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19 September 2008 @ 10:40 am
Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!!!


In celebration, I'm reposting my post from a year ago today. Don't worry, I'm NOT on chemo again! It's from last year! In the pictures you can see the tiniest peach fuzz sticking out from under my pirate scarf. Who knew it would grow into the unruly pile of curls it is today? And I have to re-warn you, some of these jokes are probably only funny to breast cancer peeps. Okay, here we go...

Yes, I had chemo (#8 out of 12!) on Talk Like a Pirate Day. But it's okay! This is the one day a year when chemo patients have the hairstyle advantage! GO US!!! But that's not the only pirate/cancer connection. Behold the following jokes:

Q: What kind of chemo drug do pirates take?

Q: Why did the pirate take Tamoxifen?
A: Because she was E-ARRRRRRR positive!

Q: How did the pirate make sure she'd always have a drink when she needed one?
A: She had the doctor put rum in her tissue expandARRRRRs!

Q: How did the pirate feel after waking up from her mastectomy?
A: GROG-gy.

Q: Why was the pirate so happy after her lumpectomy?
A: The doctor said she had clean mARRRRRgins!

Q: Why did the pirate choose saline implants?
A: Just to be salty.

Q: Why did the pirate send her oncologist to the front of the ship?
A: She thought he was being too stern.

Q: How did the pirate offend her chemo nurses?
A: Everytime she saw them she said, "Yo, ho!"

Q: Why did the plastic surgeon send his patient to the Mediterranean for reconstruction?
A: She said she had decided to go with a large SEA.

Q: Why did all the pirate's friends show up to her exchange surgery?
A: They thought she said she was getting her new booze.

Q: Why don't pirates get too upset about breast cancer?
A: They only care about booty.

Q: Why was the pirate always leaning over?
A: The surgeon accidentally put her port on her starboard side!


Happy Pirate Day from our ship to yARRRRRS!

Yes, that is my tough face!
18 August 2008 @ 08:44 pm

Pink Ribbons

I've been on the mailing list of Medex, a medical supply company, ever since I ordered some stuff from them for our Hospital Holidays party. Today I was treated to this way-too-pink-for-a-Monday-morning email:

When you click for more information, it takes you to this press release, but to save you the trouble, here are some highlights.

MedexSupply Announces the Release of the ADC Limited Edition Pink Ribbon Stethoscope, With Proceeds Being Donated to Breast Cancer Research

Medexsupply, (http://www.medexsupply.com) a national leader in the supply of medical instruments and equipment announced the release of the ADC 603 Limited Edition Pink Ribbon stethoscope to the health market. The company will donate a portion of the proceeds from their versatile, new stethoscope to Breast Cancer Research.

Through the sale of our Pink Limited edition ADC 603 Stethoscope Breast Caner Awareness Merchandise, we will donate $5 for Breast Cancer Research for each stethoscope purchased

Look, the last thing I want to do is complain about money being donated to breast cancer research, or, as Medex calls it, Breast Cancer Research. But it's a pet peeve of mine when products say a portion of your price is going to something like that, and they don't tell you which research group/foundation/whatever. Is it the Breast Cancer Research Foundation? Susan G. Komen? Breast Cancer Action? Is it mammograms for uninsured women, or lab funding for scientists developing new drugs? Is it some cutesy organization that spends more money on self-promotion than research?

Anyway, I've gone off plenty of times about the commodification of breast cancer and how companies exploit it to increase sales/profits. Also, how these marketing campaigns encourage the kind of armchair activism that leads people to believe they've done their part by buying the pink lidded-yogurt, so they never do anything else. Besides, it's coming up on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when everything turns pink, so I'd better save some of my crankiness for that.

The press release goes on to detail more technical specs than I ever could have imagined a stethoscope to have, but not before a little dig at my self-esteem:

Current research has led to more and better treatment options, and many women are spared radical disfiguring surgeries.

I'm just going to pretend like they're talking about the chest-muscle-removing mastectomies from days of old.

John Edwards

If you're still reading, let's move on to the sordid John Edwards goings-on. I've heard & read responses to this that are all over the map:

It's none of our business.
Why are we always surprised to find out politicians are human?
Someone screwing up their personal life doesn't necessarily mean they'd be a bad leader. Why does it make a difference that he did it while she was in remission? Like that makes it better somehow?
She should kill him.
She should castrate him.
She should divorce him and take him for everything she's got.
Live and let live, I say. But John Edwards is not doing much for the image of trial lawyers who have wives w/ cancer. Thanks a lot, pal. (this one was Dan's!)

Here are my thoughts. First, I've always admired them, so it's disappointing. Secondly, I'm usually not one to rush to judgment when we hear about people cheating; people have all sorts of different marriage arrangements, and who knows what's okay with them and what's not. Sadly, the fact that she "found out" about it implies it was not just a consensual part of a non-conventional marriage.

If he did use campaign funds to pay her for her videography even though she wasn't qualified or experienced, as some reports say, that's a misuse of campaign funds, and he should have to answer to his donors for that. So in that sense, at least, it is other people's business - or at least people who gave him money.

Also, if the baby is his, that raises the disturbing possibility that he was having unprotected sex with someone outside his marriage. That means he was exposing his wife, who was immuno-compromised from around half a year of chemotherapy and radiation, to whatever the woman he slept with had. And whatever the other people she slept with had, and so on. THAT possibility is what seriously gives me an emotional response to this story. 'Cause that shit ain't right. It's dangerous. He endangered her already fragile health.

I feel for Elizabeth, going through all this insanity while dealing with terminal cancer. God, what a shitty hand she has right now.

Related Reading:

Breast Cancer for Fun and Profit
"AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company, first organized Breast Cancer Awareness month in 1985. This was an auspicious beginning because, as Breast Cancer Action, a breast cancer prevention advocacy group, notes, AstraZeneca manufactures an herbicide known to cause cancer."

Crunch for the Cure
"What will happen to global consumerism if breast cancer is ever really "cured"? Luckily for SunChips, it seems unlikely that we'll find out in the forseeable future. [...] In other words, when you think of a breast cancer "survivor", you don't picture a poor black grandmother living in squalor without health insurance (and you certainly don’t imagine a woman who, because of sensible research efforts, never got cancer in the first place.) The Breast Cancer Brand woman is a pro-patriarchy white chick: middle-class, straight, virtuous, concerned with maintaining her femininity, and married with two above-average kids. [...] These circumstances, i.e. breast cancer, turn out to be, as King says, a lucky gift. In fact, breast cancer has given her such a marvelous opportunity for personal growth, she'd do it all over again in a heartbeat. We never hear about the dead women, of course, since their demise does nothing to reaffirm faith in the medical establishment, the government, patriarchy, the status quo, the Ford Motor Company, Avon cosmetics, or Hooters."

Sneer of the Week
"I hate Komen because they’ve brainwashed millions of people into believing that if they buy pink shit they are “making a difference.” Snap out of it! All you are doing is buying pink shit. Komen is a marketing facilitator. They do not reduce breast cancer occurence. They do not reduce breast cancer deaths. All they do is hook up sanctimonious shopaholics with corporate leeches who want to shine up their tarnished public images."

(Cross-posted - sorry to those who have to sift through it twice)
Current Mood: Self0Righteous & Sanctimonious
21 July 2008 @ 09:35 pm
I can't begin to tell you how I feel about today, because I can't really parse it out myself, yet.

Today I had my last cancer treatment.

428 days ago today, I had my first treatment. It was chemo, the really nasty kind. 359 days ago I had my first dose of Herceptin. First I had it every week, for 12 weeks. Then I had it every 3 weeks, for a year. And today was the last one.

I will not set foot in my oncology office for three months. In the past year and a half, the longest I've gone without being there was three weeks.

When I had my last chemo, I was ready to party. My hair was growing back a tiny tiny bit, I wore my "I Survived Chemo" sash from Aunt LaVerne, I was all dressed up and wearing a tiara, and that night I went out drinking with my friends.

Today, quietly, with no fanfare, I had my last treatment. I sat for about an hour and a half hooked up to the IV bag, watching a DVD on my laptop. It was just the same as all the other times - thirty, maybe? - that I've had treatments.

The hotel across from chemo that was just a foundation when I started has been open & running for weeks. Everything is different now - I certainly feel different now - but in the chemo room, everything stays the same. New people are always starting treatment. Other people are always finishing theirs up. Some people there will never finish treatment - they're stage IV and will be in treatment until it stops working, then they'll live as long as they can, and probably go to hospice.

Today while I was waiting to get hooked up I heard Linnea, one of the physician's assistants, breaking the news to a doctor that one of his patients had brain metastasis. She was being routinely screened before entering one of their clinical trials. For most trials you have to start out with a baseline CT or MRI of the patient. But this patient won't be in the trial now. She got a phone call this afternoon that every cancer patient lives in fear of, no matter how much we try to ignore it. Three lesions on her brain. I've overheard these calls before. Once, on one of the rare times Dan wasn't with me during a treatment, I heard a call about lung mets. I briefly met the eyes of the person in the chemo chair across from me who'd heard it too, and we quickly went back to our books, trying to pretend we hadn't heard.

I haven't formed long relationships with anyone in chemo. Everyone's treatment schedule is different, so you might see the same people there a few times in a row, but then you won't see them anymore. I wonder about some of the people I've seen there, and how they're doing now. During my first treatment, I shared a room with a lady who had lung cancer. She was bald, in the middle of hardcore chemo, couldn't stay warm even with a bunch of blankets. She scared me because I wasn't to that point yet, but I knew it was coming. Her adult daughter brought her to treatment but spent most of her time outside in the truck, talking on the phone. Every time she came back in, she smelled like cigarette smoke. I saw that woman twice more, then never again. I wonder if her treatment worked and how she is now.

There are so many of these little stories you see in chemo. And because they're brief and never go any further, they're like faint sketches of someone's life, without details filled in. Or with tiny details filled in but none of the major biographical information. I might know that the man across from me hasn't been able to eat anything but Saltine crackers for a week and that he was too tired to drive himself home from the doctor last time and that he's so thin that it looks like his chemo port will pop right through his skin, but not his name, or what he does for a living, or whether he has kids, or what kind of cancer he has, or whether his chemo is curative or palliative.

I actually almost cried today at the end of my treatment. I feel relieved, yes, but it's bittersweet. It's not pure joy to get to the end of a road you never wanted to be on, and know you'll never be able to really and truly remember what life was like before. You'll remember intellectually, but it's like remembering a taste or physical pain - you can think about what it was like, but not recreate the experience emotionally. And you know that some people will not reach the end of this road, and they're no more or less worthy than you, or anybody else who's walking there.

I don't know. I can't believe it's over. It took me a long time to believe I had cancer - maybe it will take me a long time to believe I'm done with treatment. I kind of feel stunned. And a little bit like a baby bird who's been kicked out of the nest. No one will be looking in on me every three weeks to ask me if I'm experiencing any shortness of breath or ankle swelling, or how my appetite is, or whether I'm sleeping well. There's something comforting in feeling like you have a whole medical team monitoring you constantly.

I still take a pill every night, and will for four more years. But I'm not as much of a Cancer Patient now, and it definitely feels different. This milestone, and turning 30, and a couple of other things that have unfolded over the past few days have me very emotional. Writing it down helps me figure it out. Thanks for reading. And thanks for all your support along the way. It's been a long 463 days since I found out I had cancer. I'm ready to stop counting for a while.
The Red Cross and Louisville Public Media (my place of employment) are teaming up to have a blood drive tomorrow from 10am-3pm. The Louisville Red Cross has an urgent need for blood - as of right now, they are operating with less than a 24-hour supply.

No one wants my incancerated* plasma, so I thought I would post to see if anyone** reading this could come donate. You can either set up an appointment by calling the lovely Janelle (our receptionist extraordinaire) at 814-6500, or just walk-in and sign up on the spot. We're at 619 South 4th St., between Broadway & Chestnut, right next to the Palace Theater.

If you do, let me know and I'll come say hi and hold your hand while they stick the needle in, then get you a cookie.

* Chemotherapy depletes patients' red blood cells to the point where many of us need blood transfusions sometime over the course of our treatment. I was lucky enough not to (Procrit did the trick for me) but it was close a couple times, and many of my good friends have needed transfusions to get them through treatment. So there - I played the cancer card to persuade you to give blood. How can you say no?

** The eligibility guidelines say that if you are a male who has had sexual contact with another male since 1977, or if you've had sex with someone who fits that description, you can't donate. I would agree with those of you who might say this is BS. We did a show on blood donation a few years ago, and apparently this is a state regulation, not one implemented by the Red Cross.
26 May 2008 @ 08:03 pm
Buster passed away yesterday evening. His death and the hours leading up to it were peaceful, and he didn't seem to be afraid or in any pain. He died curled up next to me on the couch, under a blanket.

Fittingly, his last act on earth was to pee on something.

We're having his body cremated - a process Adam had expected would be like when they burned Qui-Gon Jinn's body on a funeral pyre in Star Wars - and we should get his ashes in a few days.

Right after he died, Jiffy really checked out his body and smelled him. Then she climbed into Dan's lap and looked pensive. I don't think Willy really knew anything had happened, but she could tell we were upset, which makes her upset.

I don't know what the majority of his life was like. He came into Chihuahua Rescue as a stray who was afraid of everyone and bit people. But I like to think that his last two years or so were happy and comfortable. One day I'll write the story of how Buster came to live with us, but for today, I'll just post pictures.

Buster was the only animal who never left the house while I was sick. He was calm enough to stay through my surgery, and was my 24-hour-a-day cuddle buddy while I recovered from surgery and went through chemo.

Thank you Buster, for taking such good care of me. I miss you.

More PicturesCollapse )

Current Mood: sadsad
21 April 2008 @ 09:30 pm
Thanks everyone who commented and emailed for my cancer- and mastectoversaries! I'm out of my funk, for now. I handled it by drinking too much and running my mouth all night long Saturday night maturely.

Before cancer, I had a livejournal here: funambulator . I'm going to go back to it. But if I post anything health related (scan results, treatment changes, etc.) I'll post it here also. That way if you just want to keep an eye on my cancer status, you can keep this bookmarked, or sign up for the email feed, or what have you, and not have to be subjected to whatever I might post on the other journal (read: mundane what-I-did-today posts, videos of cute animals, my half-baked opinions on everything).

I should have more to post soon - I'm supposed to be having abdominal and pelvic CT scans the week after Derby week, so hopefully I'll have more cool science-fictiony pictures of my innards to share. Like these blasts from the pasts:

Oh, also, I do have pictures of the new, permanent foobs uploaded. Now remember, these are pictures of a surgically altered rack (fack?) so don't click if you're squeamish or if you're going to get in a twist about it!

The dreaded tissue expanders, during their last night on earth: http://picasaweb.google.com/LauraMEllis/Surgery/photo#5186692663455097186

The day after exchange surgery: http://picasaweb.google.com/LauraMEllis/Surgery/photo#5186692203893596450

New foobs: http://picasaweb.google.com/LauraMEllis/Surgery/photo#5186691933310656786

Now I just have to decide once and for all whether to get fipples or just cool looking tattoos over the scars. I'm still a cyborg, because I still have my chemo port (see above) until I finish Herceptin in late July.
18 April 2008 @ 09:50 am
It just doesn't sound as good as cancerversary. Or survivorversary.

It's 10am on April 18. This time last year I was getting my boobs amputated while my husband, family and friends waited anxiously in the waiting room.

This is a sadder anniversary than the one on Saturday was. In fact, all this anniversary business has me upset and uptight. I mean yes, of course I'm happy to still be alive and that I've 'survived' for a year. But obviously I still wish I wasn't even having to think of it at all and that none of it ever happened.

I've heard people say that their cancer was a gift, and that it made them appreciate life more and not take things for granted. I'm not to that point yet. It's not a gift I'm glad I got. It's kind of like if you're deathly allergic to dogs and someone gives you a puppy as a gift.

I have scans coming up in May. I'm hoping that having those come up clean will get me out of this funk I'm in!
14 April 2008 @ 10:29 pm
Hi all... I know I haven't posted much lately. I've been super busy assistant stage managing a play, plus we had our pledge drive at work.

But I wanted to pop on and let you know that I'm officially a one-year survivor now! Saturday was my Cancerversary. I celebrated by getting a tattoo - on my foot. I have to say, it was kind of cathartic to be going through a painful procedure that I actually CHOSE to do, rather than one that was forced on me by stupid cancer.

I will write more (and post pics) soon!
25 March 2008 @ 01:14 am
For the past three months or so, every month, between around the 20th and the 25th, I start to get really paranoid that I might be pregnant. So far, I haven't been. And, you know, it's not like I'm making unprotected whoopie, as they call it on the Newlywed Game. My options in that arena are limited, seeing as how any estrogen in my system ups my chances for cancer to come back. Those who keep up with these things know that most of your options for not having little bambinos involve adding estrogen and/or progesterone to the system (I think the principle is that it fools your bod into thinking it's already pregnant, so it doesn't go through all the trouble of trying to get pregnant any more).

* * * * * * *

Speaking of newlywed games, our anniversary was awesome! We went to Florence Y'all, and stayed at a theme motel I've been blabbing about wanting to go to for YEARS. It's called Wildwood Inn & Suites, and we stayed in the Tennessee Cave room. The whole room was all done up like a cave. A CAVE WITH A HOT TUB AND BIG SCREEN TV IN IT! Look at it!

We went to dinner at Vito's Cafe, where the owner and all the servers sing, and Piano Pete plays piano. Highly recommended! The servers are mostly grad students in the music program at University of Cincinnati. We felt a little sad when we wondered if, as vocal performance majors, they are making more at Vito's than they will make after they get their degrees. Maybe so, so if you go, tip them well. They were all really good, and highlights included Vito himself singing If I Were a Rich Man (a song he was born to sing). Because it was our anniversary, they sang Happy Anniversary to us, and brought our desserts with candles in them. Then they took our request, which was Tenderly, which was played at our wedding! And Vito sang it! The best word to describe the evening was enchanting.

After dinner, we went to a place in Newport called Hofbrauhaus. It's a German pub Derek & Nancy had told us about. There was a polka band (the dude had an electronic accordion with all these different settings!) and everyone in there stood up in their seats the whole time and swung their mugs around in the air and sang along. It was a fun place and I wish we had one here in Louisville! Also, the beer was freaking beautifully good. That might be my favorite wheat beer I've ever had. And I've had a lot. Not tonight, though, sadly.

It was a wonderful anniversary trip - even getting lost on the way home. Dan and I have been lost together lots of times, and there's no one I'd rather be stuck in a creepy-ass small town somewhere in Kentucky or possibly Ohio with. On the way home we ended up in a town called Falmouth, which we pronounced 'foul mouth.' That and the German language radio station - yes, an all German language radio station, out in the boondocks of KY or possible Ohio - were the highlights of the trip home.

* * * * * * *

About my survivor party: It's a no-go. I knew there was a reason it couldn't be on Friday instead of Saturday, and that's because I'm assistant stage managing a play with Pandora Productions and we have a performance that night! So on Saturday, my cancerversary, I think we're going to brave downtown (for the first time in YEARS) and watch the fireworks from Dan's office on the 17th floor of the Meidinger (My Dinger) tower. Then we're going to wander down to the BBC in theater square and have some brews. And maybe do some cornholing! Ha ha ha! That just never gets old (to me). I have something else in mind for earlier in the day that day, but I'm keeping it mum for now...

* * * * * * * *

I haven't posted pictures of my new foobs yet, but I promise, I will! I really will! I feel like my set of surgery/reconstruction pictures is a cliffhanger and I need to post the ending! I'm pretty happy with them, alhough if I had it to do over I would have gone a leeeetle beeet bigger. Because the real foobs don't stick out as much as the tissue expanders, because the real foobs have some give to them, whereas the expanders were harder than hay-ull.

But they're squishy, and they move around when I move around, and they lay down when I lay down, and they even have a little bounce to them. And they do look more like this:

(\)(/) than this: [\][/], which was a definite improvement.

I've experimented with wearing bras, which makes them feel a little more normal, but my chemo port is right where my bra strap hits, and the strap rubs it, which can hurt like hay-ull (word of the night). Saturday night, though, I went out bearing my fleavage for the first time since reconstruction!

Which reminds me, I still need to do a post about fipples!

* * * * * * * * *

Okay, I've covered pregnancy, birth control, making whoopie, hot tubs, hotel rooms, cornholing, and, as usual, my chest. Sorry dad! :)
I've been kind of sick since Tuesday, thinking that I had another cold or bronchitis. I keep catching every little bug that goes around. It's amazing how during 5 months of chemo, when my white blood cell counts were down, I never caught anything - not once. Since I've been done with chemo, I have been sick three or four times and had a random toe infection.

Friday I went to the doctor because I was feeling really bad. As it turns out, I was running a fever and had 4 or 5 swollen lymph nodes* on each side of my neck, and my lungs sounded like crap. They took blood cultures, hooked me up to an IV bag of antibiotics, and sent me for a chest x-ray because I had fluid in my lungs. They were supposed to call me if the chest x-ray results were too alarming, and I haven't heard from them, so I assume no news is good news. Meanwhile I'm on another 7-day run of antibiotics, which, including the ones I took for my recon surgery makes, what? Four? Five courses of them in the past four months? I don't even remember.

And I really need to feel better by next weekend because Dan has made some mystery plans for our anniversary! He won't tell me what they are! It drives me crazy, but I love it. I'm excited. That's right, it's almost been a year since we tied the knot. Sometimes it's hard to believe it's been a year already, but most of the time I feel like I've lived (and aged) 10 years in the past year.

And closely following the approach of our anniversary will be another anniversary. On April 12, 2007, I got my diagnosis. I was sitting in bed, in the very same spot I'm sitting in right now, when my surgeon's nurse called with the results of my biopsy. It wasn't really a shock - Dr. Stewart had already told us he was sure it was malignant based on all the other scans. He even said if it came back benign, he would order it again because he wouldn't believe it. But we decided not to tell everyone until we had the biopsy results. So on that day, almost a year ago, we got the answer, and that night, we called everyone and rallied the troops.

The troops (that's you) rallied amazingly. More than I ever would have imagined. I had to go through a lot of tough shit to get rid of the cancer and to stay alive. I did it with your help & love - I don't even wanna think what it would have been like without you all behind me. And now, even though I'm still technically in treatment**, I feel like I've won the fight. And may there never be a round two!

So I've been wondering how to commemorate my cancerversary. I was thinking of rallying the troops once again for a 1-Year Survivor Party. I realize it may seem strange to have a party commemorating the day you found out you have cancer (that's the editorial 'you,' meaning 'me') but I think of it more like the first one of many many many years I will be a survivor. Personally, I'm hoping it will be at least three times as long as the years I lived before I was a survivor.

The thing about this party plan is that April 12 falls on Thunder Over Louisville day. So since I've been laying around in bed convalescing all day, my imagination has run away with me, and now I'm thinking of having a post-Thunder Survivor party someplace downtown - maybe the BBC at theater square, because they are pretty laid-back about people having parties there - and maybe even getting a few folks to come play music, and putting up some decorations, and putting out a donation jar for the Young Survivors Group. People who went to Thunder can just walk up to the BBC from the river. As for people who didn't go to Thunder... I don't know. I've never tried to get into downtown after Thunder. I know almost everyone is trying to get out of downtown.

So I turn to you for advice. Should I attempt this on Saturday, my actual cancerversary, or should I do it Friday?

Yep, that's right. All this caterwauling you've just read just boils down to me trying to decide whether to throw a party on a Friday or a Saturday.

Maybe I should just do it Friday. But no one has anything to do after Thunder anyway. But everyone who went is tired, and everyone in Indiana can't get over the bridge.

You know what? Leave me a comment with your opinion, and I'll decide, and then I'll talk to the BBC (or wherever, if it's Friday) and put up a snazzy invitation here and by email.

* nothing makes a cancer patient experience a split second of irrational but intense panic more than someone telling them their lymph nodes are abnormal in some way.

** for those who have lost track, I'll be on Herceptin (which is an IV infusion I get at the oncologist's office) very three weeks until July, and Tamoxifen (which is a daily pill) until 2012. 2012?!?!?!??! Doesn't that seem like way far in the future, when we'll have hover-cars?