Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Years

On Tuesday, 1/21/2014, I quietly celebrated the 5th anniversary of my remission.

Those five years have held joy and pain, as years tend to do.

The first years were oddly difficult. Simmering family and personal issues, which had been back-burnered specifically because of my cancer, exploded. We’re still picking up the pieces, but at least we’re picking them up.

I went back to school and earned a college degree. (Bucket List Win!) I found my dream job, only to lose it along with my hard won self-confidence. I found another job—not as high-paying—but definitely rewarding and important in its own way; and I’ve found an acceptance there which I enjoy immensely.

I watched my son and daughter become adults, and I cheered as they each graduated from high school. One is in college, the other has chosen a military path, and I am incredibly proud of them both.

I lost a few friends. 

I gained more.

I lost a few pounds. 

I gained… more.

I lost my beloved greyhound Simon. 

He can never be replaced.

I gained two cats. 

They are quirky and weird and make me smile.

I published a few books. 

I wrote a few more, which I hope to publish soon. 

I developed a few health problems that are generally attributed to the radiation. But hey, small potatoes compared to the alternative.

I never found romance.

Who knows what tomorrow might bring?

Every summer, I have participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life in my community. I do it because I can, in memory of those who can’t, and in support of those who are still fighting or who will have to fight.

In some ways, I hope I’ve become a better person in the aftermath of cancer. 

In other ways, I think I’ve become a worse person. 

But for both better and worse, I have had five years to become. Maybe I’ll have five more. Or ten. Or twenty. I would enjoy the opportunity, but no matter what the future holds, I have survived for five years post-diagnosis.

And I am incredibly grateful for that.  

The Author and Offspring - 2013

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two Years...

It seems really weird to me that so much time has passed since my last blog entry. That was on August 22, 2009 and now we’ve already ushered in 2011. Time flies. It really does.

So why am I breaking the long silence? There are a few reasons. The first is that a few months back, a section of When Life Hands You Lymphoma was featured at Janet Huntingdon’s blog, Mugwump Chronicles. If you’re into horses and you like sound advice, common sense and want to read some of the best (and true) horse training stories ever written, you really need to follow Mugwump. The archives are hours of awesome reading. Trust me. I know.

Regardless, the featuring of this blog on Mugwump’s caused some debate and concern over what had ever happened to yours truly. I posted there to let folks know I was still kicking, but it made me feel guilty over other readers who hadn’t heard from me.

The second reason for breaking my metaphorical silence is that today, January 21st, marks the second anniversary of my remission. Yep, two years. That’s pretty cool if I say so myself!

So, why the long hiatus, you might wonder? There were a few reasons for it. Primarily it began with something known as “Chemo Brain.” For reasons undetermined, a lot of cancer patients go through a stage (sometimes prolonged) of confusion, memory deficits, disorganization and…well, heck, in my experience, it was a bit like driving through fog. It’s possible to do, but highly stressful, disorienting and exhausting. Of everything that happened after my diagnosis, I honestly think the Chemo Brain scared me the most.

I knew that the quality of my writing was gradually deteriorating, but I expected to bounce back right away after the chemo and radiation treatments were finished. I didn’t. In fact, for a while it got worse. While I succeeded completing the 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month smack dab in the middle of the chemo regimen in 2008, I floundered in 2009 and couldn’t finish. Heck, I barely managed to start. And that was long after I’d gone back to work! When you’ve always thought of yourself as a pretty good writer, that loss of mental cohesiveness is honestly pretty terrifying.

It took months to get the creativity and drive back, and the process was gradual and frustrating. In some ways, I’m still not quite there. But, I think I’m managing to do a pretty good impersonation of myself.

The other reason I went quiet was that remission and the cessation of treatments meant trying to assimilate back into a life that had been effectively put on hold for seven months. I’m sure this isn’t an unusual experience for cancer survivors, but it was similar to watching a dam break when you live downstream. All the nitty-gritty of the real world…troubles with the kids, entering back into the workforce, explaining to a very surprised delivery man that I wasn’t actually dead, all that neat stuff…came crashing down all at once. I’ve never been a very strong swimmer and treading takes a lot out of you.

