29 October 2009

Energy Healing with Ms. PacMan and German Shepherds

Body, mind, spirit -- not quite sex, drugs & rock-n-roll but a similar package deal. Each has some effect on the other. I've been taking care of the body and mind as best I can, but have been focused on the spirit as of late. I've started Kundalini yoga, which focuses on meditation as well as poses. It's been a challenge not to dissolve into church giggles during the chanting portion of the class, but I'm getting better. I've also been trying to scare up some Reiki on a regular basis.

I have two good friends and a cousin in California who are Reiki masters but I needed someone closer to home (and less close to me) to do some massage on my busted soul.

Aside: During brunch at Strawberry Fair many months ago, I was telling some pals about the Reiki masters. A distracted Cameo replied, "What? Reggae Masters? You mean like Rastafarians?"

After some online research and a flurry of emails, I found a practitioner nearby, a woman who does Reiki, Acupressure and Craniosacral massage interchangeably. She also had a number of glowing testimonials from cancer patients. The therapist told me she could come to my house but I thought it would be more helpful if I got out of my daily element, i.e., the hulking pile of laundry in the corner, rugs encrusted with Honey Nut Cheerios, Vito whining by the fridge, etc.

She said her studio in the woods offered a great healing environment -- “if you don’t mind rustic." Now, I’m not a big fan of rustic but can handle it in small doses if it's within driving distance to Dunkies or Starbucks. I scribbled directions on the back of a Hannaford's receipt and headed out.

Aside: Google Maps pinpointed three DDs and two Starbucks between here and there and it was only a few minutes drive.

Per her directions, I pulled onto a dirt road with no street sign. An adorable yellow lab freaked out in the first yard on the right (also per her directions). As I drove deeper into the woods -- and way, way up a hill -- the road became narrower, the brush thicker. The leaves and branches hung lower and lower over my car brushing past the windows like the bristles in a car wash. I started thinking that you could not only hide a body up here, but also an entire car. I drove a few more yards and then stopped the car, thinking I'd bail on this half-assed holistic mission. Are this many trees necessary for chilling?

But then the therapist appeared a little further up the road. She was a tall woman with very broad shoulders. Her hair, grayish brown, hung past her waist; her bangs were cropped severely across her forehead. She was part Kevin McHale, part Danielle Rousseau from Lost. She raised her long arm, beckoning me to pull my car up a little further.


I glanced at her directions, which I'd scribbled down verbatim: “Pull to the very end of the road. Cut the engine.”

Cut the engine?! Her choice of words suddenly struck me as alarming. I decided I would tuck my iPhone under the floor mat in my car so the police could track me on the GPS if I went missing. I pulled my car forward. Then I decided I should probably keep my phone close by in case I needed to call 911. She signaled for me to stop. I was convinced I'd wandered into the lair of some insane Craig's List killer or a scene from the book "Lovely Bones." In a few months, that yellow lab would dig up my elbow or femur.

Then I remembered to breathe: A) I didn't find her on Craig's List. b) She came highly recommended, and it was my idea to come here. c) Relax.

I wasted a little time pretending to rifle around in the front seat and then stepped out of the car. She walked ahead of me, not speaking.

I degenerated into inane nervous chit chat: "So, how long have you been up here?" “Wow, is that your horse over there?"

She answered me, Rousseau-style, one-word answers: "Twenty years." "Yes."

Her studio, outfitted in a small log cabin, was cozy and warm. And once inside, she became a different person, very soothing and personable. Or maybe I finally tuned out my irrational mind.

For the entire two hours, she explained in great detail how energy healing works. She discussed blocked chakras and the flow of chi and the power of visualization. She said she knew of a woman who actually cured her own cancer by picturing two doves flying around inside her body, pecking at corn kernels that represented cancer cells. When the corn kernels were gone, so was her cancer.

Aside: Ok, definitely skeptical about that one but I've decided to visualize Ms. Pacman and a pack of German Shepherds -- because why not.

She also shared techniques for dodging the shards of negative energy, however insignificant, that bombard us daily. From the news to DBs at Derby Street to road ragers to the Octomom, even the small things, overtime, can pollute the soul. And they're harder to dodge than you think (without imaginary German Shepherds).

Aside: Herein, the phrase "it is what it is" earns you a bombardment with New Age crystals.

Driving home from the massage, I was teeming with chi, caffeine free, no need to stop for coffee when you have Reiki. The rhyming and healing continues...

27 October 2009

Shamelessly Pimping My Words Again

(As Dr. Nic would say: "Big face, big face.")

Pink Lady
Today, the Patriot Ledger features a sort of in her own words story and audio slide show on the wee brownies and me. Vito even makes a few cameos (be kind: the camera adds five pounds) Great family photos, but the sound of my voice makes me want to crawl under the nearest braided rug.

"The Devil Wears a Mini Skirt?"
-- KB
Also in today's PL is an article I wrote on how slutty Halloween costumes for young girls enrage parents. Some great quotes from local mommas who have insightful, often hilarious takes on the issue.

09 October 2009

The Land of Ned

Last October, I participated in breast cancer walks. I clicked on the pink ribbon in a Facebook application or two. I even scoffed down one of those pink bagels from Panera Bread.

What I did not do, however, was perform a self-breast exam (SBE) or schedule a mammogram. Granted, the restroom at Panera is not the ideal location for an SBE. Still, once I polished off a bagel, sponsored a walk or logged off Facebook, breast cancer simply slipped my mind. I was only 38 years old. I have a family history of cancer but have always been vigilant about annual check-ups and leafy greens.

Then three days before Christmas, I was flipping channels with my daughter and we came across the movie “The Sweetest Thing” starring Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate. It was the scene where Diaz’s character, age 28, is standing in a dressing room, talking about breasts and gravity.

She pushes her breasts up to where they were when she was 22, then lets them fall to where they are now at age 28. She repeats this a few times, “22, 28, 22, 28.” My daughter found this hilarious, so I mimicked the movements. Then I felt something in my left breast. Something big and weird, like a ceramic hummel, one of the creepier ones, possibly pushing a wheel barrow with a hairless cat. I decided to schedule a doctor's appointment for after the New Year, because mammograms around the holidays…meh.

Aside: I think Christina Applegate, a breast cancer survivor, may have had all her films re-edited with subliminal messages to perform SBEs.

My first ultrasound was “suspicious.” I ran around with my hair on fire, ordering $200 worth of supplements from the Internet. I Googled images of malignant mammograms and learned the medical terms that would condemn or save me.

I pointed to my mammogram films and asked my doctor, “Are those pleomorphic calcifications in the upper left quadrant.” “Yes,” she said, pointing them out.

“I see they’re in a cluster, but are they also linear,” I squeaked out this question, knowing the answer. The doctor suggested I stay off the Internet and said the results, while “worrisome,” didn’t necessarily translate into doom.

I Googled survival rates. What was I going to tell my kids? I was officially swept into the current.

The MRI and biopsy results brought the final verdicts crashing over me like a series of rogue waves. You have breast cancer (CRASH). Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage 3 (CRASH). It’s in the nodes (CRASH). Just as I was getting my footing, the final wave ripped the suit from my body and knocked me to the ground: You need chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and radiation, starting immediately. I felt completely naked, lying in child’s pose on the floor of the doctor’s office, not wanting to walk out and face what was ahead.

Whenever I saw a pink ribbon, I saw red. The color pink, so soft and feminine, represents a disease that completely defeminizes; a disease that robs women of their breasts, their hair, their sex drive, their self image. Not to mention the pink ribbons are so ubiquitous that they’ve become generic and no longer mean anything. Each diagnosis is as individual as the woman going through it. We all need to find our own talisman.

My grandmother, Nana Rie, got breast cancer at age 37. She died in perfect health at age 81 after being struck by a car on her way home from a dance class. I wanted to conjure her spirit. Instead of pink ribbons, I wore her funky costume jewelry and pins. I wore medals and good luck charms. I showed up to my first treatment looking like George Clinton.

Nevertheless, I give thanks to the pink ribbon and its army. One in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Because of the pink ribbon, and the sheer numbers who’ve contributed to the cause, coffers overflow with research dollars and many more women will survive, even thrive, after breast cancer.

Aside: There was a fantastic article by Kris Frieswick in the Boston Globe Magazine about companies profiting from the pink ribbon. It’s something worth keeping in mind before purchasing pink products.

At the market last week, I saw “Sweet and Low” candies emblazoned with the pink ribbon. My first reaction was, “Wait, doesn’t that stuff cause cancer?” Even if it doesn’t it can’t be healthy. Going forward, I’ve decided that instead of buying pink candy, I’ll donate to a local breast cancer charity like Learn, Live, Love here on the South Shore. When I see pink, I’ll grab a healthy whole food snack and remind a friend about early detection. I’ll book a massage or take a yoga class. I’ll not only donate to great causes, but invest in my own health and wellness along the road to the land of NED (No Evidence of Disease).

03 October 2009

Burn, MF, Burn

Around a backyard bonfire with James, the wee brownies and some pals --  a glass of Veuve Clicquot in hand -- I torched the johnny.  Then I went to my car, found the mesh tube top, and torched that too.   

28 September 2009

The Sacrificial Johnny

Rad # 35 -- Today, 11 a.m., DF L2
Tomorrow marks the end of a seven-week journey that began with gamma rays and meditation and ended with second degree burns and Percocet. Radiation -- or "rads," as the cool cancer patients call it -- blindsided me in its degree of suckage. My Irish/Italian skin is no stranger to sunburn, having sizzled with baby oil and other foolish grease during my teens and early 20s. I figured a religious application of aloe would suffice just as it had in sunburns past. But these are not normal sunburns. These are like nuclear holocaust burns. I'm torched! If anyone knows where I can rent a hyperbaric chamber, please let me know.

After 35 rads, I'm pretty freakish. I'm hobbling around, Igor-like, and can't swing my arms when I walk. Simple cotton T-shirts are like an all-out assault on the torso. That's the physical toll. I'm fried mentally as well. Every day since August 10, I’ve driven to the DF for an 11 a.m. appointment. I've suited up in a johnny, gotten blasted, and then driven home in a mesh tube top jury-rigged with Aquafor and an ice pack. By 3 p.m each day, I've collapsed in a heap, narcoleptic. Waah. BUT.. all this slashing and burning seems to be working. And now, there's just one treatment remaining! Just as hair grows, skin heals and energy recharges. Within a few weeks, things should be back to some semblance of normal. And, overall, I've had it pretty good. Things could have gone far worse.

Aside: Whoever invented Aquafor needs to be glorified from on high.


Still, today at the DF, something snapped in me; it was similar to Easter Sunday when I hurled my clogs into the brook behind my house. This time, I focused my frustration on the shapeless, generic johnny and all it represents. It's the gown of the sick, designed for intrusive treatments; its faulty twill ties are the culprit of many unintentional ass flashings. After I changed back into my regular clothes today, I seized the johnny. I was going to chuck it out the nearest window and watch it flutter down onto Binney Street. Then I remembered I was on the basement floor of the DF. Curses! So I balled it up, stuffed it in my purse and beat feet out of there. I am going to do to the johnny what’s been done to me for the past seven weeks: I’m gonna burn the MF.

For awhile now, I've been planning a "Fuck Cancer" bonfire where I will incinerate all tangible memories of cancer -- the headscarves and wigs, the jeans and yoga pants that I wore to chemo and radiation over and over again, my eyebrow kit, a pair of North Face flip flops, and maybe even a few organic yogurts for good measure. The whole idea of this bonfire delights the tiny pyromaniac that lives inside my soul. Last month, James and my nephew dug an old school firepit in my yard, the primary intention being a gathering spot for this fall -- roasting marshmellows, drinking wine, and watching football (many thanks to our dear Rowlettes who have provided the outdoor TV for this endeavor!). But I also plan to do some hard core destruction out there once my treatment is finished. While I'm not officially finished until May, I'm going to sacrifice the johnny tomorrow evening to mark the end of rads. Milestones!

Rad One -- August 10th, DF, L2
The radiation therapists are a bunch of good looking extroverts in their 20s; they've gathered in the treatment room to check out the tattoos on my chest. This is not some strange fantasy. A fews weeks earlier, my radiation oncologist tattooed a smattering of freckle-sized dots across my radiation fields. This is done so the therapists can line up the radiation beams in the same spot each day.

This is an awkward situation for me but the therapists are thoroughly unfazed. All of them appear to be gifted in the art of small talk. These are exactly the kinds of people you want hovering over you when you're lying topless on a narrow table, arms in straps over your head, your disfigured body and jutting scars on full display. They are true professionals who look you in the eye and ask you about your weekend plans while they are drawing dotted lines on your chest (connecting the tats!) with a green Sharpie. For a few moments, I don't feel like my dignity is hanging by a shred, I feel like I'm at jury duty. It's almost casual.

Rad Random -- Tues., Sept 22nd
A rotund young man singing opera by the elevator banks in the parking garage -- in Italian and everything.

Rad (Crap!) -- Mon., Sept 21st
With only a week left, my radiation oncologist decided to she wanted to add on a few extra treatments because of some internal mammary nodes that looked "hot" (aka cancerous) on an MRI that I had back in Jan. Apparently, cancers in the internal nodes are most likely to spread and/or recur. For me, they were the nodes that made the difference between stage 2 and stage 3 (and right now, I'm a stage nuthin). So, the doc said why not throw everything and the kitchen sink at this thing now to give us a better chance of not having to do it again later. Yes. Yes, please. LDT. Let's throw it all out there -- kitchen sinks, cafeteria trays, plastic bags of deli meat -- whatever works. I don't want to ever do this again.

Rad Pals
Going into the DF every day, you start to see the same people over and over again. Overtime, you develop a camaraderie and adopt a set of unspoken rules. For instance, there are no empty platitudes thrown around, no words about thanking God every day for the gift of C. Everyone here is all too aware of how much this sucks. If prayers are offered up, they are for the strength to get through it all -- for us and those who have to deal with us. Another rule: When it's someone's first day, whoever has been there the longest sort of welcomes the new person and explains what it's been like, etc. Most important rule: Be positive. Nobody needs to be brought crashing down on their first day of rads when they have 30-40 more ahead of them.

Here are some of the pals (names changed):


Mary (lung), age 72.
She is Florence Henderson with a brogue. A beautifully-dressed, positive force of energy. Most days she worries about how her husband of 49 years is handling all of this. She talks about their place in Florida and how she can't wait to get back there when she is better. All around lovely woman.

Lisa (breast), age 37. Just got married last year and was trying to get pregnant when she was diagnosed. Had her eggs frozen pre-chemo so she can get back to her plans next year. She has the exact same diagnosis as me, but had a really tough time with chemo and is still on crutches because of neuropathy. She has no tolerance for whining. She's always smiling, always compliments people on their hair growth, and loves the word "frig."

Stephanie (breast), Newton, age 44. On oxygen (no idea why she's on oxygen). Like a thundercloud in the room. Always discussing her ailments and general misery. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that out of the four of us in the room, she's got the best prognosis. A total camel.

Enter Ruth from Dorchester (lung), age 62. She walks through the waiting room, having just finished her first radiation treatment. "That was like getting abducted by aliens!" she says. We all laugh. Ruth works at Brigham & Women's; she just had surgery, and will be doing rads on her lunch hour every day. She has 6 kids and 18 grandchildren. She jokes that she doesn't know half of their names. "Every now and then one of them runs through my kitchen and I say, 'Who the hell are you?'"

What we say to Ruth:

MARY: We just do the best we can. We are lucky to live in Boston, we are in the best possible place.
LISA: Yes, Boston is the best city to get cancer in, no doubt.
ME: This place gives you confidence in your treatments, which has got to help with healing on some level.
STEPHANIE: “That's all true, but unfortunately, cancer always wins.”

UGH. I could hear the Debbie Downer “wuh wahh” hanging in the air. MF camel.

What we say to Stephanie:

ME: Not always.
What I wanted to say: Whatever, keep fucking that chicken.

MARY: Now, now.
What Mary probably wanted to do: Hurl a waiting room chair in her direction.

LISA: [Blank stare]
What Lisa probably wanted to say: Why the frig are you on oxygen!?

Absolutely astounding. Stephanie will say she's just being "honest" and "a realist" but the only reality is that she has a shitty attitude and personality. Another reality: Five years from now, Mary, Lisa, Ruth and I will all be alive and kicking. In the meantime, I'm sure Stephanie will have found something else to die from.

Just then, a man pushing a catering cart enters the waiting room. He's got Poland Spring, Diet Coke, Sun Chips, Power Bars and a ton of Fig Newtons on offer. His name tag says "Jesus," and since he's a young Hispanic man, I'm assuming he goes by the Hispanic pronunciation.

Then Ruth -- arms raised like she's celebrating mass -- cries out: “Praise the Lord! Jesus is here!" (New Testament pronunciation)

Holy crap.

We all look at her, horrified. Jesus tosses her a bag of Sun Chips. Apparently, Ruth knows him from the Brigham and this is the way she always greets him and his snack cart.

In the corner, I see that Stephanie has crumbled into convulsive, soundless laughter.

Perhaps there is hope for the camels, after all.

Tsang's Willage Cafe, Thursday, Sept. 24
My BC-surviving friend Julie and I met over some Chinois and dirty martinis. I schlepped in, all stooped over, still wearing my mesh tubey under my clothes. Having been there, done that, she immediately knew what to say as she's known the unspoken rules all along: "I know I never told you this before because I knew it would've been the worst possible thing to hear. RADIATION SUCKS!!!!"

Time to let it rip. I told her I couldn't wait until the 29th, to be done, and she gave me more words of wisdom about managing expectations. She told me how she and her husband planned a night out on the town the day she finished radiation, got a hotel room and everything. Unfortunately, she felt awful. Even though she was psyched to be finished, she was still burnt and fatigued. She reminded me that even though you're ready to be done and want to just snap out of it and be back to normal, it can take a few weeks to get there. Her first reaction when coming out of treatment was being hit with a "What the fuck WAS that that I just went through?" You're focused so much on the daily grind that stepping back from it all can be overwhelming. So, it'll take some time before it's a blip on the radar (still my favorite metaphor), but we'll get there.

Speaking of which, there was a great piece in Sunday's Globe on how metaphors help us make sense of the world around us. So here's mine for the day:

Cancer is the bug that hits you in the mouth when you're trying to do your job. It knocks you off your game for a little bit, but then you recover and carry on like it never happened. In short, it's a blip on a radar, as illustrated by this awesome guy:

20 August 2009

Voices of the Unintentionally Browless

Please check out my essay in the G section of today's Globe entitled "Brow Beaten."

When I was in the eighth grade, a friend arrived at school hiding her face behind a loose-leaf binder. Earlier that morning, she’d plastered her teased bangs with Aqua Net, lit a cigarette, and - poof! - burned her eyebrows off.

Though she tried to fill in her singed arches with a brow pencil, she still looked like a completely different person. Too much hairspray and the ill-timed flick of a lighter had rendered her totally expressionless. [Read more]

07 August 2009

Don't You Forget About Me

How could anyone possibly forget about John Hughes? He achieved immortality -- even prior to his death on Tuesday -- through his relentlessly quotable movies. So, here is a wee tribute to the man who is single-handedly responsible for my Molly Ringwald complex, a writer and director whose movies were not so much films as they were a parallel universe for us teenagers of the 80s.

When the light gets into your heart, baby!

Some favorite quotes in no particular order:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." -Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Could you describe the ruckus, sir?"
-- Brian, The Breakfast Club

"Now, you listen to me, mister. God did not put me on this earth to be awakened by filthy suggestions from a foul-mouthed hooligan like you." -- Grandma Baker, Sixteen Candles

"Very clever dinner. Appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie." -- Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles

"No more yankie my wankie, the Donger need food!" -- Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles

"I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind." -- Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

"Dimented and sad, but social." -- John Bender, The Breakfast Club

"Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Who." "Who who?" "Helen we got an owl out here in the hall..." -- Grandpa Fred, Sixteen Candles

"Well, uh, let's see, he was wearing a red argyle sweater, and tan trousers, and red shoes...No, he's not retarded." --Grandpa Baker, Sixteen Candles

"I make $31,000 a year and I'm not about to throw it all away on a punk like you." -- Mr. Vernon, The Breakfast Club

"Blane? His name is Blane? That's a major appliance, that's not a name!" -- Duckie, Pretty in Pink

"What about prom, Blane! What about prom!" - Andie, Pretty in Pink

"You look good wearing my future." -- Keith, Some Kind of Wonderful

"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all." -- Andrew, The Breakfast Club

"Automobiiillee" -- Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles

"When Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse." -- Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation

"Those aren’t PILLOWS!" -- Neal, Planes, Trains & Automobiles

"Break his heart, I'll break your face" - Watts, Some Kind of Wonderful

"I don't know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper. It does just fine by itself." -- Cousin Eddie, Vacation

"Boat leaves in two minutes... or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?" -- Clark Griswold, Vacation

"She get married to oily bohunk." -- Long Duk Dong, Sixteen Candles


Why I love technology: James and I decided last minute that there was NO WAY we could miss Sir Paul at Fenway last night. We met up with our fellow throwbacks and pals, Chris and Paula, the only engineers-turned-cookie entrepreneurs who can speak in Beatles lyrics.

("LDT... ZZ")

On the way into town, I posted a status update on Facebook about going to the show:

"When the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me." McCartney@Fenway!

Seconds later, I received a text from BG: "In a cab on the way to Fenway. Meeting up with Haleys pre-Paul."

They'd also decided there was no way they could miss this show. Minutes earlier, none of us knew the others were going. Within moments, a party of four became a party of eight at Cambridge 1 around pizza and drinks.


During our spontaneous pre-show, we looked for tickets on Craig's List from our Blackberries and iPhones. Then there was an old fashioned scalping transaction on the sidewalk outside of Copperfield's.

(Paula and I)

Just an amazing show/evening all around. And everyone (especially James) was very, very thankful that Peter Wolf didn't jump on stage and “ruin everything.

This morning, I woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head and relived the entire "Hey Jude" singalong on YouTube.

I love technology. Technology is good.

24 July 2009

Here's to Romance (clink)

I've been sent this video 8 times today. Props to Cam who sent it first, knowing the impact it would have on hopeless (helpless) romantics. Rock on, Jill & Kevin.

21 July 2009

Surgery and the House of Crazy

July 13, Gimme Drugs

I’m in my johnny, biggie hospital pants and a hairnet, nodding my head and waiting for some sedatives.

The anesthesiologist is explaining all of the “possible” complications of anesthesia. He has a retainer that gives him a slight lisp. He speaks in starts and stops. In hand mannerisms, he is a ringer for John “the Biscuit” Cage from Ally McBeal.

THE BISCUIT: Anesthesia-related deaths…are about 1 in 200,000…sometimes there are rare instances….where a patient can feel….the surgery happening…but is unable…to alert…the doctor. This is…very rare…but…it can happen…OK?

At the end of each sentence, he makes church steeples with his hands and keeps them that way until I respond.


I understand he’s making sure I absorb the disclaimers before I sign the consent form. I’m more concerned about his understanding my unholy claustrophobia and the involuntary karate kicks that are going to fly in his general direction when that oxygen mask comes at me in the OR. Unless I’m sedated, of course.

His eye-rolling pre-op assistant, a nurse from Quincy, warned me that I’d have to fight to get a word in edgewise with this guy, or any of “the men around here” for that matter.

NURSE: “Sweetie, when the anesthesiologist gets in here, don’t let him leave until he gives you the drugs. These men around here, I tell ya, if something isn’t as obvious as a dog’s balls, forgetaboutit!”

ASIDE: When I had a c-section, some crafty anesthesiologists hooked me up to a valium drip and cut creative shapes out of a wee plastic oxygen mask that I learned -- somewhat unceremoniously -- was just a decoy, a distraction from the hulking mother ship of an oxygen mask they cupped over my face just seconds before I passed out. I felt like a dog in a car headed to the park, only to veer into the vet parking lot at the last minute. It was a total mind game, but it worked.

Right now, my anxiety is mounting.

THE BISCUIT: “Sometimes…in a very, very rare instance… people don’t wake up…from anesthesia. Again…this is very, very…

ME (interrupting): You know I need sedatives, right?


My surgeon shows up and is teeny tiny. At first I don’t recognize her. I remember her being taller and having a more formidable presence. Then again, the last time I saw her, she was using the word “treatable” instead of “curable,” which made me shrink, cartoon-like, in her office chair. I knew the huge difference between those two words. She’s since used the latter, so perhaps perception is reality.

Size aside, she is ALL business – and a little scary – and all of the things I’ve liked about her all along. She scribbles the word “yes” on LEFTY to indicate the rogue boob of the pair.

As I sign the rest of the consent forms, well-wishes in the form of texts continue to bubble up on my iPhone.

Then, I look around and realize the Biscuit has left without giving me the drugs. SHIT!

I’m about to page my wisecracking nurse when he returns, patting a pocket protector full of syringes.

BISCUIT: I’ve got some happy, happy cocktails.

He injects one into my IV that makes my head swim, melloowwwwww. I reluctantly hand over my do-rag and phone to James. As they wheel me away to OR, I blow James a kiss, then I want to cry but can’t.


The next thing I know, someone with a thick Indian accent is tickling my feet.

“Helloooo Kathryn, Hellooo (tickle, tickle, tickle) “ Your surgery is over. Helloooo.”

There is a kindly-looking doctor at the foot of my bed. His manner was so calming and reassuring that I had to ask later if he actually existed or was just a narcotic apparition.

DOCTOR: “Did you have any dreams? (tickle, tickle) Hmmm? Hmmm?”

Apparently, I told him I dreamt about being at the beach. It was not so much a dream as a replay of the prior weekend at Minot. And the cool little table with cup holders that materialized out of thin air as the perfect appetizer and Corona dock.

ASIDE: This marks an improvement in my anesthesia-related conversation skills. I’ve said all kinds of random shit under the influence like “go fuck yourself” to an innocent bystander. Or “Vito has a lot of friends” -- which I whispered conspiratorially to my brother for no apparent reason and of which I have zero recollection.

DOCTOR: “Are you in any pain, hmmm?”

I shake my head no, but he shows me how to dispense the morphine drip that I was hooked up to with the click of a button.

I never realized just how much pain I’ve been in all my life until I clicked that button. The button not only emits a pleasant trilling sound like the Tri-Tone on a Mac, but also a steady stream of awesome into your soul.

This mastectomy thing: So far, SO not a big deal….

July 13, 6 p.m.-ish : My Pie-Seeking Nightmare of a Roommate

I have these MF blood pressure cuffs around both of my calves that randomly seize up and scare the shit out of me. In my morphine haze, they give me the sensation of someone grabbing my ankles. I keep kicking into the darkness before remembering it’s just the damn cuffs. They are supposed to prevent clotting, pulmonary embolism and all that. As a trade off, they give me miniature heart attacks and make me itch like a MF.

I’ve just been wheeled into my room from recovery and soon realize that these calve cuffs are going to be the least of my worries. James and I realize we are not alone.

A voice cries out from the other side of the curtain. A first, it sounds like the voice of Caillou and I think I’m freaking out on the drugs.

(If you don’t know who Caillou is, click here.)

Why have I been put in a room with a child? But we soon learn the voice is that of a 30-ish pregnant woman who’s apparently been admitted for a migraine, but that remains unclear.

WOMAN: I need pie! Pieeee with berrieees! PLEASE.

Then she starts sobbing. And sobbing and sobbing. It turns into a hysterical meltdown.

James and I look at each other, not know what to do.

The nurse keeps coming in and out of the room. “We’re trying to find you some pie, Tammy.” (not her real name)

TAMMY (still sounding like Caillou) Can you get me some Ativan? Just until you can get my pie. Please! Please!

Nobody seems to be denying her anything so the pleading is even more annoying than the Caillou voice. The crying continues. The nurse brings her some Ativan. Another nurse takes my vitals, James takes off to get Carrie and Paulie to bed and I drift off into a narcotic haze.

~One hour later~

More screeching from beyond the curtain

TAMMY: Pie? Is there pie?

LONG SUFFERING NURSE: All I could find you was a slice of angel food cake and some canned peaches.

~Sounds of eating at a troph~

Throughout the night, Tammy shuns tap water in the name of the fetus but demands all of the narcotics she can get her hands on. Against my will, I find out she is also anorexic and completely unstable. The crying stops only to be outdone at 3 a.m. when she places a frantic call to her husband “Todd” and has a screaming conversation that goes on for 45 minutes.

She hangs up, cries and swears to herself for a bit, and then turns Law & Order up to volume 10 on her TV.

I furiously click my morphine drip and am determined to sleep with one eye open.

July 14, 8 a.m. Rectum? I Damn Near Killed Him!

James calls. “Did that horror show next door finally pass out?”

I am too tired to get into it. All I really want at that moment is one of those monkey paw back scratchers.

Tammy's nurse for the day is originally from Arkansas and speaks like a shrill Dixie Carter.

Then, Todd shows up. Turns out, he is a tool of the highest order, barking at his wife telling her this is happening to her because she is "weak" and "cannot have a bowel movement."

ASIDE: I could not make up this story if I tried. I hope I am able to convey the sheer insanity of this hospital stay.

TAMMY: I can’t poo. I’m trying. They want me to poo and I can’t.

TODDY: Tammy, do you feel like you may have something in your rectum?

There is a flurry of phone calls that culminates in a rectal examination of Tammy.

Now I need Ativan.

Moments later, James cheerily arrives with snacks from Whole Foods, magazines and an abundance of good vibes that help balance out the toxic energy going on on the other side of the curtain. There have been no less than 8 people over there in the past few hours. Not one moment of peace. I've even started using the restroom in the hallway to avoid getting sucked into the vortex of Tammy & Todd.

JAMES: Hey, how’s it going?

I point to the curtain.

TODD: Tammy, answer the doctor. Do you still feel like you may have something in your rectum?

JAMES (shakes head): Are you kidding me?

ME: Oh, you just missed the rectal exam!

The doctors, nurses and Todd discuss all kinds of invasive procedures from enemas to excavation via backhoe.

James throws his hands up in disgust.

It's now clear that these people are completely deranged, have zero regard for the other people in the room trying to heal. Being in this room is not good for what we now call the "proverbial tumor." This is no way to spend Bastille Day.

The nurse gives me some Benadryl in lieu of a monkey paw backscratcher and I start dropping off. James heads to the Federal to grab a fresh sandwich (it’s going in the book) and get away from the ongoing discussion about Tammy’s rectum.

We decide to see if I can have my room changed when he gets back.

~15 minutes later~

I can’t believe it’s still July 14th.

I wake from a deep sleep and find a figure hovering by my hospital bed. At first, I think it’s Tammy wielding a bulb syringe. When my vision unblurs, I realize it’s my brother P trying to read my hospital bracelet.

“Oh my God, it IS you," he says.

He's been walking up and down the corridor for 10 minutes. The nurse told him I was in room 22 but when he peeked in, he thought I was some little boy. This is an ongoing theme. James told me I look like "little Michael Russo" with my fauxhawk. Michael is a six-year-old classmate of Caroline's.

We get about 10 seconds to laugh about this until the conversation fires up on the other side of the curtain again.

TODD: Tammy, I think you need to take a stand on the bowel movement issue.

My brother points to the curtain, bewildered.

ME (whisper): Fucking crazy. I’m getting out of here.

James returns and Dixie Carter asks him and Paul to leave as they'll be doing yet another invasive procedure on Tammy. She turns to me, "But don't worry, hon, you can stay."

Ooh, lucky me.

JAMES: I'm getting your room changed right now.

What transpires next is blurry as I was still in a Benadryl haze.

James and P were standing at the nurse's station and I apparently came flying out out of my room with my ass hanging out of my johnny, not caring one bit. I was grasping the spot formerly known as Lefty with one hand and pushing my IV with the other.

“I can’t stay in there another second I can’t stay! They need to be on the psych ward!”

My nurse tells me I'll get my own private room at 5:30. James, P and I sit in the hallway in the full view of the elevators. Nic and Paul were coming to visit and we want to intercept them lest they walk in on the horror of the invasive procedure going down in my room.

6 p.m. -- Peace, at last

My room is big, bright and clean. Footloose is on TV.

My nurse asks me if I want one or two percocet.

ME: "Two, please. And for future reference, the answer to that question is always going to be two."

I fall asleep that night and have more dreams of the beach. When your dreams are of scenes from your actual life -- it's a lucky life.

UPDATE: It's just gotten even luckier! My surgeon just called with the pathology report. There are no remaining signs of invasive cancer, all lymph nodes are negative and the margins are free and clear! Yahoo!!!!!!!

13 July 2009

The Surge

I'm heading into surgery today at high noon. This bust is busted. As my friend Super Bon Bon put it: "It's time to bid farewell to the girls who have served you so well." Bring on the "595 rack" in 2010. Gotta take the elevator to the mezzanine stop!

In the meantime, enjoy a slideshow of the good times in between. As crappy and low res as ever.


26 June 2009

Life Ain't So Bad At All/Live Life Off the Wall

(Who did NOT have this poster?)

We returned home from a senior-citizen early dinner at the new Fours yesterday only to learn that Michael Jackson had died.  What a double whammy, the news coming just hours after Farrah's  Or triple whammy this week, really.  (Poor Ed McMahon) 

We fired up the iTunes library and had an MJ dance party with the wee brownies.  Later, Caroline and I fell asleep watching MJ videos on MTV.

I became irrationally angry over Rhianna's pilfering of "mama say mama sa mama coo sa" for one of her songs.  

Now, let's hope there is some peace.  

For Farrah and her iconic hair, peace from her cancer -- and from Ryan O'Neal.

Aside: Hopefully, we'll no longer be subjected to O'Neal crying on cue in the media.  He struck me as an insincere and opportunistic DB throughout her whole ordeal. 

For MJ, peace from all of his inner torment (and tormenters).  Hopefully his kids will have the childhood that he never had.  He will obviously live on forever through his music and videos.  

Anyone my age would be hard pressed to go back to any time in our lives where there isn't a Michael Jackson song playing in the background.  For me, it was "Off the Wall" at the ice skating rink when I was nine.   Trying to learn all the dance moves to "Beat It" in the St. Mary's schoolyard. Listening to the entire Thriller album (taped from vinyl) over and over on a hot pink boombox at the beach.  And that random song "Farewell my Summer Love."   The "We are the World" and "Say, Say, Say" videos.  "Man in the Mirror" playing in a club during  spring break in Bermuda and people forming a big dance circle.  I think one of the BLA prom themes was "I"ll Be There."  "Bad" and "Black & White" blaring at keg parties in college.  T-Bag doing the Thriller dance on Nantucket and inspiring others to do so at subsequent weddings.  Singing "Rock with You" as a lullabye to Caroline and Paulie.  

More than ever, I am wishing I had hair right now so I could pay tribute with some feathering and a jheri curl.  Luckily, it's been done before and documented.

Farrah's hair provided endless inspiration for throwbacks like me. 

Some MJ hair, albeit completely unintentional at the time.


Seven Songs of the Day 6/26/09

Let the madness and the music get to you..

1. Theme from Charlie's Angels
2. ABC
3. Shake Your Body Down to the Ground
4. Off the Wall
5. Rock with You
6. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'
7. Man in the Mirror

**Bonus*** Dirty Diana (ouhh)  
(egregious omission the first time around, Cam)

22 June 2009

Sun, Sun, Sun on the Last Drip

Woo hoo! We're here at the DF for the final drip. It's appropriate that we started this journey on Ground Hog day because every Monday since Feb 2 has been some version of the same day: Up at dawn. Get coffee/green tea. Drive in gridlock listening to WERS and Jack Lapieres on the news. Valet the car. Go to DF10 to get blood drawn. Grab a pager and go to the caf to wait for chemo to be mixed. Read paper, go online, have snacks. Pager goes off. Back to 10th floor to mainline pre-meds, Herceptin and Taxol. James goes in search of Red Sox ticket lotteries and sandwiches. Ten minutes before the drip ends, he goes to get the car so we can tear off down Binney Street without slowing down. Sometimes, I've almost run out of there with the IV still in my arm. Today could be one of those days.

The better Mondays included chemo buds and cafe sandwiches. The worse ones, a camel nurse on Memorial Day (warded off, thankfully, by Nic's & Amy's giving of the stinkeye). It's been almost six months of ups and downs and there is an even longer road ahead, but today is a huge milestone. Even the late June clouds and dank cannot drag us down. The sun is shining. I will be back here every three weeks for Herceptin but that's an antibody, not a poison.

It's also brighter in here today due to the ginormous, beautiful flower arrangement from the Moschella clan with a card that simply read:"No More!" Right on.

The people watching here is usually depressing but even that's lightened, both literally and figuratively.

In the waiting room, a 50-ish woman in a hot pink bandana and auburn shag wig wears a t-shirt that says “Cancer Sucks!” The words are in large block letters that recall "Frankie Says Relax" (Dating myself. Let's do the time warp agaaain.)

As I'm getting my vital signs taken, a woman outfitted in lime green eyeglasses, lime green shoes, and lime green pants with yellow pineapples on them (The fruity equivalent of whale pants. Cue T-Bag sashaying by in tight-fitting jean jacket) takes the seat across from me. She begins staring at me while my while my IV nurse is tapping my veins. Then she keeps staring to the point where I am uncomfortable. Who is this lady and what is her fucking problem?"

Then she speaks:

LIMEGREEN: Excuse me, can I ask you a question?

ME: (Here we go) Mmm hmm.

LIMEGREEN: What was the name of that skating lady from Boston who got hit by Tonya Harding and some thugs?

ME: Nancy Kerrigan?

LIMEGREEN; Nancy Kerrigan! Right! Golly! It’s been driving me crazy all morning. Thank you so much!

I cracked up at the utter randomness but also at the fact that you really never know what is going through people's heads. Very often they aren't rude, just insane.

Drip, drip, drip. -- 32 minutes to go and then off to the Teddy Bear Picnic with a keg cup of wine.


Seven Songs of the Day - 6/22/09

1. Here Comes the Sun - Beatles

2. Dance, Dance, Dance - Lykke Li

3. Get Up - REM

4. Maybe Today - Ryan Montbleau

5. Rightstarter - Public Enemy

6. Sure Shot - Beastie Boys

7. Lovers in Japan - Coldplay

16 June 2009

Fables of the Reconstruction

In addition to reaching the land of NED, I assumed the light at the end of this crapbasket would be a fierce boob job. Nothing like gravity-defying cleavage to turn around a tragic boob situation! But I recently learned that the huge amount of radiation I am going to have will pretty much destroy any chance of implants -- at least successful ones. I'm told if I attempt them, I could be walking down the street one day only to have one slip out and get trapped in my pant leg. Clip the wrong end of a revolving door? Bang, explosion. Booosh.

This turn of events will not doom me to a boobless existence, however. Instead, I'll likely have reconstructive surgery, a procedure that involves building some brand new hammers out of my own fat cells. Many pals have already offered up generous T&A donations (thanks, friends) but the doctors said it doesn't work that way. So much for going up a size.

Anyteets, reconstruction involves more extensive surgery, skin grafts, and the very Sci-Fi experience of walking around without nipples for up to a year. Nipples are "tattooed" on post operatively. There are people out there who actually specialize in this rare art. If you do a search for nipple tattoo artists, you'll find people who design all kinds of nips from the natural looking to those for which no areola is too big.

Later, Lefty
But all of this is down the road. In the here and now, I am completing chemo on Monday (yahoo!) and preparing for my mastectomy which should take place sometime in July. I've been kind of lax about getting a surgery date scheduled. I've had this laissez-faire "it's all good - whatever" attitude that's been zapping my sense of urgency. Maybe it's fatigue, or maybe I'm just sick of talking about tits! Also, some of the side-effect meds (not marijuana, but may as well be) could be causing this mellow cloudiness. I've had trouble writing lately (if the lapse in blogging is any indication) and have had all the mental clarity of an elderly driver at a farmer's market. I've also been in a very, very good mood -- unshakably good, but mindlessly so.

Last week, the only thing I had to do one morning was call my surgeon to schedule my consultation. I started picking balls of dried grape jelly off of Vito’s hindquarters and completely forgot about it for the rest of the day.

Would you please pass the jelleh?

I'm afraid I've become too complacent while plodding through what seems like endless treatment. At my last oncologist appointment, I learned that the A/C, Taxol and Herceptin has worked so well that the 10cm mass in Lefty is no longer palpable! My doc said I may even be a candidate for a lumpectomy since the tumor has shrunk so much. While I was thrilled to hear the treatment is working so well, this surgical scale-back threw me off a little. I've already bid farewell to Lefty and have resolved to go as drastic as possible surgery-wise to ensure this cancer doesn't come back. I'm trying to rekindle that sense of fear and urgency I felt in January.

Aside: Besides, Lefty is busted. It's always been trouble, rogue even, popping out of bathing suits at the most inopportune moments. Nobody has been subjected to this horror more than poor BG. Waving his hand like a white flag on the beach: “It’s out again! It’s out again! Put it back! No!”

My doc said survival rates are the same regardless of the type of surgery. There's a less than five percent chance of local recurrence (If HER2 recurs, it usually recurs distantly). There is always the chance of getting a second BC in either Lefty or Righty, but it's also a small one.

I trust my doctors and I know there are protocols that are more attractive, but ultimately you have to do what’s right for you. The BC statistics have been in my favor all along but have not necessarily come in on my side: Only six percent of BCs occur in women under 40. Only 20 percent of all BCs are HER2 positive. This is a trend I would like to buck. So I will not fuck with the odds just because they seem to be in my favor. So, off with the boobs! I want to be talking about reconstruction next year, not recurrence. I don't intend on going through this ever again.

DF 10, June 15 - Killing time
It's been awhile but my social worker (SW) has popped by my chemo cubby for a wee visit. She keeps calling me Kathy but I'm way too mellow to correct her: “It’s all good, you crazy coot.” The last time I saw the SW, I was in a crooked do-rag looking for happy pills so I can see how my newly calm exterior would throw her off.

SW: How are you feeling?
ME: Just chillaxing.

James returns from a sandwich run and sees the SW. Realizing we never tried to guess where she was from, we dig into our favorite time-killer.

JAMES: Definitely Brookline or Newton.
ME: “Yeah, man, sounds good. Good. Good. All good.”

A subsequent Google shows she is indeed from Newton Center.

Seven Songs of the Day -- 6/17/2009

1. Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco
2. Hell Yes - Beck
3. Sports & Wine - Ben Folds Five
4. Tower of Strength - Mission UK
5. Outside - Tribe
6. Dry Land - Buffalo Tom
7. Hello, My Treacherous Friends - Ok Go

Today's playlist comes courtesy of Bart Parker in ME. Thanks, Bart!

26 May 2009

Brushing Shoulders Off

I know it's been awhile between posts. I'm feeling great but have been more preoccupied by the outer life than the inner lately. I took on a work assignment for the first time since March, and then started noticing all of the things around the house that needed to be done. Being a recluse will do this to you.  I'm usually not such a freak about ill-fitting slipcovers. 

In the yard, I noticed my flower beds were starting to look like something out of the History Channel's “Life After People." Vegetation, weeds and bramble were taking over due to a lack of human intervention.  I had to take care of this lest we be invaded by feral cats.  (Seriously, have you seen this show? I have to get out more.) Anyway, weeding was therapeutic in more ways than one.  Got that dirt off my shoulders.

I planted some sunflowers with Caroline and Paulie while Vito attacked his reflection in the garden shovel (I know how you feel, V).  Like every year, we planted some tomatoes in big pots on the deck.  Even though we have room for a garden now, I can't help but do the containers. It's the Eastie in me.  My friend D.  noted it's only a matter of time before we "hot top" the backyard and plant a Bathtub Madonna amid the rhododendrons.  Can't have a yard without a shrine!

Follicle Magic

These days, I tend to avoid all mirrors or anything that produces a reflection.  There are times --  in between weekly drips and getting felt up by Czechoslovakian exchange students -- when I actually forget about the BC.  Then I'll see a reflection in my computer screen and it's right in my face: the glare off my bald head, eyes without eyebrows, the outline of a do-rag.  The alternatives aren't great: Headscarves make me look like Stephen Van Zandt. My raspberry beret, like a Guardian Angel.  My wig, kind of southern -- way too coiffed.  All are reminders, not just to me, but to everyone around me.

Aside: If I'm out and sense someone is uncomfortable, I will pull my wig way back on my head, giving myself a good Jan Brady five-head.  This tends to loosen people up.

Whenever I'm heading out with Caroline, she's adamant: "Mom! Whatever you do -- Do NOT forget your wig!" I originally thought she was embarrassed by the baldness.  But once we're out, she gives me up to everyone within earshot: “Do you like my mommy’s wig? She's actually bald.” 

Last week, I got out of the shower -- spaced out on autopilot -- and accidentally wiped off the steamed up mirror.  I saw a shadow on my head.  At first, I thought it was dirt.  When I tried to brush it off, my head felt fuzzy! Upon closer inspection, I realized I was definitely sprouting some fresh new follicles. The docs told me my hair could *possibly* start growing back in the Taxol/Herceptin phase of treatment, but not to expect it. I didn’t expect it.  And while it's not much, it’s something.  

Even though it could take up to six months to have a covering of hair, I have to say these first few follicles restored a little faith.  I always had a fairly optimistic outlook on life. Whenever I was going through a bad patch, I would flip ahead a few months on my desk calendar, pick a random date, and write something like: "Are things better?”  Usually, by the time I got to the selected date, things would have improved. This whole BC thing, for whatever reason, robbed me of that sense of things turning around.  Treatment is slow and long and it's easy to believe that you'll never feel or look like yourself again. It's easy to believe whatever the insidious bitch BC tells you.  The disease not only screws with your boobs but your head. 

So, my sense of things turning around has returned, at least for now.  This morning, I noticed the expiration date on the orange juice was June 29th.  Instead of gloomily focusing on the words "expiration date," my first thought was: "By June 29th, I will have been finished with chemo for a whole week."  ~Brushing shoulders off~

Bring on the Roadies

Of course, the inner hag wants to shelve the blueberries and quinoa for marbled meats, a few packets of Sweet & Low and a cigarette.  So far, I've pegged the BC on everything from shitty karma to hot dogs.  Last month, it was wine. "Our Daily Red." It's time to turn that around too and release the inner torment/hag/blame.  Get that dirt off your shoulders.  Live healthy, move forward, vices in moderation. And get out of the house more!

My final chemo is June 22. (Four more!)  I'm thinking about a roadie on the way home from the DF, a dirty martini in a to-go cup.  

"Remember what the drowning man said -- a little drunk is better than dead." 

Hats off in the HOV Lane

Two weeks ago, after a particularly long and slow treatment, we were rushing back from the DF, trying to make a Mother's Day Tea at the kids' school.  Of course, there was heavy traffic and by the time we reached Dorchester, we had to cut across four lanes to get into the HOV lane. We made it over in time, only to get pulled over by a State Trooper at the entrance.

James pulled over and looked at me: "Quick! Take off your hat!"

A perfect opportunity to play the cancer card. 

I whipped off my hat and leaned over the driver's seat so the trooper could get a good peek at my dome. James handed him the license and registration.

ME:  My fault. I am late for a Mother's Day event at school. We're in a hurry, the traffic, etc.

ST: (Totally unfazed, probably thinking I was a skinhead).  Reckless driving, lane switching not safe, not cool, etc. 

ME:  But officer, we are rushing back from, you know, chemo.

He let us go.  James' quick thinking saved the day. I made it to the event, a little late, but had had time to get the wig on!


...to my good friends Stevie B. and Colleen.  Both have been mentioned numerous times on the PU over the years.  Colleen left Boston several years ago to go work for the American Cancer Society in DC. While she no works longer there, she still participates in the Society's Annual Relay for Life. This year, she's assigned my name to her cause. I was overwhelmed by her letter.

This is Steven's 3rd time riding the Pan Mass Challenge.  This year he's dedicated his ride to his dad who just finished treatment for colon cancer, and also to me. He even mentions the PU on his page. His said no tears allowed. Too late, Stevie B. 

Thank you (with love) to both of you and everyone else who participates in these events, gives back, or just gives because they can. 

Please check them out!

Colleen-Relay for Life

Stevie B.—Pan Mass Challenge


Seven Songs of the Day -- 5/26/09 

1. Milk -Kings of Leon

2. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots -Flaming Lips

3. Chocolate Town -Ween

4. I Know I'm Not Alone -Michael Franti and Spearhead

5. Sweet Virginia -Rolling Stones

6. One Big Holiday -MMJ (strong NED theme contention)

7. Fees So Good -Chuck Mangione Live at the Holiday Bowl

 **Bonus/Filler: Mahna Mahna -Cake

 --Today's playlist comes courtesy of Alex Scalisi in SF! Thanks, AS!

11 May 2009

Seven Songs of the Day 

1. Whatever Gets You Through the Night - John Lennon 
2. The Way We Get By - Spoon
3. Paper Boats - Nada Surf
4. Farewell to the Old Me - Dar Williams
5. Death of a Disco Dancer - The Smiths
6. Sulk - Billy Bragg
7. Takes A lot to Laugh, Takes a Train to Cry - Bob Dylan

Meh-na Meh-na

Live, DF 10

It's been awhile.  All is well, just meh.  I’ve been reluctant to put up a post because I couldn't do so without sounding like a miserable camel.  So much to say, but my head is swimming too much to write coherently.  I've been climbing out of the haze -- slowly -- and should be back this week.  Six more weeks of chemo. Getting there, slowly.  In the meantime...



28 April 2009

It's a Go-Go

4 p.m., Apr. 27, DF Caf
We're nibbling on some veggies and dip waiting for the DF 10 pager to go off and call us up to the Infusion floor. I'm reading an awesome New Yorker article on Muzak that my friend N. passed along.

We're on an upside down schedule today, here much later than usual, waiting for the lab to determine whether my blood counts are Taxol-worthy. Even if they're not, I'll still be getting the Herceptin, the antibody that supposedly shrivels up the bitch that is HER2. So, here we wait.

Caroline: Mama, what's a swine?
Me: A pig.
Caroline: Why isn't it just called "pig flu."

Looking around, I'm starting to believe that Code Red was right about the MJ mask being "trendy" amid all the pig flu hoopla. While I've been coming to the DF since the end of January, I've never seen SO many masked patients wandering the corridors. And this is a place where you'd expect to see masked people, pig flu notwithstanding. Is everyone just in from Mexico?

Muzak Riveted
Anyway, I'm really into this Muzak piece. Did you know why it was dubbed "elevator music?" Me neither. Apparently, when skycrapers first came on the scene (bringing multi-floor elevators along with them), people were anxious about riding up 50 floors in these little boxes suspended on wires in narrow vertical corridors. The music supposedly lessened the anxiety while their ears popped. It's the same reason why dentist offices adopted Muzak -- to take the edge off the horrifying reality that someone is about to drill into your skull via your maw.

I get that, I just don't get how string instrumentals of Elvis Presley tunes could possibly have a calming effect. I clearly remember being at the Finast supermarket with my mother -- I was probably 7 or 8 years old. A trumpeted Muzaked version of Him by Rupert Holmes came on and made me furious. "They're ruining it," I thought.

Anyway, Muzak is no longer in the elevator/dental office business, they are no longer maiming songs with harpsichords and tubas -- unless you're in Japan where business owners routinely request "contemporary instrumentals of popular songs" for some reason. Whenever you hear playlists of songs in their original formats -- at supermarkets, retail stores, restaurants -- there is a good chance it's Muzak. I always assumed it was satellite radio.

Muzak is also rampant at the loathsome mall. Which is no suprise. The mall is to me what the elevator was to those skyscraper newbies. I feel suffocated, barked at, like the floor could fall out from beneath me at any time. Still, sometimes it's unavoidable.

Marketing to Mall Rats with Muzak 101, and a little Falco.

Hollister or Abercrombie: Homogenous techno beats pump out at you from behind beveled room dividers and fake ficuses. The design, as well as the crappy techno, are meant to convey exclusivity, like that of a NYC nightclub or in this case, a keg party in the really, really good part of the woods with hardly any animal droppings. It's also useful in repelling 39-year-olds and others of my ilk: "You are way too old to come in here, lady. You'll just get confused." ** Not to worry, though, nieces and nephews, gift cards will always be purchased when requested, they'll just be purchased online.**

Ann Taylor: According to Muzak, AT's clientele is conservative women who don't want to take any fashion risks, just look polished. They just want everything "bright, positive, optimistic, and uplifting." So, Muzak tends to pipe in Sting and Celine Dion (huh? CD, uplifting? Don't most people want to see her crossing the street against the light?)

Gap or Old Navy: Since customers range from infants to adults, Muzak often throws covers of old songs into the mix. Think: Counting Crows doing Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."

Now I'm wondering what the Muzak soundtrack for Tello's in the 1980s would have been. What songs would have enhanced the experience of strolling those racks of impeccable cheese, searching for Jordache bags, neon socks and purple rayon with a stolen grape Fanta from Liberty Market in your hand. One song I always remember blaring in there was "Lover Girl" by Teena Marie, the employees dancing and mouthing the words as they organized thongs and beaded barrettes behind the counter.

Still, I'm thinking: How is this Muzak any different from satellite radio? My question is answered just a few paragraphs later. Whereas satellite radio does genres, Muzak does customization to the base right down to the song segue. Being a slave to (and never disappointed by) my Party Shuffle on iTunes, I totally get this. Many people have simliar mindsets, but not everyone dresses the same. In other words, sometimes a little well-placed Falco goes a long way.

I also get this because I went through a phase where I would only listen to satellite radio but my craving for musical variety along with my being too lazy to channel surf won out and lured me back to the college radio airwaves where I can hear Bob Dylan one second and Cat Power the next. In fact, my entire musical M.O. these days involves Shazaming songs from WERS and downloading them to my iPod.


Having new music on the Pod is actually creating an incentive to exercise and right now, I am in need of an epic, cobweb-shedding walk.

Aside: There's a 90-year-old man that lives next door to us that takes his daily walk (shuffle) past our house. Every day, he walks about 100 yards down the street to a little sidewalk bridge that goes overs a brook. He rests there on a wrought iron bench for a few moments before turning back. Vito, who remains staunch in his belief that nobody else has a right to exist let alone walk by our house, barks at the man every day, menacing him back and forth from behind his invisible fence barrier. The man, depending up on his mood, greets him with: "Hello, big fella!" or "Up yours, fatso!" James said he was going to ask our elderly neighbor if he needed a walking partner since a 100-yard shuffle is about my speed these days. All I need is some tube socks, etc. Very funny. I refused to give in to the way-too-close-to-home humor of his suggestion. I told him that when I walk, I must walk alone.

5 p.m. It's a Go! BTW, were you just released from a concentration camp?
James is reading aloud a story from ESPN the Mag about a service called Cha Cha where you can text any question -- anything -- to 242242 and receive an answer within three minutes. (I'd never heard of this, but in under 24 hours, I've seen it everywhere. There is also a similar service called KGB.)

I'm in mid-celery stick, trying to think of a question to ask when our pager goes off and we're heading up to the DF 10 Infusion.

My fellow/doctor Katie meets us there to let us know that my white counts are back up -- way up -- higher than is even necessary. So not only is treatment a go for today, we're also going to scale back on the Neupogen shot this week, only twice instead of thrice. This is all music to my ears. It's going to be a MUCH better week.

Without a doubt, the past week was the toughest one since treatment started on Feb 2. I hit the wall for sure (but not the floor, not yet). I knew being hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world for 7 days was going to suck but at the same time, I looked forward to some enforced downtime: I would finally catch up on emails and FB, maybe do some writing. When the sun finally came out, I would read my book on my back deck or sit by the brook with Vito and let the kids run around. Regroup, restore and rest. Aside from reading with Roxicet, none of this went down. James ended up having to take the entire week off because I saw white dots just going up and down the stairs. Then there were the Neupogen side effects: Headache, bone pain and spine pain (what!??), all of which were in full effect and rendered me completely horizontal or stooped over with an icy eyemask and a heating pad for the entire week. Then the antibiotic I was taking gave me some kind of stomach flu and melted away about 7 pounds, so I am not only bald but skeletal -- concentration-camp chic. Katie notes my birdlike physique and prescribes donuts for the week to bulk up. If I weren't at the DF, I'm sure I could be mistaken for a recently released prisoner.

7 p.m. Guess the Nurse Part IV
Today, we have a different chemo nurse because we had to come much later in the day. The sun is starting to set outside. The other patients who were sitting across from us have all cleared out. My veins, after three MF IVs, have finally started cooperating and opened up a pathway for those antibodies and poisons. It's clear we are going to be here awhile. I'm on my 12th Jolly Rancher. James, of course, discovers some fresh sandwiches in the fridge. We wolf those down in seconds.

We're really in need of a chemo buddy. Because of the uncertainty of this week's schedule, I couldn't line up anyone. James is awesome, my constant, but he's living inside of this too; he welcomes the healing distractions of an outsider or a not-so-outsider. Doreen came last time, bringing her positive energy, laughs and the hilarious story of purchasing an authentic $1,500 Gucci purse for under $300 -- while at Jeveli's in Eastie. As a BC survivor, she also brought consolation, saying that BC has got to be better than that anal cancer that poor Farah Fawcett has. She would've been great at our guess-where-the-nurse-is-from game, but we had our faithful Judy from Norwood that week.

James, having read his mag cover to cover, now turns his focus to the new nurse and from where she hails. The dark haired woman, early 30ish, is not feeling him. She won't even glance in his general direction when he starts peppering her with questions. I've never seen this before. Granted, the nurse is very busy this evening, one of the few nurses still on the infusion floor past 7 p.m. She's very talkative with me, but mostly she because is intent on making sure the drugs are seeping into my vein and not the surrounding tissues. I have too much Benadryl in my bloodstream and am too loopy to ask the right small talky questions even if I could get away with them, which I can't. Not the way James typically can. "She won't give me anything, not a thing!" he says, frustrated.

Right now, he's floundering in his usual stellar attempts at idle chit chat: "Are we your last patients of the day," he asks her. She smiles at him and it looks like she's about to throw him a bone, but only says,"Oh no, I'm here until 8:30." When she walks away, James, with the most minimal info to date, confidently states: "North of Boston: Wilmington, Woburn, Winchester, one of those." I shake my head in agreement. North of Boston. Sound guesses, for sure, but not ones I would've blurted out so soon.

I googled the nurse this morning. She is from Woburn! What can I say..it's a gift!

The Network, Walking & Go Go Dancing
This past week, I was emailing/FBing with friends/fam, Paula, Julie, Lisa Daria, Evanne and Heather, all of whom have gone through different cancer treatments. Every single one suffered almost identical setbacks, healing crises of sorts, right around the same time as I did. It usually hit around the fourth week of Taxol or a couple of months into their treatments. Some even ended up in the ER for a few days. But it sounds like things do turn around once you've hit this new low in WBCs.

Julie said what ends up happening is that you're over-the-top happy on the days you actually feel good. Feeling good is a higher high.

This is how I feel today. It's beautiful outside, it's a feel-good day and I'm elated. Cued up: "I think I'll go for a walk outside now, the summer sun's calling my name (I hear ya now). I just can't stay inside all day, I gotta get out get me some of those rays.."

I AM going to take a walk right now because quoting Brady Bunch songs on the PU kind of makes me want to punch myself in the back of the head, just a little.

When I return, I might install go-go dancing platforms all around my house.


Seven Songs of the Day -- 4/29/2009

Today's playlist (with those explanations that I love) comes courtesy of Chris Seremetis. Thanks, Tif!

1. God Am - Alice In Chains, just cause it's fun to say 7 times fast
2. Pass the Mic - Beasties Boys, cause the line: "be true to yourself and you will never fall" is awesome
3. I'll Stick Around - Foo Fighters, cause they rock
4. Rusty Cage - Johnny Cash, cause he's the only who could sing it better than Cornell
5. Stardog Champion - Mother Love Bone, grunge!
6. Do What You Want - OK Go, cause we should all do so
7. Be Free - The Cult, "to be free, like the birds and the bees" cause Billy Duffy just rocks the angry chords

21 April 2009

Hermetically Sealed, Hermit-Like

(It was only a matter of time)

I thought I'd finally adjusted to the undercurrent of dull energy that shuffles me through each day. For whatever reason, just knowing this is a temporary state helped me resume a normal, albeit slo-mo clip, throughout this past week.  We had some friends over.  Took the kids to the beach. Celebrated James' birthday a bit.  Caroline and I went to fashion show fundraiser with everyone on Sunday.  Some said I looked kind of pale -- but like being eyelashless, it was nothing a ridiculous amount of make-up couldn't fix.  I may walk around looking like Norma Desmond in a suburban-blonde wig, but again -- it's temporary. Dealable. All we need is a little sunshine. But then, I couldn't get my treatment yesterday. The docs sent me home from the DF with dangerously low white blood counts, some preemptive antibiotics, Neupogen syringes, and a Michael Jackson mask.  They basically said no public places, no visitors, no nuthin' until the WBCs climb out of the red, or the white hot as the case may be.  Because if get so much as a wee fever, I'll have to be admitted to the hospital. Funtime.  They said the Neupogen shots should turn this thing around by the end of the week.  So, until then, I'll be in some form of drug-induced repose. 

14 April 2009

Call the Waaambulance: The Not-So-Merry Recluse

Pointy Note: Today and the next few days will be a compilation of many posts from the past week. I've been out of commission, down but certainly not out!

On Easter Sunday, I threw my winter clogs into the brook behind my house. We pulled into the driveway, returning home from dinner at my parents. I took off my shoes, strode through the soggy, bloated yard and chucked each shoe as hard as I could into the water. The windswept rain from the past week had turned our peaceful bubbling brook into the River Wild; the clogs got swept up in the current and flew downstream like two harbor seals in swift retreat. James looked on in stunned silence as I slogged back up the driveway in my muddy socks. Caroline and Paulie laughed and began to remove their shoes but we got them to cease and desist.

To me, those clogs represented the mental and physical rut I've been in for weeks. Better to take out my frustration on a pair of Steve Maddens then on the people I love, I say.

"Hang up your chairs to better sweep, clear the floor of the dance, throw the walls into the fireplace." - REM

It was time to clear some cobwebs. I'd been sporting those MF clodhoppers since November. In the beginning, they were a somewhat stylish alternative to the woolly suburban footwear I spy around these parts that tend to be too flat for me -- at 5'3" -- to wear with jeans or a loathsome sweatsedo (and I absolutely refuse to have yoga pants hemmed). The clogs were safer than high-heeled boots that sink into the grass, trip you up and muddy your arse. I wore those clogs to all of my doctors appointments as I spiraled toward my diagnosis. To all of my chemo infusions thus far. I wore them throughout this seemingly endless April cold snap. But most of all, I wore the clogs because my unforgiving Chemobrain precludes shoe shopping because I don't even know what I like anymore.

On our home computer, we have a scrolling slideshow of all the pictures on our hard drive and I barely recognize my old self. Suppah Clubs and Nantucket trips, gardening with the kids last summer, kitchen hanging with James on a random weeknight. I can't reconcile the person in the photos with the bald, lashless, hollow-cheeked hag in a do-rag I see today. I belong on the Sci Fi Channel.

Second Phase of Ass
I'm not delusional. I wasn't expecting round two of chemo to be a joyride on the ding dong cart. I did not expect to start punctuating my sentences with woo hoos or for my energy levels to be restored to 2008 proportions. I was just expecting to bounce back a little. Granted, this second phase is not NEARLY as soul sucking as the first. But since the treatment is every Monday instead of every other Monday, I am subsisting on a steady stream of low (low!) energy with zero in-between days. I'm a naturally high-energy person so this can be frustrating at times.

For instance, last week the sun shone for a few hours and temps edged toward the high 50s. I put on my wig and a Sox cap. I grabbed the iPod and headed out for a walk, volume cranked as a forcefield. I barely made it around the loop without sucking wind. Vito would've put me to shame.

It's not just the energy. I can't do errands, attend the kids' soccer games, or go out to dinner with James or friends without feeling completely self conscious. And, call the waaambulance, I'm tired of having to reach for my wig whenever the doorbell rings (that is, if I even answer the door). I'm becoming a total recluse.

Hermit Flashback, Summer 1986
This feeling isn't completely foreign to me. I started remembering another time when I felt freakish and hermetic. When I was 16, I had a back operation to straighten my lower spine that was dangerously curving toward my left lung (the original Lefty, I suppose). I was in the hospital for two weeks and then had to wear a back brace for six months that was basically a large plastic girdle. Though you really couldn't see the brace under my clothes, it made me appear excessively hippy and flat chested. NOT good for an achingly self-conscious 16 year old. The only thing my friends and I ever did was go to the beach. Since bathing suits were out of the question, I stayed in the house the rest of the summer eating potato chips and watching the Peoples Court. When school started, I wore baggy, XL sweaters as camouflage (which were luckily the style in 1986). But soon, I became paranoid that people (boys) would physically bump into me in the halls and think I was some kind of bionic-plastic freak. So before school, I started taking the girdle off in the Dunkin' Donuts bathroom in Kenmore Square and stuffing it into by book bag. After school, I'd return to the same DD's and put it back on. One day, however, I decided to swing into Planet Records on my way home and my worst fears were realized. Three boys from my school (a few grades ahead of me) were skulking around and one accidentally brushed by me. He raised an eyebrow, then knocked on my back three times. Cardiac arrest. His other two friends walked behind me and did the same. I was so mortified I ran out of the store still clutching an empty record sleeve. I ran all the way down Comm, Ave with a 20-pound bag of books, praying I'd be hit by a bus. So, this bald 39 year-old in a do-rag is not so different inside from that 16 year old hiding out in Dunkin' Donuts bathrooms.

The Not-so-Merry-Recluse

Caroline Knapp often wrote about the difference between solitude and isolation. In her essay "The Merry Recluse," she wrote that social muscles, like actual ones, must be flexed often so they don't become atrophied. Man, when she was right, she was right. I love my solitude, but I've been inching toward isolation these past couple of weeks -- and not just from the outside world. I've become delinquent among all my social mores: Email, Texting, Facebook, Twitter -- the lifelines of a lifelong phone-hater.

It was clear I needed to get out immediately! So, after four or five cancellations, we were finally able to nail down dinner plans with old Big Dig pals. (A dinner plan that had become so complicated to arrange that my friend Kathy likened it to "assembling the Pentagon")

Thurs., Apr 9, Batten down the wig! Off to Mistral!

My fierce wig was filthy so I decided to go with my long red one from Dorothy's Boutique. It doesn't fit as well but I figured it'd work fine in the dark corners of Mistral. But when I pulled into the parking lot and caught sight of myself in my rear view mirror, I immediately regretted leaving my safety zone. My wig had ridden up very high on my forehead and had shifted to the left. I knew it wouldn't stay put all night long so I gathered my drag queen hair into a side ponytail and sprayed it to stone with some archaic hairspray I found in the glovey. Of course, the ever present high winds prevailed and I held onto my wig for dear life as I walked upwind on Columbus Ave. As I passed Club Cafe, two men who I'm sure could spot a Dorothy's wig a mile away turned to look at me. I imagined them whispering, "What's up with girlfriend in Red Hot #7." I'm pretty sure the doormen and hostess at Mistral looked at me sideways too. I felt like everyone was on to me.

At the bar, it was hugs all around. I became more at ease after a dirty, filthy martini. But all was not well with me. Besides expressing mild horrification at learning that some of the men at our old office used to refer us as "The Spice Girls," I couldn't remember how to participate in a normal conversation. There was a heated exchange about Tom, Gisele and Bridget and some recent Vanity Fair article. My eloquent contribution to this was something like: "They're dicks. All three of them. Dicks."

I was definitely a merry spectator all evening, however, tucking into my beef tenderloin pizza with white truffle oil.

Aside: I was chewing slowly and deliberately on one side because of some leftover mouth sores from AC chemo that simply won't heal. I was able to coherently reassure my friends that I was NOT having a stroke at the dinner table.

Return of the Sunday Night Creepies
When I threw my shoes into the brook the other night, I think it may have been in defiance of a new brand of Sunday night creepies. Knowing that you have chemo every Monday colors Sunday nights with a dread similar to that of knowing you have to get up and go to a job you hate the next day. Years ago, when James and I hated our jobs, we would listen to "Blues on Sunday" on 92.9 FM and wallow in the creepies. It's a similar feeling now. Although I'm pretty sure I prefer chemo to the PR firm where I used to work.

My former co-worker and good friend Brad (or "Sugar Brad" going forward for the Hermes scarf he sent to cover my bald head when temps get too balmy for wigs.) used to make nooses out of paperclips during interminable, pointless meetings. The meetings were bad enough but lunchtime in that suburban office park was pure, unadulterated hell. Every day in the lunchroom, a keg-shaped account manager would hold court with her little Igors on such scintillating topics as: *I like sweet pickles * So and So's husband wants to buy a camper * How many Weight Watchers points are in this mini Charleston Chew * On Fridays, they'd all ply themselves with generic salsa, shitty margarita mix and manufactured outrage.

Yes, I'm certain I prefer the DF on Mondays over that place.

When I get into a rut, the guilt piles up quickly. I feel like a crappy, inattentive mother who can't even muster the energy for a game of iPhone checkers let alone go on a bike ride. Some days, I feel like the roles are reversed. Caroline recently asked if she could read ME a bedtime story. Paulie patted my do-rag and asked if I needed a juice box and a snack.

...then Laughter

Caroline busts out her karaoke mic and sings the National Anthem before Bruins games. Paulie follows it with the Renee Rancourt pointing and fist pumping.

James got Paul a giant T map of all the rail lines for his room and he almost fainted.

PAULIE: (walking into his room earlier today) Mom, I keep forgetting about my train map. Every time I walk into my room, I get excited about it all over again. C'mon, look at my map with me. I want to show you where Haymarket is.

At the playground a few weeks ago, Caroline ran to the top of a structure where a group of boys were playing around a large captain's wheel.

CAROLINE: (commandeering the wheel). This is a ship! I am the captain! All of the boys, get into the water! (They all did)

She'd make an awesome Somali pirate.

Things that are Better than a Giant Plastic Bag of Happy Pills from my Doctor

Retro WWII dishtowels, TimTams, fragrant soaps, CDs, New Yorker articles and other magical mystery care packages from the Roving Lemon (not Rovingle Mon) Down Under.

Molly Kristant Brown

A good kitchen chinwag in SoBo with Nic & Di

Nic sporting the Snuggie

People I don't have to put on wigs for when they ring the doorbell: LPD and her Vertical Watermelon belly bumrushing the house with all kinds of good cheer.

James photographing, then fishing my clogs out of the brook, hosing them down and dropping them off at the Swap Shop at the dump. Sayonara, sad footwear.

So, the curmudgeonly ruts are a reality but they are fleeting.

Now I have to go cut about an inch off my yoga pants so I can wear my sneakers with them.

Seven Songs of the Day -- 4/14/09

Today's playlist courtesy of Dawn Flanagan-Haley

"I tried to think of songs that reminded me of spring, but I’m not even really sure why these do" - DFH

  1. House of Love – I Don’t Know Why I Love You
  2. Throwing Muses – Not Too Soon
  3. Belinda Carlisle – Circle in the Sand
  4. The Cowsills – The rain, the park and other things
  5. The Cardigans – Carnival
  6. Elvis Costello – Veronica
  7. The Beautiful South – We Are Each Other