send birthday cards to folks!! If your birthday falls between April 17 and April 26--you may be among the only folks whose birthdays I remember and acknowledge in a timely fashion this year! for the rest of you--let me just say "Happy Birthday!!"). Tonight I even joined my writer's group at MICHELLE OUELLETTE'S for a fabulous dinner and writing discussion. This is also important because it means Seamus got to a) run with Michelle's dogs Will and Nellie (Seamus heart Will) and b) steal a hamburger. All while we hung out in Michelle's beautiful newly landscaped backyard that has a distinctly French Provencal look. Ahhhh. Nice. Relaxing. In other words, this weekend--I got to be non-cancer person.

I realize that makes for a boring blog. And I'm sorry, but I have to say, I'm hoping for more boring blogs in my future. I hope you understand.

(the photo is one I took in France when Michelle, Rachel and I went out walking and came across this shop. Michelle didn't have her camera and I'm never without mine, so I took the photo for her. This wall inspired a lovely blue wall in her new backyard.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Three in A Row

Three good days. In a row. I hesitate to even say it, especially with the danger zone days 10 to 14 starting tomorrow. But, it's 8pm on Friday and it's been three good days in a row.

Thursday was a busy day. My secretary Michelle dropped by with baby Jayden (aka The Hair Competition). Seems Jayden hasn't really hit a hair growth spurt just yet, so we're still about even. You can see for yourself.

We also went back to see Dr. Karam at UCLA. I'm officially doing good. Dr. Karam is unofficially doing very well himself (mine is not a professional opinion in the same way his is). The even better news is that it will be Dr. Karam who stays in charge of me (well, me medically/cancer-ly speaking) for the years to come post-chemo and post-radiation. I'll go back and see Dr. Glaspy, the UCLA oncologist, from time to time as well, but mostly it will be Dr. Karam. And he's going to call and check out the radiation place he found that is nearby my office. If it gets his approval, I'll go check out the actual facility. Seems I need to do that soon, since I now know (from the great and good Dr. Karam--not from my tight-lipped oncologist) that there is a lot of prep time for radiation treatments. I also now know it's my entire breast that gets radiated. Owww. So Chris and I have begun plans for a mini 5-day vacation down in San Diego and La Jolla for an extra long Memorial Day weekend--that will be right between chemo and radiation. I should be sufficiently recovered to sit on a balcony overlooking the beach watching the sunset with a couple of glasses of wine. Repeatedly. And it's not that far away.

Anyway, here's the reunion photo. Dr. Karam looking like himself, and me in a hippie version of the Britney, bitch look.
Our next appointment with Dr. Karam is April 25th--when we're treating him to dinner at Omakase (he's curious, since they beat him out on the Break-out blog star poll). And yeah, that means he makes hotel calls and drives all the way to Riverside...for fine dining.

We then went over to the Century Plaza hotel to meet up with our friend JANE GIDEON who was in town with her two kids on a little mini-vacation herself. The kids played in the pool while we hung out at the poolside bar (of course we did). In LA, this look of mine doesn't get a second glance. See how we blended?
Jane is a busy mom of two who runs her own successful PR company, so she doesn't read the blog daily (shocking, I know). No worries though, I filled her in on the cancer experience. Turns out, my cancer is damn funny. Who knew? Well, maybe it was the wine. (And Jane, really, it's okay that you laughed at my cancer. No, really. I do too.)

Speaking of wine...I have sadly, tragically discovered that the wine does indeed exacerbate the hives. I may not be able to have any more wine for the next 5 weeks (watch as the blog posts get nastier and bitchier...which is actually possible. Trust me.). I had no wine or alcohol at all at the hotel, or when we went over to Houston's for dinner. (Where I did have to pause for a moment when the waiter asked if I wanted anchovies on my Caesar salad. Normally, yes, of course. But are anchovies on the "no eat" list like sushi? I don't know. I hope not, because I told the waiter yes.) On the upside, this meant Chris was free to wine away, since I was the obvious designated driver. I had a latte' for dessert and that helped me make it home and through the day without a nap. We got home at 9:30. And now you know why there was no blog post last night. Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy.

Today was a nice productive day. Chris went into the office and I worked from home. I also got my hairs cut. And by that I mean my wigs. I gave up and asked my hairstylist to come by and cut and style the wigs. We practiced on the Sienna/ meth-maven blond wig (the short one I only wear with a scarf or hat) and gave it bangs. It now has a definite 60s vibe. Then she trimmed up Britney so it doesn't have those straggly uneven ends. With that practice, we went ahead and cut bangs into the red one. I really can't stand all that hair in my face and it will just be a lot more comfortable now. I like it a lot. (Pictures will be produced eventually).

Tonight , I may test the martini tolerance. We were debating whether gin (my preference) or vodka would be less likely to exacerbate the hives. Chris thinks vodka is the way to go (something about what gin is made from vs. vodka...there was a berry involved somewhere. I really should concentrate harder).

And speaking of Chris...the best part of Friday was an email from him. See the photo of the two turtles on the rock up there? That's the pond in front of my office, which they've been cleaning and repairing for the last week. Today the turtles were returned. Chris sent me this photo with an email that said "This is how we should be spending our days." I have to admit, I teared up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cancer Dork

Ya think Loser was a little too strong huh? Awww. Thanks. I even appreciated that blog-lashing from Laura! Such love. So maybe I'm not a loser. I'm just a cancer dork. That's really more the case. I'll go with that for now. (Just so we're clear though...that's not actually me in the photo. Chemo isn't that harsh! I do kinda dance like that though.)

