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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

(A-Positive) Blood Isn't Always Thicker Than Water (Blog 17)

 Mom left on Sunday, January 11th. After a weekend of terribly time-consuming X-Treme Lounging (for which I have become an Olympic contender), I found myself officially recharged for extremely important Monday plans. I mean, BIG. A little vigor goes a long way with the few red blood cells I have roaming around in my system…gotta love those powerful, energetic little oxygenating maniacs. When I talk about the importance of this day, I'm referring to the very idea of getting dressed in non-elastic-waist pants (whoa), wearing makeup and a scarf (HUGE), and donning shoes that zip. I know…..hang on to your britches.

No one was going to hinder the significant event of bank and postal service fun seeing as I knew I had to buy stamps in order to prepare for my upcoming “Hire Me” Campaign. As a former recruiter, I am well versed that the time span between starting a job search and actually signing on the dotted line is usually about 3-6 months; ergo, I knew I had to put my work ethic to---ummm---work and postage was the easiest concern to address. As I--number 27 out of 51 post office patrons--was standing in line, resting my head against the countertop and praying for expediency, my limbs suddenly fell numb and tingly. Lately, this is a typical occurrence that I disregard as a total nuisance but little else seeing as I manage to function on a daily basis with the occasional twinge of numbness. As I shook my arm to alleviate some of the tingling, my hand froze stiffly into a rigid position of “I’ll get you my pretty…..and your little dog too!” right there in the middle of the line. Oh. My. God! I thought. I have a CLAW!!! And indeed I did. My right hand was twisted into an arthritic state of decrepit as I manually, painfully unfolded my fingers back into a state of normalcy. I was horrified, embarrassed, and stunned at the latest biophysical development, stored this information into the mental “Tell Dr. Wilks” file, and went home, exhausted from my EXTREME VENTURE into the REAL WORLD. Later, I will find out that my hand issues were not so insignificant after all. Stay tuned…
That night, my inner domestic goddess planned a well-rounded, healthy dinner while sipping on some wine, searching for jobs, and checking e-mails. Just as I was getting good and sauced (in a drinking alone, respectable sort of way, mind you) the phone rang. It was an unidentified caller and, by nature, I cannot resist temptation. I answer. It is my biological father, estranged from me for 10 years—a mutual decision, albeit an emotional and absolutely essential decision on my part. (For those of you tilting your heads and scratching your chins, feel free to ask questions but be prepared for a long, sordid story….)

Allow me to back up a few months. I was diagnosed with Lymphoma on September 11th, at which point my sister, unbeknownst to me at that time, called my father and told him the news, hoping that he would reconnect with me and write me a big, fat “I support you” check (given his three homes, two horses, and a partridge in a pear tree…). My father, John, wrote me a letter instead, asking for forgiveness for the issues we’ve had and told me that he wishes the best for me, then proceeded to send me a religious book (he has always thought himself a preacher—both literally and figuratively--a big whatever on so many levels). He also asked if there is anything he could do for me while I was going through this. I was skeptical (as was everyone familiar with his rap sheet) but decided to appraise the situation on my own time. This lasted a full two full months of reading, re-reading, and analyzing that letter. Finally, just after my midway chemo session and just before returning to Rockport for Christmas, I responded with a letter basically stating that A) I accept his missive as a heartfelt olive branch, but B) he needs to acknowledge his part in the family divide and—more specifically—with his successful attempts to alienate me in particular, and finally, C) in response to whether or not I need his assistance in any way: What I need most right now is money--badly—but am not comfortable asking him or anyone else for it…..God will provide, in His own way. After sealing, stamping, and sending the letter, I felt emotionally sated in my response and therefore let it go. Que sera, sera….whatever will be, will be…..

