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Oh Yeah, I Was Here To Drain The Swamp…

Ok, I’m waffling on the edge of being terrified.

First, the port placement, first set of blood draws, and first chemo appt have been set up. Once they had the correct insurance numbers, they wasted no time in heaping appointment after appointment on me. Surgery didn’t faze me at all. I went to sleep, and 9 hours later woke up with weird shaped boobs and scars for nipples. But the approach of chemo has me a little weirded out. There’s a list of symptoms that I may or may not get. And an even larger list of medications they promise will help with those symptoms. I don’t even want to the list of symptoms those medications may give me…or the list of medications for those symptoms. I’m just going to assume it’s an infinity mirror of symptoms and medications.

Second, the first insurance company sent us a refund check, but doesn’t explain what it’s for. I don’t believe that I have all the bills for up to February 28th. I don’t see where we’ve met the deductible (for that insurance company) yet. So a refund check feels a little fishy. I guess I should just cash it, and pay off some of the cancer debt. Probably just to turn around and accumulate more cancer debt. The new insurance is supposed to be better. I’m living on hope where that’s concerned.

Third, my daughter has braces. We worked out all the arrangements with the Orthodontist and the insurance company when that process started. Seems that the new dental insurance has a much lower cap, and now they want an Explanation of Benefits from the old dental insurance in order to figure out…something. I’m not clear on what. Why does the new insurance need to know what the old insurance has already paid, in order to figure out what THEY are going to pay? So I have to dig that paperwork up. All I really hear is cha-ching!

So I guess all in all, it’s just business as normal around here.Dazed and confused.

Can’t Quit. Won’t Quit.

I’m a member of a few breast cancer support groups on FaceBook. Many women answer a question in terms of their faith supporting them, and feeling that prayers helped their healing. I understand that some people need the support of their faith. I don’t begrudge them something that doesn’t work for me. But I try to give concrete answers to questions. How do you deal with the drain tubes, or getting into/out of a bed with steps, or how to know what reconstruction will entail? Well if I’ve got the same situation, I tend to tell them exactly how I dealt with that.

And today, a woman was talking about her recent diagnosis, saying her doctor recommended a lumpectomy, hormone treatment, and radiation, unless an MRI showed differently, and asking if hormone treatment was the best option. Now I’m no doctor; I don’t even play one on TV. She received a lot of answers about a lumpectomy, and hormone treatment. I answered a question she hadn’t even asked. About what happens if that MRI shows something different.

I begged her not to blow by that part, and assume that the initial diagnosis was the final diagnosis. I explained how my current diagnosis was not  even close to what the first one was. The MRI, any biopsies, and even the surgery itself can reveal things not known prior, which will require you and your doctor to reevaluate your diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s like renovating an older house. Every time you open up something, you’re going to find something else that you have to take into consideration. Doesn’t mean the estimate was wrong, just means you have new information now.

She replied that she’s gone into each new test with positive thoughts, and was disappointed that the results had been negative each time, that that this was a ride she hadn’t asked for. Yep, welcome to the crappiest club in the world, where like Groucho Marx said, if they want me to be a member, I don’t want to be a part of it! And yet, here we are. In a club nobody wants to be a part of.

I’m not thrilled with the parts I’ve been through so far. Some of it hurt during, and some afterwards. None of it has been pleasant…except the morphine. Mmmmm…morphine. But even the pleasant part didn’t last long. I’m not at all pleased with these expanders. And the idea of another surgery, months down the road, to get rid of the expanders, is not a pleasant expectation. And chemo, and radiation, and hormone therapies are no bunch of roses either.

But I’m not gonna sit here and wail “Why me?” Why NOT me? I’m not special. Hearing that I had cancer only confirmed my suspicions, it didn’t destroy me. The only thing that would destroy me is hearing that I wouldn’t be around to even see my daughter graduate high school, let alone college, or marriage. And I’m not going to let that happen while there is an ounce of strength in me. I will fight. The doctors tell me where they *think* the final gate it, but that’s only what they think today. Tomorrow is another day.

So I’ll sleep tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll get up and find out where we think the final gate is *today*. And I’ll fight in that direction.

The Big C

NOTE: This contains some descriptions of a slightly explicit nature. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

I was fine until this Tuesday. That’s when it changed. Or at least my view of things did. They don’t usually give this kind of news over the phone. They want you to make an appointment, and come in, so someone can be there to console you. But he didn’t. He asked me how I was doing, and I told him that would depend on the news he had. He didn’t pussy-foot around. “It’s cancer.” And just like that, my world changed. Again. If you know anything about me, you know about the stroke 4 years ago. If you don’t, well, that story’s here somewhere. Go ahead and look, I’ll wait. I’m beginning to think that California doesn’t like me.

So yeah, the lump I noticed a year and a half ago, which they mammogrammed and kind of dismissed as not a problem, just keep an eye on it, and if there are any changes, come back in, well there were other changes that showed up. The nipple inverted, and started having sporadic needle-like pains. So I went in. (We’ll ignore the fact that my husband got a new job, with insurance that’s not quite up to what we used to.)

So a bunch of questions later, I was directed to Radiology, for a mammogram and ultrasound. That led to an immediate recommendation for a biopsy. The doctor I was referred to for the biopsy had a bunch more questions, and because of the stroke, recommended I stay on blood thinners, something they usually have the patient stay off of for 3 days prior to the biopsy.

Do you know what post-biopsy looks like when you’re on blood thinners? There wasn’t much pain, but it looks like I’ve been kicked by a mule! Kind of like my arms did after the stroke, when the IV blew while trying to get a cat-scan.

The biopsy itself only required about a quarter inch incision. He spread a topical anesthetic, and then injected a numbing agent all around the lump. I felt just a couple of jabs before the anesthetic started working. When he inserted the core needle, I didn’t feel it. When he started taking samples, mostly I felt the cold air blasting into my armpit, but there were a couple of odd sucking sensations. Other than that, I felt nothing. But from the bruising, you’d think the doctor has slashed a few minor arteries. He sat there for what felt like 10 minutes afterwards, with his hand on my boob, just holding the incision closed and keeping pressure on it. Then he taped it closed, then put a bunch of gauze on it, and taped the whole thing up, tightly, to keep pressure on it. And ye gods, the blood all over the gown and table.

That quarter inch incision took 48 hours to stop bleeding and close up. When I took the outermost tape off that evening, it apparently ripped some skin. I developed a few blisters, and a raw spot. But incision itself was definitely still bleeding, and gaped open a bit, so I taped it shut, and gauzed and taped it like he’d done, to keep pressure on it. And again the new morning. Then just a tightly applied band-aid that night. And another the next morning. That evening, there was finally no bleeding, and the incision was closed. But of course the spectacular bruising.

That was last Friday. He called Tuesday night with the news.

I’ve been sewing a lot, to keep from thinking about it. My daughter and her friend have some cute hoodies now.

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Today, we met to talk about The Plan. The tumor is slow growing, but is 3-4 centimeters. So that throws me into Stage 2, maybe Stage 3. Since it’s slow growing, he doesn’t think chemo will be appropriate, since chemo targets fast growing cells. But it’s definitely a hormone receptive tumor, so hormone suppression is in my future. Hello menopause, what took you so long? He thinks a lumpectomy, with concurrent reconstructive/reduction surgery, is an appropriate path as this point. Possibly radiation afterwards. Subject to change. I’m meeting with a genetic counselor Tuesday, to see what kind of risk that all brings to the table. I’m supposed to hear about an appointment to get an MRI, to see if there’s anything more there that the mammogram didn’t pick up. I’m also supposed to meet with the Reconstructive Surgeon. Any one of these things could indicate a more aggressive approach. And even when we get right down to the surgery, they could find something that would also indicate a more aggressive approach. So I’ve got what feels like a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, and probably a Plan D. I’ve always said I was the Queen of Plan Bs, but this feels a little ridiculous.

Who knows? Maybe everything will go according to Plan A. Maybe at the end of all this, I’ll end up not having to go to specialty bra stores, and pay less than $80 on a bra. I’m trying to remember when that last happened. When I could go to places like Victoria’s Secret, and buy lacey little things with no real support. I’m trying, but honestly, I think it was sometime in the late 80’s/early 90’s.

Oh, and he kept referring to me as “young”, which tickled the hell out of me.

But yeah, I’ve been on edge since Tuesday. But today eased the knot in my chest. And so the journey begins. I’ve joined the Cancer Club. Let me tell you, it’s a sucky club.

Intimidating? Me?

A friend of mine posted a pic on FB about how some people in life are going to find you intimidating. I commented that I’ve had a boss tell me my co-workers found me intimidating, which absolutely floored me. I’ve never considered myself intimidating, and at 4’10” and 110 lbs soaking wet (at the time), I didn’t see how anyone could find me intimidating.

I’ve had some time to think this over. I’ve always considered myself as a little shy. I’ve realized that actually I’m just introverted, and don’t feel comfortable trying to interact with large groups. But I can be quite talkative when in smaller groups and talking about something I have an interest in. I’ve always considered my sister to be the outgoing, bold one. Slowly, I’ve remembered events over my life that have led me to understand that, yes, for some people, I can be intimidating.

