Moira’s Cancer According To Seinfeld

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June 18, 2009: Kramer: Oh, man. I think I cooked myself. Jerry: Look at your skin. Kramer: Stick a fork in me, Jerry. I’m done.

I finished radiation today. I went into the radiation oncology center and all the techs were all, “It’s your last day!” “You must be so happy,” “You’re all done!” “We hope we don’t see you back here again”. I got hugs from each one. For six weeks, Monday through Friday, I spent early mornings there under a beam of radiation. When I was on the table for the last treatment, I couldn’t help but cry. All those days, weeks, months of slash, poison and burn, finally done. Done.

I was told that I should still care for my skin the same way I’ve been doing it right now (no soap, deodorant, no scrubbing, be gentle when applying aloe vera, loose cotton tops so the skin can breathe). I talked to one of the techs to see how the healing process goes. She said that the skin will heal from the inside out, so it will get a little worse before it gets better. But I should see some improvement in 2 weeks. I might expect more skin tightening, thickening, hardening—but it doesn’t happen to everyone. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to drink lots of water and take stuff that helps connective tissue rebuild (MSM, Omega 3s). We’ll see!

It is going to be so weird not having to rush out of the house every day. I will have to see my Rad. Onc. in two weeks. So I’ll still be “in the system”. But I’ve finally been “paroled.” Finally.

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June 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 14, 2009: Salesman: What are you looking for? Kramer: Power, man. Power. Newman: Like “Silkwood.” Kramer: That’s for radiation! Newman: That’s right.

It’s hard to believe that I am almost done with radiation. It went by a lot faster than I thought–even though I had more200px-Seinfeld_s7e16sessions than I anticipated.

Before radiation therapy began, I had to meet my new radiation oncologist (yet another doctor I need to add to the Christmas card list) and go over my treatment history thus far. Then he developed (what they call in the business) the “plan” which basically is your personalized angles and beam application of radiation. I had to go in for a set-up day, where they measured all the correct angles for aiming the radiation beams and gave me three tiny tattoos–no bigger than a freckle–along my ribcage and one other that I can’t even find. I had to lie on the very table where I would spend every morning at 8:15 to receive my radiation, and be as still as I could while they made some additional marks on my skin with a Sharpie marker. I had two techs that were working with me–both male–both extremely sweet. Oh, and that whole modesty thing? Doesn’t really exist when you’ve just got two plastic expanders under skin. They just aren’t boobs, so there’s nothing to really be modest about. Kind of sad, but kind of liberating in a way.

So here’s the process, from a website that makes the radiation machines:

“As part of treatment after breast surgery, patients are typically treated with radiation five times per week for at least six weeks in an outpatient clinical setting. Each treatment generally lasts a few minutes; the entire radiation session after machine set-up typically lasts 15 to 30 minutes. The procedure itself is pain-free. While the radiation is being administered, the technologist will leave the room  and monitor the patient on a closed-circuit television. However, patients should be able to communicate with the technologist at any time over an intercom system.”

It was indeed 6 weeks. Every morning, Monday thru Friday. I would see the same patients before and after my appointment–we’d say our brief hellos in the changing room, but that was it. No real time to bond in our whole “pink power!” situation. Probably better that way.

I had different rad techs from week to week, but I liked them all. Each had their own way of setting me up and aligning my body to match the Plan, but it all had the same results. Sometimes they would add additional markings to my treatment area with a Magic Marker, making my chest look like a road map of downtown LA. I am not allowed to remove any of the markings until I am completely done. But that’s fine. They peek out from my upper chest, so any time I wear a v-neck shirt, they are visible. Makes for interesting conversation starting.

“Side effects of external beam therapy vary among patients. The most common side effect is fatigue. Fatigue (extreme tiredness) can be especially bothersome in the later weeks of treatment.”

I was fine up until, say the last week or 10 days (I still have four more “boost” treatments, but am pretty much done). I am pretty knackered. I am OK for the morning but by 2 p.m. I just am sleepy! I’m still trying to work out, but when I do, I seriously can’t think. My brain just sort of goes into that “hourglass” mode–you know, where your computer is kind of stuck and you just see that stupid hourglass symbol? I have started taking little naps on days where I can’t hold my head up. But in general, I am OK.

“Other common side effects of radiation therapy are neutropenia (sharp decrease in white blood cell count) swelling of the breast, a feeling of heaviness in the breast, a sunburn-type appearance of the breast skin, and loss of appetite. These side effects usually disappear after six to 12 months. Near the end of treatment with radiation, the breast skin may become moist. Patients should try to wearing loose fitting clothing and expose the skin to air as much as possible to help the skin heal quickly.”

