Smiling... But Not Pleased
It's been 2 months since my last chemo and I have two weeks more of radiation It's okay that it will take forever to get my hair back. I'll put up with the wig and scarves and caps. Plus, I'm taking Biotin for hair growth and even doing my crazy Mayonnaise head treatment.
What's not okay, is that just as I begin to feel better, I start to look worse! Over the Thanksgiving holiday I noticed my eye lashes and eyebrows, as I was getting dressed to go out. The lashes had thinned during chemo, but suddenly I could see chunks missing. I felt ridiculous trying to put mascara on individual lashes!
I've tried to stay away from the internet, but on Sunday when things were quiet, I googled up a storm and made myself miserable. Evidently lots of chemo patients lose lashes and brows way after chemo ends. Many complain that it all finally grows back, only to fall out all over again. What? I hadn't prepared myself for this. I thought it was all about growth now... growing hair and growing stronger.
This lack of hair stuff stinks. I know I'm supposed to be grateful for how little I've suffered throughout all this and I am. But this is one of my bad days and I'm just going to pout and shout... and then I'm going to decorate.
My timing is pretty good. In 2 weeks I will have my last radiation, then a couple days of doc appointments and then a free week before Christmas! Daily raditaion has taken up time, but at least I haven't felt exhausted...yet. I'm ready to begin enjoying Christmas.
Sad For Some
Lately I've been thinking about all the people who are just getting diagnosed with cancer, as the holidays begin. What must that be like? I learned my gloomy news, the day before Memorial Day weekend. Those first days of torturous worry were on bright sunny days, not drab wintery ones.
And my family and friends were not distracted with their own holiday to-do lists. They had time to reach out and make me feel cared for. I'm so grateful I didn't have to begin this whole cancer business, in the midst of busy holidays.
Last year, Don and I enjoyed the holidays as we always do. We had no clue what was ahead in 2016. I'm glad we didn't.
I figure we'll play ukes again this year. And we'll be feeling extra grateful to celebrate Christmas, with so much behind us. But a serious part of me will always know... things are different now. I have been changed. And a big part of me will be thinking about all those people, I don't know... who are just beginning their battle.
I've had 6 holidays since this cancer thing started and I'll remember them all, even Memorial Day. I'll remember how different each holiday felt... after diagnosis... before surgery... during chemo...
I'll remember Thanksgiving this year and how I got a break from raditaion for the holiday! Mostly, I'll remember how truly thankful I felt, with family and the end of treatment nearing. I'll also remember the holiday, as the easiest Thanksgiving ever. The kids came home... and it really did feel like we were in some kind of stress-free zone!
With only 4, it was easy to fit everyone in the kitchen. All pitched in the night before, doing last minute prep.
On Thanksgiving morning, there was time to sit around and drink coffee and eat pumpkin bread. There was no rush to get the turkey started. No fretting over finding the right table cloth. No fussing over polishing silver.
I felt different this year. I felt too relaxed to stress over details.
Scott brought Lola and she even seemed to be aware of the stress free zone.
She had her own goodie to nibble on, while we feasted at the table.
A crisp day would have been festive, but we made use of the ideal temps. There was time for frisbee and dog walks.
The air felt heavenly.
It felt wonderful not wasting food this year. Before the kids headed home with leftovers on Saturday, we experimented with Stuffing Waffles!
This was Don's idea and I'm sure it will be a tradition now! The stuffing got toasty in the iron and the heated potatoes, meat and cranberries were topped with gravy. Perfect!
Cozy Cabin Dining
On Friday night we had a special dinner outing at Rainbow Lodge.
We arrived early to see the grounds lit up in festive lights and we lingered over meals of trout and wild game.
Posing with Kids
Don took a photo of me with Heidi and Scott before we left the restaurant. As we drove home I realized I'd missed our chance to get a Christmas card photo of the 4 of us.
But then I thought, "Am I even doing Christmas cards?" I like this new relaxed approach to holidays. I'm going to have to give the card idea some thought!
Not a Great Look
There's nothing pretty or impressive about my running style these days. During chemo I grew to accept my stop & go, sluggish pace... the rare times I tried to run.
Since radiation started, I've had more energy and less muscle fatigue, but I still feel like I'm in one of those "running in molasses" dreams. And it's obvious from my socks that I've given up on my running fashion.
