Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Night Before...

It's the night before tomorrow. Wow, that sounds so zen, doesn't it? Seriously though, tomorrow is my second appointment with the oncologist. DH and I will meet with the doc to go over all the test results from the past week and a bit. Yesterday and today, I had scans and xrays, blood tests and agony and questions and long, hot baths and sleepless nights. Tomorrow, a bunch of questions will be answered and a bunch more will pop up, but hopefully in the next couple of days, my chemo treatment will start and all the alien nastiness invading Planet Brandy will begin to be wiped out. Vive la revolution!

{the view from our hotel room in waikiki}

My time with the zen master dude was interesting. After four hours of zenness, my head hurt. The first hour, DH demonstrated his zen knowledge with zen master dude. The next two hours, zen master dude grilled me on my existence. Picture a circle. Now picture a squiggly circle around the other circle. The inner circle is me. The squiggly circle is the stuff around me, the stuff I'm attached to. Do I want to find out what's in the inner circle? . . . Now think of this: 0=∞. . . . Then zen master dude asked me "Why purple hair?" My thought bubble, "Because I like purple, Roshi." But I think I gave some fumbling lame reason which made Roshi just stare at me.

So then zen master dude wanted me to play a shakuhachi, which he told me is a flute. People from my Mifflintown years will bust a gut because they know how much I sucked at playing the flute. BUT despite my suckiness at being a flautist, I did it for, let me see, oh, five years. Anyway, the shakuhachi isn't the kind of flute you're thinking of. It looks more like a recorder, and it's used for meditation. It's fucking hard as fuck to play. I tried for an hour. My cheeks hurt. But another zen master dude said that I had a rare quality for a beginner to play such clear, strong notes with such purpose. Rock on! So there I was, in the training room, with zen master flute player, and this other dude who was practicing martial arts and was chanting sutras which sounded like a bullfrog and me blowing away, and DH just sitting there. I totally felt like I was in an anime movie, and that we were all going to transform into forest creatures or earthly structures.

{me and DH in leis made by our friends Hoku and Kaipo}

As funny as that all sounds, the zen master meeting has stuck with me. Of course, I think it's probably pretty common to think of existence questions when faced with life / death situations, but zen master dude number one kept asking me, what's stopping me from finding out about the now? Am I really that attached to my suffering and my past? These are questions as unanswerable as others right now.

Honestly though, today sucked ass. I feel so freakin' lame. For an hour, I shopped online for cool fabric so I could sew myself some head coverings. Then I decided that I didn't want to buy any fabric and sew head coverings, so then I was down on myself for wasting all this time.

But I can't help but notice the things that people have done. It makes me want to get out of my rut that I've dug myself in. For instance, Russell writing a poem for me today; Vicki sending me a bear and a bag from PA Dutch country (and frisbees for Chloe and Mylo); Hilary callling to ask when she could bring over frozen turkey soup she made; Betty bringing me head coverings from the cancer centre, and a lavendar eye pillow she made for me; Candace bringing over costumes for the kids and smoked salmon her husband caught and Chinese bbq pork; friends of friends who have offered their advice, help, and resources; my in-laws for helping with the kids; my parents for making plans to come out here to help; the lady from the Canadian Cancer Society who called today to help set me up with someone who's gone through a similar experience; CCHS for bringing me flowers; people who've emailed me on Myspace, 43things, Facebook, and here; Chris for watching the kids yesterday morning; Heidy and Greg for watching the kids last night; other people who have emailed to offer their help and company; my green towel for keeping purple dye off my pillow and for catching those random tears; DH and the kids for bearing with me; and Victoria for organizing a team, "Brandy's Babes," for the Race for the Cure (http://ocraceforthecure.kintera.org/brandysbabes).

Yesterday, DH and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary at Le Crocodile. We had a South African wine called Graceland (2004). The only reason I'm writing that here is so I'll remember what that wine was, cuz it was good!

