Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Am Thankful

On this cold, quiet Thursday morning, I am thankful for so very much. 

  • I am thankful for the roof over my head. My house is small. My yard is huge. They both need a lot of work. But this has been our home for the past six-and-a-half years, and a very sweet home it's been. 
  • I am thankful for the Highlander sitting outside. It's nearing 200,000 miles, it's survived a rollover accident, and it's lately sprung an oil leak of indeterminate origin, but it has kept Riley and me safe and delivered us to all sorts of wonderful places over the past seven years, and it still runs.
  • I am thankful for my job. It is trying and stressful at times. And sometimes it's just boring. But it challenges me, and allows me to work with some wonderful people, and put food on the table.
  • I am thankful for my radio gig. Every Tuesday evening I get to chat with good friends and interesting guests about all manner of things political (and sometimes not). I get to research and contemplate topics that fascinate me and then share my views on them. I get to follow my passion.
  • I am thankful for this wonderful country of ours. It's easy to focus on the negatives and become overwhelmed with all that isn't right. But we live in a beautiful, bountiful land.  In a nation built on the bedrock principle of freedom.  A republic if we can keep it. 
  • I am thankful for the men and women who serve our country in the military. Who put their lives on the line to keep us safe. Most especially those who are doing so today, far from their families and loved ones.
  • I am thankful for the nurses and doctors and other medical personnel who have cared for me these past few months.
  • I am thankful for my health -- though it obviously hasn't been perfect of late. I'm still here. I'm still strong.  I will heal.
  • I am thankful for the furballs who inhabit my house.  Pringle with his waggy, destructive tail and big, expressive brown eyes; Hurricane with his hair band and ice chip fetish and Stormy with his squeaky mewl and affinity for all bags and backpacks. I can have a horrible day, and then one of them will come lay his head on my lap or snuggle up against me, and all seems right with the world again.  And even poor Louis, the fish. Even though he can't really cuddle, it makes me smile to say hello to him in his little bowl on the counter each morning.  
  • I am thankful for my friends, both near and far. Most especially this fall, I've come to realize just how blessed I am to know so many wonderful, kind-hearted, supportive people.
  • I am thankful for my inner circle -- the ones who have held my hand when I was low and belly laughed with me when life made us high.
  • I am thankful for my extended family -- my passel of cousins whom I don't get to see nearly enough, but am able to keep up with compliments of Facebook. 
  • I am thankful for my immediate family -- my parents who still look after me even though they're 80 and I'm 45. They help me in so many ways, and I am so thankful to have them nearby.  My brother and sisters and their families -- I am so very lucky to be close to them all. I know more than a few people who don't have the greatest relationships with their siblings. God blessed me with three of the best anyone could ask for and I love them all more than words can say. 
  • I am thankful for my daughter, who's still fast asleep in her room right now. She looks so sweet when she sleeps.  And also when she's awake. She is kind and thoughtful, funny and insightful. She helps me so often without being asked, and even when I do have to ask, she generally does without too much eyerolling. She is becoming a lovely young lady and I am so proud to be her Mom.
  • I am thankful for my love, David. I've said this more than a few times: Had I sat down at a drawing board and attempted to draw up the perfect match for me, it would be him. He is so smart and funny, so thoughtful and caring.  He is supportive and generous.  He is strikingly handsome.  He has a wonderful family who've welcomed me warmly.  He is an amazing Dad to his girls.  He is such a good man, and so good to me and for me. I am a very lucky girl.
My life is far from perfect.  But later today, I'll watch football, and maybe paint some of my kitchen to its cool new shade of gray. I'll prepare some Bacon Cheddar Bites as appetizers, and travel with my daughter out to my brother and sister-in-law's gorgeous home in Augusta.  I'll share dinner with them and their family and my folks. And I will give thanks, for all that has been given me.  

Monday, November 25, 2013


"I'm waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I'm breathing in the chemicals"

Yeah. I was going to try and find a way to tie in this newest phase of my journey through Breast Cancer Land to the Imagine Dragons' popular hit, but instead, the lyrics seem to match up more with my recent adventures in home renovation, than with my cancer treatment.  And, fact of the matter is, when I think of "Radioactive," it's The Firm's version that tra-la-la's through my brain.  Yes, I truly am a child of the Eighties.  

