Cancer Lesson #??: Cancer Makes You Paranoid.

Cancer Lesson #??: Cancer makes you paranoid.

More than two years have passed since my last chemo, and I’ve been praying for arthritis. Between prayers, I’ve practiced what to say to my family and tried to figure out how to get through another course of treatment.

You see, my elbow has been hurting for over a month now, and I was convinced my cancer had metasize metastaz metatastiz spread. (Another, less pressing worry, was learning how to spell metastasized.)

The pain isn’t incapacitating, excruciating, or even constant, but it’s consistent.

Did I mention bone pain is the main sign that cancer has metastasized?

At first, I thought, “No problem. I have an appointment coming up. I’ll just ask Dr. H about it then.” Except I wasn’t seeing him until October, and the hurt wasn’t getting any better.

Yesterday, I called and changed the appointment.

Today, one chat with the doc, five X-rays, one phone call, and the mystery is solved. The problem is not cancer in my bones – thank God! – but  Anastrozole’s effect on my ligaments.

Cancer makes you paranoid. Having survived it once, my continued survival depends on continuous vigilance. Unsurprisingly, this vigilance sometimes crosses the line into my personal version of a cancer conspiracy theory. In short, I think cancer is out to get me.

The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. According to Metavivor Reasearch and Support, Inc. (, 30% of patients with early stage breast cancer develop metastatic breast cancer.

You know that expression, “Even paranoids have real enemies”?
Metastatic breast cancer is mine.

Paranoid? Maybe.

But alive.


Cancer Lesson #30: A Box of Love

Cancer Lesson #30: A Box of Love


Cancer Lesson #30: Everyone should have a box of love.

I have one.

My daughter made it when I was in the hospital and filled it with treasure. She saved every card, printed every email and Facebook message that my friends sent while I was recovering, and put them in my box.

The photo above doesn’t do it justice.  (And, on a side note, when I first published this lesson, the photo was backwards – a reminder that narcotics and technology don’t mix, in case you thought otherwise.)

Some  may wonder if getting cards and notes actually helps.

It does.  That picture also can’t convey the warm feeling that envelops me when I look at my box.

You could probably use a box of love.

It’s a nice thing to have when times get rough. Like oh, say, when you’re going through treatment for cancer.

I know what you’re thinking: “Kym used to be so normal, but I think those chemo drugs affected her brain.”

Hear me out before you tune me out. All I’m saying is, if you make the effort to live a decent life – and some people don’t – then you deserve a box of love.

Your box will remind you that what you do matters.

You matter.

The next time you get a thank you note for something you did, save it for your box. Special letters from your kids, photos that bring back exceptionally good times, compliments that mean something – they should all go in.

But here’s the most important quality of a box of love: You don’t have to have cancer to deserve one, you only have to have the love.

Cancer Lesson #29: Feeling Drained

Cancer Lesson #29: Feeling Drained

I was discharged from the hospital with a stunning new stomach scar – a good twelve inches long – and a belly button that had been relocated several inches above its previous position. It now looked like a bull’s-eye, surrounded by a circular scar.

The Engineer insisted the surgeons had created a new one, but I knew they hadn’t. That navel was the one I’d been gazing at all my life, a fact later confirmed by Dr. K2’s most senior intern.

Of course, I also had several smaller scars on my breast, and four tiny incisions for the tubes which led to the drains hanging from my stomach truss.

The Engineer and I were taught how to drain these receptacles several times a day, carefully measuring the liquid before dumping it in the toilet. This also involved – for lack of a better word – milking the tube to rid it of any icky bits that might cause blockage.

“You look like a suicide bomber,” said my ever-supportive husband.

Yes, dear reader, the plastic drains looked like grenades.

I viewed them differently. To me,  they resembled an udder dangling between my Velcro Granny bra and matching support Granny panties. No wonder I felt like a cow — simply bovine, my darlings, simply bovine.

But I was going home.


Is More Always Better? by Dr. Shelby Terstriep

Sneaking this one in even though it’s not an official “Cancer Lesson.”

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a blog post by Dr. Shelby Terstriep, an oncologist affiliated with the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation. Dr. Terstriep wrote about a practice doctors call a “curbside.”  This is basically an informal second opinion where one health professional asks another her or his opinion on a treatment protocol. I hope you’ll take the time to read that blog post because it’s relevant for anyone receiving medical treatment. You can find it here:

I left a comment agreeing with Dr. Terstriep, and sharing my own experience. When I was diagnosed, I reacted by researching treatment options and learning about the disease. As a trained librarian, I felt qualified to judge whether the information I found was authoritative and accurate. Since the choices my doctors offered me were in line with the ones I found in breast cancer literature, I chose not to ask for a second opinion.

Dr. Terstriep responded by asking how one could judge whether or not medical information was authoritative.  I replied with a brief description of how to evaluate a source, and she asked my permission to feature those comments in a blog post.

Here is a link to that post: It’s worth a few moments of your time, not because I contributed to it, but because the information presented is rarely found outside of library school.

If you need help finding material about your condition, a reference librarian at your local library can help you get started.