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Monday, June 24, 2013

Such small portions

When you get a cancer diagnosis, you start thinking about death. A lot.

I'm not planning on dying any time soon, and I kind of refuse to die from cancer, but it's out there. What's the old joke? Something about life, and how no one gets out alive.

When you get a cancer diagnosis, people sometimes talk to you about death. Awkwardly.

They say things like, "You never know, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow," and other such nonsense. I want to say back, yes, but I doubt you will spend the next year + of your life trying to dodge said bus. And how many people actually get hit by buses anyway? Something like 4,000 pedestrians get hit and killed by some kind of motor vehicle each year in the U.S. Cancer racks up half a million. Um.

Last week, there was an article in the times about something called the Death Cafe, which in the spirit of early 20h century salons, involves the discussing beliefs and theories about death and dying, with ample servings of coffee cake.

This weekend, I attended a talk a woman gave about her research into a phenomenon called Radical Remission. It's a fascinating topic that I won't go into in depth here, but she examined people whose cancer disappeared without the presence of Western medicine, and what they did to try to heal. She talked about lots of alternative therapies, but one thing stood out to me. She said that something all the patients deemed as vital to their recovery was a desire to live. It seems completely obvious. But push the thought a little farther -- it was a desire to live, not a fear of death. There's a sort of hairline type distinction there. It was, for these patients, about a reason to be here, not a reason not to be somewhere else.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Overheard in NY: Cancer edition

An oldie but a goodie...

Plastic surgeon, upon removing bandages from mastecomy: This looks really good!
Me: ...
Surgeon: Well, you know what I mean.

Monday, June 10, 2013


It has been one week since my exchange surgery -- which, for the uninitiated, means that the tissue expanders (implants designed to slowly stretch your skin and muscles in preparation for reconstruction surgery) that I'd had since August 2012 were replaced with permanent saline implants. It was outpatient surgery, so I was home and vomiting up my post-op pasta before 5pm.

After surgery, while I was still asleep, they wrapped my chest up like a mummy's, with triple or quadruple layers of gauze and ace bandages and that fabric-y tape. I wonder how they did it. Did they sit me up, one person holding me in a hug while another wrapped?

So it was a few days before I got a look at the results of the latest procedure. But I did, in that time, spend a lot of time looking at the selfies I took on my phone before I went into surgery. And holy fuckballs, they were not pretty.

I took a couple of snaps of my chest while I was waiting to sign the requisite anesthesia forms. Though I have spent the last ten months looking hard (I thought) at my new body, I realized that I hadn't truly seen it. That my brain, my blessed blessed brain, had filtered the image in the mirror into something I could handle.

I knew it was bad and that I looked like a mutant, but in a sort of abstract way or something. In these snapshots, I saw that my "good" foob (foob = fake boob), the right one, the not so bad looking one, was lumpy and wrinkly in odd places. And the left side...oh boy. It always had an odd shape because of the amount of skin that had to be removed because of the cancer's proximity. Then I developed a seroma. Then had my tissue expander had to be deflated. Then I had radiation. Then the skin started breaking down. All this made what used to be a breast look more like a freezer burned pork chop. (I am sensitive to the fact that I keep comparing my un-boob to food items...previously a squished hamburger and a collapsed flan.)

I haven't looked much yet at the latest developments. I still have surgical drains, which make everything look like a science experiment in the best of circumstances. And though these are my permanent implants, the process isn't done. The left side is still oddly shaped, because the surgeon had to take off skin too badly damaged by radiation to heal. So there's future surgical manipulation for that. And there's still several weeks or months until I achieve "drop and fluff," the vaguely cute and mildly pornographic term they use for what they implants do as they settle into the body. And then if I decide I want fipples (fipples=fake nipples...seeing a pattern here?) there's a whole bunch of other stuff to consider.

This week at home I've been thinking about the days following the mastectomy, and when the plastic surgeon took off my bandages for the first time. I have no memory of this moment. Or rather, I do, but I remember it as if I were sitting on the other side of the room, and hear myself saying, "It's not that bad." I watched a documentary a woman made about her BC experience, and her friend recorded this same moment for her. As I watched I thought, I know that face, that face she's making as she looks at her new body. That one of hardened acceptance. No tears, but lots of pain.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Game

I have determined that if I sold all my leftover painkillers on the street I'd make around $2500. Um.

Which just kind of generally reminds me of other times I've noticed that the system seems to be begging for exploitation. Like after my mastectomy, I got a check for $70,000, which was for my plastic surgeon who is out of network, but made to out to me. Really? You can't just send him that check, Blue Cross? What if I were an addict, or going bankrupt, or just generally slippery? Or the fact that I can go to every doctor and ask for highly addictive medications, and they will have no idea if someone else has already given them to me?

Anyway, off to think up clever and timely street names for my unique blend of opioids. Suggestions?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


There are nights when only Joni will do. Tonight, as I wait for the effects of the latest opioid to wash over me, is one of those nights.