Monday, December 29, 2008

Nearly 2009

It has been too long since I wrote in this space, and it is hard to know where to start. Sometimes I think I worry too much about the family or the strangers or near strangers, friends of my parents, who read these words. Other times, I think that I hide behind that worry so I won’t have to work through my thoughts and feelings. And other times I choose to blame the fact that I am almost never alone. But tonight I am alone, and while my ears are screaming in the silence (shrilly telling me my short night’s sleep and pre-dawn arrival at the airport and cross-continental travel was too much for my tired body), there is a peacefulness to my solitude that has an almost miraculous quality.

I am in Vancouver, visiting Julia and reacquainting myself with the work here. It feels like the first time I have made a decision and done something totally for myself and made cancer answer to me. It is a wonderful feeling. I will be here all week, ringing in the New Year Canadian-style—whatever that means—and enjoying reconnecting with my partner.

I am also determined to figure out how to access the kind of in-between treatments check-ups and medical support I will need here if I am to fulfill my wish of resuming the work I started here last spring while continuing treatment at Sloan every few weeks. To that end I made some phone calls today, and managed to speak to 3 people at the BC Cancer Center here in Vancouver, two of whom were polite and varying degrees of helpful. I succeeded in not getting overly angry about the obstacles to getting a simple blood test. So far the roadblocks seem like standard red tape stuff, and not the truly absurd like what I encountered last week in Ohio.

On Friday I was feeling light-headed and low energy; sure signs of low hemoglobin (red blood cells). My doctor at Sloan and strongly suggested that I get my blood counts checked on Friday anyway, and I had a prescription for a simple blood test, a “cbc”, or complete blood count—the basic test to see how much blood you have (how many red and white cells, how many platelets), a 30 minute test that I have to assume is requisite knowledge for any phlebotomist. On the recommendation of my nurse practitioner I looked up Quest laboratories in Columbus. Quest is a national blood-testing company that my insurance covers and where I went once while in Florida to have blood drawn and mailed to Sloan for a special HAMA test; an experience not without its setbacks, but also quick and efficient. My experience in Columbus had utterly soured me.

First of all, they only have locations near the outer-belt of Columbus—apparently only suburbanites need routine blood testing and don’t want to have to go to the hospital every time. I chose Dublin, about a 20-minute drive from my mom’s house, because there were 2 locations there, so I figured we had a back-up in case one was super busy. Well, neither was busy at all because apparently they decided to close the day after Christmas—not that any such information was posted on the website, or at either location, for that matter. Luckily, a doctor’s office with a nice receptionist was open next door, and she gave us a pre-printed flyer with all the Columbus-area locations and phone numbers and hours (minus holiday closures) listed. I proceeded to call each and every one, only to get voicemail messages listing the same information as there was on the flyer. Convinced they must all be closed, I was nearly at my wits end, but trying not to yell in the quiet waiting room.

Mom looked them up in the yellow-pages and found an additional location listing, so I called and, low and behold, found a human at the other end of the line. But she closed in half an hour and had and attitude. She said I couldn’t go there if I wasn’t a patient of an adjoining practice, but insisted that a near-by location was open. Not having any other ideas, mom and I set out from the unfamiliar northwest side to find the outer-belt and head for the far east side. In the pouring rain. Did I mention is was raining? Pouring. Not safe for driving. Luckily, I called again and got a person this time instead of the machine. She confirmed that they were open and gave us directions that probably saved us an hour in that weather.

We finally arrive at the eastside clinic and I am seen right away. There are several questions about my diagnosis and prescription, but the phlebotomist let’s the lack of a “diagnosis code” slide and decides to draw my blood anyway (presumably in the spirit of Christmas). It takes two tries to find a vein not too scarred to let a needle in and my platelets are clearly low because even the dry stick bleeds, but hey, I have succeeded in getting the test. I should know shortly if my trials are over for the day or if I need to find a hospital to give me a transfusion and waste all evening in the hospital like I have wasted all afternoon in pursuit of a simple blood test. But no. It is not to be.

