Friday, August 28, 2009

Swimming in that River

You may have noticed I haven't been posting as much lately. It's true. When I was in BC treatment I blogged daily for the most part. And I hope this doesn't hurt your feelings too much, but I think I was doing it mostly for me. The blogging really helped me sort through what was going on and how I was feeling (and let me just mention how much more comfortable I am with a totally made up trendy word like "blogging" then I ever would have been had I had to type "journaling" and "feeling" in the same sentence). Of late however, I don't find the time to blog as often. I don't have the (sometimes funny/ sometimes tragic) daily or even weekly crisis going on. And, in fact, I don't need to blog as frequently. It's one of the signs I've returned to and begun swimming in that River of Life the doctor mentioned. Heck, I'm even weaning myself off my dependence on the good and great Dr. Karam and all his helpful advice and immediate answers (although I do need to email about our next wine and food extravaganza get together).

Another sign of my swimming--I forget that I ever was a cancer patient. I forget that people who haven't seen me in a few months might not recognize me. Or that people who know me but perhaps not well may have heard all sorts of crazy things about me having this disease that starts with a "C" and is almost as hard to say and rarely spoken of as that other "c" word. So I can get caught off guard now by responses. Yesterday we (that would be me, Chris, Seamus and Roryann and Seamus's new BFF--but only when he can't be with Will--Harold) went to an open house at the RHS Pet Adoption Center (aka how Seamus came into my life). I've been a volunteer there, on the board of directors, past president, and cable tv show host for them over the past 20 years. 20. 2. and then 0. Two decades. A person who has been there almost that long did not recognize me at the door. And apparently, she also was not happy that I was bringing my dog with me (oddly, she couldn't recognize me and thus didn't recognize the dog--I'm the other way around, I recognize humans by the dog they are walking). I spent a good five or ten minutes wondering what on earth I had done to piss this person off before finally realizing that she didn't know it was me. (And yes, I have special privileges to bring my special needs dog with me). I went back over to her, wearing a name tag with my name in really large letters, and the light bulb went on. She was no longer mad at me. Or, whoever she thought I was (rude guest bringing a dog to a cocktail/ social function).

At this same function--and let me be clear, this is one of those business/networking/ gab-fest functions where business cards are exchanged like spit at a junior high dance--I kept answering the "How are you?" question with "I'm great, how are you?" and then got the "No, I mean how arrrrrrrrrrre you?" with the scrunchy face. The face that says "I'm really concerned about you and heard you were going to die but don't know how to ask if that's really true." Yeah, that face. And I'd say, "Oh, right. I'm great. I'm all through treatment and everything looks great." And usually, I'd get a hug. (I'm not a hugger but I've learned to adjust. People hug cancer patients. This is apparently a fact of life). Sometimes I'd get a hug before I even got the scrunchy face. And I forget that I ever was a cancer patient! I've even gotten used to my hair. To me, really people, my breast cancer is so last month.

I've also lately been feeling like a bit of a slacker. Not just because I haven't blogged as much. But because I've been reading other blogs where people are doing things like attending Global Cancer Summits. And I think ,um, wow, no epiphanies for me and I went through breast cancer and all I have is a few t-shirts. But that's not quite right. I have a lot of knowledge about this breast cancer thing. And I have my energy back. I am doing something with that. No, I am. I swear.

I'm involved, as I mentioned before, with the start up of a Breast Cancer Resource Center in my county (Riverside; and actually the neighboring San Bernardino County too). That's part of my reason for blogging less as well. We're really moving on this!

Clearly, it's time for some adjustments. I'm still going to blog. Because I just might be addicted to it (hey, no one forces you to read it) and there is lots going on with the Breast Cancer Resource Center. We have an "amazing" committee (yes, it's like a reality TV dating show--it's amazing and we're going on this journey and we're not here to make friends we're here to win...oh wait, okay, maybe not that last part. But sure, stay tuned). And in fact, it deserves and will get it's own post. But I do believe I will blog more like twice a week. At least now when I don't blog daily you won't think I was rushed to urgent care holding my precious last 2 white blood cells in a paper bag.

When not blogging, I will be continuing to build my law practice (and yes, yes, yes I continued to work through all the treatment; if one more person says "Have you gone back to work yet" I think I will scream. I didn't stop working. Homelessness and starvation were not going to aid my recovery!!). I am also working on that memoir of mine (as soon as I stop saying "does the world really need another cancer memoir?", because it's not about me--Seamus wants his cancer battle and all the ways he paved the path for me shared with the world...or at least 8 family members). And, I will be launched into starting up this Breast Cancer Resource Center, which you will hear more about in the next blog post.

In the meantime, for my writer friends mostly, I give you this link to a hysterically funny blog. Specifically today's post really helped a little mental block of mine while working on the memoir (which oddly, I just find easier to think of as little personal essays all tied together). The Intern says: "You stifle your memoir in the grave when you consider it a passive account of things past rather than an active, completely new and surprising encounter with the music/your fascinating life. It's possible to know exactly what's coming, and still have a scene/character/entire book be new and unusual and awesome and completely uncanned." I think this is really my issue--the blog was a discovery for me, so (I hope) the writing was interesting. Must discover as I write the memoir. Hmmm...... (okay right, so she probably meant we stifle it in the cradle because if it's in the grave, well, who cares if it's stifled; but still, this is worth thinking about. Besides, she's probably in her early twenties, really smart, quite funny and working in the publishing world. All hail the intern. Okay, well, sure, she's working for free, but whatever.... I'm still in awe. It is my path not taken.)

(photo is Seamus and Harold, hanging out while their humans enjoyed oysters and champagne on a hot, but beautiful, downtown Riverside summer evening).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I've Summited!!

See that?? That's me!! The bottom left "In Honor of" card says "Teresa and her dog." That's me and Seamus! And that's the tribute wall at the LiveStrong Global Cancer Summit in Dublin! The tribute was placed there by Stephanie of Bah!to Cancer--who is there on a press pass blogging away. I "met" Stephanie through our blogs. I'm sure you've figured out by now that she is also a breast cancer survivor (and if you are reading her blog, you know she is also darn funny--in that very British way).

I feel like I am now officially part of an international club. Okay, right, it's a cancer club but hey, at least we travel.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Way Cooler

Because this is way cooler than anything I'm doing right now, today I'm going to send you over to the "Bah! to Cancer" blog post. Stephanie (the author) is in Dublin attending the LiveStrong Global Cancer Summit as part of the press--because of her blog!! She's posting on what's going on and I find it all fascinating, so I'm thinking you might too.

