Monday, August 3, 2015

The Importance of Being Debra Susan

Note:  Deliberately leaving out my last name.

I am Debra Susan.  I am named for two brothers, Daniel and Stanton.  I know very little about them except that they were two thirds of identical triplets.  My brother, L., is the sole survivor, despite being the smallest of the three.

My mother told me that after the three babies were born, she was lying in her hospital bed when a grief stricken woman came to her doorway.  She asked my mother why her babies survived when her baby had been stillborn.  I don't think my mother had a good answer for her.  Little could she have known that she would soon lose two out of the three who had been born prematurely.

My mother told me that Daniel and Stanton caught cold before being placed in their incubators. They died from pneumonia at the age of two weeks.  L. is now in his sixties.

When I was in high school, a girl said to me, "You mean you have two brothers who are six feet under somewhere and you don't know where?"

I shrugged.  I was embarrassed that I didn't know what had happened to my namesakes.

I asked my mom.  She told me she had donated the bodies to science so they could study premature births.

My mother really didn't much want to talk about Daniel and Stanton.  I don't know if the grief was too much, or if she simply wanted to forget.  We only spoke about them one more time, when I was in my twenties.  At that time she showed me a document pertaining to their names.

My mother was a very pragmatic woman.  I imagine that if she grieved, she kept it to herself.  For my mom, life and death were a matter of fact, almost to the point of being cold about it.

Oddly enough, I never asked my dad about Daniel and Stanton.  Almost like I considered birth strictly a woman's domain.  In a way it is, since the mother is the one who does all of the growing and initial nurturing of a baby.

According to my mom, both my dad and my maternal grandpa tried very hard to convince her to try again. This time for a girl.  She must have resisted quite some time, because I wasn't born until little over seven years later.  I was my mother's only full-term baby.

I don't recall exactly how old I was when my mom told me whom I was named for, but I have often wondered about Daniel and Stanton.  I have questions that can never really be answered.  If they had lived, would I have been born?  What if I had had four brothers instead of two?  Would Daniel and Stanton had been like L, or would they have been different?  Do they watch over me, or is that just some story I tell myself to console myself?  Had they lived, whom then would I have been named after?

I don't know what the statistics are for women, who, like my mother, lose babies during or shortly after birth. I also don't know about what the impact is on children like me who grow up wondering what their lost siblings would have been like.  I do know that we are somehow important to our families.  We provide continuity.  In all likelihood we enable healing.  At least I'd like to think so.

For a long time I was perturbed that my mom and dad hadn't given me a more interesting name. As I got older, I often thought about changing my name to Danielle Stanley (for many years I thought my brother's name was Stanley instead of Stanton)  or perhaps using that as a nom de plume. Ultimately I decided that being  the ordinarily named Debra Susan suited me just fine.

It's important for me to be Debra Susan.  My being here and bearing the name Debra Susan directly and profoundly connects me to the memory of Daniel and Stanton.  Ties me to those two tiny beings for all eternity.  In a small way my being here honors their memory.

It doesn't matter that neither L. nor our older brother, B. know for whom Daniel and Stanton were named. They are as much a part of me as my husband is or my beloved Kid O and Kid Q.   I will never have  a sufficient explanation as to why they died as infants.  Perhaps being Debra Susan is enough.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Good Dad

"Here comes Uncle Mistletoe, " my dad  would cheerfully announce.  Although that was before my time, it was part of a repertoire of voices he did for me.  Talking Tree.  Elmer Fudd.  Bugs Bunny.  Daffy Duck.  He would also read me the Sunday funnies.  As I got older that shifted to naming 100 knights and their 100 horses, and with that, my dad introduced me to word play and puns.  He also gave me a love of shaggy dog stories.

When I was very little, my mom went back to work.  My dad would drop me off at my grandparents for the morning.  He would return around noon to drop me off at nursery school.  Sometimes he would bring tiny cupcakes with various plastic sticks in them, depending on the holiday. Shamrocks. Halloween decorations.   I remember my eyes growing wide as I stood in front of the coffee table, looking at those beautiful cupcakes. He would always tell me they were all for me.

