Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Masked Bandits

We are on vacation! The boys are doing two weeks of football camp at Marin Catholic High School, so we are staying down the street with our former neighbors who, for some reason I cannot comprehend, continue to welcome our enormous, sloppy, hungry, noisy family into their home for long periods of time...and actually seem happy to see us.

It has been six years now since we lived here, and I am realizing on this visit how many fundamental things I have forgotten about the place. Little things, like which street to turn on, and which grocery store has which products, but also bigger things having to do with the flora and fauna.

For instance, yesterday it was very hot. Unlike in our desert home where heat hardly matters because everyone has air conditioning, the heat descends like a velvet theatre curtain on the surprised citizens of Marin. Unused to it and unprepared for it, lethargy sets in for the general populace and city streets are nearly empty. The boys reported after camp that a full third of the boys took of their pads, declared themselves ill and sat out the practice in the shade. Accustomed to playing in full pads in 100+ degree heat, Joey and Sam were unfazed and wondered what was wrong with everyone.

At any rate, when I got back to the house yesterday afternoon, I pulled into the driveway and rolled down the windows so the car wouldn't get too stuffy in this crazy heat. As I was wrapped up in dealing with my napping child, I did not think a thing of the bag of trash I had accumulated during the day and left in the car to be dealt with later.

Bright and early this morning I went out to the car and found, to my horror, that it had been ransacked! The bag of trash, which unfortunately contained the buns rejected by my little girls during our hot dog picnic in the park, had been ripped open and spread throughout the van. There were crumbs on every surface...which are many in a 12 seat church van, let me tell you.

But that wasn't ALL that was on every surface.

Apparently, the family of raccoons that invaded my van upset their delicate digestive systems with their hot dog bun splurge and left copious evidence to support this theory all over the car. They tagged the seats, nearly all of them. They got the carpet. They even got three of the four sweatshirts the kids had carelessly discarded on the floor.

What is a mom to do with a van full of ripped up trash and raccoon poop at 7am? Get over to the do-it-yourself carwash lickety split, that's what! So there I was, armed with carpet cleaner, Febreze and disinfecting wipes, dumping tokens into the giant vacuum machine before the sun was fully risen, scrubbing with all my might. I could not take the kids to camp in a poop-mobile. Not even I am THAT casual.

So, the good news is that my van is really, really clean now and smells like lavender. The washing machine ran for a good portion of the day on the sanitary cycle so I have lots of clean sweatshirts and socks, too. You see, we don't have to worry about things like raccoons (or even most bugs) in the desert, so I have nearly forgotten completely that they exist in other parts of the world more hospitable to lifeforms of all kinds.

Makes me appreciate the desert.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy News in the Happiest Place on Earth

I just returned from two days at Disneyland with Sam. We had such a nice time, just the two of us.

Sam is a very low-maintenance kid. He is not a complainer, is very independent, just sort of does his own thing, nearly always happy. As a result, he sometimes gets less attention than the other kids who are, well, just louder and more insistent. We are aware of this and try to reward him for his easy-going nature whenever we can.

When I realized (without him saying a word about it) that the other three older kids all were going someplace fun this summer, Jay and I decided that Sam should have some fun too. I woke him up early on Tuesday with, "Hey, want to go to Disneyland?" I wish I had recorded how his eyes flew open and mouth curled into his handsome Sammy smile, because it was priceless.

Off we went to the crowds and had a great time just hanging out together. Even the lines were a pleasure with Sam as he never complained or asked how much longer. He is a good example of a cheerful person, one I should do a better job of emulating!

At any rate, on the morning of our second day, I got an email from my study nurse (have I mentioned how much I love her? She is so great about giving me information as soon as it comes up...and when you are waiting for test or scan results, every minute seems like an hour). She sent me a copy of my biopsy report that showed that both spots in the right breast are benign. What an unexpected pleasure that was to read!

So what did we do? Had a GIANT ice cream sundae to celebrate, of course! Then we went on California Screamin'. Love that ride.