Here's the link to Bah! to Cancer. And that's Stephanie, blogging away (please note super stylish, way trendy hairstyle). Enjoy! (but please remember to come back to my blog too. ;-)

Friday, August 21, 2009

The End of an Era

[Note to Anonymous Commenter: This is again a posting that involves hair and what someone looks like. Since you seem completely oblivious to the fact that this is a blog about going through breast cancer and that includes the effects of chemo, which are **news flash** physical, I thought I should warn you so that you don't have to bother your obviously far superior self with such droll ramblings. Here's an idea: stop reading the blog. After all, you are so above "appearances" you've chosen to post anonymously. I love that. But surely you have better things to do.]

Now, for those of you who actually get the blog:


Here is the final "Chris's hair Post." This morning, he woke up looking like this:
And so for posterity's sake we measured the Wi-fro:
That may be a little hard to see, and even harder to believe, but that's 4 1/2" of hair at the top of his head. Impressive. But not as impressive as this:That's not a collection of toupees, that's not a cocker spaniel, and it's not a large throw rug. It's what happened as a result of this:
That's Chris with Kelly, my longtime hairstylist and the one who shaved my head, styled my wigs and now has hacked her way through Chris's phenom of hair. Hair tsunamis no more. She even trimmed my hair (and we mean literally--one crazy little hair that had to go). So here's my "new" look:

And the end result today was much happiness for everyone concerned:
For the record, Chris and I both went from February 7th to August 21st without a haircut. He just needed a lot more hair product than I did. But that's love people. That's love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Yeah, but it's not Me.

What do these photos have in common?
Right. They are not me. It's so obvious. It is, right? And yet that's what I'm hearing these days about my hair-- "It's very [insert celebrity-type with really short hair]." Okay, so it's really only me who thinks "Brigette Nielson" (it's just a fear of mine--based on that whole "we're kind of gigantic" commonality.) But last week I heard "Annie Lennox" a half dozen times and this week it's "Jamie Lee Curtis." I don't have the bone structure of either of them, and, um, I'm younger than both of them.

So while I'm flattered that people are starting to think my hairstyle is a choice, the comments seem to be confirming for me that "it's a style" but it's not "my style." I'm still not-so-patiently waiting for mine to reach a point where I no longer feel the need to explain to unsuspecting total strangers who happen to glance at my head that "it's still growing out from cancer and reallyIdidn'tchoosethisI'mjusttryingtogrowitoutandIpromiseitusedtobelongandnormallooking." In the meantime, the me with the short hair is still learning that women can actually be pretty nice to each other. Who knew?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Coming to the End

No, no, not the end of the blog. And certainly not the end of me. But the end of the Wi-fro. Look at that thing. It simply can't go on. I think this morning Chris's hair was begging us to put it out of its misery. This is what Chris looked like when he woke up this morning. I laughed so much I just had to ask him to throw some clothes on and let me take a photo for the blog before he did anything to the hair. I just don't think you all have been able to see the full glory of his hair without seeing the "first thing in the morning" hair.

For those of you who might be new to this, let me explain. Chris did the dutiful supportive "significant other" offer to shave his own head when I had chemo. I declined the offer because frankly, he has way better hair than I do and I would have been more upset over his loss of hair. So he did the opposite and has been "growing it out for cancer." He hasn't had it cut since February 7th (right before I started chemo). Just as a refresher, this is what he looked like the night before my surgery (so January 27th). And (Seems like this experience has been kind of rough on him doesn't it?)

Once we figured out he can't actual donate it to Locks of Love or any of those organizations (they want 10 inches of hair!), we really didn't have an "end" in mind for this massive undertaking of hair growth. So of course I posted a poll as to when Chris should cut his hair. And some evil minded (but funny!) person stepped in and ran a campaign to vote for December 15th (when Chris and I leave for Maui). Well, December 15th was the winning selection with 26 votes. On the other hand....a full 30 of you voted for a date which is earlier than December 15th. See where I'm going with this?

Right. I'm letting Chris off the hook. He and I will both be going for a haircut. That's right, me too. I have some crazy odd hairs sticking out on my head and there does seem to be enough hair to require a little shaping at this point. So, while my hair cut will probably take all of 30 seconds and Chris's is likely to take hours and many stylists working in shifts, we are going to go together sometime soon. There will be photos.

(That rush of wind you just heard coming from the south was Chris's mother's sigh of relief.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chemo Saved My Life Again

This time it was only my social life, but Chris's youngest sister Courtney assures me it would have been social suicide. So let me just thank the god of chemo side effects right now.

Chris has recently introduced me to the joy of hair "fiber" or "paste" or "molding something or other" that one applies to hair to make it spike-y or texture-y or something or other that makes really short hair seem styled, yet not. Thus emboldened, I'm taking a moment or two in the mornings to actually "style" my hairs and occasionally I think it looks good. Saturday night we went to Newport Beach for the wedding of a close friend of Chris's family. Big, lavish wedding attended by well-dressed, well-groomed perfect looking people. (And then me.) Due to the state of my head, I have two looks I can sort of pull off that fool me momentarily into thinking that other people might possibly think my hair is intentional--the first is the aforementioned Sedona/Rain forest/funky jewelry woman (no hair fiber) and the other, I recently discovered through the gift of hair fiber paste, is a sort of intense, dressed in black, New York editrix. But this was a wedding. Neither of those looks really work. I considered a wig but really can't stand the thought of that. So, going through my closet, I found I had two dress choices. Both dresses were from Banana Republic. I'm a big fan of BR. Mostly because they carry clothes in sizes that have two digits and they also carry many of their clothes in tall sizes. Even dresses, which is important when one is nearly 6 feet tall and over...ahem, a certain age... where a hem should be very near the knee.

One violet colored one-shouldered BR dress I thought would look pretty good with the hair, since the color is stunning and the dress sort of throws the focus to the neck and shoulders so not having hair was almost a good thing. Alas, I decided against it for two reasons. First, BR actually puts the season on the tag of their clothing. This tag read SPR08. Spring, 2008. Hmmm...could I risk a year-old dress in this crowd? And even I could remember I also wore this dress out to dinner with Chris's family previously. Still, under the circumstances, I was tempted to wear it. But I couldn't. I couldn't wedge my feet into the shoes that look best with the dress. My feet this week have been doing their bloating neuropathy thing and have alternated between looking like not-so-small piglets attached to my ankles and just plain fat feet. I knew that even if I got my feet into the shoes walking would be severely restricted and Chris was not likely to want to carry his bald Amazonian violet warrior throughout the evening, not to mention how that might have ruined the effect of the dress in the first place. Instead, I chose the SMR09 BR dress in a sort of robin's egg blue color. Surprisingly the gladiator-strappy silver sandals with nearly 4" heels that go with this dress were the most comfortable for my feet. Sure, they made me 6"3 and I was, you know, rockin' some strange Annie Lennox in pastels look but somehow I still made it out the door thinking I looked okay. (Delusion is fun, isn't it?)

The delusion lasted until we got to the parking lot of the church and it looked as though the wedding was going to be a lot more formal than we had expected (and somehow violet seemed more "formal" than robin's egg blue to me, so I was positive I'd made the wrong choice). The church, like Newport Beach itself, was full of girls with long blonde hair (with bangs swept across their foreheads in gravity defying ways) who are all exactly 5' 6" (in heels) and weigh 46 pounds (in wet towels). I was no longer even Annie Lennox looking. I was more Brigette Nielson (and not even when she was stalking Sylvester Stallone, which, I think, must be considered her heyday). The wedding was not Catholic and therefore was actually over the same day it started and we made our way to the reception. We weren't inside the Country Club two minutes when I realized that I had, indeed, made the right dress choice and not just because the wedding was not as formal as it had first appeared. There at the bar was a young woman in the violet SPR08 dress.

There were 300+ people at this reception. Not only was the young woman at the same reception wearing the very dress I had pulled out and considered a few short hours ago but as luck would have it, she was seated at our same table (she, it turns out, is married to someone that Chris went to grade school with) two seats away.

My chemo feet saved me from the social suicide of being caught in the same dress at the same table at the same wedding reception as another woman. And trust me, I would not have won this dress-off. Did I mention she was young? And thin. And had long thick hair (brown, surprising I know...but she's obviously new to the crowd, after all she was wearing a SPR 08 dress).

Thus narrowly escaping social suicide thanks to chemo puffiness, I enjoyed a wonderful meal (chilled melon soup, Caesar salad, lobster and steak) and Chris and I spent most of the night dancing. Yes, I danced. In 4" heels. All night. Hey, it's not like I could look any stranger.

I'm pleased to report my feet hurt like hell today. But this time, I don't think the chemo gets the credit or the blame.

(P.S. the photo is not of the actual dress nor the actual girl. But close enough. On both counts.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Art of Cancer

You may recognize this photo--it's been on the sidebar of this blog throughout, because of course, everything I needed to know about cancer I learned from my dog. This dog. Seamus (pronounced, by the way, Shay-mus. Just back from our heartland America tour I have learned that a blog reader or 20 has been pronouncing his name Seem-us. Uh, no. It's Irish for James and pronounced Shay-mus. Shay-moose when he's eating a lot. Which is always.) My mother (a very talented art quilter in her own right) has a friend, Roberta Ranney, who reads the blog and cleverly deduced how important this little dog is to me. So she "quilted up" this for me and gave it to me at my Survivor Party Part Deux.
Isn't that spectacular? Yes, it's a quilt! (Not the big kind your grandma put on her bed. This is "textile art" and it gets hung on the wall!) It turned out so well--I can't believe how beautifully she captured Seamus's (slightly crazed) personality. I'm not the only one who was impressed. Thus she's now launched a line of custom pet quilts! You can order one of your pet and while there is absolutely no way your pet is as cute as Seamus, the textile art will be stunning. Her blog is (or just click on that!). She's posted a few other animal portrait quilts she's done, including one of my mom's Australian Shepherd, Barbee (yeah, don't ask about the name. It has something to do with "shrimp on...". Right, don't ask.)

And in other artist news, one of my favorite art websites The Artful Home is having a breast cancer fundraiser. Not the normal "buy something tacky and pink and we'll make a profit and give oh, a couple of cents, to some gigantic research conglomerate" kind of fundraiser. This is specifically for one artist who has had a recurrence of breast cancer and it's spread to her bones. She requires 16 rounds of chemo and because this was a "pre-existing condition" she has no insurance. A bunch of the other artists have donated their works and 100% of the sales proceeds today and tomorrow go to the "Hearts for Anna" fund to help pay for her treatment. Hey, I had insurance and I can't believe how much money I had to spend battling this disease. She's going to need a lot of help. So, check it out. There's some beautiful work. (Click here: "Hearts for Anna").

There will be more art updates soon. My mother shipped the quilt she made and is donating to the Shop to Stop Breast Cancer event. I should have it next week and will post photos of that too. Because of course, we'd love donations from other artists for this event as well. (That was subtle, right?)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cancer Takes a Vacation

Of course, I'm of the opinion cancer has taken a permanent vacation, so maybe "(Former) Cancer Girl Takes a Vacation" would be more appropriate. It is however, less catchy as a title.

We got back from our "heartland vacation" late, late Sunday night. It's been crazy busy ever since, but I do want to share a few of our Cancer Survivor vacation moments.

First, we had Survivor Party #2 at my mom's house in Springfield, MO. Note the shirts? Left to right that's step-dad Ted, Chris, niece McKinzee, me, mom (Vivian), nephew Lucas (in front), brother Jay and sister-in-law Jennifer, all appropriately attired in the Survivor t-shirt. Except Chris. Apparently I forgot to mention the dress code. Ooops. One of my mom's quilting friends gave me a spectacular quilt as a Survivor gift. It, along with the quilts my mom gave me (one of which is for the Shop to Stop Breast Cancer event!), deserves it's own post so we'll get to that later. The party was fun and my niece and nephew asked me to sign their shirts, which was really pretty cute.

After our quick 2 1/2 days in Missouri, we took our time driving up to Chicago. Great drive! Once in Chicago I was at a conference and Chris was conducting a wine tasting at House of Glunz. Eventually though, we had a day to just roam around the city. I LOVE Chicago. LOVE it. Of course, I consider anything below 75 degrees to be cold, so I think my love affair with Chicago will be a fickle one, but I'm quite smitten at the moment. And, Chicago loved me back. As Chris and I roamed through Millennium park and then across the bridge to Bicentennial Park (query: is one really ten times better than the other? ;-) we strolled towards the lake. We found ourselves in a very beautiful little garden, on a beautiful Saturday in summer, almost alone. And then we saw this sign:

How cool is that?? Thank you Richard and Annette Bloch. (Must look up who they are and how this garden came about). We walked through the garden and out onto the plaza, which was the "Cancer Survivor's Plaza." Wow. We stumbled on this completely by accident, but somehow it just seemed meant to be.Eventually, we made our way down to Navy Pier. The best thing I can say about that is that we saw this yacht in the harbor:

You will note that it is dubbed "Odyssey 2." Perhaps you will recall that I refer to what others call the "Cancer Journey" as the "Cancer Odyssey" (a term actually coined by the good and great Dr. Karam). I'm hoping my "Odyssey 2" is a little more like this one.

And as if Chicago had not proved her love for me in enough ways with all of this, we also discovered that Jimmy Buffett had followed us to town. To understand the importance of this you must understand that I am not a music person at all. I tend to think of music as noise. (Yes, I realize this is a character defect.) The only exception to this is Jimmy Buffett--I have been a parrothead since a high school boyfriend introduced me to the "Volcano" album (back when they were "albums" and round, black and shiny). I have been to a half dozen or so concerts of his (as a opposed to the, oh, call it 5 concerts of any other kind ever that I've been to). In Southern California his concerts sell out in about 8 minutes and he seems to be coming here less and less. So to see a flashing billboard with "Jimmy Buffett August 8th: Tickets Still Available" as we drove into Chicago on August 4th (our first night) was like seeing a "God will Speak to You Now. Is there anything else you'd like?" billboard.