Right around my 30th birthday (January 5th) just after the holidays, I received a letter from John stating that he had actually received the letter days before Christmas but was scared to open it, as he feared (rightfully, I could add) that it would contain bad news. I’ll admit, this was endearing and I felt myself softening to his words. I started to believe that he had changed in his retired years (he is 69, afterall), and that perhaps the most evil action a person can take is deprivation of love and attention—something I was very familiar with from him. Two wrongs don’t make a right and, perhaps, it is my job to teach him an appropriate response to conflict (yes, yes I know--how completely narcissistic of me). He further stated that he is delighted that we are back in touch and that there “is hope” for a reunion. I’m not carved from Stonehenge and was therefore touched by his rare ability to emote--touched, but cautious and very, very leery. He told me that he would call me soon to discuss a visit. And, friends, by “visit” I’m thinking he means “lengthy phone discussion” since I’m not down with the face-to-face just yet after 10+ years of non-communication and a previous 10+ years of very strained contact (strained = traumatic, and I am talking in terms of lighthearted euphemisms, folks) during childhood. Give me a year of regular, healthy interaction, ask me again, and perhaps my tone will have changed with regard to a standard meeting but not just yet. Still, I accepted the letter and mentally prepared myself for the impending phone call. I then took the envelope in which the letter arrived, turned it upside down, and waited for the nonexistent check to flutter out. It never did. I was partially nonplussed since he owns three homes (one along a river embankment), two horses, prize-winning showdogs, and several luxury cars, but also completely unimpressed by his lack of generosity given his avaricious tendencies with money. Gifts from John, just as with any official loans (such as those for grad school which, despite desperate urging from friends years ago, I would never have acceptd had I even been granted the opportunity) come with serious, iron-clad strings attached.

Now you’re up to speed. As I was saying……there I was, writing an article for a Houston-based magazine ( and checking e-mails when the phone rang and, much to my shock, it was John. Immediately, he announced himself with: “Hello Sarah, this is your dad." I find it noteworthy that Mama Jackie later said that she would have paid any amount of money (that she does not have) for me to say “GARY??? What number are you calling from????” And yet, even for me, that’s simply too cruel. After returning the greeting, he instantly—and I mean INSTANTLY--launched into the subject of inviting me and my sister to one of his vacation homes. My thought process was as follows: Whoa….I haven’t talked to you in, like, 10 years and now you expect me to make plans? giddily pack bags and arrange for a fun-filled vacay with Dear Old Dad in the remote, river adjacent, tree-lined wilderness of Central Texas?Fucking Irresistible! In the words and shrill intonation of Alicia Silverstone a la Clueless: I Don’t THINK so…

Instead, I opted for the easy way out, explaining that I am in no physical condition to travel. He said he understood and the conversation quickly veered toward discussions of blood counts, familial cancer history (none), and other harmless, somewhat mutual topics given my condition and profession and the fact that he is a retired pediatric cardiologist. I was glad to engage him in non-sentimental matters seeing as I didn’t find him personally concerned with my health issues whatsoever and yet, as a doctor, we could easily connect on this benign (pun intended)--albeit morbid--level. I absolutely do not deny how weird that is. Finally, as I was silently musing to myself that this a conversation worthy of psychiatric examination based on this dynamic duo’s curious social behavior and emotional history, the worst came forth.

“So what’s next for you after you are deemed cancer free with the completion of treatment?” John asked.
“Well,” I answered as a compete ignoramus who believed everything I was saying, “I plan on everything being better. I mean, I had a great life before I was diagnosed (despite your absense, I didn't say). I live in a place that I love, am blessed with incredibly supportive friends, and had a fantastic job. I’ll have all that and more because I’ll be able to work again and I’ll have my health. It’s going to be better than b

efore: It will be totally AWESOME!!!” I gushed (with the aid and warm fuzzy afforded to me by wine).