And here's how cancer dork is doing...not bad. I'll consider this two good days in a row. The queasiness is pretty much gone. Apparently cheeseburgers are the answer. Oh, yeah, and Taxol makes you eat like a little kid. Or, well, it makes me eat like a kid. I've had cheeseburgers and fries for the last two days. And today I had Kraft mac 'n cheese for lunch and then two 1/4 lb beef hot dogs and chips for dinner!! No, seriously, why am I not losing weight during chemo?? If anybody had any ideas at all please pass them on. It's mystifying. I also had a glass of wine tonight. First one in close to 2 weeks. It tasted good, but I could tell before I even finished it that it maybe wasn't a good idea. Small little headache and, well, I'll be having a baking soda water chaser. And in other side effect news, the heavy limbs thing has started too, but it's a little different this time. It's mostly in my legs and feet. Yeah, feet. The bones in my feet hurt. Super not comfy. Oh, and I don't think I mentioned before that I bruised the bottom of my foot. Yeah, the bottom of my foot. I stepped up on a little step-stool thing to reach something on the top shelf of my closet. When I stepped down, I stepped onto the heel of a shoe. And that's all it took! I have a two inch circular bruise in the bottom arch of my foot. Yeah, you bruise easily when you're on chemo. I know that now. So I've got a bruised arch and aching foot bones. Weirdness abounds. See, cancer dork!

By the way, since some of you have asked, here's the answers:

1) yes. And sometimes I reply to your comments too. But you'd have to go back to check where you left the commet to see if I replied. That's kind of a lot of work, I know, but it's also the only way that makes sens.

2) No, not all of my hair. 90% is gone; there's a feisty ten percent that is about an inch long now and sticks straight up. Chris calls it "little hair. BIG attitude!." And yes, I still have my eyebrows and eyelashes.

3) Yes, I'll be talking to Dr. Karam about finding a longterm oncologist at UCLA. In fact, we see him tomorrow (Thursday...probably as you're reading this).

4) Oh yeah. Totally.

5) That's not really any of your business is it? ;-)

That's all for tonight. Because I'm sure you all remember tomorrow is another Forgotten Grapes website update so we're all about that tonight. Check it out:


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wait, There's More!

I was talking with a good friend today (Hi John! And yeah, that's a BC photo) and I realized there's one more tip I'd give to a newly diagnosed breast cancer person. So, I'm adding to my list.

#9: Enjoy the perspective. Now, I know, that's almost "up with people" touchy-feely. But hang on, I'll get bitchy in a moment. See, here's the thing-- cancer is kind of a big deal. I mean, I have pretty much tried to go about life as normally as possible, and I've been not so bad at that (it's my low bar, but hey, I can usually clear it!), but even with me every once in awhile I do stop and think "Holy crap!! Cancer!! The Big C!!" Which also means, I think, that occasionally friends and family would also stop and say "Holy crap! Teresa has cancer! I should, like, call." This doesn't seem unreasonable. So here's where the perspective comes in-- I've been amazed at how much some people care and how continually supportive and kind folks have been. Some honest to god surprises from all corners--friends, family, acquaintances now friends, and total strangers. And then....wait for it....there are people who I would have thought cared who right now don't know if the cancer has metastazized to every organ I have and I'm in my last 48 hours of life or if I even survived surgery or if I was totally kidding when I said I had cancer. They don't know because they don't call, they don't write, they don't send flowers.... And, okay, I'm pretty cynical, but I can still be shocked by that. But eventually I came to this revelation....hey, those people weren't really friends were they?? Duh! So that's baggage that's been all cleared out. Think of it...I don't have to even send a Christmas card! How can they be irritated with me? How can I be the "bad" friend? I can't!! I had cancer!!! (Cancer wins!!!). Other relationships come into focus a bit too. If someone doesn't have much time for you when you're battling cancer....ummmm...when will they have time? I even got unexpected closure with my ex-husband. Unexpected because I didn't know I needed it. But when he gave me his incredibly crappy response to the cancer news (see January 25th posting; or just read the fine print on instructions to use of a household cleaning product for equivalent emotional experience) and I got to post it on the blog for all the world to see (okay, the 8 people reading that day)--hey, now that's closure!! So yeah, enjoy the perspective. During chemo, you don't have the energy to actually clean house (okay, I don't ever have that kind of energy), but you can do a little psychological/ emotional housecleaning. We take the silver linings where we find them.

So that brings me to the other item I'd add:

#10: You kinda gotta tell people. Alright, you dont' have to have a public blog with all the gory details (although, I promise, I've left out many gory details), and this is just my opinion (hah!! there I go!) but if you aren't telling your friends and family what's going on, you're missing out on a significant silver lining to this whole chemo nightmare-- seeing how much people care! (Um, yeah, or don't...but there's a benefit there too. You know, the part where you save on Christmas card postage.) Okay, let's be honest, what I mean is you get to get spoiled a little bit! A lot of people seem surprised that I'm still working, or going out, or dining out, or any of the things I manage to do (and again, let's be clear, I have to cancel occasionally too). For me though, I want to keep things as normal as I can and if I'm hanging out with friends, working, at a networking event, whatever (but with wine), I'm getting to just be me. Not Cancer Me. Plus, people are so easily impressed just by my showing up! And I don't think I've had to pick up a lunch or dinner tab in months. This can't be bad.

As we know (see photos on sidebar if you are unclear), I also didn't try to hide the whole "It's a wig!!" thing. I like having the different looks and I change them out quite a bit. My original thought was that I'd get the red wig as my "standard" look. I thought then that people would just say 'Wow you dyed your hair red!" instead of "Wow you are so clearly wearing a wig." And that's worked...for about 3 seconds. Because I immediately respond with "Well, it's not really my hair." And I explain that I had "the cancer" and am in chemo. Yeah, I'm not good with secrets. Or privacy, apparently. I realize this approach wouldn't work for everyone, but I can say that everyone has been extremely kind about it and it's a relief to just let people know what's going on. I adjust, other people adjust. And it's over. I don't have to worry about it anymore. It sort of spreads the burden a bit. Wait...did I just spread the cancer burden? Okay, well, in a good way. Somehow.

