Gotta keep on keepin' on.......

Cancer again...that's 3 times in 2 years. This time it’s not breast cancer, but a new one called squamous cell carcinoma. New cancer, same old fighting spirit! My blog is still named for one of many songs that kept me going the first time around. Driving home from an upsetting appointment, I turned on the radio just as this line from Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner was playing: "I've got to keep on keepin' on" I did just that. And I'll do it again.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's in a name?

The other day, not long after Get Over It Day, I decided I needed to be really upbeat about my radiation treatment. If I can pretend everything is great and treatment is a breeze, then maybe I'll make myself believe it. It couldn't hurt to try, right?

To start, I gave my treatment a name. Actually, I gave the radiation machine a name. It is this big huge box with a long thick curved arm (like a phone) attached to the front. Sticking straight out, perpendicular to the box, is the bench that I lie down on for treatment. The "phone" rotates around the bench, and the radiation comes out from the "earpiece" at the top of the "phone".

When I first started my radiation treatments, I hardly glanced at the machine. I hated the whole process, and I was so uncomfortable (not to mention chilly! those gowns are thin!) that I just walked in, grunted hello to the technicians, hopped up on the bench, waited for it to end, then left. Never looked at the machine. I couldn't even tell you what color it was.

Now that I am trying to have a better attitude, I've been taking the time to get to know the machine. I take a look at it every day and try to notice something new. The other day I saw that it had a label on it that said "Varian". I guess it's the brand or manufacturer. I asked the technician if they have a name for their machine and she chuckled and said no, they don't really call it anything.

So all during that treatment, I was thinking that I needed a good name for this machine. Varian is kind of blah. Vince was close. So was Vance. Or Marian, that rhymes with Varian.... Marian is my aunt's name, and I reasoned that perhaps a radiation machine needs a more maternal name so it doesn't seem so harsh. But then again, I thought, I LIKE my Aunt Marian. Why would I name a machine I DON'T like after her? No, I needed a different name.....think think think.....this was my thought process while I was on the table, it really was. But then the technician came back into the room and I got distracted and started thinking about other things, like "Oooh gross, I just realized she has to look at my armpit, which I haven't been able to shave since February!" (my armpit is still numb from surgery, and I'm afraid to use a razor until I have feeling back. I considered using John's electric shaver when he wasn't looking, but thought maybe he wouldn't appreciate it.) So anyway, my mind wandered and didn't come back to the name thing until the drive home.

I finally decided that Suzy Sunshine would be a great name for the machine. I don't know why, but that's what came to me, it sounded nice and upbeat, so that's what I call it. Kind of like when I told the girls that I was going to get my "strong medicine" when I went to chemo. And like the time before I started chemo, to prepare them for the possibility that it might make me vomit (which it didn't, fortunately), I taught the girls many many different ways to say someone threw up (toss cookies, lose your lunch, blow chunks, yak, puke, kiss the porcelein god). Euphemisms are great. I really need them. Sure, maybe they help me avoid reality, but they certainly help lighten things up.

So every weekday morning I tell the girls, "Good-bye! I'm off to see Suzy Sunshine!" I'm very cheery about it. We laugh and off I go. It's funny how a little name change can make a difference.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hair Appointment Next Week!

Emma and Leah are so confused. "Mommy, why are you going to Miss Kelly's on Wednesday? You don't need a haircut!"

They are dumbfounded. It is so cute. Frances, on the other hand, just raves about my "Uncle David hair" (my brother used to have a crewcut). "Mommy, your Uncle David hair is back!" she cries, clapping her hands. She is so happy for me, and I am too.

We're all happy because I'm sprouting hair left and right. My hair started coming back in a few weeks ago, and my eyebrows not too long after that. My eyelashes, while short and wiry, are there too. I no longer feel like Rufus the Naked Mole Rat (for those of you without little kids, he's on a cartoon called Kim Possible). It is just great.

I know the most important thing for me is to get better, to heal, and to do what I can to keep the cancer from coming back. And I'm focusing on all that, I truly am. I'm so grateful that I've come this far, and that my doctors offer happy thoughts regarding my prognosis.

But you can't blame me for being overjoyed at the return of my hair!

P.S. Still not sure what color it will turn out to's a mix of red and brown, and the longest, straggliest hairs are grey/white

Friday, March 09, 2007

Today is Get Over It Day

My brother David called me the other night, to check in and see how things were going. We hadn't talked in a while. It was great to catch up and hear about his house projects and really cool vacation plans.

