Friday, March 30, 2012

"I never mowed in March before"

I fear that so much discussion of weather will betray my midwestern origins, but daily I am awed by spring 2012.  Is it a heightened awareness because of the incredible transition that I made between this March and the last?  No, I don't think so.  I think something unusual is indeed in the air.

I was in the oncology waiting room today, awaiting my monthly port flush, and eavesdropping on the conversation of three 60+-years-old men.  Naturally they were discussing the weather, and one particularly sick gentlemen volunteered that in all of his years he had never mowed in March before.  That statement held a lot of weight on my young-ish ears, imagining his frail self taking on the unlikely task of mowing in general, let alone in March.  They then proceeded to discuss what in my heart of hearts I know to be true, which is the hazard of a midwestern April.  They discussed Aprils of yore:  an ice storm in the '90's, a snowstorm in the 80's, and the infamous April 9th of '73, upon which over a foot of snow was deposited overnight.  

This conversation was a helpful reminder of how special the current circumstances are.  April could wreck all of nature's hard work thus far, trashing fruit crops and ruining my favorite fragrances of May.  So let's be sure we document and enjoy the present, shall we?

I didn't get out the camera until dusk, but using the sky as back-lighting I was able to acquire a few worthy photos.           

My lilac buds, 5  weeks too early.  Tonight I noticed the first inklings of their opening, so I expect some blossoms tomorrow.    

Can you believe my good fortune?  The moon was high, thinly veiled by clouds, and  could be framed by the lilac bush.

My outdoor wine glass ("A Pearl By the River", referring to Hancher auditorium on the U of Iowa campus) on my outdoor table with my outdoor fireplace in the background.

The wind chimes made by Azalea and Eleanor, illuminated by the light of the dining room.  And again, that moon!

So much for the Ides of March...let's beware of Ice in April!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Okay okay, I made the toe appointment

This was possibly the most difficult appointment I've ever made, but I finally made an appointment with a dermatologist to get my toe looked at.  I know this is all part of my master plan of being proactive and taking care of myself while Dr. Oncologist is absent this month, but it was hard to enact.  It is not fear that made this difficult, but normalcy.  Uninterrupted, springtime normalcy.  I have had a two-week break from appointments, and it is hard interrupt that stretch with a problem that is painless and often hidden from view.  A problem that a person with no history of inflammatory breast cancer would ignore for months.  A problem that almost certainly will turn out to be a common bruise.  But it is also slightly inflamed, and it has been persisting for over one month, so it is time for yet another professional opinion.

My toe appointment is for next Wednesday (just over a week from now).  I can't help but feel a little bit ridiculous compared to some of the other pains and scares that have sent me to a medical professional.  But here we are.  It's my year of extreme caution.

I also have an eye check-up this week.  Talk about normalcy!  I haven't had my eyes checked since I moved here three years ago.  I used all of my time off on pregnancy appointments, then maternity leave, then taking long lunches to breastfeed the baby, then cancer appointments, then cancer appointments, and still cancer appointments.  My time off is still precious, but my nighttime reading habit has not been kind to my glasses and they are looking mighty crooked these days.  Time to get my eyes checked and buy some new frames.  It's exciting to have a normal doctor's appointment, but not really since I could use a break from having any doctor's appointments at all.        

Also normal is that it was yet another great family weekend.  We took the girls to the Shriner's Circus.  I hadn't been to the circus in ages, and it was pretty fun.  I appreciate the athleticism of the aerialists more than I did when I was a kid (woa those folks are strong!), but I appreciate the tamed wild animals less (poor tigers!).  Azalea absolutely loved all of it, but Eleanor is still a bit little for this sort of thing.  She covered her ears every time the audience applauded, and after every act she asked if it was over.  We compromised their opposing wishes by staying only until intermission.

Other big news is that we bought a bike for Azalea!  It is purple with training wheels and she is the happiest kid in town!  I think I smell a new series for Simply Bike this summer on learning to ride a bike.  I will begin taking photos in preparation.

Have a great week, everyone!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


There's a lot of gorgeous hair in this house.  And my creative outlet has been to play with it. 

This St. Patty's day weekend we drove 40 miles for a family sleepover with our old neighbors.  It was a marvelous occasion that included a treasure hunt, grilled delights, and sangria.  In honor of the tradition of greeness on St. Patty's day, we baked green bread, grilled green asparagus, and braided green yarn into our hair.  Well, the longest of our hair.  After I braided the green yarn into Azalea's hair, in three french braids, I realized that I could easily loop the braids up by tying the end of the yarn back up to the starting point of the yarn.  Pippi Longstocking was outdone, in so many ways.   

I love all things asymmetric, and I find asymmetry to be particularly cute on the wee ones.  Eleanor's St. Patty's hairdo was no exception.  Her hair is still a bit too short to manipulate into sturdy french braids, so I tried out some hair knots, twisting one near the top of her head and another behind her ear.  Ballerinas, eat your heart out.  

I too have been subjected to my own creativity.  I am thrilled to have so much hair, but I struggle to know what to do with it.  It is so heavy around my face.  It is so short and poofy.  I long for a ponytail.   But I can't have that yet and so I am spending more time playing with my hair than I have at any other time in my life, eighth grade included.  I started out by pinning back the bangs with little barrettes.  This has been going well for about a week, but I still haven't worn it like this to work.  Then tonight Azalea pointed out that I could in fact pull my hair into a few ponytails in the back of my head if I wanted to.  And so it was executed:  my first post-cancer ponytails.

I have been wearing all of this hair hardware--barrettes, bobby pins, hairties, and even a flower for a spell--all night and I must say it feels FANTASTIC to have my hair UP.  But what do you think about the look?  Could I show up to work with my hair like this?  And then what do I do with the hair around the ears? I look forward to your opinions, especially my sister Holly's since she'll be over on Thursday and can help me troubleshoot my short-hair shortcomings.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring, so soon?

We have had record highs this week, with the sun shining and the air temperature in the 70s.  Daffodils are popping up before the crocuses and gnats are swarming before all of the birds have returned.  Yes, it is odd weather, but it is extremely pleasant.

Spring always calls to my attention how much my kids have changed over the winter.  We get outside and test their old skills with tricycling, batting, and kicking.  We discover that vast improvements have occurred despite the winter hibernation.  Azalea is an ace at bat and ball.  She hits in-yard home runs every time.  Eleanor is strong and two.  She pulls Azalea in the wagon for blocks, refusing help even when her muscles are clearly fatigued and she is proceeding at a snail's pace.

Honestly, though, I'm not quite ready for spring.  I don't feel like we really had a winter.  Sure it snowed a couple of times, but the snow itself was fleeting.  Spring has come so fast that I haven't even planned the garden yet, let alone procured the seeds.  And I probably should be starting the nonexistent seedlings instead of writing this post!

Last year at this time I was recovering from my mastectomy.  I was terribly impatient about getting the drainage tubes out and starting physical therapy.  I was terribly impatient about moving on to the final step of my cancer treatment (radiation).  And I was most impatient about my hair growing back.  

Time was moving soooooo slowly last March.  Perhaps this is why it seems to be moving so quickly this March?

I'm trying to keep last March in mind as I proceed through this March.  I'm taking the time to ponder the daffodils.  I'm letting Eleanor take 15 minutes to walk down the block.  I'm playing checkers with Azalea instead of doing the dishes.  Doing everything I can to enjoy the time on my clock, since I haven't yet figured out how to slow it down when I need to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Toe watch 2012

To recap:  the skin around my left big toenail is slightly reddish and inflamed, and there is some discoloration akin to bruising under the nail.  The podiatrist had no answers but warned about melanomas that start under the toe nail.  The oncologist prescribed a course of antibiotics.  Tomorrow is the last day of oral antibiotics; have they resolved my mysterious toe issue?   

I am having trouble deciding if it's getting better, so the good news is that it is certainly not getting worse.  The reason it is hard to assess improvement is because visually it looks the same.  Everything is still discolored, at approximately equal magnitude.  Also, it is still tender to the touch but otherwise painless.  In short, the original phenotype was so weak and the resolution is so slow that I am struggling to evaluate improvements.

But I emphasize that it is not getting worse.  Huzzah!  I'll take it!