"Give me some skin," he'd say to me,  as we crawled along in traffic on the way to one of his accounting clients.  Since I took things literally,  I would open up my palm, pretend to pinch a piece of skin and hand it to him.  Years later I realized he really was asking me to give him five.  I suppose that he never had the heart to tell me how badly I had misunderstood him.  

Sometimes he'd take me along with him to the eye care clinic where he was the part-time accountant.  I'd get to talk to the eye doctors, my dad's boss and  the bookkeeper.  Joining them for lunch always made me feel so grown up.

Somewhere between Iowa City and the Chicago suburbs, we sat in a restaurant off of I-80.  My dad apologized to me for not being around much while I was growing up. It was not his fault. He was working during the day and going to school at night, so he could change careers.  Even so it was gracious of him to tell me that.  He must have given some thought to how lonely I was. 

My dad and I had a kind of quiet companionship.  He would unwind from teaching by watching late night TV.  Since my bed was right above where he watched TV, I would adopt an "if you can't beat him, join him" attitude.  We would watch Johnny Carson.  Tom Snyder.  Dick Cavett.  Whatever talk show was on. 

Over the years my dad and I shared jokes.  We would give our best deadpan delivery, and wait for my mother to get the joke.  After a few minutes she would finally say with mock annoyance, "you two pixies." 

Two days after my dad died, we had a blizzard.  As soon as the memorial service was over, the California grandchildren went off to play in the snow. I can't help but think my fellow pixie just couldn't help himself.   

I wonder if my dear ol' Daddio is floating around somewhere.  I'd like to think that whenever we get hit by a  blizzard that he roars with laughter. I'd like to think that he saved me when the brake lines went out on our '89 Crown Vic.  I'd like to think he was riding shotgun with me, as I went through cancer treatment.  

One of my favorite memories was watching The Carol Burnett Show with my dad.  This sketch of commercials left us rolling on the floor particularly the part where Harvey Korman asks her, "How about calling my Aunt Bertha in Chicago?"  (starting at about 2:11)  Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, Harvey and my dad were second cousins.  His Aunt Bertha was my grandma's first cousin.  By the time that sketch aired, she had been dead for at least five years. That would have been some long distance call.  We were undoubtedly the only two viewers who enjoyed the unintentional irony.  

As long as I still have memories of moments like these, my fellow pixie will always remain in my heart.  

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Good Husband

He is handsome in his Army uniform.  The two of them together look as if they had just stepped out of a movie set.  My mother doesn't think she is beautiful, but she is.  Her hair is perfectly coiffed and her cream colored suit is impeccable. They are posed with heads next to each other.  So much in love on their wedding day, 4 November 1945.

My father was madly in love with my mother.  He wrote her many love letters while he was overseas.  They are starting to crumble now, but they are still in a box.

"I have a pearl handled revolver," my mom used to tease.  My dad had a female boss at his part-time accounting job, and he had a female employee, too.  They would sometimes go to Chinatown, Greektown or Little Italy for lunch.  My mom knew she didn't have to worry.  He was very frank about the friendship he had with his boss.  She knew she could confide in him about what was going on in her family. My dad was, as my mother would describe him, "a quiet man."  He would listen and not comment.

My father always listened to my mother.  One of his brothers  insinuated that he was henpecked, but that was never my mother's intent.   At the urging of my mother, my dad went back to college.  Got his accounting degree.  Later on he went on for a Master's.  He got a degree in Data Processing, and changed careers from being the assistant general manager of a grocery store to  professor of Data Processing and Accounting at one of the Chicago City Colleges..  

Despite financial struggles at the beginning of their marriage, my mom says my dad was always generous.  Never once asked her to justify how much something cost.  She, of course, never was that extravagant. They had both gone through The Depression, and it made a lasting impression on them.

My dad tried to go into business more than once.  One business was alarm systems.  We had one installed in our home.  Once when it accidentally got set off, we had a scene that could have been part of a sitcom.  The unit was quietly removed.  Unlike the sitcoms, however, my mom made him feel like an idiot for his failures.  

