Warrior Princess

December 21, 2007

Farewell to a Fellow Survivor

Tyler was my age. Ten years ago, he was diagnosed with a rare form of throat cancer with a high mortality rate. (He never smoked.) Tyler went to my friends at M.D. Anderson, where he received radiation treatment, followed by surgery to remove the tumor. He went about the business of surviving.

Three years ago, after an argument, his wife killed herself. He had spent the night at a hotel and came home the next morning to find her sleeping.  He noticed that her head was lying at an odd angle on the pillow, but thought nothing of it.  Tyler went out to run some errands and came back to find his wife had shot herself.  When the autopsy was completed, he was told that she apparently took an overdose of medication and, waking to find that her suicide attempt was unsuccessful, she pulled a gun out of the bedside table and shot herself.

Tyler struggled to regain his equilibrium the past three years.  I’m not sure that he ever really did, though.  As a suicide survivor, I know that road is long and treacherous.  I can’t imagine how it’s possible to recover when your wife shoots herself, in your bed, after an argument.  He went on and tried to find a new life.

Every year since his surgery, Tyler had to go back to M.D. Anderson to have scar tissue from the surgery removed from his throat.  He had his last surgery about three months ago.  He left a message on our machine a couple of weeks ago, wanting to hear how I’ve been doing.  It was something Tyler did regularly.

His message sounded almost like he was on a respirator.  I could hear his labored breathing in between phrases.  There’s only so much you can do with scars.  Ultimately, removal of scar tissue only creates more scar tissue.  For Tyler, the scars finally made it impossible for him to breathe and he died in his sleep.

Here’s to you, Tyler, to your long struggle to survive.  Here’s to your will to endure your wife’s death.  We walked the same paths, but now you’ve left me far behind.  Would you have guessed that I’d be crying for you?  I am, just as I’m celebrating your courage and tenacity.

So long, Tyler.  We’ll all see each other soon.

December 19, 2007

The Sausage Report

Filed under: Crazy Land — Tags: , , , , — ggirl @ 2:44 pm

The Crazy Land fete didn’t disappoint.  Kielbasa suggested that we maintain a charged-up defibrillator for occasions like this.  Death food abounded and the Sausage partook heartily, given the fact that she’s swaddled in spandex.

In brief, Owner offended many times.

*He corrected one of our foremen when he made the mistake of using “ain’t.”  There was general grumbling from all of us about Owner’s need to browbeat.  This from the guy who calls me on the intercom regularly to use me as his own personal dictionary and Thesaurus.

*Owner made a snide comment about Kielbasa’s hubby (childhood friend).  He insinuated that Hubby is bitter about the divorce from 35 years ago.  I was baffled and speechless, a rare event.  Again, the natives were mightily offended.

*He compared the Information Superhighway’s older son to a former University of Texas coach not known for his comeliness.  Superhighway was furious, having already been irritated by Owner’s previous snottiness.

There were a couple of additional offensive comments, but I’m too befuddled by cholesterol-laden food to remember what they were.

The luncheon was further enlivened by the Shunner displaying the stitches in his hand from a recent surgery.  Noel, noel!

There was lengthy discussion about Mitt Romney, Mormonism and everyone’s dissatisfaction with our choices for President.  As you know, these subjects are required fodder for any festive occasion, brimming with opportunities for people to be aggravated.  Luckily, no one was choked or beaten about the head.

In a surprising turn of events, death and layoffs were never mentioned.  That’s how you know it’s the holidays.

The Kielbasa jingled from all appendages and was thoroughly amused by Owner.  The hand was good, too.

New Weblog

Filed under: And You Thought I Didn't Have More — ggirl @ 12:53 pm

I have a new weblog, but if you don’t like poetry, don’t bother.  (It’s not my poetry.  Be grateful.)

This So Voiceless Flesh
(from a poem by Kenneth Patchen)

Hark! The Festal Sausage Cometh!

“Humor is the instinct for taking pain playfully.” ~ Max Eastman

Today, I’m stuffed into what used to be known as “foundation garments.” I remember, as a kid, trying to figure out what the hell those were because, in the olden days, you never saw bras or girdles on television commercials. It was too risque even to offer a definition. It seems so quaint now.

