I've already talked about losing brows and lashes. It was a nasty surprise, 7 weeks after chemo ended.
A month ago, I went back to the wig salon, where I got a complimentary consulation from one of the owners. She is a brow specialist AND she's been through chemo. What a relief!
She did a marvelous job, showing me how to use about 6 tools to paint on brows. I looked just like Joan Crawford's pic, without Hollywood hair, flawless skin and stunning eyes and lips. In other words, I don't need so much attention drawn to my face.
I was thrilled to see new brows growing in before Christmas. I've always had mousey hair growth, but these new hairs were coming in with great gusto. In fact, my "magni-mirror" helped reveal to me what my friends and family, with better eyesight must have been cringing at already.
I seemed to channeling the brows of the late Andy Rooney. My brows were filling in nicely, but they weren't exactly growing into a nice arch. They were popping up everywhere. Some were curling up and some were sticking straight out. I must have stood with the hand mirror in the window light for 20 minutes, the day I made that discovery. As if my brow study wasn't freaky enough, I suddenly realized the "pool guy" was in the back yard and was probably wondering about the vain woman and her mirror. I yanked the curtain closed and laughed at myself.
So, I went to a nearby brow-threading salon and got a little help with the shape. But little can be done to get those wild ones to lay down and take a nap. It will take time. At least my brows aren't white, like Andy's!
Two weeks ago I had my last radiation. Don and I celebrated and then turned the focus to Christmas. For two weeks I forgot about the subject that consumed me for 7 months. My mind was on yummier things!
When the kids left on the 26th, I suddenly reminded myself that I didn't have any surgery or chemo or radiation treatments lurking in the furture. I'd been too busy to mentally celebrate... that I was finished.
Sort of Finished
Before Christmas I had one more appointment with my oncologist. I wish I could have just taken some fancy test to tell me whether I really was done with cancer for life. But when Dr. P gave me my prescription for Letrozole, I was reminded that I will never really be done. I'll be taking this hormone blocking drug for 5 years to help lower my risk of recurrance. I'll continue to see my oncologist for is guidance in future years. At least he's young!
But I hate taking pills, especially when they might have side effects. I already know the meds affect bone density, so that means I have to take big, fat calcium tablets. Hmm? Maybe the meds will have good side effects. Maybe they will turn me into a better sleeper. I'd like that.
As I cleaned in the kitchen today, I studied all the tins and boxes of Christmas treats. Seven months ago, I became determined to change my diet and eat the foods that help prevent cancer. (Sugar is not one of them!) I was pretty darn good... until recently.
So, today, I took advantage of a fruit stand, set up by neighborhood children. I bought 12 tangerines that the kids had gotten from an uncle's farm. As I stood in the kitchen eating a dripping tangerine, I noticed the bowl of nuts...
"Beth, those nuts are not just for decoration!" I had to remind myself.
This is the first year I've not waited for New Year's Day, to start my resolutions!
It was such a treat having all 4 "kids" here for Christmas. Before I turned in on Christmas Eve, I looked at those 6 stockings and sighed.
I sighed because I always want Christmas Eve to last forever. I also sighed because we had 6 elves contributing to the stockings this year! It was so fun having help with playing Santa.
All 4 headed off yesterday.
I'm already missing these guys... and the furry one with the blue eyes!
I'm missing the things we did. Our few days together were spent mostly at home.
But we did squeeze in a little beer and polka dancing one night. There were of couple trips to the dog park. The balmy weather made the dog pond appealing to all.
At home we made time for special food, drink and music activities. Lots of baking happened in the kitchen. There was a not too serious beer sampling & scoring project.
And on Christmas night, I made sure that Heidi and I got in a little Christmas dueting.
On Christmas there were lots of goodies to open.
The best part was listening to the banter... the stories behind the gifts and why certain gifts were chosen...
Hands and Humor
Best of all, the kids kept me laughing as they always do. Scott had some fun with a set of stocking stuffer tiny hands.
Heidi and Chali hammed it up with their rings. I was amused by their silly posing, but also touched. It's nice to be reminded that these 4 will be gathering at holidaytime for many more years to come.
After cars were packed and kids were off, I expected to feel the post-Christmas letdown. I did feel sentimental and I missed them right away.
But instead of feeling the blues, I just felt so grateful that we had been able to gather all 6 of us. I no longer take anything for granted!
As I've said, my social calendar is not full. I really should be able to handle the few gatherings I've been invited to attend.
What to Wear?
It took me a long time to decide what to wear the other night. I prefer costume parties, because I'm a little more comfortable arriving in "character". It's easy to talk to strangers when everyone's in costume. Right off the bat you've got something to talk about.
But it's December and I had to go to the party as me... and see people who haven't seen me in a wig before. That's a costume, I guess.
I should have just filled my glass with ornaments. That would have been a good conversation starter. It would have also given me the excuse to give more cautious hugs.
I never realized how party hugs work with hair. Maybe it's because I'm short, but I noticed a lot of greetings involved a hug that put a hand on my wig. I should have tightened that thing better. It felt like it was going to slide right off! A wig malfunction would have been a good converstaion starter, I guess. And I was able to laugh with those I know well enough... "How's that wig feel to ya?"
I've always prefered one-on-one chats to group conversations. Over the years, I've gotten better in groups, but my socializing in the past months has been with just family and close friends. This holiday-time has sort of forced me out of my comfort zone. There are people I'm suddenly conversing with in groups, who are seeing me for the first time in a wig, with my straggly eyelashes and brows. I can tell by expressions when someone is trying to figure out why I look different. And I can tell when someone is avoiding me, because they're uncomfotable about what to say. It's awkward, until someone says something that allows me to announce. "Yes! I'm done with treatments and all is good!" and then we can move on.
Home Sweet Home
I always knew I was a bit of a happy hermit. And now especially, I crave being home, when I feel my wig getting scratchy. I'm like a horse heading to the stable, eager to get home and whip off my wig.
I will always prefer being at home with family or a couple friends or just myself. But I also know, I'm better off when I face a crowd and a few awkward moments. I learn from every one of those encounters and I grow in confidence. I'm glad to be healthy and able to join in... and to have the fun of coming home again!
Don and I don't have a busy social calendar, which is good. I've always had a hard time figuring out what to wear when it's time to dress up. But now that I've got hair issues, on my head and face, I'm even less enthused about getting gussied up.
However, when I was doing a like top-dollar shopping at Marshall's recently, I came across some fine footwear that could easily take the attention away from my head! I tried them on and thought, "No one will notice my missing lashes and brows, if I have these size 18, men's Pendelton boots on my feet!
Winter Running Style
I've mentioned my concerns over my running attire. I don't actually care about my shoe style or my 15-year-old lizard shirt. It's a head-covering issue. I'm not quite ready to run in my natural hair, which is shorter than a crew cut.
Besides, it's too cold to go bareheaded. However, the cold snap means I can wear my knit hat and look like everybody else for a change. Funny how that fuzzy white and gray hat looks a lot like the odd hair that's growing on my head now.
The best holiday surprise came, when I realized a Santa hat could be worn instead of a wig or scarf. I felt very festive when I decorated the tree. I could almost get away with wearing a Santa hat to the grocery store, parties and errands. But it actually gets very hot after a while. I'm going to sympathize with those poor mall Santas, now. That's a lot of hat wearing.
Luckily my social invites are limited, so I don't face closet melt-downs on a daily basis. And the good news is, I can still wear my clothes. I haven't gained or lost a lot of weight like some cancer patients. Mostly I'm just going to enjoy my cozy clothes at home. Get dressed up when I need to... and wonder with great anticipation what kind of hair I'll have, by this time next year!
It's been 7 months since I halted my Quilt Programs. I miss those gatherings around the quilt, sharing music, stories, games and lots of laughs.
The time I used to spend around the quilt with groups of seniors and kids, has always been as therapeutic for me, as I hoped it was for others.
