Friday, October 31, 2008

I am hairless!

So, I beat the chemo to the punch and had my head shaved yesterday. I am pleased to report that the experience of having my hair cut off, as well as the experience of having no hair, are really not such a big deal. (I think I look a tiny bit like Alison Bechdel, or maybe more like one of her characters.) Anyway, Bean is adjusting well - he likes that I have a partial wig that can be worn under a hat, because when I wear that, it looks a lot like my hair used to look. For myself, I prefer leaving my head uncovered or wearing a cotton scarf - I don't like the feeling of anything on my head, although the air itself is now something I can feel and it feels weird trying to get nothing of off one's head. I also like wearing my soft, fuzzy caps (since it is nearly November here, after all).

I've been told I have a nicely-shaped head, which is a good thing - I was a little worried that I was going to look like an egg once the hair came off, but I don't. Nor do I look as good as Demi Moore with a shaved head, either, but I can make this work. My only concern is that I don't want to be mistaken for a skinhead. I suppose that is unlikely...

Friday, October 24, 2008

More about breasts (and wigs).

Specifically, to whom do they belong? It seems to me that we spend a lot of time treating breasts as the property of people other than those to whom they are physically attached. I'm surprised when I hear women's male partners being made part of the equation of whether or not she should have breast reconstruction. It's not that I don't understand that he loves her breasts and will miss them, and that there will be some adjustment period for both partners without them. It's that I see this as similar to a partner gaining or losing weight over time; cutting or growing hair; even losing a limb. These are things that happen. Whether or not we adopt cosmetic responses to these things depend on a lot of factors. I'm certainly not going to say that no one should ever use prostheses for cosmetic reasons. But I do think a woman's decision to have reconstructive breast surgery should not be driven by her male partner's desire for her to have breasts. This is a deeply personal decision. The male partner's role in this case, from the perspective of my admittedly short experience as a woman with breast cancer, is to say, "I will love you no matter what. You will always be beautiful, with or without breasts." (If that's not true, then ladies, you married the wrong guys.)

And you know, I'm sure that this kind of thing happens in lesbian relationships, as well, but when I think back to the Lesbian Nation of radical lesbian feminism, I somehow can't quite envision these discussions taking place in these ways. I can envision women challenging the medical establishment's treatment plans and looking for alternative healing, but I can't quite imagine such focus on breasts on the measure of a woman's sexual worth.

I should also say that I don't really have anything against breast reconstruction. I could argue that I'm a purist, and that it seems disingenuous to me to hide the breast cancer epidemic under implants. But it's not really that for me, although I do think there's a grain of truth there. No, it's more that, while I thought about a boob job a few years ago, it never really seemed worth it to undergo the risks of surgery and anesthesia for something cosmetic. I still feel that way. I may not feel that way in five years - I don't know. But for now, it just doesn't seem worth it to me.

That's kind of how I feel about wigs. I don't really want to wear a hot, itchy wig every day. Mostly, I want something that will cover my head and look good. Hats and scarves fit the bill, as do partial wigs (falls?) that peek out from below the hats and scarves. If I can feel good and avoid scaring Bean, then I'm ahead of the game.

I think what this boils down to is two things: 1) I'm not necessarily looking to pass (outside of certain situations). This is what it is, I'm not the first woman with breast cancer and I won't be the last, and I don't feel I need to make myself look like everyone else to hide it; and 2) I don't want to spend unnecessary money or take unnecessary risks. (I'm more than happy to take reasonable and necessary risks, and to spend money on things I really want, though.)

You know what made me really happy today? My hair is nine inches long in some places, and the wig stylist said that she thinks they can use it for wigs for kids with cancer who have lost their hair permanently. My heart soared when she told me that - it just felt so wasteful and sad to throw my hair away, and I will be so happy if someone else can use it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tomorrow is the day.

I'm probably the only woman in the world who is actually excited to start chemo. I just don't like the idea that right now, in my body, there are rogue cells reproducing. I want them to knock that shit off. No mavericks of any kind, please.

We went for chemo class today, which consisted of a half-hour video about chemotherapy and some Q&A. The whole thing was fine, except that after the video was over, our nurse didn't reappear. After a little while, a second nurse came in to take over until the first nurse (who was actually giving someone chemotherapy) could come back. The second nurse was a trip. As Mr. P put it, with characteristic delicateness, "she seemed to be suffering from some sort of malady. She was tremulous, and she was addressing her comments to people who were not in the room." (Yes, this is true.) But this isn't even the good part. What she did was to talk for about 15 minutes about nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting. I think that in those 15 minutes, she managed to say the words, "nausea and vomiting," about 27 times.

Now, I'll point out that I've been told several times that the anti-nausea medication has gotten really good, and that most people are not bothered by this anymore. The video mentioned this, as well. And in fact, this weird nurse was trying to say the same thing. Most people in her shoes would have said, "most people are very worried about having nausea and vomiting from chemo; the good news is that we have made some great strides in medication, and we are able to prevent much of this and to alleviate it when it does happen. We give you an IV of this medication when you have the chemo, and then we give you an injection: these are preventative. We also give you medicine to take home; if you feel at all sick, you take this immediately. And if you still have nausea, call us immediately and we can have you come in for another IV."

I think hearing that would have gone a long way toward easing my mind, which in fact was mostly at ease already because this is essentially what I'd heard from my oncologists.

But here's what Weird Nurse said (I'm paraphrasing): "Most people are very worried about having nausea and vomiting from chemo. It's very important to understand *why* chemo can cause nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting happen because there are receptors in this part [pointing] of the brain - *this* is a nausea and vomiting *center*. There are also receptors in the stomach - we have studied these and we know this. But this is very important - it's a big word, on page five - it's a very big word - PREVENTION. We have medicine that targets these centers. Why is it important for us to prevent this? It's a cycle. When you feel nauseous, what happens? Then you throw up. That makes you dehydrated, so you feel more nauseous. Then you throw up again. Nausea and vomiting is a cycle. So we want to prevent this."

By the time she was done talking, I was nauseous AND freaked out. Fortunately, she left soon afterward when the first nurse returned, and the first nurse calmed me down and reassured me. But, holy jeez, I hope they don't ever allow Weird Nurse in chemo class - or anywhere near me - again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Few things in life are more annoying

than accidentally running a kleenex tissue through the wash. Hate that.

About my breasts... know, I'm not sure I will really miss them. I mean, the truth is, they are heavy and uncomfortable. I don't like the way I sweat underneath them in hot weather, and I don't like the way my bra straps dig into my shoulders and the red marks they leave. I'm tired of checking to make sure that my post-breastfeeding-nipples are both pointing in the same direction. I'm equally tired of wondering how much farther it is possible for boobs to sag.

I'm liking the thought of being able to take them off at the end of the day. It's exciting to think of having breasts that actually fit where my shirts are designed for them to fit, and not two inches lower. (I will definitely go for a smaller cup size, too.)

I'm not that jazzed about reconstruction, to be honest. Sure, I will miss having cleavage, and I wonder how clothes will fit and whether or not I'll feel awkward or exposed in a tank top. But then, I know some drag queens who are able to do a lot with a couple of falsies and a little makeup. And I love the idea of going for a run without worrying about bounce. I love the notion of not having to wear a bra and still being able to look professional and feel comfortable.

And it lends even greater irony to my "got breastmilk?" tank top...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I've been thinking that there are lots of things worse than being in my situation. I've known four people in the last few years who have been diagnosed with ALS, for example. I saw a few kids at Mayo who looked like they'd already, at their young ages, been through a lot more of the scary poking and probing and testing than I have. And closer to home, an acquaintance of mine was recently assaulted and is so traumatized by this that she is having trouble functioning. Meanwhile, I'm adjusting to having a life-threatening illness that my doctors (at the Holy Grail of Medicine, which my insurance is covering) think they can probably cure.

So - yeah, even in the midst of this, and there have been truly agonizing and despairing moments (like the other day, when I had to have an ultrasound to find out if my liver had benign cysts or if the breast cancer had spread (it was cysts - but even so, just typing this sentence is making me anxious)), I am still pretty damn lucky. I just need to remember that.

Chemo should start this week. I am also grateful for how far anti-nausea medication has come in the last five years - I hear that patients tend to gain weight during chemo, which speaks to the success of this medication.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

...and on a lighter note... strikes me as most unfair that I should have to submit my lumpy boob to a breast exam by a younger-than-me, good-looking British doctor. I mean, really. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Thank you.

Just wanted to say "thanks" to everyone who has been commenting and emailing me. One of the scariest things about this is that, when you hear serious words like "cancer," you feel very alone. And initially, when they were talking about inflammatory breast cancer (which I do not have), they mentioned this when they did the biopsy on Friday and left me to agonize over the weekend - I certainly felt alone then.

But I'm not alone. I have been amazed and humbled and more grateful than words can express at the outpouring of support I've received from old friends, recent acquaintances, colleagues, and all of you online. Thank you for making me feel safer and held in love. It truly makes a difference.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

If only I could feel like this all the time.

Right now, I'm feeling like myself, like I'm not defined by this. Most of the day, though, I spent in bed, too depressed to get up, too worried to feel safe. I need to remember that I feel best when I start doing things like grading papers, which forces me to get outside of myself and think about other things. I am at my worst when I spend time alone worrying, or when I do things other than work (watching t.v. is a good distraction, but it only works for so long).

It feels so good not to be coming apart at the seams. I wish I could feel this way more, and feel like I'm falling into the abyss less often.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cloudy, with a side of cancer.

So. I have breast cancer. I've spent the last two weeks agonizing over this and worrying that it would be a death sentence. Turns out it's not - turns out that breast cancer has become a survivable cancer. I'm still waiting for my brain to catch up to that idea.

But it's still scary, and it's why I haven't been around for a while. Right now, I'm only at the very beginning of starting to come back to something that resembles my normal self.

(P.S. Please don't share any horror stories or internet information - I don't think I can take it.)