Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Healthy as a Horse - NOT!

I’ve always been healthy as a horse – with the exception of arthritis in my knees.  I had a second knee replacement in January and decided since I had my deductible and out-of-pocket medical all paid, I might as well get all of the wellness checks I’ve been putting off for literally years done.  So, I actually got a general practitioner to call my own (I’d always just popped in the doc-in-the-box urgent care places if I needed anything) and got the ball rolling.

First visit with my doctor, he did a pap smear (wasn’t planned, but he had time and it was one of those things I hadn’t had done for, oh about 10 years, so I said what the heck, go for it).  He suggested I make an appointment to have blood work done, and put in referrals for a mammogram (it had been about 12 years since I had my last mammogram) and a colonoscopy, and I went on my merry way.

Had the mammogram.  Results showed some abnormalities and indicated a need for a diagnostic mammogram.  I was assured that this happens frequently and most often shows nothing.  Went in for the diagnostic mammogram and then was shuffled into another room for an ultrasound.  Ultrasound tech fetched the doctor, who did some more ultrasounding.  Then told me I needed to have a biopsy in each breast because there were four spots (two in each breast) that were concerning.  But assured me that 80% of the time, those spots turn out to be benign and I shouldn’t worry.  I cried in the car, but otherwise tried to do the whole alternating stiff upper lip with joking around thing when I returned to work. 

Had the biopsy, followed by another mammogram (to make sure the little metal doohickeys they put in my breasts were, in fact, in the correct locations). 

Got the dreaded call on May 25 that I did, in fact, have breast cancer.  Only 1 of the 4 spots that had been biopsied were cancerous, though, so I did have that going for me.  And the cancer was mucinous carcinoma, which is apparently the kind you want if you have to have breast cancer.  It is, according to the doc who did the biopsy, slow growing and very treatable.  Got a referral to a surgeon.

Met the surgeon, who also assured me I had hit the breast cancer lottery as it was totally curable.  I think my surgeon doesn’t know how to handle people who deal with these kinds of problems with joking around.  He gave me some rather interesting looks – probably due to my lack of gravity about the whole thing.  But, really, if I’m not laughing about this, I’m crying – right?  He very seriously told me that because my cancer was in “the upper, inner quadrant” there might be a possibility that a scar would show if I was wearing an evening gown (snort!) or a bathing suit.  Now, folks, I’m not a young, thin gal and vanity about my boobs is about as far from my mind as can be imagined.  I was all, “No problem, just get it out of there!”  So we scheduled a surgery date for June 20th.

First, because they were very small and could not be felt by hand, I had to have wires inserted into my breast to assist the surgeon in locating the lumps (while there was only one definitive cancerous lump, the second lump in that breast had a strange shape, so we decided to vamoose it also).  From there, I was taken to the nuclear medicine department to have blue radioactive dye injected into my breast so that the sentinel lymph nodes could be determined and later removed to be tested for cancer.  (Funny note:  I peed BRIGHT blue for a full day following surgery.)  Then a bunch of waiting time – why I had to be at the hospital at 7:30 for a 1:20 surgery is beyond me!  But I was finally wheeled back to the operating room and put under general anesthesia. 

Who woulda thunk that this was an outpatient procedure?  I was bandaged up, given lots of instructions and sent on my merry way.  I had a prescription for Norco and took one pill before I went to bed, but the rest of my week of recovery was done on Tylenol alone.  It was really more discomfort than pain.  Had to wear a sports bra and sleep in the darned thing.  The scars were rather shocking looking at first, but now that the stitches are out and they’re healing well, it’s not so bad.  And infinitely preferable to cancer, of course.

