Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm Not Dead Yet!

Prior to all this cancer nonsense, my husband and I, along with our good friends, Don and Ginny, went to see Spamalot - the musical version of Monty Python. There's a scene where a grubby medieval man tows a cart piled with dead bodies, and yells into the street, "Bring out your dead!" A dead man gets thrown on the cart, but suddenly revives with a song and dance (accompanied by his fellow corpses), "I'm not dead yet."

Thirteen days after my surgery, I'm happy to announce that we kicked cancer's butt. It is gone, I'm still standing and I'm not dead yet.

The whole surgery experience reminded of having a baby for the first time. You're not in control anymore. It's a big, surreal, drug-induced blur with pain. The doctors and nurses call the shots, and you hope for the best. On the day before my surgery, I was asked to come in for a little radioactive isotope injection. Sure, I said, I have nothing better to do.

Chelsea and I drove to Indy for the procedure. This time my breast was injected with this radioactive material. No one had told me it was a shot. I thought it was going to be another IV. Oh well! I was released for a three-hour furlough, while the radioactivity coursed through my body heading its way to my sentinal node (the first lymph node the breast tissue fluids would drain to). The mission of the procedure was to map which node to target and remove during surgery. I asked how long I would be radioactive, and the nurse assured me that it was only going to be through the next day, when the doctor removed everything. Until then I was Nuclear and could set off geiger counters. The nurse gave me an ice pack to stuff in my bra to help with the pain from the injection site. Honestly, I felt like Dolly Parton. I was also instructed to "massage my breast" frequently during that time period, which was tricky to do while still being socially acceptable. She said I could ask others for assistance, but I declined.

Our three-hour furlough was spent eating and shopping for a graduation dress for my daughter. Big day coming up - her graduation from pharmacy school, alongside her brother who was graduating from ag school, too (but didn't need a dress).

Back at the operating room, I was was put in another machine whose screen lit up like the night sky, sparkling stars indicating where I was radioactive. My sentinal node glowed like the North Star. The nurse took a Qtip dipped in radium and painted it under my armpit. The screen showed the streak it made, and she matched it up exactly with the internal reading, like a puzzle piece. Taking a purple marker, she drew a circle where Dr. Schmidt would escavate the next day.

The evening concluded with Happy Hour at the Embassy Suites and a great family-style dinner at Maggiano's with our family.

The next morning at 7 am sharp, I returned to the doctor's office. What a way to start the day, a mammogram before you get your coffee. Heck, coffee wasn't allowed, nor anything to eat or drink. Immediately following, a different doctor inserted a hollow needle in the breast, located the radiated area and injected a blue dye to point out the cancerous cells. At least that's my understanding. In the hollow needle was placed a thin, pliable "piano wire" that locked onto the metal marker that was there from my biopsy. Who comes up with these procedures? Very bizarre, but they seem to do the job. All wired up, we proceded to the hospital.

The whole operation took only one hour, recovery another hour, and that was that. I had a lumpectomy and a lymph node removed with some very impressive anesthesia. I'm happy to say that the pathology reports came back very positively negative (no more cancer). I'm no longer sore, but I have a terrific scar under my arm. Scars are tattoos with better stories. I will have to receive radiation treatments next month, every day for five weeks. Then hormone therapy (pills) to take for five years, just in case.....

Tomorrow I start back at the Salt Mine, as my boss, Mike, fondly refers to work as. The DRAIN is still in place, but I can do most things save drive, play tennis, carry heavy items and vacuum. I hope the vacuumming restriction stays in effect for at least two more weeks.

All for now ~ Keep dancing, no matter how many legs you have.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen"

I repeat this Memorare to remind myself as we approach Mother's Day, that Our Holy Mother is always there with open arms, ready to listen and help. Well, I have an earful.

Today marked the Last of the Tests - which I passed with flying colors, as I had hoped. The previous MRI was a trip, "Just imagine you're in a spa," advised my friend, Ann. Okay, a bizarre medieval spa where you lie down on your stomach, breasts dangling from circular cutouts, with your head in a toilet seat while hooked up to a intravenous tube pumping dye in your bloodstream. It was VERY LOUD - I had been warned, but was still surprised at the racket. My previous spa experiences didn't include jackhammers at my head, nor dentist's drills, or the annoying honk honk honk of the kiddie ride horns.

"Now hold COMPLETELY STILL," the distended voice of the radiologist said, as a series of hammers started pounding.

I held my breath and nearly passed out.

"Can I breathe?" I gasped, when the noise stopped.

"Yes, just breathe normally, but don't take deep breaths," the voice said.

How do I breathe normally? It was if I'd never done it before. Forty-five minutes later, the noise stopped and it was time for a chest x-ray.