But life goes on... Really, it does!

With the advent of getting my brain back (my friends might debate that!) I decided to address something that’s been on my bucket list for decades. To that end, I’m currently working toward an associate’s degree via online courses from Indiana Wesleyan University. It’s a huge, time consuming undertaking, but I’m a 4.0 student, so go me! After a lifelong scholastic inferiority complex it’s pretty nice to know that I can hold my own in matters of academia.

Just as exciting, a historical novel I wrote for the young adult market back before the lymphoma set in was recently accepted for e-book publication by Echelon Press’s Quake division. It’s called Servant To The Wolf and if all goes according to schedule, it should be released in September. If anyone is interested, shoot me a message and I’ll be sure to let ya’ll know more as publishing gets closer. (There’ll be a blog devoted to that, and I’ll link to it from here regardless.)

Getting slightly back on topic, my next CT Scan is on February 16th. I’ve been having those every three months. And yeah, I’m still a really hard stick for blood draws and IV’s. The vampires have their hands full with me!

In a way, it’s interesting to feel so…normal…and to be pursuing life as though there’d been no interruption at all. (In fact, pursuing life with a little more drive and ambition than I had before.) It’s been really nice. And it’s been really tough. As life is supposed to be.

So, is this blog kaput? I mean, it’s been a really long time. Why resurrect it now?

In the words of Tevya from Fiddler On The Roof, “I’ll tell you. I don’t know.”

But there are things I didn’t talk about. There are things that mean a little more now than they did back in the beginning. There are things I’m still learning. There are people I know who've fought their own battles who deserve a moment in even this very small spotlight.

There was my first participation in a Relay For Life survivors' lap. That could be a blog entry all by itself.

So while I don’t see doing this blog as a daily thing, or even weekly, I think I’ll be revisiting it now and again. I think I owe it to the readers; past, present and maybe future.

And hey, if you've stumbled across my little section of the internet here and would like to do a cancer oriented patient, survivor or caregiver guest blog, let me know!

But for now, by the grace of God, it’s been two years.

Two years. :)


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Eight Walls and Radioactivity

On Wednesday the 20th of May, I underwent the second PET scan of my cancer patient career. PET's and CT's are going to be necessary and semi-frequent interludes in my life for at least the next few years while the doctors and I watch to see whether remission is a permanent state or just the intermission.

In any case, PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography which, according to my friends at Wikipedia is a "nuclear medicine imaging technique which produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide (tracer), which is introduced into the body on a biologically active molecule. Images of tracer concentration in 3-dimensional space within the body are then reconstructed by computer analysis."

So, like, they inject you with radioactive stuff, stick you in a metal tube for around an hour--where you are NOT allowed to move--and then look to see if any of your innards are sparkling like a Stephanie Meyer vampire in direct sunlight.
Hey, you want medical jargon, go talk to an oncologist. I manage a convenience store.

Anyway, let me back up a little and walk you through the process. About an hour before my scheduled test, I report to Oncology-Radiology. I'm met by a very nice young guy in scrubs who leads me through the catacombs of the basement of UW Hospital (they're under construction) and ushers me into the weirdest shaped room in the history of rooms. More on that later.

In that room is a chair that, against all expectations, reclines, even though it looks nothing like the coveted Big Blue Chair in my living room that the dog and I compete for on a daily basis. [The dog almost invariably gets the chair, but I maintain control of the remote, so it's a wash.] Trading small talk about the weather, life in general and how excrementally microscopic my veins are, the nice technician/nurse (not sure which) manages to stick a needle into my left arm, because the right arm is frankly crap, and methodically pumps a syringe full of radioactive cocktail into ye olde circulatory system.

