Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranky Old Lady (me)

Big sigh.  Life is okay.

It's funny how even a routine exam is tense.  I went to the optometrist this morning, and I just kept thinking, "Please, don't let her see anything weird."  An eye exam, for crying out loud.  And yes, it was fine.  I have a dentist's appointment next month.  And my annual check-up on Wednesday.  I don't want to go to these appointments, but I will. So I think I might have a slight phobia of doctor's appointments.  But I still have my head on straight; I still go to the doctor when I should.

My physical recovery is a bit more frustrating than I had anticipated.  My right shoulder, neck, and pec area is all knotted up from scar tissue and bad posture from overcompensating.  I have this weird twitch and sensation where my abs used to be--kinda feels like a baby moving 'cept I'm pretty sure there ain't no baby in there! And the fatigue...and the chemo brain.  But I'm moving as best as I can.  I go to massage therapy and acupuncture.  At least I don't have to spend an arm and a leg to pay for this stuff.

I've gotten a bit of a response from my last post regarding the health care systems in U.S. and in Canada.  It's been an interesting and healthy (no pun intended) discussion, I think.  But all in all, I remain pretty firm in my stance that the U.S. health care system is pretty shitty.  My disclaimer is that this is my opinion based on my 29 years in the U.S. and the past few years here in Vancouver.  (ie., I'm not a doctor; I'm not an insurance agent--I am a patient and a human being who needs health care.) The matters of choice in health care, the way doctors diagnose patients, how insurance companies operate, etc.--all that has been brought to my attention by a number of people in both the medical and insurance fields.  Still, none of that flies with me.  I'll pay the high taxes here in Canada and be happy about that because I know that the taxes are for the most part going to good use.  I think that because I haven't been shafted by companies or governments that want to profit from illness, I feel more compelled to actually donate time and money to organizations, like the Cancer Agency or the Breast Cancer Foundation.  However, if I were forced to spend my efforts, while ill, on fighting insurance companies about claims, I probably wouldn't think to be as generous.

Yes, in the U.S. you have choice.  For example, just this weekend, I spoke with my father.  He was in the midst of helping my grandparents select a new insurance company because their premiums were going up.  I suppose you could say they have a choice in doing this.  But seriously, who wants to be thinking about that, especially when you're over 80 years old?  I dunno--I don't want to think that shopping for health care is like shopping around for a tv--where can you get the best deal?

Anyway, just my two cents, people!  Life and health should not be a commodity--socialism or not.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm Brandy the Ex-Pat

The election is over. Those of us who have been holding our breath, waiting for change to come, can finally exhale. There's so much promise in what has happened, and even yesterday, as I was watching the kids play, it dawned on me that the first president they will remember will be a young black man named Barack Obama. That is our world now--certainly not the same world I grew up in, where I myself was teased because of the color of my skin, because my mother was someone different from the rest of the small town, being Vietnamese and Buddhist. This is a new world.

Yet this realization is coupled with another that I had last week. As I sat here in Canada, listening to everything going on south of the border and in particular, the debate over the health care system, I had so many emotions. There was even one woman being interviewed on CNN, who was a cancer survivor, saying that she opposes universal health care. Her fear was that if health care were available to everyone, then she wouldn't be able to get treatment and other appointments for her cancer because everyone would be flooding doctor's offices. I was so angry hearing this woman say this that I wanted to throw something at the tv. But then again, I didn't want to bust my tv, so I didn't. And then I just felt sad--very very sad--that because of corporation and government interests and greed, that people have come to believe such utter nonsense about health care access. So I thought about this a lot--I've been thinking about that woman and about the other common folk whom I've seen on tv, their eyes wide with fear of a "government-run health care system," their mouths saying that *they* want to have control over their health care. All the while, no one in the U.S. has control over the health care because insurance companies have such a death grip on the situation. And so then I think about myself, my situation, my story, my experiences both here in Canada and in the U.S.--and it dawned on me so very clearly: I can never go back to my motherland to live.

We heard this phrase a lot during the election: "pre-existing condition." We don't say words like that here in Canada. You get sick, you're diagnosed, you get treatment. It's true that it's many times not as clear cut and simple as that--the diagnosis part is the hurdle because health care professionals here just can't send everyone who's sick to get an MRI, x-ray, ultrasound, etc. That's the consequence of having health care for everyone--unless it's clear you need urgent care, you have to wait your turn. But soon enough, your turn will come, and you will get care and not have to worry about where the money to pay for it is coming from.

When I was diagnosed, my treatment at the cancer agency started almost immediately. When my white blood cell count dropped to dangerously low levels during chemo, I was put on Neupogen, a $200 injection that I gave myself every other day. If we had not had the extended health coverage that we do through my husband's employer, there was assistance in helping to pay for that injection, so that in any case, we never had to pay anything for that prescription. Never. Granted, we do have what is called the Cadillac of extended health coverage here (there are two kinds of coverage; the basic coverage which is granted to everyone, but which doesn't cover all medical costs, depending on the level of necessity of treatment; and extended health care, which employers can give out as a benefit, and which will cover many of the costs the basic doesn't take care of). But even without the extended, we wouldn't have had to pay for much. Our basic coverage took care of the surgery entirely, and my entire hospital stay was $500, but only because I opted for a private room. And even then, our extended health care picked up the tab.

So here I am in Canada--and while people are suffering in the U.S., struggling to get the care they need, I don't. People often ask us why we chose to live here instead of going back to LA. The choice was clear once I was diagnosed--we wouldn't be able to afford living in the U.S. with my cancer. And now, with my pre-existing condition, we can never go back to live there. There's no insurance company in the world that would take me on. No freakin' way.

So this is what universal health care is, folks. People get to live. Simple as that. This system is not some scary entity that takes over your life and tells you what to do with your health and takes away your say in the matter. We get to choose doctors like anyone else. We get to have our prescriptions that heal us; we get to have the surgeries we need. But we don't have to worry about not being able to pay for that. Those of you living in the U.S.--can you imagine that? If you can't, ask me about it, and don't listen to all this bullshit about how the government will control your lives through your health care.

I have so many friends and family in the U.S. who have had at one point or another suffered because of how things are, whether they be small struggles or large ones. It's just inhumane and not right.

The next time you think about your health care or you hear someone say something about universal health care access being dangerous, think of me. If you haven't experienced it, it's just an abstract. I've experienced it all--it's all real to me. What's scary is how things are now, and how much worse they could become if things don't change.

Don't get me wrong--I love living here. I feel so fortunate that when we had to make this decision, that living here in a Canada was a real option for us. We never had to stress about my treatment; all our focus was on me getting better so I can be here for my family, so I can be here for my children most of all. In the U.S., this is a luxury. In Canada, this is a basic human right. To be able to live and not worry about how to pay for living.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Awareness

H, Jenn, and I went to visit our friend and mentor Ed last night. We chatted with him and his wife Ellen. Ed has been dealing with prostate cancer for a few years now, and he is nearing the end of his life. It was sad seeing Ed and hearing him speak candidly about when he passes, but I also felt a certain sense of calm, especially between him and me. And at one moment, I looked around the room. All of us in the room had been greatly affected by cancer. Jenn lost her father to cancer a couple years ago; Ed and Ellen are dealing with it now; and of course my husband and I with our own cancer struggles. Even though the five of us in the room had been friends for years, there we were, with our own experiences, collectively.

This snapshot of us in that room last night has stayed with me since then. Why? Can't answer that question right now.

But here's something simple you can do. My cousin Kelly emailed me this link this morning. It's a Purina Cat Chow Breast Cancer Awareness quiz--5 quick questions you can answer so that Purina will donate $1 to the Komen Foundation per questionnaire answered. I'm not a cat person, but this sounds pretty cool: Breast Cancer Quiz.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Halloween Theme: Fat Necrosis (dress up as the fatty lump in Brandy's chest for Halloween!)