Met with my radiation oncologist last week, who informed me that radiation is good.  Hmmm, I had already planned to have it as both the biopsy doctor and my surgeon had indicated that would be the next step.  I was hoping that appointment was more of a doing whatever had to be done to get the ball rolling step and less of a convincing me of the correct ball step.  But whatever!  My radiologist is a very nice guy and it was good to meet him.  Tomorrow, I’ll be having what’s called a “CT simulation” after which, according to the information sheet I was given, the “Radiation Oncologist, along with the physics and dosimetry staff will devise a treatment plan, make your blocks and calculate your treatment fields.”  They’ll also give me tiny little permanent tattoos to help direct the radiation at the same spot every time.  Fun times!  At least I’ll only have to have radiation therapy for 4 weeks (15 minutes a day, 5 days a week - the nurse said I’ll be spending more time changing into a gown and then back into my clothes than actually having the treatment).  I was originally told 4 to 6 weeks, so it was nice to hear that the shorter time frame would work for me.  The radiologist reiterated that the kind of cancer I had (past tense, since it was removed!) is eminently curable.  The radiation is simply to reduce the chances of a recurrence from 30% to about 5%. 

Have an appointment to meet with a medical oncologist in August.  Suspect I’ll be told I need no chemotherapy (which is what all of the doctors I’ve seen have thought – but the Med Onc is the definitive one).  Pretty sure he’ll recommend hormone therapy.  Which I am seriously thinking about not having.  The list of possible side effects is long and obnoxious and if I only have a 5% chance of a recurrence after radiation, I’m not sure I want the potential for blood clots, for instance, to reduce it any further.  When I mentioned that to my Rad Onc doctor, he looked pretty surprised.  As did my surgeon.  We’ll see …

Non-medical side effects?  Well, I actually feel a lot of guilt that this whole process has been relatively easy.  I know a woman who is in her mid-30s, has a young son, and will die of her breast cancer since it was a much more aggressive type and she was Stage IV when she was diagnosed.  Why am I, who have raised my kids, going to make it and she isn’t?  And why has my treatment been so easy, when she has gone through hell with hers?  Another thing I feel guilty about is the amount of time I have had to take off work – and that is going to continue to happen until treatment is done.  That’s on top of the 4 weeks I took off in January when I had my knee replacement. 

Modesty?  I’ve pretty much lost mine.  I ran through the list of folks who have handled my breasts since the end of April, and I believe at least 12 different people have done so.  Tomorrow, I’ll be adding to the list.  At this point, if a stranger on the street wanted to see my right breast, I’d probably whip up my top since any modesty I had is nonexistent any more.  Obviously, I wouldn’t really whip up my top, but I no longer think anything of it when someone I’ve just met is feeling me up.  I have to laugh when I compare how I felt when my general practitioner did a manual breast exam along with my pap smear (really embarrassed) to how I felt last week when my radiation oncologist checked the breast (no big deal).  A world of difference.

And throughout this whole procedure, I’ve had to keep my husband updated because he had to take a job across the country right before my first mammogram.  I think it’s been harder on him than it has on me since he can’t even be here with me. 

Perhaps I'll actually update this blog again before another 4 years have passed! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rambling: Lengthy and digressive

Met up with some wonderful ladies last night thanks to the IAm A Derfwad Summer Tour 2012.  Since Mrs. G threatened to is planning on putting the URL to this-here blog on her own much more widely read website, I figured I should actually put up a new post.  Not just for Derfs, but for all of you followers who have been bereft at my lack of posting lately.  *Snort*

Carrying on – it was quite nice to go out for the evening.  I tend to be kind of a homebody during the work week and even when I’m not, it’s extremely rare that I venture anywhere more exciting than the grocery store without my husband or a teenager or two in tow.  And while I really enjoy family time and am ever-so-grateful that I have both a husband and teenagers willing to spend time with me, it was splendid to get together with someone new.

Splendid for me, that is.  I can’t speak to the experience the other gals had.  Because a small amount of adult beverage was consumed by yours truly and I’m sure there was some rather rambling story-telling going on.  I tend to ramble at the best of times – add tequila and I’m sure there were some stories that didn’t actually have endings, or maybe even beginnings.  Or perhaps too many beginnings.  Where was I going with that anyway? 

I cannot recall the last time I was actually completely toasted.  Maybe my Dad’s wake?  There just aren’t many occasions when alcohol is appropriate in my life.  I’m not opposed for any reason – the whole Five Wives Vodka brouhaha was quite amusing – I’d just rather have a good strawberry lemonade if the opportunity arises.  And those who have to listen to my stories are very grateful for that.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Into the Clearing

When I got to work Wednesday morning, my phone was lit up indicating a voice mail awaited. It was from my husband. His voice held a tone I only hear from him when he’s hurt to the core. When I called him back, I, too, felt punched in the gut. And the why of it is hard to explain to most folks.

My husband has been reading and commenting on Neptunus Lex for years. He’d e-mail me links to posts he found especially eloquent or thought provoking so I was an occasional reader as well. I frequently commented on Lex’s way with words – an expressive and lyrical writing that was simply a pleasure to read.

And a genuinely nice guy. When our daughter was applying to the Naval Academy, my husband e-mailed Lex and received a prompt and helpful response. Over the years, they e-mailed back and forth many times.

From my husband: “I sent him one of my favorite pictures once, of my daughter at about 12 years old in full Tae-Kwon-Do gear doing an ax kick with her foot well above her own head and a look of intense concentration on her face. Years later, when I shared the news that she got turned down for the Academy, he wrote back and expressed his sadness and said, ‘I know it’s silly, but she feels like family. I’m hurting for her just as you are.’ He then said that the young lady in that picture (which he remembered) would not let this bump in the road get her down for long.”

Lex had attended the Naval Academy himself and had an exhilarating career in the Navy – serving for a time as the XO of TOPGUN (all one word, as he would be sure to tell you). He logged over 5,000 hours in flight before his retirement. So it’s not surprising that he missed the world of invigorating flight and when the opportunity arose to yet again assist his country, albeit as a civilian this time, he jumped at it.

It was while flying an F-21 Kfir (an Israeli fighter jet) for a contractor that provided air-to-air combat training for military pilots that Lex piloted his final mission last Tuesday. Leaving behind not only a grieving real-life family, but many, many people who knew him only via the Internet, but considered him family as well and are bereft at his loss.

It’s hard to explain to the folks I work with why I keep reaching for the tissue box. Though I might have been only an occasional reader, I’ve been listening to “Captain Lex” stories at the dinner table for the past eight years. It’s difficult to believe there will be no more. It’s still not easy for people to understand why an on-line “relationship” can bring one to tears. And until this week, I would probably not have understood it myself.

Unlike many, I was fortunate enough to meet Lex in real life. He stopped by Boise after a stint at the air base in Mountain Home and my husband and I met him for dinner. He was as gracious in person as he was on line. It’s hard to believe that such a vibrant man is gone. And that the wonderful voice he gave his blog has been silenced forever.

RIP Captain Lex. You will be deeply missed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Um, It Has Been Quite A While, Has It Not?

Wow – it’s been OVER A YEAR since my last post. What the heck? I have no idea why I was such a slacker. I have no excuse.

So very much has happened since December of 2010. Don’t worry – I won’t try to fill you in on the entire year in one post.

We had a wonderful year with our last exchange student, Anna from Germany. She fit with our family like a glove and made up for the sour feeling in the pit of my stomach that our Norwegian girl left. Of course, sending Anna home was incredibly difficult as we would have liked to keep her FOREVER. But, alas, that’s not a decision you get to make when you host an exchange student. You welcome a kid into your family, hopefully have a wonderful year and form a bond that will last forever, and then you have to put them on a plane to go back to the family they belong to. E-mail, Facebook and Skype are wonderful, but just not the same as dancing around the kitchen to music you both love or taking them to the vast outdoors of the western states and seeing the wonder in their eyes at the miles and miles of absolutely nothing that exists here and doesn’t exist in their country. Not that I’m knocking other countries. It’s just that in Germany, for instance, which is incredibly lovely, you’re never out of sight of some kind of reminder that people exist. And you can drive for quite a long while in parts of Idaho and Utah without seeing so much as a shack by the side of the road.

Anna is probably going to be our last exchange student. We’re winding down on the high school years in our house. Technically, we should be empty nesters since both of the kids I personally gave birth to are now part of the greatest Navy in the world (yep, my son followed his sister’s footsteps and is now at Nuke school in South Carolina). My own sister has had some issues with alcohol in her life and as a result, both of her kids are currently living with us. My niece graduates from high school this year and my nephew is a junior. My niece will probably attend Boise State University for at least one year, so we’ll have two kids living with us for the next 16 months at a minimum. It’s nice still having kids at home, though, so I’m not complaining.

