Sunday, April 30, 2006

Discretion and Valor

Felt better this morning.

Went to the writers' conference.

Came home.

Did everything we had to do before leaving for DC.

Felt worse again.

Called off the trip.

Moped around the apartment.

Moped around the neighborhood.

Resisted buying a whole box of Yankee Doodles.

Searched in vain for an individual package of Yankee Doodles.

Eschewed individual packages of HoHos.

Eschewed individual packages of Ring Dings.

Eschewed individual packages of Twinkies.

Eschewed individual packages of Ding Dongs.

Eschewed individual packages of Yodels.

Eschewed individual packages of Sunny Doodles.

Finally settled for Devil Dogs.

I don't care what anyone says.

They're just not the same.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


It is Week 3.

This is the week I am supposed to feel swell.

The week after the week in which I have to be extra-careful about picking up a bug.

The week after the week after I actually did pick up a bug. And had to spend a day attached to an IV, getting rehydrated. And could not pacify the toxic-waste dump no matter what I ate or drank.

This is the week I am supposed to feel good. Energetic. Able to eat or drink nearly at will.

This is not the week I am supposed to catch a cold. And have a stubbornly runny nose. And a sore throat.

I have plans. I have things to do. Conferences to attend. People to see. Friends coming to town.

I am not in the mood to have a cold or a runny nose or a sore throat.

I am in the mood to feel good and have fun and, while I'm at it, get things done.

I blame the stupid weather. It's been beautiful during the day and excessively cold at night. This has made it very difficult to dress appropriately, and I have shivered my way home the last two nights.

I blame the erratic climate control at the movies last night. I donned and doffed layers throughout the 129 minutes of "Inside Man."

I blame the excessive air conditioning at the writers' conference I attended today. I wore a T-shirt, a suit jacket, a raincoat, two scarves, and a cashmere hat, and I was cold.

I think I have been a pretty good sport throughout this whole thing.

I have sucked up the crappy Week 1's, and I have played it safe and canceled long-standing plans during the iffy Week 2's.

But this is Week 3, and I think I am entitled to a string of unencumbered days, free of extenuating circumstances and side effects and stupid springtime colds.

And I will be very, very pissed off if I have to change my plans. If I have skip Day 2 of the writer's conference. Or our trip to DC for the breast-cancer conference. Or my stint as a volunteer at the Tribeca Film Festival. Or lunch with one of my favorite J-school professors. Or anything else I have planned for this week, including getting things done.

And I will be really, really annoyed if I have to postpone my penultimate round of chemo on Friday. Six days from now, I expect to be able to say that I have just one more treatment left.

And if I can't—if I have to postpone saying it for even one day. . . .

Well, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

It's completely out of my control.

And that just sucks.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


On Monday, in my despair over trying to find something I could eat (or drink) without antagonizing the toxic-waste dump, I bought a weird assemblage of items from the grocery store that I thought might be viable options. These included applesauce, Jell-o (both ready-made and the package mix), those waffle-patterned wafer cookies with vanilla-cream filling, Lipton instant-soup mix, two different flavors of Gatorade, and a box of Yankee Doodles.

The applesauce, Jell-O, soup mix, and Gatorade were all nutritionist-sanctioned items.

The cookies and Yankee Doodles were not. But somehow, they just seemed really appealing. And when you haven't had a decent meal in a week, you tend to get a little desperate.

And a little lax about things like food labels and ingredient lists and nutrition content.

In point of fact, I haven't had a single waffle-patterned wafer cookie with vanilla-cream filling. The package remains unopened.

I cannot say the same for the Yankee Doodles.

What I can say is that I ate seven of them.

Nearly all in one sitting.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

OK, This is Weird

Medical bills I'm used to.

But a check from a hospital, payable to me? With no explanation?

I can't even begin to guess.

But that's what I got in today's mail.

Seven hundred forty-four dollars and thirty-one cents.

Chump change in the grand scheme of our medical expenses, of course.

But in this case, I don't mind being the chump.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Well, Of Course Now You Have to See This Photo

That's me and my dad, who's been bald as long as I've known him. (A lot longer, actually.)

I've been joking with him that I'm going to give him my fedora as soon as I'm done with it. He's a big hat guy himself, and it turns out that the fedora looks really good on him—and fits perfectly.

The only thing is that he might have some competition.

That's Haley, my four-year-old niece.

Pretty cute, huh?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Small Favors

As you've probably discovered while reading this blog, we're all about finding the silver lining(s) of this process. And there aren't many, but they come once in a while.

Some—like the freebie excuse to get out of any unwanted social plans—are only mildly satisying: warding off one evil with another.

Some—such as Jody's excess unscheduled time now that she's on leave from school—are basically unwelcome: hollow victories, obtained at the expense of the cancer-free life we'd rather be living.

But then there are those rare occasions where we discover something unique about this period that make us say, "Man, I'm actually going to miss this."

Case in point: Jody's head is now virtually—but not entirely—bald. She has this residue of soft, downy, very-thinned out hair remaining on her head. It's all about half an inch long, having been shorn in anticipation of a complete baldness which never arrived.

When we're hanging around the house, Jody's head tends to be uncovered—one of the first things she does when she comes home is remove whatever scarf, hat, or schmatte she was wearing in public—and I often find myself following the inevitable and irresistible urge to rub it. Maybe it's kinda like the Buddha-belly thing, I don't know.

The thing is, feeling her scalp that way is really quite lovely. And when we're snuggling on the couch together and she burrows it up into my neck, it's unlike anything I've ever felt in our 16 years together. It's like being even closer to her than usual.

And don't misunderstand me: when her hair returns in a few months, I'll celebrate that right along with her.

But I must confess I'll miss this part of her that's brand new to me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The New Math

Several years ago, when I first started doing a lot of cross-country traveling for work, I couldn't figure out why I'd fall further and further behind with each successive trip.

The unanswered e-mail and voice-mail messages would pile up by the hour. My to-do list would take on Brobdingnagian proportions. The catch-up reading I'd brought along would never see the light of day.

I was mystified.

When I wasn't traveling, I was able to get things done. All the time. Lots and lots of things. Tasks. Projects. Meetings. Calls. Correspondence. Strategic planning, even!

I had a whole system to keep me on track, and it worked beautifully. Until, of course, I had to take it on the road.

Then it fell apart entirely.

Which meant that every time I returned from a trip, I had to factor in time to get back on track—to go from absolutely drowning to just treading water and, eventually, to making progress again.

After a while, I finally figured it out.

Part of my system included daily to-do lists that I mapped out each Friday for the following week. Each day had meetings (I had lots of meetings), tasks, and reminders (like take home agenda for tomorrow's out-of-office breakfast meeting).

The problem was that I treated business trips just like regular days in the office—in between all of the extra meetings I had on the road, I expected to do everything I usually did, from tasks and projects to e-mail and phone calls. But the whole point of traveling was that it was more important to be someplace else than it was to be in my office, doing those things. That's why I'd gotten on a plane in the first place—to sit down with people I didn't get to see every day, to "touch base" and exchange ideas and build camaraderie.

And doing that was worth the time away from the day-to-day stuff.

And then (light bulb ON!) I realized that going on a business trip was kind of like going on vacation (minus the relaxation and the sometimes-exotic destinations): I just needed to plan around it. When I went on vacation, I knew that nothing was going to get done for a week (or sometimes two!).

And I knew that my first day back would be spent in catch-up mode. So that day's to-do list anticipated nothing more than that.

See how great a system it was?

Anyway, once I realized that business trips were kind of like vacations, I just dramatically adjusted my expectations of what I'd accomplish while I was away. My to-do lists for those days were transformed—no more tasks and projects, just meetings and informal visits and message triage. That's it. Anything else I got done was just gravy.

And my first-day-back to-do-list was all about getting my expense report done and slogging through all the e-mail and voice mail and interoffice mail that had piled up. No meetings at all—just catch-up stuff.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that that little insight changed my life. (My working life, that is.) I don't know why it took me so long to have that little insight (and it is little)—I'm just glad I eventually did.

Apparently, I'm still a little slow on the uptake.

Because I've finally (just now) realized that in the same way that going on a business trip is kind of like going on vacation (like egg-retrieval day is kind of like a spa day), having a chemo treatment is kind of like going on a business trip.

I should just know that, in general, I'm not going to get a lot done—even without (graphic description omitted) symptoms. Whether it's fog or fatigue or an ill timed cold (or the toxic-waste dump), it's all part of the experience. And right now, going through chemo is more important than almost anything else I have to do. So if other things [like reading the newspaper or The New Yorker, or returning phone calls (I haven't forgotten!), or sending thank-you notes (they're coming!!), or even doing my very important physical-therapy exercises] don't get done right now, I have to be OK with that.

They'll get done eventually.

I know they will.

I have this system, you see. . . .

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Field Trip

Did I ever happen to mention that although I'm officially on medical leave from journalism school, I'm actually still attending one of my classes this semester?

Well, I am.

The class is one of several Magazine Writing Workshops offered at Columbia, and I was getting so much out of it that I decided to audit it for the balance of the semester. Because most of the work involves reporting and writing multiple drafts of one long-form piece, plus editing the work of other students in the class, I'll still be able to take it for credit when I return to school next spring—I won't do my long piece until then, and there will be an entirely new group of stories to edit. In the meantime, I am learning a lot from attending class, doing the reading, and editing this group of classmates' work.

Today, instead of a regular class, we had a field trip to Glamour magazine, where my professor is a contributing editor.

Now, there are two important things you need to know about the class:

1. All 12 of the students are women.

2. Our professor is a man.

If you're interested in gender issues, as I am, this makes for a rather fascinating setup even before you throw in the visit to a women's magazine (but that's a topic for another blog entry—or another blog, really).

In any event, I confess that life seemed extra-surreal when I left the house today.

First, it's just a funny concept to be going on a field trip when you are in striking distance of turning 40. Chaperones? Permission slips? Lunchboxes? Anyone?

Second, if you know me at all, you know that I am not exactly the most fashion-savvy person in the universe—at least when it comes to my own attire. (I can—and do—critique the outfits of strangers on the street six ways from Sunday, it's true, but that's a very different skill set.) And, well, Glamour is, at least in part, a fashion magazine.

Third, there's no getting around the fact that I am, in fact, bald.

Fourth, the temperature topped out at 81° today. It still being, you know, April, my feet and I were not remotely prepared for sandal season.

So, I ask you: What does a bald, almost-40-year-old woman with little fashion sense wear on a field trip to a fashion magazine at which she is supposed to be making professional contacts on an 80-degree mid-April day?

Talk about a Glamour Don't. (Think big black rectangle across my eyes.)

Actually, I think I might have pulled off the right head-to-toe look—as long as you don't count my head or toes, that is. I think I was OK from neck to ankles. It's just that my bright green hat didn't exactly mesh with the rest of my color scheme (brown and black). And I'm pretty sure that clogs with knee-highs weren't the right way to accessorize my attempt at an upscale casual look.

But they didn't bar the door when I showed up, so I guess that was a triumph.

And the visit was actually really cool, despite my initial misgivings.

Moral of the story: Don't judge a magazine by its cover. (Even if the cover touts features like "His and hers hot list: 12 sexual experiences every man & woman should have" and "Your dream swimsuit!" and "Major swimsuit dos & don'ts: Wedgies, bad thongs and worse!") Because the three top editors we met were all really interesting and intelligent and dynamic and savvy and well spoken—the kind of people I'd want to have as colleagues and mentors and friends.

And editors.

And it's a long shot, but you know what?

It could happen.

My professor had us tell one of the editors a little bit about what we're working on. While my classmates had specific stories to pitch (the ones they're writing for the class), he asked me to talk a bit about my personal story—the one you've been reading about here.

So I did.

And she asked a question or two and then suggested a couple of possible outlets in the magazine—and not in an I'm-being-nice-because-you-have-cancer kind of way, but in a hey-that-could-totally-fit-with-what-we're-looking-for kind of way.

So I've got some following up to do.

Pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So Far . . .

Although I don't want to tempt fate (or the toxic-waste dump) too terribly much, I am pleased to report that I have been misery-free for eight blessed hours (and counting).

I called MOSWO's office this morning and reported my [graphic description omitted] symptoms. Actually, Zach—aka Rock Star—called for me. (I was busy having the symptoms.) After a second conversation in which I got to confirm his account, MOSWO's nurse practitioner asked me to come in so I could a) have my labs checked, b) be treated with IV fluids, and, if possible, c) provide a sample. (Yes, you read that right.)

Knowing, as we all do, that I am INCREDIBLY SQUEAMISH, I think the fact that I actually went to the cancer center—instead of, say, fleeing the country—says a great deal about my honor (I did promise in yesterday's post to do whatever MOSWO said) and about the degree of misery I had endured for the past 48 hours.

So I went.

And had my labs checked. (They were fine. No electrolyte imbalance, no nothing.)

And got rehydrated with IV fluids.

And very, very slowly started to eat rare delicacies (procured by my mom—thanks, Mom!) like Saltines and white rice and applesauce.

And did not—I repeat, not—provide a sample. (But only because my [graphic description omitted] symptoms had ceased.)

So now I am at home, communing with my couch and dreaming of even greater delicacies.

Like chicken broth.

And dry toast.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


With very brief exceptions, the past two days have been absolutely horrendous.

The toxic waste dump formerly known as my digestive system has been wreaking unbearable havoc.

Please note: I have not wanted to write about the toxic-waste dump.

I have not wanted to think about the toxic-waste dump.

And I'm pretty sure you haven't wanted to read about the toxic-waste dump.

But has that deterred the toxic-waste dump?

Not one tiny bit.

It has been nothing short of relentless.

I feel nothing short of possessed.

And I have no idea how to mollify it.

I have tried.

And I have failed.

And tomorrow morning I will officially admit defeat.

I will call MOSWO.

I will cringe as I recount my symptoms in embarrassing detail.

I will try to get away with using words like indigestion instead of persistent, uncontrollable belching.

I will avoid using the D word.

I will try to find humorous euphemisms.

I will tell him that keeping things down has not been a problem but that keeping things up has been impossible.

I will confess that my net caloric intake over the past 48 hours probably hasn't broken into double digits.

And I will do whatever he says.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Well, I Tried

Take one picky eater.

Add a digestion-destroying cocktail of chemo and all the add-on pharmacological accoutrements.

Throw in a layer of paste on the tongue for good measure. (Who needs functioning taste buds, anyway?)

Do this all during the eight interminable days of Passover.

What do you get?

Abject defeat.

And a burrito for dinner.

With rice.

And a side of chips.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

As Promised

The bunny pics.

(If you're not sure why they're here, read yesterday's post).

The non-bunny in the middle is Jesse.

The egghead in the middle is Ashly.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Round Four, Over and Done

We forgot to bring the digital camera to chemo today (although I did remember the orange panties), so you won't get to see fun pictures of us and our three—count 'em, three!—special guests, including one repeat visitor (hi, Danielle! hi, Glen! hi, Robin!).

Or of me making more progress on the scarf.

Or of Donna the Wonder Nurse, who took great care of us this week and during Round Three. (Actually, you will probably never see a photo of Donna—she begged off last time around. But she is so great that I am going to write a letter saying so to all the higher-ups I can think of at the cancer center. Ditto the guy who brought wi-fi to the treatment center last month!)

However, what you may get to see, at some point, is one or two pictures of Zach and me with a stranger on the street and/or on the A/C/E subway platform at 14th Street. (This depends on said strangers e-mailing the photos to us. . . .)

Let me explain.

In honor of Easter weekend, our dear friend Glen brought us each a pair of rabbit ears—the fluffy white kind attached to a flufy white headband. Think Playboy bunny ears, but white and fluffy instead of black and satiny. Mine were blue inside the fluffy white trim, and Z's were yellow. We wore them for the rest of the day, which put smiles on many faces in the treatment area. Zach had several cheerful interactions with strangers when he went out to pick up lunch for us, and that of course put a big smile on his face.

When we finally left the cancer center at 2PM or so, we got lots of looks and comments in addition to the many smiles out on the street—a guy in rabbit ears is one thing, but a couple in rabbit ears is even more noteworthy, I guess. (Mine looked a little funny over my green bandanna, but this is New York, and nobody seemed to notice.)

And then this one guy asked if his friend could take a picture of us with his camera phone (something neither Zach nor I possess). He seemed absolutely tickled pink to have found two faux-rabbits walking upright on Eighth Avenue, so we obliged. (And then Zach ran back to extract a promise that the two send us the photo via e-mail.)

A couple of minutes later, we went down into the subway, walked down the platform, and were immediately spotted by a woman wearing and headband attached to two tightly coiled metal springs, each attached to an Easter egg. Serendipity strikes! Turns out, she had a pocket digital camera, and she also had to have a picture with us. Our friend Robin (thanks, Robin!) did the honors, and the woman promised to send us a copy if we sent a request via e-mail, which Zach, of course, did.

With any luck, you will see a fun, focused, semi-flattering shot or two of us, bedecked in fun, not-remotely-flattering fluffy white ears up here sometime soon.

(And no, neither of us celebrate Easter. But we did find ourselves on the receiving end of lots of "Happy Easter!" wishes and, of course, felt obligated to reply in turn. In retrospect, I probably should have shouted out "Happy Passover" just to confound people, but I was, to say the least, not at my most quick-witted.)

And while this day has at least a few minutes remaining, please indulge me as I wish my dad a very happy and healthy 80th(!) birthday! We love you, Dad, and wish we could have spent the day with you. Proper (and IV-free) celebration to follow very soon!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Plan E

After many rounds of phone tag with the social worker who works with MOSWO, some quick research on her leads, and a call to my secondary insurer, here's the deal:

I don't qualify for at least one program that offers prescription-drug-expense relief (because I have insurance), but I might qualify for another—except I won't know until Monday, because they closed early today and are closed tomorrow for Good Friday.

So . . . I'm going to pay for the new drug, but cut the cost slightly as follows:

Instead of filling the entire Rx (one four-day dose for tomorrow's round of chemo and two refills for the last two rounds) at the local pharmacy, I'm going to pick up a new Rx for only one dose and fill it at the pharmacy near the treatment center (which, if I'm lucky, will charge a bit less—many of their customers are patients from the cancer center) and then get the other doses through the mail. MOSWO's excellent nurse practitioner already faxed the scrip to the mail-order pharmacy, and I should have it with about a week to spare.

(I would have filled the Rx for one dose at my neighborhood drug store, but they don't stock the drug, and at this point there isn't enough time for them to order it.)

And I still have two back-up anti-nausea medications in case I need them.

End of cliffhanger. (I can only hope.)

Oh wait—I forgot to say that if I'm really lucky, I'll qualify for the other co-pay-relief program and maybe even recoup some of the money we spent on the Emend, the IVF drugs, and everything else I've been taking these past few months.

I guess that's another cliffhanger. <sigh>

(If you're wondering about the title of this post, go here.)

More on Drugs

If you have been following the Emend soap opera—and if not, look here and here (#11-#23) and here (#3 & #4)—I am chagrined to report that the saga continues.

I talked with my oh-so-wonderful oncologist yesterday, and while we can't be certain, we do think that I may, in fact, have some kind of allergy or sensitivity to this new, super-duper-effective (and incredibly expensive) anti-nausea drug. <sigh>

And no, I can't return the three doses I just purchased for $166.13. <sigh again> (But I will give them to MOSWO, so that he can give them to another patient who can't afford the astronomical cost. Zach and I benefitted from such "hand-me-downs" when we went through IVF. If you think anti-nausea drugs are pricey, you should see our pharmacy bills from IVF.)

As an alternative to the Emend, MOSWO gave me a scrip for a different, slightly older (but still quite effective) anti-nausea drug—the same one I took as part of Plan C last time around. (MOSWO's excellent nurse practitioner had one hand-me-down half-dose on hand at the time, and she gave it to me as a back-up until I got the Emend situation straightened out. Now that the Emend situation appears to be permanently contorted, I needed an actual Rx.)

So I left MOSWO's office and went straight to my local drug store—and the incredibly kind and patient pharmacist who works there. Having learned my lesson with Emend, I asked TIKAPP to check the price of this alternate drug before actually filling the prescription.

How much, you wonder?

A mere $137.

I thanked TIKAPP, left the store, and called MOSWO's office to find out if there's an alternative to the alternative.

As they say on the soaps, tune in tomorrow. . . .

Don't you just love a good cliffhanger?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It's Late and We're Tired, But . . .

. . . here's a brief update:

We're home.

There's no evidence of cat piss on our bed. (It's the little things. . . .)

We got a free dinner tonight, after our waiter accidentally sprayed me with sour cream. (Could I make that up?)

And yes, we saw the wizard. His take? Nix on another round of radiation.

More tomorrow, after we talk to my oh-so-wonderful oncologist.

Monday, April 10, 2006

No News

I think I forgot to mention that although we flew to Boston today, our appointment with the wizard isn't until tomorrow afternoon.

I did stop by his office today to drop off my various films—mammograms, sonograms, PET/CT scan, MRI, home movies (OK, not really)—mostly because they weigh A TON, and I didn't want to be dragging them all around town all day.

Of course, that implies that we went all around town today.

We didn't.

Our wonderful friend Teresa (hi, Teresa!) picked us up at the airport, drove us to the doctor's office, and then brought us to her house, where we spent the rest of the day relaxing—reading, napping, eating a delicious dinner, and generally hanging out with her, her husband (hi, Fred!), and their two young sons (hi, Caleb and Eli!).