Running in the Dark
Back when mornings were dark, I was able to motivate myself to run more easily.
When Daylight Saving Time ended, I felt like the sunshine was spotlighting my draggy pace, as well as my silly head covering. The bandana/ball cap combo, seems to be the only thing that will not slip off my head.
Running in Broad Daylight
The other day I talked myself into walk/running with Don in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day, with more people wandering the neighborhood. I added sunglasses to my running costume and hoped to avoid social stops along the way.
We almost finished the "loop" when I spotted some neighbors I haven't seen in months. I dreaded the slowdown, but our short encounter ended up giving me a boost. I was surprised by the warmth of our kind neighbors, who had heard of my cancer through the grapevine. I had expected an awkward meeting and instead was given some kind words, a little hand holding and a promise of prayers. Hindu prayers actually. My first.
The other morning I took a different route. I needed to distract myself with different views and get my mind off how much I hate running these days.
I laughed at the sign that scared my kids when we moved into the neighborhood 18 years ago.
I wish I'd spotted a gator. I've only seen one gator in the hood, in almost 20 years.
The only wildlife I saw, was of the flying sort.
I enjoyed running along the creek keeping an eye out, where I spotted that gator, many years ago.
Another morning, I attempted another route and ended up behind my son's old middle school. As I trotted by, I remembered the year it opened, when Scott started 6th grade. There were 2 big trees then. Today I spotted just one grand tree and a pretty humongous stump. I had to take a moment to study the rings, before moving on.
I like to run in my own private world. I consider my run a success, if I complete it without seeing another human. One day, I attempted to change my introverted attitude, by greeting everyone.
One feeble looking man looked up from his pecan picking chore, with a look of surprise. I repeated, "Good Morning!" and a grin covered his face. Then I noticed a new crossing guard! The old one refused to smile and the new guy hollered, "Beautiful day!"
After a few greetings, my altered route took me along the backside of the lake, just as the morning sun hit the fountain.
I stopped and took a cell phone pic and sighed. My dreaded run had given me some nice moments.
It's nice to know, exercise will only get easier, after I finish up treatments. For now, I'm going to enjoy the scenery more and worry less about how I look... in the scene.
I'm ready to turn my attention to turkey festivities! The schools have been out all week and we keep having mini cold fronts. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I'm ready to enjoy! But I had to be reminded of that stupid cancer thing and be at radiation at 10:10 this morning.
BUT... that whining intro is fake. I didn't mind going to radiation. I had too much to feel happy about. We're spending Thanksgiving with both kids this year and I'm feeling well. I just reached my halfway point with my treatments and only 3 weeks to go! Plus the appointment was quick and the staff was in great spirits, talking about favorite Thanksgiving foods and asking me about plans.
Celebrating Half Way!
The best thing about the day, was that Heidi was already in town and joined me on my appointment outing. The morning storm had lifted and the sun was out by the time we reached the clinic. We were in and out in 25 minutes and off to lunch at City Center.
We sat in a lovely booth at Brio, catching up on Heidi's trip to Japan and her engagement to Jamie. And the whole time, I knew Scott was on his way from New Orleans. How could I be anything but totally thankful about this holiday and this day? Plus, I have 4 days off from my "radiation job". Let the feasting begin!
Connecting With Others
I've been trying to use these 6+ weeks of radiation to connect with people... a bit. I only have 5 to 15 minutes of waiting, by the time I come out of the dressing room. It seems like forever, when I'm sitting awkwardly with others in hospital gowns, not speaking. So I'm trying to avoid the comfort zone of staring at my technology... and I'm speaking.
For a while I seemed to be the youngest, at age 59. (Then again, we all look a lot older in our snowflake gowns) I was surprised to see so many men and women using walkers or canes or even oxygen tanks. The first man I spoke to weeks ago, announced he was 75. He set me at ease with his laughter and optimism. "I woke up this morning, didn't I? I'm here today!" He talked about praying to Jesus and he talked of grandkids. He told me to tell my son to hurry up and get married and give me some grand-babies! That made me laugh.
He said I'd do fine, because he could see a sparkle in my eyes. "Gotta be positive!" Then he quietly reminded me not to be like those other people, who drag in like they're already dead.