We got tickets. We went. We loved it. Here's why:

The photos are probably self explanatory, but here's a little help: That's us, in the parking lot for the pre-party; Fins anyone?; Let's just say we were in the "no rhythm" section and tie-dye guy pretty much did that throughout the entire concert; and the "sleeping" parrothead? Yeah, that was before the concert ever started. Gotta hand it to him though, he rallied eventually.

Per Jimmy: "Changes in latitude, changes in attitude,, nothing remains quite the same... " (which was not a cancer survivor song, but should have been).

Thanks, Chicago!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Too Much Hair

I am back from vacation. But tired. Super tired. So this may be short.'s at least an original post and not a repeat. It is however about hair. I'm stuck in a hair rut.

There was a time when I couldn't quite figure out why hair--or more specifically the loss of hair--seemed to be such an overwhelmingly big aspect of this whole cancer thing. Compared with, oh, let's just say, um...the potential loss of life, it seems that losing one's hair temporarily, while not fun or easy, is not the worst aspect of the cancer experience. Yet it certainly seems to be the one most discussed and the one that others (i.e. "other" than the cancer patient) seem to obsess over. I could have paid all my out of pocket medical expenses, if only I had a dollar for every time someone not diagnosed with cancer told me they didn't know what they would do if they lost their hair, or that they would be "really unattractive" without hair, or some such thing. And honestly, it didn't bother me that much when it happened. The thought of chemo (and stay with me here folks, the chemo happens first...then the hair loss) and all it's potential side effects stressed me out a bit more and by the time the hair loss occurred I was ready for that and eventually when the chemo fatigue set in (conveniently, right about with the hair loss) I was happy to have the extra time in the morning (no shaving, no shampooing, no blow drying, no styling and eventually, no mascara necessary).

But that was then. I'm all better now. I have my energy back. I've returned to the regular programming of my life. I'm back at work and my new associate started today, so we're really ready to go all out full speed ahead. And I miss my hair.

I've given up the wigs and the scarves for good and I have enough hair to do that without drawing stares everywhere I go. And as a friend said of my hair "It's a look. It's a style. It's not your look or your style, but it's a look." Which is true--whether it's a lesbian chic look or a "just back from a spiritual retreat in Sedona, how do you like my new beads and isn't it a shame about the rain forest?" look--it is indeed a look. But it's not me. And that's starting to bug me. It's my last reminder of my "cancer patient" status (hey, I don't really notice the scar at "right breast 10 o'clock" and I guarantee you strangers aren't noticing it! Oh, okay, I have the weird foot neuropathy thing but that comes and goes and in the right shoes, no one notices.). Yeah, yeah, I know--the whole odyssey was only 7 months and it was only been a few weeks since treatment ended, but hey, I'd like my hair back now!

Part of this is coming from that fact that I was at an estate planning conference in Chicago and felt a little "off my game" dealing with so many other lawyers (a competitive lot, to say the least). I felt just slightly odd and I do believe I was perceived differently by others. Two sociological findings (or maybe it's the same one?) that are probably not surprising: a nearly 6 ft tall blonde woman in a suit and heels is not easily over-looked or ignored in a still primarily male dominated field; turns out that same nearly 6 ft tall, no longer blonde, nearly hairless woman in comfortable flat shoes (to accomodate her swollen feet) is quite easily overlooked. Although, that was mostly my experience with men. Women were actually warmer than they usually are to me-- although for the most part, that's not the other lawyers--that's the exhibitors and staff for the conference. I won two different "raffles" (you know how the exhibitors at conferences always raffle off things to get you to leave a business card? Yeah, those.) I'm convinced the raffles were not at all random. They liked me because I talked to them (and I talked to them because they talked to's all very meta) and in one case "the cancer" came up and voila' I was the raffle winner! (yeah, I know, I should have gone to every table and used the cancer card. My suitcase wasn't that big. And airlines charge by the pound now.)

Another part of this is coming, I'm sure, from the fact that I met several of Chris's really nice, really accomplished friends in Chicago. And since they are his friends from college (read: Princeton, so we're all clear on where I'm going with this) they are way younger than me. So I was feeling a's just say old, stupid and ugly. Not for long (the old and stupid part anyway) though, because they are very nice and interesting and not at all judgmental (and, well, bright enough to understand the whole cancer thing). But again, the hair thing bugged me. I would just prefer not to look odd. Especially when meeting people who don't know me any other way.

I actually had a dream last night that I had hair. Not a dream in which I appeared with hair, but a dream wherein Dream Teresa realized that her hair had suddenly grown to shoulder length and was blonde again. Dream Teresa then realized she needed to style it or cut it or do something with it. Dream Teresa then ran about (outdoors mostly, because dreams can't ever make sense right?) trying to find the appropriate styling tools. That part of the dream was much like the "I have a test and I can't find the classroom I'm supposed to be in" dream that we over-achieving geeky folks who looooved school have. Eventually Dream Teresa settled on foaming up an entire can of mousse and lathering that into her hair (a sign that real life Teresa has watched Chris struggle with controlling that massive tsunami of hair of his one too many times).

I warned you--I'm in a hair rut. Or maybe this was a hair-rant. Either way, it's over for now. Must get sleep.

The photo is to let you know a) what the hair "look" is currently (and oh yeah, I threw in some artsy bead jewelry), and b) that my vacation was enjoyable and I did get to spend time with the Missouri branch of my family. That's my younger brother Jay and his son Lucas in the photo. Because when else will the 3 of us have matching hairdos?

PS: a note about "potential side effects" of chemo. Read the "potential side effects" of aspirin. Or cold medicine. Scary stuff. And yet you still take those things. Okay, so the side effects warnings for chemo are a bit more extensive, but it's the same basic premise--the effects are potential and each of the effects have happened to someone. But they don't all happen to everyone on chemo. And they don't all happen at the same time. And many of them never happen to many people. (That was just for anyone--D-- reading this who might currently be contemplating the side effects of chemo. ;-) )

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hair Check

I'm still on vacation, so I thought I'd throw a vacation photo at ya. This is sort of a check in on the hair growth. To me, my hair looks the same. It feels like it's maybe thickening a little, but not really getting length. Last chemo was April 30th; hair starts growing back 4 to 6 weeks later, so figure this is about two months of growth. Slow. Slow. Slow.

On the other hand....Chris's hair is having no trouble growing! And, since the famous mid-western humidity has hit...well, let's just say my hair "style" is more wearable than Chris's "style." Together though, I think we're scaring people. Not that anyone at a Jimmy Buffett concert (yes!! that's where we are!!) can be scared.

