Moira’s Cancer According To Seinfeld

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September 19, 2008: Donna Chang

seinfeld-donna-chang1Today is Friday and it is supposed to be my first bad day. But it really hasn’t happened. OK, there was a point where I did feel a little queasy for about 5 minutes, but I thought maybe that was because someone was making a terrible microwave meal in the doctor’s office and its aroma of sweet and sour whatever was enough to make anyone feel like hurling. I get my Herceptin. Everything takes so bloody long. I hope that they get into a faster routine—get it in, get me out.

I worked out in the morning, so I went to the treatment right after. I notice that I absolutely stink. I mean, it’s beyond BO—very metallic and sickly. I think it’s mainly because there is so much poison that is being excreted from every pore. That shit is nasty. I smell worse than cat piss. But what do you expect from a treatment that is also a derivative of mustard gas?

I go home and make an appointment with an acupuncturist, first calling my insurance company who gave me three approved names for acupuncturists in my area. After careful consideration, I pick the one with the Chinese name. After all, if she’s Chinese, she has to be good, right? I christen her Donna Chang. Her name is Marie Yee. Crazy Chinese woman. Hopefully she can help.

She is able to see me this afternoon, so I go in. Her office has wood paneling and smells funny; like strange incense and herbal remedies. It’s not unpleasant, just strange. She is a petite woman, probably in her 50s, but much younger looking than that. She has some computer program that measures all these meridians and things to see what needs work on me. She says that all my energy is really good. I have good Chi. I tell her I do martial arts and she is really pleased with that. Even likes it better when I tell her they are Chinese martial arts. I explain why I am seeing her, which is a little hard for her to comprehend, since I don’t look like a cancer patient yet. I tell her I want to stave off any side effects I can, including the menopausal ones that are going to be showing up due to my hormones being killed off. She does her first round of acupuncture, in the feet and hands. It didn’t hurt, although some needles went right into a nerve between the thumb and first finger. Weird feeling. I walk out feeling kind of weird, too, but not unpleasant.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September 18, 2008: And what’s with that hairdo, by the way?

bb04a29e0830I go to my hair stylist, Brandi Jo, and tell her it’s her lucky day. She can do anything to my hair as long as it’s short and sexy, not short and pixie. She is more than a little surprised at the opportunity to cut a foot+ of hair off a client, but she goes to work. She gives me the Posh Spice bob, which turns out cute. She tells me that I can come back for adjustments any time. I tell her, there won’t be any. It’s all going to be gone in just a few weeks. I pay my $65 bucks and leave a tip for a haircut that will transition me into baldness.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September 17; 2008: I’m not going to the doctor. If I don’t to the doctor, then nothing will happen to me.

The big day: cycle 1. They aren’t going to give me Herceptin today since they want to give my chemo in a very slow dose, so that way they can watch me for side effects or bad reactions. They take me into one of the treatment rooms. There’s this older lady who has this bright red IV bag hanging off one of those posts. She doesn’t look too good. I sit in the other chair. It’s a recliner, so if I feel like kicking back, it won’t be a problem.

They first load me with anti nausea meds via IV. I’m not squeamish about needles. I have the feeling I may never want to be stuck again after this process, but so far it’s easy for them to find my veins for all the tests I’ve had, and the nurse, Kaval, has no problem. I get Benadryl and Zantac (I think?) in IV form and after those are done, she brings in the two bags of chemo. One is Taxatere and the other Carboplatin. As one empties, she will start the next. She comes in with a little work sheet that explains what I’ve had, and what I should do next: drink up to 2 quarts of water to flush the system, take my Zofran anti-nausea pills on schedule to avoid any nausea, watch for fever (100.5 means that I need to call the doctor’s office right away—an infection or low blood count is what is so dangerous for me), what things to expect as far as side effects.

I am there for 3 hours. I sleep after the nausea meds were in—they make me instantly tired. The old lady next to me starts talking about her cancer. It’s recurrent. And has spread to other parts of the body. I don’t want to hear it. I mean, that’s not gonna be me! I make a mental note for next time to put the iPOD instantly on, break out my book and just ignore the sick and downtrodden.