"Do you smoke?" No. "Do you have allegies?" No. "Do you take any medications?" No. "Do you have an insulin pump?" No. (I'm thinking I'm too healthy for all this nonsense.)

"Take off your shirt and put on a hospital gown with ties facing backwards, and another with ties facing the front," says the x-ray technician.

What can you do, but follow their orders. I complied, held my breath as they shot their radiation my way, and got dressed.

The next day I got news that there was a "shadow" in the chest x-ray. Come back next week for a cat scan. I heard, "Go away, and come back tomorrow." Will I never get to see the Wizard?

Today, a week later, I had a CAT scan. More paperwork, more questions, more blood. CAT scans are interesting. As opposed to my MRI which was in a tube, this looked more like a big, thick metal ring where I was wheeled in on a cart. I got to keep my clothes on, but still had a needle in my arm pumping in a solution that made me warm all over, to the point of feeling like I wet my pants. Very odd. Like the sensation one feels the first time they sit on a heated car seat.

I looked up at the rotating gear mechanism, which sounded like a dull roar of an airplane engine, and saw a sticker that read, "Laser Radiation. Do Not Stare at the Beam." What the? I could just imagine the doctor saying, "Your chest is clear, but you burned holes in your retina."

After some much needed retail therapy with Ann and Joanne at the Dress Barn, we headed back to the doctor's office. Dr. Schmidt was charming and personable, and most of all reassuring. "I've got great news for you - nothing to worry about," he said as popped his head into the room.

When he returned, he explained the imminent procedures: pre- and post-surgery, radiation, and the DRAIN. This is really going to happen. Next week, no less. This is the best possible set up I could have. Snip snip here, snip snip there, a couple of laser rays, that's how we treat the cancer cells so they shrivel and go away. I was really hoping for a miracle to dodge this bullet. I would be happy to give Blessed Pope John Paul all credit. It's a win-win situation! But no.

My friends have been wonderful - helping me through each step. Like Mary, they offer comfort and support when needed, peppered with laughs and love.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ready, Set, Stall

That's where I am in this crazy cancer circus. I'm jumping through the hoops, juggling flaming torches, and walking the tightrope while trying not to concentrate on the smelly elephant breathing down my neck. Last Monday's day of tests verified that I must take more tests before we proceed with surgery.

I haven't been this out-of-control since I was a child, under the thumb of my parents. This is definitely out of my hands, and in God's. I trust there is a GOOD REASON why this is progressing so slowly. I wish I could flip to the end of the story and know how this saga ends.

Good news - I'll be able to see my daughter's "Grand March," a beautiful parade of all the dressed-up couples at the high school prom, which I probably would have missed otherwise. Also, I have another week to tie up some loose ends at work that were flying wildly in the wind, and stressing me out more than I need to be stressed.

Bad news - I hope I won't miss my oldest two kids' graduation from college in May. Dang it! I've worked hard for their degrees!

There is only one answer to every problem - prayer.

Dear Our Lady of Guadalupe,
REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen
Memorare - A Prayer to St. Mary

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Swapping Bras

Last month our Junior High Youth Group had a program called, "Walk a Mile in My Shoes." It was great. It started out being a bowling event with goofy games, one of them was to bowl using someone else's shoes, another to bowl with shoes on their opposite feet. We wrapped it up with a presentation showing people in all different situations: being homeless, handicapped, poor, or maimed, to try to get the kids to empathize with others who are different from them, but no less worthy of God's love. Junior High can be a tough time - it's easy to judge others who are different. We hoped this program would help them realize that but for the grace of God, they too could be wearing those shoes.

That brings me to swapping bras with someone with cancer. I admit that before I usually shied away from those with cancer, unless I knew them really, really well beforehand. When I'd see them, it was like they were wearing a big "C" on their head, like the Arby's commercial, only it said, "I'm Thinking Cancer." I felt uncomfortable. I didn't want to pry, and thought if I just showed up when they were diagnosed that I might be misconstrued as a false friend, or worse yet, a busybody.

What I have learned is that when people reach out to others, EVEN IF THEY DON'T KNOW THEM REALLY, REALLY WELL, the act is appreciated. It's an acknowledgement that you care. Any person that goes through something of magnitude: a serious illness, divorce, miscarrage, or death in the family rides in the same boat. I certainly don't deserve the support expressed by some of the same ladies I shied away from, but I'm learning, Lord, I'm learning.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sex in a Wheelchair

My new phone has a great feature. You can talk into it, like a microphone, and it translates your words into texts. Perfect for those with slow or fat fingers or for those whose nearsighted vision isn't what it used to be. Also a great benefit for those who might be tempted to text and drive. I was texting/talking to my daughter who was in Washington, D.C., on her way to Georgetown Cupcakes to pick up some of their delicious confections to bring back home to Indiana tomorrow.

"What kind of cupcakes do you want, Mom? Red velvet, coffee, chocolate, lemon...." she asked.

"Yes. One of each," I texted. "Get an assortment - I'll pay you back."

"How many? Six or a dozen?" she wrote.

Now, these cupcakes are wonderful, but expensive. A half-dozen cost around $15.00. I would have loved a dozen, but resisted.

"Sex in a wheelchair."

I had said, "Six and we'll share", but my cell phone took it the wrong way. Hilarious. I sent the message anyway. Chelsea, and my family, have come to expect these strange texts. They remind me of the old days of typing on a real typewriter (with carbons and white out), making typos and laughing my head off at my mistakes. I am not the best typist, which is odd for one who is a writer AND an administrative assistant. In fact, I don't really like typing except when I'm writing a story.

"If you don't like to type," asked an office friend, "why in the world are you a secretary?"

"Because they weren't hiring clowns at Purdue," I replied.

I had great news today. Got a call from my surgeon's office, and they told me that some test results came back from California. Evidently, this fancy-schmancy test can predict what kind of therapy would be most effective post-surgery, as well as indicate your chances of having another bout with cancer. "You have a score of 6%," the voicemail relayed to me. "That means you have an extremely low chance that the cancer will return."

Not only that, but finally "the moon is in the seventh house," meaning I could schedule my MRI for Easter Monday. We're finally moving forward. Once that test is done and interpreted, surgery is a go - most likely in early May. After that, a little R & R at home with my drain bag, and back to civilization within a few weeks.

So much to live for. So much to be grateful for. It looks like I'll be around for while, after all. Hmmm, maybe sex in a wheelchair isn't so far-fetched, after all!

My new Spanish resource, Speak in a Week! (what a lie), provides my phrase for the day: Yo le escribía cada dia. I used to write to her every day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jane and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Everyone has one of THOSE days - mine just happened to be today. You must understand, I am usually immune to having bad days. I always try to find the silver lining, "a stain on my outfit - I needed a new one anyway," "breast cancer - it will be my opportunity to reshape my figure." A bit extreme, I know, but I have been accused of being a Pollyanna. But not today.

The reality of my reality is always at the back of my mind; shoved back pretty far, but an annoying whisper,nonetheless. Add to that some pressure to find "missing documents" needed to file our taxes, due tomorrow, that only I can put my hands on. Hubby is too busy at work and doesn't know my complex/disorganized filing system. I'm doing fine. I can do this AND my job and still be chipper. I take my daughter to a college visit and stupidly leave my cell phone for 5 minutes unattended. Yep, it was stolen.

That was the icing on the cake I never wanted. My thoughts went from hatred of the individual who thought it was okay to steal a phone, to fears of getting into all my personal stuff - names, passwords, calendar, notes, my life. I spent a big chunk of my day doing damage control cancelling things and changing passwords. Most likely, the chump just threw away my SIM card and inserted his own - upgrading to a nicer phone. But I don't know for sure.

When my boss walked into my office, I greeted him with a "Mike, I'm having a bad day. I lost my phone and I want to tear someone's head off." Needless to say, he avoided me. Smart man. He saw a storm brewing and knew to take cover until it passed.

Having something stolen was more hurtful to me than having cancer. Cancer was an accident I couldn't avoid. I don't smoke. I exercise and eat healthy foods. One friend calls me Mother Earth - for God's sake, I've made my own cheese before! This was an accident that I, and many other good women, don't deserve but must bear the burden. But the person who chose to steal did it on purpose, with no regard to the worry, fears and expense they inflicted on me. I don't get it.

Later - after I cancelled my account and bought a new phone, my head cleared. It's really an awful state to be miseraable all day. I don't think I can do that again. While opening a pile of mail, I found cards filled with outpourings of love and prayers from friends and family. I wasn't expecting that.

When life knocks you down, it's the people you love that help you back up.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bad News Spreads Like a Brushfire

My friend, Ann, had a GREAT idea. She said if I needed any fat to fill out my post-surgical boobs, she would be my Fat Donor. Can you see the women lining up to make donations to breast cancer patients or to poor, skinny individuals? It's a win-win situation. The skinny folks could gain extra pounds to look more robust without the extra money and time spent eating. Fat folks could shed unwanted pounds and feel good about helping their fellow man. You could sign up for it on your driver's license if you wanted to make a post-mortem donation, but I say why wait? This could be BIG BUSINESS!

On a more serious note, there's no news like bad news. I realized that in sharing my plight with cancer with friends and family, it spawned a brushfire in my daughter's school. Don't get me wrong, they meant well, but when teachers started sharing with her all the other people they knew who survived cancer to cheer her up, and pried her with questions, it was too much for her to take.

It got me thinking. What should one say to a child who's parent has a serious illness? We discussed it, and she said she'd prefer if people simply asked her how I was. No big interrogation on what stage, what treatment, what doctor, etc. First of all, she doesn't know (I don't even know), and secondly it refocuses her energy on the one thing she doesn't want to or need to think about - her mom's mortality. It's got to be frightening for a kid to think about losing a parent. Not that I'm going anywhere, but still. We all know too many who lost the battle.

Next week, we matachina dancers from the Our Lady of Guadalupe's feastday are reuniting for long-awaited margaritas. I need to be with my Spanish amigos again to refocus my energy on learning Spanish. Keep on swimming, keep on swimming.....
Mantener en la natación

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Chapter - What's the Spanish word for Cancer?

Hola, It has been many months since I sat down and wrote an entry. So much has happened. Doug and I went on our dream vacation - a Mediterranean cruise that sailed from Barcelona to Monaco to Italy back to Spain. I did use my Spanish - un poco - while shopping, but honestly, the store clerks preferred speaking English rather than hear their language get butchered.

In December, I participated in my second Our Lady of Guadalupe feastday, who this blog is dedicated to, by dancing in a complex set of Indian-type dances in an extravagant costume with a feathered headress in and outside St. Boniface Church - starting at 4 am. If you are curious, you MUST see it. Simply amazing. Once my kids show me how to load pictures, you'll see.

And the last of the recap, I started a new job at Purdue in November as the program coordinator for the Center of Economic Education. Small center doing big things. Days are filled with (mostly) interesting projects, and I'm really liking the creativity and independence of the position. It's more hours, and with the steep learning curve, I've slacked off on my writing and Spanish. Looks like I'll have more time on my hands soon....

Instead of fielding a million calls, I'm going to try to use this as a journal of sorts as well as a place for you to go to discover the "gory details." I've always hated talking about or hearing about people's health problems. Some may say it's a lack of compassion, or just a low tolerance for gore. I don't want to turn into my Aunt Ann, who always had a long laundry list of her ailments whenever you asked her how she was. Big mistake! It's not that I don't want to talk to folks, it's just getting a bit repetitive. Call me if you want to go out for a drink; check here if you're curious about cancer. To draw an excerpt from my recent email, here's the scoop: (if you already read it, skip down)

As you may or may not know, I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. If you're family, I'm sure the McLaughlin Grapevine has gotten around to you already. If you live around Lafayette, you probably know as I can't keep secrets, and talking about breasts can be entertaining. First of all, thank you for your prayers and well wishes. I am blessed to have all of you in my life, regardless of my health. I would love to sit down and chat with each and every one of you about all the gorey details, but there simply isn't time. That's why I'm resorting to sending updates electronically. I'm starting up my blog again: www.guadalupeproject.blogspot.com again to relate the funnier aspects of cancer, so check there as well.

Doug and I just met with my doctor, Thomas Schmidt, in Indianapolis yesterday. He is doing another test on the breast tissue from my biopsy to tell if I'd be more receptive to chemo or hormone therapy. "It takes a good man to make a hormone," added my boss, Mike. Dr. Schmidt is leaning toward hormone therapy (I'd be thrilled) but it will take a couple weeks to know for sure. Doug remarked about the doctor, "He's a really nice guy," which I thought was a magnaminous statement considering he just witnessed another man giving his wife a breast exam!

Next step is a MRI and chest X-rays which can't occur until I'm in a certain part of my "cycle." Pretty much when the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter aligns with Mars, I can get my MRI. That will be the road map for surgery and subsequent treatment. Why lop off a boob only to realize you've got it in your liver... As far as time frames go, we're looking at mid-April for the MRI, then surgery a week or so later. Good news/bad news: Good news - I'll be off for 2-3 weeks; Bad news - I'll have a DRAIN attached to my chest and can't drive anywhere. After that, probable radiation treatments everyday for several weeks. I may need drivers - not sure yet.

BUT, the prognosis thus far is hopeful. I'm not incredibly worried - please don't you worry either. What I do request is that you save the horror stories of those you know with cancer. It's kind of like me just finding out I'm pregnant (I'm not), and hearing about awful deliveries and breech babies and umbilical cord strangulations. You get the idea. I'm just taking this one step at a time. Please also send your prayers my mother's way too. She is having her own struggle with cancer they just discovered that's screwing up her eyesight. Red letter week for the McLaughlins! All for now - I'll keep you posted.

By the way, it's el cáncer.