Anyway, though I did begin my treatments today, I'm not actually radioactive.  Think I mentioned this in the previous blog, but I'm receiving "external beam radiation," rather than "internal radiation therapy" or "brachytherapy." I think I like the sound of external beam radiation better -- it sounds almost space age in a Star Trekky kind of way.  

Come to think of it, the process itself has a sort of other-worldly sense to it.  Once I'm properly begowned, the tech walks me into a vault-like room -- it has a heavy door that's about 6 inches thick and a lot of large pieces of equipment that look like an old mainframe.  I lie on a table on my back, arms outstretched above my head, and this roundish device with a glass covered face swivels around me at various angles.  When it's directly above me, I can see a bright green line from it lining up with the marks on my chest (which I can see in the reflection of the glass.)   When it's to the side, I can see its innards adjusting to various positions. They look like squared-off metal teeth, sort of like the steel comb inside a music box, and call to mind a space alien working its mouth into various expressions.  Only the machine isn't there to gobble me up.  Just to briefly emit some rays at me.   And the process is brief -- once they have me on the table and lined up, the beam-shooting itself only takes 5-10 minutes.  

And then I'm done for the day and off to work.  I'm told the effects are cummulative, and the fatigue and skin irritation won't kick in until about week three.  For now, I feel no different.  I'm supposed to try and keep my arm out to the side whenever possible to lessen the heat build up.  And supposedly I can wear deodorant (y'all can thank me whenever you see me), but it's a special kind that's supposed to be less irritating.  Seems I also may want to invest in a couple of comfy sports bras as those of the underwire variety can add to the irritation.  

The weirdest instruction I've been given thus far?  There are special parking spots up front, right next to the building for "Cancer Center Patients."  I've seen them whenever I've gone, but eschewed them, assuming they are reserved for, you know, Cancer Center patients!  Of which I am one.  I keep kind of forgetting that. 

I did sneak my pal Chernobyl (compliments of my friend Annie) into the treatment room with me.  He stayed in my purse, though.  I think he's already radioactive enough.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Set Free

A year ago today, I made a fateful decision. Though I couldn't have known at the time just how much it would change my life, I do recall how knotted my stomach was as I made it. I wavered for a long time, and almost reversed myself three or four times, before committing to it. 

I'd spent a long time fashioning that cage for myself. I fancied it necessary -- to protect myself from the hurts and disappointments I was certain awaited me outside it. Thing is, hurts and disappointments reached me inside it, as well, but they were of the familiar sort, and I took cold comfort in them. I chose to dance a sad, slow dance with the devil I knew.  But a devil is still a devil.  And it really wasn't better.  

Intellectually, I knew that. But it took a very long time for my heart to accept it.  And as I sat by myself in a quiet house last Thanksgiving Day, reflecting on my life, where I'd been and where I was versus where I wanted to be, I knew that the time had come to make a significant change.  And so I opened the door to my cage and warily stepped out.  

It scared me. It made my heart race and my palms sweat, as I was certain it would.  But it surprised me, too, how free I suddenly felt. And the more steps I took away from it, the more I realized just how much a prison my cage had been.  It really hadn't kept me safe.  It had kept me sad.  

This being the month we celebrate Thanksgiving, I've seen a lot of people sharing their reasons for being thankful each day on Facebook. It's a lovely idea and tradition, and I thought about joining in, but frankly, got distracted and lazy.  I didn't want to let today pass, however, without acknowledging just how thankful I am that last Thanksgiving Day, I finally set myself free of the notion that bittersweet was my destiny and happiness would forever remain just out of reach. Amazing how much easier it was to get to once I left my cage behind.    

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aren't Enough Days in the Month...

I often feel like there aren't enough hours in the day, days in the week, etc., to accomplish all the things I want to accomplish.  I'm sure I'm far from alone in that feeling.  Today, I learned that there aren't enough days in the month (of December, specifically).  I hadn't honestly taken the time to sit down and do the math regarding my prescribed 33 radiation treatments and the number of week days (minus holidays) between now and year's end.  

Any other time of year, it wouldn't matter nearly so much.  But I'd really been hoping to finish up my treatments in this calendar year.  Not so I could start the new year with a "clean slate" (to go along with a clean bill of health.)  No, this is purely mercenary on my part.  You see, January 1st brings with it not just a new year with all its promise, but also a new deductible to meet.  Bleearrrggghhh!!  