A Young Face
After seeing many feeble patients, I was surprised to see a new face, one day. She was young, with refreshing energy, wearing a colorful head scarf. I felt like a school girl, wanting to be friends. We were called back to the dressing rooms about the same time and ended up with a good amount of time to talk. I realized for the first time since diagnosis, I was talking to someone who had breast cancer along with me. We shot questions back and forth about hair growth and embarrassing wig problems. I showed her pictures of me getting my head shaved by the barber. She showed me pictures of her dressed as Mr. Clean for Halloween! I loved that. She was a mother, with 2 small kids and a job outside the home. She made it all look easy, but I could only imagine how tough it would be to juggle so much, plus cancer.
I haven't forced anyone to talk, but I've opened up to every single person seated next to me. The man in sandals was the least friendly. His clothes reeked of cigarette smoke and he coughed a lot. I greeted and commented on the weather, but he just answered. "Hmm." I left him alone.
Another day, a woman with a black cane sat down, looking like she preferred to be left alone. She barely acknowledged my greeting, but after a while she said softly. "I didn't think I would ever be here." I answered "Me too." She said there'd been no cancer in her family. I said, "Me too." She said she'd been praying a lot. I smiled and added, "I'll bet you've had a lot of people praying for you." "Oh yes!" We laughed about how you might as well take as many prayers as you can get.
I told the older woman how I'd met the young mother and how impressed I was with her. "She has so young, with children and a job!" I made some comment about how hard it must be to face cancer so young. "No." The woman answered firmly. Her sigh almost seemed to drain her energy. I had a feeling she was remembering what it felt like to be young. "It would be so much easier to be young with cancer." I saw the cane resting in her hands and I understood.
So, I'm halfway through my radiation treatment and I'm ready to be done. But I'll see what else I can learn from others, along the way.
But there's no such thing, right?
I have little time to ask questions, since my radiation time is so brief. My "therapists" are always cheerful and efficient as they quickly prepare the table and adjust my position. I only have a minute or so of "social time" before I have the machine and the room to myself... for all of 4 minutes.
So I allow myself a question a day. On my first day, the machine was decorated for Halloween and my question was about sneezing. I was glad to learn, it was okay to sneeze... if I didn't move. Or I could holler, "Stop!" Since they are watching and listening through the glass.
My question yesterday was, "What happened to the turkey?" The turkey that recently took the pumpkin's place on the machine, suddenly ended up on the door. I was told with an embarrassed laugh, "The masking tape didn't hold... and it fell off."
Luckily the bird didn't land on someone during radiation. but that would have been quite a good story. "Well, I got this bump when I hit my head during radiation, because a turkey..."
Sometimes they're still preparing the table when I get called back. Then I have time for more questions. "Do you have a nickname for this machine?" I asked yesterday, since I'd waited an hour for the technician to repair the thing.
The therapists laughed as if they have a few names they couldn't share. "Old Guy" was all they mentioned. My job this weekend, is to choose a name.
The Blue Pillow
The squashed, blue pillow is usually hidden under the sheet when I enter. I finally asked and it's called a "vac bag", which is like fancy bean bag, customized to fit my shape, by vacuuming out the air.
It's not at all squishy and it keeps its shape to help me get into the exact position for radiation. When I finish my treatment I won't get to take it home for a keepsake, since it's sanitized for a new patient. That's an odd thought, but I'm all for recycling.
Can I Nail the Pose?
Each time I lay down on the sheet covered platform, I reach back and hold the bars above my head. To get me into the exact position each day, the therapists tell me to scoot up or down. Then they tug the sheet, beneath me, to center me more right or left. My question one day was, "Does anyone ever just lie down and hit the right position perfectly?" They laughed and said it was possible. I told them it was my goal to nail it on the first try, before my treatments ended. I decided my chances were slim, when I heard it happens only about once, every 6 months.
I'm only in that room for a few minutes and nothing hurts, so I feel comfortable pondering some questions.
"Does anyone ever fall asleep in here?"
"Do people keep their eyes open or closed?"
"Is there anyone who has a treatment shorter than me?"
Yes, people fall asleep, often and most people don't open their eyes, like I do. And there might be one person with a slightly shorter treatment than mine. And that thought lead to a question, with a sobering answer.
"What is the longest treatment time?"
