words about words

Bad Blood – A Short Delay

hemoglobin-respiratory-molecules-one-molecule-can-bind-up-to-four-oxygen-molecules-34888190This might be the only blog post on the Internet that’s not about T Swizzle. By “bad blood” I mean that my actual blood in my actual body is bad. It’s anemic and my hemoglobin is waaaaay too low. This whole time I’ve been so worried about my white count and if it would get so low it would delay my chemo schedule. So, there I was, at the hospital for my very first Herceptin-only “maintenance” infusion. Feeling like a recent grad visiting her old high school during the first week of school. You know, feeling pretty good. Maybe a little smug. My appetite had just returned and I’d had sushi for every meal for two days. (Except breakfast of course, because I don’t do breakfast. Breakfast food is beyond delightful. It’s eating it in the morning that I object to.)

Delicious Sushi

Anyway I get in there for my appointment that’s supposed to last 30 minutes. And I discover that Dr. Cap has snuck me onto his schedule. “He probably wants to yell at me about my magnesium,” I groaned to the nurses. (NOTE: Dr. Cap doesn’t “yell.” He might actually be incapable of raising his voice.) I can’t remember if I wrote about this before, but my magnesium was wicked low right before my last round of chemo so Cap put me on 800 milligrams a day of the stuff. And I was really good about taking it. And YET this was not reflected in my blood panel! How, I asked, could I be ingesting two 400 mg tablets of that crap every day and it not show up in my blood?! Cap told me to eat magnesium-rich foods. Well, at that point I wasn’t eating jack shit, so I just kept taking the pills and took long baths in magnesium sulfate (bath salts, baby) which I’d read that you can absorb through the skin.

Now, I’ve been anemic for basically ever, which doesn’t make sense to me. I eat red meat. The only veggies I like are the green ones. There’s no frickin’ reason for me to be anemic, but I am. I was a decade ago, I was while pregnant with Allison, I was 18 months ago at my regular doctor, and I have been throughout chemo. Everyone and their dog told me to take iron pills. And I ignored them because they upset my stomach and clog up the works. If you know what I’m saying. Hashtag no poop. Anyway, I wasn’t worried about it, but apparently I should have been.

Because Dr. Cap told me that my hemoglobin was too low for surgery. *sad trombone* To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure what the hell hemoglobin was. My first thought was a Spider-Man villain. Apparently that’s not quite right. It is “the iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells.” It looks like the fourth of July!

hemoglobin  Dr. Cap said we should delay surgery for a few weeks and I needed to start taking the iron supplements seriously. He told me that the official call on surgery belonged to Dr. Supe (my surgeon), but with hemoglobin that low (7.5 if you’re curious. Normal range is 11.3-15.5) it just wasn’t safe. He told me that if the iron supplements didn’t raise my levels we’d have to give me someone else’s blood. Yikes. So I’m taking the dang iron pills and they suck. But I take them twice a day. Surgery has been rescheduled for October 8.

The good news is that my heart is just fine. This is confirmed by an EKG and an echocardiogram. There wasn’t any damage from the Herceptin.

A couple days after starting to take the iron (and more than three weeks passing since my last chemo!) I had an excellent day. I felt good. I ate food. I had energy and did a bunch of housework. I did, however, have a bit of a meltdown at the party store. Gunny and I went to get a Harry Potter costume for Allison and I found this cool pink lady wig.

Bee tee dubs it looks like dogshit on me. I have olive skin and it doesn't go with pale pink. :(

Bee tee dubs it looks like dogshit on me. I have olive skin and it doesn’t go with pale pink. :(

Now that it’s Halloweentime, all the cool wigs are out and since I’ve got barely a hint of stubble on about 1/3 of my head, it looks like hat and wig city for a good while. I said something to the cashier about how the wig was for me and blah blah bald head and she told me she’d had breast cancer twice. They’d missed something the first time and she got more lumps and had to go through all the treatment again. “You’re going to be okay,” she told me. And I got all teary-eyed. And I asked her “Are you able to make plans for the future?” and as I said this, I lost it and started crying and–thanks Herceptin Drip–my nose ran right onto my shirt. She leaned across the counter and hugged me. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. “I promise. I swear to God it’s going to be okay.” Then she gave me her phone number and said to call her if I wanted to talk.

You just never know when you’re going to break. And I don’t know if I was crying because of cancer and future and will I EVER have peace of mind or because Antoinette at Everything Party reached out to me with kindness when she didn’t have to. BTW she told me that it took her a while, but now she is able to think about and plan for a future.

First Day of 1st gradeSchool has started again, and with the homework packets and library books, Allison brought home the first cold of the season. In the old days, pre-Cancer, everyone would get sick to some degree while I would have a half-day of sore throat and then be fine. My immune system was a rockstar. Well, no more. I got pretty sick. Not go-to-the-doctor sick, but sick enough to stay in bed and watch Columbo episodes on Netflix. I’m feeling better now, but that cough/cold knocked me on my butt for a few days–and just when I was feeling good again!

sick and Columbo

I don’t have to go back to the doctor until the first week of October for a pre-op consult with Dr. Supe, and then my Herceptin action the next day. So in the meantime I will concentrate on whipping my blood into shape, getting Glitched out in paperback, and maybe perhaps I hope doing some work on my next Lexy story which I haven’t touched since July 7.

Breast cancer intermission: A Smoking Ruin

Well, here I am almost three whole weeks after my sixth and final round of chemo. That day was extraordinary. I felt accomplished, and loved, and, well, triumphant.

Since then? Not so much on the triumph. I don’t feel as though I’ve kicked cancer’s ass, or won the battle much less the war. The fact is, I don’t know if the chemo worked! I won’t know until Dr Superman does the surgery next week and the pathologist gets my cells under a microscope.

Yeah, I suppose you could say I “won” for getting through all those weeks of chemo. And don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely the toughest thing I’ve ever done (and I gave birth to three children). But seriously, what do we mean when we say “got through chemo”? We mean I didn’t die from it or stop doing it. Okay, I did do that? But all I actually did was show up to my appointments and not bite or scratch the nurses who hooked up my infusions.

The truth is, in this little intermission between treatment, I feel like cancer kicked my ass. Or chemo did. I don’t feel triumphant, I feel ravaged. Whipped. Decimated. Like this:


I think I felt this most keenly on my recent vacation. Each year for the past five we’ve gone to the family beach cottage in Aptos, California. It’s on the coast about halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It’s my happy place. And even though I tried to set mine and everyone else’s expectations that I wasn’t going to be 100% this year and that I may not participate in everything, I was still very disappointed in myself. At first the mega-doses of magnesium that Dr. Captain America prescribed seemed to really help. I was able to keep eating for a day or two longer after chemo than I had for the last couple of rounds. I was very tired though, and rather than playing board games the first night at the beach house I was asleep by 8 p.m. The next day Gunny took all three kids out shopping and stuff and I slept all day. All day. What a waste, right?