Whoa! Well, uh….wow….that is quite the aspiration,” he said. Did I detect a note of sarcasm and/or disbelief on his part? Naaahhhh…

“Not really,” I countered. “I mean, I loved the way things were going for me before and now I have such amazing perspective. Life means more to me than ever before and I intend to make full use of it. Plus, I don’t take things for granted like I used to and I definitely don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“Well, I mean, how do you think you’ll find a job, Sarah? You’ll need to tell them that you have an illness and that will be a problem. How do you get past that?” This is when I told him that my cancer is really none of anyone’s business. It’s called the HIPAA Privacy Law (and in silent contemplation I added: DUH—you’re a doctor, you should know this!).

“That’s really unethical,” he said. “You need to tell them that you have or have had Hodgkins Disease. If you don’t, you’re being amoral and they have every right to be angry with you. They need to know this before hiring you.” At that point I realized that my illness would have absolutely barred him from hiring me as a manager in his privat practice heyday. I have the credentials, the drive, and the personalability, but not the DNA.

Not being able to resist a good argument about which I know—legally, morally, and personally—that I’m right, I said, “Okay, this is my decision. If the hiring authority already knows me based on the fact that it’s a limited industry here in San Antonio, I will say something or acknowledge a concern. Otherwise, it is MY. CHOICE. MINE! I don’t have to tell anyone anything unless I feel it’s necessary. I probably will say something, but, again, that’s totally up to me. Period.”

We ended things on an increasingly awkward note whereupon I gave him permission to call me every few weeks to "check in." Still, he felt the need to offer some solid, completely inappropriate and usolicited paternal advice: “You should either move to a different city or choose a different career. I say this because no one will want to hire you where you are. You might want to consider alternatives….and quickly.”

What a guy.....My Daddi-O.

Can I just say that, by this point, I was completely intoxicated and still shocked by the turn of events that occurred during this relatively short conversation? I mean, really….. We hung up and I was rocked to sleep with the lullaby of drunken slumber, but not without first making wee-hours-of-the-morning slurred phone calls to various friends in an attempt to decompress. I am not lying when I say that, the next morning, I was shocked to discover the numbers I’d dialed the night before, and even more shocked later to learn that I had had TWO conversations with Nancy of which I still have absolutely no recollection. I woke up on Tuesday morning VERY hungover and constantly reminded of the previous night’s copious amounts of wine, conflict, and vulnerability. I started the day with extra–strength Tylenol and several liters of water. I also placated myself by assuming that the amount of intoxicants I’d consumed had to have homicidal effects on my tumors.

Luckily for me, Tuesday, January 20th was Inauguration Day. I am a sucker for pomp and circumstance, regalia, and tradition so, in my hangover-induced stupor, my eyes were glued to the TV as I propped myself up in bed (3 pillows behind my back, 1 under my knees) with my laptop and phone next to me. Aside from the nausea and pounding head, life just doesn’t get better. Yet, whenever I’m hungover (and it doesn’t

 happen often considering my tolerance these days) I get emotional. I worry, lament, and cry over life’s smallest challenges and idiosyncrasies. I ask myself WHY WHY WHY about every detail of my life that isn’t in perfect alignment with my grand plans, and swear to never drink again. Ever. (I write these words as I sip on a glass of cabernet/shiraz blend). As I was talking to Judy on the phone while approving Michelle Obama's yellow frock (Judy is my Denver-residing best friend and sanity during these emotionally straining, ridiculously self-loathing and guilt-ridden times), I took the opportunity to take Lola outside for a quick pee. Standing on the grass awaiting her big finish, a familiar stabbing pain hit me fast and hard in the back. This was it: the unexpected, sudden Neulasta effects from late last week. Based on last month’s events, I anticipated said grueling pains around Wednesday or Thursday, so I was surprised when it hit a day early. I can only assume that standing up and walking the few steps to the grass triggered certain nerves, because just walking back inside and resuming my position in bed left me in severe agony and, by now, most of the hangover had faded into a dull headache. It was 3:00 PM when I reached for the Darvocet and waited for it to kick in. Mom called to check on me and heard the distress in my voice as I tried to carry on a conversation--frequently punctuated with cries of pain--at which point she finally convinced me to call the clinic and ask if I can increase my dose. After leaving a message, one of the murses (male nurse) called
back and said that I could absolutely double it. A few minutes later, the phone rang again but this time it was the Doctor--General Wilksie--herself. “I heard your message,” she said. “Are you okay? You sound awful and I want you to be pain-free. Double the dose, stay home, sleep it off, and try to get through this. Remember, this means it’s working.” Done and DONE.