"Well... about 30 minutes." My therapist answered that day. I gulped at the thought of laying still so long... daily. It can take that long for some brain cancer patients, she explained. She told me some had to wear plastic mesh masks over the head and shoulders, to keep from moving. I knew I had seen stacks of those molded "face-cages" with names on them. My therapist was honest about how claustrophobic she felt when she tried one on, in school. I suddenly remembered the woman I had seen leaving... with imprints on her face.
I usually leave the center in good spirits, but that day I left thoughtful and sad. Sad for those who suffer long treatments. And more sad to think of those who deal with cancers and treatments, with lower success rates.
My Fellow Patients
It's easy to joke about my radiation, because it is painless for me. But I really need to stop and think about my fellow patients who share the waiting area. We sit in our matching gowns... with such different stories and futures. As we move into the holidays, I aim to be more sensitive to those around me.
Chemo seems like a long time ago. There were a lot more restrictions, during those hot days of summer and early fall.
Now I have a few odd ones...
No antiperspirant/deodorant on my side right side, for this whole period of treatment.
Unattractive AND Stinky?
It's hard to feel very attractive these days. I have to strut in for radiation in a hospital gown and flip off my wig or scarf. Then I have to reach both arms over my head, while the therapists adjust my position. It's hard to feel confident about how I look and how I might even smell! But it's not summer, so that's good. And my therapists chatter with me, so I think they're properly distracted. Plus I use a double dose for my left armpit... as if that might transfer somehow.
No one told me that I must wear a certain style of shirt for 6+ weeks. However, I'm not comfortable showing off my green marks and clear stickers.
I've found a few shirts in my closet that cover my marks. Again, I'm glad it's not summer, when Texas days make you want to live in swim suits and tank tops.
Feet and Food
The chemo has left me with a lingering issue of numb toes, which is a little odd. But I'm now allowed to have pedicures, since infection risks are lower.
The other day I figured I had earned the indulgent treat of being treated like a princess in one of those throne chairs. The massage was heavenly, even if my toes didn't really feel it.
I didn't realize how off my tastebuds had been until they returned, sometime after chemo ended. I can enjoy a glass of wine now, among other things.
Best of all my no-sushi restriction has lifted! I'm trying to decide what was more heavenly, my foot treatment or my first taste of salmon sashimi!
Now I just hope my motivation for cooking returns. I'm not sure that's going to happen.
This is how I look when I come out of the dressing room, ready for radiation. I've done this 10 times now, so I'm a pro.
I greet my fellow patients and take one of the few chairs to wait my turn. We've already seen each other in the big waiting room, where we look different in our street clothes... where some chat with their friends or family members and a few hide under wigs and others keep busy with magazines or cell phones. But once we're back in the wait area beside the radiation room, we suddenly have more in common. We all have some kind of cancer and we're all stylin' in our gowns!
Since Day One
On day 1, I felt ridiculously vulnerable in my gown with strangers. I was seated with a couple men at first. Even though I got to wear my jeans and socks, I secured my gown carefully behind my neck. No one was talking, so I stared at the big heavy door. I watched the "Beam On" light, announcing just how long and how often the patient behind the door was getting radiated.
The man seated next to me was called in. I watched him head towards the door casually reaching back to hold his untied gown closed. I cringed and looked away, since he didn't get to keep his jeans on. While he was treated, I sat quietly wondering about the others, guessing what they were being treated for, by what they wore under their gowns. Awful, I know. But my brain was swirling. I was sad to see one woman head in for radiation, wearing her clothes. Did that mean her treatment was for brain cancer?
No More Silence
I learned that first day, to take advantage of the fact we are all sitting in our gowns. Silence is eerie when you're sitting next to someone you're oddly bonded to.
I realized I only have 6.5 weeks total to learn all I can from those around me. If I'm going to sit in a gown with my elbow practically touching a stranger, I might as well speak. We don't have to talk cancer. We can talk about the drunk looking turkey on the door, or how chilly the room feels, or our stupid gowns.
Since that first day, I've not allowed myself the luxury of escaping with my technology. I greet and make a comment or ask one question. If the person near me needs to be left alone, I take the hint. But almost always, we talk and I know I always feel better.