[As a matter of interest, the literature from the hospital assures me absolutely that the radioactive tracer stuff is completely harmless, no trouble at all, don't give it a second thought, we promise, pinky swear, but please do us a teensy favor and avoid pregnant women and infants for a few hours after the procedure, okie dokie? Thank you so very much.]

After the injection is complete, the nice guy reclines the chair for me, (I'm not allowed to do it myself) offers pillows and blankets for my comfort, then leaves, turning the light down to a nocturnal glimmer as he goes out the door. For the next forty-five minutes or so, my job is to lie very, very still and be mellow. Totally mellow. To encourage this state of mellowness, I am not permitted to read, or to listen to music, or even to have a friend sit with me. In other words, my mission--and I'd better decide to accept it--is to be bored. There is a security camera mounted on the ceiling and aimed directly at me, probably in case I decide to jog a few laps or perform jazz hands or something. That would be bad.

The reason for all this enforced inactivity is as follows. The radioactive tracer is attracted to cellular activity. The more activity, the more the tracer sticks, the more it shows up on the scan. Therefore, fast replicating cancer cells should show up even if they're just getting started. (The better to try to beat them into submission again before they manage to get a foothold, m'dear.) So logically, if you engage your brain in, say, a lively discussion about Creationism versus Evolution, or you start jamming to a really rockin' angry-woman Ani DiFranco song, odds are THAT'S going to glow on the scan like a neon sign and potentially camouflage any cancer cells that might be trying to crop up in the ol' gray matter. Or, at least, that's my assumption.

This in-chair period of mental downtime is not as easy as it ought to be. I'm a writer. I honestly don't know how to stop my brain from churning along at a rapid-fire clip, short of falling asleep, and so I'm not entirely convinced that they wouldn't have been better off to let me read a really boring pamphlet. Before I catch myself, I write a chapter of the book I'm working on in my head while I'm sitting there in the dark. I don't mean to. It just happens.
Once I realize what I'm doing, I try to quiet my mind and, y'know, become one with my environment.

(Sadly, if I'd been doing it right, I might not be able to tell you now that the weird shaped room had eight walls of varying dimensions. I spent some time obsessing over why any room should have eight walls. There were two pictures hanging on the walls in front of me--both floral, which I found moderately uninteresting because I'm a landscape person. The flowers in question were purple with a white background. There was a clock to my left. It ticked very loudly in a Chinese water torture sort of way. And of course, the mind can run wild when you're trapped in a strange place under a security camera. A thousand McGyver episodes flashed through my head and wildly improbable escape scenarios began to evolve in my imagination. I already had some radioactive material! All I needed now was a roll of duct tape, a raw egg and a lawn mower engine!

Anyway, forty-five minutes into some of the most productive brain exercises I've entertained in quite a while, (oops,) the nice tech-nurse-dude comes to fetch me. I am then bade to use the ladies' room, no pressure at all when there's some guy waiting outside the door for you to empty your bladder, then away to the Big Machine we go.

After a check to ensure that I'm wearing no metal on my person--jeans, belts, under-wire brassieres, glasses, watches, belly button piercings, metallic glittery skin lotion, cyborg implants, whatever--I am guided onto the narrow metal bench and subsequently strapped down, re-blanketed, told once again not to move (unless there's an emergency, in which case I should wave my toes meaningfully) and sucked into the maw of the PET Scanner: The Tube.

Never having been in a coffin before, and not in a hurry to do so, that's still the vibe you get when the gently curved top of the Tube is only a scant few inches away from your nose. It doesn't help that you're strapped down in the traditional funeral visitation position. It really doesn't help that you're supposed to remain absolutely still. McGyver, here we go again!

Truthfully, many PET scan patients need to have some sort of sedation because claustrophobia can run rampant. Not being the claustrophobic sort, this is not an issue for me. (I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that after the first ten minutes or so, I took the nap I probably should have taken in the Eight Walled Flower Picture With Security Camera Room.)