I saw my physical therapist yesterday, which is a tantamount to paying someone to abuse me. All of my scar tissue always hurts (and I have a lot of it, everywhere), but after she finishes massaging and pinching, I’m ready to start confessing to things I’ve never done. I’ll say anything, but please don’t torture me anymore.

This morning, I woke up feeling more than a little ragged. I’m exhausted and it seems entirely possible that an army of little demons stabbed me with forks all night long. I am not at my best.

PT told me that, if I wore my special compression bra and girdle (the one I wore 24/7 for three months), I’d have a lot less pain. Damn. I was in no shape to be stubborn about it today, so I’m packed into my underwear like a kielbasa. “Less pain” is the operative phrase here; I have a lot left over, despite my discomfort.

I wore one of my festive shirts today, the one with a reindeer who’s holding a martini while he has one hoof perched on a beach ball. It’s a little loose, but you can still tell there’s something weird going on under there. We’re having Owner’s birthday party today, so I wanted to amp up the merry for the occasion. Not feeling particularly convivial, I knew special effort would be required to get through the Crazy Land lunch. I’m not sure the shirt’s going to help much, but I’ve done all I can. I’m a kielbasa with a reindeer and jingle bell bracelet, earrings and necklace. Hark, the festal sausage cometh!

PT gave me some new exercises to do, specifically aimed at regaining strength and range of motion in my rotator cup and pectoral muscle. The exercises feel just dandy, too. I’ve added them to my daily 25 (25!) minutes of stationary bike and 20 minutes of yoga. After I finish with those activities, I have self-massage to do. That takes another 30-40 minutes. In a way, my life is still all about breast cancer. Not that I’m whining. All of this is far more bearable than the chemo and recovery from multiple surgeries. Nonetheless, how annoying. How very un-holiday.

When I got home yesterday from physical therapy, after getting stuck in college basketball game traffic, Hubby was hanging around waiting for me to make dinner. I’d gotten some tamales, so all he had to do was cut a couple of holes in the packaging and stick the damn things in the microwave. The brown rice was microwaveable, as was the refried beans. I’d already mixed the salad. Would any of this be hard to do? If your wife was being tortured, wouldn’t you want to microwave the damn dinner for her? Yes, you would.

Not my Hubby. My level of pain made it hard to focus on what exactly needed to be done and in what order. While I wandered around the kitchen, getting things together, Hubby was in another room checking his email. Santa will be delivering a lump of coal for Hubby if he doesn’t shape up. During dinner, I mentioned several times how exhausting the pain is after physical therapy. Hubby made a sympathetic face, but I assure you that, if it were he who was suffering, there would be no tamale dinner. There would be plenty of whining, though.

That will be about enough from me, too. Here’s hoping for a fun, if not jolly, Crazy Land lunch. Owner’s been in a funk the past several days, so he may be entertainingly annoying. Mr. Moneybags is weighing in with some serious crotchety, too. The cake has already arrived. Oh God. I just heard the dulcet tones of Loathsome. Looks like we’re headed for some choppy waters. The Kielbasa* will keep you posted on the Crazy Land festivities.

*Finally. I think I’ve found my very own nickname: Kielbasa. Or Sausage. I’ve officially earned my own Crazy Land nom de guerre.

December 17, 2007

Important News Flash

Filed under: Crazy Land — Tags: , , , — ggirl @ 2:27 pm

“Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.” ~ Dave Barry

Completely unrelated to this post: I spent three hours on Saturday trying to get my mom’s DSL set up. There were problems with the provider, so the entire three hours was spent on the phone with a couple of guys from (probably) India. Their names were Barry and Brian, though. It’s nice to know the Indian people have started giving their kids names we can pronounce.

News flash:  I got a bonus. I never get a bonus. I’ve been missing so much time the past two years that just getting paid was a huge bonus. They didn’t have to pay me for all the time I missed. I’m grateful. Now I can build that new swimming pool (see National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation).

On Wednesday, we’re celebrating Owner’s birthday. He was a Christmas baby. He has specifically requested canned frosting on his cake. Other than that, I have no idea what we’re having for lunch. Just checked intra-office email and there’s no word on the food choice.  Isn’t it sad what I’ve been reduced to?  I always used to scoff at the people who lived for those fabulous office lunches.  I may have boycotted a lot of Crazy Land festivities, but never ever have I missed the cake.