Breast cancer is, sadly, quite a normal thing these days. There isn't any reason to hide it. I can't imagine exerting the kind of energy it would take to hide this or not talk about it. Too much changes to be able to keep it all private. I'd be exhausted trying not to look different or heck, I'd just be exhausted trying not to look exhausted! (Okay, right, I'm lazy. More power too you if you have that kind of energy and that's what you need to do for you. Certainly, do that. Just consider another option. You might be surprised.)

10 is a nice round "top ten" sort of number thing, so I'll stop here. Unless I learn something on a par with baking soda and water for things you really must know for chemo-coping.

I'll just end here by telling you I felt pretty good today. Good enough for another cheeseburger and fries (Wendy's this time. Why am I not losing weight during chemo??? why????). I even went for a little walk with Chris and Seamus. But I'm not even going to pretend that tomorrow will be another good day. I think we all know what happens when I launch into crazy talk like that.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Top Tips from a Chemo Loser

Look! I even found a pink Loser sign. Maybe there is hope for me yet.

So for now, on with the highly anticipated, much awaited, crowd-pleasing, no one really gives a darn "Top Tips from a Breast Cancer Loser to A newly Diagnosed and Probably so Much Better Person!!!" Let me be clear--this is not advice. I'm not one to give advice--note the reference to "loser." I get it. I'm not doing this in the spectacular fashion that so many inspirational, epiphany-seeking women do. Hey, I'm just trying to get through this with the least changes possible. I'm barely figuring this out for myself. But there were some really practical things that are working for me and if it helps someone, hey, why not? If any of this sounds crazy to probably have a point. But you've probably also not been through chemo. Just a guess.

In no particular order:

1) Kiehl's Centella Skin Repair Salve (my complexion still looks and feels good--even after the hives!). Chemo takes it's toll on everything--skin included. I'm not one for skin care (I'm lazy; you've figured that out right?), but it was necessary and this product has felt fantastic. For your body, I'd also recommend Arbonne's Sea Source Detox wash--particularly helpful with the hives. And moisturize. It's not like you'll have a choice. Besides, now that you don't have to shave anything, you've got all that extra time.

2) Biotene toothpaste and mouthwash. So your mouth really gets affected. Dry, sore, and can't floss and you have to use a soft tooth brush, so any extra help with the teeth is appreciated. Biotene was recommended by my dental hygienist when I told her I was about to start chemo. Bless her. There are times I want to drink the bottle of Biotene, it's so soothing. It helps for a short while with the "metal mouth" also. I've heard there is a Bitotene gum, which I'd darn near kill for, but I haven't been able to find it locally.

3) Books I'd read, in the order I'd read them:
A. "Five Lessons I didn't Learn from breast Cancer (and One Big One I Did)" by Shelley Lewis. I wish I'd read this first because it gives a nice overview of what a breast cancer patient is about to go through and gives really helpful tips. She doesn't pull any punches (hey, surprise, this isn't a good experience) but she delivers the information in a humorous and informative way--so early on, when you are overwhelmed with information, you can actually process what she's saying. It's got some medical info, but that's not the main point. See C below.

B. "Cancer Vixen" by Marisa Acocella MArchetto. This may not be for everyone--it's a graphic novel (read: it's a cartoon book). But, she also really lays out her story--good, bad and ugly--and again, it's imminently readable. I continue to refer to it just to check "is this normal?" And you gotta love her pluck. Or moxie. Or aplomb. But mostly, her shoes.

C. "Breast Cancer: Real Questions, Real Answers" by David Chan, MD. Okay, for the medical stuff, again delivered in a way that's easy to process and understand, this is it. Dr. Karam gave me this book--the author is his colleague. So of course, it's a good book. But, I did read others and again, this is the one I find myself going back to. I understand he'll have an update coming out perhaps soon as well.

4) Baking soda and water. Yeah, really. Quickest cure for the inevitable indigestion gift from chemo. Take that, then whatever you normally take for indigestion. That way you'll have quick relief, followed by the more long-lasting relief. Not kidding. And really, after you spend all that money on all those prescriptions, you'll be glad I told you this. (And thanks again, dad.)

5) You're going to have to do this your way. You'll get a ton of advice. Some good. Some crazy. Some you'll want. Some....well, you'll want to slap somebody. In the end, you'll have to just do what works for you and shut out what everyone else is saying. You'll find "your people" and go with that. Chemo and the whole overwhelming "I have freakin' cancer!!!" is enough to deal with. You don't need to also be trying to live up to other people's expectations. No one has the same experience. Cancers are different, treatments are different, reactions are different...hey, people are different!! (Who knew???) So no matter what people tell you--there is no "right" way to do this. (I'm sure there is a wrong way. And I'm probably on my way to finding it!).

6) Take naps. I'm a big fan of naps even when I'm well. But with chemo--it's a necessity. I find if I can get a nap in the middle of the day, I can keep going for pretty much a full work day most days (but let me be clear--this is nothing like the hours I normally keep; that just isn't happening and I have to just let that be....temporarily!). And I usually take a nap when I get home too. You probably won't be able to help yourself, so you may as well plan for it. I got a little fold out mattress/ futon thingy and I keep it and a blanket and a pillow in my office. Somewhere around 2 ish, when need be, I close my door, fold it all out and zonk out. It's fabulous. I don't know if I'll be able to give it up. How long can I make this last?? (Just the nap part. Will "Hey, I had chemo two years ago" still work as an excuse?)