{rowr! le crocodile}

So anyway, when I figure out what 0=∞ means, I'll be laughing (as my fiction prof Maureen would say), but until then, I'm just scratching my head.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Airport Sign

Yesterday, as DH and I were walking from the terminal to baggage claim at the airport in Honolulu, he said, "Hey, isn't that Tu?" It was my former co-worker from UCLA, Ying Ming Tu. I shouted, "Hey, Tu-tu!" He turned, his mouth dropped open, and he ran to give us a hug. He also just happened to be with Angela, another friend from LA. I worked with Angela on her book, "Open," which talks about her work as a civil rights lawyer and her philosophies that have arisen out of that. She's also a Zen Buddhist priest.

Angela touched my hair and asked me why purple? I explained how I'm going to have chemo in a couple weeks and wanted to dye my hair a funky color before it fell out. I told her that I was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Her hand went to the exact place of the tumor without me telling her which breast or anything. She said, "Our meeting here like this was meant to be, I can feel it." She then called up a Zen master at the Chozen-ji International Dojo in Honolulu and asked Roshi if DH and I could have an appointment to meet with him. It takes weeks to get an appointment, but Roshi agreed to meet with us on Thursday (tomorrow!). Angela said to go, climb to the top and meditate. She told us we'd have to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, and I would have to take out my jewelry. I found this article on the dojo here: http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Jun/13/il/il02a.html

At the moment of seeing Tu and Angela, I was so elated! Lots of people have told me to visualize the cancer leaving my body, to meditate, but I haven't felt like that would work. But now, with this completely serendipitous encounter at the airport--at the moment when DH and I were coming, and Tu and Angela were leaving--I feel a sense of joy and encouragement and spiritual uplifting. Even DH, who's not really into thinking about meditating and such things, looked happy. It was a really special moment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

If there's one thing that cancer should be about---it's partying!

This was a really fun weekend--and I think everyone in my family soooo needed it! Thanks to everyone who came last night:

Bob (I mean, George...no, I mean Bob)
Jim Julie + kids
Marty Letti + kid
Karen + kids
Heidy Greg + kids
Rob Tracy
Jim Lou-Anne
Michael Anne
Debora Lynda
Joy Hillary
Paige Hart
George (the real george)
Coll Simon
Mama Baba

If you're not on this list--so sorry! I was wasted and all, that's my only excuse!

There was a lot of laughter and tears and drinking last night. I was so touched by all who showed up and also by those who couldn't make it but who emailed me their regrets. Here are some highlights--including the highlights in my hair! (Thanks especially to Jamie--who applied TWO bleach kits to my hair yesterday, down the roots while somehow miraculously not burning my scalp; Jenn and Katie--mistresses of the dye; and Katie once again, for packing sausage, cheese, crackers, wine, and god knows what else in her purse, along with loads of latex gloves.) Jenn was the photographer extraordinaire for these shots.

Me and bleach expert, Jamie

Me with Paige and Joy enjoying the mixture of fumes from my head and the wine

Sausage, cheese, dates, and crackers spread out on my toilet

Emerging from my bathtub...

It's not what it looks like--Amy's just drying my hair while I'm drinking wine while straddling my toilet...honest!

Karrmen and Amy stylin', while Saya and Jordy look on.

All dressed up--and yes, I am wearing fur in the middle of July! That's cuz you can do that in Vancouver, where the weather is sucky yuck.
Okay, so my dress was so freakin' open the whole time, and maybe I could lie and say that it was some statement about breast cancer, but let's be honest--I was completely shitfaced and had no idea that my white bra was completely hanging out, Britney Spears-style.

Me, with three ladies that rock: Jenn, Katie, and Chloe (who at the tender age of almost-four already looks completely ashamed to be my daughter)

The intricacies and complexities of my new hair!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Order + No Order = Still No Order"

I woke up still sobbing from my dream. In the dream I was playing a simple game of softball with friends----DH, people from CCHSBC, some other professors types, friends from college. They were playing kind of half-assed. I wasn't sure what my position was, or when it was my turn to pitch because people were just moving around. When I asked some people if they knew what they were supposed to do, they said yes and told me what their job was. Others said, who cares? We're just having fun. I got fed up and started shouting, "You can't have it like this! You kinda have order but don't. Order plus no order is still no order! It's mathematical!" And I ran from the game.