I think that’s enough for one post, lest I write the ABC Novel for Television (yes, I’m THAT old).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


We’ve been hosting exchange students for over six years – we’re on student number seven right now.

Our first was a wonderful girl from Germany. We had a great year with her and it was simply heartbreaking to send her home at the end of her stay with us. She was frighteningly intelligent, a perfectionist in all she did, a wonderful cook and so very much at home with us that it felt she had been part of the family forever. A bit of my heart went back to Germany when she left.

Our second was a girl from China. Also a very sweet girl. Not as much fun to host, but I think a lot of that was due to cultural differences. She was a pleasure to have around when she was participating with the family, but she spent so much time in her room with the door closed that I was pretty frustrated by the time she left. It’s hard to host someone who treats your house and family like a hotel, restaurant and cab service, and that’s what it felt like a great deal of the time. Not always, but enough that the year was difficult at times.

Number three was another girl from Germany (since we’d had such good luck with the first German girl). She was also a pleasure to host. She was much quieter than both of the previous students, but had a sharp wit and we really bonded during our year together.

The next year, we hosted a sweet little gal from Italy. Perennially cheerful (except on the day she left, when we were all teary-eyed), she was a joy to host. She was a tiny little thing and nearly every time we went out to eat, she was given a kid’s menu. She carried her Italian-English dictionary around with her for quite a while – but always tried out the Italian word first when she didn’t know the English version, just in case we might know it. Of all of the students we hosted, she came with the least fluency in English. By the time she went home, however, she (like all exchange students at the end of their year) was thinking and dreaming in our language.

Since my daughter was leaving to join the service, year five we decided to host our first boy. He was a great kid, but did need a bit more attention than the other students. I think he was more used to being the center of attention at home. We have to spread ourselves a bit thinner at our house as my husband and I both work and do a lot of volunteer work with our kids. His need to be in the limelight so much was difficult at times. And we discovered that my husband has a bit more patience for girls and their idiosyncrasies than boys and theirs. Still, not a horrible year.

This brings us to last year.

Last year we chose another girl – this one from Norway. Tall, blond and simply lovely, she seemed to fit in pretty well. Oh, there were differences of opinion, but there always are. We express our opinion and are open to listening to theirs. She seemed to take offense when our opinions didn’t mesh, unlike our other students. She also didn’t enjoy being corrected, but no teenager does. All in all, we thought the year was going relatively well. She and our son got along great and we thought we were working through any issues like we always had in the past. No hosting experience is without its bumps in the road, but our suspension has been sufficient to handle them up until last year.

This post is already too darn long, so I won’t whine my way through every detail. Suffice it to say that she started complaining about us to her family, to the organization and to all of her friends in about October. Not to us, mind you, so we were clueless as to her dissatisfaction. In January, over the course of a couple of weeks, she just about quit talking to me and when I discussed it with the program head to find out if she had mentioned any problems to them, I was immediately asked if we wanted to have her moved out. Which we didn’t want to do without trying to figure out what was wrong. But our student simply refused to discuss it with us. By the time we got home from work the day after my first discussion with AFS (the program we used to host through), our student was gone.

It was a horrible experience. At every host family orientation we attended, the AFS representatives had gone over the steps that would be taken in the event of problems between a student and a family. In our case, those steps were skipped and we had no idea what was wrong. As a host family, we all put our hearts and souls into making our student’s year one they will remember forever. It was devastating to have all that thrown aside and no effort made to rectify any perceived problems. Every time I think I am finally over it, I’ll talk about our hosting experiences with someone and when I get to last year, I realize I’m still having an incredibly hard time dealing with the hurt and rejection. Not to mention the shabby way our family felt treated by AFS after we had hosted for them for so many years successfully.

We were tempted to quit hosting. But then we decided we didn’t’ want to quit on a bad note, so we’re hosting again this year. We found another exchange student program and tried to carefully pick a student we thought would fit in better than our Norwegian had.

I think we succeeded. We’re hosting another girl from Germany (since we have had great luck with German girls!). She’s simply wonderful and I think this year will go down in the positive column.