Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A pleasant surprise!

Not too much to update. Had session #13 yesterday, so I am starting on the last HALF of the radiation treatments. I still do NOT like undressing in front of them. And I finally shared this tacky procedure with the doc (saw him following my Monday treatment). I mentioned that the alternative - using a dressing room - meant walking down a long couple of corridors in one of THOSE gowns - something that NO patient wants to do. So HE came up with an alternative - how about a folding screen in the actual treatment room where you could at least shuck off your pants and use a gown? There is plenty of room for a screen, since they already have a coatstand, chair and small table where you can place your belongings and garments.

Thanks, Doc! Hope this can help future radiation "victims" be a bit more comfortable when approaching these treatments.

At the conclusion of Tuesday's treatment, and while I was donning my jeans, one of the radiation techs walked in, carrying a vase. It had ten daffodils and some ferns in it, with a plum-full bunch of water. I had seen the posters around the facility, advertising the sale of these as a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. What I did NOT realize was that those who purchased them, could choose to have a bunch of the flowers donated to a cancer patient. So... and the nicest, preprinted card was included, which began, "Dear cancer survivor". And I had not even allowed myself to think in those terms, "survivor". It was the encouragement angle of it all that was so nice.

I had to pour out half of the water, in order to carry the vase to the car and put it in one of the cupholders. The buds were closed when I went to bed, and 8 of them had begun opening by this morning. The others are now opening, also (yes, I brought them into the shop with me - didn't want to miss the process!). I'll try to take a photo and post that with this installation of "Life with Grouchy".

The warmer temps and blue skies are VERY encouraging, contributing to my upbeat mood. My energy level continues to be "normal", and that makes me feel good. I had thought that I would be pretty lethargic, by this point in the treatment schedule. Happy to see that I am NOT.

I let some friends know about my (previous) latest post. One of these friends is a gal in Texas who went thru chemo for breast cancer about 4 years ago or so. She shared a photo of HERself, just as bald as I was. And NO - I will not violate her privacy by sharing that photo. But - since she is an attractive woman - I felt better when I saw that, at her baldest, she and I BOTH resembled scrawny, middle-aged men. Forgive me if you read this, sweetie! You are certainly a beautiful woman, but no one can tell you OR me that "it's only hair"! As they say, been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

That's all for now.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A humbling meeting

Yesterday was a BAD day for me.

When I checked in at the radiation oncology dept, I thought I would just bide my time, as usual, until someone came and retrieved me, escorting me to one of the two radiation rooms. Well, someone DID come out, but that was to inform me that the radiation equipment was currently dismantled, as they addressed a faulty part that needed replacement. They had the replacement part on site, but still had to re-assemble the machine. And then they were proceeding with those who were already waiting. One person was in mid-treatment when the machine failed, so of course, that patient would finish as soon as possible. And then was another patient to go before me, and then me. My appt. was at 2 pm, and the best guess was that they MIGHT get to me around 3:30.

So, in my wisdom and spare time, I called my bank, since they had left me both a voice mail AND sent me a text, expressing concern that fraudulent transactions were being attempted with my debit card. Which, by the way, has ALWAYS remained in my possession. Not even Mr. L has authorization to use that card. I rarely, RARELY use it for on-line shopping, but it is my life's blood, in a manner of speaking, for almost every other transaction: restaurants, grocery shopping, pumping gas, etc. Well, they quizzed me about all kinds of transactions, only two of which I owned up to. Apparently the number was stolen, but from the refusals made when other attempts were made to use this card, the users/thieves had no other info from the card. Not the expiration date, nor my mailing address, nor the "plus three" numbers on the reverse side of the card. Thank God. Now came the bad news: based on my responses, they were cancelling my card! Arrrrggghhhh!!! However, I DID tell them that I was NOT at the mailing address that the bank has for me, that I am living (temporarily) elsewhere during the duration of my treatment. They conceded to put a "rush" on the replacement card, which means that it MAY arrive here by Monday. My own guess for ETA is Tuesday.