Dana’s mom and step-dad “MeMaw and PePaw” drove their RV from Texas and joined us for a couple days. First up we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium which we try to visit every other year. Allison is typically a pain in the ass for this, but this year I was the pain in the ass. I’d exhausted myself walking to the aquarium so Gunny got me a wheelchair. Yes, a WHEELCHAIR. This was pretty much the low point in this whole cancer carnival. I took my hat off because it was hot and also so that people would see that I have a reason for being in a wheelchair. Cancer logic. I needn’t have bothered: being in a wheelchair affords you the power of invisibility. Seriously, no one saw me. People would stand directly between me and the exhibits.


The next day we went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (Mecca for 1980’s vampires), and I was able to get around okay as long as I rested every once in a while. The kids went on rides and I looked forward to a boardwalk corndog. Unfortunately, by that time my appetite was gone. The next morning I was reading the final Harry Potter book and Ron wished he had a bacon sandwich. Gunny made me one and I ate the whole thing. Unfortunately, that was the last time I’d eat for a week. Wait, that’s not quite accurate: I was able to eat dill pickles. The combination of strong flavor and smooth texture was just un-barfy enough to allow me to eat one each day. Great, but half a dill pickle has four calories. Not really sustainable.

dill pickles

Anyway, I was a big fucking drag on the vacation and I know it’ll be better next year and this was just a temporary blip, but I felt sorry for myself and ashamed that I’d ruined it for everyone.

I think part of my problem is that it’s sunk in that although chemo was a long shitty road, this fucked-up journey is no where near over. I’ve got my first maintenance dose of Herceptin tomorrow, and a pre-op appointment with my surgeon. Then Monday an echocardiogram and Tuesday the lumpectomy. I know I should be focused on the fact that progress is being made and that it WILL be over one day. But part of me has realized it will never be over. I will never be “cured” I can only be in remission. I will never not worry that it’s going to come back and finish me. I will never get back these months. My hair is gone. I’ve gone into chemo-induced menopause and I don’t know if I’m coming back out. I’ve lost 20 pounds (okay, well that’s not so terrible). My face is fucked up. How so? My skin is just ravaged by chemo. I had pretty nice skin before. It runs in my family–the good Swiss skin–that stays moist and plump and makes strangers ask us for our ID long into our thirties and sometimes forties. I was actually carded once while buying a CD with a parental advisory sticker. I.e. they weren’t sure if I was 18 when I was 35. Anyway. Those days are over. I now have freckles and marks where I had none before. They aren’t kidding when they say chemo makes your skin react to sun differently. And I used lots of sunscreen. The texture is fucked up too. Whatever collagen or remnants of youthful springiness that my skin had is gone. When I smile there are thousands of wrinkles. My skin is pleated.  This will probably be the photo that will haunt me the rest of my life, but here goes. This is what chemo did to my face:

IMG_2946Here’s the good news. It looks like I get to hang on to my eyebrows and eyelashes. I think if I was going to lose them they’d be gone. And I’ve discovered a couple of unexpected benefits. I used to have patches of eczema on my shins and that is completely gone. I used to pick at and gnaw on my cuticles and I have stopped for some mysterious reason. All that’s cool, but not exactly a fair trade for my face, hair, and peace of mind.

So that’s the story. I’m just starting to be able to eat again but am still feeling pretty weak. I’m trying to jump back into some normal routines but it’s slower going than I’d like and I can only hope that people will continue to be patient with me. I think my overwhelming feeling right now is anger. That I had to go through this. That my family had to go through it. That my summer was stolen from me. That I’m sort of afraid to plan for a future. That sometimes I’m so tired and worn out I don’t even care if I have a future.

Chemo Round 6 – The Worst is Over!

IMG_2745Yesterday I had my sixth and final round of chemotherapy!! I’m so excited and happy and relieved. I still have a couple weeks of side-effects to deal with, but the beauty part is that when I finally start feeling better I will STAY better. I won’t come out of it just to begin again. I am convinced that this knowledge will hasten recovery.

Before I tell you the tale of this momentous day, though, I need to bring you up to speed on surgery. I met with Dr. Superman (Oh! And I’m going back and updating all these cancer blog entries with the new improved nicknames. Simply because the ones I used back in the early days before I got to know this amazing team seem disrespectful now.) Anyway, I’m going to have a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy on September 15. Here’s how it will go down:

  1. I will go to the breast imaging office (I hope to see Dr. Moviestar, the radiologist!) and have guide wires inserted in Turdy the breast tumor (or probably just the marker clip since we think Turdy has been demolished by the chemo) and that monster malignant lymphnode in my armpit that was twice Turdy’s size. Remember these fuckers?
    Darth Turdy

    Darth Turdy

    Son of Turdy

    Son of Turdy

    The wires will run from the clips to the outside of my body and be taped down. This will help Dr. Supe find the lil bastards (he’s amazing, but does not to my knowlege possess x-ray vision).

  2. Next, I will go to Nuclear Medicine (I’m assuming the same joint I had my MRI, PET scan, and MRI-guided biopsy on Left Boob, They will inject a radioactive tracer into my areola. Yeah, you read that right. I will NOT be asleep for this monstrous act. I’m trying not to think about it.
  3. I’ll go into surgery and hopefully be knocked the F out by the anesthesiologist. Then, Supe will run a Geiger counter wand over my armpit area and mark with a pen the places that react to the tracer. Those will be the lympnodes most likely to be cancery. He predicts 3 at most.
  4. Supe will make ONE incision, and take out the Turdy-clip in my right breast along with a small chunk of surrounding tissue. He’ll remove Turdy Jr. the lymphnode and any of his Geiger-clicky neighbors. He’ll sew me back up!
  5. All the tissue junk will be sent to Pathology for testing. To see if there is any trace of cancer that the chemo didn’t get. This may take a couple days. If there are any lingering microscopic cancer cells then Dr. Supe will need to do more surgery. I guess that’s when we’d talk mastectomy.

About three weeks after surgery I will start Radiation. I’m actually going to take part in a research study if I qualify (and to qualify I need to be cancer-free ie no lingering cancery shit). I’ll be randomly placed in one of two groups: I will either get radiation just on Right Breast, OR on Right Breast AND Armpit. I’m hoping this will assuage my guilt for opting out of the first research study I was offered (which would have me recieving hormone therapy at the same time as chemo. Ixnay on the extra side effects.) A couple things I found interesting about the details of the study was that regarding privacy, the authors of the study warn that in the future, researchers may develop some way to find out my identity just through my DNA and in that case they can’t protect my anonymity just by withholding my name. It was a little Minority Report. This was the other part that was weird but cool. They basically make it plain that this will benefit people who haven’t even been diagnosed yet.IMG_2735

Anyway, the side-effects of Round 5 were dreadful. I got so tired at one point in the middle of grocery shopping that I actually used the scooter. I took my hat off so that my fellow shoppers wouldn’t think I was a faker and that I really did deserve to ride instead of walk. Yes, I know I’m ridiculous. IMG_2634And I think I’m a shoe-in for the Turtle Club. I am most def turtley enough.


