my jaundiced eye

the absurdities of life

Category: breast cancer

well done

well done

Okay, so after eleven months, the medical industrial complex has finally wrung MJE dry and kicked me to the curb…my right hooter has been mammogrammed, programmed, pajamagrammed, MRI’d, FYI’d, DIY’d, x-rayed, blue rayed, inspected, bisected, dissected, irrigated, oxygenated and irradiated. Every doc, nurse, orderly, lab tech and passerby in several states has felt it, held it, fracked it, hacked it and packed it. I’ve been cooked to medium-well and am sporting a Boehner tan headlamp with a permanent smirk. Oh, that and a head of holocaust hair.

So, what did MJE learn from this experience? First off and a tad bit late for me, that the kind of cancer with which I was diagnosed is a form that many in the forefront of oncology now believe may be best left alone and monitored closely. No rush to surgery. Treated more like a polyp in your bottom than a bombshell in your bosom. Also that a surgeon never met a piece of meat he didn’t want to carve up and will never admit when he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I also realized that many doctors are as resistant to change as the most stagnant civil servants and that a patient needs to do her homework, sharply question a treatment plan, or lack thereof, and to over ride it without feeling guilty about changing docs or getting another opinion. My health and yours are more important than some doc’s inflated ego. I also think that being a tattle-tale is a good thing for the general betterment of the afflicted. I’m not talking about going to the medical board, but if a specialist has been referred by your primary doc and you have valid complaints, you should let the referring doc know before he sends another hapless victim over.

I also discovered that nurses and technicians can literally be your best friends and are entirely under-appreciated in the medical universe. I found that getting their take on what’s really going on is invaluable. They are in the trenches all day every day while most docs pop in when required, having read the notes (or as is sometimes the case not even that) give you a cursory once over and waft out the door without so much as a by your leave. That said, MJE was treated by a couple of exemplary docs who were more than willing to put away their stop watches and take whatever time was necessary, so all is not lost, yet.

Finally MJE was extremely gratified to find that it is actually possible to get your money’s worth out of the godless health insurance companies if you: meet your horrendous deductible, then get some really crappy diagnosis, have months of complications, endless (often unnecessary) tests and a tediously lengthy treatment plan. MJE totally ate BC/BS’s lunch in 2015! Admittedly it was an extremely long and unappetizing meal , but in the end the dessert was delicious. And for once it was on the house.

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sick stamps

sick stamps

MJE received a well meaning note of sympathy and support from an acquaintance of a few years back, someone who upon hearing of my medical situation self-morphed into a “dear friend.” I’ve discovered that when you’re sick, it’s like being the new “it” girl in junior high, everyone wants to be in your orbit. Well kids, you really wanna be in my orbit, how about joining me in the gas chamber for a few laughs. Or lug around my little belching bastard for awhile. But the note wasn’t the interesting bit, it was that she used a breast cancer forever stamp on her letter and included a packet of them with her note. Is it just MJE or does that feel incredibly creepy.

When the hell did the USPS start issuing sick stamps? What happened to the American flag and flowers of the south? What next, a gonorrhea forever stamp? How about chlamydia or erectile dysfunction? Seriously, whose bright idea was this, because my friends, that is your tax dollars at work. The postal service is spending god knows how much time thinking up stamps that remind most people of something they’d probably just like to forget. But my question is why stop at diseases, how about highlighting a broader range of scourges. Why not female circumcision, or terrorist beheadings, or mass shootings forever stamps. The world is fast going to hell in a hand basket so the possibilities are truly endless.

wig wam

Wig wam

My pal Aloe and I went to the big city to buy MJE a wig earlier this week. The local cancer center had recommended some joint that is geared toward the “special needs” of chemo patients. It’s called “Aftercare Essentials” a head scratching (literally) name that doesn’t give a consumer who’s not in the know the vaguest indication of what it sells. What it should be called is “A Place for Sick and Downtrodden Chemo Patients to get even more Depressed.”

AE stocks every sort of prosthesis and undergarment known to woman as well as make up bags, canes, creams and lotions, bibles, journals and a series of books called “Uplift” which might not be the most comforting title for mastectomy patients. Almost every item is pepto bismol pink, just in case you might however briefly forget that you are a cancer patient. Is it not enough to have a bald pate, does MJE really need a tee shirt with a huge pink ribbon embroidered on it to broadcast her membership in the breast cancer sisterhood. It felt like I had inadvertently pledged a lousy sorority after a rough night.

Anywho, “Kay” is the owner and the one who was to give MJE the rundown on wigs: types, hand knotted vs machine knotted weaves, synthetic vs human hair vs blends, etc.. She issued an interesting caution: do not to stand over a hot stove or open an oven door whilst wearing a synthetic hair wig because it will melt. A pretty drastic way to get out of K-P duty but at least there’s some upside to this miserable mess.

She ushered us into a small room and proceeded to tell us about her own hair loss experiences, all five of them. Yo Kay! Verbalizing that there is a distinct possibility that cancers may recur is most definitely not what a client wants to hear. I think MJE speaks for most cancer patients when she says that she really, really wants to be a one hit wonder. So zip it Kay; fetch me a goddam wig and let me get the hell out of this dreadful place.