During college, I was a member of a local group of women who met once a month to play some game. Everyone chipped in $5 each month for prizes the next month. If you couldn’t make a meeting, you were supposed to find a substitute who would play, and also pay the $5 for you for the next meeting. I couldn’t make one meeting, so I arranged a sub who knew all the rules. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t make it, and some of the subs didn’t know the rules, and didn’t want to pay the $5. The next day, I heard all about it from one particular friend, who I had always considered kind of an upfront and outspoken woman. She was livid, and she mentioned that she’s repeatedly said, “Well I wish Crickett was here! She knows, and she wouldn’t be afraid to tell you!” When I was bewildered at her statement, she said I’d always said exactly what was on my mind. That was the first time I’d had an inkling that other people saw me differently than the mousey person I saw myself as.

There were a couple of classes in college where I remember being quite vocal. A literature class where I and another guy, the only two grad students in the class, were the only two people who would answer the teacher’s questions. We got into a tag-team thing, where one of us would start talking, which would inspire the other to add something, which the first person would add to, and so on. I always thought that the other people just hadn’t gotten to the point of understanding that demonstrating a willingness to participate could mean the difference between getting an A and getting a B in the class. I’d already been teaching as a TA, and seen how that willingness played out in grades.

I remember a job I had after college in a plastics company. We had mandatory inventory count every 3 months, and the company president would provide lunch for all of the office workers. At one of these, the CEO told an old joke about a post-op transexual showing up at a high-school reunion, and talking to her old buddies about her surgery. Punchline was about how much it hurt to have them suck out half her brain to turn her into a woman. There was laughter from the men, and polite tittering from the women. I, on the other hand, proceeded to tell the joke about 3 men being marooned on a deserted island. When a lamp washed up on the shore, and the genie inside offered each man 1 wish, the first man wished to be the smartest man on earth. The genie snapped his fingers to make it so. The second man wished to be twice as smart as the first man. Done. The third man wished to be twice as smart as the second guy. Snap, and the genie turned him into a woman. I just looked at the CEO while there was some laughter and a lot of coughing from people trying not to laugh. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized the retaliation he could have done toward me. I mean, we were in the South, he was the CEO and I was a lowly Customer Service rep.

I remember the first job I had in the computer industry. I was supposed to write manuals for their many customized database programs, and do some testing when I had time. I’d never done testing before, and told the hiring manager so. I negotiated a good salary for starting in the South, but which I later found out was crappy for the computer industry in Colorado. The company got bought out, and a hiring freeze was instituted. I ended up QAing for 12 different project by 12 different Devs in two different offices…for 6 months. When time for salary raises came around, my boss tried to tell me that the “huge” 10% he was offering was fantastic for a person straight out of college. I reminded him that I wasn’t straight out of college, and I’d been doing the job of 2 different people by myself for the last 6 months. I negotiated a 50% increase…and got it. When I told my mother, she stared at me in amazement. She said I had brass balls the size of Texas.

That company got bought out of few times, and QA became its own department. I applied for manager and got passed over, TWICE. Once for a racist, sexist asshole. Once for a Dev that had no idea how QA worked. My boss at that time (who was actually the guy who’d hired me) told me he thought I “just wasn’t managerial.” I left shortly after, negotiating a 25% increase in salary. About a year later, my ex-boss called and asked me to meet him. I warily agreed. He apologized for not promoting me. He said he’d gone to work for another company as manager of their QA department. That when he worked with me, he’d never worked with a QA person before, so he’d never had anyone to compare me with. When he started working a several other QA people, he realized all the best ones reminded him of me. He offered me the most sincere apology I’ve ever heard, and begged me to take a Myers-Brigg test so that he could use the profile to compare to new applicants.

A couple of jobs later, I took a Contractor position at a small firm, working for a guy I’d worked for before. Several times, he gathered everyone together to persuade folks to come in on weekends at crunch times. I always declined. He pidgeon-holed me once about it. My reply? “Sure. Find me a wife, and I’ll come in on weekends.” At his puzzled face, I said, “Yeah, a wife. You know, that person that cooks, and cleans, and raises your children? Find that person for me, and I can come in on weekends. Because until you do, my husband makes more money that I do, and it doesn’t make sense for him to stay home while I work.” He never asked me again, but the story obviously got repeated because a couple of years later, the HR person privately asked me if I’d actually said that. And at my going-away party, one of my co-workers asked if it had actually happened, and wished he could be half as bold as I was.

So yeah. Intimidating. I mean, it’s still kind of a foreign concept. I’m not extroverted at all. I’m ok with speaking up in front of crowds, but I don’t seek it out. I’ll take charge of a group, but only if I see that no-one else is going to step forward, and it’s quite obvious that someone HAS to. I tend to mind my own business, and I’m rather controversy averse, but that doesn’t mean that I never state my opinions. I guess that for those folk who aren’t use to women speaking out, or think that they shouldn’t, I can kind of see how they might find me intimidating.