When I could finally eat again I only wanted sushi. My husband completely indulged me. My daughter Callahan even took me for a late night run for grocery store sushi. Remember, I’m not driving, so my sushiquest requires an accomplice.IMG_2659


At one point I felt like this day would never arrive. But on the other hand I’ve been planning for it like it’s the freakin’ senior prom. First, the outfit had to be significant. It had to be Wonder Woman. I have received a lot of WW gifts both before I was ever diagnosed but mostly afterwards. My friend Megan gave me a whole fab WW care package on the last day of Kindergarten that contained a book, sunglasses, a shitload of cute socks, and this fantabulous Wonder Woman snuggie. Don’t be too jealous.IMG_2666

Let me break down the provenance of my Final Chemo Ensemble for you:

  • IMG_2777The wig courtesy of Lisa Barbato.
  • The tiara is from Gunny.
  • The t-shirt I bought myself for the gym that I haven’t set foot in since before Christmas
  • The cuffs from my book editor Marti McKenna
  • The socks (with capes!) from my former mother-in-law Kathleen

I also put a lot of thought into gifts for the team. I got Captain America my oncologist a bottle of Irish Whiskey and a copy of my Lexy Cooper: Triple Threat collection. This is what I wrote inside:IMG_2743

For Harley, my favorite front-desker I got a fancy chocolate bar, and a Starbucks card. For three of my chemo nurses and for Cap’s PA Salena I got an orchid, fancy chocolate truffles and a Toberlone bar. I was up late the night before writing thank you notes which I wept as I wrote. I won’t replicate them here but the gist was to point out how each of them specifically helped me get through chemo. I thanked Cap for always listening and never rushing me. I summed up by thanking him for more years with my family. Then I brought in two bottles of champagne for the rest of the staff. Can I just say the gifts were a big hit? Wonder Woman or turtle, they kinda love me at Overlake Medical Oncology.


Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

My best friend Amy came to sit with me and my baby brother Dan stopped in for an hour or so. Gunny stayed most of the time except for when he left for a bit to buy me a present. :) There were lots of hugs from the staff and when I was finished with my last bag of medicine the nurses presented me with a “graduation gift” which is a bunch of magnets with encouraging words. Then I got to ring the bell and Michelle said “Congratulations on your last chemo!!!” and everyone applauded. I didn’t cry at the time, but I’m a little weepy writing this now. It was fucking GREAT.

FullSizeRender (7)

From Left to Right: Sherry, Wonder Woman, Judy, and Michelle

This isn’t the last I’ll see of this team. I’ll be in today for my Neulasta shot, and in ten days for a blood count (gotta make sure I’m okay for surgery) and then I’ll be getting maintenance infusions of Herceptin (the wonderdrug that keeps HER2+ cancers at bay) every three weeks. Don’t panic, though. The treatment only lasts 30 minutes and the only side effect is a drippy nose. GOODBYE NAUSEA!

One small wrinkle: I told Dr Cap about my elevated heart rate and that it got up to 180 one day when I was cleaning and I felt lightheaded and short of breath. (I also fudged a little because it was actually 187 according to my Apple Watch). He put in a referral for a cardiologist because we don’t want my heart throwing any kind of hissy fit during surgery. He thinks they’ll have me wear some sort of monitor for 24 hours just to track any arrhythmia. If my heart’s misbehaving then they may have me take beta blockers. But THEN, last night I got a note from Cap saying my magnesium is “even lower than your potassium” and he called in a prescription for magnesium supplements that I am to take daily ASAP. Apparently lack of magnesium can cause irregular heart beat plus a bunch of other shit (shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and nausea unrelieved by medication!) that I’ve been blaming on the chemo. SO, I’m going to be a good patient and take that shit like I’m supposed to.

Tomorrow we leave for a week at the beach house in California and I am full of happiness. Yes, I will most likely have some bad days while there, but I’ll be in the beach house bed instead of my boring old bed at home!

Mortality ‘n Stuff: A Letter From the Front

If Cancer is a battle, this is my letter home, written in a fetid trench with bullets whizzing above my head and a tang of mustard gas mixed in the air with smoke and death.

trench WWI

Dear Loved Ones,

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Thinking some pretty heavy thoughts about the human experience. About life and death. Big picture philosophical stuff, sure, but also MY life and MY death.

Oh! I imagine you saying. Don’t do that! It’s important to stay positive! To think healing happy thoughts!

Fuck that. I have a right–I’d even argue I have an obligation–to ponder these things. And lest you think I’ve been turned morbid since being diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in March, I submit that I’ve always been this way. I was the kind of child that lay awake at night worried that if I fell asleep my heart would stop beating. That cried over the Earth’s fate to be eaten up by the expanding sun in a few billion years. That worried that I had no real agency…that myself, my family and everyone I knew were just dolls in a giant gorilla’s dollhouse.


Stopover in a Small Town

So. I’ve been thinking about death. And the way I want to spend the time I have. To be clear, I don’t think my death is imminent. I fully expect to be alive in five years. I will either be healthy and cancer-free, this nightmare behind me. Or the cancer will be back and I will be doing this shitty dance all over again. Maybe it’s the months of being worn down by chemo, but my gut tells me that this fucker is going to get me in the end. Maybe it’ll take ten years. If you belive that just thinking that thought is going to make it come to fruition, I will point to my long-held and quite firm belief that I would one day be Mrs. Bruce Springsteen and/or write the Great American Novel.

I may feel differently in a year or even a month! But today, I no longer feel confident in a long happy retirement cruising the country in an RV with Gunny. Or hosting Christmas dinner for a rowdy table full of grandchildren. On the upside, I also don’t foresee a lonely cat-food eating dotage.

So let’s say I don’t get the Golden Years. If I have a decade or so, what do I want that to look like? What becomes important?


The first thing on my list is family and friends. In making sure I nurture the most important relationships and let each person know how much I value them. I want to make a positive difference in each one’s life. Not for any kind of payoff…so they remember me kindly or whatever, but because love and friendship are the opposite of death.

The next one is doing important work. For me, that doesn’t include pushing video games on teenagers, or ghost-writing for executives, or parting anyone from their money. I’m not sure if it includes writing mystery novels. They’re important-ish to ME, but what do they add to the world? What I’m looking for is something that makes a positive impact on people. Even in small ways. I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who work in medicine. Who help people every single day–even if it’s just making an appointment or helping them navigate their insurance. Maybe I’ll end up writing books but volunteering at the hospital. My marketable skill is obviously writing, but I’m not sure if writing medical stuff would fill that need to make a difference with people. It feels more like I need human contact.

