Cancer Lesson #??? — Be Thankful

This really should be Cancer Lesson #1, or perhaps just The Cancer Lesson.” It’s a simple one: Be thankful. For your health, every day you walk on this earth, every moment you get to spend with friends and family, everything. It’s a lesson easily learned but difficult to live, and I’ll admit I’m still working on the latter.

So, this Thanksgiving, I’ll raise my glass in a toast of gratitude for all of the above and for you, my readers. I hope you will do the same.

Pouring Red Wine Into Empty Wine Glass in Slow...

Pouring Red Wine Into Empty Wine Glass in Slow Motion 2 (Photo credit: Dave Dugdale)

What you put in that glass is up to you, but mine will probably look something like this.  😉


Cancer Lesson #38: Is it chemistry? Or is it chemo?

Cancer Lesson #38: Is it chemistry? Or is it chemo?

As a romance writer, I was struck by how many of the side effects of chemo are similar to the reactions used in romance novels to indicate desire and attraction. Consider the following account of one heroine’s response to re-meeting the man who will turn out to be her hero.

“The new hand ambled into the ranch kitchen, and Paige’s knees went weak. She sank into a chair, her legs melting beneath her like candles left too long in the sun. Her father had spoken so highly of this stockman. He’d had no way of knowing the cowboy was the same man who turned his once-happy daughter into the bleak woman she was today. Hank was as mouthwateringly handsome as he’d been at twenty-two, though the lines around his mouth and eyes were etched more deeply now.

Paige damned herself for noticing, just as she damned herself for being drawn inexorably into the past, a past in which she and Hank had spent long nights under the stars on an old horse blanket filched from the stables. A past full of laughter, fumbling touches and love. Her stomach churned as she reminded herself that it hadn’t been love for Hank, but a momentary pleasure, tossed aside like tumbleweed in a storm. Mouth dry, she swallowed hard, trying to hold back the caustic words that rose to her lips…”

Okay, so Paige isn’t losing her hair – although judging by her reaction to Hank, she may soon be tearing it out strand by strand. Nor is she actually sick to her stomach. There are still enough similarities – the lethargy, dry mouth, loss of appetite and funny feeling in the pit of one’s belly – to make me wonder about the physiological aspects of falling in love.

Ultimately, it’s all chemistry, isn’t it?

Cancer Lesson #37: The Cost of Keeping A Breast

Cancer Lesson #37: The Cost of Keeping A Breast

When I got the bill for my new girl, I found the insurance company’s specificity on what they would and would not pay rather amusing.

Plastic surgeon’s bill $11,052 minus insurance payment $2,738.44 minus insurance adjustment $8,052.11 equals $261.45 that I had to pay.

What I don’t understand is the adjustment thing. Does the doctor really agree to take $8,000(!) off the original bill? So, $261.45 – my new breast would have been a bargain at ten times the price.

Cancer Lesson #36: Why Did My Body Try to Kill Me?


Cancer Lesson #36: Why did my body try to kill me?

One of those “pink ribbon” stores sells a bag that says, “Of course, they’re fake. My real ones tried to kill me.” That’s what cancer is, you know, “…diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues.” (Definition from National Institute of Health, if you’d like the rest of the explanation.)

Basically, some of my own cells turned traitor and began pillaging their neighbors. As if in a miniature Middle East, these terrorist cells attacked whatever got in their way, leaving a trail of waste and destruction in their wake. When the lymph system (a body’s National Guard) stepped in, the renegades went after it as well.

You’d think all that annihilation would – I don’t know – maybe hurt a little? But I felt fine, even after finding my lump (home base of the mutiny). A little worried, maybe, but there was no pain except for the bruising needle jabs necessary for the seemingly endless tests (see Cancer Lesson #13). After an ultrasound revealed two other masses, all three were biopsied.

Lump #1 was cancerous. Lump #2 proved to be a lymph node the outlaws had penetrated. And physically I still felt great.  Oh, sure, there was that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized what was coming, and I was relieved to learn Lump #3 was nothing but fibrous tissue. But there was no “discomfort” (as those in the medical field like to call it).

However, the rebel cells, my rebel cells – those dirty, rotten traitors – had to be killed. Left to their own devices, they would surely kill me. A surgical strike was needed to cleanly incise the insurgents. As part of that same surgery (let’s call it “Operation Bodacious”), I chose to have some new neighbors moved into the vacancy the renegades left behind.

Six weeks later, the “new neighbors” (tissue from my stomach, which had “population” to spare) had settled in. With my wounds healing, it was time to bring in the big guns: chemotherapy drugs. These medicines are meant to demolish any sleeper cells the ungrateful rebels left behind, and like all military strikes, they take out innocent bystanders (hair and white blood cells). They would wreak more havoc on my body than the disease had been able to.

Still, I chose to go through the chemo regimen because I don’t want to have to have to go through cancer treatment again. This is especially important because I’ve learned that, unlike most other cancers – where patients are considered cured after five years without recurrence – breast cancer cells can lay dormant for a long time. No one knows how they do it, but they do.

There are no guarantees in cancer treatment, just as there are no guarantees in life, but chemo and hormone inhibitors will raise the odds in my favor. Kind of luck buckling a seatbelt to improve your chances of surviving a car accident. In this case, the seatbelt was drugs so potent I was warned to call the nurse if any dropped on my skin,  and the possible accident is another round of breast cancer.

I called this one “Operation Stayin’ Alive.”

Cancer Lesson #35: “Cranial Prosthesis” = Wig

Cancer Lesson #35: “Cranial prosthesis” = wig.

Cancer patients can get a prescription for a cranial prosthesis, and some insurance companies will pay for at least part of the cost. I suppose if you called it a wig, they’d refuse.

In the end, I received a free wig from an American Cancer Society wig bank. Plus, my daughter sometimes let me wear two hairpieces she’d bought for fun, one in bubble gum pink and one in midnight blue and black.

These came from a shop I call the “Hooker Store.” I’m being facetious rather than pejorative because I love that store. But I’m convinced the place supplies most hookers and/or cross-dressers in Northern Ohio with whatever they need to create their version of glamour.

I also bought a wig there, chin-length in an alluring shade of magenta. Very chic! It made me smile whenever I passed a mirror, which is a very good thing when you’re in the middle of treatment for cancer.