Sunday, July 29, 2018

More than half-way on the No-Shopping challenge.

Let's just say the no-shopping year challenge hasn't been the primary thing on my mind of late. But I haven't posted about it since the end of April, so I'll just do a quick update. In May, in advance of the mastectomy, I bought some of the things I was told I'd need for recovery - a wedge pillow, straws, soft pj's the open in the front. The things I would need to sleep propped up and navigate with extremely limited arm range. I came home and dutifully colored in that date's square in pink to show I'd shopped. Then my husband stepped in. Those were not discretionary items, he insisted, those were medical expenses. And he was right. And I was even temperate about those expenditures - one thing I bought was an old school zip-front house dress for $7. I cut holes in the pockets from the insides to put the bulbs of my drains tubes into. That thing was flat ugly, but cheap and practical. I tell you though, when I wore it I felt like I was a cigarette and a glass of sherry away from being my Gangeen.

   May - July         Year to Date      Category                              
      $0                       $0                    Clothing                                                   
      $0                       $0                    Shoes                             
      $0                       $0                    Accessories                                       
      $0                       $0                    Cosmetics         
      $0                       $0                    Kitchen items                 
      $0                       $0                    Gadgets/electronics 
      $0                       $0                    Furnishings
      $0                       $0                    Books 
      $0                       $0                    Shrubs/trees
      $0                       $0                    Non-necessary household goods 

We're almost to the end of July, so I'm including it since I feel confidant that I won't be shopping in the next couple of days. For gardening, I'd only included shrubs and trees and had planned to buy some annuals for a couple of pots out front the way I do every year. And then decided that even that wasn't necessary.
For the pot that I usually put mums or other seasonal flowers into, I dug up a patch of mystery plants that weren't a good fit for where I'd originally put them. At the point that I stuck them in the pot they'd not yet bloomed, so I was very pleasantly surprised when these beauties emerged.
I had one other empty pot on the front porch and I decided to make a topiary-like thing. I had a set of three pieces of bamboo wired at the top that had come with some other plant. I cut some ivy from the back yard and twined it up the bamboo poles. It's grown quite a bit and adds a little height to the plantings. And all free!
Food was never part of the no-shopping year and while we mostly eat at home, yesterday we'd spent all day working on various projects and decided to pick up some catfish and onion rings at the neighborhood diner. Apparently the fish was so hot that it melted right through the container. My husband said, "What are the chances that none of that styrofoam is melted into our fish?" I just shrugged and said, "I don't know. Maybe it will give me cancer."

Sunday, July 22, 2018

My adjusted life.

In between surgeries, I have returned to something approaching normalcy. (Note this photo has nothing to do with anything - it's just Hodr being weird.) I went back to work too soon, for a couple of very short days after four weeks. It was a mistake. But the next week I was a little more ready worked four mediumly-full days. The biggest issue was just being able to drive the 45-minute commute. Fifteen minutes of my drive are in heavier traffic and I had to wait until I could extend my arms in front of me. I keep a folded up towel in the car to put between my chest and the seat belt. It's been nice to see my patients again and to hear that I've been missed. I've scheduled myself a break in the middle of each day to nap, which helps.
After weeks of staring at the weeds taking over my gardens, I decided to tackle the worst of them last week. For the bigger limbs on shrubs and wisteria vines, I showed my husband where to cut and he wielded the loppers. I pulled up a bunch of weeds, but only things that came up easily from the ground. Other weeds I just cut off at ground level and I will deal with their roots after I'm recovered from my second surgery. I ended up with this pile to be hauled away by the city. And no, I didn't lose my shoe, it's just there for scale.
As I've been able to focus a little more, I've moved away from the stash of free books I'd been storing on my ipad and picking up some books that require a bit more brain power. My current read is about how human exceptionalism in the field of paleoanthropology leads to sometimes absurd theories about evolution. Not that I'm not also reading novels, of course.
And I have spent a great deal of time just watching the little world of my yard. Out every window, there are birds and small mammals to keep me entertained. We keep the bird feeders filled and set out peanuts for the squirrels and blue jays. And of course, the rabbits love the clover lawn.
So that's where I am these days. Working a little, watching the world go by, and waiting for my next surgery in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Cancerland Diaries (with apologies to David Sedaris)