Okay, enough with that. At least I still have insurance.  For now. So there's that.  Also, political geek that I am, I find it vaguely amusing (in a sort of dark and twisty way) that the Senate and I are both going nuclear at the same time.

Today's appointment was essentially a "practice run" for my treatments.  The techs had me lie down on the treatment table, adjusted me this way and that, then added some new ink to the right side of my chest, to make sure that everything would line up just so when they do start zapping me.  They took some x-rays and additional photographs to record the proper coordinates and such.  And that was that.  Nothing painful about it (thankfully). The one tech was profusely apologetic when he had to pull the old plastic tape off me, but really, pulling a bandaid off is the least of my worries these days.  

At the end of the appointment, I was handed my schedule of treatments.  The good news is I got the early morning slot for most of them, and, now that I've dutifully added all of the appointments to my calendar, have determined that none of them appear to conflict with court appearances or other work-related matters already on it.  The bad news is they stretch from next Monday to January 13th. Meh.  Financial considerations aside, it's good to know I'll be essentially done with treatment in less than two months.  And whatever cruddiness comes along with radiation will be offset to a certain degree by the fun of the holiday season.  

Again, I have to acknowledge I'm lucky in so many respects, and thankful for the continued well-wishes and support of family and friends. Now if I could just figure out the trick to increasing the number hours in a day....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Permanent Marker

Those of you who read the most recent installment of my breast cancer blogs may recall I mentioned that, rather than being "tattooed" in preparation for my radiation treatments, the doctor indicated they would simply use permanent marker.  His rationale was that a tattoo truly is permanent, whereas permanent marker will eventually wash/wear off one's skin, and he doesn't believe most breast cancer patients necessarily want that permanent mark and reminder of their treatment.  

Well, I can only speak for myself on this one: Honestly, it wouldn't bother me one way or the other.  Just as the biopsy scar doesn't bother me, or the surgical scar (which I keep being told won't even be visible.) They've become part of who I am and, like all scars do, tell a story.  It's not a story I'm likely to forget, either, with or without the marks. Experiences like this tend to stay with you.  Now, I can see how for some that might be a bad thing, something they'd prefer to forget and put behind them.  And maybe I'll feel differently about it a few months or years down the road.  Certainly, I hope this never becomes something -- the thing -- which defines me. But is it shaping me?  Is it leaving a mark?  Yes. Hopefully in a way which makes me stronger, not weaker; weathered, not damaged. 

Yesterday I went in for the CT scan and requisite marking so that the radiation oncology folks can map out my treatments.  First, though, another mammogram was needed -- not for diagnostic purposes, but for positioning purposes.  Now, here comes the part I'm a little loathe to share, though I have spoken about it to some friends and family, and even discussed it on the radio show with Josh last night:  It really hurt.  I've been feeling quite lucky that, post-surgery, I really haven't had all that much pain.  A little sensitivity and tenderness still around the incision, but it's what I've likened to that feeling your skin gets when you're starting to come down with the flu -- kind of achy and annoying, but really nothing in the whole scheme of things. That is, until it was time to be squooshed again.  This may not come as a surprise to many, but significant squooshing of recently-operated-on boob does not feel good.  At all.   

The tech could see it was hurting me and advised me to grit my teeth.  I assured her, I already was.  I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised by this either, but given my past mammography experiences (somewhat uncomfortable, but not painful), and my relative lack of pain since the surgery, it really didn't occur to me.  My reluctance to share that is not embarrassment or shame on my part -- I know it's okay for me to admit that some things hurt and this whole experience isn't rainbows and unicorns -- but I don't want it to scare any one of my readers away from having the all-important screening mammogram!  Because they don't feel like that. And honestly, I suspect a month from now, it probably wouldn't feel like that for me, either.  But I've been somewhat in a hurry to get going with the radiation because, quite frankly, I'd like to get it done before the end of the year so that I won't be starting over with a new deductible and significant medical bills.  (More on that in a moment.)  Anyway, point being, that it probably is okay for folks to give themselves a little more time to heal post-surgery before hopping back in the MammoMat.  So, that would be my advice to anyone else going through this if asked -- assuming the docs say it's okay.  

