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Monday, December 31, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Carrying a Torch

Okay, so you know that Taylor Swift song We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together? (I've never actually heard it, I swear! I've just seen the title.) I'm beginning to think that my hair actually wrote that song about me. I know I'm less than a month out of chemo, but sometimes I get the sinking feeling that my hair is never coming back.

I guess I kind of deserve it, you know? I never paid it much attention. I hardly ever got it cut by a professional. I never blew it dry, didn't buy it any nice products. When my oncologist told me I would lose it, I said, "I don't care." That was probably the last straw.

I scrounged through many iPhoto libraries to find this, the prettiest picture of me and my hair. Don't we look happy together?

I don't want to brag, ya know, but just look at it. All golden and flowing and shit. And here's what I look like now:

Artist's rendering
Basically like a skinned Idaho potato. If you're out there, hair, come home to me. I promise I'll treat you right this time.

If anyone wants me, I'll be in my room...with this song on repeat, 8th grade style.

Songs to snooze to

The Beatles, they get it.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

RTONJ Presents: Traumarama

When I was a preteen, and obsessed with being an actual teen, I spent a lot of time with the high school mags, like Sassy, YM, and of course, Seventeen. One of my favorite parts of Seventeen was the totally true, not at all exaggerated embarassing stories section called Traumarama.

These have gotten a lot racier since the 90s!

I had an experience recently which would have been perfect for Traumarama: Breast Cancer edition. Imagine this is printed opposite an interview with Gwen Stefani, with a tear out sample of CK One stinking up the room.

"I was a little over a week out from surgery, and still lugging around a JP drain. I kept the bulb of it pinned to my surgical bra, so all you could see was a bulge under my shirt. After acupuncture (to help with the symptoms of early menopause) I stopped in to one of my favorite stores. The sale section with crowded, but for some reason, the other shoppers were giving me a wide berth. After a few minutes, I noticed something hitting my leg repeatedly. I finally looked down, and saw my half-full drain dangling for all to see! I quickly shoved the drain into my jeans. I was mortified! Then it turned out my crush was there the whole time! OMGOMGOMG!!!"
- Emily H., 28, Beth Israel

JP drain accidents are the breast cancer equivalent of getting your period while wearing white jeans.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Today was a landmark day: my first shower since my surgery on Monday. (Um. Sorry about the smell guys.) I have these blasted surgical drains in, which can't get wet for a few days, so I've been scrubbing down with baby wipes. Until now!

In addition to being the first time I bathed, it also means it's the first time I disrobed, and the first time I saw the effects of this latest procedure. I've gotten used to my body not looking the way it should, so the fact that my already malformed left boob now looks like a caved in flan was less upsetting than you might imagine.

While regarding my latest transformation in the mirror, I remembered this thing I read about a few months ago: the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi. I believe the term literally means "gold joinery," but the gist is this: rather than discarding a broken bit of pottery, or fixing it with ugly metal staples, in the 15th century the Japanese began repairing broken things with gold. In effect, making the broken things more valuable and beautiful than their intact counterparts. Here are a couple of examples:

It's an idea I relate a lot to. I like the idea of not hiding the truth about an object, and this treatment reminds me of the drawings I was doing after college. In those drawings, I left in my mistakes, because they were a part of the process. (You can see some here.)

And there's also of course the sappy thing about being better with your cracks and damage than you were before. I was at a support group last night for young women with breast cancer, and as always, the topic of "you'll be so much stronger than before!" came up. I don't doubt that this is true for many people. But isn't it also possible that it's just some crappy stupid thing people say? (I've been guilty of saying it myself.) Like when a birds shits on your head, and someone says "Oh, that's good luck!" Is it really, or is it just that a bird pooped on you, and it sucks, and that's all? Having gone through this before with Matt, I can't really say for sure if it made me stronger. I always feel like it made me a worse person -- more judgmental, less forgiving, even more anxious.

And even if Matt's cancer and now my own do somehow make me a better person, I think perhaps I'd rather still be the pre-cancer Emily. I think I'd rather be the weaker version of me. Just saying.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Alright, fine... here's a hint, just a hint, of post op surgical bra cleavage.

Surgery at High Noon

Last week I was like:

Now I'm like:

Minus the hair twirling, natch.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Back to Zero

Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting, 1951

In my yoga class on Sunday night, the teacher talked about the mathematical concept of zero. Ancient Indians were one of the first civilizations to conceive of know, as a thing. She talked about zero for a few minutes, and the strangeness of the concept of nothing, and how you can name something that by its very nature is unnameable because it doesn't exist. Then she said something like, "Before you go anywhere, you have to start with zero." As is becoming the norm in yoga, I cried.