Now that my treatment has come to an end, I have some decisions to make about 2017. At the 6 centers I visit, there have been changes with staff as well as residents and participants. It's hard starting back and trying to explain my program all over again. It's hard going back and finding out that some elderly seniors have passed away. 7 months shouldn't seem all that long, but it's intimidating thinking about a return, when I feel like I might not be known or remembered.
Last week, after one of my treatments, I stopped by Silverado Senior Living Center. This is the residential facility for Alzeimer's residents, where 8 years ago I modified my kids' Quilt Program for the elderly. My mother was a resident, so I had a selfish motivation. But after Mom passed away four years ago, I was so commited to the weekly gatherings, I couldn't just stop. I started up more groups.
So a few days ago I got back on the horse and headed to Silverado. I was surprised at how easy it felt. It was a treat to recieve hugs from old staff, who knew the reason I'd been away. It was sad when my dear resident friends had no idea who I was, even though they seemed delighted to see me. But that was also refreshing. I enjoyed these little reunions with folks who knew nothing about my cancer.
Kids at The Shelter
Another day, I packed up my quilt and headed towards the Women's Shelter where I've volunteered with kids for 12 years.
Again, it was nice knowing I could share a festive experience with kids who didn't know me or my health history.
I packed up some jingle bells and music. I tossed in some Christmas books and my giraffe puppet and headed over, to get in the holiday spirit.
It was a small group, which was a relief. In past years, I've organized gatherings with larger groups, lugging in gifts and food. I didn't have the energy for that. I loved sitting on the quilt with my small group and sharing some stories.
The kids were glued to the illustrations for a while. They even pulled some dolls onto the quilt to help enjoy some books.
And then those little guys were ready for more! Their eager bodies started to squirm as they pointed out Frosty.
So we stood and pantomimed a snowball fight. I have no idea if these kids have ever seen snow, but they seemed o know how to "pretend:" making a snowman with me.
Then I got out the bells and blasted a little "Dashing through the snow..." over the speakers.
In about 30 seconds I was reminded of how much energy it takes to lead a bunch of little ones, (giddy over the holiday) galloping and jingling around the shelter's playroom. Everytime the music ended, they begged "More! More!" All this time I thought I was pretty much "back to normal". Ho! Ho! Ho... I'm not. It's going to take a while. But it felt good.
I am now convinced that I'll be returning to some kind of program routine, in 2017.
I completed my radiation treatment today. 33 treatments! I got hugs from my therapists and my doctor greeted me with huge congrats. Then it was time to ring the bell.
I got my certificate, then a small group of staff gathered to witness my bell ringing. They told me to read aloud, the words on the plaque. There was something pretty corny and school-ish about that, but I was game. I read those words, then clanged that bell 3 times. Luckily I had some candy canes with me. I needed those for bribery.
Posing With Candy
I don't like being alone in the spotlight, so the others joined me for a photo.
Then someone hollered for Don to get in a picture. Don's been more than a good sport, so he happily joined me, posing with the bell and certificate. Then someone asked where my donkey was and insisted on another photo. I held up my little good-luck-mascot.
After my appointment, Don and I had a special lunch outing. We toasted with a little bubbly and had a lovely meal. It felt wonderful knowing I no longer had radiation in my daily routine. But I don't think it really sunk in... what we were celebrating.
On the drive home, I got a text from my son. I wasn't sure Scott & Heidi even knew it was my last day. (We've been busy discussing other things, like holidays.) But Scott texted his congrats and wanted to know how I felt about being done.
When we got home there was a beautiful arrangement waiting on the porch, from my daughter and her fiance. I read the note and teared up. I'm a person who acts silly with donkeys, I'm not a person who cries easily.
A while later, I got on the computer and found myself tearing up again. This time I saw Scott's post on Facebook. He was sharing my good news, with words like grace and strength. But it was his opening words, "so proud of my mama..." that put the lump in my throat.
I Get It Now
So it took me all day to get it, how this is more than just a bell-ringing day.