We're headed home today. Regular posting will resume soon. So much to fill you in on!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I'm on vacation...not in surgery

Vacation continues! We're in Chicago now. Had a great drive yesterday from Springfield, Missouri, through St. Louis, on to Springfield, Illinois (we toured Lincoln's home!) and into Chicago just in time for a midnight martini! Which is why again we have a summer re-run. Let's all fondly recall surgery day (hey, it was a good outcome!).

(originally posted Friday, January 30, 2009)

How Medicine Made me a Hot Babe--the nuclear medicine portion of our program

Wow, sorry about that long post yesterday. Apparently I needed to vent all that. And now you probably need some of my Vicodin just from trying to read it. I'll see if I can be more precise. Or funnier. Or just less gory.

When we last met, I was just about to go into surgery...well, surgery day. We were up at 5:30 and while there is no point to make-up and dressing nicely, I did shower and do my hair (since I wouldn't be able to do either for another 48 hours) and I donned the pink sweat-sort-of-suit. We dutifully reported in to the surgery center at 7 a.m. So did about 173 other people. Wow. And apparently it was half-off surgery for children day because they were lined up out the door. And crying. Children cry when confronted with surgery. I cry when confronted with 7a.m. and no Starbucks. It was not a pretty, nor quiet, scene.

After they one by one took pretty much everbody else back to surgery and Chris and I were still stashed in the corner (shaking, crying and promising we'd never, ever have children), I had to remind the front desk lady that I was expected down in nuclear medicine at 7:30 (it was 7:35). She said "for what?" Ummmm...aren't you guys supposed to know that? I kid you not, I got the "I'm new at this" response. Eventually a nurse came and got me and then another nurse took us down to nuclear medicine. Which is every bit as scary as it sounds. So scary they stash it away at the bottom of the 'North tower' and you have to take a secret elevator to get there. You'll know you are there by the arctic temperatures that accost you upon entry.

Two other things happened when we entered. A lab coat wearing man, we'll call him Larry (because that was his name) entered and the receptionist said "we have a such-and-such brain serious major procedure today" (I'm paraphrasing) and he said "Really? I haven't done one of those in 20 years." Comforting huh? Please god, do not let me find out my brain is in my right breast.

Also in the waiting room was a somewhat swarthy looking man in his early 40s, unshaved and wearing a leather jacket and boots, and next to him was a woman who looked like "mom"--just not his mom. Mom like Mrs. Cunningham, or June Cleaver, or any of those moms who did not have swarthy looking sons. They took swarthy back into the treatment rooms and five minutes later a tech comes out and says to mom "Mrs. Jones? Your son-in-law would like you to be with him for the procedure." Mom smiled sweetly (and knowingly) and got up and went back. Really? Who does that? His mother in law??? And where was his wife? I'm really hoping this had nothing to do with his prostate.

Then it was my turn and oh yeah, Chris came back with me. We were greeted by "not in 20 years" Larry. Larry was quite chipper (he likes inflicting pain, it's just obvious) and he says to me, "So you understand why you're here and what we're doing?" I, who haven't had Starbucks, said "um, yeah, kinda...I just know it's painless." And he laughed at me. Full on laughed in my face. I stopped dead in my tracks. He said "Oh, come on. It's four injections. It's going to hurt. There's going to be pain." BWAHHAHAHAH!! Thanks, Larry. This was the part where they were injecting radioactive material into my breast to find the sentinel node. I don't know how I got the rest of the way down the hall into the treatment room. Once there I was happy to find that Larry the Ass was not the doctor. Larry is not even a doctor. The doctor was a young woman (of course she was young), Dr. Tabib, and far, far kinder.

I will describe what was about to happen by medical terms, courtesy of John Link, M.D. and his book "Breast Cancer Survival Manual" (which I read cover to cover yesterday):

"Doctors use the radioactive tracer as follows: They inject it in and around the cancerous area (or under the nipple) at the time of the initial cancer surgery. ...In the operating room using a portable Geiger counter known as a gamma probe, the surgical team identifies the first draining node and removes it following the removal of the primary cancer. The pathologist then analyzes the node using a technique called frozen sectioning. He freezes the node by using liquid nitrogen and then cuts the tissue into thin slices and views them under the microscope. If he sees no cancer, no further surgery is performed."

So, I had four injections around the cancerous area. And I guess, again, where mine is located is somewhat fortunate for these parts. 3 out of 4 of the injections weren't really much. But the one closest to the nipple...yeah, um... ow. Not off the charts, and certainly tolerable, but Ow. Enough to make me bite my lip. Did I mention that Larry is an ass?

Then we had two hours to kill while the radioactive material is finding its way through my breast (no, I couldn't feel anything) before I was to return for "pictures." We chose not to hang out in the arctic zone. Instead we delivered my health care directive and HIPAA release to patient services (I'm still being a lawyer) and then sat in a sunny window reading. I was reading David Sedaris's "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" and Chris was reading "Then we Came to the End." Perhaps we should have thought about our selections ahead of time.

We returned to nucler medicine and waited for "pictures." At least they gave us blankets this time. When they came to take me back this time there were other patients around--they do bone and brain scans and all sorts of "man you are really sick" stuff, and again, I'm squeamish. There was an old guy on a gurney in the hallway asleep (please god, he was just sleeping) who was just skin and bones, with his mouth open and his body contorted. Yeah, that eliminates any possible feeling bad for myself I could have mustered. (And why do they always leave someone on a gurney in the hallway??)

The "pictures" turned out to be not as simple as you would think. I was picturing a quick little x-ray and I"m gone. Not so fast. Again, I had to lay down and then this panel comes down on top of me (they ask again "are you at all claustrophobic?" so that gives you an idea how close the panel gets). And they take two "pictures" that take five minutes each. The tech points out on the screen what they are doing. So I turned my head to see the screen. As I'm waiting out the five minutes I noticed that there were actually 3 screens. The one he pointed to, a much bigger one in the middle and then one in my periphery vision that I can barely see. But the big one in the middle, while difficult to see, is scary looking. It's got a lot of red, some yellow, some pink, and a big ol' scary looking jagged-edge black spot in the middle. Wow. I've seen lots of scary pictures of my cancer but that one was the worst. Probably because of the red everywhere, and it was obviously extremely close up since they were looking for a little tiny lymph node, but that one was freaking me out a little. I kept trying to figure out where this famous lymph node was on the screen amidst all that pulsating blood. Finally I decided I just couldn't look at that screen anymore and I went back to the perfectly harmless looking black and white screen he had told me to look at. It had a nice little countdown clock on it too and that helped.

Eventually, the pictures were done and he said "good job. We found the node. I'm just going to mark it on you." Which they do. He drew on my underarm to pinpoint the node for the surgeon. Then they said I could sit up , so I did. And there in front of me was the scary, frightening, big computer screen....with a beautiful red, yellow and pink sunset and the black silhouette of a palm tree sticking up in the middle of it. The words "Polynesian Spa Music" were written across the top. But in my defense, I couldn't see that from my position under the panel!! (Louise, if you are reading this--you have to be reminded of the glass dancing booths at this point). It's possible I was nervous. But Chris got a big kick out of my story when I came back out. I blame Larry.

Seriously, squint sideways at this.... you can see cancer can't you??

Alright, back up to surgery we went. With my pictures in hand and a notebook full of medical info on me (which the nurse gave to Chris originally and made him swear under penalty of death he would return to her when we got back to the surgery center). Oh, and I had to go in a wheelchair...because of the whole "I see cancer in the sunset" thing, I'm sure.

Surgery is a giant blur to me. I remember this much: the anesthesia nurse was Steve and he was very kind and good at what he does (and was the first voice I heard when I woke up, which also let me know I was still in the surgery center and not in the hospital, which meant good news on the lymph node thing, at least in my mind). The other anesthesia nurse (apparently there to supervise Steve) was an attractive woman with a really cute, colorful surgical hat--until I noticed it was images of coffee and said "latte" "coffee" and other such words all over it, which is just cruel to me in my then state. She was concerned I might rip it off her head when the anesthesia kicked in and I lost the last two inhibitions I had left. Apparently, I did not. But I don't know because I never saw her or her hat again.

Oh, and the infamous blue dye shot straight to the nipple? Yeah, I had it, but I don't remember it. Dr. Karam assures me that I felt it because I "tried to help"--which is to say I tried to knock it away. And I was out of it. It's just crazy that they do that to some women without anesthesia. Other things to note--the blue is not indigo blue. I thought it would be like ink. It's not. It's more of a dark turquoise color. Sort of pretty. Just not, you know, for a breast. It's already faded away however. I think. There may be something there under the bandages, but I can't tell at this point.

So that was surgery day. You know the rest of surgery/ recovery day (or can scroll way, way, way down or click on the Archives for the "A Very Big Breast Day" posting to read it). Now we just wait to hear if Dr. Karam got clean margins around the tumor (i.e. no cancer cells at the edges, which means he got it all and no further surgery is necessary).

I go back to see Dr. Karam next week and at the same time will meet with a medical oncologist about the chemotherapy and treatment options. I've now heard and read enough to know that my best chance of not having a recurrence of cancer is indeed the chemo and radiation. My kind of cancer and my "test" scores indicate a high chance of recurrence (I have no idea the actual percentage--my own guess from the reading is 20-25%; I assume they'll tell me this in the next meeting). So even if Dr. Karam got all of this tumor, there is still the chance that there are some dastardly cancer cells still on the loose and ready to wreak havoc. They must be stopped.

Today I'm going to enjoy a leisurely day off. There will be sleeping, reading, and probably a phone call or twenty. Or maybe I'll start planning our Christmas/ Jimmy Buffet's birthday trip to Maui now. Since, you know, I've got tropical sunsets on my mind.... Aloha.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dogs, Frogs & Rats Redux

I'm on vacation. And summer vacations mean repeats. But also, I recently learned a friend's sister has been diagnosed with a very similar breast cancer to mine. So this repeat is a shout-out-- I know what it feels like. I've been there. And you will get through it, D. Hang in there.

(originally posted Thursday, January 29, 2009)

Dogs, Frogs, Mice, Rats and Fish...or, All the Medical Stuff

(That's actually a Pacman frog...I humor myself. Keep'll get it!!)

Now that I'm back home and resting comfortably in a recliner by the fire with my highly inspirational beagle Seamus nearby, I can perhaps report in more precisely on the medical stuff. I have been told on several occasions throughout this now month-long breast cancer journey that I am a "good" patient. Or that I did "great." Or some such thing. That makes me laugh, and I'm sure it makes every member of my family laugh or at least go "Huh?" Of everyone in my family I am by far the most squeamish. My dad's a doctor, my brother is a regional vice president of a medical equipment manufacturer, my sister is an OR nurse, and the rest have no trouble with gore. Me? I can't even watch medical shows on TV or the fakest of the fake horror flicks, because I simply cannot see blood. And the thought of stitches about makes me pass out.

Despite this, it seems, I've been long trained to be a "good" patient. My father once took out stitches in my hand on the dining room table, to the delight of the other neighborhood children. And then there is the infamous childhood story when my family was on a cross-country motorhome trip and I fell off a ladder and broke my arm in South Dakota. We made it to Las Vegas, Nevada before my parents decided it was in fact broken. Here is the point where my father would like for me to mention that he did put my arm in a sling and even after we arrived back in California (what no hospitals in Nevada back then??) and the arm was examined, it still was only placed in a sling. No cast was necessary. I'm a good patient after all. Oh, and my mother would like me to point out that she knew it was broken in South Dakota. I just don't know why that's better?! I'd just like to point out that there are three states between South Dakota and Nevada. Big states. And we were driving. So yeah. I'm a good patient; I don't complain much. I also don't cry a lot. I have yet to cry over this whole cancer thing--except the night of the actual diagnosis, but that was because as I was telling Chris the diagnosis his sister called to tell him the family dog had to be put down that evening (RIP Chloe!). Now that made me cry. (And no, Chris did not say "Oh yeah? well Teresa has cancer!" We waited a respectable five or six days). And the surprising thing is, I'm getting less squeamish as time goes on with this. I'm finding the medical aspects sort of fascinating. So for those of you who might actually be more squeamish than me, you may want to skip over this. And I'll break this up into the various stages/ procedures so you can just skip to the good parts, however you determine "good."


On December 23, 2008 my primary care doctor calls and says "highly suspicious of malignancy." And he wants the lump out. Not just a biopsy. Excise the lump. That feels a lot like "You have cancer," but it isn't. Because I still had hope (and a friend who was told "you have ovarian cancer" and she didn't). My actual diagnosis day is January 12th. I messed up the poll--January 13th was my MRI day to see if it had spread any further, but actually Dr. Karam had called me on January 12th to tell me it was in fact cancer. And he confirms for me that's the day considered my "diagnosis day." So January 12, 2009 is the day that will live in infamy. My D-Day.

How does that feel? Well, I kept thinking about that folklore (science-lore?) that says if you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump out immediately, but if you set it in the water and slowly turn up the heat it will stay there even up to boiling (please don't try this at home or anywhere else!!). The "highly suspicous" conversation was like being thrown into the boiling water--all I wanted to do was jump out. Instead, I talked to a few people, I went about my regular life (I didn't tell anyone so as not to ruin anybody's holidays and to keep my mind off things) and then had a doctor's appointment with a calm doctor who said "you don't know it's malignant until you have the biopsy." So I got out of the pot in a manner of speaking. Let me also mention here that if you ever feel a lump or have a suspcious mammogram and they are telling you "85% of these turn out to be nothing"--they are probably right. I've heard that experience from lots of women and lots of men who were trying to calm me (or themselves) about the situation. Trust me though, I never heard that from any medical personnel dealing with me during this time. I could tell to a person, from absolutely everyone's reaction (from the PA who first saw me, to mammogram technician, the ultrasound technician, my primary care physician, the Riverside surgeon, and everyone one at UCLA--I think the parking attendant knew!) that they thought "cancer." I got "95% chance this IS cancer." Not the "85% are nothing" response. So if you get that one, you are not a frog and there is no boiling water around.

Then there was the debacle of getting health care in Riverside over the holidays. Let me be clear here--the problem here may not be the quality of care, it's quite simply that we don't have enough doctors "out here." And that's just crazy. (Come on, UCR Medical Center!! Can't arrive soon enough.) The earliest we could get a biopsy scheduled in Riverside was January 16th. Nearly a month after my first doctor's appointment. That would have been a month of "highly suspcious" and "but you never know." Carry on.

My nemesis became the ditzy Brenda from the surgeon's office who was supposed to be scheduling my biopsy but couldn't stop drinking eggnog long enough to read the "Stat" written on my file and kept forgetting to call me or the imaging place that was supposed to handle the biopsy. Oopsy.

That's when it felt like I was back in the pot and the heat was being turned up. But in a good, albeit weird, way. When I was stuck in the Riverside health hell, my feeling was "oh hell no. Not cancer. I can not have cancer." Then Stacey helped me find my way over to UCLA and Dr. Karam and my attitude moved to, "okay fine, it's probably cancer, but no way am I having a masectomy." And that becomes, "okay, well I can handle that. I can be Christina Applegate and her 'I'll have cute boobies in my 90's' attitude. But no chemo. I can't handle chemo." And eventually, as Dr. Good Karma slowly, politely, humorously (yes humorously), but quite clearly turned up the heat, it became "Okay, let's just get on with this. I can handle whatever it is. The dog lived. And so will I." I've come to think of the diagnosis process, lengthy though it is, as helpful to the mental adjustment. For me, anyway. So, keep that in mind as I explain, in what turned out to be this really, really lengthy blog posting, what one goes through to get the diagnosis of "Breast Cancer. Right breast, 10 o'clock."

THE MANY TESTS (December 19, 2008 to January 5, 2009)

Let's see...first it was a mammogram (Dec. 19th), of course (remember, I found the lump myself). That occured on a Friday. Then the following Monday (the 22nd) I went in for an ultrasound of the right breast. Yes, I watched the screen and yes, I was pretty sure it was cancer. Then I watched the face of the tech and yeah, you kinda know. They can't say anything of course, but they can become a lot more solicitous. Then came the call from the doctor (the 23rd), then came a Christmas Eve spent trying to get a meeting with a surgeon scheduled in a town where clearly healthcare is closed for the holidays. Right, the folks at WalMart have to work but health care workes? Eh, call after the 1st of the year. I also had to drive over to the Breast Imaging Center to pick up my own "films" to take them to wherever my doctor might be able to get an appointment for me, whenever that might occur...because the films are old fashioned films and not on computer disk so that can't simply be transferred by the click of a mouse.

Then we went to Christmas Eve dinner with Chris's family. Of course we did. That's usually a place that makes me quite nervous. But talk about perspective! I was fine. And I had wine. And not that Chris's mom knew (although she is a breast cancer survivor herself) but she gave me a really beautiful, really comfortable mocha-colored wrap that is extremely soft and has been wrapped around me for much of the last month, and a little Coach purse that turns out to be the perfect size for the items I can have with me at the hospital (and perfect for Chris to be able to stash in the backpack he's been carrying around for both of us).

Finally, on December 30th Chris and I went to meet with a surgeon in Corona. In a place that looked like Mother Teresa would have come to visit the dying there but no one else would or had since her passing. We almost bolted, but for the fear that we'd have to wait until 2011 for another appointment with another surgeon in Riverside. The surgeon was great. Very calming. And a woman (ruining forever Chris's two-women fantasy when she did my breast exam; it's just not what he had in mind at all. At all.). But alas, she turned me over to the heartless twit that was her scheduler and not remotely helpful. By January 5th (6 days and countless calls--mostly by me-- later; not exactly "stat") they had my biopsy scheduled for January 16th. The biopsy is what tells you whether you have cancer or not. You know, a month after you find the lump!My frustration turned to rage and I then turned to Stacey (who likes my rages and humors me and then helps me), who turned me to UCLA. But I do keep wondering--I'm self-employed, articulate, assertive and have several contacts in the medical field (yes, I used some of them); I could take the time and could afford to do a lot of the footwork myself and had friends who could and did help. What on earth do women who don't have all of the above do???

THE BIOPSY (January 6 to 9)

Lunch with Stacey was January 6th. She had her UCLA doctor email me within an hour. Email! Within an hour! An actual doctor! No Brenda-bimbette involved! Stacey's doctor (who had never so much as met me) not only referred me to the great and good Dr. Karam, but called and had them hold an appointment for two days later. I spent January 7th driving to no less than 5 different medical offices in Riverside (and one in Corona because the twit Brenda sent me to the wrong location first) picking up all of my various records to hand carry them to Dr. Karam. January 8th Chris and I drive to UCLA. Dr. Karam reviews my films (the July 23, 2008 mammogram showing nothing, and the December mammogram and ultrasound showing holy hell) and says "walks like a duck, quacks like a duck" and then immediately goes downstairs to radiology to try to get my biopsy scheduled ASAP. It's scheduled for the next morning. ASAP/ Stat obviously mean different things in different counties.

As mentioned, the biopsy is how they can tell for certain whether it's cancer. That morning (January 9) we arrived at 9:30 and they did another ultrasound. My radiologist was a resident by the name of Dr. Koo and she too was about oh, 19 years old? Dr. Karam stopped by and told me he was scheduling the MRI as well. If it turned out not to be cancer, we could cancel the MRI (and this makes so so much sense, but is not, I have learned, how things are done in Riverside). I did then finally say "you seem to only be talking about this being cancer; I assume you know already that it's cancer." And he said, "I"m 95% certain it's cancer." The radiologist could be heard letting her breath out. Clearly she also could tell it was cancer but couldn't say anything. When Dr. Karam left, Dr. Koo launched into the "survival rates are really high when you catch it this early" routine. And thanks, but "survival"?? Honestly, it hadn't occured to me that there was any other option!! I still refuse any other option. Oh and Dr. Koo said "Your doctor seems really young." This still cracks me up! Hi pot? Meet Kettle.