In his later years, my dad would always say about my mom, "we're lucky to have her."  Even as he retreated into dementia, he appreciated my mother.  Even as he expressed his resentment towards her, he knew deep down that she was doing her best to take care of him. More than that, she kept her promise to him to keep him out of a nursing home.  

Shortly after he died, my mom told me he sang to her again just like he had  when they were courting.  I imagine one of the songs was Twenty-Four Hours A Day

Sometimes love can conquer dementia and aphasia for a final expression of devotion.  Even at the very end, he was the good husband.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Good Son

When my dad's identical twin brothers were born eleven days short of his first birthday, his mother almost forgot about him.  My dad used to tell a story about how he was rocking the cradle when one of a number of immigrant cousins came in and said in Yiddish, "such troubles for one so young."  There is a painting that is a reproduction of an old photo of my dad in short pants and Buster Browns standing between two chubby boys.  My dad is casting a furtive glance.  He grew up being outnumbered and outmaneuvered  by his younger brothers, who were favored by their mother.

My dad grew up to be The Good Son.  After his brothers moved away, he stayed and took care of his mom and dad.  When his dad was in the nursing home, he visited him every weekend. And when his mother would call up every Friday afternoon and say, in her thick Yiddishe accent, "I'm lonely," he never once refused her request to spend weekends with us.

Our weekends revolved around getting in the car on Friday afternoons and driving from our Southeast side home, up Jeffrey Boulevard to Lake Shore Drive and taking that all the way to where it ended on the far north side, and then making the return trip on Sunday afternoons.  That went on four, five years, weekend after weekend after weekend, culminating in sitting on furniture covered in plastic and watching Bonanza, the Lawrence Welk Show and Mr Ed before finally returning home.

When we moved to the south suburbs, my dad decided it was time for my grandma to move closer to his younger brother in Southern California.  We flew with her out to LA  December 1969.  My uncle came to the my mother's brother's house, and that was the last time I saw my grandma.  I don't think I even said goodbye.

"Uncle George called," I said to my dad as he and my mom walked in the kitchen door.  "Is he in town," my dad asked.  "No," I responded. "Grandma died."

"What is she doing here," he asked angrily, referring to my best friend, Sherry O'Connor, who had just come off the bus with me just a few minutes earlier. "You'd better go home," I said to her.

A year later I was walking through O'Hare with three men, two of whom were trading "You're so fat," insults.  "Who makes your clothes, Omar the Tentmaker?"  When my Uncle Harold, who was wearing Bermuda shorts and a t shirt, ended up on one side of a pillar and the rest of us on the other, my Uncle George leaned in close to my dad and said,  "He embarrasses me."   Both of my uncles, whom I rarely saw, had flown in for my grandma's stone dedication, which traditionally  occurs around the first yahrzeit of a person's death.

Summer of '72, my dad purchased an olive green Dodge Polara.  He chose olive green because my grandfather has been a lifelong employee of Illinois Bell, and that had been the color of their service trucks.  As he started to place plastic covers on the car seats, he stopped and asked himself what he was doing. The Dodge was the first of his cars not to have plastic seat covers.  

Shortly after my grandpa died in October '68, the Tribune published a nursing home expose.  My dad was consumed with self-doubt.  He asked me if he had done the right thing.  Given how stubborn his mother had been about not leaving their second floor walk up apartment, I don't know what could have done differently.  I don't recall much about the nursing home except that while it wasn't a cheery place, it didn't depress me, either. Depressed me more to see my grandpa catheterized and urine flowing from a translucent tube into a bag and barely able to speak.

I don't remember what he sounded like or was like as a person, except that, based upon the arguments my dad used to have with his mother, I gather that "Pa" was a quiet man who was easily intimidated by his wife. My grandma would neither consent to  live in an elevator building, nor would she consent to move to California where Pa could enjoy his last days in warm sunshine.  Right before Saturday visits, my dad would stop at the same small stand and buy my grandpa a corned beef on rye with mustard, so at least my grandpa had these small pleasures.  