We did manage to get out into the gorgeous weather for a brief trip to the market and a stroll down Charles Street, but mainly we just took it easy. It's the first time we've been out of the tri-state area since last July, and the change of scenery in and of itself has been a tonic.

As eager as we are to meet with the wizard tomorrow, we're grateful for the down time we had today. Old friends, good food, time to read, and an afternoon nap—what could be better than that?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

We're Off to See the Wizard

First thing tomorrow, Zach and I are heading to the Emerald City (OK, Boston) to see the wizard (OK, a radiation oncology guru) for a third opinion as to whether or not I should have a second course of radiation treatment.

Generally speaking, radiation treatment for a specific part of the body is a once-and-for-all thing—there's not a lot of repeat business. In fact, when I went through radiation five years ago, I'm pretty sure I was told that there was no repeat business.

Turns out there are exceptions to that general rule.

I'm starting to think I should change my name to Jody "Exception" Knower. Or Jody "Asterisk" Knower. Or maybe Jody "Fine Print" Knower.

You see, it's also generally true that you don't treat a breast-cancer patient with radiation if she's had a mastectomy. Surgery and radiation are both "local control" treatments (unlike chemotherapy, which is a systemic treatment). Since a mastectomy removes virtually all breast tissue, radiation is not typically indicated unless the patient has a large tumor or more than a certain number of positive lymph nodes.

Except, you know, in my case.

My original tumor wasn't particularly large (1.5 cm), and I had only two positive lymph nodes (which fell under the threshold). However, the cancer was considered aggressive, I was considered young, and the tumor was situated so close to my chest wall that it was impossible to get widely clear margins. (The margin in my case was less than 1mm—in other words, very small.) Given all of that, the consensus among the two doctors we consulted was that I should have the radiation treatment as an extra measure of insurance. So I did.

And I tolerated it pretty well, all things considered. (Even if I didn't get to finish knitting that scarf.)

So here I am, five years down the road, the exception to another general rule: that the chances of having a second breast cancer after a mastectomy on the same side are south of 2 percent. Less if you factor in the chemotherapy I had. And the radiation. And the four years of Tamoxifen (an estrogen-blocking drug that helps prevent breast cancer and recurrences of breast cancer).

But I digress.

The reason we're getting a third, out-of-state opinion on the question of radiation treatment is that the two opinions we've gotten so far have been completely divergent. And the major difference revolves around the fact that there's a lifetime maximum on the amount of radiation one can (or should) receive.

The first opinion, from my own radiation oncologist, is that while it's rare to re-irradiate someone, doing so would offer me some benefit despite the potentially serious long- and short-term side effects. The hitch is that I couldn't be treated with a full dose of radiation because that would put me over the lifetime maximum. But my doctor feels that she could still give me what she termed a "meaningful" (albeit partial) dose without exceeding that maxiumum. She'd still need to do a lot of measuring and calculating to make sure that she could treat me while sufficiently protecting things like my heart and lungs and brachial plexus (a group of nerves that affect the shoulder, arm, and hand), but she's optimistic on that front. Even so, I'd still be at extremely high risk for lymphedema, and I could, in a worst-case scenario, lose the use of my arm. Makes you want to sign right up, doesn't it?

The second opinion is from a more experienced radiation oncologist at a different hospital—the same doctor who gave us a second opinion five years ago. This doctor (we learned) doesn't believe in partial doses—she's an all-or-nothing kind of gal. Therefore, she recommended—unequivocally—against another round of treatment. We took issue with some of the other things she said (more on that in another post), but I don't think they affected her bottom-line recommendation.

My fantabulous surgeon is predisposed against radiation. My oh-so-wonderful oncologist and the radiation oncologist at his hospital are predisposed in favor of it.

A clear-cut answer does not seem to be in the cards.

Hence the trip to Boston, to see an even-more-experienced radiation oncologist (aka the wizard) at yet another hospital.

Stay tuned.

Mid-day Interior Monologue

I do not have a job. (At the moment.)

I'm not in school. (Auditing a class doesn't count.)

Except for a few days every three weeks, I generally feel pretty good. (Chemo notwithstanding.)

So why, why, why do I find myself unable to make any headway at all with my ever-growing to-do list?

Or my ever-expanding pile of newspapers and New Yorkers?

Or my overflowing e-mail?

Or my very slow-growing scarf?

Or my very important physical-therapy exercises?

Not to mention phone calls I want to return (hi, very patient friends!), books I want to read, movies I want to see, things I want to write, places I want to go, etc. . . .

Must, must, must find a way to up my productivity quotient.


Friday, April 07, 2006

I Love My Husband

Go to Google.

Type in "Camden Chat."

Click on the first link that pops up (as of 12:37AM on Saturday, April 8, anyway).

WTG, Zach!


  1. My left arm has been feeling funky for the last week. I went to see my fantabulous surgeon about it on Tuesday and got her assurance that all is well, but it's still feeling funky—kind of sore and, per usual, kind of numb.

  2. I thought I was going to sneak through treatment #3 without the accompanying nosebleeds, because they happened on Days 9 and 10 the last two times. Yesterday was Day 14, so I thought I was in the clear. And then, over a lovely dinner with my pal M.J. (hi, M.J.!), I got one. A small one, but one nonetheless.

  3. Three doses of Emend arrived in the mail yesterday, so I am now set for the last three rounds of chemo. (I ordered them through my secondary insurance—they didn't just show up like a care package or anything.) Total cost: $166.13. But hey, the shipping was free!

  4. As glad as I am to have the Emend on hand, I am actually a bit hesitant to take it next week. I was much less foggy after treatment #3, when I didn't have any Emend, and I have to wonder whether the earlier fogfests were caused, in part, but some side effect of the drug. I'm so drug-sensitive that it's entirely possible. Five years ago, when I had chemo the first time, I was given a completely different anti-emetic—one also very commonly used in conjunction with anesthesia—and was rendered catatonic for three days. This happened twice before we figured out that it was the drug, not the chemo, that was causing the reaction. It's exceedingly rare to be allergic to that drug, but I was. So now I have to wonder whether I'm having a similar but much less intense reaction to the Emend. Yes, I will be asking my oh-so-wonderful oncologist about it when I see him next Wednesday. (I'm not due to take it again until Friday. And boy will I be thrilled if we decide that I shouldn't take it again and that $166.13—and all the aggravation—turn out to be for naught.)

  5. One of our cats, in an act of quite uncivil disobedience, just peed on our bed. (We surmise that the she is protesting the state of the litter box, which is in need of a change.) We are not sure if our down comforter will survive. Ugh.

  6. It's officially Week 3. Hooray!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Here's the Thing

You know how on the one day you haven't showered/have puffy eyes from crying/have paint specks in your hair/are all sweaty from the gym (you get the idea) you can be absolutely sure that you will run into your ex/whomever you currently have a crush on/your boss/the last person who dumped you (you get the idea)?

And you just know that if you'd seen the person the day before or the day after, it would have been an entirely different experience? And you wouldn't have felt awkward at all? So you resolve that you will never go out in public unless you have showered/put cucumber slices on your puffy eyes/washed the paint out of your hair/toweled off (you get the idea).

Well, running into someone you know/once knew/met in passing but still recognize—while you are basically bald (residual peach fuzz doesn't count)—can be a very fraught affair.

For one thing, the person might not recognize you—either because it's been a while, or because you're basically bald, or both.

For another, the person might recognize you but pretend not to see you—either because your last encounter was awkward, or because you're basically bald, or both.

For a third, the person might recognize you and even talk to you but seem really uncomfortable the entire time—again, either because your last encounter was awkward, or because you're basically bald, or both.

And I understand all of the above. I get stares on the street and on the subway as it is (creative use of scarves and enviable hat collection notwithstanding)—fewer that I might get anywhere other than New York City, but still. So I know that there is likely to be at least a moment—if not several long minutes—of awkwardness during any encounter with anyone who is seeing me for the first time (or the first time in five years) without hair, especially if they have no idea why it is that I have no hair.

And I do what I can to help those people work their way through the awkwardness. I pretend that I don't notice them staring. I supply conversation during pregnant pauses. I don't belabor the encounters, and I give them every opportunity to break away quickly.

And this means I am especially appreciative when I bump into someone who handles the chance meeting with seemingly effortless grace, who makes conversation easily, and who treats me as if it is 100% normal to be walking around hatted and scarved and hairless.

I had one of those encounters tonight.

I was walking through a hotel lobby, on my way to meet an out-of-town friend for dinner, when I saw a guy I'd grown up with. We'd been in school together from first grade through high school. The last time I'd seen him, I think, was at a reunion two years ago. The last time we'd had a meaningful conversation was many years before that.

He had different hair (but all of it), glasses I didn't remember, and a beard I'd never seen, but it was unmistakably him. I thought for sure I'd walk right by without arousing a glimmer of recognition, decked out as I was in my film-noir fedora and complementary brown print scarf. But our eyes met, and it was clear that he knew me—or knew he should know me—and we both stopped and said hello. I introduced myself to his wife (in part to clue him in, in case he wasn't sure exactly who I was), and we proceeded to chat amiably for a few minutes before we continued on our ways—they to the theater, I to dinner with my friend.

If he was surprised by my appearance, he didn't betray it in his expression, mannerisms, or speech. I didn't volunteer the reason for my current look, and he didn't ask. We had a perfectly lovely, perfectly ordinary conversation.

And that's what made it extraordinary.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Recommended Reading

Five years ago, I read a wonderful piece in The New Yorker (where else?) by Alice Trillin. Filed under the header of "Personal History," it was called Betting Your Life and dealt with the maddening and frightening reality of having to make important health decisions in the face of uncertainty and conflicting medical opinions.

When I read the piece, I had no idea that just a couple of months later, Zach and I would have to do that very thing. We'd gotten three very different opinions from three very different surgeons about how to attack what appeared to be a very early form of breast cancer (Stage 0—or pre-cancer, according to some). Trying to choose among the recommendations was no easy feat, and we talked ourselves around and around the various pros and cons until the wee hours of the morning before finally coming to a decision we were (pretty) comfortable with. (We later learned that the cancer was not Stage 0, but Stage II, which ultimately validated our decision. More on that in another post.)

I was put in mind of that experience, and of Alice Trillin's article, very recently, when it became clear that we would soon be in that position again. The issue this time is whether I should have a second course of radiation treatment, and we now have two wildly divergent opinions. We are heading to Boston next week, to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for a third opinion, and after that we will likely have to go through that wrenching decision-making process again.

But that's not why I'm writing this post.

Instead, I'm writing to suggest that you try to get your hands on last week's New Yorker (the one with the Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon called "Childproof" on the cover) and immediately read Calvin Trillin's piece, also filed under the header of "Personal History," called Alice, Off the Page. It's a wonderful tribute by Trillin to his late wife, who died shortly after 9/11, about eight months after Betting Your Life ran. It's about love and marriage and writing and cancer and the rare connection that can happen between two people, and it resonated with me in the way that the best writing does—it made me want to tell everyone I know to read it right away.

And that's why I'm writing this post.

So get the March 27 issue, skip the cartoons, and turn directly to page 44. And if you can track down Betting Your Life, read that, too.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Movie Reference

OK, so the film I was trying to think of a few days ago is Looker, an obscure 1981 release written and directed by (who knew?) Michael Crichton. It stars Albert Finney, James Coburn (not Roy Scheider), and Susan (post-"Partridge Family," pre-"L.A. Law") Dey.

It has this very weird plot in which a plastic surgeon, played by Finney, has a string of new patients—models (i.e. lookers), all—who come in asking him to make these very tiny and precise adjustments to their faces. They give him specifications to match—in millimeters. But it doesn't make any sense, of course, because they're all already beautiful.

It turns out that the specs come from this ad agency that has quantified the sales resulting from ads using these models and has discovered that these miniscule adjustments are necessary to perfect the models' faces, which in turn boosts sales. It all turns ominous (or should I say more ominous) when the models start—you guessed it!—dying off. Of course, our hero has to investigate. . . .

What the hell does this have to do with chemo, you ask?

Well, I'll tell you.

Another part of the plot (and this is where it's hazy in my memory—nothing to do with chemo, mind you) involves this device called the L.O.O.K.E.R. gun (I'm pretty sure the L is for laser, but I can't remember what the rest of the acronym stands for). It's kind of like a stun gun, except that instead of stunning its victims, it transfixes them. They go into this strange kind of trance, and when they come out of it, a chunk of time has elapsed. (We know this because the camera helpfully pans over to the nearest clock to clue us in.)

So what I was trying to say the other day is that sometimes, for me, the chemo fog is like being zapped with a L.O.O.K.E.R. gun. Suddenly, I am completely exhausted and just zonk out, and then I wake up and discover that hours and hours have passed. It takes me a few minutes (and many blinks) to get over the disorientation.

Hence the Looker reference.

Thanks for indulging me.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Magic of Photoshop

We're trying to figure out what our place might look like with, y'know, carpet and paint and stuff.

Any suggestions?