The topic hit me in a couple of very intense, personal ways. The first, which was evident immediately, was the idea of zero or nothing being part of an experience, or part of a journey. (I really hate the word journey in this context, please forgive me for using it.) I realized I spend a lot of time feeling upset and freaked out about the things I would be doing if not for this pesky disease. I feel lazy, I feel afraid I won't ever accomplish anything, that this has knocked me off course forever. My plastic surgeon is always telling me to work less, and how weird it is that he has to say that, and why don't I just enjoy taking a break? I guess I've always subscribed to that adage about sharks, and how they have to keep moving forward or they die.

When cancer silenced the steady, productive thrum of my life, I felt terrified about what that meant. Now, I'm going to try to be comfortable at zero (for the time being).

Zero is interesting also in thinking about this disease more generally. They don't use the term "in remission" with breast cancer. They say "no evidence of disease." I get it, you can't prove a negative, but I really fucking hate the way that's phrased. I'm someone who thrives on evidence, on litmus tests, on "is it or isn't it" type situations. The goal of this treatment is to kill every speck of disease inside me...but there's no way to prove it. The very fact of the absence of disease makes my status unknowable for certain. It's another version of zero I will have to embrace...or at least stare awkwardly at from across the room.

Throughout our class on Sunday night, the teacher had us practice pranayama, a breathing technique which roughly translates to the suspension of breath. After completing an exhalation, you wait a bit before inhaling again. Not so much that it makes you uncomfortable, just so that you are aware of your breath as deliberate, and not automatic. At first, it was a strange feeling, but by the end of the class, there had been a few moments when I got very comfortable in between breaths. I was in the nothing space. And it was okay.

Friday, December 7, 2012


The last edition of CHEMO JAMZ. No original Dylan on Youtube, so make your selection: 60's cheesy prettiness, or sad 90's Jeff Buckley.

Stay tuned for new songs for a new phase.

La Fin du Taxol

On the last day of Taxol, a photo essay of chemo detritus.

 First day.

 Old school ID.

PM pills.

 Track mark constellation.

 The juice.

 Where the action's at.


Number of Taxol doses: 12
Number of needle sticks: 25
Nurses, in order of frequency: Cordelia, Fabianca, Kate, Lauren, Anne
Veins blown: 1
Liters of water drunk: =/< 252
Number of books read: 0

Monday, December 3, 2012

Went to 11

Back in September, when I was just starting chemo, I stopped into a Duane Reade to buy water. (I've done chemo without a port, so I've been working hard to keep my veins plump and ready to receive weekly IV drugs. I normally hardly ever drink bottled water, but the bottles help me keep track of how much I drink. In addition, the chemo gives everything, including most water, a really gross metallic taste. So I've developed an $8/day Evian habit. But anyway.)

I was buying three 1.5 liter bottles of Evian, my water for the day. The woman at the checkout said to another woman, "I need to start drinking this much water every day." The other woman said, "They say if you can do something for a month, you can do it forever."

Which is kind of a weird thing to say.

But actually it's halfway true. A couple of years ago a study that said it takes 66 days to make any particular activity into a habit.

Friday was Taxol #11. Sometime in the last few weeks, I stopped getting nervous the night before chemo. I got lax with my water intake. Side effects that were so distressing last month are now just part of life. I learned to schedule around them. I became cancer girl, so I got used to chemo.

With the penultimate dose of Taxol under my belt, and the final one at the end of this week, I am wondering where things go from here. (I will be officially done with chemo -- however, I will still visit the chemo center every three weeks for the next year, to get my IV infusion of Herceptin.)

It's hard to picture there ever being a time when I don't feel like cancer girl. I'm so used to being bald that I can't see myself as someone who has hair, for instance.

I know I can't go back to who I was before this happened. I'll always have numerous scars to remind me. But when my treatments are finished, I look forward to meeting my new new self, and getting into the habit of being her.

Number of needle sticks: 2
Number of veins blown: 1
Annoying-ness factor of on-call intern I spoke to on the phone about said vein: 7/10


Mondays after chemo are not fun. But this guy helps me through.

Staying in bed all morning is a big sacrifice, but he does it just for me.