At the Southie parade yesterday, I stood under the sun at the corner of A & Broadway, sweating and itching in my wig for a couple of hours. But I didn't care: I was drinking red wine out of a giant red keg cup, the mood was far too celebratory and the weather far too beautiful to let a little sweating and itching get in the way. My brother kept yelling out, at random, "Itching powder in the sleeping bags!" Mikey Carter careened down Broadway as part of the Chinese Dragon again -- all business, swirling his piece of the dragon into colorful, dancing loops.
Mar. 16, Home, 7:30 a.m.
I'm thinking about what a great day we had yesterday as I ready my wig to head into the DF. I usually wear a wig or skull cap into treatment and then suddenly realize how silly this is. There is no need to itch and sweat beneath a wig at the Dana Farber Cancer Center. Clearly, I'm one of their people. It's no secret. I've seen plenty of baldies coming and going.
So, I decide I will go to my last AC treatment bald. But then I look in the mirror at my tiny bald alien head -- and I just can't do it. Probably for the same reason I haven’t posted a bald photo of myself on the blog. It's mostly vanity, but I also tend to forget all about the temporary tattoos the kids have posted all over my glossy dome – Shamrocks, Easter eggs, hearts, the Backyardigans, a couple of Spidermans, etc.
Aside: I’m also afraid to post a bald photo on this blog because somewhere down the road, someone may search my name for or a job interview or something more important, hit on the Google image and think I’m some kind of violent anarchist (Backyardigans tatoos notwithstanding).
Maybe when I make peace with the baldness, I'll post a pic. I'm not ready yet.
Aside II: I don't know why I even bother hiding under the wigs. Whenever we're out and about , Caroline loves to announce to anyone within earshot: “See my mom?! She’s wearing a wig! And she has tattoos on her head!!!" Both kids also refer to me as "baldy."
So, I compromise. Instead of the wig or skull cap, I opt for a silk scarf. My friend CK recently suggested I get a Hermes scarf and really turn this MF out. I don’t have a Hermes scarf, but I do have one that aspires to be - we'll call it my “Fermes” scarf. I wrap it around my head, tie a couple of funky knots in the back and let it hang over my left shoulder (just grazing the top of Lefty). I kind of look like a fortune teller but I like it; it looks and feels more feminine and celebratory than a skull cap.
Aside III: I’ve always wanted to wear my "Fuck Cancer" skull cap into the DF, but did not want to offend any patients who may not appreciate the word "fuck" quite as much as I do.
DF 9, 8:40 a.m.
Our appointment is at 8:45 and everything seems to be running very quickly this morning. I’m trying to wolf down a green apple but keep getting called in for prep work. "Kathryn!" Come and get your vitals.
Back to the waiting room. Two more bites of apple. "Kathryn!" Come and get your Blood work.
Back to waiting room. Not even one more bite. "Kathryn!" Come and get your IV.
For whatever reason, my veins are not cooperating today. After three tries, the nurse sends me back into the waiting room until another nurse can give it a go.
Back to the waiting room. Green apple is turning brown so I ditch it. My right arms looks like that of a heroin addict (in perfect keeping with the degenerate fantasy of last week).
Finally, I get called back again and this nurse gets the IV on her second try, this time on my left arm. She said "It's like your veins are running away from us today."
I'm thinking, "Of course they are, they probably know the red death awaits them. I'd run too."
James and I head off down the corridor to meet with our doctors Ann & Katie.
ANN: So, another patient of mine told me that I have a patient named Kate with this great blog I have to check out. She kept saying 'Kate' and I couldn't place you, but then I got the link and saw your picture and instantly knew: Kathryn Jackson. How could we not been calling you "Kate Jackson" this whole time.
We realized it's because we've been all business, all about the tumor and treatment. "Call me Kate" never even crossed my mind.
ANN: Anyway, my other patient said she’s hooked on your blog and that you’re a great writer. I can’t wait to read some more of this.
Now it's only a matter of time before Ann refers to me as KJ. At least I hope so.
[POINTY NOTE: To this “other patient of Ann':" Thank you very much for your kind words. For a few moments there, I was so flattered that I forgot I was sitting topless in a hospital johnny. Feel free to email me anytime. Thank you, again!]
Ann tells me she’ll definitely check out the PU, but now it’s time to check out Lefty.
Katie tells Ann my tumor feels much softer and smaller, almost like it was detaching from the chest wall. This sounds just GREAT to James and me as we remember the first words used to describe the tumor were: “Hard and massive.” “Undifferentiated.” “Can’t tell where tumor ends and normal tissue begins.”
ANN: (feeling me up). If I didn’t know you had a cancer in here, I wouldn’t even be able to tell by feeling it. Of course, you have really dense breasts, but still, I wouldn't be able to pinpoint it. And that's just after two months of AC. That's great.
Aside IV: “Dense breasts” – Now there are two words placed side-by- side that make me shudder a bit. Kind of like LPD’s reaction to the words: moist pork stain.
This whole appointment puts me in a good mood as we fly off to our final AC infusion. My scarf tails are flying out being me like I have a kite on my head.
DF 10, 9:45 a.m.
The chemo nurse is an enigma but we’re up for the challenge.
Not North Shore.
Not Metro West
Not the City, but maybe at some point in her life.
She lies the IV bags on my arm rest. Some nauseu meds, some hydration, the Cytoxan (the “C” in the “AC”) and the three red vials of Adriamycin (the “A” in the “AC”…or shall I say the “ASS”).
"This is your last AC," she says. "You must be happy."
No hint of a Boston accent, still James and I are focused on South of Boston. Still, we can tell she's going to be a challenge because she's not much for the small talk and shit-shat (while this is a quality I would probably revere in a chemo nurse, it doesn't bode well for our silly little "guess where the nurse is from" game.)
The nurse hooks up the hydration and nauseau meds, puts on her hazmat gear and places the three vials of red death on the arm rest. Suddenly, I have to use the loo. "I'll be right back."
I glide over to the restrooms with my IV caddy and find there is a line for one of the two bathrooms (the other is being cleaned). Another young woman with an IV caddy glides up behind me. She's looks a little younger than me and has some cute peach fuzz growing back on her head.
YOUNG WOMAN: Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line here.
ME: Me neither, just one stall open. I think I'm avoiding my treatment.
YW: Have to get in before the drugs kick in! I love your scarf. How did you tie it in the back here?
ME: I don’t know. I couldn’t see what I was doing. Are you sure it doesn’t make me look like a fortune teller?
YW: (shakes her head). No no.
ME: I am too self conscious to go completely bald.
YW. I was too, but now I have some hair back so it's not as bad. You're just happy to have some hair.
Just then, the bathroom door opens and some guy with a goatee, a full head of hair and no IV caddy emerges from the restroom with a Boston Herald tucked under his arm. A foul cloud of stink emerges right behind him.
Me: (under my breath) Oh no.
GOATEE: Oh! Sorry ladies. I didn’t know there was a line. Woops!
YW: You're sorry!?
We both laugh and simultaneously agree : The stench is NOT good for the tumor! We decide to hold it and glide back to our respective chemo stalls.
James is staring at the nurse, his mind working over time.
ME: “I’m back.”
JAMES (mouthing)' "Scituate? Braintree?"
I nod in agreement and mouth “Marshfield?”
But then our brother-in-law Jon stops by (he also had an appointment at the DF today). He mentions how he's heading off to "slumlord his property in Weymouth" and the nurse doesn’t bite. Damnit. Again, she's not talkative so maybe she wouldn't have been so easily-lured to the typical South Shore small talk.
The nurse starts administering the red death and that familiar feeling of ill-being invades. It’s the Anti-Roxicet. But unlike the Roxicet, this invasion is crappy and hangs around for an entire week.
