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Thursday, January 31, 2013


Today was 21...if radiation days were years in an American life, I'd be out at some crappy bar downing free rum and cokes while my friends squealed "Whoo!" every few minutes.

But these are days, not years, and my whooing days are mostly in the past. So I'll celebrate with some virtual champagne, I guess...

Strangers on a train

Someone gave me a seat on the PATH train last night. This has happened exactly three times in the hundreds of train rides I've taken in the last six months. The ones giving up their seats were all young men, with familiar expressions on their faces. They don't reach out to me, in fact it seems like they're trying to get away from me, but I can tell they know my story. I always wonder about their mothers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013


Artist's rendering of carcinoma cells, angry and burnt from radiation. Soon they will be dead. Dead, I say!!

Friday, January 25, 2013


The right hand again, this time diverting attention from the nail situation to the wolf man knuckle hair situation.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

JP can't read

Nearing week six with this hideous JP drain. Ugh.

Every time I search for ways to speed up the process, google shows me ads for Roto-Rooter.

Oh the glory of it all.


Thanks to the (now defunct?) flu epidemic, every desk at the cancer center has a box surgical masks for anyone who needs them. It's hard for me to resist a free thing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Today was radiation number radiation quinceanera, if you will. I started thinking about that party would be like, and decided I'd have to have a bolus dress. A bolus is this weird thing made of pee-yellow gel that gets draped over the area being radiated. There are all different sizes, and they're kept in these flat file type drawers in the radiation room. Anyway, without further ado, I give to you A Very Irradiated Quinceanera:

Overheard in NY: Cancer Edition

Oncologist, while re-upping my Ativan prescription: Remind me of your age?

Me: I'm 28.

Oncologist: Fuck.

She sort of said it like this:

In Reply

The New York Times published a piece Sunday on its Anxiety blog entitled "You Are Going to Die." (And then a thousand hypochondriacs whispered, "I knew it!")

Side note: You should probably not be surprised that I read a blog called Anxiety.

It's a really interesting post about the way we hide from aging. We deny it in ourselves, and tuck the elderly away in odd little communities in remote, vaguely undesirable locations. I once visited an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, and was made uneasy by the fact that dozens of buzzards were circling above. Maybe something about the landscaping of that vast estate made for lots of thermals for the birds to ride. Or maybe they could just smell the imminent death.

You could say the same thing about the way we deal with illness. For as many medical dramas that line the networks' evening schedules, we aren't really interested in knowing about real human sickness. In the case of breast cancer, we prefer the glossy pink ribbon to the IV tube.

As a person with cancer, I've experienced this first hand. The conversations that begin with an emphatic "How ARE you?" and end with the eyes of the asker glazing over. Cancer has the rare distinction of being both terrifying and incredibly boring. The fact that I am in my 20's only compounds this, especially when it comes to other people my age.

When we are young we are used to reaching for the life affirming, the beautiful. We commit fully to the idea of having a future. We fall in love, start and restart our life's work, have babies. What we do not do, in the infancy of our adulthood, is die. Especially drawn out, sad, wasting type deaths, which cancer promises over and over.

So I get it. No I be wants to be reminded of that dark cloud way off in the distance. It's scary and it fucking sucks to watch a peer be confronted with death, that most unwelcome of drinking partners. But consider for a moment: it sucks just a little bit more for the person actually going through it. So buck up, confront your issues with mortality on your own time, and be there for your friend. It's good for you both.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Wednesday is the 23rd, and marks six months since my diagnosis. Since then I have been to close to one hundred doctor's appointments, including but not limited to:

- consultations
- second opinions
- third opinions
- surgeries
- follow ups
- chemotherapy
- biologic therapy
- radiation therapy
- psychotherapy
- acupuncture
- nutritional counseling
- CT scans
- PET scans
- EKGs
- echocardiograms

Instead of the above, I wish I had spent the last six months doing the following:

- eating one hundred cornetti from Pasticceria Berberini

- watching one hundred episodes of Mad Men

- petting one hundred sloths

- running one hundred miles

- reading one hundred novels

- writing one hundred pages

- baking one hundred cakes

- getting one hundred manicures

Thursday, January 17, 2013


The radiation machine shoots the rays in a specific shape that's created by the moving lead teeth. Mine starts out one shape and gradually gets smaller over the 30 second session. I'm shot from two angles. This is the starting shape of one of them.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The gowns I wear during radiation all have this pattern of a little blue circle in a black box. The pattern was really familiar to me, and I wasn't sure why...but now I think it's actually the evil eye!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Body on Strike

I think that after six months of cancer treatment, my body's gone on strike.

Up until now my body's been pretty understanding. I went back to work two weeks after my mastectomy, and though I had a few set backs, it was fine. Chemo made me feel bad, but I didn't wind up in the hospital, like many do. I caught a cold from Matt, but it didn't turn into pneumonia. I recovered faster even than he did.

But now everything's in revolt. After my second surgery in December, to replace a temporary implant that became infected, my surgeon told me I'd had to have JP drains again."Just for a few days," he said. Four weeks and counting on the drain that snakes under under my skin and around my ribs, emptying lymph fluid in a Sisyphean effort. I always have more stuff to draw out.

The start of radiation last week meant instant redness, and a generally crispy feeling.

Six weeks post chemo, and little sproutlets are beginning to grow on my head. Like those first seeds you plant in spring, they are growing so painfully slowly. By contrast, the hair under my arms is coming in at warp speed. Making up for the last four months, I guess.

In honor of my new baby hairs, my scalp has started rejecting my scarves. Now anything that touches my head makes me itchy.

My nails are nearly falling out, but won't give me the relief of actually doing so, so I clamp them down with band aids, and try not to use my hands much.

Which is easier than it sounds, since my arms muscles have become about as strong as gummy worms.

I'm running on fumes here. I'm ecstatic that I'm still chugging along of course, undeniably. I want all this, all the treatment. I'd take more if they let me. I'd do chemo every day while standing on my head in one of those terrifying glass elevators in a hundred story building, if it meant that cancer was never ever coming back. I want it all.
But still, a girl gets tired.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The hideous and inscrutable pattern on the waiting room chairs.

Aaand cue the chemo brain induced non sequitur:

Monday, January 7, 2013

The definition of irony?

This is supposed to have lots of great information on getting your brain back after chemo. The catch? The information is locked in a book.

I haven't been able read a book since my diagnosis, let alone since chemo.

The definition of irony is a slippery one, but I believe this is officially ironic.


The thing that shoots the rays. The teeth open up in different shapes to control the amount of radiation.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Radiation, Day 2

Contemplated the gradient of my gross fingernails while in the waiting room. Pinkie looks almost unscathed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Today was day one of radiation. I will go every weekday for the next six weeks or so, to get a dose a poison potent enough to kill any remaining cancer cells, but not quite strong enough to kill me.

Last week at my simulation I got tiny tattoos. The technician uses these tattoos to make sure I'm in the correct position each day. I don't feel the radiation zapping me, but they play this awful sound when the rays are undulating out, as if to say,"See you're getting your money's worth!"

I'm going to try to make a drawing a day during radiation, which I will complete while in the waiting room.

But for now I'm off to rub calendula ointment on my un-boob. Feel like I'm transitioning from science experiment to mythic monster...