I ask the phlebotomist when I will have the results of the test, and she say’s probably not ‘til Monday, since my doctor’s office is presumably closed over the weekend. It is Friday afternoon, and despite her speculation that they are probably closed today, I know very well that the PDH does not slow down their constant attack on cancer just because Santa is in town. (I missed my goody-bag from Santa by one day this year!) I am confused, and ask her if she can call me directly with the results of the test as soon as she’s done. She explains that she’s not allowed to touch the machines or the blood there. Oh no, this blood is going to Cincinnati. A courier comes after 5pm and takes the blood to Cincinnati (a 3 hour drive from there), where the blood will be tested that night and the results faxed right away to my doctor—but by then their office will be closed. In the shock of this absurdity and the anger boiling quickly up from great depths within me, I stop talking and walk quickly out of the clinic, dragging my confused mother along with me before I can explain because explaining would mean exploding with rage—and what was the point of unleashing such a scene there in the clinic for the hapless, impotent phlebotomist?

Just to be clear: I was in need to a blood count so that I could find out if I needed a transfusion that day—not some time the next week! By Monday I would either have rebounded and made up for the missing blood, or, maybe, had a heart attack. Getting the results on Monday is useless and absurd.

When I got home I called my nurse practitioner back in New York and, after letting off a little steam, came up with a plan to have her call the clinic and have the test results given directly to me. Miraculously, she got through to the manager in Cincinnati and sent her a modified prescription allowing me to get the results myself and got me a number to call later that night for my results. They weren’t in when I went to bed at midnight, but when I woke up having to pee at 6am they were, and they were handed over without a problem. I was not in need of a tranfusion, but my hemoglobin was very low; 8.2 and anything lower than 8 is call for a transfusion. My platelets had dropped from 61,000 on Monday to 41,000; normal is 150,000-400,000, but unless you are bleeding transfusions aren’t needed until you drop below 10,000. So in the end, it was a relief. But as my uncle said the next day, if that’s everyday stuff, god help you. He had asked me about my new “setback” and I was very confused by this: I am hardly puking, I feel good, I am on a break from treatment, radiation is over—things are looking up. The only problem is, our healthcare system is defunct. Why on earth would my blood have to travel halfway across the state for a simple blood test? How is it possible there isn’t need or possibility of such a lab in the capital city, second largest metro-area in the state? Absolutely absurd.

Someday soon I will muse about the weird intimacy of radiation therapy, but for now I am content to release my discontent about blood work.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Speaking of Christmas gifts and lethargy--brain lethargy, that is--I keep forgetting to tell/remind you all to buy cookies for people! I am not the biggest fan of the site name--cookies for kids cancer, it sounds like we are cheer leaders for cancer, but really we are raising money for neuroblastoma research. Lifesaving--possibly my life--new treatments that can't get funding from the usual sources because there aren't enough of us patients (cute as we all may be) to make any promise of future profits for bigPharma. So it is left to those of us actually fighting this disease in ourselves or our families to raise the money to save ourselves. Fucked up, right? But this little group, called Band of Parents--go to for other fun gift ideas--managed to raise a million dollars in the last year to catapult a humanized version of the mouse-cell torture, I mean treatment, that kept me clean for two years. The new version will help more kids because there won't be an issue with developing, essentially, an allergy to the cells because they're from humans, not some other species. It also appears it will be more effective. And it's coming to a cancerward near you by the fall of 2009!

That is, IF you all go buy some cookies for kids cancer. I bought some last year, and they are delicious. I gave to my co-workers at the Union to thank them for all of their support. This year I might just take my friend Sam's lead and buy them for myself. I won't lie, they aren't cheap, but almost all of the money goes toward research, and it's not any more expensive than getting cookies delivered commercially. Plus, it's tax deductible. So there you have it, no excuses, GO BUY COOKIES!!


That's my word for last week. I slept through most of it. Poorly, at night, from pain in my shoulder and right chest, where a new medi-port was freshly implanted last Monday. And poorly again at the hospital in recliners that don't like to stay reclined while receiving chemotherapy between radiation therapy sessions. And then best in the late afternoon, at home on the couch.

But I did make it out for lots of social activities this weekend, which is both impressive and heartening, I think. On Friday, Dad and I went to meet a fellow UU, Brooklynite, twenty-something, cancer warrior. He and his roommates had a dinner party to celebrate the excess of food in their refrigerator. So we scored a yummy free dinner and I met a new friend. On Saturday we were joined by friends for dinner and a movie--Slumdog Millionaire is a definite must-see, by the way. And today--this you will not believe, I almost do not believe it myself--I went, on the subway, to Manhattan, to the "Craft-tacular", which was (predictably, and yet, somehow, unexpectedly to my and my friends) a total madhouse of hip New Yorkers eagerly Christmas shopping. There were so many people that you almost couldn't see the crafts (think more hand-crafted jewelry, pottery, t-shirts and handbags than popcicles, paste, and construction paper). It was as exhausting as the mall on a mega-sale weekend, but if my body were in a different state I would definitely have appreciated the Brooklyn Lager booth. By the end I was stealing folding chairs and running to the bathroom with a mouthful of vomit, but I just about completed my shopping (including a wedding gift for a wedding I went to last New Year's!), so it was well worth it.