OK, if there are any other breast cancer patients reading this blog, I would say, ‘your results may vary.’ EVERYONE is different. You might have porcelain skin and come out just fine, or you may have super dark skin and burn like a mother. It is a total genetic crapshoot. My skin tightened considerably–which they told me it would. And I have what would be considered a slight sunburn. But it is not bad at all. The rad techs said I did super good. My rad oncologist said, “this is as good as it gets” for side effects. Rejoice! Because I lack a lot of sensation in the skin post surgery anyway, it doesn’t itch or burn. I only have slight irritation under the arm, and hopefully that will go away soon.

I was only allowed to use aloe vera on the radiation site, because any other product may have drying properties. No deodorant because it has metal based chemicals that can increase damage in the skin. No soap on the area. (weird tho, I don’t really sweat underneath that arm any more). I think the aloe was awesome. Think about it when you fall asleep drunk in the sun during your next trip to Cabo.

Anyway, in 4 more days, the “boost” sessions will be over. I don’t really know what the next step is. I am not sure when I’ll be “done”. I don’t use the word “survivor” at all. I say I’m undergoing treatment for cancer. But I don’t know when I’ll be given the green light and told I’m cancer free.

 

 

 

 

June 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

April 4, 2009: George : Elaine , have you ever sent a racy photograph of yourself to anyone? Elaine : Yeah. I sent one to everyone I know. Remember my Christmas card?

 

I took a bunch of photos with my crappy camera phone during this process. I thought I’d just upload them here so you could see. Most of them are chemo oriented, of course.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

April 2, 2009: Doctor (holding chart): Well, that was a long time ago. How about if I just erase it? Now about that rash… Elaine: But it was in pen. You fake erased.

Today I met with a new oncologist. Dr. Cameron had recommended someone at City of Hope. I wasn’t sure whether I should transfer someone as important as an oncologist in the middle of treatment. But it’s April 2 and my mastectomy x2 was March 12. Janet Reno never called to follow up. Never. I thought it was slightly annoying—yet forgivable—when she had to rustle around in my chart to give herself a quick update before she even recalled my case. And it was rather off-putting when she couldn’t even recall which breast had the tumor in it. But not following up on a patient? Not good for business. I really did feel like a number at that point.

So, new oncologist. As things go at COH, she was a very kind woman, asked lots of “how are you feeling/doing/coping/enduring” type questions. Oh, and she went over my entire history with me—only glancing down occasionally to double-check her dates. SHE knew more about my case than Janet Reno. I was told that all of our cases go before a “tumor board” which means that a bunch of doctors sit around and discuss treatment options in a roundtable format. I received not just one doctor’s opinion, but one based on a host of trained professionals who had looked at me. ME.

Results: no more chemo. One year of Herceptin, the drug that only attacks cancer cells of my type. And 28 doses of radiation. I have to do the radiation because even though we got clear margins, it was only by millimeters. And cancer in a “young” person is way more aggressive than an older person. So they want to make sure they do as much as they can to prevent recurrence.

I spent about 45 minutes with her, I think. That was more than all my Janet Reno appointments put together.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

March 31, 2009: MORTY: “There’s already an ambulance here for Mrs Glickman.There’s room for one more.”

I had my first visit to the plastic surgeon on March 25. He is going to see how things are healing, maybe give me my first expansion. Oh, and get a drain out.

So he looks at my drain tubes and the bulbs and says, “you have a leak”. I’m like, WHAT? “Your expander. It’s leaking. You didn’t notice that your drain is dyed blue?” I said I thought it was just different from the other side. Like a different make. He said, “We’re going to have to replace it. Like now.” And so that meant yet another surgery. They scheduled me for March 31. It would be outpatient. I’d go in first thing in the morning and be released a few hours later. I was starting to freak out. I called Fifi and actually started crying—not for myself, but because my mom is going to be turning 82 on March 31, and this is news that an 82-year-old woman just should not hear. She has started to stress a little bit about me and when she does that, her health goes to hell.

Fifi had a simple answer: “let’s not tell her.” We agreed. Fifi would take me early that morning and then she’d go over to mom’s house to take her to a birthday lunch. Paul would take me home. Mom would never know about the third surgery.

