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Friday, January 30, 2009

I Usually Don't Have Regrets, But.... (Blog 7)

So there isn’t much to report about my Screw Cancer party but that won’t stop me from going into minute, excruciating detail. Guests arrived on the early side and, naturally, I was already on my second glass of cabernet. The carpet was freshly vacuumed, the carefully chosen chillaxing music was playing away in the background (the likes of Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Blues Traveler, Lisa Loeb, Ben Folds, and Uncle Kracker), and the apartment was glowing with lit candles….all in all, great ambiance, friends, and conversation. In keeping with tradition of the jolly, ample-sized Brannon/Somers women who came before me, we ate a lot, drank even more, and laughed a ton. At one point I summoned my friend Janie into my bathroom to formally meet Noreen the Wig and she in turn formally introduced Noreen to the group (then Noreen got tired-- she’s not used to being in large crowds—and was thus relegated to her sleeping quarters atop my extra large hairspray bottle). Against all sober-driven common sense, the alcohol influenced me to flash my Irish pale & pasty bald head. At one point my pink Tinkerbell headband-antennae adorned my cranium and I rechristened myself TinkerBald. There are pictures.
Janie & Tinkerbald
Showing off my shiny new port. That's what alcohol will do.
When the majority of guests cleared out and the remaining group had encouraged me to flaunt my lack of hair with pizzazz, I had the bright idea to make a trip to the neighborhood bar for my foray into being a Cancer Patient in Public. Mind you, this is something I’ve done in very protected social situations: appointments, very few restaurants, grocery shopping, etc. However, I had yet to introduce myself to the world as a single, 29-year-old hot mama who happens to have Hodgkins Lymphoma. What better time to do that than amongst friends……very drunk….and extremely vulnerable??? Exaaaaactly…you see where this is going.

We arrived at my favorite Medical Center watering hole, Highlander, with the intent of playing a game of pool and having a drink before returning home and collapsing into bed. Sounds innocuous but, remember, I’m wearing a silk scarf on my head and LiveStrong armband while drinking alcohol, so these are craaaaaazy times for me. After my friend Shannon kicked my ass on the pool table, we scored a coveted booth and ogled a group of very attractive young men. Those of you who know me and Shannon know that A) she is gorgeous and can be counted on to attract the attention of menfolk from all walks of life the world over and B) I lose my inhibitions completely—but lost my beer goggles after college, thank you—and can usually be spotted on the dance floor or karaoke stage after a few drinks. Fully utilizing my vodka-tonic armor, I “come-hithered” one of the fine gentlemen to our table and told him that we thought they were the cat’s pajamas which, of course, incited an invitation to their table. The rest of the night at Highlander was spent getting to know a great group of 3rd year law students. Shannon paired off with a guy (I’ll call him “Josh” since I don’t remember his name), and I got to know…..ummmm……Nick,  I suppose????  I also met some awesome future successful power-attorney ladies who made me feel right at home among their group. It was a successful night out and my mission to introduce TinkerBald (minus the antennae) to the non-follicularly challenged world was accomplished.

Here’s where it gets weird.

The bar lights flickered signifying closing time, at which point Shannon informed me that there’s an after-party to be crashed. Since time had no meaning to me and I was feeling Tony the Tiger grrrr-eeeeaaaatt, I amiably agreed to tag along. Shannon and I arrived at a nearby apartment complex (still within my Medical Center neighborhood) and walked in the door to find….ummm… one except, of course, those two fine gentlemen we were talking to earlier. In the time it took me to pee, Shannon and Josh had disappeared into the deep, dark abyss of the apartment and Nick and I went to the porch (it was, after all, a lovely October night). I have no detailed recollection of the conversation but I somehow sense that it was a very animated, friendly discussion about futures, dreams, goals, etc. Not bad for a 240-minute old relationship, I’d say.

CAUTION: Mom and others who view me as a vessel of purity, this is where you click that little red x at the top right of your screen. The rest of you may proceed….

Before I could comprehend logic, Nick and I were happily smooching on the porch futon. Although I didn’t initiate the hormone fest, I enjoyed myself immensely. After anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour—who can tell, really?—something horribly, unspeakably (but I will still tell), awful happened. Nick mistakenly-- presumably in the moment--reached up to stroke my nonexistent locks and my silk scarf slipped off completely, exposing my bald head. It was humiliating. I panicked and told Nick to look away--NOW!!!--but he protested and said, “don’t be ashamed. I don’t need to look away. You’re beautiful the way you are.” Normally, flattery will get you everywhere with me but this time I wasn’t having it. “I’m not kidding…..turn your head and close your eyes!!!!”  I half-yelled, half-sobbed, tilting my head and covering my scalp as much as possible. He finally obeyed and I grabbed the scarf, slapped it on top of my head haphazardly with the ends flying loose, and high-tailed it into the bathroom. Actually, if I’m to be completely honest (and what’s stopped me so far despite the humiliation factor?) I thought the sliding glass door was wide open and ran smack into the glass head-and-hands first, echoing a loud THUD throughout the complex….ouch. I’m pretty sure my full-bodied scar had left a mark upon his threshold. My forehead, forearms, and abdomen certainly retained a painful little memento. I digress…. So I make it to the bathroom and tie my scarf around my head, a hand-me-down from Mama Jackie in gorgeous yellows, blues, greens, and browns, then return to the porch. I tell Nick that I want to go home and he says that he thinks Josh and Shannon are a little occupied and that I might have to wait a few minutes. I should mention that Nick is by no means coercing me or being an asshole in any other manner. In fact, he is endearingly very sympathetic to my plight and wants desperately to make me comfortable under the circumstances. Soon after settling back onto the futon as far away from Nick as physically possible, I noticed that Josh and Shannon emerged and I asked hopefully if someone could PUH-LEASE take me home.  A distant voice replied, “Honey, I don’t think you’re going home tonight. There’s an air mattress in the guestroom. You should go sleep there.” I protested as long as I could and then passed out right there on the porch futon, my hot date to my left and the other scattered elsewhere, while the others carried on a lively conversation about mock litigation. I was either A) drooling, B) snoring, C) mumbling, or D) all of the above because Nick was suddenly guiding me into the guestroom, taking my shoes off, putting a sheet over me, shutting off the light, and exiting. I heard him insist that someone take me home, even saying, “she might have to take medication or something—we need to get her home!” Bless him. I must have dozed off because the light suddenly came on and Nick was telling me that I was finally able to go home. As I was putting on my shoes and searching for my purse, my phone started to ring. It was Mom and she was clearly in tears.
“Where ARE you?”
“Mom, I’m at a friend’s house and I’m coming home soon,” I slurred. “I’ll explain later.”
“I’ve been calling for hours. I’ve been worried sick! Are you okay?”
“YES!!!! I mean, yes of course I am and….ummmm…..I’ll be home soon!” I snapped.
After we hung up, three things happened. 1) I checked the clock on my phone and discovered that it was 4:21 am; 2) I realized that, at 29 and three-quarters years old, my mom was calling and demanding to know just where the hell I was and when I would be home; and 3) I realized that I was sick. Undeniably sick. My throat was ablaze, my head was pounding, and I felt slightly nauseated (and not in the “shoulda opted out of that last cocktail” manner).

I arrived home at 4:30 and entered my guestroom (“Jackie’s Boudoir”) to find Mom wide-awake with the television on. FYI: This is the woman who retires to bed at 8 PM and turns out the light by 10 PM with very few exceptions. She promptly  informed me that I “stink of ‘bar’” and I immediately escaped to my bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, and throw on a night shirt. Trust me, it does not escape me that Mom previously called begging me to come home and then reacted in a bitchy, “you smell” attitude in an effort to let me know how MAD and OFFENDED and ASHAMED and DISAPPOINTED she was that I had lowered my standards to bar-esque behavior.

And yet, because Mom and I are clearly confused about age and life stages at this point, I decided to use it to my advantage and crawl into her bed because, as we all know, Moms’ beds are always safer and comfier than our own no matter where we are. I slept fitfully for approximately 3 hours, at which time the jackhammer inside my head informed me that the luxury of slumber is over. In a vain attempt to re-initiate a REM cycle, I crawled into my own bed for a few minutes before giving up completely. My back was on fire and I needed to be on a hard floor. I grabbed a feather pillow from my bed and made myself a pallet using a quilt and faux mink throw, then tried to watch The Today Show in my living room. After a few fruitless minutes, I called Judy, my sister-from-another-mister/all-time best friend, and recounted my tale of bald-headed flashing horror (Judy was so confused in the early Sunday morning hour: “What did you accidentally flash? Nipple? No? THEN WHAT??? Just calm down and tell me!”). She did her best to understand how traumatic it was for me and encouraged me to rest as much as possible. After an hour or so, Mom woke up and I began the first of many emphatic apologies for keeping her up all night. We spent the rest of the day detoxifying our livers on coffee, fruit smoothies, and water, watching Beach Patrol and Speeders on Tru TV, and I even managed to take a 2 hour nap during the late afternoon. I woke up to the sensation of a large pink spotted elephant sitting on my head and realized that I was, indeed, very ill. A few hours and two extra-strength Tylenol later, I took my temperature and realized that, even under fever reducing medication, I was still running a low-grade fever. My feeble attempt at eating dinner resulted in a glorious upchuck, and I went to bed, Sprite by my side, praying for a settled stomach (“God, let this PLEASE be hangover-related.”)

In the middle of the night, after puking yet again, I took my temperature and was shocked to see it at 101. Normally, this is NOTHING….a minor inconvenience, if you will. However, one thing your oncologist and every chemo nurse will instill in you is the Fever Rule of Thumb: when on chemotherapy, any fever is dangerous. “Concerning” becomes “alarming” at 100.5 and necessitates a call to the clinic during the day and the on-call doc (and quite possibly a visit to the ER) by night. After Mom and I contacted the very groggy and irritated call doctor, we decided to treat with Tylenol and re-evaluate in the morning. Every few hours my fever would go up, down, and eventually diminish, only to repeat the cycle.

Late on Monday morning Mom ran errands on my behalf as I slept. Upon waking and seeing that my fever was still lingering, even if mild, I called my doctor’s office and spoke with Maxine, Nurse Extraordinaire. (Seriously, she is awesome. And wouldn’t you know that, as it should be with Maxines the world over, she has a thin frame, fuzzy, curly white hair, and a jovial temperament. Was she born that way???). Maxine insisted that I come in to get my blood levels checked and visit with Dr. Wilks, so I called Mom from her shopping venture (by this time she had deviated from her “necessary errands only” route to Stein Mart) and she high-tailed it back home at breakneck speed. I recall telling her that I would be ready by the time she got home but, apparently, I fell asleep. She found me in my pajamas, face unwashed and teeth unbrushed, in the fetal position on my mattress which, by this time, was grossly visible since my sheets had long been ripped away in a fitful, sweat-soaked sleep.

As an aside: does anyone else hallucinate during fever-induced sleep? When I’m too sick to eat, my worst nightmare happens before my very eyes when a large hamburger, complete with legs and arms (he wears white gloves by the way) dances around my room taunting me. If I look at him, and for some reason I’m aware that he’s a guy, I’m at serious risk of vomiting because the sight of food is unbearable and thus takes extra concentration to ignore him.

Anyway, I threw on some shabby clothes and deodorant, brushed my teeth, and washed my face. Mom drew the line at my putting on makeup. When will she learn that I am obsessed with makeup, no matter my condition, and look forward to its application every day? It’s my creative outlet, my one artistic ability, and my favorite part of the otherwise rote daily routine. God, I’m pathetic.

While waiting in the lobby for my name to be called, I was aware of how physically weak I was becoming by the minute. My name was finally called and my favorite phlebotomist, Jennifer, sat me down in the chair. Since everything else was a challenge, I wasn’t surprised when she couldn’t access my medi-port (implanted in my chest for easy blood draw and infusion but, in this case, obstructed with a blood clot). Even after she applied the freezing numbing spray, her gentle attempts were painful and I suddenly became faint when I heard her mumble something about trying all over again. The orange biohazard bucket was thrust in my direction and I began heaving into it, producing a teeny, tiny bit of a festive greenish bile/saliva mix. The nurses sprung into action and, before I could utter a word, started an IV of fluids. Both Jennifer and the nurses kept remarking on my pallor; in fact, I was so unbelievably ghost-white that they thought I actually looked dead. Later, they would confide that they were terrified about my safety. After all, they see cancer patients everyday and rarely have they seen someone looking like….well….death.  I was quickly laid down in a triage room where my vitals were taken and was then told that Dr. Wilks would work me into her schedule. One hour plus one episode of diarrhea later, the good doctor determined that I had caught a virus and sent me to the infusion room for more fluids and antibiotics. We finally left the clinic around 5:00, mom fretting about preparing some kind of dinner that will both settle my stomach and nourish me, and I concerning myself with the quickest route to bed.

This is what happens during an allergic reaction. But Li'l Buddy is there for me, wearing a scarf out of solidarity.
I sipped broth and tried to watch Dancing with the Stars, but fell asleep by 8:30. A few hours later, I woke up to severe sweats, all-over body pain, and a fever of 102.8. Since I was coherent and alert, Mom and I decided to treat with Tylenol and then see if the fever breaks by morning: It had. I felt so much better and spent the day resting and preparing for my next round of toxins. Thank God my doctor had encouraged us to have a prescription of Levaquin filled “just in case” because it was clearly working.

I was back in the clinic on Wednesday morning and, I am ecstatic to report, the chemo session went flawlessly. EXCEPT….. and here’s where it gets detailed and gross….. I showed my doctor the red, festering bump in my armpit. Although I was convinced that it wasn’t cancer-related since it was soft, moveable, and painful, I found it necessary to bring it up since it seems that every malady is of concern to an oncologist based on its potential residual effects on the immune system. Since I can barely type this without vomiting at the memory, I’ll gingerly describe the treatment as involving “lancing.” Despite having endured a core biopsy, bone marrow aspiration, surgery, and countless needle sticks into collapsed veins, I can still describe the sensation of  razor blade sliced through un-anesthetized, feverish flesh as painful. It was over relatively quickly and became more fodder for the nurses (anaphylaxis-induced, grotesquely-enlarged lips and now the lancing of unsightly carbuncle in questionable, unladylike region). Dr. Wilks explained that, while most women get ingrown hairs ALL THE TIME, mine may now get infected and become serious which, obviously, is what happened here. Shaving is now a dangerous sport and requires an ambulance on standby. So, while the infusion went swimmingly, I still left the doctor’s office with an application of bloody gauze. It’s always something…..

Since I’m already behind about 2 weeks in reporting the gory details, I’m currently working on my next blog and will touch base in the next day or so. Feedback is appreciated! Getting dull and routine or still interesting?


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