Half an hour later, I wake up as the table slides me back out of the Tube like a slightly misshapen loaf of bread. Unstrapped and released by my captors, I put on my glasses and head for the cafeteria where they offer a reasonably priced omelet and some incredibly greasy bacon. The pre-test six hour moratorium on food and beverages is now a thing of the past. Yay! Then it's another hour and a half wait before I see my doctor.

I'm fortunate that I'll get my results before I leave and it's a good report, but I don't mind telling you that the waiting time weighs as heavily on my gut as that bacon. It always does.

The uncertainty factor is probably a good discussion for another day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Remission and Romeo?

Some of my readers know that, among other things that actually pay the bills, I'm a writer. My published book, a novella, falls somewhere between Women's Fiction and Literary. I have a historical fiction middle grades manuscript that ought to be making the rounds as soon as I get up the gumption to hack out another query letter. There are three mostly completed romance-type novels in the works. I've even won a few awards over the years, mostly from the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Association, but lately I've branched out a bit.

Oh, and I'm a senior staff writer (somewhat in arrears at the moment) for the Mutant Reviewers From Hell. Seriously. Check out my Twilight review. Geek much? Moi?

Anyway, last year, in need of something to submit to a regional periodical, I went into an old novel-that-didn't-happen and mined out a scene that I wrote . . . oh geez, maybe in 2004. I changed a few things, generally cleaned it up and sent it in. It was accepted.

Get this: my protagonist was in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. How eerie is that? Note to self: Do NOT do unto your characters what you don't want to have happen to you because your karma is seriously out to get you, Sue!

The periodical (The Wisconsin Writers' Journal) hadn't gone to press yet when I was diagnosed and the publisher, a dear friend, offered to pull the piece. I told him not to and it was duly published. I'm going to reprint it here because the dilemma it poses has been much on my mind lately. Also, it's very short. Here it is.


I tossed my duffle bag into the trunk, slammed it shut with more force than necessary, then turned. Daniel stood a scant ten feet away, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, hair rumpled.
"Sneaking away?"
"Getting ahead of rush hour."
His feet were bare. "Are you coming back?"
"I don't know."
He gave a short laugh. "There's something to hang my hat on."
"I told you already--"
"I know what you told me. I heard every word you said. The question is, did you hear me?"
"Yes." I had.
Remission or no remission, I love you.
And he did. I didn't doubt it for a moment. Here and now, in the coolness of a spring morning with the ocean's endless heartbeat in our ears, the sun playing in the green of the grass and dancing with the leaves on the trees, he loved me. Remission or no remission. Cancer or no cancer. Statistics be damned. He loved me.
If only I hadn't seen his eyes when I'd told him the truth. If only I hadn't traveled this path before.
"I'm not him," he said.
True. Daniel wasn't Eric. Eric couldn't cope. Maybe, just maybe, Daniel could.
Maybe there'd never even be a reason to find out. But eighty percent survival meant twenty percent mortality. To me, twenty out of one hundred looked like a massacre.
"Emily?" Closer now. Softer now.
I met his gaze. I owed him that much. The corners of his eyes crinkled, not quite a smile, the subtlest of encouragements.
It was so very tempting.
But I had seen his eyes. More than that, I couldn't- I wouldn't put anyone else in a position to have to choose. This time, I would choose. For both our sakes. Whether he'd ever understand that or not.
There wasn't any reason to put it off any longer, so I stuck out my hand in a brisk way. "Take care of yourself, Daniel."
For a moment, I thought he'd refuse, but then his fingers wrapped around mine. "You too."
We disengaged and I went to get into the car, but he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. "Em?"
I turned. "What?"
His arms wrapped around me, his face in my hair, my cheek against his chest. I held him just as fiercely, and when his mouth met mine, I welcomed it.
In the end, I did leave. Daniel, propped against the pillows, silently watched me go.