Define necessity

“Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.” I first heard this poem by Wordsworth in tenth grade, in Mr. Saari’s Humanities class at Sammamish High School and it’s stuck with me. You wouldn’t know it to look at my stuffed-to-the-rafters apartment. In fact, just glancing at the books, gadgets, Funkos, LEGOs, t-shirts, shoes, DVDs and just….bullshit all around me you could definitely say I have laid waste my powers. And I’m done with it. I’m not sure what “job” will occupy me, but here’s what I’m not going to do: bust my ass hustling for more money so I can buy more shit. It’s empty. It’s meaningless. The idol of commercialism has feet of clay and I’m done playing the game.

Maybe it’s a sign of middle age, or maybe my subconscious knew I was ill before I found the lump in my breast, but in the last year I’ve been pondering the concept of the “Bucket List.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got places I’d like to see and things I’d like to do. But I’m not sure I see the point of checking things off. Do people think that when they die they submit their punch card and the more punches they have the better deal they get in the afterlife?

gamer at the pearly gatesFirst off, I don’t believe in an afterlife. I think this life is what we get and then you’re done. You’re just gone. If I’m wrong and there’s some sort of conscious existence and I am allowed to watch over my family and protect them…AWESOME. I will be a diligent and devoted guardian angel/ghost/whatever.

Satan-In-The-Lake-Of-FireIf I end up in a lake of eternal fire? Well I guess that alleged deity of love and forgiveness will have the last laugh. But, if death really is the end, what does it matter if I visited Angkor Wat or learned to play the violin, or rode the Orient Express? Beyond the temporary happiness those experiences would grant during my lifetime?

angkor_wat_stock_i_by_mysticbubblesz-d4vka6tThe meaning, I believe, is just that: moments of happiness. It’s not the punch in your card or the photos on Facebook or the future conversational coup, it’s the right now when you’re standing there in front of it and the mystery and majesty of an ancient temple complex washes over you and you’re awed simultaneously by human achievement and frailty. That’s an awesome feeling. But so is driving to the grocery store on a sunny summer day with the wind in your hair and your favorite song comes on the radio. Just for a moment your heart is full. And what’s important to me is to pause. Just stop for a second and go “Yes. This is good. I am happy right here right now.” Because happiness is a series of moments. It’s not a rung on a ladder or a stage you finally achieve when you have everything and everyone you desire.

What all of this boils down to I suppose is that I have decided that the meaning of MY life is being kind, doing good, and recognizing and acknowledging happiness. That’s it.

Also, I’m thinking about getting a dog.



Chemotherapy 5 of 6 – The Darkness Before Dawn

high-five2Five rounds of chemo down, just one left. It’s a triumph, yes? But, wow….this is a bad one. Here’s the thing: actually getting the infusion of drugs isn’t bad at all. They puncture my flesh exactly once to access the mediport in my chest and then it’s all okay. They draw blood to make sure I’m healthy enough for chemo, and I go see Dr. Cap while we wait for results. For Round 5 I was all dolled up in this fabulous new wig that my dear friend (and cancer survivor) Lisa sent me from New Orleans. I was feeling good, I was feeling on top of the world. My daughter Callahan went with me and my baby brother came by for an hour or so. I’d even brought a butter and brie on a baguette sammy from Belle Pastry in Redmond. I also brought two dozen chocolate macarons for the staff.

I reluctantly told Dr. Cap that neither of the new meds (Prilosec for heartburn and Scopolomine patches for nausea) worked. “I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass,” I told him. He insists I’m not a pain in the ass, which if you know me, reveals his true superhero status. He asked if I’d tried acupuncture. He’d given me the card of a person who specializes in acupuncture for chemo patients during the last visit, but it had apparently flown out of my head as so many things have. So, I still have that left to try.

He also told me that he was adjusting my dosage–lowering it by 5%–to compensate for the weight I’ve lost. I lost weight (and probably it’s mostly muscle) because I’ve been unable to eat. It’s not some accomplishment of mine, so I can’t either take credit for it or be proud, but I won’t pretend I’m not slightly thrilled. I can see my ribs again. I have cheekbones. I cannot recommend chemo as a weight-loss method, but…it’s definitely a Cancer Perk.

Chemo round 5 selfieBesides the rad new wig, I wore a t-shirt and skirt and my cute Coach sandals that I spent too much money on the last time I was in NYC but have given me total return on investment in happiness and compliments. A woman accompanying her husband to treatment told me, “Look at you and your hair and your outfit. You’re gorgeous!” “Well, you’re my new favorite person,” I said. “I’d be here in sweatpants with no makeup if I wasn’t taking an official Round 5 selfie,” I joked. Also completely true.

Across, on the other side of the suite I saw a woman in for her very first round of chemo. She was alone and she was afraid. It was sinking in, the reality of what she was up against. I saw her cringing as they accessed her brand-new medi-port. That shit sucks big-time. I told her that this first time is the worst and that it gets way better. I told her that chemo goes fast and that I was on my fifth. She smiled weakly and told me I looked great. I wished I could go sit next to her and hold her hand, but I was plugged into my own business on the other side of the room. I don’t know what kind of cancer she has or what stage it is, but no one should have to go to their first treatment alone. If anyone tries to tell you it’s okay, they’ll be fine, don’t believe them. If they won’t accept a ride, show the fuck up and surprise them. Cancer, for all the good intentions and sweet gestures, love of friends and family and care of doctors and nurses is fucking lonely. Really lonely. And the only people who really get it are people who have been through it or are going through it. Anyway, her chemo was over before mine and before she left I wrote my name, phone number, email address and blog URL on a piece of paper with a note inviting her to call me or text me day or night if she needed someone to talk to. She hasn’t used it, and frankly I probably wouldn’t in her place, but I felt compelled to do it, as so many many women have reached out to me. I feel very strongly about paying forward the kindness that has been extended to me in the last few months. And that’s got me thinking some pretty big thinks about how I want to spend my life. But that’s another blog post.

So, after the first-timer had left the infusion suite and I settled in with my final bag of healing poison, I realized that I had given her the wrong URL. Of my own goddamn blog. I know exactly why, too. It’s CHEMO BRAIN.