And now I am happily resting, back on my couch, awaiting Mom's arrival and trying to write poems. All-in-all, things are looking not so bad. And this week ahead I only have radiation, which is not nearly as bad as chemo, and the prescription for the most likely side-effect, esophagitis, is to eat ice cream! Should be a pretty good week.

(especially if you would start leaving comments on my blog again. I really like them.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reflections After a Green Burial

I didn't mention in the last post some sad news. It was just so upbeat, and cancer is such a downer, I wanted to have a happy post. But it is important to acknowledge the crappy side of life, too. On Saturday morning my Dad's wife, Anne, passed away after 12 years surviving breast cancer. She and I chose diametrically opposed treatment strategies, but I think we both learned from each other--watching quietly, in our own ways. I know I learned from her, anyway.

I often feel at the mercy and whim of my doctors. Feeling out of control of my own life is possibly the hardest part of this mess for me. But Anne never let that happen. She made her own decisions, in her own time, and on her own terms. More importantly, she lived on her own terms. Right up until the end. Taking her daily walk, pushing past the pain long after I would have given in to the limits of my body. Emailing each day, long after she no longer felt up for visitors, even something as simple as climbing the stairs to use the real bathroom instead of the portable toilet they had toward the end in the living room next to her hospital bed. She did as much as she could for as long as she could, but she didn't get angry when she had to finally give up her pleasures and her routines. One-by-one she had to give up her spirit-sustaining activities, and every time she did so graciously. I can only hope to go out with such dignity and grace.

Anne's patience with herself, and this disease, and with life; her ability to face the best and the worst of living and do so on her own terms, no matter what anyone else thought, were qualities I marveled at. As I fight my own battle and live my own life in spite of this disease, I will often remember her strength and resolve and try to draw from it. There are many days when juggling doctors--their opinions, assumptions, arrogance, and even their genuine sympathy--against my own plans and dreams and needs, seems next to impossible. There are still more days when balancing disease and treatments and side-effects with life and fun and work seems not only an impossible, but a miserable task. But at my moments of greatest frustration, I will remember Anne and her stubborn ability to slow down, and will the rest of the world to slow down with her, and in the breath that remained build a life and a community that suited her, and her alone. I will remember her and I will draw from that strength; and I will plow forward with the life I choose for myself.

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Hour To Myself

And I've decided to talk to all of you. A conversation in my head. I am sitting on my mother's couch (still referred to by my father as "the good couch" as it is the only new piece of furniture my parents ever bought together...back when they were married...over a decade ago), with her dog, Jack, who is not entirely pleased to be sharing the space. I am listening to my favorite singer--Ms. Mimi LaValley from my YRUU days--and generally feeling good. My stomach is not 100%, but I haven't puked at all today and miraculously woke up without too much sour tummy even though everything I ate yesterday was greasy (except the chocolate cake) and I ate it well into the evening. I can't remember the last time I woke up and didn't vomit stomach acid. So today is a good day. And I've been having lots of those lately.

I am on my extra-long-thanks-to-thanksgiving break from hospitals and doctors and medicines that make me feel like crap. Last week was full of family and food (that I mostly did not throw up--well on my way to gaining back the twenty pounds I'd lost since my return to Sloan). I have once again fallen in love with my nephews, who can now both call me "Tia Wose", and who are both chatterboxes of the most endearing kind. I missed my sister Megan, her husband, and their beautiful baby girl though. Little Evie got a virus and spent the holiday weekend scaring her mommy with fevers and a wheezing cough, which left us all missing each other.