7) Let Folks help. Okay, most days I can certainly take care of myself. Slowly, but surely. I can get my meals, I can work, I can run errands. But I get tired. So when I do those things, I can't do too much else. I'm not one to ask for help, so basically I sort of feel like if I can do it why ask someone else. But I'm learning (slowly, slowly; in true loser fashion) that my friends and family want to help and it is indeed a help to have someone drop by with dinner, drive me around on my errands, take me to lunch, and such simple but important things. Then, my energy is preserved and I can enjoy...say, blogging! I think this is key to keeping my spirits up (oh god, there's that "positive attitude" approach creeping in. Darn it!!) Chris is of course fantastic about pitching in and he takes care of a lot. Sometimes I try to give him a break by asking friends (or, more realistically, accepting their offers) to drive me to an appointment or an errand or something. And I'm getting better at "yes, please do stop by with dinner"--but first that was because I realized that would give Chris a well-deserved break. I hope you have a Chris. Can that be item 8? But I'm not loaning him out. I'm a loser and I'm selfish.

8) Dr. Karam as your surgeon. Okay, that might not work if you are outside California, but honestly, consider flying in to UCLA.

That's all I've got for now. I may have more to share. I'm also thinking I bet I could do a nifty little list of "ways friends and family can help a chemo gal" (and um, things that aren't helpful). Or maybe it's more "how to help." But, is that too selfish? Probably. But I'm making the list for myself anyway. So if I'm ever on the"'helper" instead of "help-ee" side, I know what to do. It's an art. But you guys already know that. Bold

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Risings

While the thought of say, Green Eggs and Ham, probably would have done me in, I was feeling good enough for Easter Brunch with Chris and his family today--Omakase, of course. It's like we're addicted; but we knew Brein and Roryann could handle whatever my stomach was doing and Chris's sister Kati's temporary vegan-ism--it was a Lent thing. It's over now. Well, hers is. My issues are alive and well. So, here we are, proof positive I was out and about 3 days after the new chemo. And yes, I was still rockin' the Britney/ Mod Squad look. What else would you wear to dine on herb salad, Croque Monsieur and almond strawberry tartlet? Exactly. Ooh, and there was homemade ginger ale, which was oh so helpful to my tummy. Even if Chris's dad was a little disturbed by the chunk of ginger in the bottom of my glass. Ginger is to the upset tummy what baking soda water is to indigestion. This is what you think about on Easter too, right? Okay, look, there are rising-ups that should be avoided on Easter. That's all I'm saying.

Before I get to the less pleasant details of this new chemo, here's Chris and his mom and sisters (okay Googlers, that would be, left to right, COURTNEY KERN, KATI KERN, TRUDI KERN and CHRIS KERN....please tell me you had figured out that last one yourself) as we strolled the Mission Inn. It's the Riverside tour; it has to be done.

So this new's Taxol instead of Taxotere, you may recall. And I was switched to it on Thursday with, oh, about 30 minutes warning, during the stethoscope tango I was doing with the good doc. I was surprised to start feeling queasy Friday night and all day yesterday. Of all the side effects chemo brings, that just hadn't been one of them. I sort of feel like I've had my share, so I wasn't really expecting that one. But then I went online last night and looked up Taxol. Hmmm... seems that's a really common side effect of Taxol. More than the others. Gee...wouldn't that have been nice to know? Perhaps I would have taken the extra anti-nausea medicine earlier. Oh, and it causes...I'm just going to go with "the opposite digestive problem from the one I'm used to." Also, would have been good to know ahead of time. Like, say, 12 hours ahead of time. But you know, chemo is just one of those things you drop by the doctor's office for on a whim and then head on out. It's not like you need to prepare or, you know, plan for anything. I'm clearly just a big wimp. In a headscarf. (It's pretty cute though, isn't it? That's the one Gary and Rich sent).

I'm going to take the anti-nausea medicine now. Which is also a sedative (fun, fun times). So, depending on which of those two things wins out, I will either crash and sleep for the next 12 hours and therefore this is it for the blog posting, OR, I will rally, have a small dinner, perhaps even go on a little walk with Seamus (the Easter Beagle, dontchaknow), and then return to finally give my highly anticipated "Tips from a Breast Cancer Wimp Who Is Doing it All Wrong." Yeah, I know which one your money is on. (Mine too.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

In Brief...

In last night's posting I was, not surprisingly, a little too optimistic about my day today. It was a lazy day of sleeping, reading and well...not much else. That's because the new chemo has caused me to be queasy all day. Not too horrific, but I'm not exactly full of energy either. And eating has been...well, difficult. I had breakfast for dinner (yogurt) and that about sums up that. The new chemo is now Taxol instead of Taxotere...I still get the Cytoxan too...apparently words with "tax" and "tox" in them are just not good.

All that's my way of saying, I'm not really up for a blog post tonight. I was going to give some version of my "top ten" tips I'd give to a someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer. But one of those would definitely be "sleep when you need to." So, I'm just going to follow that bit of advice now.


Friday, April 10, 2009

It's (Old) Britney, Bitch

Eh, Friday after chemo, overcast rainy day, drive to Rancho Cuc for a Neulasta/bone pain shot...why not rock the (old) Britney look. I mean, she was bald once too. Here's what I like about this wig...that's pretty much the hair I had through most of high school (right, Corby?) and, it's not an entire wig. More like a head band of hair, leaving the top bald/open (hence the hat). Much, much more comfortable. I sort of thought it was a blonde Cher look (so, I kept flipping it back behind me and doing that tongue in cheek thing she does), but I much preferred saying "It's Britney, Bitch" so that stuck. But then at the oncologists office the nurses all chimed in too (this is the 4th look they've seen) and depending on age they went with either the Britney thing or...Peggy Lipton on the Mod Squad. (And yes, one nurse said "What is that??"). Whatever the description, it was kind of a fun, comfortable look for the day.