(Please do not reprint without permission, folks. Okay?)

FYI, I've been divorced since 1998. I've had a few very short term relationships and one semi-prolonged bout of seriously pathetic unrequited adoration, but I've long since gotten to the point where I've made peace with my presumption of perpetual singleness. If I get swept off my feet, no one will be happier than yours truly, but no one will be more surprised either.

Having said that, it's Spring and even a middle-aged woman's heart sometimes wants to go pitter-pat for a significant other. And so, semi-academically, the dilemma in Volition interests me even more now than it did back when I wrote it. No matter who you are, I'd love to see some comments and discussion on this:

What the heck does a person in remission do when love comes knocking on their door? Making the ginormous assumption that one's potential swain professes their love regardless, do you simply throw caution to the winds and yourself into their arms? Do you beat them with the "reality" stick for a while? Do you show them pictures of you sans hair? Do you . . . run for it?

How do you know that what they're okay with now will still be okay if the worst should happen? How can you tell?

Taking it a step further (or back, really) is it even okay for the remissionally blessed to seek out . . . a potential someone special? Do you wait a few years to see if you stay cancer-free? Do you go for the gusto now? Putting aside the fact that no one really knows what tomorrow might bring, what do you do when your tomorrow has a forecast of 20% or 30% or even 70% malignancy?

I really want to know.

Interestingly enough, before the lymphoma, I had a profile on a popular singles site. I don't do the bar scene, nor do I "get out much" according to my friends, so it was sort of a passive attempt at letting Mr. Right find me. Yeah, I know, not very pro-active. Better than nothing maybe. I heard from many wonderful Nigerian men, however, who proclaimed that their hearts overflowed with the joy of my great beauty. I suspect Nigerian men need to find themselves some decent ghost writers in addition to someone willing to help them claim their six million dollar inheritances from the recently deceased General Suckabornevryminnit.

After my diagnosis, I left the profile up with the note that I was fighting cancer and off the market, but thanks for looking anyway. I received some really nice messages from people, including a few really supportive comments from cancer survivors. Then I received, "Liked your profile, when can we meet?" (Only not as well spelled.) Bald, ill and dubious, I replied, thanked him for the interest and asked, "Did you actually read my profile?"

"Yes," he wrote back immediately. "I liked the part about the cuddling."

Oh stop staring at me. Everyone likes cuddling. I can put cuddling in a profile if I want to. You'd do the same. It's a dating site. I was just . . . keeping it in the genre, okay?


"Did you," I inquired, "see the part about the cancer?"

This is his reply, verbatim: "yes Just would like to find someone so i'm not alone all the time.Don't you miss cuddling and sex?"

The knee-jerk reply that I didn't send was something to the tune of: "Well yes, by golly, I guess I do! But please excuse me if I don't take a break from driving myself to and from chemotherapy to slap on a wig and canoodle with you so that YOU don't feel alone all the time, you licentious, semi-illiterate, punctuation-deprived, self-absorbed turd-burger!"

What I actually sent was a polite "no thanks, but I wish you the best". This proves that Mom raised me right and that I am mostly a nice person. Luckily, he accepted that without argument. I really don't need an Internet stalker on top of everything else.

But that leads to another question, albeit a very cynical one. Does cancer make one an attractive target to total losers because of a presumed Desperation Factor?

(On second thought, maybe I don't really want the answer to that. )

Thoughts? Comments? Flames? Experiences?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Daniel and Bob - A Story of Two Tumors and An Idiot

One of the big headlines in the news right now is the story of the 13-year old Daniel Hauser who has Hodgkins disease and is currently on the run with his idiot--I mean loving--mother to avoid a court ordered regimen of chemotherapy. Seems that the family, Catholic but somehow hooked into some Native American beliefs, chose to opt for a more holistic approach of ionized water, special diet, sweat lodges, magical fairy dust or whatever. Only problem is, the tumor (which shrank dramatically with the first and only dose of chemo the boy received) is now back to its original size and growing like a friggin' weed.

