Thursday, January 31, 2013

The view from the other end of my couch.

Yup. I'm blogging from my couch. Again.

Isn't that sunset gorgeous?

And now I'm back to my regularly scheduled evening of watching TV. ... The show of the week is Journeyman. I heart time travel. Big time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The very best part of being tired all the time.

Beyond the obvious perk of sleeping 8-10 hours a night without the use of sleep aids, the best part of being tired all the time is the view from my couch.

Here's how my typical day goes: I roll out of bed at 6:00, and am on my way to work by 6:30. I usually get home between 3:30 and 4:00. And then I hit the couch.

Sometimes I lie down for an hour and then get up and make something (like a bowl of soup or maybe an egg sandwich... I'm so gourmet) for dinner. Sometimes I hop in the shower, and wash my hair so it can dry before I go to bed. (Showering still wipes me out. Esp if I have to wash my hair. You know, the two days a week that I do that. I can't shower in the morning and still get ready for work in 30 minutes, so I take care of that in the evening.)

By 5:30, I'm usually back to camping on the couch. And I stay there until bedtime. (AKA: 9:00 PM.) Sometimes I fall asleep before bedtime and then wake up in the middle of the night and walk back to my bedroom, but, without fail, I am on the couch for hours every evening.

And the view is magnificent.

I tell you what, I love my couch. I love my little apartment. I love the big sliding glass door in my living room that lets a little bit of the outside world in. I love the canvas that is the Arizona sky at sunset.

One of the very best things about having gotten sick is that it forced me to slow down. (Not that I was ever one to be going really fast through life, but still...)

I'm pretty sure that the very best part of being tired all the time is that I am parked on my couch every night, in front of a view like this.

It's moments like this that I am grateful for a body that doesn't work as well as it used to, for the opportunity to be here. Now. Watching the sun set.

Friday, January 25, 2013

This one time, I put in a yoga dvd...

That's right. One time. As in, once.

Pretty much, the one time I have ever in my life put in a yoga dvd I made the gross mistake of thinking, "This is so easy, I think I'll do the stomach/abs workout twice."

Big mistake.


I remember waking up the next morning and having a hard time getting out of bed. ... I only wish I was kidding.

This was circa 2008, and I was planning on going home that weekend. As I recall, I ended up canceling the trip. Why? Because it hurt to laugh. I mean, like the dickens. And I knew that I'd be laughing all weekend if I went home, and I just couldn't face the pain.

Never again did I do that yoga video. ... That's right. Never.

(Do I know that my abs hurt so badly because they were in some pretty rough shape and if I'd just kept it up, those exercises and stretches would have done me a lot of good? Yup. But I am not a fan of the pain, and I'm telling you... I hurt that weekend, so I just kept putting that dvd off. And then I had abdominal surgery, and I was told not to do anything more strenuous than walking. And then I had abdominal surgery. Again. And somehow, I developed a hernia, doing nothing more strenuous than walking. And then I had abdominal surgery. Again. And my stomach muscles got twisted into knots, right along with that frozen shoulder issue, and I haven't been able to walk as often/long as I could after surgeries 1 and 2..)

So, what I'm saying is... I have no abdominal muscle control. Aka: I don't do yoga.

I never really did. I mean, just the one time. And I don't know that I should actually count that, as it was a pretty lame attempt to follow a cheesy dvd. But I'm counting it anyway.

Here's the kicker: Five years ago, I did an ab workout that made me hurt for three days. And then I never did it again, and my weak and weensie stomach muscles went back to their very lax and easy ways and I didn't feel abdominal pain anymore.

And then I had surgery. Times three. In the space of 24 months.

I realized today that my stomach hurts now - every day of my life - almost as much as it hurt back then, for those three days. I don't have the soreness in my lower belly that I had that weekend, but I think that may be related to the nerve damage. (I feel nothing on the lower left side of my body. It's pretty hilarious.) But my actual core? As in, the eight or so inches that run from my breastbone to my bellybutton? ... I can't stand up without feeling muscles pull. I am sore. All the time.

Like, sore, as in, work-out sore. And I promise you that I am not doing yoga. Or sit-ups. Or crunches or any such thing.

Oh, no. I am just living. Living a pretty impact-free life, actually. Just the business of sitting up and walking around makes my stomach muscles ache.

Add to all of that living the fact that two days this week (that's right - two days this week), I moved the equivalent of three boxes of loan files. Now, I lifted each file by itself. I didn't try to lift two at a time, for fear that I'd overdo it and really hurt myself. But the fact remains that I picked up a loan file (roughly a ream of paper) and moved it from a waist-high drawer to a table top. Ten times. Two days this week.

It seems that was quite the workout. As in, my stomach is every bit as sore right now as it was after the famed yoga event of 2008.

That's just ridiculous.

My body slays me.

I'm really grateful that it works as well as it does. (I remember - very well and quite clearly, thank you - when I couldn't have lifted half a ream of paper to save my life.) But still, it slays me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Today, I hate the cancer.

I mean, it's not like I ever LOVE it...

But today? Today, I hate it.

I got a text from a virtually lifelong friend this afternoon that one of our mutual friends had surgery today. The results came in, showing what they feared. Colon cancer. An agressive variety, at that.

Our friend is under 40. He is the picture of health and happiness. He and his wife just had a new baby last year. He's a young father of a young family. And today, they found out that he has an aggressive cancer.

I am heartsick.

I am so (SO!) grateful for modern medicine. I am so grateful that they were able to catch it as early as they did. I am so grateful for the surgery and treatment options that are available. I'm so grateful for the hope that treatment can give.

I am also sick. And I am angry. And I am sad. And I am worried, for this man I know (and everyone else I know who loves him). The road he's about to go down is going to be hard. I mean, really, really hard.

Bless his sweet heart.

Man alive, I hate the cancer. It breaks my heart, to know that it is touching the life of another friend. We need to find a cure. Like, yesterday.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I am, indeed, a small town girl.

Here is a true story, from my actual life:

When I was home for Christmas, my mom and sister and I were sitting, talking, in the front room by the tree. It was dusk, and as we were talking, my mom realized that I was staring intently at/out the window. (To fully understand why it struck her as odd that I'd be staring intently out the window, let me tell you what you can see out that window. ... Three of Sam and Sharon's (barren, wintry) trees and Mocina's empty driveway. That is to say, not much.)

My mom stopped talking and asked me what I was looking at. My response? "The window."

Mom: "The window?"

Me: "Yeah. The window. And the Christmas lights. This is my favorite time of the day, when the sun starts to go down and you can actually see the lights on the trees get brighter in the reflection on the glass."

Insert silent pause here.

Me: "See? They just got brighter!"

Mom chuckled, and then, wryly, said "You really are a small town girl, aren't you?"

Yes, yes I am.

Born and raised, thanks. Small town, through and through.

Even now that I am back in the city, it seems that all I want to do is sit and look at the reflection of the lights. In the patio window. Against the pool. ... On the TV.

That's right. It's the middle of January and still have my tree up. Don't judge. ... I love the lights. They bring me joy.

Probably because I grew up in a small town, just off a dirt road. And I'm good with that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My current beverage of choice...

One of the most frustrating things about having only one kidney is that I am required to drink an absolutely ridiculous amount of water a day, so I can keep my system flushed.

I'm talking, 64 oz.

That's a lot of water.

Now, in the summer, it's not hard for me to drink that much water. It's hot - I'm hot - water keeps me hydrated. Easy peasy.

In the winter, on the other hand...

It is not hot. I am not hot. I do not feel the need to be sipping cool water all day long, like I do in the summer (or spring, or fall) months.

Oh, no.

It is freezing. I am freezing. Drinking water sounds like the very opposite of a good time.

Now, hot chocolate, on the other hand...

That is warm. And delicious.

Hot chocolate is a very good time.

So, if I make hot cocoa with water, do you think that counts? ... I sure hope so, because approximately 24 of my required 64 oz (EVERY DAY THIS WEEK) have come in a dark, rich and delicious chocolaty form.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Q: How cold is it?

A: Cold enough for me to pee my pants.

Yeah, I'm not kidding.

Yesterday, I had three (count them, THREE!) accidents.

Not full blown pee-my-way-through-three-layers-of-clothes-while-I-run-haphazardly-through-a-movie-theater-trying-to-make-my-way-to-the-ladies-room, pee my pants. But still. I had three moments in one day(all of them while I was frantically trying to get my key in the door, so I could run in here and use the potty) that merited a change of panties. .. Yes, like a two year-old.

That's just ridiculous.

I hate the winter and what being cold does to my already weak right ureter/urgent bladder.

(That's right. I just have the one ureter. My body is awesome like that.)

Winter, winter, go away... And come back.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baby, it's cold outside!

Do you see this?

Do you know what that is? It's ice. On the sidewalk in front of my apartment. At 10:00 AM.

I. Am. Grumpy!

Have I mentioned how much I hate to be cold?

Well, I do. I hate it. Always have.

As anyone who knows me well is aware, I have a weak bladder. (Oh, the stories I could tell - yes, plural - about the times I've peed my pants. In public. As a grownup.) I mean, it's pretty bad in the best of circumstances, but I swear... when I'm cold, it's like my peanut-sized bladder shrivels down to nothing.

When I am cold, I tell you, I have to pee. All the time. My whole life. ... Those six winters I lived in Utah were a blast and a half, let me tell you.

Add a whoooooole lot of scar tissue to the aforementioned bladder issue, and January and I are officially friends-off.

Before my first surgery, I had a friend tell me that her scar tissue would act up when it was cold. I'd had hopes that it was just HER scar tissue that was itchy and hurt when it was cold. ... Wishful thoughts, my friends. Pipe dreams. That was a swell fantasy. The reality is, winter is a miserable time for my body. My joints ache and the Tootsie Roll feels like it's gonna poke right through my back.

The one upside of my last surgery is all of the nerve damage. I may have a swath of skin on my left hip about six inches wide that I can't feel - and that numbness may run all the way across the left side of my abdomen over to my pubic bone (I'm guessing that happened when they took my left ureter...) - but I also have an almost complete and total loss of feeling in my belly button area, and at the top of my incision scar, which is an INCREDIBLE blessing, because the tip of that scar has been killing me for the last two winters! (Just call me Pollyanna.)

Viva la nerve damage! (Words that I never - and I do mean NEVER - thought I'd say!)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My new food rules

As I may or may not have mentioned... my pants don't fit anymore.

It's both hilarious and tragic to me, really, that not six weeks ago, this pair of pants was BAGGY. Not quite too big, but loose enough that a couple people at work (and my beloved Dr. H) had asked me if I'd been losing weight.

Enter the holiday season and my complete and utter lack of control.

No one's asked me if I've lost weight for some time now.

I mean, no has asked me if I'm gaining weight, either... but I'm pretty sure that has more to do with the manners and general kindness of my friends and family than it has to do with me looking svelte and trim.

I was thinking the other night that I could write my very own Twelve Days of Christmas song - entirely about what I ate in December.

One box of peanut brittle
Two dozen tamales
Three frozen pizzas
Four bags of M&M's
Five dozen gingersnaps...
Six pounds of butter
Seven donuts
Eight kinds of fudge

You get the idea.

No wonder my pants don't fit, right?

So I have some new food rules. Until March. (You know that I'm not the kind of girl who can make a totally open-ended change in my life. New Year's Resolutions? For the birds! I can behave myself for a period of time, but there's no part of me that thinks I can - or will - live like this indefinitely, so I set these rules for myself that I have to keep until March. What'll come after that, I'm not sure, but... until March.).

* I am not allowed to buy candy. (Caveat: I am allowed to eat candy that is already in my house, or anything that people bring in to work.)

* I must eat two servings of fruits/vegetables a day.

* I am only allowed to eat out for two meals a week. (I can't tell you how much it's been bumming me out that I'm not allowed to go through the Taco Bell drive-thru on a whim right now. Sad, but true.)

* No fried chicken. (I know. It pained me just to type that. I'd originally thought about cutting both fried chicken and bacon, but I needed a rule that I could actually keep. Banning bacon? I'm sorry, but I can only cut one farm animal at a time - and for a limited time at that.)

That's it.

Four food rules that I really shouldn't have to make, but I just can't make myself count calories like a normal girl would. (Dieting was never in my DNA, but esp post-cancer... Life is short. It should be enjoyed. Of course, I also understand that my pants shouldn't get to be too tight in a matter of six weeks and it's probably good for me to buy more produce than candy.)

Wish me luck! (Note: If anyone reading this would like to make a date to eat one of my two meals a week out with me, I am most definitely game. It makes it easier for me to forgo Taco Bell when I know for sure that I'm having something good later in the week.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The many faces of Cancer Girl

I bought a new phone last week. ... Something about how my old phone was over two years old and literally taped together in multiple places.

When I was going through my old phone, deciding which pictures to carry with me and which were going to get deleted in the switch-over, I found some pretty interesting stuff. (Don't worry, I'm not going to post the pics of the gauze sewn into my bum after the removal of the pilonidal cysts. I mean, I did keep those pics, but they aren't fit for public consumption, so they won't be making appearance on the blog - ever. ... It seems that I do have some boundaries with what I put here. You're welcome.)

Anyway, what I found were a multitude of pictures. Of trees. Of flowers. Of food. Of smart signs and magnets that have made me laugh out loud over the years. ... Of me.

Like I said, I'd had the same phone for over two years. That's a whole lot of life - and a pretty dramatic life, at that - to document.

Some of these pics, people have seen. Several of them are on Facebook, and a few of them are my standard go-to profile pics. Very few people know the dates and background stories of these pictures. I thought it would be fun to share those with you.

This is, probably, the best-known and most familiar picture of me out there. It was used as the head shot for the singles conference publicity, it was posted as the profile picture for the Saving Laurie Facebook group, it has been used by family and multiple friends at fundraisers, it was the subject of the portrait that I was gifted for Christmas in 2012.

I took this picture myself, with my phone, on one of the very few days in September 2010 that I had done my hair. I was more than halfway through radiation treatments. The burns were starting to set in. It hurt to breathe. I was in constant, excruciating pain. I couldn't keep water down without the aid of prescription strength anti-nausea medication. I was incredibly weak and very, very tired. I felt very much like death. But on this day, I had done my hair, so I took my picture.

I find it very interesting - and do not think it's a coincidence - that this picture has very literally become The Face of Cancer Girl. When this picture was snapped, my body was suffering through the side-effects of cancer treatments, but my spirit was the happiest, the most at peace that it had ever been, to that point in time. (Also, that was a ridiculously good hair day. How could I not document one of the very few days that I actually did my hair, amidst a summer/fall of ponies and bunnies?)

Another familiar shot, I am sure, to those of you who also know me on FB. This was taken in the morning on February 11, 2011. That afternoon, I found out that I had cancer - for the second time.

These were both taken in March, 2011 - the weekend before I went in for surgery to have my second tumor removed. My cousin Julie had come to spend a few days with me before I went under the knife. We went wig shopping on Friday morning, and to dinner Saturday evening with my good friends. It was a fantastic weekend, full of Pringles and mint chip ice cream, laughs and tears, and loads of Cousin Bonding.

This was taken on April 7, 2011. I had been told, prior to my second surgery, that I would have to do chemo. (See the platinum wig in the pic above. I was preparing for every possible contingency, and had wanted to wig shop before the surgery, while I still had the strength to pull wigs on and off of my gigantor head.) I had been growing my hair out - because it has always been a dream of mine to have a wig made of my own hair (I am not kidding even one little bit), and I figured that the longer it was, the better the wig would be - but the day that I found out that I didn't have to to chemo, I came home and cut a good six inches off my hair.

I'm going to fast forward through a few months now. As well all know, I had clean scans in June and September 2011, but my January 2012 scan showed a new spot just under my left kidney. I spent much of January and almost all of February last year, being run ragged between Dr. W's office and the imaging center, before I ultimately landed in my beloved Dr. H's office.

This picture was taken the week that I met Dr. H for the first time. The mind reels that he didn't fall down and say yes the very first time I asked him to marry me. (Yes, there have been multiple discussions of the matter. And he continues to just sit on his little stool and laugh at me, every single time I bring it up. Bless him.) All I can say is, that man plays a mean game of hard to get.

And this little beauty was taken the Sunday before I went in for surgery. (I'd put my hair in a side pony, and had to send a pic to a friend to show her I was trying to be cute like her.)

Please note the super-duper bright accessory colors. The dress I was wearing has elastic across the back and was stretched to the max by my ever-expanding midsection. I remember hoping against hope that the lime green and hot pink would distract the public eye from my tumor tummy.

Speaking of which... This was taken the day before I went in for surgery.

How awesome is that? I'd taken this pic right before surgery with the intent of taking a pic in the same outfit, a month out from surgery, so I could do a comparative side-by-side post. ... Too bad I forgot all about that plan until I was cleaning out my old phone and came across this little beauty. I'd take the post-surgery "after" now, but... well... after the high-calorie food festival that is the holiday season, I'm thinking that a close-up and personal side shot of my stomach really isn't in anyone's best interest at the moment.

Now, for the fun part. Would you care to guess what all of these pics have in common? (Except for maybe that lost shot of the Cancersaurus Tumor Tummy.)

Go ahead, scroll back up. Look closely. They all have one thing in common. ... And I'm not just talking about the fact they were all taken when I was actively fighting or living with cancer. (Now that I think about it, the tumor tummy pic falls under that descriptor as well.)

That's right, I'm smiling. In every blessed picture, I am smiling. And I meant it. Every time.

I survived the cancer. I like to think that I survived that quite well, thank you. And I believe - I am quite positive, actually - that one of the major contributors to my having been able to come out of that as well as I did was that I can almost always find something to smile about.

I credit my mother for my ability to find joy in the little things. I can't even tell you how often I heard "You're happier when you're happy" or "You find what you look for" come out of her when I was growing up. It may have taken me a little longer than most to learn those life lessons (I am, after all, closer to 40 than 30), but I do believe that they've finally sunk in.

Thanks, Mom, for giving me my smile.

Both through nature and nurture, it came from you.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Tender Mercies

I realized today that I can't see the scar from my main line anymore. It's still there, but it doesn't have that pink/new scar look anymore.

I could not be more grateful that this, of all my scars, has faded so quickly.

My other scars - both the incision and the drainage scars - are still bright pink and angry. (Heck, part of my initial incision scar from over two years ago is still pink!) I hate them. I shudder every time I look at the scar on the drainage site. I can't even think about that scar without hearing the sound of suction. It's truly disturbing. (I'm fighting a gag reflex, as I type. No joke.)

But the scar on my neck was the worst. I hated having that tube in my neck. I hated it. I hated that I could see where blood was leaving my body. I hated that I knew that was the portal for the transfusion. I hated the cap they put on my neck when they took the tubes out. I hated that main line.

Am I grateful for modern medicine, and that there was a way for them to measure my blood pressure, administer a double transfusion, and take blood samples multiple times a day without having to stick me? ABSOLUTELY. But I hated that stupid tube, and was deeply troubled by the scar. For months, I couldn't look in the mirror without seeing that pink spot.

I can't even think about that line without tearing up. Call it Cancer Survivor PTSD, call it Woosie Woo Blood-Hating Sissy, call it whatever you want. All I can say is, no one (except maybe my mother, because she had to deal with the crazy when I was in recovery) knows how much I hated that line - and how much I hated seeing the associated scar, every day.

But it's gone.

Or at least, it's not pink anymore. I still know where it is, but no one else will ever be able to see that scar again, and even I have to look for it now.

That's a tender mercy if there ever was one, and I'm grateful for it.