I stood on top of a hill overlooking water. I saw my friend Mae talking with some others: my cousin Teresa whom I hadn't seen in a while, people from grad school. She saw me, but I didn't want to see her. I just started crying into my hands, feeling excluded and alone. Mae started walking toward me, and that's when I woke up sobbing, with my shirt soaked through with sweat.

In real life on Friday, I called my friend Mae but she wasn't there, so I called Irene. I told her how useless I've been feeling lately. I have several projects that I'm in the middle of and trying to finish, but during the day I just feel like sleeping. I haven't been sleeping much during the night (except for now, because doc gave me some pills), so during the day, I'm pretty mopey and tired. Irene said it must be hard for a Type A gal like myself to come to terms with the huge potential that for a chunk of time, I have to chill out and rest. I'm the ultimate multitasker and juggle all sorts of stuff. Plus, I take care of my family, so to have to accept someone having to take care of me is a huge challenge.

The dream is an obvious one in which I'm freaking out from having to lose control. It is true--half-assed order, to me, is still no order.

Last night, my friend Jamie made a surprise visit from Seattle. I was one of the MC's at Rhizome Cafe's first anniversary party, and while I was at the mic, Jamie walked in the door, so it was so nice to see him! I really need to see a friend now! He and I talked for a while about my treatment options. He's lost several people in his family to various types of cancer, so he knows a little about the lingo and world of the big C.

I'm worried about the trial treatment. Basically, I have to live six more months with the cancer before surgery since I start off with chemo. The question is, why not do the surgery first? Why not try to cut out that shit before doing chemo, like they usually do? One of the reasons the doc said was because this way, I get the really good chemo, the extra medicine, because it's part of the trial. She also said that this way, any microinvasion would be targeted and hopefully got rid of. So I need to do chemo first so they can measure the size of the cancer as I'm getting the chemo (one of the main things about the trial--a trial isn't the standard treatment; a trial is like an experiment in other words--they're researching something, and I'm part of the research, while receiving treatment).

But it's the lymph node that's most worrisome. Even though my lymph node biopsy came back negative, it's still obviously swollen with something and they want to take it out. I wish they would take it out now and test it rather than wait six months. If the lymph node has cancer, that's bad--that means that it's trying to spread to the rest of my body. So if one of my lymph nodes shows possible invasion now, can they please take that motherfucker out???

I don't like feeling helpless. Jamie asked me if I have any instinct about which route to go (chemo first or surgery first), and I don't. I feel like here, I don't have a preference (other than taking the node out asap), nor do I feel sufficiently informed to have an opinion, so I'm just leaving it to the experts. But of course, I don't feel right about that, especially since I kinda feel all guinea piggish.

No Order.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

me me me

this blog is about me. i was going to edit out that not-so-hot picture of me, but then again, why? after all, much about this particular type of cancer has to do with vanity/identity issues. my breasts--do they make me? no. but they got me my husband; they fed my kids; they almost got me arrested when i jumped in a lake in wisconsin after the beerfest in my skivvies; they got me ridiculed in junior high for not being there; they've been the recipient of push-up bras and fancy lingerie. they've been through so much. and now, if i don't deal with them, they could kill me.

so as unattractive and unartsy as my b/w pic is, it stays. especially since the privacy of my breasts has been stripped anyway, with all those strange hands touching them lately.

i feel meek and i feel bold; embarrassed yet unapologetic.

Things that will change

My hair, my killer boobs, and me.

Going Home, or not

Last night, I spent a couple hours scanning and touching up pictures of my brother-in-law for a video montage at his memorial service. DH is picking out the music because he and his brother are, like, a decade or more older than me, and I don't know what old people used to listen to (joking!). Anyway, ever since his brother passed away two weeks ago (holy shit--has it only been two weeks?), all the family, especially his wife, have been focused on the arrangements, thinking about what he would have liked. Got me thinking about my own death, which folks, I hate to break it to you, is going to happen--just hopefully not for another 40 years or so.

Okay, so I don't plan on dying any time soon, but here it is--NO WAY, NAH-UH, NEVER IN A MILLION LIFETIMES do I want to be buried in my hometown, Mifflintown, PA. I say that now, in front of whoever the hell is reading this--as my absolutely, positively last word on the matter. Sure, it's where I grew up, and it's pretty, and it's peaceful, and all my white family lives and dies there, but growing up there I felt so trapped in such a small town, I couldn't wait to hightail it out of there. I mean no disrespect to my family whatsoever, but they know it's not the place for me. And I want to be cremated (I am, after all, a fire sign and a wood rabbit, so back to ashes for me). As for my ashes, what to do with them, I haven't thought about that all that much yet.

Word travels fast in my small town. And my extended family takes up a big piece of the population pie there. I think by now, the whole town knows I have cancer, and my name has been uttered and shouted in prayer circles and placed into Bibles. Which is cool because shit, I need all the help I can get, even though I myself don't subscribe to any religion. If people say they are praying for me, I'll take it.

On a completely different note, DH is having second thoughts about this trial. One of the main areas of concern with this trial is that because they want tissue samples from the tumour area to see if chemo combo is causing any shrinkage, I have to do chemo first. He really wants us to consider the normal way of going about things, which is to do surgery first. So he read up on it last night, we'll call the trial nurse with our questions, and think about it some more. I want to make sure we're confident about what we're doing, cuz this ain't like buying a car or something, where we might not be satisfied with a term here or there. He's the hunter and gatherer--of information. Me? I have a boob that's hella angry with me.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My pity party

Today was a downer. Not for any good reason. Today could have been like yesterday or the day before, but for some reason, I didn't seem to want to do anything but burrow in my bed.

I got an Air Cast today. When I had my bone scan done yesterday, the technician saw a stress fracture in my leg and asked me if I was a runner. I guess so, I said. So now I have this moon boot thing. I kind of hate it.

I really kind of hated the bone scan technician. Because it's like I'm lying there, completely still, while this huge photocopier-like thing very very slowly went over my body to take pictures of the radioactive material to see where it's gone and stuff. So I'm lying there--(there's an itch in my ankle--ignore it--there's an itch on my back--stay still). And then the technician started laughing to herself, presumably over some email she was reading, and she kept doing that. I'm like, Can she see the murderous rage in my brain right now? Is my brain fucking glowing like a goddamn strobe light? Cuz I want to kill her.

I also got sleeping pills today because the sleep isn't that great lately. Talked to my parents on the phone. I feel bad when they have that tone in their voice, like they're worried about me because they usually aren't.

Pre-Chemo Party--come colour brandy's hair!

Well, apparently, the three weeks I had before I start chemo aren't three weeks (is that grammatically correct? i can't tell. i mean, "three weeks" is one unit qualitatively speaking, so should it be "isn't" rather than "aren't"...?) anyway, the rest of my tests happen on July 30th and 31st, with an appointment to go over the results on August 1st, and from what the oncologist said, the chemo could start very soon thereafter. So, it's possible that my chemo will begin at the beginning of August.

DH and I are going to Hawaii on Tuesday through Friday, and then he's off to LA for his brother's memorial service. The only time for a pre-chemo party is THIS SUNDAY, JULY 22ND. If you are in the Vancouver area and would like to see me before toxins are flushed into my body, please come to my house this Sunday. It's a cheese / wine potluck--and we will also bleach my hair white and dye it god-knows-what colour! A fun art project for all!!!! 6PM my house. If you don't know where I live, email me! And suggest a colour! I'm leaning toward electric blue, but am open to suggestions!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Aw, Shucks, Gee Thanks, Y'all!

Ever since I sent out the email about my diagnosis and blog, many people have emailed me such kind thoughts. For reals--I'm going to have the most ginormous (that's a real word, btw) party in the world when I get my new boobs, and you're all going to see them whether you like it or not. It's going to be a BOOBS OUT party! Woohoo! Something to look forward to!

I'm radioactive right now. I got a call this morning to take my butt on over to the hospital for a bone scan because they had a sudden cancellation and could fit me in. So they injected me with radioactive isotopes, and I have to go back soon for the scan. The isotopes will travel to "hotspots" in my body where there's increased cell activity, thereby providing another picture of where cancer has possibly spread. I'm NUCLEAR (in America, we say Nuke-u-lar--get it right, Canadians!). There was this sign at the reception that said if one was going to travel outside Canada in the near future, to let them know so they could give you a letter at security at the border explaining why you're all nuclear. Cool.

Burning Hunk of Boob

I just woke up--guess what? I still have cancer. I *hate* that! When's that gonna stop happening?--when I wake up in the morning and suddenly, I remember it's for real...??? It's weird--it's like when I eventually sleep at night, my mind just tries to repress the hell out of the reality so that when I wake up, it's a shock all over again, like in the movie Groundhog Day. Weird!

Last night, my tumor burned. I'm not sure if that's supposed to happen. No matter if I lay on my side or on my back or even when I got out of bed and stood up, the big tumor, the one that's obvious to the touch, was burning and had shooting pains. I should call and ask the nurse about that. Maybe it's just that freakin' big.

I apparently qualify for a trial for a more aggressive type of chemo, so I have to call them today to agree to be on the trial. You know what I really got a kick out of yesterday? The prescription they gave me for a wig. Cancer does have its perks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

This Sucks More Than I Thought

Just got back from my oncologist appointment, which lasted two and a half hours. They had lots to say. Apparently, most women going in for breast cancer have one lump requiring surgery and radiation or some such. Me, I have three--three confirmed, I should add, as the doctor said--which cover a large portion of my breast. When the docs said the word "mastectomy," it was kind of hard to hear. Sure, I've been joking about it, but to actually think of it as something that's become my reality, it was sort of like, oh shit.

So in the next few weeks, I'm going to have a bunch of blood tests, bone scan, chest x-ray, ultrasound and god knows what else done. Then start my first round of chemo. I'm going go through chemo for about six months. Then the mastectomy (hopefully, some miraculous shrinkage will occur so this won't have to happen), and then radiation. There goes about a year of my life.

This is really fucked up. Like, for real. DH was good--taking notes and asking questions. I'm glad to see that those years at his grad school alma mater didn't go to waste. He even got to give the doc a quick lecture on the history of migration in the Pacific region. :)

Well....well. Okay, so like everything else, I must deal with this with the same gusto as ever!

Me and Cancer--Not a Love Story

How did this all come about? How did I discover the lump of coal in my boobie? One day in March, about four months ago, I felt a little tenderness on what felt like a ridge on my right breast. It bothered me for about a week, and then I went to see my family doctor.

The way the medical system works in Canada is that you go to see your family doctor for everything, and then s/he refers you to a specialist, orders tests, and all that other junk. It doesn't cost the patient anything in most cases, and the doctor just gets paid for your visit.

So I went in, and Dr. M. felt my boob a few times, and said that all he felt was "fullness." I'm not familiar with that medical term, but I guess it was full. Whatever that meant. He said it was nothing, wrote down "benign appearance" on my chart, and told me to come back if it got worse. That was on March 26th.

I went about my business, went to Asia, came back--lump still there. I could still feel it, and it was tender. But one night, there was a shooting pain in my chest where the lump is, and I'm like, really, that can't be normal. In terms of size, it was about the same. So I went in the doctor's a second time in the middle of June.

But Dr. M. wasn't there. Instead, there was a nice lady named Dr. S. She examined me and told me that it was some kind of cyst, probably benign, and she gave me a requisition for an ultrasound. She said they'd probably just drain it and that was it. She also told me that it might take 3 months to get that ultrasound appointment.

Perhaps because of my age, both Dr. M. and Dr. S. weren't so concerned that it was cancer. But at least Dr. S. had enough sense to order me an ultrasound. I still don't know why Dr. M. didn't do that in the first place, OVER THREE MONTHS AGO! It doesn't cost him anything! Argh!

