Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The emotional perils of shopping for high-end napkins

A couple weeks ago, I went to Williams-Sonoma to buy a gift. Toward the back of the store, piles of tastefully perky, holiday-themed linen napkins filled the sale racks. Tidy little packets of Christmas cheer, conveniently available in groupings of four. Christmas en Provence? Sign me up!

I remember precisely what I was thinking as I sorted through the stacks:

"Hmm...Pretty cute napkins. These could be nice to have for the holidays--dinner parties, even just for cocktails. And....woah! Marked down to $2.95! I'd totally set my table with these! (Well, assuming I'm still alive. If I were dead, Neil would never remember to put these out.) And actually, if I die, he probably wouldn't even host Christmas, so there'd be no need for napkins at all. Someone would definitely step in and host it for him. Spare him the headache, figuring, 'Oh, he's got enough on his plate, being a single dad and all.' So...Maybe it'd be a waste to get them. But still. That's a pretty good deal. Ok, I'll get 'em. Should I buy just one set (4), or two sets (8)? Probably eight, since we'd have family over. Then again, if no one's in town, it MAY just be the four of us: Me, Neil, Betty, Rhodes. Just an even four. Not five or anything. Because we probably won't be able to have any more kids. Probably won't get the chance. Not anymore. Damnitalltohell. OK, I'll get two sets of four, just to be safe."

I purchased eight holiday napkins that day.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this somewhat rambling and innocuous-bordering-on-boring anecdote.

Perhaps it's best explained by contrasting my above reaction with other women's reactions to the same situation. I'm suspect that most other women, looking at these same napkins, would experience a thought process that goes something like this:

"These are cute. I love holiday parties! Are they on sale? Oh, awesome!"   --Fin--

When you're living with a "disease", even if you're managing to live fully and happily in spite of it (and I am), you view situations ever-so-slightly differently than you did before. Try as you might to block out scary thoughts, they still manage to creep in to your every interaction. The disease casts its sinister shadow, always. Even if only slightly.

Even in the simple act of shopping for napkins. What could be less a provocative, less incendiary situation? And even THAT kicked up the topics of: my death, my widower husband, and my inability to be in charge of how many kids I might produce.

Those are weighty topics to blindside you on a Tuesday morning in the mall. Merci beaucoup, Williams-Sonoma.

And there was something else going on here, something even more unsettling. This particular situation challenged me to come clean and admit to myself how I REALLY felt about my chances for a future. Will I be alive to use these damned napkins, or not? Do I really BELIEVE I'm going to beat this cancer? Neil aint gonna use these napkins on his own. Don't buy 'em if you're not truly expecting to use 'em.

Decision time: Put your money where your mouth is, Shelly.


To be honest with you, I'm not sure how many Christmases those napkins will see. I hope those suckers get used so many times they become pinot-stained, frayed, musty, and faded.

But the truth is, I don't know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Night Owls

Would you believe that Neil and I have to drive to the hospital (Issaquah to Seattle) at TWO A.M. tonight, just to get my chemo pump unhooked. In this storm! Can't have that pump running dry for too long. I have half a mind to rip it out of my chest myself, right here in my bed. Just like they used to do, on the frontier, in the days of yore.

If anybody happens to be along the I-90 corridor around 3 a.m., let us know. We can totally catch up-- see ya then!

MLK day, a snow/chemo day

Monday was MLK day, and in Seattle it was also a big SNOW DAY, which to you non-Seattleites might not mean much. But here it means, EVERYTHING IS CLOSED!, the roads are A MESS, and there's a complete overkill of 24/7 news coverage about the fronts coming in. They even christen the storms, much like hurricanes, for the news coverage. This one is named, "WINTER BLAST!" but I've seen "Snowmageddon" and "Artic Chill!" and numerous others over the years. Complete with their own logos. In Seattle, the storms themselves become local celebrities.

Aside from the hype, it's a fun time to live here. Everyone's sledding and skiing and filled with that particular sense of excitement that potentially perilous side streets and closed-down businesses bring. People unite in their giddiness. They whip out the furry snow hats, sleds, and hot cocoa. Plus, with its surrounding mountains, lakes and huge pine trees, this region is GORGEOUS when covered in snow. Tough to beat. 

So. I wasn't thrilled about packing up and heading to Swedish Hospital for the fun snowy holiday. Especially if it meant another day of shuddery, steroid-induced writhing, pain, and then too much morphine and dilaudid. At least on the 12th floor, there's a nice view of the neighborhoods below, so we could vicariously share in the fun.

Ah, but here my story turns happy again. 'Bout friggin time. Without going into too many details, we have learned that I am NOT in fact allergic to oxaliplatin-- PHEW-- as this is one of my two main chemo drugs, and I kinda need those to keep working for me. Instead, I am allergic to Avastan, and I'm actually the first person my famous oncologist knows who is! Aren't I a specemin to behold.

I was able to take in all my chemo, and we left the hospital the minute it was done dripping into me, at 4 in the morning. NO, WE DO NOT WANT TO STAY THROUGH TIL THE MORNING, THANKS. 

Now that we know I'm not allergic to "Oxali", I don't have to have receive my chemo at such a preventative, slow rate, and I don't have to be dosed with loads of steroids and Benedryl beforehand. This means I am able to spend the long chemo day alert, chatty, and doing useful things, like watching Netflix, reading, or walking the halls. 

And I should add, that when I'm walkin' those halls, I'm not just walking. I'm HAULING ASS. I hitch up my teal-colored hospital pants tight (who cares about my bare open back swaying in the breeze-- all the ladies at the Golden Globes were backless), and I grab that IV stand and WE MAKE SOME TIME DOWN THOSE CORRIDORS, SISTER. In fact, I took one turn so fast that part of the stand snapped off and crashed to the floor, batteries flying. I like to impress all the nurses with how frequently I pass their station, letting them witness firsthand the blistering speed with which I am able to circle the entire ward. YOU CALL THIS 'SICK', MOFOS?

On a side note, while Neil and I were pausing in the lounge, a man strutted in. He wore a delivery-guy uniform. He glanced at both of us, me standing there in my teal hospital uniform, one arm on my chemo stand. So I said, "Hi! Pretty day out there, isn't it?" He nodded quickly, almost angrily, and he spit back, "Yep. It's comin' down all right. 'Sposed to get more, too. And I HAVE TO DRIVE IN THIS! IT'S MY JOB! Jesus!"And he stormed out of the lounge dramatically, allowing the impact of his situation to sink in.

Neil and I looked at each other. I looked down at my barf-colored regulation jammies, then looked at the sign directly behind me reading "ONCOLOGY UNIT", and we just burst out laughing. BOY, does HE have it bad! I'm just glad he was able to let it all out. Sometimes all you need is an understanding ear.

Friday, January 13, 2012

good scan

scan was very good. tumors down by 30%-50% from last scan, which was also good. we still have work to do, though.

chemo at the hospital was a disaster. we had to cut it short due to a crazy allergic reaction and i get to go back on Monday for more. now it seems like we're learning i'm not allergic to oxalliplatnin, but avastan. looking forward to getting it sorted out. i'm so over it that i don't even want to write about it anymore. maybe someday I will tell you about it. but not now.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Back in the ring

The above title is an extension of the boxing reference I made in the previous post. I'm going to ride this theme til we're well beyond the hokey stage. Because it's a KNOCKOUT!

I just wanted to let you know that I am all sorted out and ready for another week of chemo. I'm feeling strong, calm, and I'm thinking positive thoughts. I don't care too much that I have to hit the hospital. It'll work out. Feel free to visit. I'll even buy you some clear broth. All I gotta do is dial a few numbers, and voila. It's like the Ritz Carlton.

In other news: I have a CT scan tomorrow. I'll know the results by Wed, and I'll post them here. Cross your fingers, toes, legs, eyes.

We had a great snowy weekend in Mazama. I loved racing down the hills. Sitting by the fires. Drinking beer and feasting with friends.

You know, I really LOVE being alive. More than most people, I daresay. (them's fightin' words, I know... but hey, more boxing references were needed. I promise the theme ends after "this round"!) Even if I have to spend the night in the hospital getting chemo, at least I can be in charge of deciding if I'm going to be grouchy and angry, or if I'm going to make it a good day.

And that's true of every day, mine or yours, isn't it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bah humbug

Last week's chemo blew chunks.

I had another allergic reaction. Kidney pain, shooting up and down my back. When this happens, there's no way you can sit or stand that feels even remotely comfortable. It feels like being in active labor. So then, pain meds, dilaudid again, which made me paranoid, sweaty, and nauseous. Strung-out. To keep the reaction manageable, they s-l-o-w-e-d d-o-w-n the rate of the the drip to an o-b-n-o-x-i-o-u-s t-r-i-c-k-l-e. What should have taken six hours ended up taking about 13. THIRTEEN HOURS IN A CHAIR.

AND. Because they were giving me the chemo drugs at such a slow rate, the clinic closed. LAST CALL! So I had to be admitted to the hospital to finish it up. Neil and I spent Thursday night on the oncology floor, just so I could receive all my chemo. Lacks a certain joie de vivre, that place.

I rang in the new year gagging and shuddering, hooked up to that stupid crap. Not feeling sorry for myself, more just annoyed and a little angry. Trying to be patient, but running out of patience. Reading Facebook posts from people proclaiming that this is going to be the best year ever! And let's booze it up, friends! And God bless 'em all, they SHOULD be happy. But so should I.

THEN. I received a call from my doctor telling me that for ALL future chemo appointments, I will report to the hospital for an overnight stay. DO NOT PASS GO. Because it just takes too long to complete it within the clinic's working hours. So, bi-weekly, overnight hospital stays in my future, from now til... June?

This is getting old.

Because we have brains and souls, I don't think we humans are particularly well suited for the cancer experience. We're too logical, and we have too many emotional chinks in our armor. Cancer takes all kinds of cheap shots, and it doesn't follow any rules. You have to be endlessly adaptive, constantly seeking out a hopeful perspective, or you'll go mad. So, regroup, and get up again.

I often feel like Cool Hand Luke in the famous boxing scene, where he's totally outmatched by that big bully but he keeps on taking more hits. I keep on getting back up again, and blindly, almost pathetically, I continue swinging my fists at the air.