Best news ever: FAT NECROSIS! Biopsy is clear. It took them a goddamn while to get back to me, and I have my suspicions that the only reason the doc called was because she read this article in the Straight about me: Cancer Affects Young Adults. She called me and said, "Did my secretary call you?" "Um, nope." [I had called and left 2 message with her secretary AND called my family doc and asked if they had gotten the results from the cancer agency.] Dr. Doc: "Well, everything looks normal, so bye!" "Okay, bye!"

Done, done, and fucking done.

Now I'm just trying to deal with the rusty robot arm I have. It's this massive set of knots and kinks lodged in my pec, shoulder, and neck region on the right side. It's pretty uncomfortable. I went to my massage therapist on Friday, and she said that I have a lot of fascial tissue built up around the muscles, causing them to tighten. Help!

Oh yes, and it's breast cancer awareness month. Make a donation to any of the various breast cancer organizations--and while you're at it, tell them to throw more money on research on young adults! As you can see by the article in the Straight, a tiny microscopic miniscule amount of money is directed to cancer research for people ages 20-40. It's really shocking and sad.

I'm sure a lot of you have read about Christina Applegate's breast cancer ordeal, and for me, it was pretty weird to read about a celebrity going through a similar situation. Weirder yet is that she and I have the same birthday (except she was born 4 years before me). Is November 25th a good day? Or cursed? Anyway, I do feel a connection to her, even though I don't know her at all. We've suffered from the same evil disease. Hey Christina--if you're reading this (yeah, right)--call me! Let's write a book together! It would kick cancer's fucking ass!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Great Big Nothing

Update: There is no update. It's been about a week since the biopsy, but no word from the cancer agency. Which gives me hope. Usually, if they don't get back to you asap, that means there's nothing exciting to say. Except that I would consider it exceptionally exciting to have no cancer.

On Friday, Chloe had a little freak-out when I dropped her off at school. The night before, she asked me about the bandage on my chest from the biopsy. She asked me, "Mama, did they put a hole in your lung?" I assured her that it was just a little boo-boo from a test and that it didn't hurt. She seemed okay with that. But when I dropped her off at school the next day, she cried after me when I went out the door. She said, "Mama! Don't leave me! Don't go!" I came back and hugged her and told her that I would see her at the end of school. After a few moments of soothing, she was okay. One of her teachers followed me out the door, and I explained to him that Chloe was asking me about my biopsy scar, and it scared her. Then I just busted out into sobbing in front of him and the community centre manager. I was just overwhelmed in the moment, in the fear in Chloe's eyes. It sucked.

Anyway, so I spent this weekend just playing with the kids and not worrying about anything else. We had a fun time building stuff and playing with dolls.

Then today, Chloe and I were sitting in the Costco food court waiting for DH and Mylo to show up. She was munching on roasted seaweed (her favourite treat). Then she asked me, "Mama, did you die when you went to the big doctor?"

I said, "You mean when I went to the hospital? I didn't die. See, I'm alive, talking to you."

Chloe said, "Yeah, you're right. Cuz when you die, you go under the ground. And then aliens come and take you away and you never come back."

I replied, "Yeah, something like that. Some people think there's God and they either go to heaven or hell. Some people think you come back as an animal or another person. Some think that nothing happens. But no one knows. So aliens is a good idea too."

She said, "Yep."

I think Chloe is a prophet.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

There's a Hole in my Chest, dear Liza, dear Liza

The biopsy went okay yesterday. The radiologist used three different sized needles to try to get a tiny speck of flesh from me (14, 16, and 18 gauge). And scissors--she used scissors to cut open a hole so the needle would go in easier. Luckily, I didn't feel a thing after the local was administered (the local, by the way, stung like a mother, but oh well). She kept asking Dude if he was okay or if he was going to pass out, and I couldn't understand why, but then I realized that he could probably see the hole in my chest and I couldn't. Not that it was a big hole, but I guess the idea of using scissors on my body could freak some people out. But not DH--he's brave.

I should get the results in a few days, but I'm still confident that it's just fat necrosis.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Funny Cancer Thought of the Day

Nothing will take you out of wallowing in self pity faster than your kid vomiting deep-fried bananas and chocolate ice cream at 11:30 at night.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Got the call two days ago.

Biopsy scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

How Things Fit

Today, as I was walking up the hill on Ash Street to the cancer agency, I was messing with the waistband on my skirt. I had this feeling that girls get sometimes when they're wearing skirts (please tell me I'm not the only one) that the back somehow had moved to the front. So my hand moved down to the waistband in the front to see if the tag was there or not, or sideways. Instead, my fingers only felt my underwear. I looked down. My waistband had migrated down to the pubic area. Good thing both my underwear and the skirt were black.

I can't tell where and how my clothes are fitting me anymore. I mean, I guess I haven't been able to for a while, since the surgery. But it was only recently that I've stopped wearing support garments as frequently; I used to wear those girdle panties, a girdle, sports bra, etc--anything to keep the stitches tight and stuff. But I a) just don't want to wear that shit anymore (it's difficult not to feel like an 80-year-old with all that armour on); b) am lazy (you know how long it takes to suit up?); and c) think it's time to experiment with regular undergarments again. Thing is, even when I'm not wearing that stuff, I feel like I am. My abdominal area and chest are still pretty tight and numb, with little sensation. Which is why I didn't know that I was practically flashing people my thong. And which I why I didn't know that my bra was riding up halfway on my chest, threatening to choke me, during most of Wednesday, until I stripped to take a bath that night.

All this is to say--I'm having a really hard time feeling "normal" again. I mean, shit, I don't even know how to wear clothes properly anymore, apparently.

Perhaps I have a wild imagination (yeah, okay, so I do), but things seemed to get even more abnormal today. Before I set off for my ultrasound, I got a call from a dude from CBC who was doing a story on the report that come out today stating that genetic screening for breast cancer doesn't cut it for Asian women (Risk of Breast Cancer Mutations Underestimated for Asian Women). He said he heard me talk about my story before on CBC radio, and he confirmed that I'm Asian. I said, actually, I'm half Caucasian too. But the focus of the discussion was on this twist for me: the Asian part. It's true that I've filled out the paper work for genetic screening, as my cancer was determined to not be hormone receptor positive. And because I'm under 35 years old, that makes me more qualified for genetic screening. However, I did run into difficulty when I came to the part where I had to write up my family tree and state when and where people where born, and if they had died, when and how. I sat down with my parents and asked them for all the information they could give. My mom and dad had a helluva time figuring out the Vietnamese side. It was this nearly total void. If anyone on my maternal side had ever been affected by cancer, I will never know. And that's kinda a bitch when it comes to being a woman with breast cancer. And that's how it's always been for me: when it comes to my family medical history, I'm an orphan.

So now, according to this study, I'm even in more of a bind. Some of the key variables that are plugged into that genetic screening program aren't accessible for me. And now, even in its most complete state, turns out the test wouldn't be accurate for half of me anyway. WTF?!

Anyway, as CBC dude was chatting with me about this, he apologized to me for being the bearer of bad news. He asked me how I felt about all this. Honestly, I hardly felt anything. I mean, after all I've been through, it does kinda come down to, "so what?" I thought about this. Have I already counted myself a goner, that my years are destined to be cut short? Yeah, kinda. I mean, I do have dreams of making it to see my grandchildren some day, but I also know that there's more of a possibility that I won't get to see my kids graduate from high school.

So now, more than anything, I have dreams of just wanting to live. That sounds so cheesy and Zen, but what else is there? Yet it is one of the hardest things for me to do.

Then we come to the ultrasound today. They know me there, on each of the six floors of the cancer agency. I got off on the third floor, where they do all the diagnostic tests--the ultrasounds, xrays, MRI's, mammograms, blood tests. The receptionist said, "You know where the ultrasound is, right? Down on the left, sit by the photocopier." Yeah, it's that fancy.

Then I see my good ol' buddy, Mr. Ultrasound Dude. Sorry, I don't know this guy's name, even though he's seen my boobies more often than most people. But this was the first time he saw them post-op.

He's an alright guy, Mr. Ultrasound Dude. The first time I saw him, he wasn't what I would call "warm." But after a while, he started getting nicer, telling me to tell him when he was pushing down too hard or hurting me. Today was much the same like the other times. Except I never spent that much time in that room, with that man, before. He musta took a billion images of my lump, which is extending itself out into a ridge. He also took images of my lymph nodes on my left side. He took measurements of the lump. When he finished the imaging, he went to his computer at his desk and took a closer look at some of the images and wrote down notes.

I lifted my neck and glanced at his monitor. I could see two images enlarged on his screen; the dual image of the lump looked like evil black alien eyes. I closed my eyes.

He sighed, came over, and we chatted a bit about the surgery, the discovery of the lump, and what's been done since I found it. Since he's a technician and not a radiologist, he's not allowed to give me any information or advice on the imaging. But he did say that it was odd because there's no visible scar tissue surrounding the lump. Then he quickly muttered that he couldn't see whatever it was that well, and that it would take a week to get the report. Yeah, I've heard that before.

When I left the ultrasound room, I felt so very tired. That's all--just tired. I waited for the elevator. It took forever. I thought, I'm not patient; I'm not a good patient. I'm certainly not a patient patient. Most of all, I'm pretty damn sick of cancer, and I think denial is a good thing.

I'm good at denial, until the problem is completely in my face. I've had a bum foot for a couple months now, but I said, "Oh, it's just my bunions. Whatever." So then I signed up for tap dancing class. And then I went to said tap dancing class on Wednesday. On Thursday--yesterday--I was at the doctor's office. My foot throbbed and burned. So then I also got an xray, and I'm going to see a podiatrist. A bum foot is a good distraction from cancer, no? But I thought I should probably cancel tap dancing and ballet, just to be safe. But not bellydancing--that starts next week. And bread making, too.

I'm going to knead my worries away.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Shit. Damn. Fuck.

Maybe it's a big deal, maybe it's not.  Of course, my mind immediately rockets off into thinking it's the biggest deal in the world.

Today, I was feeling good about myself:  doing my homework for my MFA writing workshops, getting some writing done, meeting with a friend and her kiddins, having a nice California roll lunch, going about my business throughout this wonderful city we live in.  Then out of nowhere, I get a call on my cell from the cancer agency.  They want me to come in for another ultrasound--this Friday afternoon.  Maybe it's just my paranoia and imagination, but the woman on the other end of the line sounded particularly saccharine--like the kind of cheery that makes you wonder what's really up.  Like when someone who's a meanie to you is suddenly nice.  It's like cancer itself called and said, "Hey, there, remember me?"  Yeah, cuz for a moment, I kinda forgot.

Anyway, I suppose I should be thankful that someone is trying to keep tabs on this lump, which yes, is still here.  So on Friday, I'm getting an ultrasound on the left chest area, so I was told by the jovial woman today, who said, "Awesome" when I reluctantly said, yes, I can come in on Friday at 1pm, thanks.  So there you go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Still Waters

I just realized that my laptop power cord wasn't plugged in this whole time I've been on the computer. I thought it was. I hate it when shit like that happens. Like, you think things are as they should be--time to power up--but actually, the energy is draining. I think you might know where I'm going with this.

Part of me being a bad blogger here is that I feel embarrassed and ashamed. The whole time I was going through chemo, radiation, and then the lead up to surgery, I was kind of my own best cheerleader. I remember thinking, "I will get through this, and I will laugh at cancer, and I will kick its ass, and when it's over, I will get back to my crazy old self, except even crazier--and it will be so...so...FUCKING CRAZY! but in a good way."

Also, when the shit's over, everyone who loves you wants to be happy for you that you're done with the bullshit and the pain, that you can move on, and everyone thinks you will, and everything will be fine.

But yeah, it's not fine. In some ways, it's worse. Look, this is how it goes. I'm
suppose to be better. I fucking beat cancer! But...but. I feel like shit. I'm tired all the time. I want to do nothing; I have zero motivation. This, then, makes me feel guilty. I got a second chance, and what I do want to do with life? A lot of times, nothing. But I should be getting out there, writing like crazy, living life and loving it.

In terms of how my emotional/spiritual/motivational/inspirational state of mind goes, I can't deny that there's no constant--and I'm a big fan of denial. I want to do so much, but I'm so freakin' tired! I want to get out there, but I want to hide. I just want to sleep...a lot.

And I still have my nice little fatty marble stone thing. It's okay. I'm only 10% worried about it.

When I was at Inspire Health a couple weeks ago, I was looking at their library. They switched it up and rearranged everything, so suddenly, the books I looked at for almost a year seemed new. As I was scanning the shelves, I saw two books sitting side by side: Picking Up the Pieces: Moving Forward After Surviving Cancer and Dancing in Limbo: Making Sense of Life After Cancer. My immediate thought was, "Okay, okay, I get it. I see the sign." Here's why: when I had what I thought would be my last appointment with my oncologist, she went to great lengths to prepare me for the post-treatment crap that is typically experienced--the funk that no one anticipates. She wrote down these two books and said that they would help me greatly on my journey after cancer. But being stubborn and cocky like I can be on the rare occasion, I put the paper away and didn't bother with the books. But lo and behold, there they were, sitting there, just waiting for me at Inspire, telling me to take them.

So I've been reading them in chunks, trying to make sense out of why I still feel like shit. Why do I have anger, bitterness, fatigue, depression, unmotivation, survivor's guilt, bullshit and puke? But I also have happiness, gratitude, and drive. All this together is one big mushy yuck blah. And a lot of times, I just want turn it all off.

Alas, next week, I have to end the pity party and get back to business. School starts--for everyone in our household. Chloe's off to kindergarten, Mylo's off to daycare full-time, Dude's back to being his academic rockstar awesomeness (not like he ever quit), and me--I'm back to the MFA program. Life must move on. I'm terrified, but it's all systems go.

Despite my whining, I will admit the summer has been quite rockin'. We've gone to many wonderful places and done a lot of amazing things, and to wrap it all up, we went on a grownups-only gourmet kayaking trip last weekend. The trip was organized and offered through Edible BC and Blue Planet Kayaking Adventures. It was freaking awesome!!!! You know how I like to bitch and complain? I cannot complain about one single thing on this trip. We were even blessed with gorgeous weather the first two days and, yes, BLESSED, with rain on the day we had to paddle back and catch the ferry. I was glad we got some rain so we could experience the excitement of choppy waters, almost-killer waves, and feeling the rain beat down on our heads.

We started off at 5 am on Friday. We took the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo at 6:30 am. We got to Nanaimo at 8 am, where we met James Bray, our gourmet chef/kayaking extraordinaire tour guide. He packed us all into this full-sized van, towing a trailer of kayaks, and we drove to the boat launch site, where we met up with Kirsten, his assistant. Everyone was all smiles and eager to begin our adventure!

Two of our friends had the most experience kayaking, and the rest of us had little or no experience at all (I'd belong to the latter category). But as the sun shone down on us, we were all confident we'd do alright.








We paddled for about 3 hours to the campsite at Pirate's Cove Park on De Courcy Island. We passed gorgeous sandstone caves and cliffs. A lot of the cliff faces looked alien and mysterious yet undeniably beautiful.


Here's one of those alien formations.




Our guides, James and Kirsten, go by the "boob" rocks. Boobs of all shapes, sizes, and ages!




We check out the boobs. After all, that's what this trip was about!




When we got to the campsite, James whipped up a delicious and delicate tuna sashimi nicoise salad, or something fancy like that. It was good.

Then we set up our tents, got settled in, and started in on the wine. Mind you, we managed to bring 5 bags of wine with us in those kayaks (cuz we're classy), not to mention the legit bottles of wine that James brought with him for dinner, and our bottle of Dead Arm. That added up to, like, 30 LITRES of wine. In case you don't know how much that is, it's a lot. It's obscene.

After a nice hike through the park, we ate dinner. And part of the dinner was this lovely cheese plate. Unfortunately, I was too busy getting plastered to eat any cheese, but my kayak mates finished the whole thing off.




When dinner was finished, we engaged in a furious game of Uno. Even in my extremely drunken stupor, I managed to lay down cards as I was passed out on the picnic table. At one point, I had to go #2 in the outhouse. I was pitch-black dark, and I had my headlamp on. So without telling anyone where I was going or what I was doing (I later found out they thought I was leaving the table to pass out in the tent), I headed off toward the outhouse. In order to get to the outhouse, one had to go down a path, go down a considerable flight of stairs, go up another path, and go up a ramp to the potty. So I did all this, but when I got to the ramp and looked up at the outhouse, my immediate thought was: "I can't go in there. There's a serial killer in there. I've seen the movies. I will be hacked up into little pieces and eaten." Fear--no, terror--struck, and I started telling myself, "Stupid! How could you come down here by yourself! Now you're going to be killed!" So I turned to go back to the group and get Dude, but all of a sudden, I had no idea where I was! I looked left--there was a path. I looked right--there was another path. I went with my gut, and--whew!--there were the stairs to go back up to the tents.

When I got back to the picnic table, everyone was laughing at me. They were watching my little bobble light the whole time and wondering what the hell I was doing, especially when I turned around without going to the bathroom. Anyway, it was time to call it a night (yeah, after I took the husband back down to the outhouse with me and did my business).

The next morning, I was the first one to wake up despite my killer hangover. But thanks to James's delicious cheese-stuffed French toast and coffee, we were all ready to go to our day's destination, Blackberry Point on Valdes Island.

Here's a group shot of us enroute:




Yes, I did the single kayak thing on the way to Blackberry. Let me tell you--it was so hard! You definitely can't sit back and cruise and let someone else do the work for a bit when you're by yourself. Good thing the water was calm and the weather was nice.


And here are some logs on the beach, including DH as a log.




When we got back to De Courcy, James whipped up a lovely halibut dinner.




We definitely ate, drank, and were merry that night. And luckily for us, my sister-in-law had the foresight to buy TowTabs. Yes, her husband made fun of her for buying these, but he was soon singing her praises, as you can see in this video. And as asked on their website, "How do you TowTab? On a hike, with your bike, when you fish, when you wish," we TowTabbed like crazy. It's like a Dr. Seuss invention.




If you think TowTabs are weird, hold on. This is even weirder. So we're all guffawing our asses off (GOAO, I believe the cyberspeak would be), when this cute young couple passes by. We saw them before but never chatted. So we started talking and invited them for a drink. Then the young man, Eli, and I were talking about why our group was on this trip. I said it was because I was diagnosed with cancer last year and we were celebrating life, so he said that his mom goes to an acupuncturist named Gerard! I said that I do too! And then I realized that I've seen him and his mom before at Inspire! Freakin' crazy!!! It was like totally full circle at that moment.

We had a lovely time with Eli and Adrienne, and eventually, we got them sufficiently wasted, and they went back to their cabin to do what I imagine young people must do.

And other than Lou-Anne rolling down a cliff and hurting herself, but not too much, thank god, we had an awesome time! We want to do a reunion trip! Incredible!

Here are some souvenir shells from the trip, holding our own home-raised, organic cilantro-fed caviar d'escargot. Yes, that's right. I ate my pet snails' babies. They were good.



So the moral of this epic story: life can be shitty; just don't go to the outhouse alone in the dark, and you'll be okay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not-so-Dead Arm

First, I want to thank everyone for keeping up with my blog, even when I haven't been so good at keeping up with it myself. You know how yappy I've been...well it seems that the recovery process has been silencing me. Odd. Or perhaps not so, I suppose.

As an update on the annoying lumps that have appeared on my chest--all the medical professionals I have seen said that they are 99-105% sure it's fat necrosis. So that's excellent news. My oncologist has retired, but I got another nice oncologist to replace her. Basically, if it gets bigger, I will go back to the cancer agency. Hopefully, it will just melt the fuck away. Enough said.

So this is the cool part: last week when I saw the plastic surgeon to discuss my nipple reconstruction, she took a look at me and said coyly, "Would you like to be bigger?" I said, "Who wouldn't?" She said, "You look nice and athletic now, but I could make you look more feminine. It wouldn't add much extra time to the surgery to give you implants." So...WOO FUCKING HOO! I get to have knockers! Yay! Not only did I get a tummy tuck from the tram flap surgery, but I get honking tits to boot! Fuck yeah! So in the next couple months, I will go back in for a "size consultation" and then get prepped for surgery, which will be out-patient. Dang. Oh, Ca-na-da...

This weekend is our awesome gourmet kayaking adventure. We are taking a special bottle of wine with us called "Dead Arm." I could go into the significance of this, but I'm tired. I'll just say it's a good, tasty metaphor for the shit I went through this past year.

I'm back to school in a couple weeks too. And that freaks me out, but I'm going to just do it. Move on with life, and enjoy it all!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Oh yeah...

and FUCK YOU, CANCER!

RIP Betty

For once, I'm finding it hard to write.

A good friend of mine passed away. Betty Ho. Her son Arnie just called to tell me the news. Betty was fighting lung cancer. She was diagnosed earlier this year. Years ago, she fought breast cancer and won. When I was diagnosed, she quickly came to my door with hugs, tears, some head coverings, a cheque, and her support.

I met Betty through the Chinese Canadian Historical Society. She was one of the 24 participants in a workshop that I organized and facilitated. She had such an incredible passion for writing and learning. Despite our age difference, she was like a sister to me--a kindred spirit. My heart is breaking right now.

When I was ending my chemo and beginning radiation, Betty was beginning her chemo. She wanted to take me to the labyrinth at St. Paul's Anglican Church as a meditation exercise. Sadly, I never got to go with her as we both had such busy schedules. I'd like to go now, for her and with her in spirit.

Here's a picture of our workshop way back in March 2007. Betty is standing beside me in the front row.

Rest in peace, Betty. I love you.



Friday, August 8, 2008

Pussycat

I get to keep my new hair.

This is just one of the trivial and not-so-trivial thoughts running through my mind.

Things look good.  The ultrasound images didn't look like cancer.  The mammogram was inconclusive, as the lump was too far up my chest for them to get a good picture of it.  They squooshed and smooshed me as much as they could into the machine, but alas, it wasn't happening.  I see the oncologist again in a couple weeks, so I suppose she'll decide then whether or not to biopsy the lumps, just to be 100% certain it's just tissue.

I see the plastic surgeon next week to talk about nips.  I'm super psyched for this.  I miss having nipples.  I like nipples.  They command attention and for whatever reason are provocative.  They're like little jewels.  And they're coming from my inner thigh.  I like the idea of that as well.  My pokies will actually be thigh tissue.

I feel like I'm entering a new phase of my life.  Watch out:  Diva Brandy is loose and on the prowl.  I got cute new hair, I'm gonna have some hot little titties, and I've got attitude to spare.  ROWR!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Someone...please end my misery!

Okay, so today the oncologist also mentioned the possibility of it being fat necrosis, but she was still concerned. She wanted to biopsy it asap, like right then and there, but since it was 4:00 PM on a Friday, no one was around to do it. She said it still struck her as bizarre and the sooner we figured out what it was, the better. She also mentioned that the area around the left breast was "ridgy." Who knows?

She had me wait around to see if I could get an appointment for an ultrasound for next week, but it was kinda impossible. The receptionist said there was a slim chance I would get called, if there was a cancellation or something like that.

So...more waiting! Yay!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dead Fat

"Fat necrosis."

That's what Dr. D., the breast cancer surgeon (not to be confused with Dr. VL, who is the plastic surgeon) said when she felt my lumps. She smiled and said not to worry.

I asked her what would be the point in getting a chest xray--as I'm scheduled to get tomorrow.

She shrugged and said, "Might as well."

Ok.

I sure hope it is dead fat, rather than live cancer cells.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Taking My Lumps

Remnants of well wishes and a speedy recovery: a tree of life from Wayson Choy, a yellow begonia from Emilie Allen, and an orchid from the Chinese Canadian Historical Society. Recently, the orchid started blooming once again after the original petals fell off. The new growth makes me very happy.







I'm back to where I started.

On July 12, 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

On July 12, 2008, I discovered two lumps on my chest. For anyone not looking at a calendar, that was 4 days ago.

I went to my family doctor yesterday. She examined me. One of the lumps is in my left (fake) breast, so she said that it might be scar tissue or something like that. But the other lump, which is like a hard stone, is not near the surgical site, and is about two inches below my clavicle. It's not like other lumps I found before. Anyway, of course I'm freaking out.

So she wanted to get me scheduled for an ultrasound asap, but ultrasound department was booked full until the end of August. Then she had the receptionist try to book with the cancer agency. Unfortunately, the cancer agency officially "discharged" me last month as a patient, and so she was told that they wouldn't see me unless I had another confirmed cancer diagnosis.

I was a little upset by this news. Just a little.

But then at the end of the day, the receptionist called me back and said that she managed to get me an appointment at this one imaging office on Broadway, for August 6th. I looked at my cancer agency chart and was happy to see that I'm going back to the same office that did my original ultrasound last year. I know that sounds like a weird thing to be happy about, but I really liked the radiologist there, and she was also the one who performed my first biopsy. So it makes me feel a little better to know I'll be in good hands.

So then today, when I got home, I got a call from my oncologist (or I guess, former oncologist, since technically I'm no longer her patient) that I've been scheduled for an xray and an appointment with her on Friday! I guess she decided to take a look at me after all! This also makes me feel better. And I'm also having a routine follow-up appointment with the breast cancer surgeon tomorrow. So with some good luck, I'm going to figure out what these lumps are after all!

Yeah, this is weird.

So anyhoo, a lot of people have emailed me, called me, sent me cards, wondering where I've gone in the blogosphere. I told some people who asked that I'm okay; I've told others that I'm not okay. I guess the best way to put it is that I'm shell-shocked.

It's been a little over a year since my diagnosis, since my brother-in-law passed away, since we've been thrown into this downward spiral that cancer can be. Time is a funny thing; I'm often perplexed by its meaning and significance. And now I ask myself more often than I would admit to, how much time do I have left?

When I had my follow-up appointment with my oncologist last month (the appointment at which I was apparently discharged), she talked to me mostly about how to deal with the after-effects of having cancer and going through treatment. She suggested a couple books and that I join some support groups. She said that I would feel like no one would understand.

She said that it wasn't a perfect outcome; I did, after all, have one positive lymph node--and this was after all the chemo and radiation. But it was a pretty good outcome, and everyone was happy about that.

She said that the chance of recurrence within a year of treatment was rare, but it does happen. She said that if something is abnormal, I should demand attention and examination.

Then she said goodbye.

So some days, it's been hard to know how to move on with life. I think people really want things to be normal again, but for me, it's hard to say or know what that is. I see my friends; I play with the kids; I spend time with family.

One day, Emilie, Mike, and Brianna came by to hang out. And it was fun. (I miss you, Em.)...(and yes, that is a NKOTB t-shirt I'm wearing.)



But it's an odd balance--to feel like every moment is precious and threatened, and to just forget the gravity and just LIVE.

And now, as DH said, we've come full circle.

So now I'm left wondering--where to next? I'll let you know.

Some days it sucks; other days it's pretty good, especially when you have this little guy as your guide.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Nippity Nip Nip Nip

I'm going to ask for really hard nipples. Some people are grossed out by "high beams," but I love pokies. One dark secret of mine: I used to own this contraption that created pokies for as long as you wanted. It was a little suction bulb, and three pairs of different sizes of rings came with the bulb. You slipped a little rubber ring onto the end of the bulb, stuck your nipple into the bulb, gave the bulb a squeeze (it looked much like those blue snot suckers you use on infants), and as your nip was sucked into the bulb, you slipped the ring onto it. Well, here see for yourself: Nipple Enhancers. Yeah, anyway...so now I can throw my nipple suction bulb away! Wahoo!

My pathology report came back very positive. I had 8 lymph nodes taken out, one of which was positive for carcinoma, but the rest were negative. So it looks like the cancer is history! But there still could be microscopic carcinoma in the chest wall, so I'll have scans every 6 months for the next five years to make sure everything is as it should be. I'll also go through genetic screening this summer for the BRCA-1 and -2 genetic mutation that could be the cancer culprit, in which case I would also be screened for ovarian cancer.

My body is healing quite well. I'm still getting lymphatic massage treatments, acupuncture, and today I had reflexology, which was soooo awesome. I could actually feel lymph fluid draining when the therapist pushed on a certain part of my foot. It was creepy yet cool. I got my Bellisse compression bra, and that's been helping loads too. I just wish someone around here would become a distributor for it, because I think so many women would benefit from having this special bra. I'm going to use my magical powers to make it happen, just wait and see.

Tomorrow I have another follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon. The first question on my mind is when can I start getting tattooed? I want to get cherry blossoms on the formerly cancerous boob instead of your normal areola (and also still get a really hard nipple), and just have a nice pink areola and nip on the other boob; and also some cherry blossoms and branches where my abdominal scar is running from hip to hip. Now would be a great time since I have zero feeling in those areas, but I suppose I have to take into consideration the fact that the tissue is still healing.

My friend Jeff Chiba Stearns is a filmmaker and animator, and he has an animated character called Super Nip, but I think I might have to talk to Jeff...because a new Super Nip(s) is coming to town!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Today

"Listen to your body." How many times have I heard that during the past nine months? Enough to make it mildly annoying. Yet I've come to understand the truth in that advice during the past few weeks.

It's been three weeks and two days since my operation (not that I'm counting). During this time, everyone who supposedly knows better has told me to keep it easy, move with caution, be gentle, put paper tape over my scars, and don't exercise. In the meantime, fluid has built up under my arm and along my side and even on my back near my shoulder blade. I've done gentle stretching and mild weight lifting (five-pound dumbbells), and while it has helped, I'm terribly impatient and frustrated. So today, I said screw it, and I hit the gym. Before I took off, DH wrapped my arm up from my wrist to my shoulder, with the pressure starting at the wrist and tapering off as it went up my arm. My lymphatic massage therapist told me to wrap it like that when I wanted to exercise. Tomorrow, I'm going to get fitted for a special compression sleeve, but for today, this would do.