I found myself, as usual, but especially so on this holiday, thankful for life, as it comes, everyday. Thankful, too, for friends, family, and my partner Julia, who is both, and who survived her first Lynd family Thanksgiving, or Thanksgivings as the case may be. We had "small, medium, and large Thanksgivings" this year, as my cousin, Clare, put it. On Thursday my brother-in-law Alex, with moderate help from the rest of us, cooked a fabulous Thanksgiving Feast for our immediate family plus one aunt and uncle (just 10 of us, including the boys). On Friday, my cousin, Brent, and his partner, Reanne, had us over to meet her family and see their beautiful old victorian apartment--which amounted to 20-some adults plus kids for another feast, this time centered around a honey-baked ham. Then we topped it all off with my family's traditional pizza-feast on Saturday, where about 35 of us engaged in our usual conversations about politics, the universe, and who is a first or a second cousin, who is once-removed, and--for the girlfriends and the folks who married-in to this clan--whose name can I remember? Julia was almost falling over from exhaustion by the time we left, laden with the usual leftovers.

So, before my mind starts to wander to darker places, I leave you this post, so you know that I am doing well. I am still essentially bald, but the new fuzz is growing in, and someday soon there will be enough to even it out with the longer stuff that never fell out in the first place, and in the meantime Rachel lent me the softest hat in the world to keep me warm. And even on the coldest, dampest, greyest Columbus day, I am glad to be here in Ohio, resting far from doctors, eating yummy food, and just letting myself be for a few days.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ten Years is Not Enough

Recently it seems like a lot of people, myself included, have said things like "well, she's been fighting cancer for ten years--that's a long time." Meaning that someone who is dying now, officially, can be looked to as a valiant survivor for having lived with this disease for a whopping ten years.

And then the other day I realized: I have cancer. I have been fighting this disease for three years already, and looking forward to many more. But ten years--just seven more--is not enough. I can't lay down to die when I am 34! That is far too young. I have friends older than that. And I have far too much to do. I want to have babies, of course, even if my womb is now in permanent hibernation; but I don't just want to have them, I want to see them grow old and have their own babies. I want to be a grandma. And I have things to do at work--not just beating Host in Vancouver, but taking over the labor movement. We have a lot of work to do if the good guys are going to win and we're going to have a real movement of working class people. And that is going to take more than seven years.

So I have a new plan. No more of this idea of living with treatment for the rest of my life. We are going to blow this thing out of my body once and for all. That's why I have been miserable for the last few weeks. That's why my life was risked by multiple infections when I didn't have any white blood cells (first line of defense from infection). That's why I have more new scars than I can count and more on the way. That's why I will do whatever it takes to win.

Because ten years is not nearly enough. And I don't want to spend the rest of my life fighting. I want to win decisively. And I will. Or I'll just keep fighting. But either way: I Will Win.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sequels Always Suck

It's no different with cancer. The second time around is just not the same. The first time around it was just something to get through, something to get past. All the chemo, the radiation, the mouse cells that upped my pain threshold about a thousand-fold. They were all just hurtles to jump, and at the end of the obstacle course was a land without cancer.

The first time around, you can believe that.

The first time around you don't know that it's forever. And no matter how many clues there are on the way--the endless scans, the treatments that go on so much longer than the disease appears to be hanging around. But you still believe that it's gone, and it's not coming back.

But the second time around...The second time around is different. Now you know: it's back, and it's probably not going anywhere. I mean, I believe that I will get back to clean scans. I think I am probably there now. But I will never be without cancer. I may have known that before, but now I feel it to be true. And feeling it is so much heavier.

What I don't know is how to live with it. How do I make a life where I am dealing with this disease all the time? How do I live and work and go through treatment at the same time? I feel like everyone expects me to disappear for a while and come back fixed. Maybe that's my imagination, maybe that's what I want to believe is possible, but it's not going to happen. I am going to have to figure out how to live the life I want to live while getting treatment and finding new ways to keep my disease in check. And that's maybe the hardest, maybe the scariest thing I've had to deal with yet.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Not a Cancer Patient

I haven't much felt like writing in here recently. I made a stuffed dragon instead. He breaths fire constantly. The truth is, I named myself 'not a cancer patient' in these pages because I don't want to be one. I want to live my life as if cancer has nothing to do with it. I want to get chemo and radiation and go about the rest of my life as a 27 year old enjoying the crisp winter air. That's what this blog is supposed to be about. I don't care about the gorey details anymore (though I will note the irony that I am suddenly moved to post something here on the same day I got an IV placed in my left hand, making typing quite awkward). I've been through all these symptoms before, I seem to have a slightly improved cocktail of drugs this time. (Though I will complain that I threw up on my slippers tonight, and had to throw them out.)