Stacey Aldstadt gave Chris the day off and drove me to get the shot. Then she took me to lunch at King's Fish house where I had a wonderful and reasonably healthy white bean and smoked salmon soup with a hearts of romaine salad (smothered in bleu cheese...there went the healthy). Very tasty. And hey, I had an appetite on the day after chemo. This is good. Stacey even ran me by Target to pick up my steroid and Starbucks refills. Those are important these days. So obviously I was feeling good today. Fingers crossed that they've got my "cocktail" right this time. When I got home, Chris had the house all cleaned up, the dishes done, and was busy with his wine projects (have you checked out this week--it's a great one, go! Go!).

Even the mailman and delivery people were wonderful yesterday and today. Chris received 3 boxes of wine (two bottles in each) from three different wineries sending him (free!!) wine to try for his Forgotten Grapes review!! And the mailman delivered a box with a Nordstrom box inside with a beautiful scarf from Gary Berg and Rich Gold to get me through, as the card said, "my follically-challenged days." Cute! It may be my Easter scarf too--beautiful aqua color. My mom sent three head scarves that she had sewn with a little padding up front (makes it more comfortable and stands it up a little--almost like there is hair underneath!). And there was another package from Trai Cartwright, a fantastic writer friend of mine and Chris's in Colorado. She was "inspired" by my blog (and me; I blush. Who knew? ;-) and had a shirt made up just for me. It's a black v-neck t-shirt with hot pink writing that says "Back off people, I have cancer!" and then has a bald woman logo!! So funny. Clearly the shirt to wear when I decide (mid-summer?) to just go bald. I'll wear it before then though--it's awesome!

The good day just rolled on when Sherry Landrum and Becky Whatley came by with Chinese food (and a stash of chips and guacamole to leave with me for later!). I'd been craving chinese food (I know, odd...Back off people, I have cancer!!....Okay, dad, had cancer. I had cancer. I have chemo.) So good friends, good food, I even sipped a little wine. (Shhhhh.) Nice day!

I'm good. I'm looking forward to a nice quiet day at home tomorrow, resting, reading, more blogging of course, and taking it easy. With any luck, my biggest stress will be picking out my Easter Brunch outfit--and hair. (Yeah, I know...we're knocking on wood here too.)

P.S. What do we think of the new blog look? The pink was wearing on me, and I thought this might be easier to read. Yes? No? Thoughts please!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fighting Through

3 down 1 to go. Maybe...

(Please note in photo that while I managed to coordinate my entire outfit, right down to the blue Gatorade, they gave me a pink ribbon blanket! The outrage. But I was cold. I took it.)

Chemo #3 was not as easy going as #1, but not as difficult as #2. And we were still there from 9:45 to 5:15pm. So is this improvement or not? I guess we'll see what the side effects are this time. Oh, and the talk with the doctor? Interesting.

We arrived on time and they were really, really busy. The waiting room and the infusion room were packed (and not just with Easter decorations...but there were lots of those too). Since there wasn't a chair in the infusion room available, we were sort of wondering why they insisted on us coming in early. But eventually we were called back. I did get to speak with the doctor--she actually did the pre-treatment exam. But not because I called and made the special request. It was because the nurse practitioner was gone. Speaking with the doctor was a battle. I felt like I did when I was dealing with Seamus's first veterinarian oncologist (the one who told me he'd die within the year). I remembered back then saying to Chris, "Is this just two Alpha females locked in a battle for control or is she just a know-it-all bitch who doesn't listen?" I believe he correctly answered "b." This time though, I'm the patient. And I've been probably less aggressive about my own care--at least with this doctor. I think it's because I have to do battle in a paper vest.

She came bouncing in the room discussing my rash/hives situation so at least I knew she had read the file. Or the last note in the file. But she immediately grabbed her stethoscope and moved to start the exam. I backed away and said I had a few questions. She stopped, answer quickly and moved to start the exam again. I backed away and asked another question. And basically that's how the rest of the conversation went. I'd ask one question, she'd answer while moving in to start the exam, I'd move away and ask another questions, she'd answer while moving in, I'd ask while moving away. A lovely dance. I wanted to say, "Would you mind sitting down and having an actual conversation with me?" But I"m pretty sure she'd refuse. Just like she refused to let me contact her by email. Yeah, we'll get to that. We're pretty close though, you can tell that by the photo.

So here's what I learned. She does review my file. "They" email her updates when necessary. The Friday that I had the really bad hives outbreak was a bit of an anomaly in their office--two doctors were in India, she was in Switzerland and the nurse practitioner was in Pasadena covering for one of the traveling doctors. This information was only divuleged by her when I mentioned that we knew she was in Switzerland and that the nurse practitioner was in Pasadena and it was obvious the nurse had no other doctor to talk to. The conversation went like this:

Dr.: "These side effects are very common and the nurses know how to deal with them. We deal with this stuff all the time. " moves toward me with stethoscope....

Me: leaning back, "it's not common to me. And I don't deal with it all the time. And your nurse sounded like she was guessing."

Dr.: "Well we like to have you come in so we can see what we're dealing with." (moves toward me with stethoscope....)

Me: (ducking stethoscope) "I offered to drive in. It's not like I was going to work looking like that, so my calendar had been cleared. But then your nurse said the nurse practitioner was in Pasadena. And we know you were in Switzerland. And it was obvious there was no other doctor in the Rancho Cucamonga faciltiy because the nurse was having to wait for return phone calls from Pasadena. Obviously there wasn't anyone for me to come see."

Dr. "Well there's always the emergency room, but that's not a good choice." (moves toward me with stethoscope....)
Me: (bobbing and weaving) "No, it's a terrible choice. I'd just like some assurance that somebody is overseeing my case and knows what to do about it. I feel like it's all the nurses."

Dr.:"Absolutely not. I know everything going on in your case. They call and they email me with all updates and changes. I know what's going on." (moves toward me with stethoscope....)