031011_NF_FEAT_AbsentMinded_feat4This is something that doctors don’t really talk about. Probably because it’s hard to quantify. But people who have been through chemo will tell you: the struggle is real. At first it’s sort of funny. You know, in an absent minded professor kind of way. “Derp derp, where are my keys? Oh! They’re in my hand!” Cue laugh track. But then, after accumulating all these killer drugs in your system? It stops being funny at all. Sure, I wander into the kitchen and forget why I went there. I lose my phone several times a day (And pinging your phone from your Apple Watch is worth the price of the device in my opinion), but lots of people do that. Struggling to remember the correct word when I speak happens a few times a day. It’s very frustrating. The other day I got panicky because I couldn’t find my brand-new glasses that I’d just spent a fuckload of money on because I love my optometrist more than I love being in-network. I know I took them to Disneyland, and had a terrible thought that I’d left them on the table between the beds in the hotel room. I didn’t have my contacts in, which didn’t help my seeking endeavors, but I pawed through the backpack I’d taken to Disney and the little bag I’d used at the park. No glasses. I wander around the apartment asking my husband and daughters if they’ve seen my new, white, glasses case. Or failing that my old glasses to assist me in my search. Everyone says soothing things, “It’s okay, we’ll find them. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll look for you?” I’m almost in tears because I can’t see and I’ve lost my expensive, beautiful new glasses and I’m fucking stupid and useless. Gunny found them in my backpack. The one I’d just searched. “But I LOOKED there,” I told him, blinking back tears. “Sweetie, I know, but that’s why I looked again. You have chemo brain. It’s not your fault.”

And finally this.

IMG_2625On Tuesday I took my daughter to her summer day camp at the daycare she attended when she was younger. Then, I went to the bakery to order a pie for a Jon Stewart farewell party. As I came out of the bakery feeling all YEAH I’M PRODUCTIVE! GETTIN’ SHIT DONE! I see white paint on my car. And my heart just sank. Because I know I did it. But I don’t remember doing it. And I probably wasn’t aware of doing it at the time. It’s not car paint, so I obviously cut it too close pulling out of or into some parking place next to a wall or a post. Remember last round when I wondered if I was okay to drive? Apparently I am not. My situational awareness just isn’t what it needs to be. And so I’m not going to drive for a while. Which makes me feel like a fucking invalid.

wood sage sea saltAnyway. Round 5 is the worst yet. I had hopes that because the dose is a smidge lower maybe it would be better. And I had lunch with friends the day after chemo and the food still tasted good whereas the gross taste kicked in on Day Two last round. On Day Three I took my littlest to her swimming class and then took her to Kohl’s and then Target so she could pick out some new shoes and jammies (hellooooo summer growth spurt!). So I was feeling optimistic. But then Day Four hit really really hard. And hasn’t let up much. The nausea, I’d say, is ten times worse this round. And the extreme sensitivity to smells is 50 times worse. What I refer to as my Super Sniffer has driven me to spend entire days in my bedroom with the door closed, window open and fan running because someone cooked eggs in the kitchen. I’ve even tried putting perfume on my upper lip so I smell wood sage and sea salt instead of whatever makes me want to puke. It’s mostly food smells, but today I was repelled by the dishwasher detergent. It’s Day Eight. I should be a little bit better by now. I can’t even stomach chicken broth. I don’t feel hungry, but I imagine my body needs more than the 110 calorie pudding cup I can choke down occasionally. (Just tried it. Nope. Not gonna work today.)

Soooo, that’s all shitty.

Here are some not-shitty things. In fact, they are pretty awesome.

1. My dear friend Danny Pena (known online as “Godfree”) was recently inducted into the Podcasting Hall of Fame for his trailblazing work on Gamertag Radio. It’s a big damn deal. What tore me up though? He dedicated it to me in an emotional acceptance speech that made me cry a million tears. You can watch the video here, but grab a tissue! If you ever think you haven’t influenced people in your life, or that folks don’t really care about you, get cancer. Or you can just take my word for it: you matter and people love you. You don’t need to test it. My deepest thanks to Danny and congratulations on your badass award!!!

Godfree speech

2. This conversation with Allison, age 6:

She’s petting my bald head and giving me some sweet little kisses.

Allison: Hey! I think your hair is growing back! I see tiny baby hairs!

Me: You do?!

Allison: They’re gray.

Like I say, she keeps me grounded.

3. My friend Denise and her family donated to the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation in my name. She’s also given me other gifts (including matching mother-daughter Elsa hats!) because she’s incredibly sweet and generous but this was especially touching because it helps people. It makes progress. People will live longer and suffer less.

Allie in the Jeep

4. My husband’s Jeep. I spend a lot of time in my bed by myself feeling shitty. But sometimes–more often since we decided that I shouldn’t get behind the wheel right now–Gunny takes me for a ride in his new Jeep Rubicon with the top down and he puts E Street Radio on the satellite station. I know the Boss isn’t his favorite, but he does it for me. And with the summer sun blazing I yellsing all the Bruce songs. The real fan ones. The gritty stuff. I’m talking “Jungleland” and “Hard to Be A Saint in the City”…the real shit not radio jingles like “Dancing in the Dark” which Bruce himself now calls “disco.” And I’m as full-up with joy as I’ve ever been, belting out every single word, the wind snatching the lyrics from my wide open mouth and flinging them into the road behind us. I’m a Springsteen song. What else could you ever ask for?



Disneyland with a side of cancer

IMG_2541I’m in a friend’s Redmond driveway, ready for our kids to have a playdate together. My husband has come along to haul Allison’s car in the back of his Jeep, so she can race her friend Jacob who has the same car (in green, not pink) around their large yard. Gunny’s telling our friend about the additions he wants to make to the Jeep (which is quite new and his current obsession). I tease him, saying “Hey why don’t we use some of that money on a trip to Disneyland?” Cue awkward laughter on my part that means, ha-ha I’m kidding but not really.

“Let’s go,” Gunny says. “Let’s go this weekend.”

“Pffft.” That was a dismissive mouth sound, not a fart.

“Actually…how about next weekend?”

“We…we can’t. We’d need plane tickets and stuff.”

“You mean like these?” Gunny pulls out his phone to show me confirmation for two tickets from SEA to SNA (that’s Santa Ana/John Wayne/Orange County).

“You’re taking me to Disneylaaaaaand?” I burst into tears. Then hysterical laughter. Then a combination of both.

My husband surprised me with a trip to my favorite place on Earth. Because he wants to make me happy and he’s the nicest man in the galaxy. Here’s what happened:

The Otter Pop Debacle

This happened two days before Disneyland, but it has bearing on the trip. What happened was that I, in my wisdom, while binging on Season 4 of Law & Order: SVU decided to eat SEVEN Otter Pops. Because they’re cold and delicious and I love them.

Then, around two a.m. I began waking up every ten minutes for some super exciting action: diarrhea. This is a common chemo side effect, but I obviously contributed to the problem with my questionable dietary choice. This issue continues most of the day and is barely slowed down by Imodium.

Eventually, the well runs dry and I sigh a sigh of relief and vow to never let an icy pop cross my lips again.


I woke up early to pack my bag for our trip. It had been the longest week on record because I was counting the minutes until Disneyland. Allison was staying home with her older sister and that was particularly exciting because she was giant asshole the last time we were there at the tail end of our cross country “victory lap” celebrating Gunny’s retirement from the Marine Corps.

My head sort of hurt and I figured some caffeine would get me moving. So I drank coffee. Big mistake. Big one. This triggered another bout of the runs, though no where in the same league as the Otter Pop Shitstorm. But it was worrisome! I mean, it’s not like you can use the bathroom anytime you like on the airplane! And then I thought about the plane that made an emergency landing because someone took a dump so foul it infested the aircraft. Oh god, I don’t want to be that person!