So the thing is, I haven't been writing because I feel like a hospital patient. That's not as criminal as feeling the cancer patient, but it's still letting the patient take over. I'm going to forgive myself the slide for now though, 'cuz I feel like shit!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lonely Night In The Hospital

Julia, Mom, that is not meant as a low blow. But it just so happens that I am here alone tonight and while I could easily fall asleep right now, it seems like I ought to take a moment to write something in this space. It's hard to do with company. I've been thinking for days that about what I'd write next in these pages. I haven't formed anything concrete beyond the themes of: Doubt, or Fuck--there are so many ways cancer can kill you!

I guess I should explain the second one, first. I am inpatient right now with neutropenic fevers. In the past that has meant next to nothing, but this time I got a nasty infection in that mediport they only just put in two weeks ago and so they snatched it out again last wednesday morning after a very touch-and-go evening of chills, fevers, and scarily low blood pressure. Fuck. I mean you just never see this shit coming. I have ZERO white blood cells and some kind of crazy-ass infection. Not fucking cool.

Which leads me to the inevitable thought: what if I die young? For a while, I thought about that regularly, and eventually dealt with it by willing myself to assume that I will live to be eighty or ninety, just as I've always intended. But now I'm not so sure again. I guess that's where the Doubt comes in. There are plenty of things to doubt these days. How long will I live? Will this infection rear up and kill me?--I claim in a poem that I just don't want to see death coming; that would count, wouldn't it? (Not really; that poem is about living life to the fullest.) Have I chosen the right treatment plan? How will I ever know?

But mostly, I guess, it's the wondering how long I will live that whirls about my head most these days. Just last summer I got my period for the first time since I started chemo three years ago! I went to the gyn and she said if I was trying to get pregnant she'd tell me to go home and have sex--I had excellent mucous! And now here I am again, frying my ovaries most likely beyond oblivion. They probably won't wake up again. And I don't really mind not getting my period; it's rather convenient, actually. But I want a baby. And it feels like that's been taken away from me twice now, and even though there are other ways to have children (especially when your lover has a spare womb) I just don't know if it's in the cards for me.

My sister recently asked me to be the godmother to my beautiful, wriggling neice. It brought tears to my eyes just to be asked--to have my sister want to bestow me with that honor--but it was made all the more emotional a moment as this thought flashed through my mind: okay, now I've really gotta make it. I've got to be here for this little perfect one. Got to see her grow up into a kick ass girl. So maybe I should have my own kid. I sure want one. But how can I know if I'll be there for her when she's my age? Or maybe the more important question is, who will be around for her if I am not?

Or maybe I should be concentrating on how to be around when I'm eighty. But how does one do that when almost no one knows anything about this disease, let along actually has it as an adult? If anyone out there knows another adult or adolescent with neuroblastoma, will you send them my way? I'd love to chat.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Memorial Sloan Kettering goes to great lengths to make their hospitals, as much as possible, feel like something other than a hospital. Like a museum or an art gallery in places, like a spa or a playground in other parts, or like home perhaps, except it comes about as close as an old folks home--enough to assuage the conscience of those responsible for leaving you there, but not quite enough for either patient or retiree to be fully convinced.

I am writing from the "general medicine/geriatric" floor instead of peds because there were no rooms down on nine. (Not to worry though--after I had complained badly about missing out on the Friday night candy cart by not being on peds, it made a special trip up to 17 to make sure I got my sugar high. I got fig newtons and Pringles when they didn't my favorite Reese's peanut butter cups, they made an extra fun to find some in their candy warehouse!) so perhaps that explains the old fol folks home reverence. (Facing the bed where it can't be missed is a glow-in-the-dark CALL DON'T FALL! sign.)

But seriously, I guess I can appreciate the nicer wallpaper, the nicer wallpaper, the photo of a sunset, and the 'welcome' flower I got on both day one and day three of my current inpatient run. --Funny aside on the flowers: They are both carnations in small brown bottles that appear to be recycled from the pharmacy and the first one is white with pink edges and the second one is all pink. I was asleep when the second one arrived and when I opened my eyes all I could see in my view was the new all-pink carnation. So I groan; "Do you know how depressing it is that that flower is ALL PINK?" Of course they didn't. So I explain that it was white when it got here and then it was white with pink edges, and they must have put food coloring in the water because now it was all pink and what do they want to do--make you feel miserable that you've been cooped up in here for so long that your welcome flower changed colors, or make you think you're crazy? At which point I did feel crazy because my visitors quietly pointed to the original flower (still white with pink edging) and explained they'd just brought by a fresh one for me.