Me: "Can I reach you by email?"
Dr.: (drops stethoscope) "Absolutely not. I see way too many patients for that."
Me: "My surgeon didn't seem to have an issue with that."
Dr.: "Sure, he only sees you five times."

I didnt' say it, but god I wanted to point out that that's 3 more times than she's seen me!!!!!
In the end, here's what we accomplished...she switched me from the chemo that caused the allergic reactions to another one that is very close, will do the same thing, but we hope won't cause the reactions. If I have the reactions again we may re-evaluate whether to do the fourth or stop at 3 (and here she said "and just go with hormone therapy"; and I reminded her that my cancer isn't hormone receptive so that would not work. She agreed. Because, you know, she's reading my file.) She also gave me samples to try to control the indigestion/ acid-reflux. She also likes the baking soda remedy (the one my dad told me about...not anyone at the doctor's office). She suggested I take the anti-nausea/sedative medicine I already have when I'm having trouble sleeping. And then suggested something for the nightsweats too. So yeah, when cornered, she communicated and addressed medical issues. I however was exhausted. You think it's easy sitting on a table in a paper vest, dodging a stethoscope while cross-examining a fast talking doctor with wayyyyy too many patients? No. It isn't. But I do think at the end, she was paying more attention and there were efforts to be helpful. We'll see. All in all, I feel like I should have stayed with UCLA. But who knows how that would have gone either.

The actual chemo time was okay. I was already tired, and it took them awhile to get us a chair. We didn't get to a chair until after 11. And actually we ended up in the private suite--which is a hospital bed in a separate room. Sounds more comfortable and it was for the part where I was sleeping, but once I wanted to sit up and have lunch and do some reading and projects, not so comfortable. And Chris just had one little chair and no one to talk to when I slept (although he was willing to pose pointing out the lovely wig display in the suite. We don't know why it's there but it is. Along with a few hats hanging on the wall). I did take the sedative this time, and I'm back to the extra dosage of the steroid the night before and this morning, and they did load me up with Benadryl and Tagamet, so I had all sorts of things that added up to my just zonking out. For a couple hours. Unfortanately, they were doing the drip slowly (worried about the allergic reaction), so the nap didn't even get me halfway through. I had the same nurse as last time, so she wasn't taking any chances.

Chatty Cathy was there again and this time she was the one having reactions--neourpathy (which as I understood it was a tingling and numbness in your hands and feet; can't be good). We didn't see much of her though, since we were hidden in our private suite. The beanie babies are still giving their lives for the cause and the Easter decor was in full bloom. But the rest of the infusion rom was different--we didn't recognize anyone else (we saw Elizabeth and her mom in the waiting room, but the were just there for a quick check-up; mom is already in radiation and doing fine). And as Chris said "It's senior citizen day." And it pretty much was.

Then finally it was all over. No reactions. A little tired, and a little hungry (although nothing really sounded good), but not much worse for wear. Until they told me I had to come back at 11:30 on Friday for the Neulasta shot (the "bone pain" shot). It was 4pm last time--it's supposed to be 24 hours after the chemo. But they are closing their office at noon for Good Friday, so I guess to hell with the medical protocol, there are chocolate bunnies to buy! That also explains why the room was so crowded. Those who normally do Friday afternoon chemo had to come in on Thursday. They have too many patients. That's very obvious. And when you know you have too many patients, why do you close for an afternoon? It's chemo people. It's not flu shots and band-aids.

So yeah, I'm fighting through the chemo and the medical system. They both exhaust me equally. But, I have a nice long weekend ahead of me (save one trip to Rancho Cucamonga for a shot in the morning) and hopefully I'm adequately drugged up to avoid any side effects. If so, we're at Omakase for Easter Brunch. Chris's family is coming out to join us. I just hope Brein and Roryann remember to put cardboard cut out bunnies and eggs, and crepe paper, and pastel colors everywhere!! Oh, wait...I hate that stuff. It makes me feel like I'm at a doctor's office.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Growin' It Out for Cancer: Month 3

Helloooooooooooooooooooooo Everybody!

Chris here for another installment of Growing It Out For Cancer.

Well, as you can tell from the title, it's month 3 of G.I.O.F.C (which just sounds dirty if you say it all as one word, so we'll skip over that from now on) and we've had some substantial growth from the last installment. Judging by the photo, I'm now over the 2 1/2-inch mark and bearing down on three inches of hair, which means I've put on about an inch since last month. I told you my hair grows fast. The bulk up top is starting to round itself out nicely and I'm getting both a nice wave on top across my part and some good bang overhang on the front. Let's take a look at some pictures of the hair from the front and the profile:

Two things: 1.) yes, that is a ray from heaven beaming down onto the top of my head. Happens all the time. I can't really help it, and 2.) there is absolutely no product in my hair whatsoever when these pictures were taken. On my mother's grave (sorry mom, if you're reading this). Anyway, from these more panoramic shots, you can really see how the bulk is starting to pile up on the top of my head (expect that only to get larger as the months crawl on) and how the front is starting to get a nice, droopy wave/pompadour style to it. The length is also starting to show in the back (it's easily resting on the edge of my shirt collar now) and, though it's hard to tell from these pictures, around the ear. The upper ear lobe is definitely being encroached and requires me to brush it back behind the ear every morning (fortunately, it stays there). It's not quite Peter Brady during the late-series episodes of the Brady Bunch, but it's getting there. Just wait until you see what it looks like in September and October. That's going to be something special.

What it is getting to, though, is the "Democrat hair" level that Teresa loves so much, and I have to say, while I'm not enamored with the front head shot (way too much bulk up top; I'm starting to look like Gumby, or when Max Headroom used to dress up like Reagan), I am kind of digging the profile, dog. The classic pompadour always looks good from the side, and I think the front and back are balancing out nicely. Not a mullet by any stretch of the imagination (lots of business in the front, but not much party in the rear yet), but really just a solid, classic pompadour. Richie Valens would be proud...

