Penetrating The Lesbian Inner Sanctum

I’ve always been kind of a fag hag. I’ve had many fabulous gay male friends over the years who have kept me in stitches and tried in vain to keep me in style. But I’ve never really had a close lesbian friendship, even though I live in the most lesbian-friendly city in America. It isn’t that I’m avoiding them. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. To borrow one of my husband’s famous Southern colloquialisms, you can’t “sling a dead cat” without hitting a lesbian in Asheville. And I’m cool with that. The diversity of this city makes it a fascinating and highly entertaining place to live.

So, you can imagine my excitement when the lesbian couple at work finally, finally invited me to their annual summer soirée, otherwise known as a drunken croquet party. On the inside I was leaping and shouting, “I’m in! I’m really in! They want me!” On the outside, of course, I had to maintain a sense of aloof mystery. “I don’t think I’m doing anything that night. Let me get back to you.”

Now, I’ve worked with these women for 6 years. We’ve traded witty banter, shared gossip, and generally gotten along very well. But never an invite. I think they just couldn’t quite figure me out. I seem like a typical straight-laced suburban soccer mom to those who don’t know me well. These ladies, on the other hand, have dogs for children and like to unwind with copious amounts of white wine and “medicinal herbals”. I think they weren’t sure if I would approve. But when my chemo began, I found myself in the unfamiliar position of needing an herbalist, and the lesbians came to my rescue. We forged a kind of bond.

When I told my husband about the event, he surprised me by asking if he could tag along. There was a heavy, pregnant pause. You should know something about my husband. He is a staunch Republican who listens to Rush Limbaugh during the commercials of Fox News. He thinks Ronald Reagan should be sainted. I was already thinking that this could end very badly, a rabid right-winger at a lesbian summer party. But I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, until he came downstairs in a pair of khaki shorts, a t-shirt, and..wait for it..a cowboy hat. Really!?! Do we have to do the whole Willie Nelson Southern pride thing today? I could already see us getting kicked out of the party, and me, back on the outside. I walked to the car with a sense of dread.

We parked at the edge of the driveway and walked up on the front lawn where a small crowd was gathered, watching a croquet match in progress. There were a few people I knew, but more that I didn’t. There were hippies, lesbian couples, and a grandmother with bright blue hair shepherding her tiny granddaughter through the crowd. I shot a sideways glance toward my husband to gauge his reaction. No expression. Good. We made our way into the house and found our hostesses in the kitchen. They had already been in the wine for some time, and they were very animated and happy to see us, cowboy hat and all. When the lady who was supposed to grill the hamburgers and hotdogs failed to show up, my husband stepped in and offered to be the chef. His stock was going up. Maybe I could stop worrying.

This story wouldn’t be complete without telling you that my husband is the strong, silent type, which is a nice way of saying that he rarely says a word, unless he’s been drinking. He reminds me of one of those coin-operated puppets in a glass case, head bent over and limbs dangling. You put in a quarter and it comes to life before your eyes. Only in his case, the quarter is a six-pack. Do you see where this is going? I bet you don’t!

After all the guests had eaten, somebody pulled out a guitar and began singing. I was thoroughly enjoying myself when I stepped in the kitchen for just a minute to get a drink. Imagine my surprise when I went back to the porch and saw Mr. Strong and Silent smoking a cigarette (he doesn’t smoke) and belting out the lyrics to some country song, all while drinking his 47th beer. The crowd was loving it. Suddenly, he was talkative, fun and the life of the party. I heard someone in the distance shout out “Hey man. Let’s toast our grillmaster. Excellent burgers, dude!” Everybody hooted and hollered, glasses clinked, high-fives ensued. WTF?? Give him 47 beers and he’s fucking Johnny Cash. These are my lesbians! This is my day! At that moment, I realized that I had expended so much energy all night following him around, making sure that he didn’t discuss gay marriage, immigration, welfare or pretty much anything else that would be offensive to a big group of liberals, that I had not been my usual witty and charming self.

Next year I’m gonna find some new lesbians and throw my own party in an undisclosed location, Johnny Cash is not invited!