So back to why I find it annoying that my hospital room is floored with fake marble linoleum. I think it's because when I get out of bed and reach to unplug my IV pole and I see that hideous linoleum, which was chosen to give me the illusion of home furnishing, I just think this: "god! I would never in a million middle-aged years choose this linoleum! Who do they think they are fooling?"

But I do like the curtains with their faint batik-like plant designs.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Any Bruises?

That is what the nurse in the pre-surgery waiting area asked me on Tuesday in preparation for placement of a "metaport" under the skin just below my right shoulder. It's funny, because this was less than a week since I was on the same floor waiting for a thorocoscopy to remove a pea-sized "node" from my chest. (A thorocoscopy is when they make tiny little cuts in your back and slip cameras and tiny tools in through your ribs and steal part of your flesh while they are at it.) And just the day before another surgeon had stabbed the hell out of the vein on the left side of my chest only to discover that it was too scarred already to accept another central line (it would've been it's third)--which is why I was there in the first place. So yes, I was most definitely bruised.

Then she goes on to ask a series of qustions that make her chuckle and laugh to herself at their absurdity. Questions like "do you have trouble seeing?" (not really, but I do wear glasses for distance) and "do you wear a hearing aid?" This one in particular she thought was hilarious to have to ask me. Afterall, how could such a healthy-looking young person need hearing aids? I do not, in fact, wear hearing aids. BUt my ears have been ringing for the last three years--ever since a particularly toxic round of chemotherapy left me with minor hearing loss. I won't, at this point, be having that type of chemo again, so hopefully I won't need hearing aids before my 30th birthday; but maybe let's not laugh at the absurdity of such a possibility while I wait to have a permanent line place in my chest for the purpose of receiving high-dose chemotherapy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Carnival Spirit

I named this new blog Cancer Carnival because I wanted to get at the feel of the pediatric ward. It is brightly colored, surprisingly friendly, and always a whirlwind of activity that is at once exotic, enthralling, and frightening. And I looked up the definition of 'carnival' on Merriam-Webster, and they included both of the following:

a) "an instant of riotous excess"
b) "an organized program of entertainment and exhibition"

Both of which ring true to me. For one thing, hospitals must create enough trash to fill themselves to overflowing every day. I think there is a small army of men in blue polo shirts and scrub pants who do nothing but remove garbage all day long, because otherwise all the needles and plastic tubing and plastic bins and Styrofoam cups of coffee or ice chips or water to take pills with, all of the vomited up ills, all of the cold, bland hospital food thought better of upon sight; it would all just keep piling up until we suffocated if there weren't diligent, underpaid workers constantly shuffling it out the back door.

And then there is the excess of the medicine itself. From the official treatments of chemotherapy and radiation that nearly kill you as they heal you, to all the million other drugs you take to get you through, it is truly the definition of excess. Don't get me wrong--I fully and willingly participate in the excess. I ask for the IV drugs even when I know the pain or the nausea or the anxiety could probably be tamed with a pill; but why bother when the high is so much faster and nicer and longer with a shot? Why else allow them to poke so many wholes in me?

And let's not forget the emotional excess. No, emotional is not the right word here--there is that, of course, the fear of death, the loss of independence, of normalcy, and a whole variety of other anguish that I will surely explore in these electronic pages--but what I mean is the excess of material goods that result from the anguish of others. All the sorrow and pity and guilt that is turned into both individual gifts (I have already been the recipient of a generous gift certificate at the Chocolate Room--Thanks Mocky & Brad) to whole foundations dedicated to making sure sick kids get cool presents (while inpatient on Valentine's Day 2006 Mikey's way gave me an ipod!) to grants to the hospital for things like free all-day parking in Manhattan whenever I have an appointment at the pediatric clinic.--It's like walking down the aisles of carnival candies and prizes and not having to win any games or pay for any snacks put all the hawkers are actually trying to give you everything. Just 'cuz your bald! (There actually is a literal candy cart that comes around the inpatient peditric ward on Friday nights with all the major brands of candy and fresh popcorn and lets you take literally whatever you want, for free. This is not a joke.)