Incidentally, I still have to have one of the lumps removed for pathological reasons I don't fully understand, but that does not lessen my delight in the results. I am greatly pleased that they are being so cautious with me given my Stage IV diagnosis. Makes me feel like I truly might be "salvageable" as my oncologist said. It's a good place to be.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Four out of Four Doctors Agree

It's biopsy time again. Luckily, it is soon (Friday) and I will have results early next week, so I don't have long to wait.

I actually had a very nice day at UCLA today in the care of the folks at the Revlon Breast Cancer center and the Iris Cantor Breast Imaging Center which, surprisingly, I had never been to before today. I have a ton of confidence in my surgeon and find her very presence reassuring. Her wonderful staff got me upstairs for initial imaging within a half hour (I am used to waiting weeks in between referrals and procedures).

I had a similarly great experience with the fellow who performed my ultrasound. She was exceptionally thorough, knew my history completely, and eventually corroborated her findings with the radiologist who read the MRI that began all of this last month. They decided together what to do while I waited. (Incidentally, for you Kaiser patients, she told me that she would be heading to the Kaiser system as soon as her fellowship was over, so you will soon be getting a great new radiologist!)

Not once today did I feel like a Stage IV patient. I felt like any other young(ish) woman who might find a suspicious lump in her breast that could be successfully treated. Everyone I came in contact with today was interested in being aggressive with this latest finding and assumed that it could be completely eradicated, regardless of my prior history. I LOVED that. They even took new baseline mammogram, which I was not scheduled for, so they would know the character of anything new that came up over time. I truly appreciated that long-term view.

I am in the very unusual position of not really caring all that much whether these lumps are benign or malignant. I know that sounds crazy, but if they are malignant, they are so early that they can be treated easily. Of course, I'd rather not have the lumpectomy and radiation that are sure to follow a malignant diagnosis, but in the grand scheme of things I'm certainly not afraid of the diagnosis, as I was the first time. It won't significantly change my life--that has already happened.

I read a beautiful account of this profound change in a book I'm reading called The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I hope you will indulge me as I quote it here, as it so perfectly captures the unwelcome portion of a patient's transformation during treatment for cancer:

The Italian memoirist Primo Levi, who survived a concentration camp and then navigated his way through a blasted Germany to his native Turin, often remarked that among the most fatal qualities of the camp was its ability to erase the idea of a life outside and beyond itself. A person's past and his present were annihilated as a matter of course--to be in the camps was to abnegate history, identity and personality--but it was the erasure of the future that was the most chilling. With that annihilation, Levi wrote, came a moral and spiritual death that perpetuated the status quo of imprisonment. If no life existed beyond the camp, then the distorted logic by which the camp operated became life as usual.

Cancer is not a concentration camp, but it shares the quality of annihilation: it negates the possibility of life outside and beyond itself; it subsumes all living. The daily life of a patient becomes so intensely preoccupied with his or her illness that the world fades away. Every last morsel of energy is spent tending the disease. "How to overcome him became my obession," the journalist Max Lerner wrote of the lymphona in his spleen. "If it was to be a combat then I had to engage it with everything I had--knowledge and guile, ways covert as well as overt."

This passage could not be more true. I wish I was not so focused on my own health, but no matter how hard I try to drag myself away from it, I cannot escape. Thanks to my family and friends, I do think of other things(like who has what practice after school and who has to remember to bring a share to school this week) but some days it is nearly impossible for me to not dwell on this battle I am constantly engaged in. It is often draining, but I am glad to know I am not unusual in this and that, indeed, it is par for the course if I am truly going to put up a decent fight.

Anyone who has read this blog for long knows that I often speak about the positive things that this cancer diagnosis has brought, for there certainly are many. I honestly believe that I am a better person for it, overall, and don't wish the entire experience away (though it could happily end anytime now). But that doesn't mean that it isn't difficult at times.

Like, say, during a biopsy week. Wish me luck!