Gunny got home from work and I sheepishly confessed about the coffee which we both agreed was another dipshit move by yours truly. But what was done was done and I took Imodium and swigged Pepto Bismal. It was all I could do!

The Airport Run

We drop Allison at her day camp and head for the airport. I’m fine most of the way there. I’m taking tiny sips of water, afraid that too much of anything in my guts will make bad things happen. I just need to get to the airport, right? Well, about three minutes from the airport…guess what? I have to go. Like, NOW. Like clenching my butt cheeks and rocking back and forth and muttering to myself while Gunny wails, “I could have stopped anywhere!” Me: “I didn’t need to, until RIGHT NOW!” Am I going to shit my pants in the car? If I do, can I still make my flight, make my trip? I could throw my shorts and undies away and change into the clothes I’ve packed, right?

Gunny steps on the gas and drives to Arrivals. Squeals to a halt at the terminal and I jump out and RUN. He’s parking the car while I’m bolting for the baggage claim restroom. And I made it in time. My Apple Watch logs my heart rate at 38. 38 while I’m running. This concerns me. Minutes later it’s 167. But I’ve had an echocardiogram recently. My heart’s not showing any signs of damage. But I’m cold and clammy and feeling really really bad.

BVMI reconnect with Gunny, who’s got my backpack. I make a preemptive stop in the restroom after we get through security (nothing) and we board our flight to John Wayne. Until the seatbelt light turns off and the bathroom is once again available I silently repeat a hybrid incantation in my head, half prayer (the only one I know) and half something else. It went something like “Hail Mary full of grace please don’t let me shit on this airplane.”

I didn’t.

Paradise Pier Hotel

We love this place and have stayed here on three out of four Disney trips together. When we checked in, the very nice front desk clerk Ines asked if we were celebrating anything. I lifted the edge of my Roswell baseball cap to show her my chrome dome and said, “Kicking cancer’s butt.” She told me good luck and got a little misty-eyed. When we came back to our room that night, we found a signed photo of Minnie Mouse, a very sweet card from the staff, and Mickey rice crispie treats and milk!

IMG_2545 When we checked out on Sunday I saw Ines at the desk and I told her “I suspect you were responsible for the special treat in my room.” She nodded and smiled. I told her how kind that was and how much it meant to us. Disney magic is REAL, yo.


I won’t go through a blow-by-blow of every thing we did, but I will mention a few things.

The first time you use your ticket (we had three-day Park Hoppers), they take your photo so you don’t pass your ticket to someone else. The older man taking our picture was from Ireland and had an awesome accent. I asked if I should take off my sunglasses and he said, “And maybe your hat.”

I made a “Uhhh” noise and lifted the edge so he could see the situation.

“Ah, nevermind,” he said, his face full of understanding. “Have a great time, kiddo.”

It was a little thing but it meant a lot to me.

I’m self-conscious about my bald head. It’s jarring to see a bald woman and I don’t want anyone–especially at Disneyland!–to have to feel sorry for me or feel awkward or anything. Right or wrong, it’s how I feel. The first stop we made in the park (after the obligatory castle selfie) was Mad Hatter in Fantasyland where the plan was to buy some ears! Unfortunately, ears just don’t cover a lot of real estate as I discovered.


This just wouldn’t do. Luckily the youth-sized Minnie cap with ears fit my teeny bald noggin perfectly.

IMG_2542I was super happy with my hat. Until I went on my favorite ride of all time: Big Thunder Mountain. I just didn’t feel like it would stay on my head and so I wanted to take it off, but was ashamed of my head. Gunny reassured me that it was fine, but I still teared up a bit. I’m not sure why. The injustice of cancer fucking with my Disneyland experience, maybe? Anyway, no one pointed and laughed, the world kept spinning and over the course of the weekend I rode Big Thunder three more times and no fucks were given about my hairless state by me or anyone else. Though when I heard that Billy Corgan was spotted on the ride looking pissy I had to check the photos to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken for the Smashing Pumpkins guy. Phew.


Gunny had booked dinner at Blue Bayou, which is the best place ever. I was nervous though, because the food is pricey and I hadn’t eaten anything close to a real meal in a couple weeks. I’d been living on chicken broth for the most part. So much so that on the plane ride I’d thrust my arm under Gunny’s nose and asked him if I smelled like chicken broth. I felt like it was leaking from my pores.

Anyway, I ordered the Beef Loin Strip and it was amazing. I ate meat and I liked it! And afterword I had much more energy because that’s how food works. It’s actually fuel for your body! Did you KNOW THIS? Amazing stuff.

We watched Fantasmic in the VIP section (part of the Blue Bayou package with dinner) and then, though the park was open for three more hours I was done. I walked slow. I had to stop and rest pretty frequently. And I made lots and lots of bathroom visits though I had no more “incidents.” Or should I say “shitcidents.”

The next day, Saturday, was Magic Morning at Disneyland. If you’re staying at one of the three Disney hotels on site, you get into the park an hour early. So, we got up and had a little breakfast and headed for Space Mountain. We zipped through the minimal line, and just as we’re climbing into our spacecraft…

Uh-oh. I have to poop.

Uncle-scrooge-mcduck-36749825-1440-900So, as I lurch through the darkness, my sphincter clenched tighter than Scrooge McDuck’s fist, I’m screaming, but it’s not from joy and thrills. My mind is racing. If I shit the spaceship, how fast can I run away? How quickly can I get to the bathroom? Will Gunny be able to buy me pants at Star Trader? How will he get them to me in the ladies room? What’s Disney protocol for a Code Brown? This is not how I wanted to start my day.

Luckily, the O-ring held, and I managed to make it off the ride and into the bathroom, where I lingered so long Gunny started sending me “Are you okay?” texts.

After that, I was okay. I made pit stops between rides, but the rest of the day was super fun. I met Tinkerbell and Silvermist in Pixie Hollow, went on a bunch of rides, bought a bunch of souvenirs, and even ate a corn dog from the Little Red Wagon. It was 86 degrees though, and I was moving slow. People were so nice to me though. When we went to find a shady place to eat our corn dogs, a woman and her friend gave us their bench. She said, “I was watching you and your face is much too red.” She was an x-ray tech and her buddy was a nurse and they insisted that I drink water and go back to the hotel for a nap. Thank you for your kindness, ladies. I will pay it forward.

We went back to the hotel and napped, and god love him, my sweet husband keeps up a string of sexual innuendos that imply I’m still attractive even though I look like a cross between Dana Carvey as a turtle and Voldemort.

the_master_of_disguise 2216490-voldemort01

We had some room service dinner and went back to the park around 8pm to try to catch the parade and fireworks. Well, it turns out that if you want to actually see a Disney parade you’d better claim your slice of curb two hours before start time. So that didn’t work out at all. Same deal with fireworks. A bit disappointing, but I was far, far, too worn out to care much, and we returned to the hotel soon after. I felt really guilty that we weren’t spending every moment on rides, but Gunny kept saying the weekend was for ME and we would take it at my pace.