When I first got diagnosed, I did a little light reading. And even with all the guidebooks, it's still like being dropped off in a foreign country you've never heard of. The currency in your wallet has no value, you don't speak the language (which has a strange grammatical structure all its own), you don't know the customs or the laws. And when you step off the plane and into this new land, the authorities confiscate your passport so that you cannot leave. Welcome to Carcinomistan, and you'd better plan on staying.

Some of the things that happen are inconsequential, but odd. Among other things, the hospital sent a walker home with me when I was discharged. It wasn’t until later that day that I looked at it and wondered why on earth they’d done that. After all, it was my arms that weren’t working - my legs were fine. What they should have sent me home with was an adult-sized version of a baby walker. You know the ones with a hard plastic tray all the way around, a sling seat, and wheels? Those are leg-powered and I remember my own kids scooting around in one. Plus I could have snacks, meds, and my iPad within easy reach at all times. It would be helpful to have a tray in front that swings out and a high-backed, cushioned seat that reclines for naps. I think there is a definite marketing niche for these.

Another strange thing is that part where upper body nudity becomes very casual. Every specialist I visit has me gown up and then spends some time examining my incision scars and in-progress reconstruction. I joined a couple of Facebook mastectomy support group and suddenly my feed was filled with pictures of mismatched breasts, necrotic nipples, ragged scars, and tattoos. I've had to unfollow the groups so that I only see those posts when I go to that group's page.
And pain. It's just my constant companion. Apparently it varies depending on where tissue expanders are placed, but mine are under the skin and hurt all the time. All. The. Time. The tabs at the top have curled up and poke into the underside of my skin, the stitches into the soft tissue pull with each breath,  the edges are sharp all the way around, and my skin feels stretched to the breaking point. In fact, it's almost become a curiosity to me, so I made a count-forward calendar on my phone to see how long the pain will last. All I can do is hold on until it's done.
And then there are the electric shocks, which I'm told are the nerves in the skin regenerating. We'll just say it's both startling and unpleasant. One day I picked up my phone and touched the home button to unlock it when a wave of shocks went through me. I reflectively clutched the phone and gasped. Siri thought I was laughing and he helpfully laughed back. Thanks, Siri.
Finally there are the weird, clueless and downright inconsiderate things people feel moved to say. I can't count the number of times someone has immediately told me about someone in their life who has died of breast cancer. Not helpful. Or suggested that it's "so easy to cure these days." Well, actually, it's not a curable cancer. The best you get is "no evidence of disease" because there is always a chance that rogue cells have bypassed the lymphatic system and are quietly setting up a colony in your bones or liver or brain. Or people who tell me how they would feel or what they would do in my situation. As if anyone can know that. Or the "free boob job" jokes that make me want to pick up anything within reach and clobber the person. Or this classic that was said to me, "Oh, that's terrible. Will they have to cut both your breasts off?" What the actual fuck would compel someone to make that comment?
But, there are blessings. Friends who have landed in this strange country before me and can offer invaluable support and advice on navigating this disease. Other friends who give me rides to doctors' appointments and sit with me while the oncologist talks about possible treatments. Flowers and cards and gifts that started arriving my first day back and continued for a couple of weeks. Food delivered to lighten the load. People checking in by text and email to see how I'm doing. Well wishes and prayers from too many people to count.
And this guy. Because when I got pulled into the cancer vortex, my husband took my hand and went under with me. In addition to taking care of me, he has shouldered all of the housework and cooking in the weeks since the surgery. He flushed my drains tubes and changed dressings, looks at my mangled body without flinching (something I cannot yet do myself), and is endlessly patient and loving in the face of my fear and grief. And when I apologize for being in constant pain and a burden he stops me in my tracks, wiping away my tears and telling me, “I am ALL in. No matter what happens. We can do this.” I can’t imagine a better partner in this strange land.