Eventually, David asked me about my radiation they're going, what is the machine like, etc. I had a hard time sounding positive. I really did. I mean, I should be excited that this is the LAST PART OF MY TREATMENT. I should be glad that even though I have to go 5 days a week for 6 weeks, I have a great appointment time (9:20am....early enough to get it out of the way but late enough that I can sleep in). I should be ecstatic that the treatment center is just 10 minutes from my house, that my radiation oncologist is both cutting edge and really personable, and that 6 weeks of radiation is helping lower my risk of recurrence to less than 15%.

But no, I focus on the bad stuff.
"I hate radiation," I said. "It's harder than chemo."
"My shoulder hurts," I whined, "and I can't bend my arm behind my head very well."
"It is so uncomfortable" (and by now I'm really on a roll) "and I have to hold my arm there for about 15 minutes until I can't feel my fingers anymore. I've developed Axillary Web Syndrome which makes it physically impossible for me to raise my arm above my head. No one seems to believe that it really hurts me, they just think I'm being fussy. I saw a Physical Therapist last week and she says that what I have is pretty commom after lymph node removal. With exercise, I should have relief but it still may be 2 to 3 months before I have full mobility."

I had nothing nice to say about ANY of it: The aloe vera gel they gave me to use 4 times a day on the treated area? It's too cold and it smells yucky! The bench I have to lie on for treatment? It's uncomfortable and digs into my back. Not to mention, they draw all over my chest with marker and it gets all over my clothes, etc.....I continued, I'm sure, for at least 20 minutes on the subject.

My brother David is a good listener. He's also very polite, so he didn't point out that no one likes a whiner! Or that Mother taught us, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." David knows me well enough to know that if I'm bitching about something it's usually best to just let me go on and on, and that eventually I'd get it out of my system. So, he listened and was sympathetic and hoped that things improved.

After we said our good-byes, I felt kind of bad that I let my "bummed-outedness" put a downer on what should have been a nice chat with my brother. And it actually was a nice chat, until I started going on about how I hate radiation.

Well....I have been thinking about our conversation for several days now. I've never had patience with whiners--especially whiners who don't come up with solutions to whatever they're whining about--and here I've become a bigtime Wendy Whiner! So little by little, I've come up with some things to get me through this part of treatment that "is not my favorite" (my new and improved way of describing how I feel about radiation):
1) I carry a bright, sunflower-yellow tote bag to treatment each day, and use it to hold my stuff (that stinky aloe vera gel, cell phone, chapstick, tissues, and wallet). The color is great, it makes me smile.
2) I bought myself some fun "old man" undershirts, the tank top kind, to wear under my shirt. I'm not supposed to wear a bra because it can irritate my radiated skin. The undershirts are comfy, and it's OK with me if the marker gets all over them.
3) I look at the drive to and from treatment as "me time", no fights to break up in the back, no endless requests for snacks or the Disney CD.....I enjoy the quiet and the freedom to listen to any radio station I want.
4) I park as far away as possible from the treatment center, so at least I get some exercise on the walk in and back.
5) During treatment, while I still keep my eyes shut because I can't stand the machine so close to my face (the Dr reassured me that the rays are not going to scatter onto my face, they're directed only onto my breast and collarbone), I do use the time to pretend I'm somewhere else.....watching waves on the beach, rocking baby in the rocker, sitting in a field of wildflowers.....
6) After treatment, most days, I try to extend the "me time" by running an errand or just stopping to grab coffee. John has been working from home these last few weeks so he can help me and take care of the kids, plus he wants me to stay stress-free, so he's all for it.

Since my talk with David, I've remembered that I've got to be positive about this radiation thing, too. I've been a really good sport through this whole ordeal, (chemo, surgery, all the associated nonsense). Even though I've had enough, I've got to keep on keeping on (thank you, Steve Miller Band). So, each weekday morning at approximately 9:15, I walk in to the treatment center carrying my bright sunflower yellow bag, singing "So You Had a Bad Day" in my head (that song just makes me smile). I go to the changing room, hang up my shirt, put on the gown, and go wait for my turn. While in the waiting room, I do my arm stretches and listen for the technician to call my name. When treatment is over, I thank the technicians, return to the changing room, slather on the stinky aloe vera gel, pull on my "old man" undershirt, smile at the blue ink smudges all over the shirt (one of these days I will remember to bring baby wipes to clean the marker off my skin), throw on my jacket, and march out to the car. It's boring and I dislike it, but it's my routine until April 13th.

So if you ask me how my treatment is going, I might tell you it sucks. Because it really does. But I'll add that I know I can get through it, because I have been through a lot worse (did I ever mention I delivered 2 of my 4 kids without an epidural?) AND because it significantly reduces my chance of recurrence. Radiation really is my friend. I just wish it was a little more likeable.