And that's just one definition! The other one that struck me--an organized exhibition--well, sometimes I wonder how organized they are. For example, on a day like today, when I got there, as requested, at 7am, for a surgery I wasn't called for until well after noon (they needed me there in case there was time earlier, between other procedures). At 10am they woke me up and told me I needed to the 18th floor for an echo cardiogram. But since they aren't used to dealing with adults, they forgot that the 18th floor is closed for construction of something and echo is on the 4th floor in a different wing of the hospital now. So once I find the right waiting room I sit there for an hour (reading, of all things, cosmo girl), and just when mom and I get to the point where we are ready to ask if they'd somehow left us off the list (having seen the waiting room entirely flip over), mom walks up to the counter while a young woman finally appears to call my name and brunette behind the counter simultaneously announces that I am needed back up in Peds because the OR opened up. So I walk myself up from the 4th floor, A wing, to 9th floor B wing, just in time to be wheeled by gurney to the 6th floor, M wing, where I wait for over two hours before I am actually taken into an OR.

Oh, and by the way, no has at this point explained to me why I need an echo cardiogram. We did get some kind of explanation from the surgeon before he cut me again, but he was a little put out since it had nothing to do with what he had to do--place a 'port' under my skin on my upper right chest. Eventually--back in Peds around 6pm after sleeping off the wonderful pain meds and anesthesia--I did get an explanation about the echo: there's a blood clot and scarring on a vein near my heart where I had some central lines last time around that may or may not be new but they just noticed it so they need a better look to find out if they need to give me some medicine to dissolve it. Scary. But apparently no big deal.

Of course, lots of things are no big deal when you also have cancer.

But all of that blather was really just supposed to be a clever little introduction for the real topic of of this entry. What I really wanted to talk about was my spirit. and getting back to that carnival spirit I was so often praised for over the last three years. I hadn't realized myself how badly I was taking all of this until the people around me started telling me bluntly.

This morning my girlfriend left for Vancouver. We spent an entire year, August to August, trying to live and work in the same place as one another, and all our efforts finally paid off when she joined me in Vancouver, Canada, this past August. And now I am back here. In the city that I love, the apartment in Brooklyn that I love, with my best friends in the world--at the hospital that I cannot praise enough. But I am sick in the scariest way and my girlfriend is trying to immigrate to another country, while I, ironically, sit here with a valid Canadian work permit wondering when the hell I will be able to work again.

Last night, as we were saying our good byes and plotting her next visit, and wondering how we'd both get through this, she practically begged me to take care of myself. She couldn't stop repeating that what she needed me to do most to help her through this is to take care of myself and find a way--hopefully several ways--to release all these feelings I've been having, all this anger at my reality. And then today, at least twice, my mom got all serious and worried and sad looking and I could see the desperation in her eyes as she tried to reassure me that it would be all right, that we will get through this again, that it won't be that bad, that the obstacles to living the life I want are not so insurmountable. And I told her, sincerely, that I knew that. And she said "but you just look so sad all the time."

And while it nearly broke my heart to hear the tone in her voice as she said that, I think it was just the trick. I think the only thing it really broke was the frozen veneer I've had encasing my heart this last week. I think I am finally ready to let some of it out.

On the way home today, I came up with the idea for this post, I thought maybe it would help me get back some of that magic 'carnival spirit' that got me through this for the last three years. And I think it did the trick, but not in the way I expected. Writing all the 'intro' really got me smiling and laughing at the absurdity of it all again--and when I can rise about the misery of it and laugh at all the little contraindications and inconsistencies and, well, nonsense, that's when I know I will be O.K.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Fresh Start

Three years ago I was diagnosed with Stage IV Neuroblastoma--a rare disease made rarer still at my ripe old age of 24 (this is a pediatric cancer)--then went and joined Friendster and discovered the blog function there. I was clean for two and a half years and my blogging tapered off along with the bad news; but last week I was told that it's back, so it seemed like time to pick up the keyboard again. I plan to be much more grown up about things this time--I know my way around the hospital and the doctors and the poisons they plan to pump into me, so i ought to be able to do a better job this time, and I figured I deserved a makeover for more than just my puke-bucket.

So here i am on blogspot. I chose the polka dots because it is reminiscent of the decorations in the pediatric day hospital, where my incongruous life has led me to spend far too many days. I'm not sure exactly what form these 'confessionals' (my first blog was called Cancer Confessional) will take, but it seems important to have an outlet. Writing seemed to save me the first time around, so I'll give it a chance to do so again. But look forward to archives or links to the original Confessional or even unpublished entries from the last few months leading up to this new reality. And of course, as always, I'd love to hear your comments.