- Been spayed
- Had part of her tail amputated after Katie closed the door on it (Katie was only 1.5 years old at the time)
- Had a dental (so just anesthesia, not surgery)
- Had an abcess cleaned up/drained (from her one and only cat fight)
- Had a kitty mastectomy
So as you can see, I'm pretty used to groggy Annie, used to giving her post-surgery antibiotics and pain meds, etc. I still felt so sorry for her, and we set up a little recovery suite for her in our downstairs bathroom and had planned to spoil her with comforts and love while she was only half-herself.
Of course, this is Annie, though, and so as soon as I let her out of her cage, she was writhing on the ground and purring with love (despite the 3 inches of stitches starting right in her armpit and going down her right/middle) and trying to get out of her recovery suite. She doesn't seem to mind having almost half of her body shaved, the 3 inches of cut apart and sewn together body, the pain, or anything.
When I look at my kitty, half-bald, with a 3-inch scar and missing her right mammary gland, it is easier to see how people can stand to look at me bald, with a 3-inch scar and missing my right mammary gland. When you care about something (or, with me and Nan, love it to pieces), it is possible to not even care about the missing parts*. I just feel so lucky to have whatever parts of her still with me - hopefully purring and writhing with love for many more years!
*Bill (and, to a lesser extent, Emma) has been trying to point this out to me, but actually feeling the emotion myself seems to have made the message hit home better.
Actually, though, her cancer doesn't seem to have spread, and if she has a little cat lumpectomy (!) recovery from that surgery shouldn't be too bad. So she is set to go under the knife next Tuesday. For the cat who cozied up on my giant belly during all of my pregnancies and most recently, ALWAYS found me and settled in on my sad chemo belly, it is totally worth it (especially once I was convinced recovery wouldn't be long or overly hard on her).
As I write this, she is lying on my leg, and Nathan just came up to her to give her some gentle pets. Here is what transpired, Nanners purring the whole time:
Nathan: "I like Nannie."
Me: "She is such a good cat, isn't she?"
Nathan: "Yes, she been nice a me."
Then a few minutes later he came back and said, in his high, cute, pet voice:
"Are you Mommy's Nannie? Are you? Are you? Are you nice to me Nannie? Are you?"
Yes, she is nice to you, and to me. I hope we have her for a long, long time.
Katie: "Mom, the strongest man in the world couldn't hold your temper."
(Then we both started laughing. I'm glad we can laugh about her experiences with menopause mom and her short temper...and I have to say, when Katie erupts, I know EXACTLY where that comes from. The Volcano Daughter is a close replica of her Volcano Mother!)
I am on the IV arm of this study, which means that once a month I will get an infusion of Zometa (drug name - actual drug is Zoledronic Acid) for 6 months, then after that, every 3 months for 2.5 years. The amount of the drug (from Bill's research) in this arm of the study is a bit higher, and there are some potential side effects, but the convenience is quite nice. I would need my blood drawn on the same schedule (once a month, then once every three months) so this way they do everything through my port. I can't say I love being jammed with a needle in my port, but I am happy to not have to take a pill every morning for 3 years.
Anyway, it was just this week, with it's 2 appointments and me leaving withOUT being in a post-chemo haze that I noticed how the name of my oncologist's office is printed out on the receipt. Oakland Medical Group - OMG!
Emma: "Mom, do you want to be Evil?"
Me: "No, that's too close to real life."
Emma: "OK. Katie, go find a stuffed animal!"
Katie: "Yeah, it was a person but it changed into a animal when it became evil!"
Katie leaves. She returns with a pink bunny.
Katie: "We tried to make it good, but it was just too evil."
(You know those pink bunnies, they ARE so evil.)
Emma: "COME ON GUYS! THERE'S EVIL AFOOT!"
And off they run, to fight the pink bunny. I breathe a sigh of relief, because as long as there are pink bunnies to fight, I can take off my referee uniform. Lucken Wrestlemania has been put on the back burner for now as the Lucken children join together in the fight against evil.
Perched up on a precipice
and this is what I've seen.
This is all I want, it's all I need...
This is all I am, it's everything
This is all I want, it's all I need...
But don't explain I'm sure I'll want to know
Don't forget we're just halfway from coal.
(from Beat a Drum, by R.E.M.)
Me: "Thank you for clearing, honey!"