Hey, while I have you here, why don't you take a brief break from Teresa's blog and go check out my new website It was updated this morning just for you and features a profile of a brand-new forgotten grape. For those of you who don't know, is a new wine website where each week we take a fun, irreverent, pop-cultury look at a wine varietal that for some reason or another has become lesser-known or uncommon among casual and everyday wine drinkers. We tell you all you need to know about the grape; what it looks, smells, and tastes like; some fun facts about it; the best foods to pair with it (thanks to Chef Brein Clements from Restaurant Omakase); and some bottle recommendations with links to reputable wine shops where you can buy the wine and try it for yourself. Because there's no better way to get to know a Forgotten Grape than by giving it a whirl on your own. We basically do for Forgotten Grapes what "Dancing with the Stars" does for forgotten celebrities.

So this week's grape is a tasty little blonde Austrian number (not Australian. Big difference) that really should be "in" instead of being so "auf." This troubles us, but we're here to make it work, people, and let you know all about it. So head on over to right now and check it out right now. Go on. Teresa won't mind. In fact, she wants you to go...

(In case you didn't get the "Project Runway" references, our featured Forgotten Grape this week is the Heidi Klum of wine. And if that doesn't intrigue you enough to click over to, then maybe this picture will.)

Don't forget: is brand new and updated every Thursday, whether we're sober or not. Bookmark the site and make it part of your regular, every-Thursday routine, just like you do with The Dog Lived. It's part of this balanced blog breakfast.

Speaking of Teresa, we're headed in for her penultimate chemotherapy session tomorrow morning (session 3 of 4) and she'll be back tomorrow night with all the joy, pain, ecstacy, misery, boredom, awful chairmates, and suicidal stuffed animals you've come to expect from a regular Teresa chemo post. So definitely stop by tomorrow morning for that. You won't want to miss it, especially since we're supposed to see Dr. Bosserman the actual oncologist tomorrow for the first time since our initial consultation. Whether we actually see her or don't, you're not going to want to miss what Teresa has to say about it.

So that's all for me for now. Take care everyone, and I'll see you next month for another Growin' It Out For Cancer update, and hopefully every Thursday on Vaya con Dios!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Oh Be Hive.

The hives are back. And a horrible, horrible thought is creeping into my brain. It may be wine that triggers them. AAAAAAGGGHHHHHHH!!!! It also could be the wigs. And wouldn't that be ironic? But believe me, I'd rather give up the wigs than the wine. If it's the wine...expect a lot of martini talk on the blog soon.

All I know at this point is that after a perfectly nice weekend (I don't wear the wigs on the weekends and only had one glass of wine) feeling really good and getting two great nights of sleep, Monday was not so good. I didn't sleep as well Sunday night and thus was pretty tired Monday. Plus I wore the red wig and it irritated me like crazy (my little trick of trying to dry it post-wash in a way that kept the hair out of my face completely backfired; it's like I dried it especially so the synthetic hairs would seek out my eyes and nostrils and occasionally my mouth.) Then we had the wine tasting Monday night. I've been allergic to red wine for awhile, so I wasn't so foolish as to drink that. I sipped on a couple of different white wines. The day resulted in a night of restless sleep and a morning of red bumps and welt looking things all over the place again. Including on my face! Which is lovely. It's mostly the lower half of my face--my jawline and around my mouth. Yes, pleasant. And attractive. Let's not forget attractive. That's kind of my thing these days.

I calamined myself up (and yeh, that's totally a verb now), piled on the foundation, took a Benadryl and went to work anyway (blond wig with scarf as headband). After all, my blood was required again today at Quest. Another nice experience. I'm telling ya, no one knows of this lab. I wonder how they stay in business?? I walked in, handed them my paperwork, signed, and within two minutes was having my blood drawn. And the woman didn't even flinch at the red spots all up and down my arm. I am however half-expecting that these blood test results are going to show that I'm part alien.

I lasted at work until 4:30. Then I came home and took a two hour nap. Zonked out. Chris made me a very nice omelette for dinner (the only thing that sounded good to me), but now, of course, I have the elephant on my chest indigestion. Basically, just when I thought I was in the smooth sailing part post chemo 2 and pre-chemo 3, I get a day like this. Chemo is really a tricky little bastard. Sneaking up on me all the time. Relentless. And a bit heartless wouldn't you say? So right, I can hardly wait for round 3. I was told by both oncologists that the effects of the chemo would not be cumulative. Really?? Huh. Color me skeptical. And red.

Today I also talked with another patient of Dr. Karam's. She's been recently diagnosed and he put us in touch (she, wisely, asked to speak to another of his patients and I said he could give her my cell number; and she's been to the blog). I don't think I was very helpful though. Oddly, given that I've been blogging for a few months about this now, I don't think I'd ever really focused on what I'd say to someone (god forbid I give advice!!) who'd been recently diagnosed. After all, this blog is shamelessly self-absorbed and all about me. But of course, after I hung up the phone I thought of a million things I wish somebody had told me that I could have told her. I think the most useful thing I told her was that no one had told me I had to stop drinking wine, since "my" cancer is not hormone receptive (remember my 0 score?). Hers isn't either, so she was ecstatic with this news. And wisely wants it verified (Dr. Karam--you'll need to step in here! I'm not one to give medical advice--I'm like an oncologist in that regard). Anyway, when I feel better (and oddly, that will probably be this weekend...when I get the steroid high with the chemo), I think I may just have to do a list of things I'd say to a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient. Maybe. But she's in good hands for now. She's got the perfect surgeon. Maybe I should have just told her not to read the blog post about my trip to nuclear medicine on surgery day? No, then again, she should read it so awful masochist Larry does not scare her too. Oh, and I should have warned her about those very scary palm trees on the computer monitors. See? I can't even be helpful, let along inspirational!! I'll work on that. Just as soon as I'm done scratching my face off. Oh, and after my Benadryl coma.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wine & Flowers