At the end of the first treatment, I get my little IV pulled out, the Kerlix wrap put on (Kaval likes to put on a color that matches what I’m wearing, so I get bright blue), and I stop by the front desk to get my next round of appointments set up. I go home. I have dinner with Paul. I take my Zofran before going to bed. I sleep. Zofran will be my friend for sure, as it is very effective for chemo nausea. I know it is very expensive shit.

October 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August 20, 2008: “…this nurse asked me to put a gown on but it was a mole on my shoulder and I specifically wore a tank top so I wouldn’t have to put a gown on. You know, they’re made of paper.”

Leighanne went with me to meet my oncologist today. I’m actually pleased with my oncologist—we went on line to check her credentials. She’s well respected, sits on several hospital boards, written in peer reviewed journals, has contributed to a book on breast cancer, the whole nine yards. I’m looking forward to this meeting. 

 

The offices are not as dreary and dull as the Lopper’s, which is interesting and somewhat ironic since they deal with a higher degree of death and sickness every day. There are a stack of magazines of all kinds—Powerboat, Long Beach mag (it’s pretty awful), Discovery, Cosmo, all types for all kinds. I guess people drop off their issues after they’ve read the issue during treatment.

 

Leighanne and I are the only well-looking people in the office today. We’re all “Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion” and everyone else is “[Bad Lifetime Network Movie Where Mom Gets Sick and Dad Has To Take Care of the Kids]”.  We go into the exam room and we’re cracking jokes with each other as we wait for the doctor. I mean, come on, we’re making light of a bad situation. Dr. F. comes in. She is humorless, very straightforward, (and happens to look like Janet Reno). I introduce myself and then I introduce Leighanne as my longtime companion. She is not interested in any of our shenanigans. She has me put on a paper gown and then does her examination of my lump.

 

She asks me about my meeting with the Lopper. I tell her, and lament that he wants to do complete mastectomy. She looks over my tests (which are incomplete—she needs to get the lab to fax over the last page of my biopsy results), and then wants me to have a couple more done before she made any recommendations.

 

But she said that I have the type of cancer that is HER2/Neu positive (meaning that it shows overly expressed estrogen protein) and because the tumor was so fast growing, I might do better with “neoadjuvant” therapy. This means that chemo goes first, to shrink the tumor down significantly. On top of that, I would be able to have Herceptin in combination with the chemo to specifically attack the tumor’s cells. Then surgery—possibly a lumpectomy-–and finally radiation. That, believe it or not, sounds much more appealing. She orders a MUGA test to see how strong my heart was, as Herceptin can cause heart failure or weakening of the heart. She also puts in for a PET/CT scan to see if there is any other cancer elsewhere. Leighanne is furiously taking notes and asking questions that I’d never think to ask. Janet Reno answers everything carefully and fairly completely. Things are finally moving along.

So even though Dr. F. was not a cheery sort of individual, she certainly has me leaving her office in a much happier frame of mind.

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August 13, 2008: The Lopper

Had my appointment first thing this morning with Dr. A., who we are calling the Lopper. He’s the general surgeon assigned to my case. Paul went with me to the appointment. A.’s office was in a shabby medical building, circa 1950s.  A dreary courtyard reflected disuse, with large untended plants that might have looked nice if they’d ever get a visit with gardener. Three or 4 surgeons shared the office.

We checked in, filled out the paperwork and waited. Listening to some conversations of other patients was not a good way to pass the time. Some guy was having his torn scrotum operated on, and I don’t know what or why. Everyone looked a bit anxious and strained. We were ushered into the Lopper’s office. Dated wallpaper, some odd floral pattern that I was praying he didn’t pick out, adorned the walls. Some bad painting of ships, I think, did as well. The office made ’80s motel rooms look well designed. Perhaps he doesn’t spend much time in here, though.

When A. came in with my file, I got my little tape recorder out. I was going to tape the whole thing. Per Leighanne’s orders. Plus, it’s not like I can take notes anyway. He explained the type of cancer I had—which was invasive ductal–although he wouldn’t tell me what stage I was in (I would be staged once the surgery was done, he said), or anything much that would be truly useful. He just said that the cancer was high grade and growing fast. He was interested in having me choose the surgical route, though. He recommended a mastectomy—maybe both—over a lumpectomy, for cosmetic reasons. I just think he wanted more to take off. He ordered an MRI for me, (I guess to confirm that I should have both of them lopped, rather than  lumped) and then asked if I had seen my oncologist. Which was a big no–scheduled for two weeks ahead. I told him that all my appointments were taking so long because I could never get in to see any doctors in a timely manner.

The next day, the Lopper’s surgery scheduler called and asked if I had August 25 open, because that was the day my surgery was scheduled. I said, no way I hadn’t even seen the oncologist yet! I swear, surgeons just want to cut you right open. I called Leighanne to update her, and then she took charge, called A.’s office manager and pretended to be me. She told them they had to move my oncologist appointment up or they’d have to put off my fun surgery. She got A.’s office to call Oncology and Hematology and get my appointment moved up by a whole week. 

 

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August 5, 2008: The Penske File

4d685a28d80dAs if dealing with the fact that cancer just blows and life may not be the same again, Leighanne and I start the horrible dance of being knee deep in insurance crap. We start documenting everything with emails to each other and make copies of relevant paperwork and stick it in a file at her work. Of course, we name it the Penske File. Makes it less awful in some ways. You know you have to find humor in things otherwise it will get you.

Leighanne works in HR and she knows the ins and outs of insurance b.s., and her mom is also a breast cancer survivor, so she has years of knowledge that I’m only now trying to glean. Plus, she’s better at being pushy than I am. So on those days where I don’t want to fight with the insurance people, she simply poses as me. Believe me, she gets things done. We try to get me into City of Hope, but my request is denied, twice. Out of network. My insurance company isn’t going to let me slip out of my current health plan of Lakewood HP. They have me set up to talk to my surgeon assigned to my case. He’s a general surgeon, not a breast surgeon. Evidently, in my health plan, there are no breast surgeons. So instead of this Ferrari going to an official dealership for major service, I have to be scheduled at Pep Boys.

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

August 4: Prognosis Negative?

Pretty much everyone’s story starts this way. I got the phone call. It’s the one that everyone dreads, including the doctor. I mean, she’s just a family doctor, used to dealing with high blood pressure, and flu shots and a little insomnia from her clientele. Delivering news that her patient has cancer is NOT on her list of fun things to do. She only has the report, so she’s just reading off shit to me. I hear “positive” and “invasive cancer cells.” I’m very matter-of-fact on the phone, just taking it all in. Not sure what anything means. Not sure what to do next. She tells me I need to talk to the oncologist and a surgeon, get things in motion. She has referrals being approved by my insurance pending. I hang up the phone, numb, but not before telling the doctor that I’m sure that was hard on her, that I know she didn’t like having to make that call, empathizing with her situation. WTF? What is wrong with me?

I go outside. Paul is mowing the lawn on this warm Monday evening. I stand there on the porch and he looks over. The gravity of the phone call just hits me and I just start crying.  He shuts off the mower and comes over, alarmed, I mean, he doesn’t know anything of what I’m about to say. I blurt out what the doctor told me and he puts his arms around me, asking me repeatedly if I’m ok. No, this time I’m not ok. We go in the house and I tell him what little I know. He shifts into gentle mode, telling me that everything will turn out ok, for me not to worry, that I’ll be fine. He says that nothing will take me away from him. I  cry a little more. Then I make phone calls. I tell my best friend Leighanne, who has been through this with me up to this point. Then I get the courage to tell my mom. I talk and cry and then am tired of telling people. Later on a different day, I send out an email informing everyone who matters to me what is going on.

 

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

July 29, 2008: This was supposed to be the Summer of George

the_summer_of_george006But instead, I’m lying here on this table having a needle biopsy done on my left breast. A year ago, I had a large fluid cyst in that very spot that they simply aspirated. I thought it was the same deal—cyst was just filling up. According to my mammogram earlier this month, though, it wasn’t. And the ultrasound also looked as suspicious as a convenience store shop clerk eyeing bums in the wine aisle. They got me in straight away—well, as fast as the HMO heath care system can. That’s 10 days. And I’ll have to wait 5 working days to know my results. I’ll just have to wait.

October 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment