Sunday, August 26, 2018
All requests are "please." Help me, give me strength, let me pass this test, bring my child home safely. Or my recent request of the universe, "Please just don't let this new oncologist be a dick." Sometimes it's an unreasonable demand, one that brings harm to another or one that seeks to change an outcome already decided. Other times it's the wordless fear-based plea of the broken, when you are too overwhelmed to even know what to ask beyond, "Please..." Asking often doesn't get you what you want or think you need, but it's so human to ask anyway. To plead, to try to bargain, to just wish with every fiber of your being.
And then there are the "thank yous." Answered prayers or unasked-for mercies, reverential silences and jolts of joy or love. Gratitude can strike without warning: when an infant curls his tiny perfect fist around your finger or you hear the delighted giggle of a toddler, when you gaze up at the star-speckled night sky or out at the vast gray ocean, when plants burst back into life each spring, when you receive an unexpected kindness or compliment, when you look into the face of someone you love. You can be appreciative in small, quiet moments of contentment or in events that take your breath away.
I can think of so many instances of both, but two spring to mind. The first is a time when I was at my 5-year-old's soccer game, one of probably half a dozen games in a very crowded park. I sat with a few other moms watching my 2-year-old play in the sand pit. I turned my head for less than a minute to watch another child approach and when I turned back, my little boy was gone. Just gone. I jumped up and scanned the park and couldn't see him anywhere. I will never forget running around frantically asking everyone if they'd seen him, while people stared at me blankly and cars came and went in the full parking lot. If there was ever a "please" moment, this was it for me. Finally, someone who'd seen him pointed the direction he'd headed and I found him across the parking lot. He'd seen his dad and had run to meet him. I'm not sure when I've ever been so desperate to have my plea answered.
The second took place on a trip to the Serengeti during the great migration of nearly two million wildebeest. As far as we could see in either direction, for miles from one horizon to the next on that flat savannah, an endless stream of animals. Several wildebeest deep with zebras flanking them, barking at each other over the wildebeest's backs. Our guide nosed the jeep into the running herd so that they spilt and ran on either side of us, never pausing. It was just us and millions of animals, driven to run by the changing grazing availability. As I stood in the jeep, with all those beasts thundering around us, I wept - a silent "thank you"for being able to witness something so amazing.
In my adulthood, I often see a hawk just when I most need a reminder of my own strength. They seemed to be everywhere when I was pregnant and also in times of turmoil. Last week, I got home from seeing the new oncologist and was staring down the certainty that I would be doing chemotherapy, a process I absolutely dread. I parked my car in the garage and stepped back out into the sunlight and yelled up at the sky, "I could sure use a hawk sighting right about NOW!" I turned to walk back inside and heard the distinctive screeching cry of a raptor. Over my head, a hawk wheeled into view. It remained circling long enough for me to grab my camera and get one shot before disappearing, leaving me teary-eyed in gratitude.
And thank you.
Wednesday, August 22, 2018
The goldfinch in the last photo is also in the first two, perfectly disguised. Camouflage. Sometimes it's a beautiful thing, sometimes it's horrifying.
And then my oncotype report came back and everything changed. The oncologist's PA met with me first and asked if I'd seen my oncotype score, and told me it was 38. I already knew the cut-off for chemo was 25, and I was floored. She said, "Aw, were you hoping it would be under 25?" Well, no shit. Are there actually cancer patients who hope to find out their cancer is extra aggressive? And then, in response to my tears asked, "What are you worried about?" Oh, I don't know - dying?
Then after a conversation in the hall that I could partially hear, the oncologist came in. He told me what sort of chemo I'd be doing and asked if I wanted to start that day. That. Day. I was there by myself. I told him that no, I needed to think about it. I asked him to explain what went into my score and about some discrepancies between the tumor pathology results and the molecular results of the oncotype and he brushed away my questions. I apparently didn't need to know all that, I just needed to start chemo.
I was less than a week from my exchange surgery and finally getting the very painful expanders out. I made an appointment for the following week and left. My younger son was at my house when I got home and opened the door for me because I was crying too hard to work the keypad for the lock. My big-hearted boy sat next to me, held my hand and cried with me. He offered to cook me something or take me out to dinner, and to shave my head when it was time. (I can only say that his response let me know I've done something right in his raising.)
The most difficult part for me was the prospect of the IVs. I explained that I have a serious needle phobia and he said, "Just don't look." Yeah well, that's not how phobias work. I can still feel them. So they sent the chemo nurse in to talk with me. She told me that unfortunately taxotere is hard on veins and they'd have to find different ones each time, including the deep tiny veins on the underside of my forearm. And since I've had lymph nodes removed, I can only ever have IVs or blood draws on my right arm. And that yes, that would make future blood work more difficult. I went home in a pure blind panic, then called back to ask if I might have a port installed for the duration of the chemo. Nope. "Not necessary." Basically, the message was that I needed to shut up and do as I was told.
And that was the last straw for me. I sent a message to my breast surgeon and told her I HAD to have a referral to the other oncologist she'd recommended, as soon as possible. Please.
I liked him right away. He carefully walked me through the oncotype report, explained why I could be estrogen receptor positive in terms of my cancer but not on a molecular level, talked about the fact that my particular profile made my score not within the actual research cohort. He talked about the potentially life-threatening effects of chemo and the seriousness of the decision. This was in stark contrast to the first oncologist who told me the chemo was "only four rounds" and "not a big deal." He told me, "We can talk statistics all day long but I'm not here to tell you what you have to do. I'll be honest, if you were a family member, I'd force you to have chemo. But you're not and at the end of the day, you have to decide what is right for you and your own life."
I explained my needle phobia and that I'd asked for a port and was told it was unnecessary and I couldn't have one. "That's ridiculous," he said, "You absolutely can have a port. Absolutely." In fact, he said he'd have recommended that for someone like me.
At the end of the visit we had this conversation:
Oncologist: "I'm not in the practice of stealing other doctors' patients, so if you'd like to take all this information and continue to work with..."
Me: "No! I canNOT work with someone who doesn't even like me."
Onc: "Okay, then we're going to call an audible here."
Me: "That's a sports reference, right? I don't understand it."
Onc (laughing): "Football. We're going to change the play at the line of scrimmage."
Me: "Still not sure, but I think I've basically got it."
Onc: "I'll get your surgeon's office to schedule you to have a port placed and we'll tentatively schedule to start chemo the following Friday."
Me: "I can go with that plan. I was never saying I wouldn't be willing to do chemo, only that I needed someone who could work with me around my needle issues."
Onc: "Well, I wish all my appointments were this easy! Very nice to meet you and I'll see you again before your first round."
I'm not happy (she says, putting it extremely mildly) about the idea of being pumped full of poison, but I feel safe and heard with this new oncologist, so I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I called and cancelled out all the scheduled appointments with the other guy and breathed a big sigh of relief.
Sunday, August 12, 2018
Monday, August 6, 2018
Thursday, August 2, 2018
I got news from the oncologist at my appointment that blind-sided me and sent me spinning into a dark place. But I have to first get through this reconstruction and don't even want to talk about it until I'm done with that. As a distraction, I'm posting about my yard: