Category Archives: cancer

Monday Morning Memories

It’s been ten years since my molar pregnancy.  I hold on to so many memories of that harrowing experience, but the one thing I’ll never forget, or let go of, is the ghastly sensation that there was something inside my body – first the botched fetal material and then the cancer – that wasn’t supposed to be there, that I had no control of, and that caused me harm.

After a barrage of invasive medical procedures, including vaginal ultrasounds, a CAT scan, and surgery, it was around this time in February 2005 that I spent every Monday morning for eight weeks at the gynecologic oncologist’s office receiving chemotherapy injections to destroy the malignancy inside my uterus.

On my first Monday, there was an older couple sitting in the waiting room with me. The woman wore a scarf over her head. She looked tired and was quiet. The man looked nervous and was talkative.

“What are you doing here, young lady?” he asked me as if it were absurd for a woman my age to be sitting in the same room with them.

It was absurd. I wanted to scream, As luck would have it, shit happens to us youngsters, too! Instead, I explained my molar pregnancy as best as I could because I still didn’t understand it and as quickly as I could because I didn’t want to cry.

They looked shocked.

I was, too.

We must’ve had the same chemo schedule, because I saw this couple every Monday morning, and every Monday morning the man was eager to talk about his wife and her cervical or ovarian (I don’t remember which) cancer while he (we) waited. I felt bad for them – for his wife who was sick and for him who was powerless to help her – but I dreaded seeing them. I didn’t want to think about what was inside her body. I didn’t want to watch him sit alone. I didn’t want to imagine their future. I didn’t want to do any of it because it was terrifying, and I was too worried about myself to have any perspective that my condition, albeit crappy, was curable and that my future, unlike theirs, was a sure thing.

Eventually, I stopped seeing them, but it wasn’t because they were done with their cancer journey. It was because I was done with mine. I’ve thought about them periodically over the years. Did she survive? Is he alone? My memories of them usually creep up during a medical procedure, like a colonoscopy, a skin biopsy, or a thyroid ultrasound, that probes for something below the surface of my skin.

I thought of them on Monday while I waited to get a mammogram.

I have no family history of breast cancer, but I turn 40 later this year and because of my medical history, you’ll never catch me avoiding an examination, test, or procedure that could help me avoid sitting once again in the waiting room of an oncologist’s office.

For better or for worse, my molar pregnancy taught me two things:

1. It taught me to be afraid. It’s been a decade since that clusterfuck of a pregnancy, and I’m still convinced that every lump, bump, tingle, or pain is a cancer that’s going to kill me.

2. It taught me to take care of myself. The upside of my PTSD is that I go to the doctor more than most people I know.

I never skip a cleaning at the dentist or a Pap smear at the gynecologist. I get a wellness check-up with my primary care doctor twice a year. I also have several visits each year with a dermatologist, endocrinologist, and hematologist. My next (and third) colonoscopy will happen in 2017, I had a follow-up thyroid ultrasound done a few weeks ago, and last Friday I added an orthopedic hand surgeon to my Rolodex of doctors.

In early January, I discovered a small, hard lump underneath the skin of my right hand. Google attempted to assure me that it was most likely a fluid-filled and benign ganglion cyst, but it also disclosed that, although very rare, some hand cysts were malignant sarcomas that could spread to other parts of the body. Despite my outward attempt to not freak out, you can probably imagine the diagnosis that haunted me in my sleep while I waited five weeks for my appointment. Fortunately, my little lump was a benign cyst. Crisis (cancer) averted.

I’m (trying) not (to be) overly worried about the results of Monday’s mammogram, but it was an emotional day. There’s no place to hide when a big machine takes pictures of what you can’t see inside your body. It’s normal for these kinds of tests to cause anxiety about one’s future. For me, though, they also trigger difficult memories of my past, including the couple I met ten years ago while waiting for my Monday morning chemotherapy injections.

4 Comments

Filed under breast cancer, cancer, colonoscopy, dentist, health, molar pregnancy, thyroid

Basal Cell Carcinoma…By The Numbers

13: The date. On Friday the 13th [insert dramatic music], I had Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma (i.e. cancer) from my face.

Mohs surgery is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. During Mohs surgery, layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains.

– MayoClinic.com

4:45: The hours and minutes the procedure, including Mohs surgery and plastic surgery, took from start to finish.

2: The number of doctors who treated me.  First, a dermatologist who specialized in Mohs micrographic surgery.  Second, a plastic surgeon who closed the wound.

Infinity: The number of times the right side of my face was poked with a long metal needle filled with local anesthesia. As a point of clarification, the assistant at the dermatologist’s office, Maggie, anesthetized me with a gentle and caring hand. Thank you, dear Maggie. You have the hands of an angel. I adore you. Later on, the arrogant self-confident plastic surgeon robotically stabbed my face over and over again with the gentle hands of an axe murderer.

2: Number of rounds of Mohs surgery before my face was officially cancer free.

50: The percent chance that the cancer would be gone after the first cut. I lost that round, but some people get cut three or four times, so there is gratitude hidden deep in this tale.

$.10: The wound on my face after two rounds of Mohs surgery was approximately the size of a dime.

2: The number of times I cried at the plastic surgeon’s office after Tanya, the assistant, explained what the scar on my face would look like and how it would most likely swell, give me a black eye, and take months to heal.

Here’s the thing about how my anxiety works.  I climb one mountain at a time.

Two hours earlier, I was anxious about how many cuts the Mohs dermatologist would have to make. An hour before that, I was worried about getting the kids dressed, packing their lunches, and dropping them off at school on time. Fourteen hours earlier, I was worried about Dylan getting his 20 minutes of nightly reading done. Forty-eight hours before that, I was worried about PTO bingo night and how many rounds of bingo we would have time to play and if we would have enough prizes for the kids and if I was going to make an ass out of myself at the microphone because I co-chaired the whole thing and had to get up on stage in front of over 200 people to say a bunch of stuff. Four days before that, I was worried about whether or not a kid would crack his head open on the ice at Dylan’s ice skating birthday party. (No one did.) A week earlier, I was worried about whether to make mashed sweet potatoes or baked sweet potato wedges for Thanksgiving. A week before that, I was worried about the ugly bandage on my face when the dermatologist biopsied the little bump on my cheek that I thought was a pimple.

One mountain, one cliff at a time.

I didn’t worry about swelling, scarring, and the months (months!) it would take for my face to heal until that moment in the examination room at the plastic surgeon’s office. I hadn’t really truly thought about any of it – the dime-sized hole on my face, the additional needles that were coming, the stitches, and the thought that I might have to do it all over again someday because once you get one basal cell carcinoma you’re likely to get another one – until right then.

I totally lost it. Tanya gave me a tissue. She was lovely. Like Maggie. Eventually, I stopped crying. Then I lost it again.

7 or 8: The number of stitches on my face.  The arrogant self-confident plastic surgeon didn’t count as he went along.  (Figures.) Despite my description of this guy as an axe murder, he’s highly regarded, and he assured me that my face will heal nicely….unless it doesn’t, in which case there are “things he can do,” which probably involve more face stabbing, so I’m hoping on a wing and a prayer that this works out the first time.

2: The number of weeks until my follow-up appointment with the plastic surgeon.

2: The number of months until my next check-up with my primary dermatologist.

3: The number of months between future dermatologist check-ups for at least one year and probably for the rest of my life.

3: The number of bowls of Skinny Pop I ate when I finally got home.

1: The number of bowls of matzo ball soup (homemade and defrosted from Rosh Hashana) I ate after I finished the Skinny Pop.

1: The number of books I (finally) finished during all of the waiting. (“The Husband’s Secret” by Liane Moriarty, in case you’re wondering.)

4: The number of selfies I took during the ordeal.

face1

After Mohs round one.

face2

After Mohs round two.

face4

After stitches.

face3

You know what they say.  A couple that does basal cell carcinoma together, stays together.

One two more things:

26: The number of children and adults who were shot and killed tragically and violently at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago today.

1,000,000: The number of times I’m going to hug my kids today (after the ibuprofen kicks in).

Numbers are fun. Perspective is everything.

4 Comments

Filed under anxiety, basal cell carcinoma, cancer, gratitude, health, math

Circus (And A Giveaway!)

Perhaps you’ve heard the term Thanksgivukkah?  Or Christmukkah?  How about Thanksgivukkahbirthmas?  Yeah, this time of year, we have Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Dylan’s birthday, and Christmas.

When I was pregnant with Dylan, my actual due date was December 24th.  When he came early on December 6th, I thought, Phew, I dodged the Christmas baby bullet!  I was an idiot.  When you have a family that celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas, any birthday between Thanksgiving and the New Year is a holiday baby.

We hosted a successful Thanksgiving dinner at our house (cooked with a lot of love and just as much butter), and we’ve lit the menorah seven lovely nights so far.  We also bought our first real Christmas tree, and it smells amazing!   So far so good for this most busy stressful anxious wonderful time of the year, right?

