Tag Archives: cancer

The Curse of What Iffing

As someone four-and-a-half years removed from a breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve reached the point in my recovery where I “what if” myself all the time. I’ve moved past the consistent routine of doctors appointments and testing that were de rigueur during treatment and the clinical trial I took part in. That leaves me with a lot of spare time, and plenty of room in my brain case to ponder what I did or didn’t do during my treatment.

For example, I keep going back to the four week period between chemotherapy and radiation where I seriously considered not doing radiation. At that point, I’d had a PET scan and 16 chemo treatments that, as far as I was concerned, killed enough evil in my body and psyche. I didn’t see the point in roasting myself, as I referred to it, on top of all that. The logic wasn’t there. But, I went ahead and did it. The problem I had was, what if I don’t do it and the cancer comes back? So, I went ahead and submitted myself to 34 trips to the giant rotisserie.

Then, after my oncologist and I determined that I was really and truly post-menopausal, I decided to switch from Tamoxifen, the gold-standard of estrogen-inhibiting drugs, to an aromatase inhibitor, which is meant to kill any remaining estrogen your pituitary gland might have the audacity to secrete. I spent eight months of misery on that drug, and boy was I sorry. I went back to Tamoxifen and promised to re-visit the situation once I’ve been on it a full five years.

In December, 2017, I discovered that I had atrial flutter, which is an irregular heartbeat. I was subjected to a battery of tests and had to take a beta blocker and blood thinner for a couple of months. Then, I scheduled myself for a procedure called a cardiac ablation, where a doctor specializing in cardiac electrophysiology, went up through my leg with electrodes to zap the area of my heart that was not beating regularly. A year later, my heart is fine, but I still cannot feel parts of my right leg.

Just before Thanksgiving, I came down with a cold and cough so epic, I thought I would never recover. Pre-cancer, I never had any issues with my lungs, save for one episode of bronchitis when I was in my 30s. Now, any cold I get settles immediately in my left lung, making me cough and wheeze like a three-pack-a-day smoker. I’ve never before felt a rattling sensation in my lung, and it is not pleasant. And for the record, I halfheartedly smoked Parliament cigarettes for about five minutes in high school.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about over-treatment of breast cancer. The consensus now seems to suggest that women are receiving too much chemo and too many sessions on the rotisserie. Given that my diagnosis included a spread to my lymph nodes, I was told that the treatment I received would be very aggressive. What I wasn’t told was how bad the fallout would be years after treatment ended. I don’t think there is any doctor who would tell you that residual side effects from cancer treatment don’t change you physically and psychologically, but I do think there is a pact among medical professionals to downplay the aftermath. For example, the cardiologist who performed the ablation procedure, along with the general cardiologist I saw prior, were both reluctant to admit that my heart problems might have been caused by radiation treatment. In my case, it’s easier to say, you’re an overweight, middle-aged woman, what do you expect? Of  course you’re going to have heart problems at some point. Not that it matters now; the damage is done and I have to deal with the consequences of my decisions.

It’s human nature to question yourself when you get to a certain point in life. So many questions start with the phrase, “What if…” that you want to delete it from your vocabulary. I have my share of regrets, but the most difficult ones to reconcile are the ones that have to do with the decisions I’ve made about my health. It sucks to feel like shit for as long as I have, and to have trained professionals de-emphasize what you’ve been through. I’ve been gone since the dawn of the “Me Too” movement, and many people think this is a problem experienced only by women. I’m not so sure. Maybe if the medical establishment treated its patients with more empathy, I wouldn’t feel this way.

What if we could be kinder to each other and not look at each other like parts on an assembly line? What if we stopped and listened instead of trying to wrap things up quickly in order to move on to the next task? What if…

 

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The Nose Roars Back

Have you ever had something stuck in your craw for so long you never thought it would go away? That’s been the relationship I’ve had with fragrance for the past six years. If you check out the last two blogs I posted, you’ll see that I was off scent for a long time, due to circumstances beyond my control. That is what’s been sticking in my craw for so long (What is a “craw” anyway? I keep envisioning that piece of popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth which takes yards of dental floss to extricate from your mouth.) Then, cancer treatment shattered my sense of smell so completely, I was convinced it was forever fucked. Forgive the strong language; if you’ve been down that road, you know what I’m talking about.