Looking Back to May 2016
On May 27, my post was about not liking results. That day was different than November 8, but my reaction was similar. Last May, I was numb with the news of my breast cancer diagnosis. My test results had no specifics, so the unknowns were overwhelming. For days, I kept thinking I'd snap out of my fog and laugh, "Whew! That was a scary dream!"
Keeping Strong and Positive
I got through my dazed period and started moving forward. A friend reminded me that I was stubborn and I could kick this, so I grabbed a carved donkey (that was sitting on my shelf) and it became my mascot.
I first laughed with Milissa about my tiny friend, Ms. Donkey. Then I found myself laughing at surgery and chemo treatments... introducing my donkey to nurses and doctors. Humor helped me keep positive.
I learned from another friend to be open about my cancer. First I told family and friends and then I opened up on Facebook and occasionally to strangers. Even though I've kept a blog for years, I'm incredibly guarded about the personal stuff. I learned early, it was a relief not carrying the secret. And later, I found a lot of unexpected support.
The election campaign was an odd distraction as I took on cancer and treatments. I was cautious about how much negative news I absorbed and that wasn't easy. I wanted to be informed. I kept my own Facebook positive. I didn't block "friends" with different opinions, because wanted to hear what everyone had to say. At least for a while. Then I began to ignore. A lot.
I voted early and I felt positive. I'm a democrat in Texas and that can make you feel a little isolated. But I live in Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse in the country. I stood in line with a crowd, representing many races and cultures. I felt good that day.
Yesterday, November 8
Don and I sat down to take in the results on Tuesday evening. We made it festive, as we do everything. Yankee Doodle Macaroni and American Apple Pie!
We texted and talked on the phone with family in 4 states. Our daughter called from Tokyo. (She had some very exciting news to share, before flying back to the States) We were excited for that and also feeling very hopeful that we were going to witness the election of our first woman president.
The evening moved along and the tone of the texts changed. Things didn't go the way we expected.
The apple pie suddenly was not appetizing. I was feeling like I did in May. Numb and dazed and sick with worry. I went to bed long before the results were all in.
The sun did come up on Wednesday and I've had a couple days to absorb. I'm remembering the things I learned from facing cancer. Be positive, fight with donkey spirit and be open with others.
Yes, I'm worried, because this is a crazy time. But, I remember how many people supported me with my bump in the road. I realize I need to start offering support to the people who may need it the most, now. I need to stand up for those who face discrimination daily. That's hard for a person who doesn't like confrontation, but I will get better.
Two days after the election, Don and I dined with our nephew at a privately owned restaurant. When the arrogant owner teased about our "virgin waiter", I cringed. Our young Asian waiter, looked nervous on his first night on the job, but he smiled and laughed along. The owner hovered nearby and made cracks about our waiter paying for our meal, if we didn't like it. Then the owner smiled at his own cleverness, reminding us how the new president could have our waiter deported. The awkward scene was over before it sunk in. I dined, thinking about the young man, with the heavy accent and how he had reacted to the remarks... with a deep breath and an uneasy smile.
After our dinner, we were able to catch the waiter and owner near the door. The owner shook our hands and was pleased we'd enjoyed our food. I put my hand on the young waiter's back and told the owner what an amazing waiter he was. "But please don't tease about deportation. That's scary." I looked into the young man's eyes and tried to offer a supportive smile.
Since Thursday night, I've been haunted that I didn't do more.
But there are things I can do every day to heal and help. I have a month left of treatment, but I'm going to need Ms. Donkey's kicking guidance much longer.
I started this complaining list/blog, in May 2016. I posted 200 gripes about my breast CANCER and then I was done.
On March 13, 2020, I started venting all over again, when another disease (starting with a C) interfered with my life. This time it was the invasion of COVID and it affected every person. I ranted for a year, until I got my COVID vaccine in March 2021.
CORONARY Artery Disease was the reason I restarted this blog on September 26, 2021. This time it was my hubby Don, who was dealing with a worry that started with the letter "C".
Coronavirus and Cancer, Coronary Artery Disease! All are evil, but none can totally get me down... if I vent! I usually end up feeling a little more positive at the end of each post!
Navigating This Mess!
The most recent post is at the top, from coronary posts in 2022, back to cancer posts in 2016.
To find past posts, look below the "Archives" section, to find "Categories".