Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Left Everything

Everyone has a dominant side of his/her body. Left or right. Even those with the most physical skills and strong proprioceptive sense, such as dancers and athletes, must coach and coax the sides of their bodies that aren't as willing to play.

My left side is not strong. In 1984, I was working as a waitress and lifted a large tray of food onto my left shoulder (I knew it was too heavy for me at the time). I felt something in my neck/back go, "SPRONG" and I was shot with pain immediately. I had no insurance or money, my parents lived out of state and would not pay for me to go to the doctor, and so for a month I lived and worked in intense pain, mitigated only mildly by a medication that had just arrived over-the-counter, Motrin. I've had many flare-ups of this since then.

In 1989, I was T-boned on the left side of my car at the intersection of Mopac and Lake Austin Blvd. The driver was a personal injury lawyer who drove a gold Porsche. He's still around. He admitted guilt on the spot and avoided a ticket. Actually, he did everything he could for me, short of buying me a new car (which is what I needed, broke-ass as I was). I had a sprained neck, very stiff and sore, but otherwise I didn't think I was hurt. Everyone said at the time that I should have sued the guy, but I knew I was too unsophisticated, poor, and without status to have prevailed in litigation against this man.

Through the years, my condition did not improve, especially on my left side. In about 2003 I sought the help of another doctor, Dr. Jerk. Jerk had just come from attending a press conference, where he'd been interviewed as though he were a movie star about his role in saving the life and body of a prominent sports coach who'd been in a terrible automobile accident. Jerk thought a lot of himself. He sent me to six lame-ass sessions of McPhysical Therapy and when I did not get better, he was ready to inject my muscles with something that would maim them and not bother me anymore. Obviously, I refused. I have been to two more physical therapists for this condition and I am back in treatment (and pain) again.

In about 2002, I had been in a NIA class (something I cannot do with a straight face now) and shortly after, my left knee gave out from under me. It was determined that I had a "tear in the anterior horn of the lateral meniscus,"and I went into PT for that. It's still not as strong as it should be. At that same time I entered Feldenkrais, and that's where I learned that I don't engage the left side of my body as I should, I don't get as much input or feeling into it. I just sort of drag it along, and that's why I got hurt.

When I was nursing, I developed a infection in —where else?— the left breast. I had the problem for at least a month before I realized it was not going away.

So I suppose I was not terribly surprised when my left breast came under attack in December 2007, and here were are today.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Got Knockers?

One of many unpleasant images I associate with getting school lunches as a youngster is, the way they would portion out the food. They would get one of those 4 or 6 oz. ice cream scoops, plunge it into the pan, scrape it noisily on the side to pack and level the serving, and with a "crick" of the scoop, a half-sphere of the food (mashed potatoes, say) would be deposited on your Melamine tray. Only the diner could break this food formation with his or her fork. Yum.

And that's what some of these ladies' new knockers reminded me of, when I looked at photos of them on the plastic surgery clinic Web site: two scoops.

So my encounter this morning with Dr. Deacon (for he reminds me of a church deacon — still wearing his class ring, and everything!) did not surprise me much. I was cheered to see that his nurse had a few lines on her face, so to speak. But on the way to the examining room she asked me airily, "Did you ever wear a wig?" (Like, why aren't you wearing one now? Don't you care about how you look?!) I replied that indeed I had worn wigs from time to time, but now that it's 94 degrees every day I am going without. I am on chemotherapy and everyone needs to get over it. Yes, I really said that.

This office had much more of hotel spa atmosphere, and with spa robes to put on, to boot. Unfortunately, the robe was not on me very long. I spent the bulk of my appointment with Dr. Deacon with my top off, even when he was not illustrating on my body the procedure he would do. My notebook was out of reach for the majority of his stump speech to me. Bam, here's what ya get, lady. Dr. Deacon likes to do a procedure that involves rethreading your latissimus dorsi muscle through your armpit to create a breast mound, and he likes it at the time of mastectomy. I pretended I had never heard of anything he was telling me, and he did asked little of me (such as, "Are you with me? Do you understand?"). When I asked what I would do without my lat muscle anymore, he told me other muscles are there to help out, but I would not be able to reach all the way above my head and pull my arm down anymore (like in those lat exercises at the gym). Beauty. I truly began to feel nauseated at that point.

His office staff asked me on the way out if I wanted them to call Dr. Solemn so they can co-ordinate the surgery with him and I told them I am not making a decision about this today.

But my feeling has always been that I am fucking using my back muscles right now and they are not modular portions of my body. What's more, my left side is involved here, and that's another post altogether.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Era of Reconstruction

When a woman is facing a mastectomy, as I am, she inevitably also considers surgery to restore the piece(s) of her that will be gone because of cancer.

Yes, I'm talking about visiting plastic surgeons. Is this TMI? I don't think so. Even if you are not saying so, you are wondering a little bit about it, too.

Yesterday I glided into the gleaming offices of Dr. Impossibly Handsome (IH), a plastic surgeon of good repute. He had been referred to me by my general surgeon, Dr. Solemn. Solemn, knowing my queasiness about those who practice the cosmetic arts, had given me a rather short list of dudes — and they are all dudes — who take breast reconstruction very seriously.

Dr. IH seems to be one of those, and told me the majority of his breast surgery is reconstructive surgery — music to my ears. I have no wish to place myself in the hands of a man who pads his bank account fueling the desires of women who are insecure about their racks.