The Purple Sex Shirt

ImageI’ve had this post on my mind for a while now, but I’ve really hesitated to commit it to cyberspace. What if one of my kids happens to see this? Oh well, they think I’m much too boring to read my blog anyway, so here goes.

For you ladies who’ve had some involuntary “work” done on your breast region, i.e. mastectomy, you know what I’m talking about when I say that this leaves you feeling about as attractive as John Wayne in a dress and high heels. Tres feminine! Nothing says come hither like a flat, jagged scar where your boob used to be. And if you’ve had chemo, you have the added bonus of premature balding, or worse, the mangy dog look with patches missing here and there. Throw in a big helping of nausea and hot flashes, and we have a recipe for “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the grey of acute poisoning.

Despite all this, I have been able to muster some sexual desire here and there, on my “off weeks”. But I am still not quite to the point where I feel comfortable parading around nude in the broad daylight. I can just imagine my husband thinking to himself “If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can make her Jennifer Aniston, I know I can”. I realize, of course that this is all in my own head. My husband has been very accepting of my altered femininity, much to his credit. But, to protect my own dignity, I have worn a lacy purple tank top each time we’ve been intimate since my surgery. Funny thing is, I never wear this any other time. It just sits in the drawer, waiting for sex.

It never occurred to me that I have been conditioning my husband like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the past 3 months. One beautiful warm day last week I was looking for something to wear out in the garden. I pulled open the drawer and there it was, looking so pitiful, almost begging me to wear it. I grabbed the purple tank and slipped it on. My husband walked in and his eyes kind of glazed over. He immediately locked the door and went to brush his teeth. I was confused for just a minute, and then I realized what was going on. Purple shirt…must have sex. We laughed, and I swore I heard the faint sound of a bell ringing in the distance…

Round 4: Ding Dong The Kool-Aid Man Is Dead!

ImageYesterday was my last Adriamycin/Cytoxan treatment. After the last fiasco, I was feeling anxious and a little nauseous for about 2 days beforehand. I almost considered asking the doctor if I could stop with 3 rounds and take my chances. But the hands of time soothed my burning tummy, and a wonderful week spent laughing and eating too much with my brother buoyed my sagging spirits.

I did my ritual pre-chemo run but shortened it to 2 miles. I also incorporated a couple of new things during and after this round. I normally bring 2 bottles of water and drink them throughout treatment. Lately I have been reading a lot about the virtues of L-glutamine to reduce the common side effects of chemo. Namely, mouth sores and GI complaints, peripheral neuropathy, and immune challenges. So I got some powdered L-glutamine from the  natural grocery store and mixed 10 grams (2 level teaspoons) in a bottle of fruit-flavored water. You’ll definitely want some flavor to mask the odd aftertaste (I chose peach, which was quite tasty). I also brought a can of Ginger Ale, alternating between the two so that the glutamine was sipped throughout the infusion. This concoction can actually be taken 3 times per day on chemo day and for a few days after. I prefer to start slow. As always, I drank a ton of liquids the rest of the day to dilute the drugs and get them out of my system.

The other new thing I incorporated was Prilosec. I have resisted taking this for two months because, being a chiropractor, I am never in favor of altering bodily processes. Prilosec completely shuts down the production of stomach acid, which just doesn’t sound like a positive thing to me. I am a firm believer that the body is much smarter than we give it credit for and that we interfere way too much with things that could be resolved with diet and lifestyle. But that soap box is for another day. In that spirit, I tried to start with the lowest level of intervention to tone down the constant flow of lava in my stomach. I took Tums sparingly, graduated to Pepcid and recently decided that my insides must look like the bald patches of tongue in my mouth. And the volcanic eruptions were now lasting for a week or more after treatment. I surrender! Pass me the white flag and the purple pills! So, I started taking Prilosec the day before treatment and will continue for a week or so. 

The good news is…I actually feel much better this time. Hardly any nausea, and the burning, while I am still aware of it occasionally, is nothing like before where every meal felt like it was coated with sulfuric acid. 

I know that everyone’s experience with chemotherapy is different, but I have done a ton of research, using myself as the guinea pig, and I hope that some of these ideas will be helpful to my fellow cancer warriors. As I learn more about WordPress, I plan to create better categories for easy reference. I love studying nutrition, supplements, and fitness, so I hope to share more about these topics in the near future.

On July 11, it’s on to Taxol for me. I plan to do four treatments on a two-week schedule, but will cut back to once weekly if I start to see bad side effects. I’m praying that these last 4 will go smoothly. 

R.I.P KOOLAID-MAN. You put up a good fight. 

Angry Cancer Elephant

My son and I have an odd sense of humor. We find it hilarious to give human emotions to animals and try to draw what these creatures might look like. Well, my son draws them because I am drawing impaired. For example, one of our favorites is anxious tortoise. He flails about upside down on his shell waving all four wrinkly feet in the air, furiously trying to turn himself back over. His cheeks are bright red and he has a seriously pissed look on his face. When one of us has had a particularly trying day, the other will mimic anxious tortoise from across the dining table. It always makes us smile. Yes, we’re strange and we have way too much time on our hands.

This is where angry cancer elephant comes in. I’ve done a lot of thinking and even more reading these past few months since being diagnosed. I’ve read about what I should be eating, what kind of exercise I should be doing, which supplements might help with chemo side effects and which might prevent recurrence. Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle. Cancer is part genetic and the rest is up to you. What you don’t read much about is the degree to which your mind controls your health. If you think that cancer will kill you, it will. If you think that you have six months to live, you do. This is why I think that it’s a death sentence when the doctor spouts off some arbitrary timeline to a gravely ill person. Most people aren’t strong enough to overcome the loss of hope that accompanies, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do. You have six months, maybe a year.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what really might have caused my breast cancer. Certainly genetics was not in my favor as this runs on both sides of my family, but I know in my heart that there’s more to it than that. I was living a pretty healthy lifestyle at diagnosis, so I really don’t think that the one spoon of sugar in my daily coffee sent my cells over the edge. No, my problem is that I am an internalizer. I intensely dislike wearing my emotions on my sleeve, so I tend to be a bit stoic. I don’t know how to really feel things in the moment and just let the feelings wash over me. So they get stuffed down, layer upon layer, cloaked in comedy, silently wreaking havoc on my biochemistry.

I’ve spent at least the past twenty-five years pleasing people, not rocking the boat, being a good girl, and doing “what’s best”. Best for whom?  Certainly not the soul that’s screaming to be heard. Not the inner child who just wants to play and not keep one eye over her shoulder to make sure that she’s not disappointing anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it all with a big helping of smartass and several rebellious mini streaks. But essentially, I’m afraid. Afraid of making a bad decision. Afraid of being alone. Afraid of ruining other people’s lives. Fear is the elephant in the room that has controlled my life, and I’m angry that I’ve allowed it to go on for so long. Because where there is fear, there can be no true joy. And I am sorely overdue for a long spell of unabashed happiness.

Maybe this is the purpose of angry cancer elephant, to show me what is missing in my life and give me the chance to fix it before I’m too old. I did something today that I rarely do. I cried for myself and allowed myself to feel, if only for a moment, the reality of my situation and the weight that is squarely upon my shoulders. Then I pulled up my big girl panties and got on with the day. But I vowed to myself that I will find a way to stop simply existing and start living. Sorry angry cancer elephant, you’re gonna have to move on.

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Trampled By The Kool-aid Man

Ok, so I did pretty well with my first two rounds of Adriamycin/Cytoxan (AC) chemotherapy. I had visions before I started of hanging my head over the toilet bowl for days and looking pretty much like an Auschwitz survivor, emaciated from not eating with a patchy bald head. That didn’t happen. I felt a little nauseous the first couple days, and the worst complaints I had were fatigue that hit me for 2-3 days and acid stomach that made it hard to enjoy food for about a week. My hair did start shedding like mad after the second treatment, forcing me to start covering the top with scarves and hats, but I never reached up and pulled out a piece of scalp or anything. I have tried to keep up with exercising as best I can, even run/walking 3 miles on treatment days. You could even say that I’ve felt a little smug at times….this isn’t all that terrible.

Well, I had round 3 this past Thursday. If you haven’t read my post about “hangin’ with the red devil”, I describe this vision of a cancer-stricken, pathetic Kool-aid man busting through my chemo wall when they hang the Adriamycin, which is the color of a refreshing cherry beverage on a hot summer’s day. Let’s just say, that bitch busted through my wall this time and put me on my ass! He must be done with his chemo because he’s feeling much better.

I was freaked out the minute I sat down in the lobby this time. There was an extremely ill lung cancer patient who had to be escorted out of the lobby to lie down. She was bald, gasping for air and looking like she might puke any second. Then I got settled into what I thought would be a private room. No such luck. I got a roommate a few minutes into treatment. She was bald and a little pudgy, but she was the first person I’d seen remotely close to my age.   I found out that she was an ER nurse at the hospital where I work. She told me that her AC treatments were over and that she was getting round 5 of 12 weekly Taxol treatments. She also went on to explain in detail what horrible reactions she has had to Taxol. Now, this is not warming my heart at this point since Taxol is next up for me. Grreat, I’m thinking to myself. They told me Taxol is a “breeze” compared to AC.

Right on cue, the nurse goes into some sort of reaction with chest and throat tightness. They push more allergy meds and start her again. About 10 minutes later she starts moaning and writhing with excruciating back pain. They throw her meds away and the doctor is still in the room when I get up to leave. What an awesome experience!

After that auspicious start, my symptoms have been more pronounced this time. Acid tummy and nausea started pretty quick, and the nausea is lingering a little longer than usual. My blood pressure is tanking in the morning (89/56) and I feel my heartbeat pounding in my left ear. And other than that, I feel so lazy that a sloth would blush. The doctor said that the fatigue would last a little longer each time. I have to better by tomorrow. My brother is coming up with the fam from Florida, and he keeps me laughing so much it hurts. He just texted me to let me know that he’s bringing half a case of wine. I’m gonna need some more Tums…and a large bucket.

I Got Some Tail At Work Yesterday…

Made you wonder, didn’t I? For the record, I’m at the onologist’s office doing AC treatment #3 today. I actually started getting a little queasy leaving home this time. The mind is very powerful and it doesn’t want to be here! It wants to be on a tropical island in a hammock with an umbrella drink and a warm breeze and perhaps a cabana boy.

But I digress. On to our story. I have a friend at work who sports a very short gray hairdo. Nothing unusual there. But…she keeps a thin dark rat tail at the nape of her neck that refuses to gray. It’s as if that tail wants to hold on to the fabulous adventures of her youth for as long as possible. Now this woman is extremely fond of her tail. She tells everyone that she’s had it forever and it brings her luck. No way is she ever cutting it. Sometimes her partner will approach her with a pair of scissors just to get a rise out of her along with a few choice words.

Well, yesterday I walked into my office and there was an eyeglass  case on my desk along with a typed poem which read:

” A gift to you of magical hair. Wence cometh the power we know not where. It chooses its time to present the sublime. Its main thrust is infinite care.”

I opened the case with curiosity to find a small snip of dark hair tied with a white ribbon. I knew immediately ‘from wence it came’ and tears sprang to my eyes. My friend had sacrificed her precious rat tail in an effort to bring me some kind of magic healing or luck or something. Few gifts have ever touched me as deeply.

The Cancer Card Beats A Full House

So I’ve noticed a definite unexpected benefit to this whole cancer thing. I like to call it the cancer card. You know, I basically get a free pass on all sorts of things for the duration of treatment because people are having all these mixed emotions when they look at me. There’s the “Oh, you poor thing. Let me do some of your work” and the “Holy shit I’m glad it’s her and not me. Can I bring some food over?” and my personal favorite, “I know I’ve never really said two words to you before but let me bring you some pot to help with chemo.” Um, ok.

Today I showed up for work with my head scarf on for the first time. It was awkwardly tied in my morning haste and looked like a cross between a pirate and a Bedouin shepherd. Well, it must have looked pitiful because people crawled out of every recess to touch me and compliment my new style, all while doing my work. I turned to my friend and made a comment about this new cancer card thing. She said, “Oh, that’s not new. I have to use the card sometimes, the black card. You know, ‘Why are you saying that…because I’m black???'” Hmm. I think I need to get some dessert and watch some YouTube videos on scarf-tying, or maybe not.