By the time I opened a card from Don with a note about planning a future celebration, I realized that my family was taking this day a lot more seriously than I was. I had been too busy forgetting about all the procedures, treatments and worries...
My family allowed me to remember that there is something serious behind this celebration. My kids, who posed for me, in coordinating outifts 25 years ago are all grown up. Now they have to remind Mom to be serious for moment. They gave me permission to be proud of what I've gone through.
So for a moment, I allowed myself to go back and remember last May... that agonizing morning, 200 days ago, when I worked up the courage to pick up the phone to call the kids. Don offered, but I wanted the kids to hear my voice and I knew I would feel better when I heard theirs. They both reacted with honest emotion, then strength and encouragement. From that day on Heidi and Scott and of course their dad, have kept me supported with their comforting concern and their uplifting humor.
My kids were able to remind me today, that I can enjoy the celebration and enjoy some happy tears!
My wooden donkey-mascot, usually just sits on a shelf at home. No, I do not take Ms. Donkey with me to every appointment. But since I realized I was nearing the end of treatment, I tossed her in my bag to meet a few friends at the cancer center.
My treatments are pretty quick, but over 6 1/2 weeks, I've grown fond of the 7 therapists I see daily. I always make sure I get in a few questions while I'm there. I know a little about each of them and they know a little bit about me. They've seen me wig-less and they've drawn marks on my body, so why not let them meet my butt-kicking donkey? So the other day, Ms. Donkey came along and tested out my "radiation table" ... then posed on some hands.
Yesterday, the donkey met a few more friends. She made a special stop at the front desk, where I'm greeted everyday by at least 3 big smiles and "Good Mornings!"
Meeting my Doc
I was a little hesitant about taking valuable time with Dr. Y, but how could I not? I love this doctor. He greets me each week with a huge smile and handshake. He is a doctor and a teacher... professional, yet warm.
I'm not sure anyone "gets it" when I pull out the donkey for a greeting. But I knew Dr. Y got it, when he posed my little mascot on his shoulder. I kind of hate it that Ms. Donkey is going to be out of a job, soon! But she's done a good job along the way, making quite a few laugh... especially me.
There must be 1,000 options for radiation treatments in Houston. I go to a place in a shopping center. There's nothing glam about it, but I feel so incredibly lucky to walk in that door every day. Plus the parking is free, with spaces reserved for patients, right by the door!
My Nigerian friend and I chat daily while we wait for our treaments. The other day, we both laughed about the fact that we live in the city with the highest ranked cancer hospital in the world and yet we aren't able to go there. We agreed that we are fine with not going to MD Anderson. We both trust and appreciate our doctor and staff.
My friend told me about the MD Anderson patients he has met through his work. His job at St. Regis Hotel has put him in contact with the wealthiest of patients, who fly in from all over the world to be treated. "They bring their families and sometimes book entire floors of the hotel. Sometimes they stay for a couple years while being treated..." I was shocked to picture these cash paying "customers" and it made me feel even more grateful to be surrounded by patients who are real, everyday people.
My friend told me how grateful he was for his care, since leaving Nigeria 30 years ago. We both talked about the people all over the world who don't have the means to be treated for their cancers at all. I'm glad to meet people who can remind me to appreciate what I have!
It's pretty exciting to be so near the end of my treatments! I can check surgery, chemo and radiation off my list. But there's one more thing...
In early November I got scheduled for one more little surgery, at the end of December. Not exactly a fun thing to look forward to, but I've met my deductible, so it's a treat not having to pay for meds and appointments. Plus, I'm ready to be done with this minor discomfort, that became major with my chemo treatments. I won't go into it, but I was glad to meet Dr. D and I was encouraged that this surgery would take care of things. He seemed likeable, with a decent sense of humor. As I recall, we ended up laughing about my wig. Now that I'm thinking about that jolly conversation, I'm so mad I want to throw my Dammit Doll... maybe at him.
Yesterday, I was scheduled for my pre-op. I asked the woman on the phone to check on my coverage one more time. She called me back 10 minutes later saying, she was very sorry, but there had been some confusion. My surgery was NOT covered. Then she added, "And I'm afraid Dr. D doesn't accept your insurance." "What!" I wailed into the phone, remembering how they handed my insurance card back to me in the office, saying there was no charge since I'd met my deductible. "You'll be getting a bill for that appointment, I'm afraid."
I was a mess when I got off the phone. It's too late to set up surgery with a different doctor for 2016. I'll just keep my fingers crossed that I have no agonizing flare-ups before I can schedule in the new year... with my new insurance... and a new list of doctors and facilities that I can't use.
Today is a new day and I think I have the strength to throw that doll! And I am not paying that bill.
Dreading the Drive
Back in October, I dreaded the 6+ weeks ahead. I wasn't sure what radiation would be like, but I did know what driving in Houston was like. I didn't look forward to spending a minimum of 60 minutes in the car for daily appointments.
Making it Fun
But a few friends offered to go along to appointments, now and then. It seemed silly at first, since I needed no help. But I certainly had the time and it was a great excuse to get together and talk in the car... or eat lunch after. Houston's Citycentre area has some pretty nice outdoor dining options and it was a good time of year for that!
Exploring with Don
Don was up for some fun exploring on the days he went along. We stopped on Highway 6 and ate fried shrimp at the crazy looking boat-shaped restaurant I've wondered about for 18 years. Another day we shopped and dined in Houston's Asiatown, where street signs are in Mandarin and you can find every kind of Asian food... from Taiwanese to Korean.
But for most of these 6 past weeks, I've driven myself and I've actually enjoyed it. My 10:00 appointment times have helped me avoid traffic and I've allowed extra time to avoid stress, in case I meet up with some. I've listened to NPR and heard some wonderful stories and learned about authors and artists and heroes. And I've taken different routes home, meandering through ritzy neighborhoods or different ethnic shopping areas. I've even taken my running shoes and stopped for a quick jog in a park, on a pretty day.
Two More Times
I only have two more treatments and two more drives. I never thought I'd say, "I'll sort of miss this drive."
I actually love to wear the Christmas colors. Just not on my skin.
Way back in October, I was decorated with some little clear stickers and some green llines. These marks helped the therapists locate my field of treatment. It wasn't exactaly turtleneck weather then, but I started wearing shirts with a higher neckline.
Time for a Boost!
On Thursday, when my doctor said it was time to begin my "boost treatment", I couldn't tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. It actually meant I was close enough to the end of treatments, that they would narrow down the radiation focus to a smaller area. That's a good thing.
So before starting my first boost treatment I got spiffed up with some new stickers and marks. "I hope these are Christmas stickers!" I announced, as new decorations were added to my skin. My therapist laughed and said the stickers were clear again, but my new marker color was red. "You'll be wearing Christmas colors, now!"
Acutally, I was allowed to remove the green marks and old stickers when I got home! Yay, I can wear normal shirts now!
Lately, I've complained a lot about hair loss. And yesterday morning I was distraught when I thought I lost Ms. Donkey. But the hair is growing slowly and my good luck donkey mascot was found... and I'm feeling foolish for fretting over minor worries.
Yesterday evening, I was reminded about real loss, when I heard someone I knew died unexpectedly. How could this incredibly well-liked, energetic man suddenly be gone? Hadn't I just clicked "like" to Tommy's new profile picture, after spotting his huge smile on Facebook? I pictured his son, who was in marching band with my son and I couldn't imagine the pain he must be feeling.
It's Christmastime, the hardest time to face a loss. Four years ago today, my mom died unexpectedly. Two years ago, my brother-in-law also died unexpectedly. Five years ago, I lost my much younger half-brother in December. It's not a time of year we expect to grieve.
So instead of getting mad myself for pouting over the stupid things, I'm putting a tiny angel next to my donkey and reminding myself to enjoy each day and to take no one for granted.
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. Only this time, it was affecting more than me. I ranted for a year, until I got my vaccine in March 2021.
Coronary Artery Disease was the reason I restarted this blog on September 26, 2021. This time it was 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!