Monday, January 16, 2023

Pew! Pew! Pew! Duck! Duck! Duck!

For us so far, 2023 has been the year of dodging bullets.

That's what the pews are in the title, if you were wondering. And unlike every time my phone autocorrects to duck—ducking autocorrect—I actually meant duck. 

Which, let's be honest, I pretty much never mean. And it makes me incredibly ducking frustrated that with all the internet knows about me, my phone is always like, "Oh, lovey, I think you mean ducking. Here, let me change that for you."

I am of course to be grateful for very scary situations turning out as best case scenario, but halfway into the month of January (which generally seems to last three years, but technically speaking, only lasts 31 days), I am utterly exhausted.

On Thursday night, I walked into the kitchen to find my mom bent over in an L-shape, clutching the kitchen table.

I asked what was wrong as I rushed over.

She couldn't speak and she couldn't move. I held her around the waist and pulled a chair towards us, but she was rigid. I was scared she'd fall. Or we'd fall.

I was just scared.

Nick and the kids had gone to bed, so I yelled for Nick to come help. I think I was kind of panic shrieky.

He ran downstairs and took my mom while I called 911.

Nick laid her down gently on the floor, at which point she opened her eyes and was able to speak.

The fire truck and ambulance arrived fairly quickly, and soon our kitchen was filled with EMTs.

One of them was trying to get the timeline of events, and she asked what time the behavior started. I gave her the approximate time I walked into the kitchen. But I said I didn't know how long my mom had been like that.

So then she asked my mom, who had no idea. So she said, "When was the last time you were normal?"

And Betty was all, "Normal? Probably never."

They did a number of tests and told her they'd be taking her to the hospital.

To which she said, "I'd really prefer not to go."

Everyone not on the floor agreed that it was best that the lady on the floor who couldn't sit up without becoming extremely dizzy did, in fact, need to be escorted bodily to the hospital.

So she went.

The waiting room was packed, and I had to wait for her to be admitted until I could join her in the back. Even arriving in an ambulance, it took her a while to get checked in.

When I got to her in the back, they were getting ready to take her for an MRI.

The nurse left the room and my mom said, "She asked if I was allergic to anything. And I said Republicans."

I told her she just might need a Republican caregiver, so please not to repeat that, and maybe tell them something helpful like her actual drug allergy.

In any case, I left at 2:00 am still not knowing anything but confident they'd at least keep her the night for observation.

As I was to learn Friday, she'd had a small stroke. Very small. Like, barely visible on the MRI. Thank god.

And my little mama also had Covid! What the Dickens?

Thank science and human ingenuity, she wasn't sick.

I tested all of us Friday, and we were all negative. We continue to be.

I picked her up late yesterday afternoon.

She's now testing negative. 

She's exhausted but OK.

Not normal, but please, we have no expectation of that.

Jeez, 2023.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023



It's a rather modestly-sized word that contains an entire universe.

Yesterday my beloved PC messaged me even before the doctor from Washington radiology called.

She said the biopsy showed calcium microcalcifications, fibroadenomatous tissue. Benign. No cancer.

I read her message, and tears sprang to my eyes, and my whole body went weak.

Benign. (Even though I had no idea what fibroadenomatous meant.)

She must've messaged me the minute she got the results.

Bless her.

The radiologist called me not long after. I wasn't sure if I'd get a call, since my PC had already told me, so she caught me off guard. I thanked her for telling me.

I asked what this meant for me. Because clearly there's still stuff in there.

I'll be honest with you. I've done a lot of reading, and the first radiologist explained them to me, but I still don't quite understand the relationship of calcification and cancer. Like are the calcifications in the middle? Do cancer cells excrete calcium? Do they build layers around them, like sea creatures making their shells?

But I didn't want to take her time with these questions. Because whatever it was was benign. Also, I couldn't remember "fibroadenomatous," which was not a word she used.

So I said, "OK, so in the biopsy there were calcifications, and then a bunch of random whatever in there, right?"

And she was like, "I think we may have removed all the calcifications, actually."

"And the random whatever?"

"We don't need to worry about the random whatever."

We had more of a conversation than this, and she then referred to the "random whatever" as breast tissue. 

I guess we do have some concern about the random whatever, as I need to have a mammogram in six months. Or maybe the concern is about the calcifications.

The most important word for me was benign. Although I do understand that this doesn't necessarily mean fine forever and I never have to think about it again.

A good friend of mine suggested consulting a breast surgeon, as she said hers was the one who found her breast cancer. Plus, it would be good to have a relationship with one in case.

This seems like sound advice.

But yesterday, I didn't do much constructive. I was just relieved.

It was interesting, though. 

Because of so many incredible women who had taken the time to share with me, I'd gotten to a point of peace. I recognized that what was going to happen was out of my control. And whatever the situation was, I would do what I needed to. 

So many women with a wide a range of breast cancer journeys and stories. And they are OK.

I would be OK.

This is an extraordinary place to be.

Which is not to imply that I was floating in rainbow light all at peace with everything. No. I was still scared. I was still hoping it would go one way and not another.

Because let's be honest: cancer is scary. Dealing with it is trauma, no matter how good your care and how supported you are.

So I wanted to extend and invitation to anyone with a cancer story.

If you'd like to post your story on my blog, if you think this is something that will make you feel good, you are welcome to do so. I'm happy to help you tell it, or to edit it for you, or simply to post what you send me.

You can use your name and details, or be anonymous. Write the highlights or the lowdarks, or anything in between.

Whatever might feel comfortable for you.

Because I know that for me, writingin and sharing is freeing. It takes me from being afraid and alone to realizing that others have had similar experiences and feelings, and gives me the sense that we are in this life soup together.

For writing in a public forum, I have the luxury of my blog. And I long ago discarded the fear of being judged for sharing.

So if you'd like to share, I'll help you do so.

My little blog has been so many things to me over the years, but perhaps most of all a window to friendship and kindness.

(And also where else would I post my poop stories?)

Monday, January 09, 2023

What the Dickens?

I feel like it's maybe time for a poop story.

You may feel that it is never, in fact, time for a poop story. And that's OK. 

Now you know where this is going.

Much like the penis in the plantation shutters, this is the kind of story that makes Nick shake his head and think there is something very wrong with me. But then I remind him that he adores me and so really, what's wrong with him?

Pretty sure he'd be happy if I never spoke of feces again. But (butt! ha!) how does one go through life like that?

A couple summers ago, we rented a little cabin near a lake in Maine.

It was small and cute, two bedrooms one bathroom, just perfect for the four of us, with trees around and a fire pit. It was a short walk to a cute little lake beach. Big lake, cute little beach, I mean.

Now, I've never considered myself a person with particularly unusual bowel movements. And I don't actually think it was me. It was the shape of the toilet bowl.

See, for some reason, my poops just wouldn't go down the toilet.

This didn't happen to anyone else in the family. I asked.

But still.

There didn't seem to be much to be done about it besides going out to the woods and getting a stick to poke it down. And then I'd take the stick back out and fling it into the woods.

I made sure to get sticks from the same area and throw them deep into the trees so that I could make sure that I wasn't picking up the same stick. And so that the kids were not in danger of gathering poo-poking-sticks to roast marshmallows.

Anyway, this one day I realized that my intransigent poop looked like a penis and testicles. Petite testicles, but still.

It wasn't the Virgin Mary on toast, but naturally, I was dying to show someone.

As you might imagine, the audience for this sort of thing is limited.

Nick is a hard no. In fact, India is really the only one. If there's something particularly extraordinary,  will tell each other and are always willing to look.

But Nick and the kids were down at the lake. And I certainly wasn't going to save it.

So I jumped on the WhatsApp group with two dear high school friends. I told them the situation and that I was dying, dyyyyyyyying to show someone.

And they were both like, hell yes, send it over, we want to see!

So I sent a photo, and I must say, they were impressed. 

And then I went out to the woods and got a new poking stick.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

I didn't have a banana for scale so I used a dime

I put the photo of the biopsy site (bandaged) in the post below so I could warn you not to scroll if this will bother you.

Now you know.

To start, I'd like to talk about generosity.

Before I post something personal I always wonder if it's too much. This may sound unlikely for someone who talks about suicide and depression and imaginary penises, but it's true.

A friend told me I was brave to share my biopsy fears, and I said it's not bravery (although I had to search for the word, and mentally scrolled through bravishness, bravura, bravity before arriving at the bravery), it's relief. 

I think because I grew up with such heavy secrets—and in some cases not even heavy, just stupid, but still secret—I feel such relief when I write them down. The fear doesn't evaporate completely and immediately, but it dissipates.

(On a side bar, I still think I could be an excellent spy, because I'm stellar at holding secrets of others, and how would you blackmail someone who talks so publicly about her shit?)

But back to the topic at hand.

So many, so very many friends reached out to offer support. Love. Virtual hugs.

Friends who have had breast cancer have messaged and called to share their very personal stories. And so many have said that they reached out because they wanted to make sure I knew that no matter what, I was going to be fine.

One friend called me immediately upon reading my blog and shared her own journey with breast cancer. And then she offered to tell me everything she has learned, both from her own experience and those of friends.

Yes, I said, please tell me everything. Everything.

She did. We talked and talked, and it was wonderful.

Afterwards I felt like even if it is my idea of worst case scenario, it will be OK. I can do what I need to do. I'm not afraid of pain or scars, and frankly after nursing, I don't even have any particular attachment to my nipples.

What I want most is to be here for my family.

So by the time I walked into my biopsy, I was ready to say, "Take them both and the nipples! I'll get tattoos!"

Obviously, this isn't what I said, because it was a biopsy.

And I wasn't actually cavalier. I was super anxious.

I didn't sleep the night before, and I was saving my last Xanax for the procedure. Nick drove me to Fairfax while I sipped tea and tried to breathe calmly.

I was prepared to have to lie on a table (pictured above in case you have no idea what the F that drawing is). 

If you've not had this done, traditionally they have you lie face down on a table. Your boob pokes through a hole, and they raise up the table and work from underneath.

This is older technology, apparently, although they told me they still need to use it sometimes, depending on the area they need to access.

A friend told me the table was extremely uncomfortable and left her bruised, and it was hard to breathe. I should see if they had a chair.

As it turned out, they offered me the chair.

The Chair. Sounds like electrocution. 

Honestly, the chair itself was extremely comfortable, and I'd enjoy having one at home. It reclines very quickly and quietly, and you can raise it and lower it mechanically.

The whole thing is still a little uncomfortable in that they put your boob in a vise, and they move the chair so your back is absolutely straight and even a little forward, and you have to turn your head at an angle and then not move.

They need to make sure they have the exact right spot, so when they do scans you have to hold your breath as well. 

Also, they inject you with lidocaine, and the injection stings, but after that, most of the discomfort was  pressure and the angle of your body and the trying not to freak out and breathe evenly while wearing a mask.

I couldn't take the Xanax until I'd signed the forms, and I really should've just taken it when I got there so it had more time to kick in, but I am a first-born rule follower, so.

If I had to choose between biopsy and root canal just as isolated procedures, without the cancer fear, I might actually choose biopsy.

Everyone was lovely. The nurse who was in the room held my hand. And the doctor was absolutely lovely. The nurse who did all the forms with me and then escorted me out was also so kind.

Interestingly, when she was asking about medications and conditions, and I said, "Ooh, I forgot about ADHD because that one's new," she was like, "yeah, the only ones we care about for this are the physical ones."

And I was all, "Even though the brain ones can be a much bigger deal."

But I did understand what she meant. Heart conditions and such.

Anyway, all this to say, it was OK. Much quicker and way less terrible than anticipated.

I came home, changed the ice pack on my boob, and slept. I was assiduous about keeping it iced.

They said the ice would help a lot with swelling and bruising, and it did.

They said I had to wait to shower until the next day and I refrained from telling them about my ability to hold out on showering. They also said not to submerge it, like in a bath or hot tub, because of the risk of infection.

Much like the medical staff who told me not to do things like clean the house vigorously or vacuum after my amnio, I assured them there was zero need for concern.

And when I finally took the big bandage off yesterday, I realized that it's kind of a big hole, no?

Mostly I've slept through weekend. Nick has done pretty much everything, and I'm thankful.

In my pre-zen(ish-ish) anxiety frenzy, I may have purchased a variety of truly fabulous vintage items of clothing online.

When my groovy purple Pierre Cardin coat arrives and my charming orange Courrèges dress comes back from the cleaners, I may pair them with my $50-on-eBay Lanvin boots and revel. I will post photos.

So it occurs to me that I do have a resolution for 2023 and beyond. Except for undergarments, I'm done buying new clothes. I'm going to buy used, or at any rate pre-owned.

(Except for the occasional Jordan Piantedosi, but I consider that supporting the arts.)

This winter, no matter what I have to do health-wise, I'm going to wear my 60s and 70s vintage and feel fabulous.

And I'm going to be so grateful for my amazing community of wonderful humans. 

Thank you over and over for your loving kindness and generosity.

While I'm not a Dave Matthews fan, he's right: Life is short but sweet for certain.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

This one's all about the boobs or specifically one boob but not in a fun way which is probably a fine example of how I suck at small talk at parties

I was holding it together pretty well until the radiologist told me he was sorry. Twice.

And I know he was saying he was sorry meaning sorry that I had to deal with this and not, like, sorry this means you're about to die. But the very kind sorry was what did it.

Like when you're not OK but pretending to be fine and then someone really sees you and asks you really, how are you, and you just lose it. 

Although I didn't lose it with him. I smiled and thanked him and squoze my body very tightly together so I wouldn't fall apart.

But I'm starting in the middle, sort of. 

On New Year's Day, India asked me if I had any plans for the year. And the truth was, until that appointment on December 30th, I did.

I want to take the kids to Colombia. I want to do yoga teacher training. I want to learn to do a handstand, and peacock, and finally, finally, my absolute nemesis: side plank with my leg straight up in the air. 

I want to get back to writing. I want to write something deep and real. Or maybe frivolous and hilarious. But still very real.

However, right now I feel like I can't plan anything until I know what I might have to plan around.

I had a mammogram in early December, and then I got a call saying I needed to schedule further scans. My doctor said at least 30% of her patients wind up having to have more scans, so not to be worried. Better to be cautious.

So being me, I wasn't not concerned, but I wasn't climbing the walls. 

A friend offered to go with me last minute, and I happily accepted. We'd go, she said, find out it was nothing, and go have coffee.

It was right before New Year's. Things were quiet. That sounded great.

So I had the scans and then got escorted down to chat with the radiologist.

And this very kind, personable radiologist told me that there are things that are very clearly cancer, and things that are clearly nothing to worry about, and my scans were in the middle. I have a suspicious little grouping of calcifications.

He said it was very small, seven millimeters. He had a ruler. He showed me the measurement.

Since then I've been thinking about this.

Like, if we were talking about cake, seven millimeters would be an unsatisfyingly small slice. But I'm a not very big person with not very big boobs.

I have had slices of cake bigger than one of my boobs.

Seven millimeters is almost a centimeter which is almost half an inch. I mean, even a quarter inch is pretty big.

Don't you think?

So this nice radiologist patiently answered my questions, and drew me a little picture, and told me that in the worst case scenario, this is ductal carcinoma in situ, which is actually a pretty good situation, in that it's all contained in a milk duct. 

DCIS. It has an acronym.

He said I needed to get a biopsy to see what it was. And sometimes the biopsy even takes it out, so when they go in for further treatment, it's not there any longer. 

So I have to have a biopsy. The soonest I could schedule one in the metropolitan area was January 18. 

(Although, good news! I spent the morning calling around, and everyone said sorry, but I told them even if they got a last minute cancellation, I'd drop everything and be there in an hour. And I just got a call about a cancellation Thursday morning!)

So I stood at the desk for a while as the receptionist looked at various office's schedules to get me in soonest. She then explained the biopsy procedure to me. 

It sounds like they put your boob in a similar kind of vise to the one they use for mammograms, and use the imagery to guide them as they put a big needle in to take out a sample.

She said, "Don't worry. They numb the whole area. It's kind of uncomfortable but you won't feel the pain. You can drive yourself. You don't need to be sedated. You can, but you don't need to."

And I said, "Sedated like Xanax?"


"Oh, I will absolutely be sedating myself!"

I'm not concerned about physical pain. I mean, I don't enjoy it, but I think I have a high pain tolerance. The nurses forgot to connect my pain drip after my C-section. I complained and they were all, press the button. And after a while I was like, um, I keep pressing the button but it actually still really hurts. Like, really hurts.

Because it fucking hurts when they cut all your abdominal muscles, take a baby out, and stitch and crazy glue you back together.

So pain, fine. 

But the anxiety? 

She said, "Then you need arrive half an hour early so you can sign the papers beforehand. And someone will need to drive you."

We left, and I burst into tears, and my friend hugged me. And then two other women walked out of the office and stood waiting for the elevator with us.

And one of them said, "I love your boots! They look like they have space in the toe box! Who makes them?"

So I told her, and said they do indeed have good space in the toe box, and that I got them at Nordstrom Rack...

(You know I could happily be the old lady who lives in a shoe...except for all the children.)

And then the elevator stopped and the other woman was about to get out when my friend turned to her  and said that she couldn't help overhearing her talking about her treatment, and would she mind talking to us?

So we followed this absolute stranger out of the elevator on a floor we weren't even going to so I could talk to her. Of course I started to cry again, and she gave me a big hug. 

She said it was exactly what had happened to her. That she'd had DCIS. She gave me the name of her surgeon, who she loved.

That was 2014. She's been fine since.

And she said, "Not knowing is what's scary. Not doing anything is scary. Now you know, so you can take care of it. You're going to get a biopsy. If you need to do more, you'll do it. And it will be fine."

We hugged two more times in the course of the conversation.

I thanked her for sharing her experience, and said I was so happy to meet her. And she said she was so glad to talk, and that one day I might be exactly who someone needs to talk to.

She could've been a different kind of person, one who felt eavesdropped on, one who was like, no, strangers, don't follow me out of the elevator. But she was lovely and kind and open.

Which was a true blessing. I was so very grateful. For my friend, for generous strangers, for the way the world can be unexpectedly kind.

And now, because another woman canceled, Nick will be driving me out to Virginia on Thursday morning, and I should know one way or the other by the end of next week.

At which point I can make plans, one way or the other.

Oh, and Happy New Year! I mean this sincerely.

Gosh, that last one went fast.

Also: because of Grantchurch I am now resolved to include "What the Dickens?" in my repertoire.

Also also: For those of you who don't know, the left photo is me as the bitterest Mary a preschool Christmas pageant in Dhaka, Bangladesh ever did see, because I had to wear my PJs and the afghan my great-aunt crocheted rather than having a fabulous costume like an angel. Right side, same afghan, fake bitterness.

Furthermore: I still have stuff to say about ADHD and how interesting it is and also insurance companies who are assholes who don't want to pay for expensive medication.