Octobra and Tutus: The Pink Month Revisited

Portrait of a young girl in pink dress.

Portrait of a young girl in pink dress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

There’s no getting away from it – it’s the Pink Month again. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This year, it’s all about fashion.

Like gloves and dancing? Here’s the sequel. You won’t dance alone.

Just don’t try to play the guitar.

The exhibitionists among us can don the Madonna look. But you will see neither me nor my cup size here.

As a former ballerina, I can fully support the Tutu Project. The man behind this brilliant idea talks about his project here. And if you’re inspired to make your own tutu, here are some instructions. Choreography not included.

Yes, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month — again.  If you must do it, just Think Before You Pink.

Taking a Detour: The Making of a Hypochondriac

Pukkelpop 2006 tent camp.

Image via Wikipedia

Day 1:

So I’m tooling along Cancer Road. Don’t want to be here, but at least I’m past the multicar pile-up of surgery, chemo and radiation, and I’m picking up speed. Hope the rest of my trip is event-less. Man, it’s hard to drive with your fingers crossed.

Switching lanes now and – oops – wait! How did I end up on this ramp? I’m not supposed to get off this highway for another year or so, when I get to the exit marked “Dramatically Decreased Chance of Recurrence.”

Wait — what’s that brown sign? Looks like the ones that point to scenic attractions. Maybe a welcome sign?

Well, maybe not.

Welcome to Camp Hypochondria

No pets allowed

Aw, rats.

Somebody warned me about this place. A guy on the Road ahead of me. He said he got stuck there, but I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about then.

So here I am now, parked in the middle of a bunch of tents.

Looks like one of those Occupy campsites that were recently closed down. Maybe I’ll stay here for awhile and see what’s going on. I’ve got a tent in the trunk.

Day 2:

Here I am, lying awake on my cot.

Ouch!

What is that?

That ache in my wrist that woke me up.

Surely it’s not…

I get up quickly and look for my checklist, the one I made after talking with the oncologist at  my last check-up. There it is, tucked away in my special Cancer Survivor backpack, the one I assembled after the end of radiation. I carry it around with my water bottle and dietary supplements. It’s got a special pocket for Good Humor.

Let’s see – what did the oncologist say?

Cancer doesn’t attack the joints, or recur below the elbows or knees. (“Everything else is fair game,” he said.)

Oh, so I guess that pain in my wrist is simply, what, arthritis? Or – no – maybe it’s degenerative joint disease, one of the side effects of chemo the naturopath told me about.

Or, maybe I just slept in the wrong position.

But just for security, let’s continue down the list.

The doc said that, if it spreads, breast cancer usually heads for the brain, lungs, bones, or liver.

So, let’s see:

No headache. Guess my brain’s OK (relatively speaking). Check.

Lungs? No cough or shortness of breath. Check.

Bones? No pain. Except for that wrist. But that’s a joint AND below the elbow. Double check.

And I’m hungry.

That’s a good sign. A good appetite and steady weight indicate a healthy liver.

But just to be sure, I’ll check my weight on the bathroom scale. I just happen to have one of those in my backpack too. (Mary Poppins would be so proud.)

Two pounds heavier.

What?!!!

I never gain weight (well, except for those pregnancies and that one summer at Girl Scout camp).

Uh-oh. Weight gain. Isn’t that one of the signs of ovarian cancer?? Sometimes breast and ovarian cancer are linked.

Rats — No trapdoor I can open into my body for a look inside.

OK, quick – pull on my shorts. If the waistband’s too loose, it could be weight loss from liver metastasis. But if it’s too tight — abdominal swelling can mean cancerous ovaries.

But these fit just right.

Oh.

Must have been that Halloween candy my son gave me from his trick-or-treat bag, and all that extra sitting writing blog entries like this one.

I dig again through my backpack, looking for what, I’m not sure. And I see it in writing – a folder with a label that reads “cancer.”

Oh wait. No. That says “career.”

Silly.

Last week I saw something written on my to-do list and I thought it too said “cancer.” But it was only my note to myself to cancel the newspaper. Yeah, I’d like to cancel cancer too.

I glance down and notice that small mole on my right calf. It disappeared during chemotherapy, but now it’s back.

Oh right, that’s below the knee, and therefore off limits.

Unless, of course, it’s . . . skin cancer.

I remind myself, as the oncologist said, that if today’s pain is new AND above the knees and elbows AND progressive, I should start the countdown. If the pain is still around after 2 weeks, I’m supposed to call him. I am amazed at how many pains can come and go from a body in the course of 2 weeks.

A few months ago, it was the lymph node under my jaw that was tender off and on for a month. Pressing on it (of course I did!) irritated my ear and sinus and I had some tingling along my nose and lips. I was sure this meant a brain tumor that was affecting my facial nerve. But then the air dried out and the molds disappeared and the node retreated into obscurity.

And that tender spot in my abdomen last fall turned out to be just a bladder infection.

If nothing else, all these false alarms are a test of how well I know my own anatomy. In the misguided process of trying to diagnose myself, I’ve discovered just where my liver and pancreas are and what they do. And now that I’m in menopause — not through the natural gradual descent but from a shove over the cliff by that villain chemotherapy – I wonder just where are those ovaries anyway? Everything in my body seems to have shifted. The joints work differently. Even my teeth don’t come together quite like they used to.

A yoga teacher once told me that, if we are spiritually healthy and mature, we grow in awareness. I don’t think this is the kind of awareness she meant.

I resent the way cancer has hijacked my thinking.

Hypochondria: It’s just another word for obsession.

“Presque tous les hommes meurent de leurs remèdes, et non pas de leurs maladies.”

Nearly all men die of their remedies, and not of their illnesses.

Molière: The Imaginary Invalid (1673), Act III, sc. iii

A Camp Fitch Tent Group

Image via Wikipedia

Anything But Pink

At this time a year ago, I was fuming about pink. Pink wrappers on my food, pink teddy bears in gift shops, pink ribbons stamped on my eggs.

Dwight D. Eisenhower photo portrait.

Image via Wikipedia

October is my favorite month and, though I’m ecstatic to be a survivor of breast cancer, I am not at all pleased to see the gorgeous reds and yellows of fall co-opted by the industrial-strength commercialism that now passes for breast cancer awareness.

And so, to put things back in perspective, I present here just a sample of the many other special days and causes that are honored in October.  (Many thanks to my sister for this information, which comes from Apples4theTeacher.com.)

Our excursion through the month of October begins on the 2nd, which is the day set aside to honor farm animals, guardian angels, and custodial workers (who might very well be guardian angels for us and the animals).

Next up is the 4th, which is, well, 10-4 day. (Ha!) Do you know where your CB radio is?

The 5th brings us World Teachers’ Day and Do Something Nice Day.  I say we combine these and just make it Do Something Nice for a Teacher Day (which ought to include giving them a raise).

Mad Hatters and German-Americans have their day on the 6th.  We could perhaps combine these two groups too, but that might be asking too much of the Germans.

The 8th brings us American Touch Tag Day, and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate what is also National Children’s Day.

The second week of October has two days we can all relate to: the International Moment of Frustration Scream Day on the 12th and National Grouch Day on the 15th. Two days later, though, we refocus our attention globally and recognize the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  Too bad we can’t eradicate that problem on that single day.

The 18th is set aside to honor (if you can call it that) National Menopause Day, but whoever designated that day had the foresight to also make it National Chocolate Cupcake Day.

On the 19th, you can Evaluate Your Life, and then follow it up on the 20th with Information Overload Day. (I’m doing my part here, in advance, to ensure you’re sufficiently overloaded come the big day.)

Be aware of reptiles and count your buttons on the 21st. And give the moles their day on the 23rd. (Your cranky co-workers get theirs on the 27th.)

Statue of St Jude on the West Front of Salisbu...

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I’m glad to see that my birthday, the 28th, is National Chocolates Day and also St. Jude’s Day.  My mother named me after St. Jude (sort of), her favorite saint, but I am by no means a hopeless case. I prefer to reflect his characteristic of perseverance.

Those of you with psoriasis can celebrate on the 29th. And anyone unable to wait for Halloween will happily recognize Candy Corn Day on the 30th.  Why not on the 31st?  Because Halloween is reserved not just for spooks but caramel apples, and magic, as well.

I noticed that a number of Presidents were born in October:  Jimmy Carter on the 1st, Rutherford B. Hayes, a fellow Ohioan, on the 4th, Chester Arthur on the 5th,  Dwight Eisenhower on the 14th, Teddy Roosevelt on the 27th, and John Adams on the 30th. I do wonder what Roosevelt would think of those pink teddy bears.  He doesn’t seem the kind of guy who would have ever worn pink. If you really want to go all out for these guys, you can download the coloring pages for each of them at Apples4theTeacher.com.

Eleanor Roosevelt: political activist, First L...

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A couple of First Ladies also celebrate birthdays this month — Eleanor Roosevelt on the 11th (which is also National Coming Out Day), and Hillary Clinton on the 26th (also known as Mule Day). Why the odd combinations on these days? One can only speculate.

Because some causes deserve more than just a day, we have a few special weeks in October.  National Carry a Tune Week and Nuclear Medicine Week share the 2nd through the 8th. Customer Service Week comes a tad later, from the 3rd through the 7th. (I think EVERY week should be dedicated to customer service. We seem to have forgotten what that is.)

The 16th through the 22nd is an especially busy week:  Kids Care, Teens Read, Chemistry, the YWCA’s Week Without Violence, Food Bank Week, Forest Products, Lead Poisoning Prevention, Freedom from Bullies, Freedom of Speech, and recognition of Medical Assistants. The last week of the month brings us World Hearing Aid Awareness and Give Wildlife a Break.

The really big causes, of course, get to claim the whole month. These include apples (how appropriate), bats (not sure if that’s the wooden or furry type), class reunions, and domestic violence. Emotional intelligence, which leads to emotional wellness (well, DUH!), fair trade, financial planning, and AIDS awareness. It’s the Month of Free Thought (something else we could stand to do all year round), books, caramels, chili, chiropractors, dental hygienists, Down syndrome, and ergonomics.

There’s something called “Gain the Inside Advantage” this month, though I have no clue what that means, and we are all to Go on a Field Trip (all month long?  I like it!). Kitchens and baths get the whole month, as do popcorn popping (oops, that poppin’), roller skating and raptors.  And if that’s not enough, we are to honor photographers and right-brained people, and hold conversations about prescriptions.

Two activities I can really enjoy this whole month are Sarcastic Awareness and Self-promotion (does that include the shameless type?).

And if you didn’t get enough of the hot flashes on the 18th, you can indulge yourself every day, no matter where you are, because it’s World Menopause month.

All sarcasm aside…

The list is a reminder that life is full of strange and wonderful things.

Autumn leaves

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Resurrection Stories

This being the Easter season, it seems appropriate to focus on stories of resurrection.  Not just my own, with respect to finishing the cancer treatment and moving on to whatever awaits me, but for others as well.

Phil Mickelson is the first one to come to mind.  Pro golf fans know his name well and know that he won the green jacket at the Master’s tournament today, even though he‘s not always a consistent player. I grew teary-eyed during the final hole, watching him play and seeing that pink ribbon stitched on the side of his cap in honor of his wife Amy and his mother, who are both being treated for breast cancer. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of that ubiquitous ribbon, but this was one time I was glad to see it on display.  Here’s a guy who deserved to win, to have his hard work acknowledged and his career resurrected.  (As for Tiger, well, I don’t believe he’s been either resurrected OR reformed.)

Today’s local newspaper headlined the story of a man in a nearby town who is working hard to resurrect his own son. David Beshears was seriously injured by a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan 2 years ago. David’s father, who is also named David, has self-published a book about his son’s treatment and recuperation and still works with his son daily to help him recover. Though he himself has spine problems, Mr. Beshears’ goal is to climb Mt. Rainier every year, beginning this summer, until the day his son is able to climb with him. It’s a remarkable story. If you’re interested, you can read about it here:
http://www.theolympian.com/2010/04/11/1202319/after-ied-father-and-son-have.html

Also in today’s paper is the story of a young woman who has experienced her own resurrection after a canoe accident 10 years ago. Carly Boohm was a high school junior practicing for a river relay race when her canoe capsized in a strong current and she was submerged under water for 45 minutes. In the course of her recovery, her heart failed three times. She eventually went on to graduate from high school and talks about her life since then in this story:
http://www.theolympian.com/2010/04/11/1202330/a-second-chance-at-life-10-years.html

My own resurrection is not nearly as dramatic as these. Overall, I feel well, but suffer that fear of recurrence that I‘m told is prevalent especially for the first year after diagnosis. The odd spots on my fingernails have almost grown out.  My left armpit is still numb and some discoloration from the radiation remains, but is gradually fading.  I have my hair back — and when I bought a beautiful scarf at the LA County Art Museum last week, it was for my neck, not my head! My energy and mood flag sometimes, and I feel a tremendous stiffness in muscles and bones, which the acupuncturist attributes to the heat and drying out of tissues caused by chemotherapy and radiation (as he explained it, a decrease in the “yin“, the feminine part of that yin-yang balance). But these things are minor compared to what could be.  A couple weeks ago, I attended my first yoga class in almost a year, one designed specifically for cancer survivors (another part of the integrative services offered by the oncology center I go to).  One of the women in the class was still recuperating from a double mastectomy 2 years ago that lead to lymphedema in one of her arms.  There but for the grace of God…

And so, to keep my balance, I continue to look for (and share with you) humor and inspiration (along with those regular bouts of righteous indignation). Here are a couple of websites I stumbled across recently. These are not about resurrection (if you want humor about that, read Lamb by Christopher Moore), but they do relate to Easter, at least the secular part involving those luridly colored marshmallow Peeps.

Here they are making their contributions to science: http://www.peepresearch.org/surgery.html

And here they prove that they do indeed know how to do research: http://www.millikin.edu/staley/about/peeps/Pages/default.aspx

Have a Laugh on Me

Spring is gorgeous here, cherry and pear trees in full bloom, tulip buds coloring up, and a new hummingbird at the feeder.  The longer days are rushing by. Our house is decorated for Easter and still sports the balloons and flowers some dear friends gave me at a celebratory lunch after the end of radiation therapy. I am still  immersed in post-cancer reading but am trying to balance it with humor.

Last week, I attended a 1-day conference for cancer survivors.  Not just breast, but any type of cancer. Lots of sessions to choose from — exercise, mindfulness, sexuality after cancer (with toys and samples!) and yes, humor.  This session included a story about Linda Hill, who has survived four rounds of cancer and started her own line of T-shirts. The slogans on these shirts include:

I lost my colon but I’m still full of crap.
Of course they’re fake, the real ones tried to kill me!
Mastectomy: $12,000. Radiation: $30,000. Chemotherapy: $11,000. Never wearing a bra again: Priceless.

(I was reviewing my insurance statements this week and can attest to the fact that the cost of radiation is indeed $30,000 or more.)

If this sort of humor interests you or you just gotta have one of those shirts, you can find more on her web site:
http://www.somuchmoreonline.com/index.php?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.browse&category_id=28&Itemid=53&TreeId=1

The keynote speaker at the conference was Debra Jarvis, a chaplain who works at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. She’s written several books about dealing with chronic disease and based her talk on her own experience with breast cancer.  But before she began her message, she stepped out from behind the podium , grabbed her right breast with one hand and pointed at it with the other, saying “You want to know which one is fake?? It’s this one!”  And then she calmly stepped back behind the podium, explaining that, if she didn’t point out the reconstructed breast early, the audience members would spend most of her speaking  time trying to figure out which one it was and miss the whole talk.

I have to say it — her gimmick worked, and the audience was very alert. She had humorous stories to tell, but her message was serious:  It’s not about the hair. We all have to find our own meaning in the dark experience that shakes us awake, and once awakened, we must not go back to sleep.

Here’s a link to her website: http://www.debrajarvis.com/
And a hilarious article she wrote for Cure magazine about dealing with a certain intimate problem in the aftermath of chemo. Beware, it‘s a little racy: http://www.curetoday.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/article.show/id/2/article_id/1246

The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor defines therapeutic humor as “any intervention that promotes health and wellness by stimulating a playful discovery, expression, or appreciation of the absurdity or incongruity of life’s situations.”

Yeah, well, nothing like a boring definition to take the fun out of things.  Thankfully, the association itself appears to be little more joyful and lists lots of resources and links to fun (if slightly academic) materials and websites.  I plan to check out the link to Clowns Without Borders.

For additional overanalysis of fun, there’s also the International Society for Humour Studies (www.hnu.edu/ishs/) with its many links.  One of these is to a scholarly organization called the International Society for Luso-Hispanic Humor Studies, which tracks the study and appreciation of humor wherever Spanish and Portuguese are spoken.

I’m glad to know people are laughing in other languages. But the names of these organizations make me think the members have missed the point.

So if what you really want to do is laugh, not study it, there’s the World Laughter Tour (www.worldlaughtertour.com).  This group tells us that April is humor month (get ready! They‘ve got free resources on the website), and World Laughter Day is coming up on May 2. And if you want to join a laughter group, get in touch with them. Think globally, laugh locally.

Now that’s my kind of support group.