Warrior Princess

January 25, 2008

Sandbox Redux

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: , , — ggirl @ 2:32 pm

“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thirty minutes of intense pedaling on the stationery bike relieved me of all my fury last night. My legs are still tired this morning, but my mind is calm. I emailed a note to Dr. Cristofanilli’s scheduler to see if I could manage to work in a trip to the lab next Tuesday (nipple day revisited). I conceded that I might not be able to see Lisa (his nurse practitioner) that day, but we can always discuss the report via telephone. (Usually one sees the doctor/PA/ nurse the same day as the tests.) Though it’s highly unlikely that anything unusual will turn up, not checking makes me crazy and scared.

Dr. Sandbox gave me a little lecture about the limits of technology and how, even if there were some early signs of cancer, a blood test might not be subtle and sophisticated enough to spot it this early. True enough. No question about it. It’s not “predictive,” he pointed out. There is another reason to take a look at what’s going on, though. It’s important to have a clear idea of whether the level of Tamoxifen is adequate. I’m not as clueless as he seems to believe.  Furthermore, if the National Cancer Institute recommends it, shouldn’t we do it if only to ease my troubled mind?

Sandbox reminds me of why I used to hate doctors, specifically male doctors. It’s the arrogance, the utter lack of interest in the patient’s questions and concerns. Yes, you’ve been to medical school, but so has my ex sister-in-law. Believe me, I’m not that impressed. I, on the other hand, have lived in this body 54 years now. I’d like to live in it another 20 years or so, long enough to take up smoking again. (I’ve promised myself that, if I make it to 70 or 72 depending on my mood at the moment, I can throw all caution to the wind. Thank you, Frank Sinatra, for the inspiration). Sandbox and all of his ilk should listen more and talk less.

I was momentarily called away from my relentless Sandbox bashing to do a little freelance computer assistance for my friend the Superhighway. What blind faith they have in The Sausage. Fortunately, she had a question I could answer and I even remembered the exact process without fumbling around the way I do most of the time. I always find my way eventually, but I hate making my faithful friends wait while I noodle around endlessly.

I’ve belabored Sandbox enough, anyway.

It’s a cold, gray, rainy start to the weekend. I had to go downstairs a little while ago to fetch my yogurt from the refrigerator. The atrium is always chilly, so Sausage ran upstairs. The wooden stairs creaked mightily as I did my best to sprint. As a matter of fact, it sounded to me like the entire building shook. I’m reminded of the proverbial herd of buffalo.  Can I blame this on the boots?  Wait.  Maybe Sandbox is somehow responsible.

January 24, 2008

Dr. Sandbox

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 5:53 pm

Warning:  Ggirl is furious.  Bad language will be used.  If this offends you, move on to another post.

I just got back from seeing Dr. Sandbox.  He is now being called by that name because he is one of the most narcissistic people I have ever met.  And that’s saying a lot.  My dad pretty much had the market cornered on that quality.

He entered the examining room and I said, “Hi, Dr. Sandbox.  How are you?”  I’m a southern girl.  I have southern manners.  We always ask.

“I’m here,” he says.

Oh really.  Well I’m fucking fine, too, asshole.  I’m thrilled to be here.  At least you’re getting paid.

He makes me take my clothes off and pokes around on my breasts.  It’s not like I don’t have millions of guys doing that.  Seriously.  I do not need my oncologist to feel.  It is a massive waste of my time and it makes me cold sitting on that stupid table.

“Are we doing blood work today?”  I ask.

He launches into a lecture about how blood work doesn’t really tell you anything.  Again, oh really?  Then why does the National Cancer Institute recommend one every six months.  Am I at six months?  Hell yes.

So we did not do blood work.  That scares me.  If we’re not doing blood work, then I’m wasting my time.  Seriously.  There is absolutely no reason for me to be there if all he’s going to do is poke around on my breasts.  Even I do that.  An extra pair of hands is NOT NECESSARY.

Then I broach the question, once again of BRCA1 and BRCA2.  I noted that the last time I saw him, he thought I should do one.  He said that after I mentioned it, though.  So.

“If you think I should have the test, then I’ll have one.  Don’t do it because you’re humoring me, though.  I don’t have any vested interest in having one, but if you think that’s what I should do, then I’ll do it.”

Again another lecture that has little bearing on the issue at hand.  Finally he said he thought we should pursue it.  Okay.  So we’re doing genetic testing but we are not doing blood work.  This makes complete sense to me.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are indicators of whether it’s likely breast cancer will develop in the other breast and whether it seems likely ovarian cancer is a risk.  Fine.  We’ll test, but I am NOT having anything cut off.  I am not having ovaries removed.  I am sick to death of surgery.

On the other hand, I don’t want to wake up two years from now and find out I need to do more chemo.  (Again, another important reason for BLOOD WORK.)  I will not do chemo.  I don’t care what that means.  I WILL NOT DO MORE CHEMO.

So here’s tomorrow’s agenda.  I will call M.D. Anderson and see if I can schedule and appointment with my oncologist’s nurse practitioner and see if she will do blood work.  Then I will cease the procrastination and find a local oncologist I don’t hate.

Dr. Sandbox.  What an asshole.

Terrified of O’Henry

It’s time for more blood work (I’ve really started to love the sound of that), so I’m seeing my oncologist today. I can’t stand that guy, but what with the rescheduling of the rescheduled scheduled nipple reconstruction, I haven’t gotten around to finding a new one. Okay. It was also because I always, always avoid thinking about breast cancer, if at all possible. So I’ve procrastinated.

Before I was diagnosed, I never procrastinated. It’s not a thing that comes naturally to me and it used to make me anxious. In the past two years, I have become a pro. I am a world class procrastinator. Make a hotel reservation in Houston? I wait until the week before the appointment, even if the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo are imminent. Talk with M.D. Anderson about changing physician notification? I’ve been “meaning” to do it for about six months now. That, my friends, is an accomplishment. I find I’ve topped myself. Not locating a palatable oncologist wins me the gold (thanks, Mitt) in the Olympic Procrastination event.

I’ve been coping with my anxiety by being giddy all day. I’ve been a source of great amusement to all of the denizens of Crazy Land. They wish I could have Oncology Day every day. Hilarity abounds. We had a birthday celebration today and I was absolutely manic. Not to take credit or anything, but I laughed at everyone’s jokes, encouraged their camaraderie and spread love as if it were high grade margarine. It was a remarkably festive event. Oh for the days of Little Miss Sunshine, when I was willing to put in that kind of effort every day.

Yesterday, Crazy Employee and I rescued a couple of puppies from our next door neighbor. Lillian has allowed her two dogs to repopulate the entire neighborhood and she’s been doing a mighty fine job of reproducing herself. Luckily, other people rescue her human offspring. The puppies and I had an immediate Love Connection the likes of which even Chuck Woolery would be impressed.

I’d love to share with you why I’m so exhausted. I’ve started keeping track of my physical fitness work every day. Yesterday, after reviewing all the work I’ve done in the past three days, it was clear to me why I drag myself out of bed every morning feeling like I’ve been run over.

I’ve had a dream two nights in a row. I’ve just started the new year in high school, have been assigned a homeroom and a locker. I’ve also been assigned the topic for my senior honors English class thesis. It’s O’Henry…I think. I get sick after the first day of school and I’m absent a long time. When I go back, I’m anxious about finding my homeroom again. The worst part is that I can’t remember if it’s actually O’Henry who’s supposed to be the subject of this enormous project. I frantically try to write a paper in an hour that was supposed to take all semester. While I’m writing it, though, I’m thinking, “Why O’Henry? I hate O’Henry. Surely that can’t be right.” I wake up drenched in sweat.

I may be the only person I’ve ever known who’s found herself terrified by thought of William Sydney Porter.