Sarah's Perspective of Life with Cancer
While on Darvocet

You may recall that Dr. Wilks commented on my inability to shut up and relax under the influence of heavy narcotics during my bone marrow aspiration, and that the anesthesiologist called me an “expensive date” when saucing me up with substantial meds for my mediport surgery, and this was no different. The Darvocet had a distinct effect on me—without a doubt—but failed to knock me out. Instead, I played about 50 games of Bejeweled and watched TV while also cooing in the direction of my feet which were, within an hour, delightfully floating toward the ceiling. In fact, I was absolutely flying and it was fab-u-lous. While finger-painting pretty pictures in the air, I also marveled and giggled at the amusing kittens, butterflies, and kites everpresent in my private, exclusive fantasyland. Darvocet is just . . . . so . . . .unexplainable. And , for the record, I DEFINITELY did not care about the previous night’s upsetting phone call anymore. I did manage to talk to Nancy on Facebook, explaining that I was in no position to hang out as per our usual Tuesday night ritual: She was simultaneously sweetly naive ("what? whyyyyy?" ) AND prepared based on my most recent, humiliating drunk dials. And yet, during the same conversation during which I told her I did not want to be bothered, I also managed to inform her that I could really, really use some skim milk. Milk had become inexplicably uber-important: Milk was all I could think about. At around 6:00, clutching a bag of groceries, jug of milk, and sack of hot food for dinner, Nancy knocked on my door and I greeted her in my red silk pajamas, slippers, and pink fuzzy robe (awesomely, hangover-cliche). True to her agreement to then promptly leave me alone to relax in my drug-induced state of wondrous lethargy, she left. Nancypants is one of those people who drifts into your life unexpectedly and has an affect that you always wonder if you could ever match. And you spend the rest of your life trying…..

Later that night, back in bed, the phone rang but the caller was unidentified and, unlike the night before, I opted not to answer. The cryptic message stated: “Hey, It’s Kat, I need to talk to you soon so call me back!” Kat is a sorority sister from back in the heyday of reckless innocence—a member of a group of women who have collectively become a huge source of support these days. “This is really exciting….” she said when I called her back. Then she proceeded to tell me that she spontaneously signed up for a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training ½ marathon and wants to raise money and complete it in my name. WOWZA!!! I was overcome with emotion—feeling completely unworthy and inadequate to be honored in such a way—but obviously agreed to it. After all, this is for an amazing cause and I was one of LLS’s regular beneficiaries. GO KAT!!! TNT set her up with resources to track her progress. Her goal is $1,800 and, at last check, she had attained $1,460. I am humbled and honored that she wants me to be an active part of this process and therefore ask for your assistance if you have it to give. To the many of you who have contributed: Thank you!!! It has not gone unnoticed. Please view her progress at:

Still on Darvocet, I slept soundly that night and all through Wednesday, cancelling my plans for drinks on my porch with Auburn. After over a day of nearly uninterrupted sleep--save a few dog walks and water refills--I woke up on Thursday to severe vomiting. Since there was nothing in my stomach and therefore little to throw up, an empty stomach didn't didn’t obviate the ensuing intense, violent heave sessions. The bitter, acidic taste in my mouth made me quickly realize that I had Darvocet toxicity from ingesting 1-2 pills every 3-4 hours for nearly two days straight. As much as I hate to throw up, I still didn’t regret my decision to remain loaded on drugs: Those wonderpills got me through brutal pain (that I still experienced to a lesser degree every few hours between doses) and therefore knew that I was simply paying the price. The near constant vomiting led me to cancel both my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society young adult support group dinner as well as my monthly book club. With such a fun, active night planned, I was disappointed to spend yet another night in bed, but, as I thought bitterly, welcome to my fucking world. The Darvocet-induce sharp, searing pain-- although diminishing--morphed into that of dull, achy joints screaming out in protest from zero range of motion and muscles atrophying as they lay motionless, gelatinous, abandoned, and decaying.