IMG_2552It turned out that we walked nearly 20,000 steps that day. If you asked me if I could possibly walk that far–even prior to chemo!–I’d have said “no way in hell!” but I was wrong. I did it and lived to tell the tale! Go, me!

IMG_2565On Sunday we spent a few hours in the park riding rides and meeting Tigger, Pooh, and Captain Hook before heading back to the airport and home. It was a really great trip and I will never be as awesome as my amazing thoughtful sweet and perfect husband. And I’m super duper grateful that I didn’t shit myself on Space Mountain. Tomorrow is Round 5 of chemo. As Gunny said. “In four weeks, you’ll be done. No more chemo.”


Update: A couple of months ago, I posted about my daughter’s mysterious/suspicious mole and how freaked out I was. Yesterday she was seen by three very nice doctors at Seattle Children. And…it’s A-OK. No signs of malignancy! They didn’t even need to biopsy it. Things we learned: scalp moles behave differently than other moles. If you can see hair growing through the mole, it’s fine! Also, scalp moles are often two-toned and it’s perfectly fine and nothing to worry about. Common two-color scalp moles are “eclipse nevus” (a ring of dark brown around lighter brown) and “fried egg nevus” which is dark in the middle and light on the edges. Here’s my baby modeling her gown.


My favorite reads of 2015 (so far)

I’m way behind on my Goodreads goal this year, but I’ve still managed to devour 42 books. Please note these are not “published in 2015” books because I don’t just read what’s new. Like most of you, I read stuff recommended by friends, backlist stuff by newly-discovered authors, and random finds. Here are the ones that stand out:


Lush Life

Lush Life by Richard Price
This is a deep dive into a single crime in New York City. It’s not an action movie–it’s a fascinating look at the day-to-day plod of police work and the unique characters in lower Manhattan.


Funny Girl

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
I love Nick Hornby and I will pre-order any novel he writes. This is about an actress in London in the 1960s and I absolutely loved every second of it. It’s charming and funny and I hope they make a movie out of it. I imagine Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.


casual vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
This book got some bad press simply for not being Harry Potter. When I read this, I hadn’t read Harry–though I’m remedying that this summer and am currently on Book 5–and I thought it was a great book. A compelling story about the characters and politics in a small British town. No magic, unless you think stellar writing and great dialog are magical.


Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Absolutely deserves all the hype. Gripping and fabulous.


American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
I was a fan of her book Prep, but avoided this one when it first published, simply because it’s pretty much based on the life of former first lady Laura Bush. But this book was fantastic. She’s a fucking great writer. Truly. I didn’t want this book to end.


First Bad Man

The First Bad Man by Miranda July
People will tell you it’s weird, and boy is it. But it’s can’t-look-away compelling in its strangeness. Read it especially if you’re in a genre rut and prepare to be shaken up.



The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Another one that’s bizarre and brilliant. A cool drink of water for those suffering from the delusion that there is a “right way” to write.


The Kind worth Killing

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
A brilliant thriller with a big fat WHAT THE FUCK twist. Trust me.

Other books I’ve loved in 2015:

Missoula by Jon Krakauer
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
The Pleasing Hour by Lily King
The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter
Hotel by Arthur Hailey
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

10 Good Things About Having Breast Cancer

Well, I feel sort of like an asshole for my last couple of posts. I absolutely do want to give you the straight dope, but I don’t want to freak people out who are just starting treatment, or worse, be any part of someone forgoing chemo.

So, herewith, ten things that are GOOD about having breast cancer.

1. I discovered that I have so many more people that care about me than I thought. So, so many. Legions. I remember saying six months or so ago that if I threw a party, I’m not sure anyone would show up. Now I know that’s not so. And that is a precious feeling. That is eye-wateringly profound. Up there with “To my big brother George, the richest man in town.”


2. This has been an unusually hot summer in the Pacific Northwest, and my bald head keeps me nice and cool. Ahhhhh.

3. I have been amazed at the kindness of strangers and their courage in just asking. From the checker at the grocery store who leaned forward and said, “I didn’t know you were ill,” to the waitress at my favorite restaurant who asked “Are you having some kind of treatment?” and the gymnastics mom who sidled up next to me and said, “It looks like you’re going through something.” It’s totally okay to ask. It’s obvious that I’m bald. And I really do appreciate the concern. It means a lot to me.

4. The generosity of friends and acquaintances. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still amazing and I’m so very grateful. I’ve received so many thoughtful gifts, it’s just stunning. And some are from people I would never expect. Like friends of friends, or folks I’ve never met in meatspace. It’s crazy. Just yesterday I got this in the mail. I mean, GOSH! Thank you, Ms Nonymous!


5. The Pink Palace of Breast Cancer. And yes, I am talking about the pink ribbons and the pink everything and the whole month of October. I too, got super annoyed with Susan G. Komen and the Planned Parenthood debacle. And I felt mild outrage about pink products being sold when only a tiny fraction of the profit went to breast cancer research. But you know what I’ve learned? That shit WORKED. The “awareness” and the research money and all that? It’s why I’m going to be just fine instead of dead before the age of 50. Breast cancer has probably the most sophisticated and targeted therapies of any cancer now. Women are living because of this. So sneer all you want at that grody hue of ribbon, but it got the job done.

6. Not having to shave! I’ve mentioned this one before too, but my gosh, a whole summer of not even having to give a thought to the state of my legs is super awesome. Shorts? Sundress? Sleeveless top? ALL DAY EVERY DAY!

7. The encouragement I’ve received about this blog. I love hearing praise from, well, anyone, honestly! But the comments from women who are going through the same thing right now just KILL me. In a good way. They’ve said that they don’t feel alone now and that this is exactly how they feel….damn. What more could a writer ask for?

8. Watching my kid turn this into a laugh. “Show them your bald head, Mommy!” “That’s not her real hair. She’s bald from the chemo! Hahaha!” Well, how can you feel like a tragic figure when your six year old is busting your chops in public?!

9. The good days are SO good. When I feel energetic, or hungry, or nothing hurts? That’s some good shit. And I have learned to savor every single one. Will it last when Turdy is left in the dust behind me? I hope so.

10. The sisterhood of survivors. I can’t even tally up the network of ladies who have offered their phone numbers to chat anytime. Who have been through it and have served up real talk. Who donate books to every new BC patient at my surgeon’s office. Who tell me stories about their sister or their mom and just get it. Women can be nasty to each other, certainly. Humans in general can and will be shitty at times. But man, if I have to be a member of a club, I couldn’t find one more supportive and life-affirming than the breast cancer sorority.

Why does getting better feel like dying?