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Is Makeup Going to Kill Us?

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Peter Thomas Roth Un-Wrinkle Peel Pads, with 20% glycolic acid. These will wake you up faster than a latte with an extra shot. They do, however, make your face look fabulous.

In lieu of a November beauty favorites post, I’ve decided to tackle a subject I’m becoming a little irritated by, and it happens to involve makeup and skin care.

My favorite militant feminist organization, Breast Cancer Action, has lightened up on the mammogram debate for the time being, and is now focusing on the dangers of makeup and skin care products. Do some makeup and skin care items have harmful ingredients in them? Yes. Does there need to be more regulation on the part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to keep us safe from dangerous products? Maybe.  At this point, waking up every morning puts you at risk for something. I’m not sure we should be all that concerned that our moisturizer or lip balm might be killing us.

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I Still Can’t Look Away

In March, 2011, I wrote a blog entry about Charlie Sheen’s meltdown after being fired from the hit sitcom, Two and a Half Men. I’ve always admired Sheen’s acting abilities, dating all the way back to Platoon and Wall Street; especially Wall Street because he personified a certain type of asshole that my generation must claim responsibility for. What type of asshole is that, you ask? The yuppie (young upwardly mobile urban professional) – the hipster antecedent who cared about nothing except making money, and gave birth to the materialistic mindset we’ve been cursed with since Michael Douglas’s character Gordon Gekko uttered the phrase, “greed is good”. The yuppies have now descended into middle age, but you can tell which ones are still a little “Bud Fox” around the edges, and long for those Halcyon days of insider trading and Reaganomics.

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When the Dust Settles and the Smoke Clears

Most of us are familiar with variations of the expression, “When the dust settles”, or, “When the smoke clears”, we find out who our real friends are. This expression is apt when the roads our lives take become winding, and there is no clear path ahead of us. Sometimes, family and friends decide to stick with you as you navigate tricky twists and turns. Other times, they disappear into the dust and smoke, never to be seen or heard from again.

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I’m Wondering (About Cancer Discrimination)

This essay was originally published on July 27, 2015.

Summer is always the sluggish time of year when it comes to work. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living – working during the summer is a drag. Commuting in hot weather via public transit saps your will to live (thankfully, I don’t have to endure that anymore), but so does that niggling feeling in the back of your mind that you’re not working because the evil forces are conspiring against you.

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Here We Go Again (Mammograms)

This essay was originally published on July 9, 2015. 

 

“Sweet Jesus in a Jeep” is a popular expression of frustration I see time and time again on social media. I refrain from using it, since I am Jewish, but I’ve been known to verbally exclaim “Jesus Christ!” on a regular basis to express frustration about many things. At present, I am in a position where I am completely flummoxed, and there isn’t an adequate expression to describe my frustration with the raging mammography debate.

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That Fateful Mammogram

This essay was originally published on May 26, 2015.

May 24, 2014 was the day I had my first-ever mammogram at age 47. I was flip about it. I told my Facebook friends I was going to do battle with the “hamburger press” for the first time, and afterwards, I said it really wasn’t a big deal. I went for coffee with a new friend. I got a frantic phone call from my doctor at eight o’clock that night advising me to go for more screening. Here we are.

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Preventable My Ass

This essay was originally published on April 22, 2015.

I’ve been battling a cold for the past week, and I swear, it has legs. I guess I was due for one this severe, because I haven’t had a cold since I left the Great White North two-and-a-half years ago. I think that’s a personal record. I never got sick while I was on chemo, despite my non-existent immune system, so I think my body is treating me to a long overdue comeuppance.

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