Thus, I am now wearing out my charge card (also issued by this same bank). When I do get the debit card replaced AND registered, I'll quit using the charge card and pay it off from my bank account. Too much crap to deal with in one day.

And yet, and yet... after I returned from the walkway area where I had this not-so-fun telephone conversation, I met a woman who was also waiting for her radiation appt. at this same clinic. We started talking - how long have you been having treatments, what kind of cancer, etc. And it put my situation in perspective immediately. And I am humbled by what she and her husband are dealing with.

She was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor. I didn't ask questions about what the exact type of tumor (or tumors) she has. She was diagnosed at Mayo Clinic, down in Rochester, MN, where a lot of big-time diagnosis of cancer and other diseases is done, and it is kind of a mecca for that sort of thing. She said they were there for about a week, while all kinds of tests were done. And the docs (apparently two gave her the results) basically said she had 3 - 6 months. Actually, one of the docs was pretty firm on this diagnosis, and more or less told her that nothing could be done for her. But the other doc - obviously someone more compassionate and humane - said that the decision to pursue treatment options was hers. She is in her early 50's and has 3 small grandchildren. Her eyes welled up with tears when she mentioned these kids. So she has decided to try whatever they can do for her. She is on oral chemo doses daily, and this past week was her first round of radiation treatments to her brain.

In looking for info on brain tumors, this fact appeared: there are over 120 types of brain tumors. And thus, the diversity of these tumors probably contributes to the difficulty in treating them.

In the therapy room, I have seen head/face masks, and I asked if she was fitted with one to use during her treatment. They are meant to immobilize the head during this sort of radiation. She said that, yes, she wore one during her treatments.

During the course of our conversation, her husband came in. Seems like a very nice guy, and naturally, the stress and strain from dealing with this situation, has got to weigh heavily on him, also. Damn cancer all to hell... disrupting and taking way too many lives.

Sometimes I wonder if I will be around for my next high school reunion, which will be our 50-year reunion. Or will I be a statistic, just a photo on the "in memoriam" table? But trust me, folks, I do NOT dwell on dying. I sleep just fine at night, and these morbid thoughts are usually NOT part of my average day at all. To use a trite phrase, it is what it is. I can't do anything to change the situation, but I can pursue treatments available to me. And I am thankful that I have health insurance to pay (most of) the bills. Good thing, too - just received a statement from the organization providing the actual, hands-on treatments: the cost of the CT scans was just about $10,000! Wow. The charges have been submitted to my insurer, so I do not yet know what portion I am expected to pay. But YIKES!

If any of my classmates read this, and if I am NOT at that reunion, I want you to put at least ONE photo of me with my poor ol' bald head, on that table. I want someone to know what I looked like, during these treatments. And another photo of me smiling... because life is too somber to have to face, if laughter isn't a part of it.

Hair update - the fuzz is increasing on my head and a few hairs have re-appeared in my nose (I know - TMI, right?). But my eyebrows, even six weeks after my 3rd chemo, are still bailin' on me. Damn. The hair on my arms? Still there. The body is a complex organization, and apparently not all hair is created equal. I realize that the re-growth on my head and other parts will probably head for the hills, once I resume chemo. But I am curious to see how much more hair will grow, in the interim.

Because I have railed and ranted about God dumping more stuff on me than is fair, I think that some of you believe that I do NOT believe. Au contraire - how can you go through this and be an atheist? Anyway, I have not ever asked for prayers for myself (although a friend of mine said he encouraged his family to pray NOT for him, but for his doctors!). But if you would drop a plea to the Big Guy for this lady that I just met, as well as for her family, I would be grateful.