First I’m going to tell you the good stuff. In the waning days of Round 3 (and I mean the very last couple of days) I was able to eat meals and enjoy food. The day before Round 4, I ate:

A butter and brie baguette, a raspberry Napoleon, and a Big Mac. It was fucking glorious. I regret nothing. Then, when I was at the hospital doing Round 4, my dear friend Amber surprised me with a visit! She sat with me and we chatted and laughed and the time fly by. It was SO awesome. I was super happy.


That night, I was still feeling pretty good and so the family gathered for an impromptu dinner at our favorite Chinese place in Redmond (Golden Chopsticks) and I ate all the things. And they were delicious.

The next day (Day 2) I took Gunny to John Howie for lunch. I really didn’t eat anything, but I was having fun.


In my pre-chemo appointment with Dr. Cap he told me that it wasn’t usual to feel so nauseous for so long and prescribed some new stuff: Prilosec (OTC) and Scopolamine patches for motion sickness. I was pretty stoked to have new ammo. Dr. Cap told me that we COULD lower my chemo dosage by 10%, but of course he recommended the highest dose possible. So I told him that I’d take the full-tilt boogie Round 4 and if I was totally miserable we could maybe talk about the 10% thing for Round 5.

New side effects: I have no hair in my nose and my vision is hella blurry.

So, then armed with my new meds I waited to feel not terrible. And I’m still waiting. The Prilosec either can’t keep up with my heartburn, or the Zantac works a little bit better. I feel as though there is a bubble of stomach acid resting behind my sternum all the time. I don’t know what percentage of my nausea/lack of appetite can be chalked up to this. Honestly, I don’t know if this is nausea or what anymore. I can’t remember what it feels like to be hungry or to just have a normal stomach.

The worst bit though, is the weakness. It’s pervasive. And it’s lasting a really really long time. On Monday (Day 5) I drove Allison to Pony Camp at a local park. By the time I’d walked her from the parking lot to the barn and back to my car, I was afraid I would pass out. I sat in my car and didn’t know if I was safe to drive home. I took this picture.


I spent most of the day in bed, sleeping a lot but also staring into space and thinking morbid thoughts. What if this is the rest of my life? What if the cancer comes back and I’m stage 4 and the remainder of my years is constant chemo and feeling like shit? I think about quality of life and then smack myself because here I lie in my memory foam queen sized bed in the richest country on earth with the best health care reading fucking Harry Potter on my Kindle and bitching about how yucky I feel.

Fun Fact: Insurance doesn’t cover motion sickness patches. I paid $110 for five patches!

I feel guilty about that. I feel guilty about a lot of things. I don’t eat with the family. I’m not watching TV in the living room with them. The sink fills with dishes, the washer and dryer are idle, the cat box overflows. Did the six-year-old get a bath? Probably not. I’m contributing nothing. How tired my family must be of me and my goddamn uselessness.

Today is Day 7. I don’t feel any stronger. I went to Target after Pony Camp drop-off and nearly had to sit down in the aisle. My pulse as I walked (according to my Apple Watch) was 38. I trolled the food aisles for anything that might pique my appetite. I grabbed two kinds of soup. When I got home I tried the vegetable, but spit out the first and only bite. Next up, creamy potato broccoli. Made it three bites, but then…NOPE. So I’m back on chicken broth, which I’m sipping from a mug my sisters-in-law sent me from Florida. It says Cancer touched my boob, so I kicked its ass!

FullSizeRender (6)

I am so grateful for the science that is saving my life right now. I just wish it didn’t feel like it was killing me.

What To Do About the Boobs

shehulk1First of all, this round of chemo can kiss my ass. Just in the last couple of days have I been able to eat meals, and it’s time to do chemo again. As each round gets progressively shittier, I will not be surprised if the awful nausea/gross taste lasts the full three weeks between rounds. Pissed and disappointed, but not surprised.

I also have two new side effects:

1. My thumbnails are doing this.

FullSizeRender (5) FullSizeRender (4)Some chemo patients lose their nails entirely. I’m hoping that doesn’t happen, but I also thought I might be spared this side effect.

2. Neuropathy. At least I think that’s what this burning itchy feeling is on my hands. It’s not constant, thankfully, but it sometimes wakes me up at night. What freaks me out about this side effect is that it can be permanent.

So that’s the sucky stuff. Here’s the good news: In my last post I fretted about what to do with my boobs. This past week I met with my breast surgeon, Dr. Superman (formerly known as Dr. Boobcutter) and I have a lot more clarity now. He assured me that “cutting everything off” will not statistically improve my survival rate, but if it will give me peace of mind, he will do it. He also, regarding my “one boob that’s a wonder of science and one that’s had three kids” concern, told me that if I had a mastectomy on the right breast, when they did reconstruction they’d do a little perk-up on the left breast and get them as symmetrical as possible. So that made me feel better.

What the plan is, though, is to start with a lumpectomy. On examining the bad boob, Supe was unable to feel any sign of Turdy the tumor! He said he’s “thrilled” with the chemo. So all he’ll have to remove is the little metal clip that Dr. Moviestar put in when he did the original biopsy. He’ll take that plus some surrounding tissue. It will most likely be a small enough amount that while Right Boob will have a scar, it won’t be the ginormous shark bite disfigurement I was imagining.

Turdy melting

The pathologist will examine this tissue and look for any microscopic cancer cells that may have escaped. What we’re looking for are “clean margins” aka no bad cells in the tissue around where Turdy used to live. If the margins aren’t clear, then we may go back and do the mastectomy after all.

Here’s the stinky part: After Dr. Supe consulted with Dr. Cap, they decided that because I have those four bad lymph nodes under my arm, I will also need to have a sentinel node dissection. They are going to–brace yourself–inject a radioactive tracer into my areola. Yes, boys, that’s Nipple City.

sentinelHopefully, I will already be knocked out for the surgery when it’s Tracer Time? Anyway, the tracer will flow to the lymph nodes and Dr. Supe will run a wand with a Geiger counter over my armpit and see which nodes react to the tracer. Those are the nodes that he’ll remove because they are most likely to have cancer cells. It’s a better option than taking all of them out and checking each for cancer. I can’t help but wonder if a radioactive boob will trigger a metamorphosis from part-time bitch into full-time She-Hulk.

I told Dr. Supe that I wanted to do everything possible to prevent a recurrence. And he told me that with HER2+ cancer, the most critical time is the first five years. With other flavors of breast cancer I guess it can come back within 15 years, but with HER2+, as he put it, “If we go five years without a recurrence, you come back to my office and we’ll drink champagne.”


So here’s the tentative schedule:

  • Round 4 chemo July 9
  • Round 5 July 30
  • FINAL round of chemo Aug 20!!!
  • Lumpectomy and sentinel node dissection the week of Sept 7
  • Start radiation (5x week for 5-7 weeks is standard) first week of Oct

And then? I should be done.

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