She finally allowed us to inspect her inventory, which ranged from elaborate backswept Charlie’s Angels bouffants to tightly curled church lady coifs to straggly granny mullets. Aloe and I finally settled on the least offensive and what I am sure was probably the most expensive of the pelts. A bobish thing that will require having a wig hairdresser cut it to my face, a somewhat unsettling thought because if she screws up, it’s not like it’s gonna grow back.

MJE picks up the rug next week, and despite best efforts will probably end up looking just like that crazy lady down the street who has 47 cats.

talk of the town

Talk of the Town

MJE decided she was not going to be at the mercy of her failing hair follicles during this chemo bidness. She was going to do what any right minded woman would do, find the absolute best professional to serve her purposes, that being having her head shaved and move on it. And who better to take on that task than a black barber?

Next was to find the proper venue. The OB&C had wandered into Talk of the Town Barber/Salon in Hardeeville SC one time thinking it was just a regular old middle aged white guy’s joint. His first tip off that this was not Mr. Cleever’s barber shop was the 150lb pit bull stationed at the door. However, he was afraid to back out of the door for fear the pit bull might not take rejection well and proceeded to get his hair cut without incident.

So, I says to myself says I, if it’s been pre-qualified by the OB&C then TOTT it is! Next task was to find a game crew to act as cheerleaders and documentarians. I rounded up a stellar team of pals plus Bandoliera-Saturnalia and a bottle of bubbly and off we went. When we opened the door into TOTT it was like stepping into another dimension of time and space of which I was not aware. Or, more aptly like the bar scene in the original Star Wars. A totally strange environment populated by alien beings. I have every reason to believe that the indigenous folk of TOTT felt exactly the same way about us.

Nevertheless, I was on a mission. I asked for “Edward” the proprietor to whom I had spoken twice to ask if 2pm might be a convenient time for me to drop by. A man of very few words, I got the impression that his answer had been “whatever.” TOTT is a place where time is immaterial. Edward was trimming some gentleman’s beard one whisker one at a time so we all sat down on the black vinyl banquette like crows on a wire and waited. When he finally finished, another guy walked in and sat down. When Edward was finished with him one of his employees, an extremely imposing and pugnacious looking amazon, glowered at us and sat her fanny down, as if to say “take that you white bitches, this is my hood.” TOTT is an excellent environment in which to learn patience and humility. Those Buddhist monks ought to head over there sometime.

Finally Edward gave me the high sign and I settled into his chair. I said I’d like the full monty with a few brief forays enroute. Maybe try a wave maker, a polished fade, or maybe a faux-hawk until I ended up with something between a modified buzz and a flat out clean shave. Not a problem said Edward. Each cut got a panel review and some snaps for posterity. In the end I got just what I wanted, with a little something extra because an artist like Edward cannot leave a canvas blank. I have an M worthy of an illuminated manuscript trimmed into the right side of my fuzzy cranium, which by the way feels just like my sweet Bellita’s muzzle.

how a routine chemo port insertion devolved into a chemo port cluster ferk

chemo port

The OB&C, upon MJE’s insistence, consulted a neurologist regarding whether he might be headed for Halzeimer town. I swear one minute he’s reciting avogadro’s number and the next minute he can’t tell the difference between an egg beater and a 12 volt battery. Anywho, he was supposed to drive me to my chemo port surgery the same day as his appointment but minutes before I was to be there he called on some whisper-my-phone in the doc’s office telling me he can’t do it, they’re still plumbing the depths of his freakishly massive cranium. He was calling from their land line because he had forgotten his cellphone at home. Clue?

One of the beauties of living in an “active senior” community, Bandoliera-Saturnalia’s pithy description of our island paradise, is the fact that most of us (present company excluded) are pretty damned mobile and I was able to rustle up my pal Crissscrossali who hopped into her car pronto and got me to the surge on time. So MJE is in the waiting room leaving messages for the OB&C, but of course his phone is at home and his mailbox is full anyway. So I cool my heels an hour or so, finally get summoned in and prepped another hour or so. Still no word from MIAOB&C. Eventually called his doc and asked if he was still there, nah he’d left at noon. I foolishly assumed he’d gone home to grab a quick lunch and his phone and drive like a bat out of hell to be by my bedside.

But NOOOO, why do that when there’s a great BBQ joint right between your doctor’s office and the cancer center. So after a leisurely lunch he saunters over and plants himself in the waiting room for about an hour. Never occurred to him to ask the receptionist if I was there. But then his last functioning synapse finally kicked in and he realized that I was at the surgery center a mile away. He raced over, with a stop to pick up some farmer’s eggs, I mean who wouldn’t? Even then, it didn’t occur to him to ask the receptionist if I was there or where I might be: pre-op, surgery, recovery, morgue?

So after hours of pre-op waiting and prep, surgery and post op recovery with just me and Nurses Barb#1, Barb#2 the anaesthesiologist and his assistant Barb#3 and Dr. Boom Boom Burrus, the surgeon for intermittent company, the OB&C finally arrives all afluster about 5:30.

Well of course, as you have probably figured out by now, it turned out it was all the eggs fault. So I asked where the culprits were and he said in the truck, to which the entire surgical department greek chorus replied in concert “throw them out, she’ll be immune compromised and can’t eat them anyway!”