As ever, Old Grouchy herself, signing off.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Radiation and snow

Had my 8th radiation treatment today. In actuality, it should have been #9, but Leap Year Day (Feb. 29th) was a "snow day", and so I cancelled my appointment, along with most all other radiation patients. I was told that only two showed up that day. So that day would have been #5, which pushed my schedule back one day. Only completed radiation treatments #3 - 6 the past week.

L had to get the backhoe charged up, before he could run it to remove the snow from the driveway, which is about 600 ft. long. And it was heavy, HEAVY snow, big and fluffy and extremely "wet" and sticky. The kind of snow that is perfect for making snow men. But the kind of snow that causes grown men to have heart attacks when they have a shovelful of it to toss to the side, and then another shovelful and another and ... L's area received about 8 - 10" in that snowfall, and maybe 2 - 4" in two subsequent snowfalls.

The radiation treatments have had no noticeable side effects thus far. I am told that those will appear around week #3 or so, and will continue for some time AFTER treatment #25 ends (my last one, but who's counting?).

Guess I should explain the "procedure" this treatment follows: you are led into a room which is dominated by a hard-surfaced table, with large, imposing machinery surrounding it. You are told to slip off your footwear and drop your pants. Yes, folks, they did not even mention that a changing room, complete with the expected gown, IS available if you so choose. Now, my first visit included two women and one man in the room, besides myself. I am NOT used to removing my clothes in front of strangers, and DEFINITELY not in front of a man whom I had never even seen before. Even before a gynecological exam, you are left alone in a room, to change into one of those one-size-fits-all "gowns". I am 5' 3", and weigh about 110 - 112 pounds, so those are some pretty generous cover-ups.

As you can imagine, this was pretty intimidating. Then you clamber aboard this table, and they carefully align your tattoos with some laser beams, so they have you in the expected position before they begin zapping you. Did I mention that, as part of my initial visit, when they did the CT scans, that they also stuck needles into my abdomen and hips - 3 places in all - to permanently tattoo me? You are allowed to keep your skivvies on UNTIL you are on this table, then they drape something about the size of a cloth dinner napkin over your "privates" (just barely covered, believe me), and tell you to lower your drawers towards your knees. Yup, any vestiges of modesty, gone. In front of three strangers, or sometimes only TWO strangers. I am told that there are six radiation techs, plus one trainee/student/whatever. In the first three visits, I could swear that I saw MORE than that number. Two have been male.

By treatment number #4, I was ready to do some serious "dumping" on the staff, telling them I could NOT possibly be the only person with serious misgivings about undressing in front of the staff. And THEN, and ONLY then, was I told that, yes, Virginia, there IS a changing room, if I so desired to use one. Yeah, after everybody AND his brother has seen me semi-nude. Big, BIG help. Uh-huh.

So now this is something that I steel myself for, undressing in front of a roomful of strangers. Still unpleasant. Not liking it.

Some "fun" developments: I am having some hair re-growth on my head. Little bit of peach fuzz, which will soon disappear when I resume chemo in April. So, in reality, this is a "tease", but still nice to see that I might re-grow my hair someday. My last chemo was between 5 and 6 weeks ago, so that might give me a target date to look forward to, following my 6th chemo, which will be about the end of May or so. At the rate of hair growth quoted me - 1/2" a month - I will have a whopping 3" of hair by year's end. Another winter to freeze thru...

Have I mentioned that the hair in my nose is also gone? Trust me when I say, I must carry around a kleenex, because once I feel that my nose is running - from eating spicy foods, or triggered by the cold weather up here in Frostbite Falls - I must catch the drips immediately, or risk looking like a toddler with a bad cold.

My eyelashes have thinned considerably, and also my eyebrows, but they are hangin' in there. Also, the hair on my forearms remains. The "peach fuzz" on my face is falling out, but has been slow to do so.

I am so tired of looking so ugly. So, so, tired, so demoralizing. I hate myself, I hate having to deal with a wig. I hope that someone, somewhere, gets something positive out of these posts. I try to stay upbeat, but it ain't easy.

Thanks for reading, once again.