After a long conversation about my option (yes, according to him I have about one option), it was time to uncover the raw material he would have to work with, whenever the day comes. It felt like being in a very boring episode of that plastic surgery show, oh what is it? Nip Tuck. It is a very different experience to be examined for cosmetic purposes. I did get a nice but medical-sounding compliment on what's already up there, considering my age and the fact I had children. And the greatest news of all: I have plenty of belly fat that "would make two nice breasts." Yay, Dr. IH. He knows what broads want to hear.

I looked at his nurse and said, "You mean this would be gone?" gesturing to my abdomen. She nodded vigorously.

Now is a really good time to think carefully about how and if physical "wholeness" means anything for wellness. I'm not sure they are necessarily partners but I know yesterday's visit made me start to think about putting them both on Team Roseana's Cancer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Justification and Reconciliation

I bet you wonder, as I used to, about what happens to those relationships that were damaged before your cancer diagnosis. Do people who were mad at you suddenly go, "Oh, hey! So sorry you have cancer! Let's just forget that other thing we were pissed off about. It doesn't matter anymore."

No, they don't.

I attended an event recently where I came into contact with folks who had reason to be irritated with some of my past actions. And vice versa, I might add! This was a joyous, social event with everyone all dressed up. A time for pleasantries. So there was no reason for us to remind each other of our past wounds or differences. It was a time for, "Hello, how have you been?" But neither pleasantries nor accusations came my way, nor even an acknowledgment that I am ill and how awful that a mother of an elementary school-aged child has Stage III breast cancer, and how is that child doing? These people are still mad, even though supposedly their situation is fine and dandy without me. No, no, it's better without me, dammit.

I suppose what this really means is, when the veil is torn off a situation or person, it is gone for good. Cancer or no cancer. I wanted to be reconciled to these people for just this one day, not necessarily forever. Instead, I was reminded that I had already been justified. Remember, justified means to set right. I was already set right, regardless of my illness. And that's a situation that seems to be permanent. I knew this already, deep down. I will try not to forget this again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

B Team

Update: My little plan to foil bumbling lab techs failed today. This time, a tech I'd never had before missed my arm vein. Guess what? Blood don't come out like that. She was even moving the needle around to see if it would flow or not and that's when I figured out I was screwed. She removed the needle and got someone else, who turned out to be Lab Tech #1 Who Could Not Access My Port Last Week. She could access another vein, however. It's big, but deep. Ow. And I've got a bruise on the inside of my arm. The port went okay though.

Ports of Call

For the uninitiated, I have what's called a porta-cath in my upper chest. It's a Power Port, specifically, implanted under my skin just beneath my clavicle. My surgeon did it in January so I could start my treatment. I really hated this idea desperately. But the surgery was no big deal — I was eating potato, egg, and cheese tacos at Loca Maria's by 11 am the day of the procedure, and the pain management from the incision was minimal. Here's what it looks like.

About an hour or 45 minutes before each infusion, I apply a thick layer of numbing cream over the spot and cover it with a small piece of Saran Wrap. When I go get my treatments, the infusion nurse (or more recently, the lab tech) feels the spot where the port is and pushes into it a short needle that resembles a push pin. That's what starts the "line," as opposed to an IV in the arm. The reason for the port is, the chemotherapy medications are very scarring to tissues and having a direct path into the body's biggest vein is better. You don't want your arm veins to get scarred. They're small.

Overall, I've been pleased with this arrangement. The port rarely bothers me and I don't feel it all — unless some joker decides she's gonna push on it. Somewhere down the line I must have heard some wisdom about never letting the lab techs touch your port, only let the infusion nurses start the line. So until recently I had the lab techs do their blood draw out of my good arm and the chemo nurses access the port. But one nurse once told me, "Oh, no, the lab accesses most of the ports, we don't do that many. But we'll do them, it's good to keep up our skills." Huh, I thought. I thought you guys had the mad skills.

Week before last I let the lab tech start the line in my port and it was fine. Last week, it was not fine. One tech began to really push on the spot, hard. I winced. She still couldn't figure out where the hell she was supposed to jab me with that fancy push pin. Finally she gave up and punted to another tech, who seemed similarly uncertain and not gentle, either. He put the needle in — oops. Not the right spot. He took it out and tried again. This time it worked. I had to go into my doctor's appointment with my chest irritated like this. I ended up with a bruise there.

I still had this contraption taped to me when, an hour later, I was downstairs for an ultrasound. I have been having a swollen feeling in my tissues, especially in my armpits and chest, so they checked for a blood clot. I don't have a blood clot. But at least I got in a nap while I laid in that dark room, getting probed with that warm goo on me. I'm going to go back to my first tack today, and get my favorite nurse to deal with my port.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Halfway Through Taxol

Last week I had my 6th infusion of the drug Taxol, so I am now halfway through this portion of my treatment. I'm going in for Number Seven today, in an hour, in fact.

When he learned of my condition, one of my ancillary health care providers seemed fascinated that I had "chosen" chemotherapy. It's the only thing they got for me, I replied.

Well, yes, in the Western medicine world, it is, anyway, he replied.

I would like to point out that in his realm of health care, there is no vaunted, alternative way of doing what he does. No herbs, meditation, fasting, colonics, organic raw foods, or wishful thinking. He can only do what he does with his hands, and there is no better training for his profession than in the Western world.

So having to defend my "choice" seemed pretty messed up to me. Being made to feel like a sucker for getting chemotherapy seemed pretty messed up to me. I am now very curious about others' emotional investment in whether — and to what degree — I have "bought into" Western medicine means for them.