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A Day Just Perfect For Wasting

It’s one of those early summer days, just perfect for wasting.  It’s a warm, clear, zero-percent-chance-of-rain day in Southern Oregon.  It’s the kind of day that results in a greenway full of young lovers walking hand in hand, dog owners meandering back and forth disregarding the posted “Keep to the right” admonitions, and cyclists of all types rolling through.   I should be among them. But I’m not.

Instead, I’m home…which I don’t mind…wandering listlessly around the house trying to find some project or task that can both absorb me, and for which I will have the staying power to complete.  The Significant Other is off at his part-time job. (Yes!  He finally got a steady part-time job!) All my kids are gone, for the moment.  The youngest just headed off to her dad’s for Father’s Day weekend. The college student is away at college and won’t be coming home in between the end of her term and the beginning of her internship in Portland this summer.  The recently graduated child is off being recently graduated, enjoying her friends and working.  The son will return later, at which time, I’m hoping I have the energy to go for a bike ride.  Until then, it is just me, here, alone.  I love being alone.  I love being in my home and alone.  I almost never have a problem finding something to engage in.  In fact, I am the one who is most likely to be voted “The Person Who Has Too Many Things She Wants To Do To Have To Work.”  Today, something is definitely wrong.  I find myself feeling almost…not quite, but almost…bored.

It isn’t that there aren’t plenty of projects to be done.  There are.  Even as I peck these words out on my laptop from the upper deck of my town home, I hear the S.O.’s voice in my head suggesting laundry as a top choice to become absorbed in. It is, in fact, overflowing, and it does, in fact, need to be folded and put away.  Then, there is the garage, most of which, I’ve gone through, tossing decades worth of paperwork that no longer has any meaning in my life, but which I just never took the time to toss. I’ve worked the overwhelming pile down to a box and two 2-drawer file cabinets that I must go through and organize into a useful filing system.  There are several bins of school paperwork that managed to just get tossed into bins over the course of the year rather than being filed in the appropriate binders.  (I find there are binder people and there are file people.  I am most definitely not a binder person.  Give me a file and let me flip through it, please.  Binders, for me, always end up in bins or buckets…or files. I’m far to busy to take the time to carefully open the rings, select the pages I want, get them copied, then return them.  Forget that.  I’m the type that grabs the file and plans on the go.  When I’m done, it all goes back in the file ready to be pulled out again and used next year, this time with added notes and comments about what did not work.  If I really had my way, I would have neither bins nor binders nor files…I’d have an iPad.  It would save me so much time rummaging through the paper pile.  It would save space: good-bye binders and files.  It makes sense.  It is also a pipe dream for me, right now, as I look at the fairly large amount of medical bills I have yet to pay, combined with the expenses associated with now having two children in college.)  Organizing the garage and the remaining files would be a worthwhile project for an afternoon such as this. So would reading a book, going to get some tomato plants and beginning my veggie container garden, or going for a bike ride, or working on developing any one of my many blogs which I’ve neglected over the last couple of months.

There are any number of tasks that could absorb me.  The problem comes when I begin to consider my energy level.  There’s not a task here, including this blog post, which I think I’ll have energy to complete and I hate the idea of creating yet another unfinished project in my life.  I hate unfinished projects.  Just yesterday, my Mac crashed.  It’s possibly a video card going bad.  But it is something I now have to deal with, which I can’t because it will cost money, which I just don’t have. Another unfinished project.  I hate this.  I hate how life can sometimes be going along swimmingly, in fact, perfectly, if it weren’t for all the loose ends.

Yesterday, I had my three month follow-up appointment with my surgeon.  I always enjoy meeting with this man because, besides being a personable sort, he has this way of rendering highly technical medical information into easy-to-understand packages for me. Yesterday, he took a bit of time discussing what I might expect in the months and years to come.  He suggested that I’ll probably be feeling much better in the next couple of months as far as energy levels are concerned, but that I should expect it to take a year, maybe more, before I feel like this is finally behind me.  In short, I need to give myself permission to feel tired and to rest when I just can’t go on.

I wonder…is today’s almost bored listlessness just another way the fatigue is manifesting itself?

I told you I wouldn’t have enough energy to even finish this post.  I’m going to go take a nap.

The End

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We usually think of it as a bad thing; the end of a romance, a good book, a great concert, or fun vacation. Sometimes, even though they can be emotionally laden, endings can be positive. They can provide long awaited closure to the loose ends in life. They can be the end of stressful events, situations or unresolved dilemmas in life. Endings aren’t always a bad thing.

This has been a year of transitions or, more accurately, conclusions, for me. Endings. Finales. Mostly, life just goes on from one phase to the next, from one event, day or season to the next, without much fanfare. This year, I’ve noticed an unusual amount of endings to things that have been going on in my life, some of them for years. Things I’ve been working on cleaning up and moving off my plate are going away and, with them, the accompanying stress. I find it interesting that while 2012 has been an absolutely disappointing year, at least I can say that a great deal of the stressful chapters in my life are closing.

Since May of last year, I have been working on resolving the situation with my home which has become an overwhelming financial and physical burden for me. The tax break was nice, the hedge against inflation nice, the stress not so nice. Also, the fact that it gave me a negative net worth wasn’t exactly cheery either. I am pleased to note, that this chapter should be concluded by the end of July. That takes a huge amount of stress off my plate. I can’t say I’m disappointed. This signifies closure on one of the most unhappy and nightmarish periods of my life. For many reasons, I’m eager to say goodbye to this home and all it symbolizes.

My second oldest child is graduating from high school this year. We are in the midst of all the last minute preparations to close yet another chapter in our lives. For both of us it is an ending and a beginning of new things; new ways of being with each other as she adjusts to the demands and responsibilities of adulthood. While, she is not necessarily going far away to go to college, her role as a college student and theatre major will mean that she is, for the most part, not around. She will be making more of her own decisions and this reality ends my role in her life as it has been until now.

Another school year is winding down. This is always a bittersweet experience and this year it is even more so. It’s been a bumpy year. While it couldn’t be helped, I do wish it could have been different. I can’t change it now. 11 more days and this school year is a wrap.

For the last seven years, I’ve been driving around an older SUV. I believe the life of this vehicle is nearing an end. When I look at the cost of insurance for my 18-year-old who drives it now, combined with the cost of gas, I am certain that my days of driving any SUV around are nearly over. In fact, this brings me to recognize a fun new beginning in my life: that of transitioning from the car as my primary mode of transportation to the bicycle.

It took me almost the entire year to figure out a routine and how to make the 2.95 mile commute to work feasible, but for the last month, I’ve successfully commuted by bike to work, then to radiation treatments, then out for some riding time, then back home most days of the week. This has been wonderful for so many reasons. Obviously, the savings in gas costs is significant. It also means that I am able to get a 20+ mile ride done at least 5 days a week. I no longer have to worry about fitting a ride in after school or dinner or before it gets dark. I’m looking forward to the day when I can say goodbye to the old SUV for good, replace it with a more fuel efficient economy car then drive only when absolutely necessary. This chapter of car insurance hikes, exorbitant gas prices and spendy car repairs is one chapter I can’t turn the concluding page on fast enough.

The best news this week? Monday, I went in for my radiation treatment thinking I had 11 treatments left. I was informed that I have only five treatments left and, if I double up on one day, I will be finished with treatments on Friday. So now, at the time of this writing, I have only two treatments left. My short, little journey with cancer diagnosis and treatment is ending. I’m going to miss the techs, the bike commute across town, and the great routine I had worked out, but I can’t wait for my skin to heal, my energy to return and summer to finally and officially arrive.

Some goodbyes are just good.