I have one more gift to get. It’s for my mom. I tried really hard to get her to sign up for another session of Tai Chi (I paid for the last session as a birthday gift). She’s having none of it, though. That means Plan B is in effect–a cd player and her favorite perfume. Now if I somehow manage to make these purchases without her knowing it, Christmas will be a fait accompli.

I wrapped up my Crazy Land shopping on Sunday. Foot Lady’s getting a calendar with Lhasa photos. She got her Lhasa at about the same time as my two original huskies joined the family. The Information Superhighway’s gift is a sterling silver angel for her charm bracelet (she really is one of my angels). Loathsome mentioned months ago that he drinks chamomile tea every night and I think I revealed in an earlier post that he’s a faux Buddhist and has a shallow love of all things Asian. I marched myself over to the Chinese healing/Buddhist/Hindu/new age store and bought some Chinese chamomile tea in a lovely little tin. For the son (IT Boy) and daughter, chocolate. Those are the only two impersonal gifts. I have no idea what to get them, so I finally gave up trying to dream something up.

It’s a beautiful day today and Christmas songs provide a festive oasis here in my office. Yep, I’m wearing my jingle bells again. Sometimes I’m just insufferably merry.

December 14, 2007

Stage 3, Step 3

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold.  They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.  ~Barbara Bloom (I’m not sure this quote goes with this post, but I like it anyway.)

It dawned on me last night that I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.  Oh shit…how did I not know that?  I reviewed what I know about breast cancer staging, just in case I’d jumped to a hasty conclusion.  No.  Stage 3.  Then I called my mom this morning and told her I’d just realized I have Stage 3 cancer.

“Well, they told you that at the time,”  she said.  “I don’t think you could handle it then.  There were too many things happening too fast to deal with it all.”

Well, hell.  I wish someone had mentioned it more than once.  Seems a little silly to be terrified now.  It actually seems kind of funny.  Or maybe that’s just the hysteria talking.  Epiphanies.  What a riot!

Today, I have step 3 of the new plan.  I thought of it last night in between panic attacks.

What do I know about suffering?

I know that, no matter how good things are, we are never satisfied.  We’re filled with a restless hunger.  Have the perfect job?  If only we liked our kitchen more.  Have the kitchen redecorated?  If only the sun would come out.  Sun shining?  If only we were having a better hair day…. It’s endless, this longing.

We want to push change away, halt time in its tracks, because with change comes loss.  We don’t like loss; it never feels good.

We yearn so much for feeling good (in all its possible manifestations) that we are unable to accept each changing moment as it comes.  That is the solution to my suffering.  I have to relearn it every so often.  I thought I’d gotten it down during chemo, but no.

I am mourning the loss of my breast.  The breast is gone and the new one is scarred and hardened in places.  I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and now I’m afraid.  Things are as they are.

I can let go and experience these truths without judgment, holding close to me in loving embrace the sorrow, anger and fear.  I can stop rejecting the breast and love it.  I can stop rejecting the body and love it.  It is my oldest friend, it will be with me until I die.  I can feel some empathy for this  skin that carries me around in it.

I can remember that, as much as I don’t like this moment, it’s perfect, nonetheless.

December 13, 2007

On More Thing…

Filed under: Breast Cancer — Tags: , — ggirl @ 2:38 pm

I’m not angry with my beloved Dr. Ross.  I still have him penciled in my datebook to elope with whenever he has time enough to think about it.  Well, time and…you know…interest.Jingle jingle.

Steps One and Two

” Man performs and engenders so much more than he can or should have to bear.  That’s how he finds that he can bear anything.”  ~William Faulkner

After physical therapy, my day is almost gone, even though I’ve been at Crazy Land since 6:15 today.  (Purely accidental, I assure you.)

Step one of the new plan has already been implemented.  I’ve been listening to Christmas music and wearing my jingle bell bracelet.  Okay, I confess.  I always wear my jingle bell bracelet from Thanksgiving until Christmas.  I make it tinkle whenever I walk around the office.  I do what I can to annoy the natives in Crazy Land.  Of course, they’d never mention it to me if they found it irritating, but it’s bound to get under somebody’s skin.

Step two of the new plan is to sit with the sorrow, to maintain some inner silence while I feel the loss.  It’s hard to write or talk when I’m listening to the sadness, so I’ve gone missing this week from everyone.