January 23, 2008

Winner Announced: PattyCakes First Problem Child of New Year

Filed under: Crazy Land, Office Hell, Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: — ggirl @ 3:09 pm

Sometime before Christmas, I received a call from a (mildly) injured employee, PattycakesPattycakes and I had some trouble finding a suitable doctor who could see her immediately, but we finally tracked one down.  She was treated and, afterwards, sent me a Christmas card telling me how grateful she was for my kindness and compassion on the phone with her that day.  Yes, I was touched, but something deep inside me mumbled, “Careful.”

A couple of weeks later, I received another call from Pattycakes, asking me to compare our corporate insurance benefits/costs to her current provider, the carpenter’s union.  She told me she’d been abused as a child and needed to get some psychological counseling. (Sound of alarm bell blaring in my head.)  Unfortunately, I told Pattycakes, she has no choice.  As a carpenter, she must use the union insurance even though it’s exorbitantly costly and offers paltry coverage.  Again, that voice deep inside me grumbled, a little louder this time, “Careful!”

Today I received three, count them, three separate injury reports from Pattycakes.  She included three separate EOB statements from her health insurance provider and a note asking for my help in resolving payment issues with the hospital/radiology clinic/masseuse.  Are the injuries work related?  She doesn’t know, but she thinks so.  Why did she submit the bills to her health insurance provider?  Beats me.  See?  Always, always listen to that little voice.

Needy.  Pattycakes is needy and talking to Ggirl can be such a comfort.  Ggirl, much like mommy, can make it all better and make you laugh.  I believe I have a winner.  Pattycakes is my first Problem Child of the new year.  Don Quixote was scary; that does not constitute Problem Child status.  No, the Problem Child will continue to haunt me for months, pleading with me to intercede on her behalf with our workers’ comp provider.  Pattycakes the Problem Child will be anxious about being fired (which she will not be), she will continue to have hurties (because they’re all kind of nebulous and hard to pin down), she will eventually strain my patience to its limits.  She will test my patience because what she really wants is emotional comfort.  Unfortunately, that’s not my job.

I’ve had at least one (but generally two or three) Problem Children every year for the past ten years.  From time to time, one Problem Child is held over for a couple of years, eventually and  invariably becoming Hurt Employee Who Will Make Me Wade Through Tons of Paperwork and Attend Countless Hearings.  I don’t think Pattycakes will become one of those, but it’s anybody’s guess at this point.  As I previously noted,  our hurties are nebulous.

I’m a beacon of hope in a hopeless world.  I always have been.  The hurt, the needy, the merely inconvenienced flock to me in droves.  “Let me tell you my problems,” they say, “let me grab you around the neck and squeeze so tightly that you can’t breathe.  Because I need you.  Because you’re the only person who can help me.  You’re the only person who understands me.”  Sometimes, when I can’t stand it anymore, they stomp their feet and demand that I dedicate myself to comforting them.  I have made a career of solving unsolvable problems, soothing wounded egos, calming the grumpy and agitated.  Excellent job choices on my part.

Now why is it again that I have such resistance to interacting with other humans?  I’m sure Pattycakes will be a substantive part of this week’s therapy.

Requisite up side?  I’m wearing new black suede, high heeled ankle boots.  Never underestimate the emotional comfort of new boots.

January 22, 2008

More Debates, Please!

Filed under: Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: — ggirl @ 10:34 am

Forget basketball.  My favorite contact sport this year is politics. I haven’t had this much fun in decades.

I watch every debate, irrespective of party.  I’ve visited all of the candidates’ websites, searching for those “plans” they like to talk about.  The candidates have a much different understanding of that word than I.  Basically, they all say that, if elected President, they will wave their little magic fairy wands and make everything all better.

I’m not letting the paucity of action items get in the way of my enjoyment, though.

January 18, 2008

The End Of A Long Week

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: — ggirl @ 12:07 pm

It’s a cold and rainy day, every bit as grim as I feel.  It’s been a long, long week.  Yesterday, I had my regularly scheduled appointment with the radiation oncologist.  All is well and, if nothing arises between now and next January, we will officially end our relationship.

I’ve lost another 4 pounds.  I don’t really know what to do at this point.  I’ve been being a little piggy Sausage, but my mom thinks I’m still not eating enough.  I bought a new pair of jeans when I was in Houston because nothing I currently own fits.  I couldn’t decided whether to get the size 2 or the size 4.  I went with 4, but after I had them on for five minutes, it was clear I should have gotten the size 2.  I refuse to buy a whole new, tiny wardrobe.

I have an appointment Monday morning to get the stitches taken out from my latest biopsy site.  The pathology report came back last week and the nurse called to tell me it’s morphea.  She told me to stop taking the antibiotics and resume the topical ointment they gave me earlier.  It really seems to make the rash worse.  It continues to spread down my calf; I’m so happy it’s not summer, despite the rain and cold.  Happily, tights are very fashionable this year, so they’re available almost everywhere.  I have a lot of boots to wear.

Last night, I rode my bike for about 15 minutes, did half of my physical therapy exercises (I’ll do the rest tonight) and did some yoga.  I thought it would help my stress level.  I finally finished Morgan’s Passing, by Anne Tyler.  I didn’t love it.  I started a new biography of Fanny Hurst.  As always, I’m optimistic about the potential for my relationship with my new book.

It’s stopped raining now.  I have to brave the frigid air of the atrium to get my lunch now.  Only three hours more before the week is officially over.  At last.

January 17, 2008

Infinite Varieties of Pain

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: , , — ggirl @ 2:39 pm

When the Physician’s Assistant, Jennifer, came into the examining room, I  immediately sensed that something was amiss. She asked several times, “Why didn’t I know you were here?” Well, that’s hardly a question to ask me. I didn’t know. She asked me if I was having any problems or wanted to pursue any revisions to the reconstruction. There is one place under my arm that’s still hideous, so I mentioned that, even though I couldn’t see that the conversation had much relevance to the reason we were there. Jennifer told me that all revisions must be completed before the nipple construction. Somewhere along the way, I noted that the nipple was my whole raison d’etre for being there. Uh oh.

Gwen, the lady who made my appointment stuck her head in to verify that I’d originally been scheduled for last Thursday. “That’s absolutely right. That’s what I thought.” I was puzzled that they thought there was any way I’d be confused about when to show up.

Dr. Kroniwitz finally arrived to tell me that he doesn’t do procedures on Tuesday. Gwen (who is generally excellent at her job) scheduled me for the wrong day. Dr. Kronowitz was embarrassed and clearly felt terrible about the expense and inconvenience. He personally went to reschedule my appointment for January 29. He offered to see me next week, but I couldn’t do it. I needed a break before the trip, a break from the stress.

“Well, we have to do something, Dr. Kronowitz,” I told him. Otherwise my supplemental insurance wouldn’t reimburse me for any of the travel and hotel expenses.

“Okay. Let’s do some injections,” he suggested.

I was cheered up and agreed immediately; he was awed by my enthusiasm. I waited, flat on my back on the exam table for about 15 minutes; it was beginning to hurt by then. Eventually, they arrived to perform the steroid injections on various chelated scars. We did my reconstructed breast. No problem, except for a huge scar underneath the breast. It’s not numb and, though the steroids are mixed with lidocaine, the anesthetic didn’t have time to prevent pain as he stabbed me several times with the needle. Jennifer commented that the needle was larger than she expected. Then the real fun began.

He began a series of injections in the scars across my lower abdomen. I am not numb there, either. He also injected the two scars on my pelvis where the drains were inserted. Nope, not numb.

I think one of the biggest revelations of my breast cancer journey is the discovery that there are a lot of different kinds of pain. I had no idea pain could take so many forms. (I’m certain that I still haven’t experienced all of them.) There’s surgery pain and chemo pain (which in itself involves several previously unknown types of physical suffering), there’s pain from needles inserted into my breast, pain from having massive amounts of skin and tissue moved from one place to the other. I’ve also experienced unspeakable psychological pain from simply trying to withstand the process and, after my tram flap,  from being dependent on other people to move me from one place to another. Steroid injections into the abdomen and pelvis definitely provided me with yet another novel form of pain.

The steroids are systemic and the revved up feeling reminded me of the way I used to feel the day after chemo. A chilling memory.

There is yet another surgery coming, but I deferred it for six months. I have officially hit the wall. I don’t have the mental strength to undergo another surgery any time soon. It took several days to steel myself for the nipple reconstruction. As I sat in the living room on Sunday (the day before I left town), I knew that I’ve reached the end of my psychological rope. The warrior spirit has been completely depleted.

For the next week and a half, I’ll be trying to mentally prepare myself for another round of stress, another visit to a previously unknown type of pain. I can do this. Yes I can.

January 10, 2008

Don Quixote Is A Scary Guy

I spent my entire day yesterday dealing with Don, the hurt guy.  It started with a phone conversation in which he told me the insurance company had denied his claim and that he didn’t understand why his foreman, his manager and I have “turned against him.”  I chose not to comment about either of those issues.  He then wanted me to read to him the First Report of Injury he filled out the day he came to the office.  Um, no.  I told him that I’ve sent two copies and, if he didn’t receive either of them in the next couple of days, we should make arrangements for him to come by and pick it up.  Of course, that’s the last thing I want to happen.  I think registered mail is the answer here.

Don assured me that the injury was work related and that he just has a really, really, really high tolerance for pain.  Well, if you say so, Don.  Again, I chose not to comment.  He disputed the date of injury as established by his foreman.  Don’s certain that only three days elapsed between hand fracture and noticing something was dreadfully wrong with that appendage.  I pointed out numerous times that my only role in injury cases is to fill out the paperwork.  That’s not exactly true, but I don’t feel impelled to be completely honest with Mr. Quixote.

Don ended the phone call by informing me that he’s going to contact an attorney.  Fine with me.  I told him that it’s certainly his right to do so.  I wonder if he truly thought that threat would change anything.  There’s an established process by which one contests the insurance company’s decision.  Litigation isn’t included in the options.  Not for a while, anyway.   Don will discover that soon enough.

I chewed through a lot of time filling out the interminable paperwork, writing letters and making copies for Don Quixote and the insurance company.  I talked with the insurance rep several times and Hemorrhoid Guy a couple of times.  We established that, since the job is completed, everyone (including Don) would be officially laid off as of yesterday afternoon.  H Guy wanted to know if we should just let the union inform him of the change in his employment status.  I advised that a phone call would be preferable and less likely to inflame an already tense situation.

It was then that the real news cropped up.  When Don started working for our company a couple of months ago, he thought it wise to share with H Guy that he didn’t voluntarily leave the state in which he formerly resided.  The prosecutor in his home town told Don that, if he left the state and never came back, they’d drop all of the numerous domestic violence charges against him.  Now why would you share that with a new employer?  That Don, what a master of office politics.

Having lived 18 years in a very violent household, this news got my attention in a big way.  Remember that Don has actually met me.  If he’s going to be violent with anyone, it will be me.  Men who hurt women generally aren’t brave enough to try to have physical confrontations with other men.

It strikes even me as a little much to fear retaliation against me.  On the other hand, I’ve seen enough guys showing up at their former places of employment with a butt load of armaments to make me anxious.  I issued an alert that Don must not be allowed in the building.  I’m being more cautious when I arrive before the sun is up.  I’m exercising more caution generally, for the time being.  As silly as that seems.

Of course, some people do get hurt (and sometimes badly) through no fault of their own.  I would never dispute those claims.  However, it’s worth noting that in the past ten years of worker’s compensation duty, every time someone has told me how long they’ve worked in the industry, it’s been followed by a very long and very expensive recuperative sojourn on the sofa.

All of this makes the pending nipple torture a lot more palatable.  The conundrum of the day:  Which is worse, dealing with Don or facing another episode of slice and dice?  I’m in a quandary.