On Friday morning, January 23rd, just as I was in the middle of a deliriously wonderful dream about long, luxurious hair and vacations in Maui, my phone rang. It was 8:15 and, thus, clearly an emergency since my friends know better than to call in the morning or late at night (my rule: not before  10/not after 10). Without looking at the phone or gauging my options whatsoever, I answered, alarmed. Yet, it was my uncle. As in: My father’s brother who verbally disowned me in 2002 when I changed my name to reflect my maternal side--to which, let me state for the record, I’m actually very close and therefore more connected. I had tried explaining to him years ago that this modification—this name change--was not a reflection of my feelings toward him or that side of the family, but that it was something that I needed to do for me. It mattered not: he was angry, bade me good luck with life, and I never heard from him again. Now, it seems, I’m back in his good graces more than 10 years later (Why???? Because I am afflicted with a potentially fatal disease???? In what world is this a decent response--to either the surname OR the cancer diagnosis??? These questions I still ask, stymied.). We spoke for about 30 minutes and, just like my father, he wanted to know my blood counts, health status, and details of my treatment protocol. As a doctor, he, too, kept things neutral and--just as with my father--I was appreciative for the blatant avoidance of sentimentality. He asked if he could call in a few days; I responded yes but that, if I’m sleeping, I silence my phone. Yes, you astute readers, it IS my exit strategy in the event of unsavory callers. We agreed to continue the conversation later. I spent the rest of the day in bed, still experiencing pretty awful--yet manageable and not entirely agonizing--aches and pains from the Neulasta, knowing that I could no longer take the Darvocet for fear of hacking up my intestinal tract. Instead, I opted for extra-strength Tylenol and sleep. Sadly, I had to cancel dinner with a relative who was in town on business and I always, ALWAYS enjoy spending time with him, and not just because he picks up the check (Second cousin-in law Bob: I will gladly accept a dinner invitation under any other circumstance).

A personal fave: Silpada stacking rings
that Mama Jackie bought me for
Christmas during Heidi's benefit
Yet that night I got another interesting message. On Facebook, Nancy told me that she HAD to talk to me ASAP. After explaining
that I was barely awake and unable to hold a conversation, she insisted: "No you HAVE to call me!" I declined. She persisted: "But you HAVE toooooo!!!" I declined. She finally said, “Well, to hell with it. I’ll just tell you: Heidi is throwing you a benefit through her jewelry business!” Ummm……come again? After tossing around basic details, Nancy explained that our friend Heidi, who sells an exclusive line of jewelry called Silpada ( --sold only in private homes), is having a fundraising party in my honor at the end of February. Since I’m basically…..well…..I can say this now because my lips are loose with wine and the truth always comes out…..broke, I can publically, shamelessly acknowledge that this will fill an immense void in my pocketbook. I am so blessed and honored and cannot believe the generosity of humankind. Many thanks to you, Heidi, and many thanks to Nancy for hosting at your home! I do know that the party will be here in San Antonio on Saturday, February 28th from 5:00-8:00 pm as an open house but is also open to out-of-town guests by mail and via the web. Please contact me if you want some seriously fabulous and funky jewelry ;) Honestly, my cup overfloweth….

