She Comes In Colors

When my friend Alyssa drove me home from the hospital last Monday morning, a little more than five hours after she’d driven me to NYU Langone’s First Avenue facility, I said energetically, “You know what? I feel pretty good. I think I might even be able to go to work tomorrow.”

I hopped out of the car, went upstairs, sent a few e-mails and texts…and began a sleep marathon the likes of which Rip Van Winkle would envy.

No, I didn’t go to work on Tuesday. Nor on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Physically, the procedure to excise Priscilla from my bladder was simple and straightforward: knocked out at 7:34 am, awake at 8:35 am, discharged at 9:35 am. Apparently my surgeon told me (I don’t remember this, but Alyssa told me) that the growth “practically fell out,” the operation so mild I didn’t even need a catheter to accompany me home, a matter of much rejoicing not just for me, but also, apparently, for Amanda, my awesome discharge nurse.

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Strike, scratch, spit, hiss

I started writing this on February 8, two weeks ago tonight. And this is what I wrote:

I am cranky.

I am short-tempered.

I am overwhelmed.

There are 28 days in February. I have 13 medical appointments of one sort or another. Some are minor: pre-operative blood and urine tests (including mandatory pregnancy test. I’ll wait while you clean up the coffee you just spit onto your computer); pre-operative EKG tests; follow-up physical therapy for my mastectomy-damaged left shoulder and arm.

Some are not so minor, like the comprehensive physical exam I have to get from my GP (whom I love) so that I am certified surgery-safe, as if I haven’t spent the last two years in doctors’ offices and there might be some risk lurking out there somewhere. Three days before my surgery, I have an annual mammogram and ultrasound, which should be routine, but having had enough “routine” appointments that turn out to be anything but, I take nothing for granted.

More than the stress of the appointments themselves, stress that is relatively minimal, is the time. The time they all take. Travel time to get to the office, waiting time, appointment time. It’s not uncommon for an appointment to take three hours: travel, waiting, the appointment itself. The three pre-op appointments take place at three facilities, requiring three separate appointments.

I did laundry last week for the first time since December. I’m behind on my grading. My apartment is a disaster, and a foster kitten that won’t let me near him isn’t helping. Oh, and that kitten apparently is infected with the parasite coccidia, which he considerately passed on to Imp, on whom I’ve now spent $1,000 in the last week trying to figure out what’s ailing her—blood tests and X-rays and half a dozen medications she won’t take—only to learn that a simple stool sample would have done it.

And now I try to figure out how to medicate a kitten that won’t let me touch him. The recommendation? Medication compounded into tuna-tasting liquid, once a day for three days, for both him and Imp. Six doses of the stuff cost $75.

I’m sick of dealing with all of it. And every time I start to give in to that feeling, I remember that I am lucky, so lucky. I know several people with metastatic breast cancer. A friend is about to undergo major surgery for endometrial cancer. I know people with terminal illnesses. It might suck to have cancer twice—and it does—but at least I keep being told that I’m going to be OK.

And then I wonder…when does that luck run out? Is this the beginning of a string of cancers that I’ll deal with for the rest of my life, however long that is? I mean, how many people get TWO cancers and still end up OK? Continue reading

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Relief, But Not Respite

At least she’s cute.

As expected, I learned yesterday that the growth in my bladder is cancer, which the NYU urologist determined visually with a cystoscopy, a nifty little exam in which a tube with a light and camera is inserted into one’s urethra and up into one’s bladder. Remarkably, despite that description, it barely qualifies as “uncomfortable,” and that for only seconds.

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, I got not only to feel this exam, but also to see it, every detailed, intimate second, because the examining room had not just one but TWO television screens, one facing the doctor, the other facing me, on which I saw the inside of my internal organs as I lay on the examining table with my legs, as requested by the nurse, “in a position like a frog.”

(I get it. This is probably too much information. #SorryNotSorry) Continue reading

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Seeking Direction

Over the last year, as the last of my cancer treatments came to an end, and my hair grew back, and I regained weight, and I got some strength back, I found it hard to get rid of my identity as a cancer patient. By all outward appearances…onward! You’re healthy! You look great! We’re so glad you’re OK!

All of those comments—including some from my doctors—were well-meant, and I took them as such. They also made me question why I spent so much time thinking about my cancer, and why, in a way that felt utterly perverse to me, I was having a hard time letting it go.

My therapist gently reassured me each Sunday morning that what I was feeling was perfectly normal, that the physical effects of cancer treatment can last years, the emotional/psychological ones as long or longer. Still, I knew I wanted some kind of rulebook to tell me when it was time—or past time—to stop thinking of myself as a cancer patient.

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The Year in Review

Hello, yeah, it’s been a while. Not much…how about you?

(Bonus points if you get the reference without looking it up.)

Fear not, though, dear readers, you are not about to get 15,000 words on everything that’s happened between February 16, 2018 (the last time I posted) and now. And as there is less to communicate now than there was in the thick of things, this might be more of a processing out loud…from which you are obviously welcome to check out any time.