The biopsy is an interesting procedure. Again though, I was well trained. You have to lay still for about 30 to 40 minutes while they insert a needle and a little thingy that was best described (for we older folks) as a "Pac Man" that goes in and extracts little chunks out of the tumor (3 to 5; naturally, they needed five from mine). My tumor, as we all know, was at 10 o'clock, and way on the side. Thus for the radiologist fellow Dr. Overstreet (another woman!) to get to it, I had to lay on my side but with my top half twisted back and my arm moved even further back. This is remarkably similar to the position one assumes for certain chiropractic adjustments....which I've been getting since I was oh, five or six years old. Now, the needle that goes into the breast to numb it for the biopsy...not a lot can train you for that. It stings. But then it goes away. So all in all, not too bad.

Post-biopsy they actually did another mammogram. And if you think a normal mammogram is painful, try it after Pac-Man has attacked your breast! Let's just say there was bleeding. And while Dr. Koo bandaged me up again we had the Harvard (where she went) v. Princeton (where Chris went) discussion. UC Santa Barbara (where I went) wins!!! (hey, I'm the one with cancer). Then I was sent home with ice paks and steri-strips and all was well. I even stopped by the office, until they kicked me out. The bruise on my poor boobie lasted almost two weeks. But that was just the beginning of the blue period.

CANCER FOR REAL/ The MRI (January 12 and 13, 2009).

After "the call" where "it is what I thought it was" there really is a lot that goes on. Turns out there are all sorts of breast cancers and all sorts of factors that weigh into the treatment plan. My particular cancer is not, unfortunately, "in situ." Meaning it isn't just situated in the duct. And it's got highly invasive tendencies. On the Bloom Richardson scale of 1 to 9 with 9 being the most invasive...mine's a 9. (Not a time you want to be a 9!!). In fact, my pathology report (from the biopsy) says this about all the various factors:

Invasive ductal carcinoma, poorly differentiated
Modified Bloom and Richardson score 9 of 9 (I'm a chronic over-achiever!! that's not on the report; that's strictly gratuitous on my part)
Tubule formation: 3
Nuclear pleomorphism: 3
Mitosis: 3
In-situ component: not identified
Lymphvascular invasion: not identified
Microcalcifications: not indentified
Breast biomarkers/FISH: pendingMost of that was good, well...except the whole cancer part. The bad ones were the 9 and later when the pending FISH came back. They look for cancers that are "hormone receptive"--if they are the patient can be treated with anti-hormone medication (granted, this medication goes on for five years, but it's not chemo). My particular cancer was 0% receptive. 0%. Don't waste your hormone medication on me! (I'm probably not supposed to be, but I'm kinda glad I won't be taking medication for 5 years; chemo or not).

Next up was the MRI. This basically gives a good look at how large the tumor is and whether there are cancerous cells detected anywhere else--like in the lymph nodes. My MRI was January 13th and afterwards Chris and I went to dinner and met with our LA Writers Group. The MRI was, for me, not a big deal. Yeah, it's difficult to lay still for that long and it's a tight space and really loud, but for all the test does, it's just not that bad. Unless you are claustrophobic and then, well, yeah. It's gonna suck. I planned the blog during mine. My biggest issue was that the tech told me "no deep breaths. If you need to take a deep breath do it now. No deep breaths when you are in." Which pretty much guaranteed that all I could think about was taking a deep breath!! Don't think about purple. Stop it! No Purple. Do not picture the color purple. NO!! Purple is death!! Stop it!! (now let me know when you stop thinking about the color PURPLE. See, there you go again! Purple.).

By about 5pm that evening, Dr. Karam called to tell me the MRI was beautiful. No signs the cancer was anywhere other than where we already knew it was. But it was closer to 2cm than the 1.5 that had been earlier estimated.

THE TREATMENT PLAN (January 15, 2009)

This was basically a meeting with Dr. Karam to discuss his recommendations and "sign me up" for the lumpectomy. I think this is reasonably well detailed in an earlier post so we'll just say, the heat is turning up but I'm still not jumping. Oh, and purple. Stop thinking about purple.

I had to return to Riverside healthcare to get a medical clearance for surgery from my primary care doctor on January 20th. I had to wait 4o minutes to get in and they asked me for the $20 co-pay. Neither of these things have occured at UCLA. I passed. All clear for surgery.

LAB RAT-NESS (The research study; January 27, 2009)

As I mentioned, I was asked to participate in a research study. Here's the description of the study, straight from the materials they gave me:

"Between December 1997 and October 2008, a total of 98 subjects were enrolled in a study at UCLA examining patients with malignant and benign breast cancers, and healthy women. An additional 30 subjects will be enrolled at UCLA over the next year. This additional research has been funded by the US Army Medical Research and Material Command."

[The army!! who knew! And I think I'm number 13 of the additional 30 they are trying for.]

"It is hoped that this investigation will result in a new technique to image benign and suspicious areas in the breast. This clinical research project is designed to learn if MR imaging/spectroscopy (MRI/MRS) is a reliable anatomical and biochemical tool for identifying breast cancers... The outcome of this study will help the researchers in developing a better diagnostic tool for breast cancer..."

I'm going to scan in and post the whole description, for those of you who are interested, because it's really kind of fascinating. Basically, for those who get the "85% of these turn out to be benign" talk when a lump or spot on a mammogram is discovered, this MRI Spectroscopy may one day be the option instead of a biopsy. Much, much less invasive. No Pac Man. No bruising. Just time alone in a tube. For an hour. Okay, yeah, it got uncomfortable and I was pretty fidgety for the last 10 minutes. But the actual test "in the future" won't be that long.

Scott and Sherrie (my physicists! the researchers) did tell us they were having a hard time getting volunteers for the research and they weren't anywhere near the numbers the wanted for the "malignant tumor" test sample. And they did seem awfully thankful. Apparently, some women are upset with a cancer diagnosis (note to self: you are not normal!!) and can't handle another doctor's appointment or the timing is just too difficult to work out (you have to be a lab rat before your surgery of course). I can understand that. It just didn't occur to me to say no. In fact, it helped to think I was helping science and future patients the night before my surgery. Kind of getting out of my own drama. And then of course many people can't handle the MRI tube. And this time, I did notice how really small the space was. I tried to turn my head from one side to the next and hit the roof. Oops. But I"m glad I did it and I'm going to follow their research (or, I'm going to make my dad and my sister follow it, since I may not understand it!). I was after all, lucky lab rat #13.

That brings us up to surgery day and my trip to the surgery center, the nuclear medicine department, two hours of roaming the medical center while blue dye roamed my breast, back to the surgery center for pre-op check-in, back to nuclear medicine, back to the surgery center, into the operating room (or so I'm told), and finally the recovery room--which you've heard about. It was all about Roger. I think however this post is long enough. Nuclear medicine can wait. Probably until 3a.m this morning, since I can only sleep on my back and after a few hours my back begins to spasm. But I am not complaining! I'm a good patient. A really good patient. Oh, and have you stopped thinking about purple yet?