Now I do not want to open a can of worms regarding peoples' beliefs or their right to refuse the treatments recommended by the international medical community, whom--I'm just taking a wild guess here--might know just a little more about physiology and oncology than your average purchaser of "Malignancy B-Gone" pills or the zillion and one Internet authors (heh) who know someone who knows someone who recovered from cancer via pure thoughts, a diet of flax and a strict chanting schedule.

I know, believe me I know, that chemotherapy is toxic and nasty. My straight and u
ntamed hair is now curly and untamed. My fingernails are still so messed up that they break off if I just look at them in a funny way. If chemo does that to hair and fingernails even months after the process, who can guess what else is going on that I don't know about? I won't quibble too much about a fully informed adult who makes the decision to go totally holistic. To each their own, I guess. BUT Daniel is thirteen years old. He is not old enough to vote, or drive, or enlist in the military. He's at an age where, when the rubber meets the road, he'll still believe what Mommy tells him and Mommy is telling him that the chemo is more evil than the cancer itself.

Is she on crack?

Here's where I'm coming from:

I'm still alive.

Without the chemo, I would not be alive. No question. No debate.

Here's Exhibit A: This is Bob The Tumor. (Also known as Jar-Jar in certain circles.) This is a CT scan cross section of yours truly.

At the bottom of the picture, you can see the circular shape of my spinal cord and my two shoulders emerging left and right. The top of the picture is the front of me. You can even see the ribs wrapped around my inner bits. Hello, ribs! Now, if you look at the right side, you can see
a nice large black area. This is a lung. It's a little occluded, but comparatively speaking, it's just chock full of oxygen. On the left side of my body though, where there really ought to be another space full of the oxygenated goodness of my other lung, you've got ... Bob. (By the way, the white circle in dead center is [iirc] a chamber of my heart--which proves that I have one, so the debate can stop now.) The yellow line is the official measure of Bob's width. 167mm. That's 16.7 centimeters. That's freakin' enormous, okay?

Yes, when I saw that sucker, can insert the expletive of your choice. I think I went through just about all of them. I think I even made a few up. I needed a brush and dustpan to scrape my jaw off the floor.

Mind you, this CT scan was taken on August 23rd, when I was still (just barely) capable of lying down for brief periods. It was another week before I was hospitalized and biopsied. At that point, I could not lie down at all
without being completely unable to breathe because of the pressure caused by Bob's expansion. In fact, the nurses posted a sign over my bed promising the immediate and painful execution of any well-meaning moron who attempted to make me more recumbent by playing with the bed controls. So, at the time my first chemo treatment happened, Bob would have been even bigger than the picture indicates.

First chemo was on August 31st. By September 5th, less than a week later, I no longer needed to stay in an upright position or risk respiratory failure. I could breathe again. I didn't need to be on oxygen any more. (For anyone who hasn't been on oxygen, you get boogers like friggin' stalagmites!) Certainly the worse for wear, I was still fit enough and stable enough to be released from the hospital.

That's one week between certain death and a new lease on life. One chemo treatment. One. Why, I ask you, by all that's holy, would I have refused to take that second dose of chemo? Or the rest of them? Yes, I was sick, yes I was tired, yes it was a winter I'd rather not repeat. I sure came up hard against the wall and wanted to be able to quit. But when you get such dramatic results after the first dose, I would think that anyone unwilling to overlook the mouth sores and nausea in favor of breathing has just got to be a few fries and a plastic Power Ranger short of a Happy Meal, ya know?

Really, can I see a show of hands of people who can look at Bob in August and have any belief that I would be alive today without the chemo? Anyone? No? That's what I thought.

By all reports, young Daniel had an equally positive effect on his tumor from his one and only dose of chemotherapy. By and large, Hodgkins Disease is even a little more treatable than non-Hodgkins. But I bet the drugs made him feel sick. And I see he lost his hair. That's really a shame. It's awful for a kid to have cancer. I don't say that lightly. The blessing of my having had cancer is that it was me and not one of my kids.