And she still doesn’t. Don’t tell her.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

March 20, 2009: Kramer: “You know, my arm really hurts. I wonder if its gonna affect my golf swing.”

Surgery. This time was much shorter, and I only had to stay one night. I actually remember being wheeled into the operating room. But that’s all I remember.

Fifi stayed over with me this time. Another sleepover, this time with big sister. I didn’t have as many visitors (Leighanne, of course, and Paul), but I was released and home by about noon. Phew. Glad that was over. Two operations in two weeks is a little rough.

My chest feels super tight with the expanders in place. It’s as if I have a gigantic rubber band over my chest. My arm is what is killing me, and I have a high pain threshold. It feels like white-hot searing pangs whenever I move it. I am on a different pain medication, so it makes me sleep. At this point, I want to sleep through it all.

The next days are a little bit easier—the pain lessens and I am a little more mobile. I’m kind of hunched over like an old woman, though. I think that’s because of the stress that all the muscles and tissue have gone under. I’m sort of shuffling around gently, trying not to jostle anything. I have the two large incisions over each breast (where they were, although the expanders do make small fake ones), and then the incision under the arm. I’m indented where they took the flesh out.

The drains are a big pain. I’m constantly thinking that I’m going to yank them out. I have to wear the bulbs in a pouch around my neck while I shower—the rest of the time they are pinned to my clothes. Once one slipped from the pouch in the shower and it was just dangling from my body. I was sure it was going to rip out. But it didn’t. 

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

March 18, 2009: GEORGE: The doctors thought he had cancer, but the surgery revealed he never actually had it. JERRY: So what was wrong with him? GEORGE: Nothing!

OK. Lots of catching up to do:

When they came in after surgery, they told me that the sentinel node biopsy was clean. Whoopie! And we ain’t talking Goldberg. They would, of course, test the other half of the node in a more thorough test, but usually in 95 percent of cases, it comes back clean, too. They also got all the cancer out. The margins were really close, Dr. Cameron said, but they got it all. I would see her in a few days when they had the results of the pathology report and so she could check on my healing.

So it’s a few days later, and I indeed met with Dr. Cameron. As I could have predicted, I was in the 5 percent of sentinel node cases that AREN’T clean. Turns out, there were 2 millimeters of cancer in the node. That meant that I’d have to go back in for the full lymph node dissection, where they scoop out a portion of tissue from the underarm and pull apart each node and test them for cancer. I will require yet another stay in the hospital. I was bummed, (especially when the physician’s asst. comes in and starts with “did the doctor tell you the results yet?” I mean, you have to know it’s not good news). I’m scheduled to go in in two days. On the positive side: my old labs are still fine to use. And at least I will know some friendly faces when I go in.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

March 15, 2009: Kramer: Yeah, I have a question. What do you know about inter-abdominal retractors? Doctor: Are you asking because you saw “20/20” last night? Kramer: I sure am

I was released from the hospital on Saturday at noon. They were so good to me over there–really a caring environment. I had a little private room with a pull-out chair that turned into a bed (think a first class seat on British Airways commercials) and so Leighanne stayed both nights. We had the most bizarre of sleep-overs, I guess. Watched a lot of crap tV (including Seinfeld, something we always quote but have never actually watched together. Two of our fave episodes were on: the Little Jerry and The Comeback). She is such a great person for just running down anything that I needed (or thinking of it before I needed it). The nurses came in at regular intervals to check vitals, pain levels, measure fluids coming out of weird tubes and ask if I had already ordered food. They seem to want you to eat quite a bit! (the food, by the way, is prepared to order by the Marriott corp. Not bad at all!) My family all visited several times a day. Friday morning I was whacked out on morphine, but by the afternoon I was a little more myself. I walked around the hospital on two occasions; once dragging that IV pole around, and once without. I ran a tiny fever Friday night (I had a little fluid collecting in my lungs), but between the antibiotics and these breathing exercises they give you to do, it went away. Saturday I was feeling good and the pain was pretty manageable, so off I went–but they scheduled an at-home nurse to come visit me for Sunday, just to show me how to deal with the drain bulbs, change dressings, etc.

By sunday, I was feeling pretty good so by the time she arrived I already figured out all that stuff and she really had nothing to do. One of the things they sent me home with was this device called OnQ, which was a novacaine pump that delivered topical painkillers for 72 hours. I’ll have that removed in a couple of days. It is making life so much easier, because it reduces the amount of narcotics a patient must take. It’s shaped like a little football, or possibly a grenade. I have to cart it around in a little pouch. Fifi calls it my handbag.