My mother told me that "Pa" was very talented with fixing things, probably an asset to him as an Illinois Bell lineman.  My mother also told me that he had hoped that my dad would become an engineer like my Uncle George, but my dad didn't have the aptitude for it.  I imagine that my dad's occupation of professor of data processing was probably beyond his father's comprehension  

A year after my father retired as a professor at one of the Chicago City Colleges, my dad, who all ready has his father's disability, Parkinson's, had a mild stroke.  He rapidly spiraled into dementia after that.  Life had played a cruel cosmic joke on him by giving him his father's illness, and his mother's base personality that, in later years, made him almost as unpleasant to be around as she had been.  

What I choose to remember is the man with a great, sometimes earthy, sense of humor, tremendous sense of duty, generosity and a great deal of compassion. What I choose to remember is a man who took care of his parents, despite the fact that he lived in the opposite end of the city.  What I choose to remember is a man who loved his mother despite the fact that she didn't much care for his wife. I choose to remember a man who grieved his mother's passing when no one else would.  

Some might think that my grandma didn't deserve her son's love.  I believe my dad had enough compassion to love her because he knew she had had a difficult life.  I think she knew, on some level, that he was a good son.  

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year of Living Cancerously

Some time last December, I went to bed wondering what calamity 2014 would hold for us.  The answer came back quickly:  cancer.  I put that out of my mind and went to sleep.  Little would I know how uncanny that speculation would be.

Early in 2014, a neighbor harassed me while I was rolling Kid O out to her bus. I  restrained myself from acting impulse to tell her not to yell at me because I had cancer. I was beginning to wonder about it, but I hadn't even been to a doctor.

A few weeks later she yelled at me again, and I sat there thinking what could she possibly say to me that could be worse than what I'm worried about.  I never responded to her.  I may never know why she is angry with me.  I was about to experience far worse.

The trials I had been through prior to cancer prepared me for it, or so I thought.  As I wrote in my poem, Cancer Is An Unpretty Picture, "I have rolled in larger dung heaps than you."  But I wrote that before my third round of chemo.  Little did I know then how chemo would throw me for a loop.   The moral I suppose is not to taunt an enemy until you've experienced its full strength. 

While I was undergoing chemo,  Mrs. T. finally confirmed the rumor that Kid O's beloved teacher, Ms. AK. had died of cancer. I had suspected as much. Weeks later another one of the Special Ed teachers told me that Ms. AK had refused treatment.  I suppose that, given her overall health, chemo and surgery would have been too much for her body to endure.  

Now that I know I know how difficult an ordeal cancer treatment can be, I am much more able to accept an individual's choices.  I am glad that Ms. AK died in peace, and not in pain and discomfort one gets from undergoing chemo and all the rest of cancer treatment.  Do I wish that she had had a different outcome?  Of course.  Just as I wish it had been different for Sweet Sue. As I underwent my cancer treatment I thought of everyone who died of cancer, but I especially missed these two woman.  Many a time I wished Sue were here to reassure me.

I hesitate to contemplate what else may be in store for me.  I vacillate between fear and triumph.  I have developed more patience with other people, but an increasing impatience with myself.  I need to remind myself daily that I have been through a tremendous ordeal.  From early June through September, my body was pounded with chemicals which was rapidly followed by two surgeries and twenty-eight days of radiation.  All of this has unspoken side effects that will take many months if not years to overcome.  

I've been called brave.  I've been called courageous.  I continue to be perplexed by that. I never felt brave. What is courageous about doing what needs to be done?  To me, real courage comes when faced with reality that nothing more can be done.  Surrendering with grace.  Or perhaps not going gently into that dark night, as Dylan Thomas so eloquently put it. Stage Four people will always be my heroes, whether or not they survive.  And so are people who face equally difficult and possibly life threatening illnesses.  

I have endured the unholy trinity of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. Now I cling fiercely to life, and I hope that I will meet whatever challenges 2015 sends my way with good grace and good humor.  

My birthday is coming up soon.  I have a slogan as I look back on what I've been through.  "Fifty-seven and not in heaven."  I want it to remain that way for many more years to come.  