My plan is to give it 2 weeks to get significantly better, if not clear completely.  Then I will go see a dermatologist.  I have made this decision because the podiatrist used the word "melanoma", which puts my possible condition into the realm of a skin doctor.  I will not wait any longer, though, because I recently learned that Bob Marley died of toe cancer.  Well, his cancer started as a toe melanoma before metastasizing to his lungs and brain.  Another important detail is that he chose not to treat his toe cancer.  I assure you that I will choose to treat my toe cancer if I do end up having toe cancer, but the story of Bob Marley's demise has inspired me not to sit (or stand) on my toe problem.  Thanks, Torey.

In other health news, can I just mention how wonderful it is to have hair?  I still hate my haircut and pine for locks long enough to pull out of my face, but I am so glad to not be bald anymore.

Today I drove home from work with the windows down because it is unseasonably warm in the midwest.  The wind was whipping through the car, from driver's side to passenger's side, and taking my hair with it.  I wasn't worried about messing up my hair because I lack so much confidence in my hairdo to begin with.  Besides, I don't recall ever being the type of girl who would worry about her hairdo.  So I simply enjoyed the feeling on my follicles as I executed my daily commute.  

Also, on Monday night I went on a 4-mile walk around a nearby pond.  This was the most exercise I had gotten in weeks and it felt great.  The best part was that I think I could feel my left lung be less constricted.  Perhaps I wasn't working as hard as when I bike, but I didn't experience the shortness of breath that I usually do as a result of the chest wall radiation.

Let's perk this post up with a song!  College friends, I'm sorry I didn't like Ben Folds when you first introduced me to him.  I was naive and foolish.  Please give me another chance, and here's a token of my appreciation:  "Zak and Sara" with an orchestra!!!!  Ian found this on YouTube the other day and I'm momentarily addicted to all of the songs from this set.  But especially this one.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lessons from the radiology waiting room

While I was sitting in the radiology waiting room on Monday waiting for my toe x-ray, an old old man engaged me in conversation.  His wheelchair plus oxygen accessories were overbearing, nearly obscuring the small figure among them.  He was thin with translucent skin, and his thick white hair remembered the shape of the pillow that was recently beneath the right side of his head.  His oxygen pump breathed in his lap.  When he spoke, it was with a high, reedy voice that was accustomed to complaining.  Indeed, before our conversation I observed him arguing with his caregiver about being 1.5 hours too early and how he could better use that time.

He said I looked familiar and inquired as to my place of work.  It turned out that I was not the person that he was thinking of, but we discovered something else in common:  his father worked for 35 years at my current place of work, as a heating and cooling specialist.  We visited about this for a few minutes, but his name was called 1.25 hours ahead of schedule (never have a I heard a more sincere "Halleluja!") and he was pushed away.

This short interaction inspired so many thoughts.      

I thought a lot about his hair.  At first I thought how unnatural it looked for someone so old to have such a generous helping of hair remaining on the head.  Then I thought about the hunk on the side that was sticking straight up.  I thought what a shame it was that none of his caregivers had the time or inclination to force that piece down before he went out in public.  However, my perspective on this rowdy lock changed as he spoke.  He was so present, so coherent, so with it--perhaps he didn't want anyone to comb his hair that day.  Perhaps he never wants help with anything.  Or maybe he just doesn't give a hoot if there is a piece sticking up.  Indeed, what if he's proud to have so much hair that he flaunts the unkempt look to draw attention to it?

Then I thought about his complaining to his caregiver.  At first I had antagonistic thoughts towards the caregiver, thinking that she shouldn't make a helpless patient sit somewhere for that long.  But then I thought about how important it is to be a patient with patience, especially after I learned that he was coming from another appointment in another wing.  An hour and a half isn't that long; where are you going to go and still have time to get back?  Plus, what is the sense in leaving if you're already there?

After he was wheeled away, the caregiver returned from the soda machine, befuddled by his absence.  I explained that he was called back ahead of schedule.  She expressed relief, saying she had thought about heading out on her own for 1.25 hours and returning in time for his appointment.

Now I was back to feeling antagonistic towards the caregiver, imagining my new friend being ditched in the radiology waiting room against his will.

I found my series of disparate opinions to be quite interesting.  Before I became such an experienced patient, I think I wouldn't have given this man and his situation much thought.  I would have defined him with some cliche like "old and cranky".  I would have felt sorry for him for not being cared for at a level high enough to have his hair combed.

Now I saw more complex possibilities for his definition.  Maybe he had been in the hospital overnight unexpectedly, and now he had yet another frustrating appointment to delay his homecoming.  Maybe he's such an impatient patient that the caregiver schedules all of his appointments in one day so that they don't have to go to the clinic as often.  Or maybe he simply doesn't see the point in combing his hair.

I enjoy visiting with people in the various waiting rooms.  It's a good chance to know another being for a fleeting minute, a minute that could impart lessons for a lifetime.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Get with the program, Toe

I met with Dr. Oncologist on Friday to discuss the results of the colonoscopy.  She too was delighted that there was nothing to biopsy.  My elation faded, however, when she answered my question, "what happens if my colon is still glowing on the next PET scan?"  She said that that is when things get more complicated.  Either we continue to watch it, or if the region has increased in metabolic activity there might be some exploratory gut surgery in order.  Ugh!  I don't actually believe that this will be the outcome, but one never knows, does she?  So we'll just hope that the glowing colon will go the way of the glowing spine, lungs, and chest wall and stop glowing in time for the next PET scan.

My next PET scan is at the end of May.

In the meantime, a body part from the peanut gallery has decided to participate in the post-cancer fun times. I have been having an issue with the big toe on my left foot.  I wasn't even going to mention it in the blog, because I thought it wasn't cancer related, but the podiatrist has mentioned certain possibilities that close the gap between my big toe and cancer.  Gulp.

One day before we left for Santa Fe, I noticed that my big toe was hurting around the nail bed.  I thought nothing, literally nothing, of it.  It's a toe.  Also, sometimes things hurt periodically and then they stop hurting.  Right?  Surely you all have experienced some random pain somewhere in your body, and you don't know what caused it, and when you wake up the next morning it is better if not resolved entirely.  This was me and my toe.

Well, in Santa Fe it got worse:  redder, angrier, more painful.  ("More painful" is not a comment on the pain level itself, just a comment on an increase in pain.  I was not limping or anything).  So I soaked it in epsom salts and smeared neosporin on it.  No resolution.  As a side note, it is not an ingrown toenail because 1) I have good toe hygiene! and 2) the reddness is around the nail plate at the base of the nail, not the sides of the nail.  Also, there was no injury or incident that I remember between me and my toe.

Darn it if the thing hasn't been getting worse.  The pain has stayed at the same low level, but it is now a little bit black-and-blue under the nail bed while being red and inflamed on the nearby skin.  I took my audience with Dr. Oncologist on Friday as an opportunity to get her medical opinion on this 2-week-long toe issue, and she in turn sent me to Dr. Podiatrist.

Dr. Podiatrist has an excellent bedside manner, a soft spot for microbiology, and a gift for explaining the possible causes of and outcomes for my problem.  In short, I am a fan.  (Why couldn't HE have gone into gastroenterology?)  Unfortunately, my toe doesn't fit any textbook phenotypes, so he couldn't make a conclusion without a biopsy.  We agreed that it is a bit too soon to rush into a biopsy.  So I am on a course of antibiotics in case it is an infection, and I am to watch it for changes.

And here's where the connection is made to cancer:  his concern is that it could be a melanoma (skin cancer) that just happened to develop under my nail bed.  It happens, albeit rarely.  So if it suddenly becomes irregularly shaped or continues to increase in size, a biopsy of my toe and toe nail is in order.  I forgot to ask if this would have showed up on my PET scan a month ago.  Are my feet even scanned?  I have no idea.  

Also, who on earth has to worry about melanomas under their big toe nail?  Apparently the girl who had inflammatory breast cancer.

My preferred hypothesis is that it is an infection.  Cancer is still to blame for this possibility, I think, due to a continued weakened immune system.  Please join me in cheering on the powerful antibiotic cephalexin (I used this antibiotic to make discoveries in graduate school!) and hoping is makes it all the way down to the toe peanut gallery.