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This One’s For My Family, Especially The Ladies

Breast Cancer runs in my family…sort of. My mother, at 56, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also had an uncle who died of breast cancer, a rare but possible thing, as breast cancer can affect 2% of all men. At least, I think that is number I remember reading in my journeys the last few months. As I’ve traveled this road, I’ve successfully laughed off the potential for fear, but I have on several occasions wished I paid more attention when my mom was going through this. The sad part is that I can’t just go back and talk to her about what went down. She passed in 2004. To the best of my knowledge, after her operation (she ended up having a full mastectomy), and her treatments, she never had a recurrence. Her cause of death, was not breast cancer, but complications of emphysema. I find this encouraging. I still wish I could talk to her about what she went through.

Since I cannot do that, and since there is likely to come a time when my sisters or nieces or daughters might want to know exactly what the family genetics holds for them, I am writing this post. I am writing this to let them know what my diagnosis is, and to inform them of my treatments so far. It is, of course, going to be a bit evident through it all, how I feel about it all.

Diagnosis

I have what the medical professionals refer to as DCIS or Ductile Carcinoma In Situ. In other words, I have tiny micro-calcifications in the duct of my right breast. These crystallizations are not visible to the human eye, and in order for them to be seen on my work up they have to be magnified a bazillion times. The term In Situ means that this particular form of cancer is non-invasive. Were it to progress it could eventually break through the duct and invade breast tissue. However, because, my cancer is In Situ, it hasn’t broken out and gone floating around either in my breast or anywhere else in my body.

Treatments

I’ve had three biopsies. Two separate bits of cancer were found. The first was intermediate grade. (Ladies, that will be important for you to tell your health professionals.) The last bit was about a millimeter in size and was of low grade. There’s been some question over the years as to whether the breast cancer gene (BRCA 1 and/or BRCA 2 mutations) exist in our family. To my knowledge, my mother was not tested for this. I know I have not been tested for it. I think this is important for you to know. I know some in the family are already asking. At some point, it might be a good idea for one of us to consider testing…yeah…I guess that’d be me.

Prognosis

My surgeon, after this last surgery informed me that there is almost zero chance of this metastasizing. However, since I have a diagnosis of breast cancer, my odds of getting breast cancer again in either breast is dramatically increased. Exercise and diet are going to be critical factors for me going forward. It is now even more important than ever that I get out on two wheels as often as possible.

Further Treatments

I meet with my Radiology Oncologist this week, to determine if radiation is necessary. I kind of suspect that it will be recommended. It’s not a foregone conclusion and radiation treatment is not without its risks. For example, I learned this week, that if I choose radiation now, and then I have another issue down the road, it will make mastectomy the only option. Though, I’m not so sure that’s entirely a problem, either. As for chemotherapy, not needed for me, because my cancer was such early stage and non-invasive.

So, Ladies, I’m going to encourage you to get your mammograms regularly. Regular exams do make a difference and early detection is the key to the cure. Daughters, you’ll need to start these mammograms earlier than the average person. You now have a grandmother and your mother with the history. Talk to your doctors, but I suspect, getting your baseline at 30 wonD’t be any too soon. If I’m around then, and you want me to, I’d be glad to accompany you for that first one. It sounds a lot scarier than it really is. I’m going to be okay. You will be too. Just remember, eat right, exercise, keep up on your scans.

Party In The Surgical Ward

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This last Monday I headed backed to one of the local hospitals for my second excision biopsy. There were several names this particular procedure has been called and, since each time a nurse came in to talk to me or polk me with a needle or I-V,I had to repeat what procedure I was having done, I got really good at pronouncing all the hard words. I was in for my second wire-isolated lumpectomy…except what we are dealing with are not lumps…they are micro calcifications. They are so tiny they cannot be seen by the naked eye, thus the wire. The surgeon has to do his best, by going into the body guided only by my radiology images of the wire placement and of the wire itself. To make matters even more interesting, the new section they discovered is resting deep at the back of any tissue, right on my pectoral muscle. All this means is that I was up for a day of good times at the hospital. I was,if nothing else, pleased to receive my second pair of purple slipper socks! This time, at least I knew what to expect. It shouldn’t be too bad. Or so I thought.

Since I knew I was in for a bit of a wait, I decided to take advantage of the fab new hospital fashion they have going these days. Gone are the old threadbare cotton hospital gowns that cover nothing and expose everything. They now have paper hospital gowns. That’s right, folks, save a cotton plant, kill a tree.

The nice thing about these paper gowns is that they are lined and they do provide good coverage even for my large, lumpy, old carcass. The best part is that these gowns come with their own climate control. They just hook into this shop-vac type tube which hooks into something behind the bed somewhere. Then you turn on the tube and set the temperature for either warming or cooling, as you desire. Last time, I wasn’t quite looking forward to the process like I was this time, so I didn’t take full advantage of all my hospital accommodations. This time, I didn’t hesitate. I hooked up the shop vac and turned it on full force.

Now, I’m sure this situation is just ripe for euphemism and innuendo, but since this is a family friendly forum I’ll leave the strangeness of this type of modern fashion device to your imagination. I will say this, the air from shop vac going into the gown was not in the least bit flattering to my figure and it did absolutely nothing for my already very fragile body image. It wasn’t long before I was pulling the hose out of the gown and begging the nurse for an early dose of sedatives. In all honesty, I can see some value to these gowns. At minimum, if one were incontinent, they could use the warm air from the hose to dry things out before their surgery. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

The best part of the day was when I got to go to imaging. The same techs were there this time that worked on me last time, so we got all the small talk out of the way. It wasn’t long before they were telling me their darkest secrets. Okay, I’m just kidding about the dark secrets part.

If you’ve ever had a mammogram or have had one described to you, then all I can say is that this wire placement process was like having the mammogram of all mammograms and having it last for.ev.er. Imagine having any certain tender part of your anatomy stretched and twisted and smashed between two flat plates of glass while you strike some freakishly bizarre America’s Next Top Model pose. Then imagine Dr. Radiologist has to leave the room to consult with Dr. Surgeon in order to determine the best wire placement possible while you hold that pose, in compression, the entire time. Then imagine they are discussing this situation for nearly 15 minutes. It may have been more, I stopped worrying about it when my arms went numb.

Now, lest you think I am complaining and that I’m implying in any way that any of the fantastic medical professionals who treated me were anything less than incredibly skilled and competent, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I’m very pleased with the care I’ve received all along the way. This instance being no exception. The most stressful aspect of my kind of cancer is getting ALL of it. Remember, my surgeon, who truly is amazing, needs that wire to be accurate and he needs accurate images. They were actually discussing whether I needed two such wires, and if so, what was going to be the least obnoxious and most effective method of inserting said wires. My attitude about this is “Please take all the time you need and while you’re at it, how about another round of those sedatives?” The professionals handling my treatment are so compassionate and wonderful. They truly were concerned for me and my comfort. (I must have really looked ridiculous!) All I can say is that I think everyone is going to be very pleased when medical science develops “softer” means of getting images of all our softer body parts.

In any event, while I was in the room attempting my pose for my audition for America’s Next Top Model Senior Edition, my eye wandered over to the window sill. Lo, and behold, there on the windowsill was a spatula. Okay, now that was weird. Well, me being me, I just had to ask. I just couldn’t let that much weirdness go by without comment. Again, because this is an attempt at a family friendly forum I’m not at liberty to give you all the specifics. Yes, they do use the spatulas in the radiology department. No, they are not making cookies. I did get the specifics from the techs, and the story was so fascinating I didn’t even notice that the needle and wire had been inserted. While, I can’t exactly say that part of my day was over before I knew it, I can say that great fun was had by all. Furthermore, I now know that the kitchen spatula is truly a multipurpose tool.

Of course, after imaging is when the real fun begins. That’s when I get to meet up with the anesthesiologist and plan my cocktail for the afternoon party in the surgical wing. I was fortunate enough to have the same Dr. Cocktail as the last time, and since last time was such a great trip with no nausea on the back end, I opted for the same recipe. I was good to go.

Moments later, I was being wheeled into surgery. I remember greeting everyone (it was a big party they set up just for me) and someone making a comment about the surgeon’s choice of music. They strapped the massaging leg warmers on me and as that I-V cocktail began to take effect, I remember closing my eyes and going to my happy place. I was riding. Effortlessly. Fast. Free. On that $8k S-Works Specialized road bike I saw in the shop this last weekend. I wasn’t dreaming about work this time, like I did last time. The wind in my face felt fantastic! The climbs were effortless. Life was good!

And the next thing you know, the party’s over. They’re handing me my regular clothes, telling me not to make any major decisions or bathe for the next 48-hours and sending me off with nothing but a big patch on my chest and prescription for pain meds. Kinda makes me wonder if it was something I said.

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New Year’s Resolutions, Revised

I’m a great one for setting goals and New Year’s Resolutions are no exception.  Back in the day, I’d write them down making sure they were measurable and achievable.  Most of the time, back in the day, I was able to realize all  these goals I so dutifully recorded.  Things sure have changed. Oh, I still set goals, alright, but with each passing year, the goals seem more difficult to achieve. I’m lucky if I can set one priority a year and make it happen.

In 2010, I made it my goal to purchase my bike.  I achieved that goal.

In 2011, it was my goal to put a thousand miles on my bike.  I didn’t meet this goal until February of 2012, but I got close. That was good enough.

This year, my priority, is losing 50 pounds by my 50th birthday, which is in June. My mantra has been “50 Less By 50.”

Well, it was my priority, until, the first week of January.

Sometimes life has a way of circumventing the most noble objectives.

In brief, my life was clicking along just great.  In December, I was called back to have further images taken after a routine mammogram revealed some areas of concern.  On January 6, I found myself lying prone while I endured what I now know is a stereo-tactic needle biopsy.  On Valentine’s Day, I was in the hospital for a wire-isolated lumpectomy, the results  of which revealed ductile carcinoma in situ, or DCIS…cancer.  At the time of writing, I’m awaiting an additional surgery which will likely be followed up with radiation.

No chemotherapy.

No free boob job.

I’m not contagious.

And…given that DCIS is completely curable…I’m likely not going to die.  At least, not right now, from this.

My overriding emotion these days?

This is really messing with my 50 Less By 50 plan.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.  My overriding emotion is gratitude.  You see, cancer, in particular breast cancer, is not the death sentence it used to be. Even so, cancer, really is no laughing matter.  I know this.  I know people who’ve suffered and died from some form of cancer.  I have immediate family members who have suffered through cancer.  It is not a pretty nor is it humorous and were it not myself involved, I’d definitely refrain from the gallows humor.  I’ll go off on how early detection is critical, and how women should absolutely make sure they keep up on their exams at a later time, but right now I’d just like to take a moment to be grateful.

Cancer caught me by surprise, and as any potentially life-threatening disease will do, it has forced me to re-prioritize my life.  Yes, I still have my 50 Less By 50 Plan as a priority, but somehow it just isn’t the most important thing these days.  In the last three months, I’ve learned a great deal about breast cancer and some of the approaches we now have available to treat and cure it. That I live in a day and age when I can benefit from so much research and the medical advancements made just in my lifetime, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many, many things I am grateful for.

As I take the next step in this interesting journey through 2012, each day I find myself revising my New Year’s Resolutions.  50 Less By 50 is still a priority, in fact, even more so since exercise and healthy eating reduce one’s risks.  But, if I don’t quite make it by my birthday, or if I just need to allow myself some time to rest, I’m going to give myself permission to do it.

Two days after my surgery, I was on my bike.  Of course, it was inside on a trainer.  I made it two miles, in just under 10 minutes before I just couldn’t go any further.  Two days before my surgery, I’d completed a ride that logged me almost 40 miles for the week.  Yeah.  This thing is really messing with my workout plans and my riding goals.

I just have to let that be alright for now.

I am going to make it.