And with that, I bid you all a Happy New Year.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Farewell To Breasts

I no longer have breasts.  When I had breasts, I used to imagine doing a stand up routine about them.  Being the anti Phyllis Diller.  I even imagined laughing like she did. "A ha. A ha.  A ha ha ha ha."  Jokes about how my breasts were so large that they entered  a room five minutes before the rest of me did.  How they used to hit me in the face if I wasn't careful when I rolled over in bed.  (That really happened a few times.)

I've had breasts since I was ten. Or so it seems.  I remember being with my mom at Montgomery Ward's to buy a training bra.  I remember thinking how ugly it was.  I have a distinct memory of being three or four and seeing my mom's naked breasts, and her saying, "I hope you never get as big as me." My paternal grandma was also large breasted.  It was inevitable.

I don't remember being flat chested.  I went from nothing to 34D.  I never really could  wear a blouse.  They always gapped somewhere.  Things only got worse when I got married and gained weight.  Two pregnancies later, I weighed slightly over two hundred pounds.  Part of that weight was that I had gone from 34D to 38D to 44I.  When I tell nurses and others post mastectomy that I was once 44I, they are amazed.  I am only 5'2" and small boned.  When I saw my oncologist after the surgery, she pointed out to me that I was still slouching.

When the oncologist starting laying out my treatment plan at the end of May, she did not mince words.  Chemo. Double mastectomy.  End of story.  She has since added radiation.  She also changed it from a double mastectomy to a single mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

I chose a double mastectomy for the simple reason I didn't want to deal with the awkwardness of prosthetic breasts, especially when it became clear that there would be months between radiation and a second surgery.

Part of me was relieved about it, because I had been so top heavy for so many years.  Part of me was sad. Sad that my left breast had cancer.  Sad that my right breast had to be unfairly taken.  Angry after the fact when the oncologist told me that the tumor had shrunk to 5 mm.   Why did my breasts have to be removed at all?  Of course they had no way to know that until after the fact.

Even though I knew the double mastectomy had to happen, I never said a proper farewell.  Perhaps it should have been some ritual.  Perhaps alone.  Perhaps involving my husband.

I used to imagine conversations between my breasts and me, the right one complaining that it wasn't fair.  I was trying to explain as best as I could why it had to happen.  Not really believing my own explanations.

Perhaps I should have kept my appointment with the plastic surgeon, but ended up in the ER with an anxiety attack instead.  Perhaps she would have discussed the benefit of a single mastectomy versus a double.  Perhaps now I'd be discussing reconstructive surgery and not scar revision instead, but, then again, maybe it would not have made a difference.

I went into the hospital for same day surgery.  I woke up shortly after surgery with four drains dangling down, two on each side.  I hadn't expected that. Was a small detail the surgeon forgot to mention to me.

I knew the purpose of  the double mastectomy was to remove both my breasts and any lymph nodes that were necessary. I had even seen pictures of a woman after a double mastectomy.   I just hadn't seen ME after a double mastectomy.

The following day when my dressing was changed, I was astonished by what my chest looked like.  All those staples.  Skin protruding from below my armpits, where I hadn't expected it.  And no breasts.  Only an indication of where they had once been.  I kept my shock to myself.

Before I left the hospital, the really wonderful male nurse made a binder that fit around my dressing and which allowed us to pin up the drains.  Made it much easier for me to go to the bathroom, as it kept the drains from dangling between my legs.  Made it easier to sleep, too.

I was pleased with myself.  Several trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  I was walking fine.  Then a bit before 7 AM, a shift occurred.  I felt pain above the dressing.  I laid back down in bed.  I needed my husband to hold my hand as I walked to the bathroom.

I dreamt that I was asleep in my bed.  I awakened to my husband speaking to me.  Much to my surprise I was lying on the living room floor.  He helped me up and led me to the side of my bed.  I called the surgeon's office.  I  was told that the surgeon wasn't there, but that his colleague was.  We were given a choice.  Come to the office or go to the ER.

I wanted to call an ambulance.  My husband wanted to drive me all the way to either the professional building or the ER.  I saw his point, but I was apprehensive.  He got our housemate.  She helped me get into a chair on the porchlift, while he drove the car onto the sidewalk.  I got safely into the car, and we were on our way to the surgeon's office.

I spent the better part of the day lying on a gurney in an ER examination room.  I either was being wheeled to and from tests or lying there alone.  At least the tests showed that I hadn't had a pulmonary embolism as the ER doctor suspected.  Based upon what the nurse would tell me, the ER doctor and the surgeons were discussing me.  As I suspected,.I  needed a second surgery.  But first I had to be given the first of three transfusions I'd receive over three days, as my hemoglobin was low.

The anesthesiologist, who had been present for the double mastectomy, was yet again standing over me as I lied on a gurney.  He sang "5'2", eyes of blue, has anybody seen my gal?"  I told him that my eyes were brown.  Then I sang along with him.  He knew more of the song than me, so I gave up and listened.  I told the nurses that since he was the one putting me out that I needed to be nice to him.

"I don't want to see you again," the anesthesiologist said, as I woke up in recovery.  I told him the feeling was mutual, except perhaps when I returned for reconstructive surgery.  I think he was amenable to that.

Months from now, after my chest wall has healed from radiation, I will have scar revision surgery.  Given what the plastic surgeon told me about reconstructive surgery, I have decided that it is better to have no breasts than to go through all of that rigmarole.

Even though this is my choice, I wonder if I will ever get used to having no breasts.  Although  my  breasts didn't define me as a woman, they still were a, pardon the pun, large part of me.  My breasts connected me to women who came before me.   And now my daughter have breasts.

I still feel complete, and yet I still feel bereft of what cancer has robbed from me.  I would have preferred breast reduction.  Instead I am left with breast redaction.  Perhaps some day I will be at peace with all of this, but right now I have to adapt to a life without breasts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cancelled on Account of Drool

As days and weeks go by, I discover that this becomes a humbling experience for me.  Chemo is arduous, but at times a meditative experience. I may have it easier than some, but certainly harder than others.  At first I am thinking, if you have Stage One or Stage Two, don't even talk to me about it.  I feel an odd sense of self righteousness about it.   I yell at Cancer Center of America commercials. Stage Two breast cancer?  Don't whine about it, damn it.  But then as I email and tweet and post on Facebook about cancer and chemo, I have people come up to me.  Either they tweet at me or they direct message me.  Husbands confess to me that their wives have breast cancer.  A long distance friend who I don't email often tells me his wife has a cancer blog and is going through all of this a second time.  She is writing a blog which I have only visited once.  I need to email him again, I keep telling myself.  I feel like a lousy bum.  I get mad at people who do not keep up with me as I would like.  I really ought to practice what I kvetch about. Kvetch being the more legitimate term because I grouse in private more often than not as opposed to being a better friend.  I like to think I am a good listener and a good friend but having cancer has made me realize how often I have gone through life as a self centered jerk.  I am no different from many others who make things all about themselves.

Shortly after my fourth round of chemo, I am on Twitter reading and reacting to the unsettling news of Robin Williams' suicide. I end up throwing up four times.  Just the day before I had been in such a state that I am still ashamed.  I also have a tiny bit of understanding of how he must have felt. Emphasis on tiny bit since I would not presume any greater understanding than that.  Just a general sense, really, as I have had suicidal ideation since I was eleven and three quarters.  And, as I grow older the feelings translate to shame and a sense of uselessness.  I feel as if now as for years now I have let down friends and family.  I am admittedly my worst critic. I hate feeling as if I have to rely on other people especially my husband.  When I feel well enough to go grocery shopping, I am just about thrilled to pieces.

I place a brave face on what I am going through.  When I say that Stage Four people are my new heroes, I am not exaggerating.  I am also not exaggerating when I say how this is far more arduous than it is scary.  It's not the cancer that has brought me to my knees. It's the chemotherapy.  It's the constant fear, "please don''t let me throw up again." It's the fear that this will happen to someone I love or otherwise care about and there's not going to be a damned thing I can do about it.  All I can ask of any of you is please take care of yourself.  If, worse case scenario, you are diagnosed with cancer, please catch it soon enough.  I beg of you, be the biggest hypochondriac if you have to be.  Don't make the same mistake I did and assume this will happen to someone else.  Don't do like my BFF Sue did and ignore all symptoms until it is much too late.  Now, granted, in my defense, my form of breast cancer is very aggressive.  I take a small consolation that I only had Stage Three.  I consider it a small miracle that I did not end up with Stage Four.  I marvel at that daily.  I will always feel grateful that it wasn't worse.