I spent Tuesday, January 27th alternately cleaning up and resting as I prepared for my girls’ night in with Heidi and Nancy. They arrived around 6:30 and we ate pizza and drank wine. Well, actually, Nancy had Tuaca-laced Hot Apple Pies and, since I am responsible for turning her on to this sugary alcoholic greatness, I do declare that I’ve created a monster. Our trio--nay, triumvirate--debated about and ruled on boys, babies, and booze--exactly what each of us needed. The next day, however, Mom arrived in order to reclaim her status as Regent Caretaker. She is so selfless and beloved by all who know her that I cannot begin to thank her enough for her willingness to give of herself wholeheartedly and unquestionably to her fully-grown, adult child. Thank you, Mama.

Shortly after she arrived, we headed to County Line BBQ for dinner, first stopping to get the mail along the way. I was astonished to have pulled out several envelopes containing checks and cash from anonymous donors (literally—no return addresses or signatures) telling me to “keep up the fight” and “hang in there.” I don’t know what—or WHO--provoked this but someone or something kicked off the “Save Sarah’s Sanity” campaign. I joke, but this was really no laughing matter. My bank account was in dire straits and I was terrified of what was to come, but, on the advice of experts, I chose not to dwell on that which cannot be immediately changed. And now--what happened? And why? I may never know, but I am speechless and grateful. The few thank-you notes that I could send out involved the following statement: I don’t know that having cancer automatically designates this generosity, but I accept with humility and gratitude. Finally, if this applies to you (and you know who you are): Thank you.

I had chemo on Thursday and General Wilksie was once again very concerned with my blood counts. She rolled her stool up to me, gently placed her hands on my knees, and said: “Have we talked transfusions?” No, but I suspect we’re about to….. After a short discussion about the need to drastically increase my red count versus the associated risks of infection, I agreed to be admitted to NE Baptist for a blood transfusion. Oh, and she would have the paperwork ready for me after chemo. Wait....what? Ex-cuh-yuse me???? You mean I still have to have that SHIT???? She also insisted that I allow the clinic to make an appointment with a neurologist to determine whether or not I’ve had lasting, permanent nerve damage from the Vinblastine (“V” of ABVD), based on the post office incident and array of other symptoms I’ve reported. It was at that moment I realized that this gives a whole new meaning to "going postal." I reluctantly agreed to the neuro consult but later dropped the notion with the theory that, if my nerve damage is THAT bad, the neurologist will catch wind of it, demand my contact information, call, and INSIST that I see him immediately. Cuz that’s the way it works…. So, I’ll just wait……

Given my symptoms and side effects of late, and especially given this most recent development, I asked her a question that I had been putting off for weeks.“I need to raise a really morbid issue,” I said. My Mom noticeably shifted in her seat, possibly fearful at what I might say or irritated hat she had not yet been consulted on this dialogue.

“When I struggle through the hard days—and getting through them is feeling more and more impossible and pointless--I need to know that there’s a reason behind it. So, can you answer something totally out there?” I asked this while averting my gaze from my mother to avoid backing out. This needed to be asked.

“What…..why 12 chemo cycles?” Dr. Wilks asked.

“No. I get that--efficacy and proven protocol, blah blah blah. What I need to know is that, had I ignored the symptoms and not gotten treatment, how long would I have?”

Wilksie didn't blink and didn't move. “If you didn’t seek help, your life expectancy would have been 6-12 months.”

I thanked her for her candor and reminded myself that, during the hard days, I still fight for my life for a very specific reason: I would otherwise have been dead at age 30. In fact, the most conservative estimate states that I would otherwise be facing my last month of life in March but likely sooner--likely, dead by now. Very humbling.