Anyway, luckily, I was able to get an ultrasound appointment in two weeks. So I went in for my ultrasound on July 5th.

I watched the monitor and saw three obvious black blobs--two larger ones near the surface, and one small one deeper down in my breast. The radiologist came in and was concerned. She said that I was going to do a mammogram right away as well.

So I did the mammogram--and then another one, which was more magnified, and that was that. The radiologist, Dr. G., said that the Women's Hospital was booked full for the week, but that she would get me in first thing Monday morning for a core biopsy.

When I got there at my scheduled time, 7:30 am, the center was closed. They didn't open until 8 am! About a couple minutes later, the receptionist walked in, and they were expecting me right away! They basically opened up for my appointment, half an hour early.

While I was getting ready for the biopsy, Dr. G. told me that they saw a lump in my lymph node during the mammogram and that she would biopsy that site as well. She froze my armpit and used a regular needle to dig around in there--which didn't feel all that great. Lots of nerves in the pit, so it was kind of uncomfortable even with the freezing.

Then she began the core biopsy. It's like a big needle that they attach a stapler gun type thing to. So she stuck the needle in (after freezing my boob, of course), positioned it according to what she saw on the ultrasound, and fired away. It sounds lile a stapler gun. It was all fine until she went to get the small cyst deep down--the freezing didn't exactly find its way down there, so I felt that one. Ouch.

Three days later, my family doctor called, and I went in and was given the diagnosis, which was pretty vague. I just have cancer. That's all I know.

I have to say that things are moving so much more quickly than they should. Everything has been expedited for me, and I don't know if that's because of my age, or if it's because of my stage (which I don't know right now), or both. So it's nice to get the attention right away, but it also makes me think crazy thoughts, like, "is it that bad?"

I guess I'll find out later this afternoon.

4 hours and counting. . .

til I eat the apple of knowledge at my first oncologist appointment. I've had the weebles in my stomach ever since I woke up. Last night's sleep wasn't great. I took two of those tiny Atavin pills and felt whoozy, but I couldn't actually fall asleep. So I stayed in that half-state of sleep that sucks--where one part of your brain wants to shut 'er down for the night, but the other part that's assigned to freaking out is freaking out. Sucked.

My kid Mylo is feeling my elbow right now. He has this thing where he likes to feel elbows when the arm is straight and the skin is loose. It's kinda freaky, but it makes him feel better. He has a big grin on his face.

Fucking cancer. Whatever it is, it will die!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

this wacky cancer business

I have my first appointment with the oncologist tomorrow. Today, my parents called and asked if I heard anything from the doctor. I lied and said no. Why? I haven't no idea. Doesn't make any sense to me. But it was kind of like this juvenile impulse--like when parents ask their kids what they did at school and the kids say, "nuthin'." I guess it's also kind of like now, they're worried about *when* the doctor will call, which might be slightly better than worrying about the upcoming appointment and what will be said? Yeah, I don't know.

Honestly though, I feel pretty much the same, except everyday, I wake up, walk to the bathroom, take a piss, and say, "Shit, I have cancer." But really, it can't be that bad, can it?

On the upside, I had an idea that if I have to get a mastectomy or something, I'm gonna get some nice fake titties and make a t-shirt that says, "Bionic Boobs." That'll be really hot, especially with the new Bionic Woman series starting in the fall.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Diagnosis: Damn

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last Thursday, July 12, 2007, but other than that, that's all I know. I know that I'm going crazy--but not going crazy. This is limbo--only knowing so much, which is very little, and not being able to do anything but wait and wait and wait and wait.

I'm 31 years old. I've got two kids, and I've got a ton of shit to do. Last thing I need is cancer. It's the last thing anyone needs.

My brother-in-law died of lung cancer on July 7, 2007--five days before my diagnosis. His situation, of course, was way more serious--that is, as far as I know.

I mean, it's not like I'm, "Thank GOD I have breast cancer!" But it's like, "Thank god I don't have some type of other cancer that's worse."

None of this makes any sense.

So yeah, like the URL says, cancer fucking sucks.