As I engage with people in the waiting room, I start to realize how, yes, lucky I really am.  I am not 78 and struggling with cancer of lung fluid.  I am not undergoing treatment for breast cancer for the second time in twenty-five years.  If I am lucky I will not have to endure this ever again.  I email back a terse but I hope humorous reply to a friend of ours who tells me how courageous I am being.  I worry now that my two word response was a little too terse.  "Beats dying," I tell him.  That is truly my attitude, yet I do wish now I had been tactful about it.  Perhaps I will find a way to email him.

Cancer, I am convinced, has brought out the best and the worst in me.  One moment I am profoundly grateful and the next moment I am profoundly angry and resentful.  I am relieved to find out that the steroids I have to take to prevent side effects, surprise, surprise, produces side effects.  I am by nature an anxious person, and this drug heightens that.  Gives me an excuse for behaving badly, I suppose, but only to a certain extent.  Also explains why this I described this as PMS on steroids.  I don't think I ever felt so out of control in my entire life.  Now, granted, I had times when I felt homicidal during menopause, but this makes menopause feel like a picnic.  Or perhaps I am simply more aware.

Round five causes me to enter a kind of altered state.  I am aware of how strange I am being, yet I cannot stop it.  I find out later this is the result of an anti-nausea drug, compazine.  I am experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and tremendous anxiety.  I am walking funny.  I have my hands in front of me, as if I could catch myself.  My right foot raises as if I am going to squash a bug.  Makes me think of John Cleese's silly walks, except I am not trying to be funny.

Both chemo nurses look alarmed.  "You don't look right," the one nurse said.  It was clear that there  was something wrong.  I couldn't stop drooling. They were afraid I was going to fall.  I couldn't blame them.  The chemo nurse told me all my blood work was good, but because of what else was going on with me they had to cancel round six of chemo.  I was instructed to return the following week.  Round six of chemo never happens.  The oncologist decides it's better to just move on to herceptin, the drug I will now be on for a year.

I am out of control.  I cannot stop moving.  At bedtime I move from chair to bed and back again.  I sleep in my chair, as I am unable to figure out how to actually get into bed.  I start to, but the positioning doesn't seem right.  This goes on for days until I fall once or twice in the middle of the night.  A friend of my sister in-law's has moved in with us.  She catches me.  I find out later that she was so worried about me that she is also bereft of sleep.

We move my bed to a corner of the living room.  I wake up realizing I have defecated myself.   Housemate, understandably irritable, helps me clean myself.  She explains that this happened because I really hadn't slept in three nights.  That had been the deepest sleep I had had in quite some time.

I am sitting in a wheelchair in the surgeon's  waiting room.  I feel compelled to move from wheelchair to chair and back again.  My husband keeps asking me where  I am going.  I repeat the pattern in the surgeon's exam room, too.  The surgeon and my husband are talking to one another as if it's Old Home Week. The  surgeon is South Side Irish and my husband might have some southsiders in his extended family.  Somewhere in there we discuss my double mastectomy.

The following day I am supposed to meet with the plastic surgeon.  Instead I insist on going to the ER.  Housemate comes with us.  I have a wheelchair again, but I insist on pushing it around.

When I finally ushered into the  ER, I, much to my housemate's chagrin, decide to lie on the floor.  She says I slept for about twenty minutes.  That's probably the longest I was still in days.  I am placed in a gurney.  I am begging to be hospitalized.  I am given benadryl and  then an anti-anxiety drug.  When it's clear that the drugs have the hoped for effect, they talk about sending me home.  The nurse spends extra time with me to convince me that this will really be OK.  She holds one hand.  My husband holds the other.   I feel loved and secure.  I go home.

As days go by, I am starting to be convinced I will be OK.   The anti-anxiety drug helps me sleep.  I am still not particularly useful, but at least I know I am ready for the double mastectomy.