Clearly, that's what I needed given that chemo went swimmingly and I received my marching orders for the next day’s blood suckage excitement. Imagine the timely Twilight book series references thrown my way on Thursday night and Friday morning….Sarah as Bella, the vampire lover and, eventually, Sarah as Vampirella, the fictitious Blood Loving Vixen who, for some unknown reason, always accessorizes her black leather ensemble with a whip (I have no idea…but I approve). Although Mama Jackie originally stated that I’d need to call a cab because she just doesn’t do that hour, yet eventually sighed with faux reluctance and contempt and agreed to take me herself, I was admitted at 8:00 A.M. to NE Baptist Hospital, Oncology Unit, room 117. We were left undisturbed without the nuisance of a roommate but with the luxury of cable TV. Yessss….. It takes very little to entertain me. Two units of blood were administered from 10:00 until around 3:30, and Mom and I passed the time by sleeping, reading magazines, and watching bad court TV shows. Fun fact: My no-way-in-hell food list features orange-flavored anything, pickles, and all things seafood. That said, Mom choked down my nasty codfish hospital tray while I choked down my $4.50 white bread-and-turkey-lunchmeat sandwich. Gotta LOVE me some grossly overpriced hospital food! I ultimately thanked them for a great job, though because, without incident (which is uncharacteristic of my biophysical nature), I was discharged and sent home feeling uber-rejuvenated with an undoubtedly high red blood cell count and a decent leukocyte number. Things were uneventful which, in my health-related world, was pretty rare and awesome.

Passing the boredom during my
blood suckage
Mom and I went to bed early and spent Saturday running a few essential errands. One latently interesting incident occurred when Sarah’s high-dose Prednisone reared its ugly head at Target. Using a gift card and trying to find the PERFECT shade of green to replace a bath rug that my sister's satanic miniature pintcher destroyed, we strolled the aisles multiples times, comparing hues and various pattern combinations. It struck me that we still had to patronize the pet aisle, refrigerated section, and cookware, so when Mom told me I should go back and reconsider a different bath mat option (and, because she’s been blessed with the designer’s eye, I always end up taking her advice lest I toss and turn over a missed opportunity in the middle of the night), I veered the cart back toward the opposite direction, turned, and hissed: “Awesome! Why didn’t you tell me this five minutes ago?” “I thought I did,” she said casually (was she used to this???), then added: “You just have chemo brain.” OH NO NO NO. OH NO SHE DIDN’T!!! I "educated" her that making such a comment is the equivalent of a man saying to a woman, “You’re just hormonal,” or, “Are you on your period?” That shut her up and we abruptly dropped the subject. Tragic and pathetic at the time? Yes, but no doubt darn funny a week later. Note to all, though: NEVER ACCUSE A CANCER PATIENT OF HAVING CHEMO BRAIN!!! It is off-limits UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. I’ve said my peace.

Mom left on Sunday and, later that night, I received a text message from my neighbor stating that my right front tire is going flat and I need to have it filled ASAP. Grateful as I was for her vigilance, I was still totally annoyed at my 2002 sputtering, problematic college graduation-gifted Trailblazer. Talking “car” is like speaking German to me. I just don’t "get it" and I’m very aware that the car salesperson speaking in his native tongue could just as well be calling me a stupid American . . . .or swindling me for a few hundred bucks. I’m not naïve to this fact: just too ignorant about the Culture of Car to do anything about it. Here goes nothing…..

On Tuesday I put on my big girl panties and a really rough, mean, completely intimidating exterior, and braved the Wal-Mart tire and lube center for what I hoped against all odds would surely be a “quick fix.” Having arrived at 11:00 exactly, I was surprised when they told me that it would take a full hour and 45 minutes before they were through. That meant that I had until 12:45 to peruse the hell that is Wal-Mart-on-Chemo before returning for the piece de resistance. I wanted—but did not absolutely, positively need—the following items: Ink for my computer; bathroom trash can; sage green bath rug (let's not get into that again), and bathroom tray to accommodate perfumes and lotions. I did something that I NEVER do: purchased those unnecessary items realizing that they would likely adhere to neither my high personal decorating standards nor my puny bank account. I think I was desperate for amusement and, more importantly, desperate to feel like a solid member of Society—shopping the day away like my affluent housewife compatriates. Side note: I can safely say that, over the last six months, I have literally never purchased anything for myself with cash (although I have received random gift cards) but, at the mercy of the automotive center, felt compelled to browse and, later, experience serious buyer’s remorse over my unnecessary purchases. I returned to the center at 12:45 exactly, stating that I was on-time and ready to pick up my car.