Right or wrong, Daniel's doting parents have had their shot with the super-speshul water and the strict diet and Daniel's tumor is now again as large as it was in the first place! And so, from where I sit, from my very specialized and I'd like to think well earned point of view, if Daniel's condition worsens and he does not survive, his parents will be guilty of manslaughter. Maybe even murder.

If that happens, and I sure hope it doesn't, it would be best for me to never meet Daniel's mom. I'd punch her in the face.

I could do that, you know, because I'm still alive.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Mile Marker 124

Driving down Interstate 90/94, just south of the Columbia/Dane County line is mile marker 124. It's easy to notice because a set of high voltage power lines run almost perpendicular to the highway in that exact spot. I'll be the first to admit that there are certainly more interesting sights to see along the stretch of road. One favorite is the large sign by ABS Global Inc. (Known as the world leader in bovine genetics. In other words, they sell designer moo-sperm.) Prone to change at least once a month, February's stated: "Valentine, I'll love you for heifer and heifer." Gotta love those crazy ABS sign guys. And if you look closely to the west at the exit for Highway V near DeForest, you might just see a pink elephant.


Anyway, I tend to notice ol' mile marker 124 because it proclaims the date of my birth. January 24th. (No, not 1924. I know you were thinking that.) In fact, looking for 124's and even plain old 24's is a bit of a habit for me. I consider it entertainment on the long haul between Wisconsin and my home state of Pennsylvania. It's something to do when the kids are asleep and I can't find my U2's Greatest Hits CD. But the 124 by the power lines has acquired a special place in my heart. I consider it a confidant of sorts. A friend.

I'm something of a homebody, you see. I like hanging out in my town. I prefer familiar surroundings. (One of the biggest wrenches of my life was that move from Chester County, PA to Columbia County, WI, but sixteen years after the fact, I think I'm almost acclimated.) I don't like driving in cities, even smaller cities like Madison. I hate picking my way through unfamiliar territory. Incidentally, I am pathologically afraid of driving around in parking garages. Don't ask. I have no idea.

The point is, if I'm chugging down the Interstate–to Madison or beyond–there's usually a pretty good reason for it. And thus, 124 isn't just a metal sign in the middle of not-very-much. It's a touchstone.

At that very spot, I've grinned ear to ear, music thumping from abused speakers and the wind at my back in the adrenaline-surging beginning stages of vacations to visit hearth and home, friends and family. (Then Chicago happens, and I'm white-knuckled cringing pretty much until I've left Indiana behind.)

At that very spot, I used to shed tears of despair on the way to, and often from, a meeting with the divorce mediator and yet another ugly scene.

At that very spot, I've nodded to 124 with pride over a new accomplishment and bitten my lip with anxiety over a relationship gone sour. Sometimes I just wave at it with a polite smile. I can share things with 124, you see. It doesn't judge me. It doesn't offer advice. It's just there. As am I, for that brief moment.

Lately, 124 is where I grit my teeth and do a gut check. I resolve to get through this treatment, this test, this appointment, this episode with my sense of humor intact. Hopefully my dignity too, but definitely, please God, my sense of humor. Throughout radiation, I've seen it five days a week, twice a day, to and from. I've come to depend on it. I hang in the right lane just to make sure a tractor trailer doesn't interfere with those small, precious moments of evaluation and even silent prayer.

I like 124. If you're ever driving along that section of the Interstate, look for the power lines. Say hello if you don't feel like a dork doing it. Take a second–maybe two–and think about not only where you are, but who you are today, right now.

I've often mused that if I ever write a memoir, the title ought to be Mile Marker 124.

Of course, I'll have to do something interesting first.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What To Expect When You're Not Expecting

I got mad a few weeks ago. Yep, I finally got angry about something. Really angry.

