Friday, May 25, 2012

I heart

a clean PET scan.

I'm walking on sunshine, and the accompanying music video is hilarious.

The glowing colon is gone, the glowing chest wall is gone, only the glowing lung remains and it is stable from the last several scans.  Huzzah huzzah, and again huzzah!

I hope you all have a glorious long weekend! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

50% complete

I am halfway through my week of scans, -grams, and exams.  I should be saying "huzzah", but I'm feeling a little crabby so I'll just say "yay".  I think I'm crabby despite the 50% mark because the most dreaded of the tasks awaits me tomorrow:  the PET scan.  

The mammogram was awesome yesterday.  The technician was talented and inflicted minimal discomfort, and the results could not have been better:  the abnormality first visualized in November has not changed, and so we continue to conclude that it's scar tissue from last April's biopsy.

"No new abnormalities" is worthy of celebration in my world.  To celebrate, I stopped at The Loft Outlet on my way home and bought some clothes for myself.  (Those of you who know me know that I do not enjoy shopping and rarely buy anything for myself, so this truly was a special event.)  Despite my repulsion from shopping, I need some new clothes.  I would like to build up my summer wardrobe with shirts that are more flattering for my asymmetry.  This includes shirts that are a bit loose-fitting with accents on the left breast area or big patterns in the fabric.  My old wardrobe includes very few items that fit this description.  To date, The Loft has been the best store to suit my needs.

Today was my first of two root scaling sessions.  It truly wasn't as bad as it sounds.  I would go so far as to say that it was scarcely unpleasant.  The hygienist squirted a little bit of numbing solution at the gum line before using an ultrasonicating tool (micro-vibrating tool) to scrape my teeth just below the gumline.  Then she went through with a normal tool to double-check her work and manually scrape any places the ultrasonicating tool missed.  Hmm, although it wasn't very uncomfortable at the time, the half of my mouth that was scaled is emanating a mild yet nagging dull pain.  Perhaps I should take some tylenol, thus relieving my crabbiness by eliminating the pain only acknowledged when analyzing myself for the purpose of typing this post.

Tylenol administered.  Thank you for that.    

In a month I'll return to the dentist to scale the other half of my mouth.  After everything is properly scaled, the protocol is to keep up my dental regimen and hope that the problem doesn't get any worse.  Oh yea, and of course I'm to go to the dentist every 6 months for a professional cleaning.

Ugh ugh ugh, PET scan tomorrow, ugh ugh ugh.  I am trying to be so tough and so brave, but the truth might be that I am marginally terrified.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeking nothing

This week is going to be a week in doctors' offices unlike any I've had since...early spring.  Tomorrow I'm off to Iowa City for a mammogram and surgical follow-up, Wednesday I'm off to the dentist for a root scaling (more on that in a bit), Thursday is my quarterly PET scan plus blood draw and port flush, and Friday is PET scan results day.  And I suppose if we're true to a 7-day week then I can include my toe follow-up appointment next Tuesday.  I am the least nervous I've ever been for these tests, possibly because I feel so fabulous.  How can I have cancer lurking in my liver when things are going so well?  How could a tumor be growing in my brain while I just co-wrote and submitted a sweet little review article?  How might my lungs be fostering cancerous nodes although I breathed so deeply as I biked to work last week?  These lines of evidence suggest that I am cancer free where it counts.  

I hope I can keep up this positive attitude up throughout the week.  The familiar butterflies in my tummy were just starting to fly away.    

What is this business of root scaling?  A few weeks ago I decided I had enough sick leave built up to tend to routine checkups, including my eyes and teeth.  The results showed that my eyes have not changed, but my teeth are another story.  They are still 100% cavity-free, pearlie-white, and strong, but my gums have receded a bit.  I noticed that they receded during chemotherapy, and I noticed that they did not "grow" back.  But the change was minor, caused me no problems, and ceased to get worse after chemo ended.  Well, my dental x-rays revealed that the problem is much greater than my phenotype suggests.  I have had significant bone loss due to bacterial biofilms that have formed beneath the gum line.  (Shout-out to bacterial biofilms and those of you researching them.  They are the coolest, but not when they are in my mouth.)  My outstanding dental hygiene regimen that has long included daily brushing, flossing, and mouth-washing was not sufficient to prevent these pesky bacteria from digging in in the relative absence of my immune system.  Boo.  

I was diagnosed with early periodontal disease, which can be stopped in its tracks via root scaling.  The hygienist will use a special sonicator tool to disrupt the bacterial biofilms that are thriving below my gumline.  It'll be relatively uncomfortable, and so local anesthetic will be offered.  I will have to go in for two sessions of root scaling, having half of my mouth scaled at a time.  Tomorrow will be the first of the two.  It will be a bummer, but not so bad.  I just harken myself back to the spine biopsy, or the post-mastectomy drainage tubes, or any day during chemotherapy, and I instantly realize that I can handle a couple of sessions of root scaling.  Boo-M.  

One reason I am in such a good mood is that I had a remarkable weekend.  I took the girls to the Twin Cities to see one of my dearest friends from grad school, my amazing college roommate, and one of my favorite former labmates.  We also visited the Minnesota Children's museum and Minnehaha falls.  Nothing like introducing your children to old friends to bridge the gap between life pre- and post-cancer.  Needless to say, it was a most enjoyable and therapeutic weekend.  

Come and get me, scans, -grams, and exams.  You will reveal no cancer in this girl.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It doesn't take much

Isn't it funny how some weekends go by so fast and you can't even remember what you did?  Then other weekends, like when your husband surprises you and your daughters with a weekend getaway at a cabin on the shores of the Mississippi River, are savored for every moment.  We were only there two nights, but it was just what we needed.  We needed nature so badly that we didn't get any pictures of the inside of the cabin.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I am that

I recently wrote about doing too much and trying to be superwoman.  In the short term after the post, the problem got a bit worse, and I blame the work-related training that I attended near the end of April.  It was basically an extended oooh-rah session to get us new scientists excited about working for the organization (and familiar with the rules so that we stay out of trouble).  As the information simmered on my brain over the next week, my struggle to find my familiar balance temporarily worsened.

Familiar balance:  Just do your best, Heather.  You always do a great job.  Good things will come your way.

Ooh-rah balance:  Don't be satisfied with your best.  Try to do one better than your best in everything.  That's how you get promoted.

Decontaminating my brain from the ooh-rah balance has been a slow process, but I'm happy to announce that great strides are being made.  Helpful milestones along the way included:
  • I served as an expert in agriculture (specifically agricultural microbiology) and a roundtable moderator at the first ever World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute.  When I was invited to do this, I thought they were ridiculous to invite me because I don't know anything about agriculture.  Well, it turns out that I actually do know a fair bit about agriculture, and of course I know a lot about some specific things.  Additional useful things about me are that I'm a fast reader (I had to skim a 3-5 page paper in 3 minutes while the student verbally presented it and then ask questions about it, N=20 students), I'm supportive, I'm constructively critical, and I'm a small town success story (the youth were high school-ers from around the state).  Importantly, as I sat in the first of two full rows of experts (N=at least 50 experts) I realized that I was one of the youngest experts and that there were at most 10 female experts.  This showed me that it was important for me to be an expert if for no other reason than to inspire the young women of Iowa.  So I put on my expert shoes, exuded confidence but not too much, and smiled because I love being a scientist.  I am trying to continue walking in my expert shoes.   
  • I caught a bit of an episode of Talk of the Nation on NPR the other day about things you won't hear in a commencement speech.  Here's the piece of advice from Charles Wheelan that I internalized: 
It comes from some advice that was actually given to me by a talk show host in Chicago. It's a live TV show. And about 30 seconds before air time, when you're nervous and worried about falling off your stool with everything else, he leans over to the guest and he says, don't try to be great. And the reason it was so effective is that it makes you far less nervous. At that point, you don't have to worry about being the best guest ever. You can say, look, I'll be solid. That was what he says, just be solid, because at that point, it's in your control. You know the material. You don't have to be wonderful. ...
Just be solid.  I love it. 
  •  In yoga this week we learned a chant, saying "so" and "hum" silently on every inhale and exhale, respectively.  You breath slowly and deeply, and think these words in your mind while you clear away the mind debris.  It means I Am That.  It means, accept who you are, accept what you do, accept your greatness, accept your perfection.  
  • My sister Hilary a baby yesterday!  Babies always put things in the right perspective.  
My stepmom Barbara and I with baby Heath!  He is so wonderful!