“Ummm……yeah…..your vehicle is…uhhhh….next in line,” said Ralph. “Shouldn’t be but 30 minutes.”

“What? I’ve been waiting for almost two hours and you haven’t even LOOKED at my car?”

“Right…but you’re next,” he rationalized, and then instructed me to have a seat in the waiting room where I could pay $1.00 for a can of soda and watch Madagascar on DVD. Reluctantly, (and with what choice did I have?) I acquiesced. At EXACTLY 1:20 I informed Ralph that my car should be ready.

“Right,” he said. “They’ll be in shortly to talk to you.”

Ten minutes later, I get a tap on the shoulder. “Sarah?” (allow the Prednisone to take over at this moment and ask in its haughty self-righteousness: Since when am I on a first-name basis with the Wal-Mart mechanic???)  “You need a whole tire replacement. We’re not allowed to fix the leak based on state law that your levels are so low…..” blah blah blah…..

Unhealthy rage building inside me, I breathed slowly and gently harangued the guy for taking 2 ½ hours to look at my car and determine that it needs a tire replacement. Did that really necessitate 150 minutes mid-week/midday AND a $160 shopping trip??? And yet I presume that it is, indeed, part of the grandmaster Wal-Mart plan. By now it is 1:30 and I am both physically and mentally exhausted with a cart of bathroom supplies, skim milk, juice, and shaving cream at my disposal. Don’t make me use it, man.

I read the entire February 9th issue of Us Weekly before getting another tap on the shoulder. “We just found out that we don’t have your tire in stock. How about we just put on your spare and fill the rest of the tires?”

Taking a deep breath, I contained aforementioned rage and did something I swore that I would never, EVER do. That is to say: I used my illness to my own advantage and I am honestly ashamed. “Do you realize that I’ve been here since 11:00? That’s three hours of waiting for you to examine the vehicle and determine that it needs a new tire but that you don’t actually have it in stock. I am clearly NOT well , and have therefore foregone medication in favor of getting the service I deserve and mistakenly thought I’d walk away with….”  Mouth agape, Ralph sputtered a bit and proceeded to confirm that I did, indeed, want my FLAT TIRE replaced with a SPARE (uhhh.....duh?), then excused himself to sob in the little girls’ room.

It should come as no surprise that I woke up on Wednesday with a sore throat, swollen and tender glands, and body aches. Why, why, why am I always sick???? But I know why….. Between chemo sessions my counts drop so precipitously that I just can’t defend myself against germs. In the words of Miranda on The Devil Wears Prada: I am an incubus of viral plague. As I freely say, however, I am a veritable vessel of nastiness. I was barely able to walk Lola, brush my teeth, wash my face, and change into different pajamas before falling into a 12-hour period of semi-consciousness. My only nourishment, aside from water, was a homemade fruit smoothie that I sipped throughout the day. Thursday was an exact replica of Wednesday, and Friday reflected a moderate improvement whereupon I was able to walk to the mailbox, respond to e-mails, and take a much-needed shower. Wal-Mart returns and tire stores would have to wait until next week as I regained my strength…..

On a side note: I’ve promised my girlfriends that I would update you on my hair growth progress since we ALL want to know. Hey….I GET it. I’m a girly-girl and want all the dirty details as well. I’m nosy as hell and have a morbid curiosity about those things in life normally gone unreported and/or unnoticed. Since I had last shaved my head in mid-December and Mama Jackie took photos at the hospital during my transfusion, what you see reflects a 6-week hair growth. I’ve decided to meander into any given salon stating that my hair is getting too long and that I want “just a little off the top.” Whaddya think????

6 weeks--January 30th--of hair growth
Next week brings my SECOND-to-LAST chemo treatment!!! I’ll report more soon!!!

Love, Sarah

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