It's about time, you're probably saying. Go for it, Sue! Shake your fist at the heavens and have yourself a good old fashioned snit.

Well, no.

It really didn't have anything to do with cosmic injustices or channeling visceral fear into fury, or even--except in a somewhat roundabout way--cancer.

It was the pregnancy test.

Let me back up.

I met my new radiology doctor about three weeks ago.

Like my hematologist, this doctor is female, young, pretty and very, very nice. The only significant difference is that my hematologist is blonde and my radiologist is brunette.

(In retrospect, this might be a small part of my problem. I could, admittedly, be harboring a repressed resentment for young pretty females who are very, very nice and could probably buy my house and its contents [children optional] with their pocket change. Even overlooking my military chic 'do, there's no escaping my all-surpassing plainness, limited potential and Wal-Mart couture.)


Dr. Brunette called me on a Friday afternoon. "Is this Susan?"

Y'know, when I was an inpatient, I filled out a form that specifically asked about preferred nicknames and I emphatically printed out "Sue." I have no idea why they gave me that form, because everyone there persists in calling me Susan anyway. What a waste of ink.

"Yes?" I answered cautiously. Telemarketer types like to call me Susan too, so if I'm not on one of the Caller ID phones, I am fully prepared not to be me. Seriously, even my parents have been trained by now.

"Hi Susan. This is Dr. Brunette. I understand you're all set to begin radiation on - *pause/papers shuffling* - Monday?"

"Yes, that's right. 11:15."

"Great! Now, one little thing I forgot to mention before is that it's hospital policy to require a pregnancy check before we can administer your first treatment."

I laughed. "There's not a chance I'm pregnant. Believe me, no chance."

"Oh, I know," she answered sympathetically. (She knows? How does she know?! Am I that obviously ugly and awful?) "The problem is, it's hospital policy unless you're in complete menopause or you've had a hysterectomy."

"But- but I haven't even been on a date in five or six years!"

"I know," she repeated with feeling. (What the heck? Are there hidden cameras in my house?! Who is this woman?) "If you'll just come in a few minutes early, it's only a urine test." Because that's supposed to make me feel better about it? I'm used to holding my arm out for a stick. Urine tests demand performance, blood tests require passivity.

" . . . !"

"Okay?" she asked my loaded silence.

I'm not in the habit of arguing with my doctors. Besides, although she didn't say it, there's an element of potential blackmail here. Pee in the cup like a good girl or we won't increase your chance of heart problems, secondary cancers, thyroid issues, tracheal swelling or skin damage by shooting radiation into your chest on a daily basis for several weeks. So there.

. . . !!!

In any case, I acquiesced. I went early, peed into the cup and spent quite an awkward length of time lying on the treatment table in a state of, shall we say, drafty dishabille, while the technicians traded banter about the weather and drew pictures on me in a rather personal location with indelible marker as we waited for the phone call from the lab to give them the go-ahead to blast away.

I will, of course, undoubtedly be billed for a test that merely proved what I already knew.

Oh yes, I know my anger is unjustified and out of proportion. Undoubtedly there are some idiotic broads out there who would be stupid enough to deny a possible bun in the oven. Maybe in the hopes of having an offspring who would a) merit a hefty lawsuit, b) be disabled enough to guarantee monthly checks from Uncle Sam in perpetuity or c) have really cool mutant powers with which to either save the world or to be sold to a carnival for a hefty sum.

Cynical? Moi?

I even admit that they almost certainly ran a preggo check on me in the hospital before they started chemotherapy. I just don't remember that because I was, well, not completely with the program back then. Heck, they could have shoved a turkey baster sized needle into my chest and I wouldn't have complained...

...Oh, heeeeeeeey...

But that's a story for another day.

In the meantime, I would like to inform you all that I am officially... NOT pregnant.

Sorry Pastor, I guess we'll have to cancel that trip to Rome. No Immaculate conception here!