Important note:  The full moon this month is known as “The Wolf Moon.”  That has to be a good omen, right?

A Nipple Waiting To Happen

Filed under: Breast Cancer, Things Can Always Get Worse — Tags: , , — ggirl @ 2:02 pm

Nipple reconstruction was postponed and I’d actually cheered up, thinking that we might not be able to reschedule it for a month or so. The nurse called me a minute ago to advise me of my new date, next Tuesday. She also advised me regarding what I can expect pre– and post-procedure. It does not sound good. More not bathing, more huge dressings. Great.

Prior to the cancellation of this week’s scheduled nipple work, the Inner Fascist had a return engagement to help me cope with my anxiety. It appears that, when distraction finally fails me, self recrimination steps in to take up the slack. I noticed the Fascist voice very quickly this time and told her to stop. Loudly. Once was not enough, but at least I heard the inner taunting relatively soon after it started. Having made the connection between anxiety and the IF while I was in the midst of making myself feel bad was a big step forward. I’ll have more time to practice by late Saturday afternoon, I’m sure. By then, distraction will have lost its power to disguise my anxiety.

January 8, 2008

Don Quixote in Crazy Land

Filed under: Crazy Land, Things Can Always Get Worse — ggirl @ 12:30 pm

It’s a busy week, and a short one, since I’m leaving tomorrow for the land of the new nipple. Something about that strikes me as hilarious. Until I think about what it may entail, then it’s not so funny. I’m using my usual coping mechanism of distraction.

Luckily, I have a lot to distract me. Last week, one of our employees (Don Quixote) phoned in with a broken hand. He allegedly broke it the day after Christmas, but didn’t realize it was broken until three days later. Is that even possible? I’ve never had a fracture, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be able to feel it when it happens. There were witnesses around all day when Don was loading plywood, but none of them heard even so much as an “owie!” from him.

Hemorrhoid Guy (the unfortunate guy in charge of this slacker) had Don come in and fill out paperwork. I went downstairs to talk with him about the workers’ comp process and he wanted to know where he could go to get his blood pressure taken care of. Seems it was a bit high when he noticed the broken hand and went to the hospital. I told him workers compensation doesn’t cover high blood pressure. He seemed disappointed. I went through my whole song and dance. I thought we’d come to a meeting of the minds.

An hour after he left, the phone calls began. I spoke with him five times that day and at least twice every day after that. Don calls periodically to argue with me about whether he can use his union’s health insurance to pay for things. He wants to know when he’ll start getting paid. He’s called about that a couple of times. Apparently it takes at least three repetitions of all information before it begins to sink into Don’s dense brain. In our last conversation, Don complained that our insurance company was grilling him about the three days he was oblivious to his broken hand. Don is insulted that anyone would question his version of events. Yeah. Go figure.

I’ve done what I can for him. All of his paperwork has been submitted and I’ve spoken to the insurance folks. I also sent everyone an email telling them that, if Don calls, give him our insurance company’s phone number. He already has it, but he’s used that as an excuse to call me several times. I’d hate for Mr. Quixote to drive my fellow Crazy Land residents even more crazy.

In about 20 minutes, I have to attend a web seminar on terminating employees. Some people actually do get fired at Crazy Land. It just never happens to the people who work on site. I expect the seminar will take up the rest of my day.

The other big news is that the rash-like area on my left leg is spreading still. I saw the doctor again yesterday and she questioned me about ticks. Lyme disease, you know. I’m not aware of any tick contact, but they’ve been digging up the entire airport across the street and we’ve had some wild refugees (remember the rat pack?) who’ve emigrated. I suppose something might have been carrying a tick. I have hard-core antibiotics to kill it (in case that’s what I’ve got). Meanwhile, we’ve done a biopsy and I’ll get the results in a couple of weeks.

I’ve decided to put off starting the antibiotics until I have the nipple work done. Nipple work. Man, I crack myself up.

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