When Dr. Ross told me that I had to have a mastectomy, his physician’s assistant told me that a year from treatment, no one would know anything ever happened.  I held onto that prediction as if it were a lifeline.  I don’t think I ever really dealt with the loss of my breast.  I didn’t have to; I believed her.

It dawned on me last night that Dr. Ross actually talked to me about the problems I would face with reconstruction.  He said he would discuss them in conference with his colleagues and try to find the best way to deal with them.  I assumed all would be well.

The type of breast cancer I have is not the kind most women have; only 10 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are like mine.  There were cancer cells throughout my entire breast, extending very close to the chest wall.  After the breast was gone and chemo endured, there was an enormous amount of radiation to the area.  My doctors feared the proximity to the chest wall and the neck. We were unable to save any skin, which would have made reconstruction easier.

I’d rather be alive than dead.  I’d rather have this breast than none.  Nonetheless, I’m angry and frustrated.  And sad.  So, so sad.  I’m present with the heartache; I’m silent as I mourn.

The new plan will continue to unfold and, inevitably, I will be better.  As Julian of Norwich said, “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Tinkle tinkle.

December 11, 2007

Searching For A New Plan

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 2:22 pm

There will be no more surgeries (aside from nipple reconstruction on the new breast).  That means the hard, necrotic tissue will remain where it is, perhaps for years.

Dr. Kronowitz did inject steroids into the chelated areas on the new breast, navel and donor site.  That may help with the way the scars look.

I started physical therapy today in hopes of improving strength and range of motion in my left arm.

There’s not much else for me to say right now.  I’m coming up with a new plan to come to terms with this new, permanent reality.

December 4, 2007

Return of the Inner Fascist

“For most of us, the state we’re in most of the time is distraction” ~ Joseph Goldstein

Hubby is out of town until Wednesday, researching an article he’s writing, so I was left to my own devices last night. I enjoyed the silence, caught up on some reading and then watched television for a little while. That’s when things started to fall apart.

My Inner Fascist made a reappearance. She’s been under control for months, but she made a reappearance last week, relentlessly reminding  me of what a terrible person I am. It’s good to know she hasn’t lost her edge. Last night, the little Black Shirt reviewed some memories and found me lacking. The harangue began and I started crying.

At first, I thought I was crying about the television program I’d been watching. The program were a little sad, but since I raised my antidepressant medication, I haven’t been crying much. It finally dawned on me that it was the terrible words, the crushing failures enumerated that brought me to tears.

I discussed the Inner Fascist with my with therapist last week. She asked me how I manage to stop that critical voice left over from childhood, when perfection was required in order to survive. I told her that I’m a master of distraction. I’ve lived my entire life coping by distracting myself. I’m a pro. She wondered whether the Inner Fascist is a manifestation of that very survival mechanism.

What a concept! Of course! Instead of hating my parents when I was a child, I found it easier to hate myself. When my life was too terrifying, I distracted myself by launching into a litany of my own faults. All children, on some level, take responsibility for all of the bad things that happen to them, to their parents, to their world. Many, many bad things happened in my family.

Life would be better, my family would be better if I were better. I could ease my mother’s pain and sadness, I could calm my father’s rages, if I could only be more obedient, smarter, kinder. My father would have no need for a second family living in my own house, he would cease to find other children more worthy of compassion than I if I could be more worthy of love.

The Inner Fascist came along  to help  me focus less on the real causes of my anguish and to make me toe the line. She believed that rigorous criticism could still save the day.  As time went on, the voice became more insistent and the list of requirements grew. There was a long period in my life when nothing I ever did met her standards and she noted each and every one of my imperfections, no matter how small. She noted them loudly and without compassion. The child who needed her help to survive became consumed by a constant cruelty. As if the outer dark wasn’t cruel enough.

The Fascist lives on.  When I’m anxious or angry or sad, she chimes in with the many ways I’ve failed.  She stomps on me with her boots, rages against me and, by doing so, forces me to focus on something other than, say, going to Houston tomorrow.

I was unable to silence her last night, though I returned to my book about an NBA player to distract me (from her distraction).  I slept very little.  Today, I’m too tired to worry about Houston.  The Inner Fascist has taken off her boots and black shirt.  I hope she sleeps long and peacefully.

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