February: I was born on May 30, and I’m old enough to remember when Memorial Day was always celebrated on that day, not the last Monday in May. We had always a big party/barbecue at our house, and so I grew up thinking that the parades and the fireworks were all for me. My mother takes great pride in this, knowing that she stilled in her daughter a hefty dose of self-esteem.

Perhaps for that reason, when I walked out of the Perlmutter Cancer Center on February 22, 2018 having received my last dose of Herceptin, on my last afternoon with my remarkable chemo nurse Anne O’Hara, I thought that perhaps there should have been balloons or a band or something to commemorate this momentum event. Of course, I had chosen, as I did most of the time, to go to treatment alone; it was always a weird sort of relaxation and retreat. I mean, when you’re getting pumped full of medicine to save your life and have a warm blanket over your knees and free snacks and a free 10-minute massage—it kind of feels like the ultimate in self-care (a word I loathe). Continue reading

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Routine, and routines

I figured it would be weird, but I didn’t know how weird. To use the vernacular, I didn’t know that I’d be triggered.

But I’m sitting in the waiting room at the NYU Breast Imaging Center. I just had a “routine” mammogram (just like the one I had in November of 2016, except that this time, only one breast gets the treatment—this kind of imaging doesn’t work with an implant), and just like the one in November of 2016, the technician asked for additional images.

Now I’m waiting for a radiologist to look at those images before heading in for a “routine” ultrasound, something I’ve been getting for years because of the density of my breasts.

My palms are sweaty. My stomach is churning. Some of that, no doubt, is my regular anxiety about getting on a plane, which is happening tomorrow, but the longer I wait to hear back about the images, the more I just want to get out of here.

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Remembering and recovering

A year and two days ago, my left breast was biopsied. I remember a lot about that day, so much that I can’t believe it’s been a year. I remember that we had a lockdown drill at school at the very instant that I was trying to leave for my appointment, and freaking out at the possibility of being late. I remember getting furious at the NYU facility because when I arrived, I was told that the 11:30 appointment for which I had been scheduled—and to which I had rushed–was actually at 12:30, that the person scheduling the appointment had made a mistake, and that the person supposed to confirm the appointment didn’t. I remember how kind the nurse was, despite my touchy (that’s putting it mildly) anxiety.

I remember being told ahead of time that I might be sore, and that I was supposed to bring a supportive bra with me, maybe a sports bra. So that’s what I did, but I remember, in the changing stall, wishing I’d brought my favorite, firm orange bra, the one that cheered me up with its color. It was a long time before I could look at that bra again without associating it with that day. I remember the clothes I wore, and how hard it was to wear them again.

I remember leaving the appointment in the building at 34th and 3rd, the building that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would soon become a building that I’d visit more frequently than anywhere except Packer and my apartment, and I remember walking on a gray, temperate day. I remember being hungry but having no appetite; anxiety does that to me, and it’s a struggle to eat anything, but on that day, as I wandered downtown, no destination in mind, but not quite ready to get on the subway and head home, I found myself on Sixth Avenue around 20th and I remembered Sammy’s, the Chinese food stalwart that I’d frequented when I’d first moved to New York, and I got dumplings and won-ton soup, anxiety food that would soon, unbeknownst to me at the time, become a staple of my diet. Continue reading

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Equal Time

A year ago this past Friday, I went for a routine mammogram. The radiologist told me that she wanted me to have a biopsy, but that her concern was at “the lowest end of the spectrum.”

She said I could have the biopsy in about three weeks—an eternity to me—and that there was no way she could reasonably schedule something sooner, because she didn’t expect me to have to see a surgeon.

Famous last words. I’ve often thought about writing to her and letting her know that on this one, her diagnostic skills weren’t so sharp.

I’ve now been off chemotherapy for longer than I was on it—which means that not being on chemo is now normal again, but somehow, that feels weird, and almost not normal. Continue reading

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The Ts That Bind

Happy September! Happy back to school! Happy…end of summer?

OK, scratch that last one.

The short version: summer was great, I feel great (except that I’m still sooooo tired), my classes this year are full of terrific kids, and I have tremendous colleagues that I am so glad to see again daily.

The longer version will wait a bit–the good news is that there’s not much in the way of medical news to report, though treatment is ongoing for probably another five months.

More on all of that shortly. For now, here’s something I wrote this week at the request of one of my editors, and it will tell you a lot about how I spent my summer.  Continue reading

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We’re Off at Saratoga

It’s 59 degrees and raining as I write this, not exactly the Saratoga summer I’d envisioned, but after the uncertainty of the last few months, I’ll take it. Yes: with doctors’ encouragement, I made it to Saratoga, last Wednesday evening.

I met with Dr. Oratz, my oncologist, last Monday, the day my antibody treatment resumed. Herceptin and Perjeta, antibodies that were part of my initial 12-week chemo treatment and developed in the last 15 years or so, work exceptionally well on Her2+ breast cancer; without them, it’s quite possible that my case would have been entirely different. Every three weeks for the next few months, I’ll get them via IV at NYU—they are not chemo, so there are few side effects.

But all that seemed a side note to the burning, elephant-in-the-room question: To radiate or not to radiate?

And Dr. Oratz was unequivocal:  No. Continue reading

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