Nathan: "I can't have dis."
Me: "Yeah, it's not for little boys."
Nathan: "Yeah, it's not for little budders."
It's been a crazy year, but it's only getting crazier...and how lucky am I to have had the crash course in cancer that I had over the past 6 months? I'm a much stronger woman now, and under duress I do see that I have created so many more emotional pathways for myself during these past 6 months (despite what I said just last week when I was in a little crisis - also a gift to make me stronger for what came our way this week). Bill and I can navigate these cancer waters with the best of them - we know when to call, who to hound for answers. We know how to look at hard statistics and to still find hope. We know what some of the tougher hurdles will be and how to get over them (for example, this week of waiting for the upcoming appointments for Sybil - the waiting is hard). Best of all, we have learned what a strong network of family and friends we have (some of the messages from my newest friends have really sustained me during these past two days - I really believe I have found some friends for life.).
Bill says he would have preferred to have found a way to deal with cancer now without my having had breast cancer...I can see where he would say that! It's hard to be the husband of a cancer patient. BUT, I know it is going to be more helpful for him that I have become so strong inside, and I know it is going to be helpful for my children as well. I feel ready to take on this challenge, and to carry the others through it too!
This is a phenomenon not lost on swimmers, runners, and rowers - they chase these moments throughout their careers (as we know by watching them in the Olympics). That extra .1 second decides who makes history and who is an "almost". (It sounds harsh but as an "almost" for my whole life I feel I can say it!) For the rest of us who are not chasing down half-seconds but burning them like they are nothing - folding laundry and refereeing things like Lucken Wrestlemania and making dinner - time can lose its luster. Those half-seconds aren't worth so much when you are caught up in the banality of everyday life.
Sometimes, though, even for the almosts like me, life comes on hard and fast, staring you right in the eye. For me, it's been so many things this year that keep hitting me and the face and telling me - "HEY! We really aren't here forever!" and most recently it has been hitting me saying "And either are our loved ones!" Even the longest of lifetimes isn't long enough to spend together with the people we love!
So tonight, on a sad night, I am strangely comforted by the reminder of all the moments that there really are in a second. There is a lot of time there. I resolve again tonight to take that time to love the people around me. It's not enough, but it's there and will have to do.
Today we got the news that my wonderful, amazing mother-in-law (the one who has helped me raise my children, who has been there for me through all my cancer treatments) has been diagnosed with lung cancer. We don't know much yet, other than the type of cancer (she was not a smoker), but Bill is with her now and the family is pulling together.
We have such a powerful, loving network of family and friends, and if you are reading this, I ask for your prayers for Sybil and for my husband, Bill.
If you are in town on September 1st, lace up your shoes and join us! You can still mail in your registration until August 16th (just a couple of days away) or registration is open that day from 9-10am.
I'm happy to arrange carpooling, just contact me! And don't think you need to be in great shape to participate...this recent chemo graduate will be participating and it won't be pretty!
Me: "What are you doing, running in circles?"
Emma: "No, we're doing an obstacle course."
Katie: "Yeah, so we get tired and then we won't be bad."
(One of the main disciplinary tactics I have been taking of late to curtail Lucken Wrestlemania has been to make them go outside and run circles around the perimeter of the house...seems like it might be working if they are self-imposing these rules!)
Here are my next steps back to my "new normal", as one of my doctors fittingly called it:
- Totally recover from chemotherapy...my oncologist recommends I wait until 8 weeks after my final chemo treatment before I undertake a new surgery, etc. That is right around the 3-day, so I'm going to wait until after the 3-day for my next step, which is:
- Oophorectomy (removal of my ovaries and tubes). This might be able to be a laparoscopic procedure, but since I've had 2 c-sections I may also have too much scar tissue to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes laparoscopically and in that case it will be an open surgery. Recovery from that is either 2 weeks, or more like 6-8 if the surgery is open. I've decided to do this surgery first, rather than reconstruct my chest as I'm already in "cancer mode" and want to remove all the parts of me that are at high risk for developing cancer due to my BRCA1 mutation ASAP. If they find anything suspicious, I'd be happy to know it sooner rather than later, too. I don't really feel done with chemo until I know that my ovaries are out and were cancer-free. On top of that, I'm already experiencing menopause due to the chemotherapy, so why not just make it permanent (my oncologist said there was a 40-50% chance that my ovaries were not permanently damaged due to the chemo...)? This surgery is scheduled for October 13th.
- Breast reconstruction - surgery to put back in tissue expander on right side and hope for no infection this time! I don't know how soon after the oophorectomy this can happen - I guess it depends on which way I have my ovaries removed.
- Fill up expander...starts about 2 weeks after the surgery. I estimate I have about 8 weeks of this if I expand at a reasonable but quick pace. 2 weeks after the final fill I would have:
- Breast reconstruction surgery (#4 for me!) - remove expanders and put actual implants in their place.
- After that, I may then have nipple reconstruction (another surgery, but a little one). Some time in there I will need to have my port removed, but until then I will be having it flushed every 4-6 weeks.
Bill called me when I was a little less than a mile from the end of our Saturday walk with the news that one of my pet rabbits had passed away - Emma had found her cold, dead body when she went to the basement to feed our smaller pets. I was able to talk Emma out of her intense distress, I was able to talk to Katie and ascertain that her emotions were intact, and I was able to drive home feeling that I could competently handle the situation that was in front of me. After all, I was a veterinary assistant, I saw lots of dead animals - recently dead, maggot-filled dead, frozen-dead. I've also had a number of pets in my day and I've been with them in their last moments, buried them, and mourned them. I knew what to do and I was going to go put my family back together and help them through the sadness that is the death of a pet.
Maybe it was the chemicals still in my body from chemo, or maybe it was the exhaustion from having walked so far on my "bad day", maybe it was the shock that this rabbit died (It wasn't the 10.5+ year old rabbit who is practically lame, losing his vision, lost his litterbox skills, who is wasting away slowly; it was his big, giant, soft, shy rabbit girlfriend who seemed the picture of health), maybe it was the fact that I really do love all of my pets even if some of them are only rabbits - but something in me broke when I saw my bunny, cold and hard with all the life gone out of her. And when that part of me broke I was suddenly not only unable to cope with the loss of my rabbit, but I was also no longer able to cope with breast cancer, with surgeries, with my own mortality, and with everything that has happened to my family in the past 6 months. I pulled it together enough to have a little rabbit funeral, to tend to the lonely, old, lame rabbit who was left, and then I went into bed and did not leave it for the rest of the weekend.
I am not an Ox when it comes to emotional challenges, let's just say that. What could be the opposite of an Ox? Because I am that when it comes to emotional challenges, usually, and I've been dealing with my lack of emotional strength for a long, long time. The funny part of all of this is, I honestly thought I was doing a pretty good job of handling the emotional challenge of the breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, but if the death of a little (or big, in her case) pet rabbit could throw me to the edge I thought I probably was not. More likely, I've been concentrating so much on the physical challenge of getting through chemotherapy that I have neglected the emotional challenge that cancer presents. Once the door which hid the emotional challenge was opened, it all came spilling out on me again, raw and scary.
I suppose I should thank God or the universe for the loss of my bunny, for opening up the door so that I could tame those demons before they became even larger. I'm going to be living with the idea of my own mortality, and living with cancer, for the rest of my life. Other survivors have told me that it never goes away - each ache and pain brings to mind the question "Is my cancer back?" On top of that, cancer isn't the only challenge I'm going to face - my pets are going to die, loved ones are going to have problems with their health, there are so many unknowns and so many different kinds of sufferings that come with the joys in life. It's not going to be enough to just put my head down and plod through my hard days; there is always some sort of struggle ahead and I could end up plodding until my final day. It's time to live larger, love stronger, fear less, and I forgot that when I was so busy plodding forward through chemo.
So anyway, it's taken me about 8 days to get to this point where I could talk about my broken spirit. I'm trying to pick up these little pieces and put myself back together, emotionally...I'm trying to look at the reality that life is pretty scary because when you love something so much, it hurts to lose it (doesn't really matter much, whether that thing you love is a plump pet bunny you had for 4.5 good years, or your life and hopes for your future). Wish me luck as I try to build up an emotional strength to rival my otherwise Oxen nature.
Katie: "No, you're supposed to say, you're welcome."
I hope 1) Katie doesn't ever just pick up a ride to San Diego, and if she does I hope 2) That the driver is more qualified than a 3 year old who can barely talk. 3) If she uses this flirty voice with any boy outside our household then I am in big, deep trouble.