At Fitness World, I worked out on the elliptical machine for 30 minutes, did a wee tiny bit of resistance training, and then stretched. It felt soooo good to sweat from my head, neck, chest, arms, have the sweat running in my eyes, nose, and mouth. It felt incredible to get my heart rate up and keep moving. My abdominal stitches did burn a little in certain spots, and when that happened, I slowed down or changed direction of the machine. But I kept working. Then I walked home--and it's about 2 miles from my house to the gym--and then I lifted some more weights and stretched. When I took a hot shower, I felt awesome. I listened to my body, and my body said thank you.

Other ways I listened to my body--my body does not like paper tape, which as I mentioned, I was told to put over my scars/incisions. It actually irritated the scars and the skin surrounding them. Instead, I slather on pure shea butter, kinda like how you'd spackle cracks in the wall, and it's been working like a charm. I almost have flesh that looks like boobs!

I also ordered a compression bra, at the suggestion of my lymphatic massage therapist. It's from a company called Bellisse, and I had to order it through this medical supply store in Winnipeg! I called the woman with my measurements, so I should be getting it sometime next week.

Other fun things I did today: I created some postcards using my new mega-pack of Sharpie markers of all colours that I bought from Costco yesterday; then I wrote postcard stories, which I will send off to some lucky recipients on Postcrossing.com. Check out my postcard stories blog for the awesome results!

And I took some pictures with the new camera!

Here are some pretty plants outside a house I was stalking.




More stalking--uh, I mean, pretty plants.




What? A rain cloud in Vancouver?! No way!




My old friend, Mr. Kitty Kat. You can tell he's thrilled to see me again.



Also, on the walk back from the gym today, as I was crossing Main St., I saw this guy that looked so unreal. I mean, I could probably make this guy up, but if I did, I know someone in some writing workshop would tell me, "That's totally fake and cliché" (at least, that's what I would say). This dude was wearing a black tee-shirt, black leather jacket, black jeans, black sunglasses, had a black handlebar moustache, and was carrying a black briefcase. I wanted to take a picture of him, just so no one (including myself) thought I was bullshitting or hallucinating, but obviously he was in a hurry, on his way to blow up some shit or murder someone, so I didn't want to disturb him.

Yeah. So anyway, for those of you who think that because I have this renewed/new-found energy and vivacity, that I might get to that thing I had promised you I'd get to one month/three months/six months/nine months ago, or even during the time before I knew I had cancer...please, just for the next little while, pretend I'm still a bedridden invalid who's incapable of feeding herself or going to the bathroom without the aid of a laxative. Thanks.

I'm so glad I had this wonderful day, and I'm prepared to get my pathology report tomorrow.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Therapy of another kind

I'm still waiting for the breast cancer surgeon to call me about the pathology report, but I'm not rushing to get the results. I guess some people might, but after having gone through ten months of treatment and surgery, I'm in no hurry to find out if I have more cancer floating around or not. But I will do the responsible thing and call her office this week, I suppose.

In the meantime, I'm doing a bit of retail therapy. Office Depot had a deal on cameras today, and seeing how I busted the LCD screen on my camera a couple months ago, we felt justified in buying a new camera--or two (matching His & Hers)--today. I got a green Casio Exilim, and Dude got a blue one. It's got this weird feature, "Face Recognition," where you can take pictures of your favourite people, and the camera stores the facial features, I guess. Then later, when you take a group shot, you can turn on the "favourites" feature, and the camera will focus more on those people whose faces it recognizes. Creepy--and cool.

So I decided to take pictures of some recent acquisitions to test out the camera.

This is a quilt that my friend Pisey made and sent me. I've known Pisey since the first grade, when she came up to me because I was "Oriental" like her. Look at the beautiful colours and designs!




A few days before my mastectomy, I wandered into a store called Rice Terraces, where they have really cool vintage kimono products and other neat stuff from Japan. So here's some stuff I bought...

This is a small tote bag featuring a "modern Geisha," as the store owner described it. Funky Cold Medina (that's a late-80s reference, for those of you who are too young to have a clue as to what I'm talking about).



This is a cute little kimono handbag with this awesome off-centre handle, along with a ring that I also bought. The ring is also made out of kimono cloth, with resin over it. The bag was a steal at $25, and the ring cost me $14. The surrounding plants were given to me by my pals, author Wayson Choy (he gave me the "Tree of Life" on the left), Harley Wylie (the small pink flowered plant in the middle), and Emilie Allen (the very sunshiny plant on the right).



Here's another shot of the bag and the ring.



The ring and my gnarly hand.




Yay for retail therapy and pretty things!

PS: Pop on over to my other blog for the much-requested video release of "Robot Refrigerator" by M.Y.L.O.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Simple Post, RE: Good Times

I was downloading and editing pictures this morning, and I came across all these wonderful ones from a dinner party our friends had for us before my surgery. Chloe and Mylo were psyched to get dressed up in fancy clothes and see their little friends. It was in a private room, so the kids could run around and go wild.

Here are the two little rascals before leaving for dinner.


Totally a daddy's girl, eh?


Mylo doing his usual calisthenics before eating--his secret to maintaining his buff physique. What a show-off! Wonder where he gets that trait from...


Our friends' little guy.


All the kids playing something or other before eating.


Even the littlest dude enjoys getting in on the food action!


Mr. Mylo


Ms. Chloe. Um, yeah, even princesses get runny noses...


...and princesses like to lick their runny noses...


...and shove food in their maws.



I think that last picture sums it up. We had a great time with great friends.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flow

I went for lymphatic massage today, and the physiotherapy coordinator finally called me to confirm my spot in the post-op support group next week. Despite the way things seem to be looking up, I find myself in a funk. I suppose it's understandable to become philosophically morose (or morosely philosophical, whichever makes more sense to you) during times like these, to be down about being numb--emotionally and physically. When I was having the massage done today, I felt particularly numb when the therapist worked on my breasts, and other than feeling light pressure, there was no sensation whatsoever. She could have put a flame to my flesh, and I wouldn't have known the difference. I've been reassured by nurses and doctors that this is only temporary, that I will regain some feeling back in my body. But they can't guarantee that.

It makes me think that the body is so needy for touch (think of babies, for whom touch is the only true form of affection), and at the same time, the body itself really doesn't matter at all. I have almost forgotten what my old body looked like--the size of my nipples, the way my breasts drooped, the way they felt. I don't have phantom limb syndrome that people sometimes get when they lose a part of themselves. I'm glad--I think it would hurt to the core to ache like that.

During my second follow-up appointment today, I asked the nurse when I would have nipple reconstruction. She laughed and said I'm too eager. Well, who wouldn't be? I don't exactly enjoy looking like a FrankenBarbie doll. But yeah, I have to wait until the new boobs "settle" first, which is hard for me to imagine right now. I just feel like they're two stiff mounds that are hardly a part of me.

I'm grateful for all the comments about how strong I've been through this ordeal, but my typical reaction is that anyone would do it if they had to--to go through all this to live. Well, most people would, I assume. But tonight, I had a moment, reflecting on what I and my loved ones have been through since July 2007, and I'm like, "Fucking hell yeah, I've been through it all. My body's been through the ringer, and it's sucked ass." But I'm healing. And waiting to be felt again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Advocacy

I'm trying to reclaim my bionic body. It's hard. And it's surprising and frustrating that there's not all that much support out there. It's been difficult trying to register for this post-op mastectomy physiotherapy group that this city claims to have at various health clinics. Yesterday, I went to one that not only claimed was held on the 4th Monday of every month, but also specifically listed "April 28th" as the date--to be told that I was completely wrong, and the woman who runs the group even called me this morning to apologize, but still made me feel like I was in the wrong. Then I tried to register for another group that's being held at another clinic next Wednesday morning, only to be shunted off to someone's voicemail--twice--with no return call confirming my registration.

I'm currently reading Living in the Postmastectomy Body, which has been helpful in learning some exercises to help me deal with the lymphedema. In the book, the author says that even though all the oncologists and surgeons always tell breast cancer surgery patients that they might experience lymphedema, that pretty much all breast cancer patients who've had any lymph nodes removed will experience this condition. This makes me feel that doctors should spend more time talking with their patients about this so that they can expect it and know beforehand what to do when it happens. It's really true that if one hasn't had this surgery, one really doesn't know what kind of discomfort and pain is on the way. It's almost as if medical professionals are there to just do their job--which is to treat the cancer--and then leave the patient to herself afterwards to deal with what might happen.

I also found some information for post-op exercises at the Patient Guide to Breast Care. So I was able to print these out and follow them. Two more resources that I found are Alicethenics, which is a very gentle exercise program (with very low production quality--but anyway, whatever), and Pilates Therapeutics Breast Cancer Survivor's Guide to Physical Restoration, which I haven't received yet but ordered yesterday. I'm excited to get this DVD because my focus now is to just get movement back. I list these resources because there might be some of you out there who are in search of this information, which I know now from experience is so hard to come by.

I also had my first acupuncture appointment today since surgery. It made me feel relaxed, and I even fell asleep for a moment, only to wake myself up with some weird gurgling I was making. I'm sure the other two women in the room who were receiving acupuncture were amused.

One last thing--I was at a friend's son's birthday party the other day, and she works at the cancer agency. One of her co-workers was telling me that she received a call from some man in Abbottsford who was expressing anger that the cancer agency's literature is available in Punjabi and Chinese (in fact, Dude was instrumental in having the literature available in these languages when he volunteered with the cancer agency 20 years ago!)--basically, this man in Abbottsford was saying that it should only be available in English, and that if you have cancer and don't know English, then you should learn it! What kind of racist, small-minded people are out there? And I was telling her that in fact, I think more should be done to help cancer patients who aren't fluent in English because in my experience in going for chemo, I've seen more people struggling with their treatments because they weren't able to communicate their reactions to the nurses. The cancer agency needs more people who speak different languages to be able to help anyone who needs help, period.

So I guess what I'm saying is that even in a place like Vancouver where we have top-notch facilitates for cancer patients, there's room for improvement--which is also saying that overall, more needs to be look at in terms of a patient-centered model for treatment, rather than just merely attacking the illness. Because even in the best-case scenario where the cancer is defeated, there's still a human being left to pick up the pieces.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Robot Refrigerator

Mylo's been going around saying "Ro-bot Re-frig-er-a-tor" for a while now, in this mechanical monotone. It makes me laugh. I really feel like a robot refrigerator right now (whatever that is). It's like there's a cutting board in my torso, and my right arm and side are swollen. It's like I have a padded bra on, but I don't. It's just me.

I went to the physio group this morning, only to be told that the information that they gave me is incorrect, and the physio group was last Tuesday, and the next one is at the end of May. I was pretty pissed and annoyed. I wanted to learn some exercises to help me with my discomfort and get the range of motion back in my right arm. But it's not to be. I ordered a DVD that will hopefully help me, so I just have to wait for that.

I also was supposed to get my stitches out tomorrow, but when I called my surgeon's nurse to report this swelling in my arm, I was told that my appointment for tomorrow had been cancelled, there had been some mix-up, and that I'd see the nurse on Wednesday morning instead. If I hadn't called them, I would've wasted my time going there tomorrow.

These things always happen to me like this. Like, one bad thing doesn't happen--it's usually two or three things. I guess it's not so bad, just pretty annoying. Hopefully, my week will end up better than it started. I should be hearing from the breast cancer surgeon soon regarding the pathology report, so we can know if the cancer is gone or what. Until then, I'm not moving much.

Friday, April 25, 2008

This is why America rules: motorized carts

These past few days have been different kinds of weirdness. A couple days ago, I noticed that my whole torso was numb; it was a very odd sensation to be able touch my stomach with my hands, but there was no sensation whatever that registered on my stomach. In other words, under normal circumstances, your hand feels what it is touching, and whatever is being touched can sense being touched by the hand. Now, when I touch my stomach, my hand senses my stomach while my stomach senses nothing at all. It's as if I'm touching someone other than myself--a one-way touch. My stomach--nothing. In fact, if I closed my eyes and lay there naked and someone came over and touched me on my stomach, I would never be able to tell.

Additionally, I seemed to have developed lymphedema, which is a common condition that develops after a woman's lymph nodes are removed along the with breasts. I'm doing the best I can with the exercises they've told me to do, and I'm also going to a physio group on Monday for mastectomy patients. Hopefully, I can get this taken care of and that it doesn't remain a permanent condition.

But good news--I've been feeling slightly more mobile. Except for the trauma my body's experienced in the past 9 months, I'm feeling pretty good. So tomorrow, DH, the kids, and I are off to Victoria for the book launch over there for Eating Stories. In case you don't remember, that's the book that was my last editing project before I started my cancer treatment. The weather calls for gorgeous sunshine and skies, and the kids love going on the ferry. So it should be a nice, relatively low-key break for me to get out of the house.

Dude and I always go to Wal-Mart to pick up stuff. I know, I know! Some of you think Wal-Mart's this evil gigantor monster that's out to suck the souls of humanity, but let's save that conversation for another time. I like Wal-Mart, and I wanted to go to Wal-Mart. But more important, I wanted something that I've dreamed of ever since Wal-Mart existed in my world: to ride their motorized carts, the ones for customers who "need a lift," as the little sign on the cart's basket says. Yes, I am finally one of those people! I rode a Wal-Mart cart--and IT WAS FUCKING AWESOME.

As soon as I hobbled into the store, I walked over to a group of ladies standing around doing nothing. This was the moment that DH and I were talking about for the past hour--of whether or not I should get one of those motorized carts. I thought, "Yeah, I know. I mean, I really don't need a cart..." Dude: "Yes you do! If they give you any shit, just raise your shirt." Me: "Yeah, I suppose you're right. Sure, I'll give it a try." So I got all worked up on the way to Wal-Mart--getting pumped up to the moment when I could show my bodily disfigurement as proof that I needed a cart. Instead, when I asked for the cart, one of them immediately spoke up, "No problem. See you gals, I gotta get a cart for this young lady." The way she said it, it sounded like she was doing the most important job that she's qualified to do. She said as I did my hobbly-hunch, "Don't mind if I walked faster, do you? Get a head start?" "Go ahead," I said, and she sped-walk to the carts. Even though I caught up to her in about two seconds, she still hopped on the cart, drove 6 inches, and stopped it at my feet and said, "There you are! Ooh, the seat's still warm. I assume you know how to work this thing?" I said, "Uh, I never had one of these before." She said, "It's easy--just put your thumb on that button there and steer and go!" And I was off!

I have to say--this weird life goal of mine--to someday ride in Wal-Mart's motorized carts--falls in the category of "exceeds expectations." I totally want to pretend for the rest of my life that I'm somehow physically challenged and never have my shoes touch the ground beneath at Wal-Mart ever again.







And here is me with my old lady shuffle:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And the Boobee goes to...

me. Of course!

My husband, bless his heart, went out and bought me a trophy. Okay, I asked him to go out and buy me a trophy, but I didn't know he'd actually do it!




The award ceremony was thus: Chloe and Mylo running through the door, shouting, "Mama! Mama! You got a trophy!" I accepted the trophy as I was sitting in the recliner watching Dancing with the Stars. I felt like a champ.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have supported me--those who played Scrabulous and Scramble on Facebook with me, those who have brought flowers, food and trashy magazines, those who have laughed and cried with me, those who appreciate that I'm still raunchy (though I'd like to call it "spunky"), especially most of all and forever, my husband, kids, parents, in-laws, and pillows.

THANK YOU!!!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Update: A Report of Epic (and approximately size B) proportions


{this is me before I had the dressings and drains taken out today.}


This whole breast cancer thing is more of a trip, less of a journey. Like, a trippy trip, if you know what I mean. And that's not just the meds talking.

Today, I went to the surgeon's office to have the final drains and dressings removed. This was the first time that Dude and I saw my new body. I was both scared out of my mind and relieved to get these damn things off because it's pretty uncomfortable being wrapped up like this. Apparently, I was sporting the famous "Van Laeken pressure wrap" (Van Laeken is my surgeon's name). All the nurses were impressed that I had it, and therefore, no one wanted to touch it.

But before I go on and on about today, let me do a recap of this past week.

So on Tuesday morning, DH, my parents and I made the short walk to the hospital. I was the first patient to check in that morning. I was incredibly nervous, and it didn't help that the nurse checking me in scolded me for taking two sips of water at 4 a.m. because I had a coughing fit. I was told at the pre-admission clinic and even on the surgery-prepping sheet that I could take "sips" of water before surgery, and I almost argued with her that a "sip" is hardly an exact amount, but I was just trying to not cry at that point. So I made it through the registration and was taken to the OR (operating room) triage, where the surgeons would mark up my body and prep me for surgery.

I was so nervous when I got into the triage that I started singing--quietly but audibly--"Living on a Prayer" and "Sweet Child O' Mine." I could hear the guy next to me--patients were only separated by curtains--tell his nurse that he's been smoking 45 cigarettes a day for 40 years, and they were discussing his Nicoderm patch schedule post-surgery. I was definitely the youngest person in there, as I could hear other patients give their ages to nurses, all of them over the age of 80. Finally, both surgeons--I had two: my breast cancer surgeon and my plastic surgeon--came in and did their thing. And then the anaesthesiologist came in and said, "I heard about you." I said, "Oh, you read my blog?" He looked at me funny and said, "No, I read your chart." I had to laugh.

Then before I knew it, they were wheeling me into the operating room, where there were these huge lights and so many machines and people hovering around me, trying to calm me down. I started breathing in a mask, and before I knew it...

I woke up and looked at the clock. 11:30. It felt like I just went to sleep, so the first thing I said was, "Can you put me back to sleep? I'm still awake." Someone said, "No, dear. We're done. It's over." I said, "Really? No way." Then came the uncontrollable sobbing.

Waves and waves of emotion overtook me. I was done. My breasts were gone. Something major just happened. Indescribable. The only thing I could do was cry. Except for the fact it really fucking hurt. Pain wracked my body.

They transferred me to the recovery room, where I continued my sobbing. I kept apologizing, and the nurse rubbed my arm and told me to go ahead and cry. Then Dude came in. I was so overjoyed to see him. I'd never been happier to see my loving husband than at that very moment. Apparently, as DH told me yesterday, the nurse who had earlier yelled at me for taking sips of water, became nice and told him that he could go into the recovery room, even though loved ones weren't allowed into the recovery room.

A few minutes later, DH went home while they were still monitoring me in the recovery room. After about an hour, they wheeled me into my room, which was a private room. The plastic surgeon came in and said, "You have a nice flat tummy." I said, "Just in time for swimsuit season." She smiled.

Dude came back soon enough and helped me get comfortable in my room. Eventually, my parents, my in-laws and the kids came to visit. Chloe and Mylo drew me pictures so I could hang them up and look at them. And we brought a picture from home--one of us in Victoria last summer that Chloe and Mylo used as a decoration in preschool.




The rest of the hospital story is kinda uneventful. I was on a morphine drip for a couple days. Then my IV started to leak, so they had to take the IV out, I was given two options: leave the IV out and start taking pain pills, or put the IV back in, which would not be pleasant. I chose the pills.

It was hot and stuffy in my room because it was a reverse pressure room, which was intended for patients who required isolation. There was a vent that sucked the air out, and you couldn't open the window. This made it even more uncomfortable for me because I was sweating profusely, which made the bandages incredibly itchy underneath. I took Benedryl along with the morphine to relieve the itch.

I didn't sleep much while in the hospital. My major milestones were getting out of bed, taking a piss, and farting. I found it funny that while my son is in the midst of potty training, I was regressing back into childhood, being applauded for these basic human functions.

Here I am standing next to the beautiful flowers folks sent to the hospital (that would be Larry, Victoria, Neala, DH's parents, and...hm, if I forgot you, I'm sorry):



The day that I left, I was to have one of the three drains taken out. It just so happened that it was student nurse day at the hospital, and I was going to be the big lesson for the day. So one of the students was the lucky one to learn how to take out a drain. Just so you know, a drain is placed inside the wound area to suction out the fluids built up during healing. It's a long tube, and it's not entirely pleasant to have this thing yanked out of you. Here are some pictures from the process. The room was crammed full of nursing students who were witness to this event. I don't actually look as bad as I felt. Dude's camera phone didn't capture me still gripping the sides of the bed minutes after having the drain removed.








So, yeah. Anyway, to our delight, I was sent home early because everyone was saying how well I was doing with moving around and such. So we came home on Friday. As I was leaving the hospital, I had such a hunched-over walk that even the old people were staring at me. I thought, "Fuck you, old people." It was so bad that when I went to the door, I was too short to make the automatic door slide open and had to wait for the hubster to come get me. When we pulled up to our house and I walked to the door, I had the urge to point my finger and shout, "You rascally young people, get out of my yard!"

Unfortunately, a lot of our friends didn't get the message that I was home and therefore went to the hospital looking for me, some of them even walked straight into the room where we had been staying! I could imagine the woman in there thinking, "Who is this Brandy bitch, and why are all her friends in here bugging me?" One of the first people to walk into the room and end up back at my house was my friend Jamie, who drove from Seattle with his friend Sharon to surprise me. I was pretty happy to see him, and it was then that I realized that laughing really hurt! Laughing and coughing--two things I don't want to do now. Actually, I don't mind the laughing so much, because, well, I'm laughing. But the coughing really sucks ass. I feel like I'm ripping apart at the seams, literally.

Friday was freakin' weird. First, it was sunny. Then it rained, then it hailed (Mylo wanted to get out his bucket and shovel up the ice, he said), then it snowed! Like, a lot of snow! The world was ending, and I was doped up in my bed. Not a bad way to go.

We had other visitors and flowers and cookies and cakes and trashy celebrity magazines come our way. It's been very nice to see folks and have them bring their well wishes.

So I guess this brings me to today. The build-up to having the dressings and drains removed (especially after having the first drain removed) has been a bit torturous. Add painkillers to the mix, and you got some pretty wacky dreams I've been having. I've felt like Frankenstein for a few days now. But it really wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be once everything came off. My skin is irritated somewhat from the adhesive on the dressings, and the drain to my abdomen was pretty painful coming out, and the hole left by the drain there stings quite a bit still when I move. But I don't look as horrific as I thought I would.

I know some people are rightfully curious and concerned, so I'm going to post a link here to a picture of what I look like now.

Click here to see the results of my surgery. Be forewarned that I'm naked, and it's not pretty--yet.


You know, I feel like I've been blessed so many times during this whole process. Even today, something wonderfully unusual happened. As Dude and I were walking (or shuffling, in my case) into the medical building this afternoon, a man stopped me and asked me how my surgery went. I realized that he was a member of Friends for Life, one of the places I go to to get wellness treatments. It's a house for people with cancer and AIDS. He said he heard my interview on the radio, and that I have been in his prayers ever since. I couldn't believe it. Vancouver is a big city, and out of all the places to run into somebody--it was just amazing. And it was meant to be, and even though I'm not a religious person, I believe in angels, and he was my angel just then. It was a sign to me to go into that building and not have any fear. I was in good hands, and everything's going to be okay.