Next up is Dylan’s 7th birthday party bonanza at the ice skating rink this weekend and a blizzard themed bingo night at Dylan’s school next week for which I am the event co-chair.  There are way too many items on my to do list for these events, but it will all get done, right?  After the birthday and bingo bashes, we’ll plow ahead to Christmas and the New Year, but smack in the middle of it all, there’s the itty-bitty dilemma of the basal cell carnimona on my face.  Carcinoma is another word for cancer.  On my face.

Remember the bandage?

bandage

Well, the biopsy came back malignant.  It’s basal cell carcinoma, and according to my dermatologist, it’s “infiltrated” (i.e. deep).  It’s not melanoma.  In other words, it’s not going to kill me.  But it’s still cancer.  Deep.  On my face.

Cancer on my face for Christmas. (You shouldn’t have.)

Cancer looks for me, I swear.  It seeks me out, which is why I go to a team of doctors regularly and why I have thyroid ultrasounds that reveal concerning nodules and colonoscopies that reveal precancerous polyps and annual skin checks that uncover “infiltrated” basal cell carnimoma.  I’m sensitive, yes, but I’m also the girl who once got pregnant and ended up with cancer in her uterus instead.

This too shall pass, but in the meantime, it feels like a kidney stone.

December is a wonderful time of the year, especially when I see the joy on my boys’ faces when the Christmas tree is lit up and when they light the Hanukkah menorah candles all by themselves.  But December is also busy and dark and expensive and endless.

The holiday cards need to go out and teacher gifts need to be purchased and the birthday cake (for the ice rink party) needs to be picked up and the cookie cake (for the school party) needs to be ordered and the cake plates and napkins and forks need to be bought and the inflatable hockey stick party favors must be inflated and the blizzard bingo decorations need to be delivered and the winter music needs to be downloaded and the menorahs eventually need to be put away and the Christmas presents need to be bought and wrapped and hid and the house needs to be cleaned up and out because Terminix finally gave us a date in January to finally tent the house to finally get rid of the termites scheming to swarm again in the spring.

And Harry.  My Bo Berry is still gone and I still listen for him when my keys jingle at the front door and I still think of him when I stumble upon a leftover hamburger in the refrigerator and I still get sympathy cards (and bills) from the doctors who treated him and his remains are ready to be picked up and I have no idea what to do with them or where to put them or how or if to tell the kids about them because how do you explain remains to children?

And the cancer on my face.  I have basal cell carcinoma and it’s deep and I need to have Mohs surgery and a plastic surgeon needs to close the wound and there will be a scar and the thing is that I’m still having a hard time with Everything.

I feel buckets and buckets of gratitude under all of It.  Underneath Everything.  I promise, I do.  Like when Dylan winks at me (thanks to Kevin McCallister from Home Alone) and when Riley gets so mad but laughs hysterically when I accuse him of having a monkey in his belly (he does!).  There’s a truth, too.  Cancer doesn’t look for me.  I know this.  I’m not that special.  And, of course, the lesson.  Go to the doctor, Mamas!  Take care of yourselves!  But right now life feels like a freakin’ circus.

Speaking of which…awkward segue in 3-2-1…the circus is coming to town.  Seriously.  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Built To Amaze! show rolls into Miami in January, and I’m giving one lucky winner four tickets to the show on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 3pm at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL.

Color Hi-res Logo

Ringling Ringmaster

See, I told you it would be an awkward segue.  Nonetheless, I’m excited about this giveaway because free stuff is fun, I’ve never taken my kids to the circus, and I think it will be hilarious to take the kiddos to the big top when there’s circus tent covering my entire house.

All you have to do to enter to win the tickets is leave a comment here on the blog telling me why you like the circus and/or if you’re afraid of clowns like I am (damn Poltergeist!).  You can also comment on the circus that is currently my life, but please clarify if you also want to enter to win the circus tickets.

Do not enter if you cannot arrange your own transportation and/or lodging.  Winner will receive circus tickets ONLY.   

The deadline to enter is midnight on Friday, December 13th.  After that, I will pick a winner at random. 

Good luck!  Ha!  Get it?  Unlucky Friday the 13th?  Ha! 

(Seriously.  Good luck.) 

17 Comments

Filed under anxiety, boys, cancer, Christmas, circus, colonoscopy, gratitude, Hanukkah, holidays, Thanksgiving, thyroid