Sounds like a great date, right? Well, not quite. But a good evening anyway. So good there really isn't a blog post. See, the flowers were sent by Barbara Ryan (Thanks!!) who I've know since I was a 17 year old away at college with her son Gary. Nice surprise! And then tonight was the very difficult and hard work of tasting more wines for Chris's website ( if you've forgotten!). Here's the tasting team hard at work. That's Chris of course, and Brein and Roryann Clements, and Roryann's mom Holly Gunnette. And then the super taster Seamus, picking out his favorite. Me? I sipped on a white wine and took pictures. But that's enough to make me too sleepy for a post tonight. So, I'll just remind you to read yesterday's post and chime in if you have any thoughts on the topics raised.

I'm sure I'll post tomorrow. After all, I head back to Quest for more blood tests and so begins the countdown to Chemo #3.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Maybe You Can Help

I mentioned that yesterday I had lots of energy (not quite the steroid-boost energy, but normal energy...which is rare enough these days) and one of the things I did was write an article for Area 9 magazine (for you locals--it used to be 951 magazine; and no, that's not Seamus on the cover...but it should have been!). The article is a first person account of my health care experience locally and why I left town for my care. Seems I had a lot to say--I'm having trouble with the 2,500 word limit. It got me thinking a lot about what's normal and what isn't in health care. And how much of a patient's care depends on where one lives or how far one is willing to drive. The city I live in has over 250,000 residents. It's not LA, but it's not a small town. I was truly surprised to learn, the proverbial hard way, that the standard of care here doesn't seem to be very high. Surprised, then pissed, and now just saddened, okay, but still a little pissed too.

This Thursday I go for chemo round 3. Thinking about how rough this last round was--from the reactions during chemo, to the hives and pretty much non-stop indigestion (how much baking soda and water can one drink??), I have to admit I'm more nervous about this next one than I was about the first one. And it strikes me as quite odd that I've only ever seen "my" oncologist once. Ever. We had an initial consultation (where she confirmed what Dr. Glaspy at UCLA had told me, dropped a few names, talked a million miles a minute and left). But all pre-treatment exams, treatments, follow-ups, shots and phone calls have been with nurses and the nurse practitioner. No doctor. Kinda feels like no one is really following or "in charge" of my case. I had heard that you don't really see the doctor--it's all the nurses who care for you in chemotherapy. Seems odd doesn't it? Something as serious and grotesque and potentially life-threatening as chemotherapy (not to mention that it's treatment for what could be a fatal disease) and the doctor is invisible? I don't know. I'm thinking that's not right. So last week I called the oncologists office and asked if I'd be seeing the doctor at my next visit. The answer was that I can if I'd like. Huh? Okay, I'd like. So that's noted in my file now, but she did tell me to be sure to remind them when I arrive. This makes me think the doctor is going to poke her head in and say "hi" in the middle of my pre-treatment exam with the nurse practitioner.

I'm gearing up to get some reassurance from my doctor. Which, again, doesn't seem right. But I have questions! Like, you know, "Doctor have you looked at my file? Are my reactions normal? Is there anything we can do about them? Were they side effects or allergies? If they're allergies, isn't it dangerous to give me that chemo again? And if it isn't allergies, then since the first chemo went just fine with just the extra dosage of steroids, why do I now have to do the extra dosage of steroids plus all the Benadryl, Claritin and other stuff?" Bascially, I think I want to scream "Help!" Or, more to the point, "Do you even care?" Chris said he's wondering if she'll remember his name. I had to laugh. I don't think she knows MY name.

So here's where I'm thinking perhaps some of you readers can help both with what I'm writing about in the article and just for my own peace of mind with what I'm experiencing. Or hey, maybe you'll inspire me to demand better care. Or to relax about it. I know that some of you have been on this breast cancer "journey" yourselves and some of you have been through it with close friends or family members. So maybe you'd be willing to share your observations of what was "normal." You can do so anonymously in the comments or email me (rhynetj at; Only you have to use the proper "at" symbol--I just did that so I don't get a ton of spam from automated systems) if your more comfortable with that.

Specifically, I'd be interested to know the following:

1) How long did you wait between the mammogram that showed something suspicous and the biopsy?
2) Did you feel like the time frame for treatment (start to finish) was reasonable? If not, why not?
3) Did you feel like someone was "in charge" of your care all the way through? If so, who was it? Your primary care doctor? the Oncologist? The surgeon? The Radiologist?
4) Did you see your oncologist regularly during chemo?
5) where do you live and where did you go for your care?
6) Where did you get most of your useful information? (Friends? Books? Primary Care physician? Surgeon? Oncologist? The web?)

I don't mean this to be a test. You aren't required to answer all of those questions. But if you'd be so kind as to share your experiences in regards to even one of these, I'd appreciate it.

On a closing note, in an exchange of emails this weekend with the good and great Dr. Karam (he from whom I still get all my information and medical support) he used the "journey" term without putting it in quotes (to highlight it's ridiculousness; he reads the blog, he should know better!). I, of course, took him to task (not too severely, don't you worry; it's all in jest), and he apologized saying he understood this was not like a trip to the Cotes du Rhone, it was more like Homer's Odyssey. And that's it! That is a much more apt description of this. It's my breast cancer odyssey! Doesn't that look like a white blood cell crash in that picture? And Chris is super excited about playing the role of Penelope. Seamus is less excited about being Telemachus, he prefers staying in bed.