That said, I (obviously) survived the squooshing.  The rest, after that, was pretty much a breeze.  I was directed from Mammography down to Radiation Oncology (just the next floor down -- I'm becoming quite familiar with the layout of the Cancer Center these days.)  There, I was placed in the CT scan machine -- which, for those who've not experienced it, is not unlike an MRI machine, only instead of a long tube, it's really more like a doughnut.  You lay down on the table and it rolls you back and forth under the scanner. The tech positioned me and made note of it all so that they can be sure to position me the same way each time.  Then the doctor came in and drew some marks on me which will serve as the blueprint for where they deliver the radiation. Though it's permanent marker, it obviously would wash off between now and the end of my treatment, so they put a clear plastic tape over the top of it.  As I mentioned on Facebook yesterday afternoon, I look a bit like I did battle with a Sharpie -- and the Sharpie won.  

Next up, the folks at Radiation Oncology will finish calculating everything and setting up my plan, then call me back to officially schedule my treatments.  And then I'll enter the "radioactive" phase.  (Yes, that song is permanently stuck in my head.)  Not really, though.  External Beam Radiation (which is what I'll be getting) does not make a patient "radioactive." So no glowing or setting off geiger counters for me!  And friends and family ought not fear being irradiated by hanging with me.

Now, on a more serious note, as I was ruminating on this latest entry, I came across this article:  "Death By Obamacare: 'Reform' Reams Cancer Patients."   I shared it several places and noted that, yes, this pisses me off.  It should piss everyone off.  Because under the guise of assisting those who were (involuntarily) uninsured, our government has done a serious number on us.  Rather than simply expanding Medicaid and other programs designed to help those with lower incomes and/or in high-risk categories, and raising taxes to do so (which would have been far more straightforward, but, of course, tantamount to political suicide), instead, we've been handed a top-down, one-size-fits-all program which, in truth, fits few.  The net result of it is that many of us are having insurance plans with which we were content canceled and/or finding our premiums and deductibles skyrocketing. (See?! We're not really being taxed more -- we're just having to pay more, which is a completely different thing, right?!)  What's worse, as the article rightly notes, the ripple effect of this is forcing many providers out of certain networks and forcing patients to either sever their ties with doctors with whom they already have a relationship, or pay tons more out of pocket.  

I've spent the past two months becoming acquainted and comfortable with a staff of medical professionals who've helped me navigate a significant health crisis.  I've relied on them to help me fight this battle and developed a level of trust in their care.  I've managed to remain somewhat Spockian throughout this adventure, and approach it clinically, rather than emotionally.  But if I were suddenly told that I'd have to switch everything up, or find myself out significant additional funds, I'm pretty sure I'd lose it.  

Fortunately, I'm one of the lucky ones -- even though my plan is being canceled, I was given the opportunity to renew it now (rather than in July) so it will be good until December, 2014.  Assuming my treatment goes as planned, I should be pretty well done with everything long before then, and just following through with regular screenings.  But what if I'd been diagnosed this time next year?  I'd have to hope and pray that whatever "government-approved" plans are available to me would still include this network of doctors and not cost considerably more out of pocket.  As I said, I'm one of the lucky ones.  For now.  A lot of other folks aren't. 

Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences often is written not just in permanent marker, but in indelible ink.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


There was a time when I attempted to write most every day.  In an effort to do so, I resorted to sharing my daily "smiles" -- it was a bit lazy on my part, I'll concede, but it also was an attempt to acknowledge and express my gratitude for the many blessings each day brings.  

Well, it's time for a confession: I can't do it.  I cannot guarantee I'll have something to say each day that even marginally qualifies as decent blogfodder.  All I can promise is to try to have something arguably interesting to share on a relatively regular basis.  (How's that for lowering expectations?) 

Speaking of expectations, I noted earlier this evening that today is 11/12/13, and it's hard to ignore the fact that my life is so very different than it was on 10/11/12.  I can't tell you off the top of my head what I was doing on 10/11/12, or what my mood was that day.  I can only say, with certainty, that I'm in a much better place today than I was then.  Which might sound a little suspect coming from a gal who's currently undergoing cancer treatment, but, yeah, that aside, I'm in a way better place. 

And while I have no way of knowing for sure what the future holds, honestly, I sit here tonight optimistic and excited to see where life will have taken me by 12/13/14. Maybe that's naive. But I'm glad for it. It's nice to look forward with anticipation rather than apprehension.  It's a gift. And I'm thankful for it. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Well, Don't I Feel Silly?

I've had more doctors' appointments in the past few weeks than in the past 10 years. I don't know why that surprises me, but it does. I guess I never really stopped and thought about the number of specialists and appointments necessary to actually oversee one's battle with breast cancer. I wouldn't blame other cancer patients or their loved ones if their response to the above involved eye-rolling, or smacking me upside the head were I within reach. And now that I think about it, it does seem rather...naive (perhaps too kind a word) on my part. Anyway, I don't mean to complain -- the doctors and their staffs have all been great. And my employer has been very understanding. I think it may just be the reality of it all sinking in.

It's not a bad reality, really. I had my follow-up appointment with the surgeon last week. She confirmed that all is healing well and that the pathology report from the surgery showed "clean margins," meaning no further surgery would be necessary. So it was time to set up appointments with the radiation oncologist and the medical oncologist. (Maybe that's part of it, too -- the multiple scheduling phone calls and reiteration of medical history.)

I met with the radiation oncologist on Friday. He outlined the various radiation methodologies and why the standard treatment is indicated in my case. For me, that will mean 33 sessions -- every day, Monday through Friday for the next six-plus weeks. They'll start out radiating the entire breast and then "boost" the radiation to the actual site of the cancer. But first, they have to map everything out and get the proper boob coordinates -- which involves another mammogram and then a CT scan, which I'll undergo tomorrow. Then they'll mark the target area(s) -- with permanent marker, not tattoos, as are sometimes used. I'm hoping they can get me scheduled for the early morning (7:30 a.m.) radiation sessions, but those are highly coveted spots, so we'll have to see. He confirmed I can expect to encounter some fatigue, and also some skin irritation. There also will likely be some scar tissue (internally), but, hey, when you alter things surgically and then nuke them, I guess that's to be expected.

Today I got to meet with the medical oncologist to review my options regarding medication. Tamoxifen is often recommended for breast cancer patients for five years post-surgery and radiation. At least for those whose cancer cells respond to estrogen. Mine do, and given my age, (45 as opposed to 65 or 70), it's a reasonable option. The survival rate is the same with or without it. The recurrence rate is somewhat lower with it than without it. But it also comes with some side effects, and, after reading up on it, I was kind of hoping they wouldn't strongly recommend it for me. They didn't. Again, it's a reasonable option, but so is foregoing it, so I've opted for the latter. (I realize that this may invite others to weigh in with their opinion on my decision, and that's fine. But it's my decision and I'm comfortable with it. The doctor was, as well.)

Anyway, I wanted to bring folks up to date, as many have asked how everything is going. I haven't meant to be evasive or uninformative. I just didn't have much more information to share until the past couple days. Oh -- one bright spot -- all three doctors who've seen me in the past week have remarked at how well the incision is healing and that they don't think the scar will even be visible. So that topless dancer thing could still work out for me! (I'm kidding, Mom.)

Thank you again to all who've reached out with encouraging words and prayer. Y'all have really helped make this easier.

One last note -- I saw this article today and shared it on Facebook: "ABC News' Amy Robach Reveals Breast Cancer Diagnosis" Another reminder of just how important mammograms are. Get yourselves checked, ladies!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Did You Seriously Just Create Your Own Facebook Page?!

Conversation I had with myself yesterday:

Me: "I really feel like I need to have two separate blogs, but I wish there were a way to better integrate them."

Me2: "What if you created a Facebook page where you could post both?"

Me: "Like an actual page, page?  Like for companies or brands or celebrities?!"

Me2: "Sure.  Why not?"

Me: "But I'm not a celebrity. And treating 'SmoosieQ' as a brand seems so, so..."

Me2: "Savvy from a marketing/publicity/increased readership standpoint?"

Me: "Tacky. And narcissistic."

Me2: "You do realize you write about yourself, your life, your opinions, all the time -- and that you publish your writing hoping others will read it, right?"

Me: "You have a point."

So that's how I ended up with a separate Facebook page serving as a place to aggregate my blogs.  And hopefully radio archives/links.  And this is my self-conscious way of thanking those who've been kind enough to click "Like" in response to my invitation to do so.  

I figure other bloggers whom I admire do it.  It seems to be a marginally acceptable method of self-promotion. So...I'll give it a try, at least.  Although now I feel some added pressure to regularly produce quality writing.  Which might not be a bad thing.  I guess we'll see.  Anyway, thank you for *Liking* my page. I hope not to disappoint!