But, just knowing this is the last time makes it so much more palatable.
Again, my veins aren’t cooperating.
NURSE: (twisting tubes, rooting around with my IV) Your veins are really making me work for it today. It’s like they’ve had enough of this stuff.
ME: (watching the red death trying to weasle its way into my veins) They sure have.
The Replacements take over:
“Hurry up! Hurry up! Ain’t you had enough of this stuff!”
Now I’m focused less on where our nurse is from and more on what makes this Adriamycin – RED! I can’t believe I hadn’t asked (or Googled it) before.
ME: “So, what makes this stuff red anyway.?
[I can tell nurse either doesn’t really know or doesn’t really want me to know.]
NURSE: Hmm..Maybe some kind of dye?
The Replacements take over again, replacing "Red, Red Wine on Sundays, always feels so good" with:
“Red Red Dye on Mondays, always feels like ass."
The nurse finally gets the stew flowing and finishes the first, second and finally the third and final vial of the red death. James and I give each other a little ceremonial dap as the nurse starts hooking up the bag of Cytoxan to my IV. Now it’s just one more hour sitting on the drip.
I’m about to Google “What makes Adriamycin red” when another nurse passes by with a ginormous – we’re talking really huge -- gift basket of treats.
JAMES: (joking) “Oh, I see my basket has arrived. They must be delivering it to the wrong stall.”
But seconds later, the nurse backtracks, “Are you Kate?”
I look at James incredulously who is looking at the nurse the same way.
NURSE: Well, This beautiful basket here is for you? Is it your birthday?
ME; (tearing up) NO, no. It’s just my last day of treatment, well of the AC at least.
NURSE: That's definitely reason to celebrate! Enjoy!
It’s from my old college friends Mary, Gail and Julie, whom I’ve reconnected with, thanks to the upside of Facebook. They always have the most uplifting wall posts but this unbelievable. Just an amazing booty of treats!
[To Mary, Gail, Julie: Thanks so much, guys. I don’t even know what to say. People are walking up and down the corridor just to get a peek.]
The last of the Cytoxan drips into my arm and we're out of here. We head for the elevators with many big basket gawkers in our wake. We pick up my prescriptions and roll out the front doors of the DF, free for the next two weeks.
The next phase, starting March 30 and continuing every Monday for three months, is supposed to be far less taxing with fewer side effects and manageable fatique. The "TH" phase contains only one chemo drug called Taxol and a magical antibody called Herceptin that's been known to kick the living shit out of HER2+ tumors.
As we wait for the valet to bring our car around, the drugs are starting to make me feel tired and I lean into James a bit. But over his shoulder, I see what has become an all too familiar site at the DF the past few weeks.
A young child, a girl, in an umbrella stroller, not more than 18 months, bald and smiling.
When you see this, it really puts everything into perspective. (We think of Aoife’s and John’s Naimh, as we often do.)
And we think: Breast cancer, we can do. We could NEVER do that. I don’t know how those who are forced to, do.
P.S. The nurse was from EASTON. Technically, south of Boston, but we could've done much better!
Seven Songs of the Day --- 3/17/09
Some Irish songs for St. Paddy's Day! Courtesy of Susan Sullivan.
1. The Unicorn (The Irish Rovers)
2. Wild Rover (The Jolly Beggerman)
3. When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (Bing Crosby)
4. Molly Malone (The Clancy Brothers)
5. Fields of Athenry (Dropkick Murphys)
6. Irish Rover (The Pouges)
7. Auld Lang Syne (Mairi Campbell)
And..some Irish artists
1. Tuesday Morning -- Pogues
2. Precious Little -- Eleanor McEvoy
3. My Wild Irish Rose -- The Pushstars (ok, not Irish, but Boston Irish)
4. Ridiculous Thoughts -- Cranberries
5. So Young -- Corrs
6. Isn't it Amazing -- Hothouse Flowers
7. Moment of Surrender -- U2