I kind of overdid it on Sunday and was in a little more pain than normal, so I’m going to take it easy for the next couple of days. It’s hard staying put, though!

April 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

March 12, 2009: GEORGE: Hey, Jerry, remember Frogger? I used to be so into this game. Gettin’ that frog across the street was my entire life.

My sister Fifi says that going through cancer treatment successfully is like pressing the reset button on a video game. You get to start over. But since you’ve played the game at least once, things are much different on the next round—more knowledge of how to do it right.

I’m going into surgery today. Yesterday’s pre-op day at City of Hope was very busy. I met with Dr. Cameron, my surgeon, one last time and we went over the basics of tomorrow. My PET scan results were pretty good, she told me—if she doesn’t find any cancer in the sentinel node, I won’t have to do any more chemo. We talked about a bunch of other stuff for “the future” and it’s great to think that after this, the future can start right away, instead of delaying for yet more treatment.

Then I saw the NP who went over the details of my surgery and my stay. We also went over the aftercare instructions, although I will get those again before I’m discharged (good thing we did it beforehand—who knows what I’ll remember all medicated). Finally, I had a few labs done—blood, chest x-ray and EKG–so that they know where I’m at when I am under.

Even though I’m leaving for the hospital in less than an hour, I’m not really that nervous. I packed for overnight, I have some dodgy UK tabloids to read courtesy of Leighanne, and I just feel ready.

You know, all these women’s books say that breast cancer patients often have to mourn the lost of their breasts. I guess they are a big link to their femininity, since they do that whole child-rearing/feeding thing. I don’t know, I just don’t really feel that way. I just want them gone—inferior equipment that doesn’t belong on my body. As my friend Michelle says, thank them for their service and let them go. I’m just happy to be packed and ready for the next phase.

Time to hit reset.

 

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

February 25, 2009: Frank: “Hey, Braun, I got good news and bad news. And they’re both the same: you’re fired. Costanza, you’ve won the Water Pik!”

frank-costanzaWell, this month has been a bunch of good news/bad news. About a week after I saw Dr. Cameron I got a call from City of Hope. They said that my insurance had a Pre-existing Clause attached to it, meaning that I had a hold on my insurance benefits until July 2009. I told them it was impossible, that I have had no lapse in coverage, yada yada…they said, probably just a mistake, call the insurance company, they’ll surely straighten it out. So I called, and this stroppy moo of a girl was like, “well we just can’t TAKE  the hold off. You have to prove that you were insured before.” Luckily, I remembered where I put that certificate from my last insurance company, so I faxed it from work the next day. But I was fretting—how long would it take to have them process my request? Would they say they never got the fax? Would they delay removing the clause, just to delay paying any benefits? I had seen “Sicko,” you know.

My friend Trish from the barn used to work in Human Resources at City of Long Beach, where Paul works. She flew into action, reaching out to the head of the department, telling them what was going on with me. In 24 hours, the department head had admonished the insurance company (City of LB is a HUGE account), had gotten the stroppy girl in trouble, and had miraculously straightened out the entire situation. Thank you Trish! Pays to know friends in high places…sure enough, when I called City of Hope to follow up, they said that everything was fine with my account. Phew.

The other good news/bad news that happened was my follow up with Janet Reno, post chemo. She did one final check before surgery (yes, the tumor is still apparent), got my new surgeon’s info, and scheduled me for a PET/CT scan to compare to the first one—the one that I had before I started chemo. This would be able to tell whether the cancer has spread anywhere else. I was like, OK, cool, good info to have. We talked about my surgery and whether I would be back on Herceptin post surgery. She discussed a new drug that is on the market but it really expensive, but “we’d see…” Then she said “so we’ll do about 4 months of chemo after surgery…” I just nodded, as if she told me “we’ll go grocery shopping after this.” I left the office, went downstairs to my car, called Paul, told him, and cried. I can’t do another four months of chemo. I just can’t. I mean, it’s soul destroying. It’s physically destroying! Paul just told me that we don’t know for sure, Dr. Cameron will have an opinion too, don’t get too upset yet.

So I am once again trying to sack it up, not worry, and keeping positive. It’s tougher this time around, but worrying doesn’t help. I really do feel like someone who has been sentenced to go back into jail. “I can’t do another stretch inside.”

But as the days have passed, I am not so panicked about more chemo. If I have to do it, I have to do it. I won’t be happy about it. But I’ll do what it takes. 

March 3, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment