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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Snow Boots and Jammie Pants

We're expecting an ice storm tonight.  The temps have warmed up just enough to cause our snow pack to melt, so we already have ice issues.  Our roof was still buried under most of the sixteen plus inches of snow we got before Christmas, so I asked Walker to get the roof rake down and clear some of it off.  Freezing rain on top of a mound of wet snow is a recipe for roof failure.  We had to get it taken care of.

Well, Walker kind of forgot.  He has family in town for the holidays, and he made plans to take Diva bowling with them.  By the time they get home it will be dark, and most likely raining.  The roof rake is stored in the rafters, where I can't reach it even with the ladder. Walker does that on purpose, so I can't try to tackle the heavy stuff when he's not home.  Unfortunately for him, I don't give up easily when something needs to be done.  Did you know that a soft bristled broom makes an excellent tool for lifting the pieces of a roof rake out of their cubby in the rafters?  The bristles will grab and hold those pieces like they were made for the job.  Guess I showed him.*grin*

So I got the thing together, all 18 feet of it. In the beginning, I raked that darn roof pretty well, too, I have to say.  The snow was absolutely soggy and heavy as hell, which wasn't a problem until I had to clean up the mess in the driveway.  It was literally up to my waist and weighed about as much as a baby elephant.  A chubby baby elephant.   On the back side of the house, the snow isn't shoveled. There's no sidewalk so really, no need.  Or so I thought.  I was still wearing my fuzzy jammy pants and in about four seconds they were soaked to the knees.  The real problem back there though, is this:

This, my friends, is an ice dam.  A good four inches of ice that built up when the snow melted, ran into the gutters, and froze there.  It doesn't look as menacing in the photo as it does in real life, but if it doesn't melt off it can lift the shingles right off the roof.  Then you've got leaks and water damage and maybe mold come spring and really, who needs that?  The problem is, there is not much that can be done except to watch it and keep the snow away from it.  There are chemicals, but they don't work well. Hopefully the warmer temps and my raking efforts will put and end to the ice dam in a couple days. 

The last side of the house is too high for me to get at, even with a 15 foot reach on the rake.  Walker will need to get the ladder out to take care of that tomorrow if it isn't raining.  Right now, I have dinner in the oven and I need to get ready for work.  The days just go too quickly.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Holiday Ruby Tuesday

We didn't get holiday cards done this year.  We didn't put up a Christmas tree.  But we did take a few minutes to dress up our home on the outside.  Happy Holidays!

To view other Ruby Tuesday photos, click here.

Quality Time

Diva is spending the week with her Gramma, my mom.  Normally she'd be sleeping here tonight, since I don't have to work, but I'm so far behind on things I told her we could have a sleepover on another weekend. I really need to catch up on my housework and get my medical bills in order before tax time.  This week and next will be crazy busy at the office so this weekend was my best chance.  It's hard for me to say no to Diva, especially  now.  Spending time with that kid is my favorite thing to do, and I feel like our play dates have been too few and too far between lately.  We both need some quality time together.

With that in mind, when Diva called me after supper to ask me to take her to see the holiday lights at a local park, I didn't have to think twice.  Fifteen minutes later I was bundled up and on my way.  We drove through the display, then parked the van and walked through it.  Of course we had to stop for some hot chocolate, as we do every year.  The only problem with that is, every time I tried to take a photo of this kid, she had the cocoa cup in her face:

It makes me just a little sad to see this little girl, who used to have to be lifted into Santa's sleigh, now climbing in easily on her own.  At least she still believes in Santa, though I'll be surprised if that's still the case next Christmas.  Ah well....for now, she's still my little girl.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'M DONE!!!!!!!!!!

I had my last radiation treatment today ~ Wahoo!  Thirty five down, NONE to go!!!!!

After my treatment I was presented with a celebration cake. Then I had a meeting with the cancer guide, who officially proclaimed me a "survivor".  She gave me some info on upcoming survivor programs, and had me ring the bell mounted on the wall in the waiting room to signal the end of my program.  Everyone stood and cheered.  It was a pretty awesome moment.

When Walker got home from work, I took him out for lunch, where  I ordered a margarita as big as my head.  Can I tell you - we work nights, and not on the same days, so going out for drinks has become a major event reserved for very special occasions and vacations.  I usually don't miss it, and I can't even begin to guess the last time I had a margarita.  But: I have been dreaming of this cocktail. Every. Single. Day.   I have no idea why, and there was absolutely no reason why I couldn't have had one during the treatment phase. I just never did.  I would lay on the table, looking at the cherry blossoms painted on the light covers while the machines buzz around me, and I would tell myself that as soon as I got through my last treatment I was going out for margaritas.  It got to the point where I could smell the lime, taste the salt....Bizarre, I know.  It would have been more like me to give myself a big basket from Ghiradelli or something.  Generally, chocolate is my bribe of choice *grin*.

Having taken these treatments for over seven weeks, I've pretty much gotten my afternoon routine down.  I was thinking that I should take advantage of the time I've carved into my day and spend it alternating between exercise, which I've sorely neglected since my surgery, and taking care of the little "issues" around the house that have cropped up.  If I spend an hour a day on one or the other, I should have both me and the house in shape by spring. 

Right now, though, I'm focused on Christmas.  We didn't get cards sent out this year, and we didn't put up a tree.  We didn't host our annual Thanksgiving dinner.  We aren't hosting Christmas.  But I shopped for gifts online, and I'll be there to watch my not-so-little niece and nephews open those gifts after we sit down for a delicious dinner at my baby brother's house.  That, for me, is the best part of the holiday season.  The only part I don't want to leave out.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Who Needs Sun?

The weather outside is frightful, but inside my home, we're Florida dreaming.  My miniature citrus trees are blooming their hearts out, and it smells fantastic in here.  This is my Meyer lemon tree.  It is absolutely covered in blossoms.  Mmmmmm.......

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ahhh, the Weekend......

I'm not feeling so hot today.  I think it's just the combination of not getting enough rest and then over caffeinating myself to get through the day that has me off balance.  I've been a little shaky and a little foggy feeling all day.  You know what I mean - that out-of-it feeling you get when you've been sick.  You're getting better but you're not quite there yet.  Like that. Only I haven't been sick.
I got home from work a little while ago, and I should be in bed, but I'm overstimulated from too many Diet Cokes.  I need to wind down a little bit.  I'd like get a jump on my weekend to-do list, but I'm just not up for that.  My body has no energy, it's my mind that won't calm down.
Used to be, when I felt like this, I would crawl into bed with an old movie.  Something I'd seen a dozen times, so I didn't get engaged in it.  I'd be out in no time.  But we got all fancy and replaced the bedroom TV and VCR with an upgraded model that has a built in DVD player.  That's fine most of the time, but all my old movies are on cassette.  The VCR has been relocated to Diva's room.  Her bed is not that comfy for an adult.
By this time next week, radiation will be in my rear view mirror.  Hopefully, then, I can get caught up on my rest and back to my normal life.  For now, I think it's time to get some sleep.  Goodnight, friends.....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Boobs are Making History!

Okay, that's kinda misleading.  Well, maybe not. Here's the story; you can decide:  the radiologist I go to works for Mayo Clinic.  Before I started treatment he showed me a breathing technique called "gated breathing" that involves taking a deep breath, then breathing in and out in shallow breaths while trying to keep your lungs full. They strap a belt around my ribcage that attaches to a set of lights over my head.  The goal is to keep the center light lit up through each zap of radiation.   I don't know if the technique is new, but the device that measures the breathing is new for the clinic.  I am one of only seven patients who have used the device at this facility.  The staff kept telling me I was really good at gated breathing, but I thought they were just being encouraging.  Apparently not.  Yesterday, the doctor told me that the CEO of the company that makes the monitor was visiting the clinic and they wanted him to see me in action.  The doctor asked my permission and of course I said yes.  I would do anything to help anyone who is developing equipment or treatments or anything that helps patients.  The purpose of gated breathing is to create an air barrier between the girls and my heart.  The air barrier helps prevent the radiation from damaging my heart and causing a heart attack down the line.  Gated breathing is reducing the radiation load on my heart by over 50%.  So absolutely - it's important, and I don't care who watches me.  Hell, if it would do any good in the fight against breast cancer, I'd put the girls on a billboard in Times Square.

So today, after I got strapped into my get up, two guys in suits came in and looked at how the device was attached to me.  They were present through the treatment and the series of xrays that I also had today.  Afterward, I was sitting in the waiting room making a jigsaw puzzle with my mom when one of the suits came over and talked to me.  He was telling me that he was impressed with my ability and that he wished everyone was able to do it, and my mom answered, "Oh, we make puzzles at home all the time."  Gotta love my mom. The doctor also stopped me and told me again how great I was at this breathing thing.  He thanked me for letting the visitors come into my treatment.  He said it was important for them, going forward, to hear from the patients now and learn from us. 

The thing is, I never had a hard time with this technique.  The doctor showed me how to do it and asked me to practice before I started treatments.  So I did.  I had it down pat before I was ever on the table.  The ataff  tells me some people never pick it up.  I did figure out, pretty much right away, that I don't need to take the shallow breaths as often as I was taught.  As soon as I had the lights providing feedback it was a piece of cake.  So while the compliments are nice, they baffle me a bit. I do think it's pretty cool that I got to demonstrate to a big shot how to use his own equipment, LOL.

The other exciting thing is that today, I started getting "boosts".  A boost is a concentrated radiation zap along my scar line.  They do these last, which means I've completed the first stage of radiation treatment.  That's the exciting part.  I get zapped three times a day, instead of twice like the normal treatment.  Other than the extra zap, the boost is the same from my perspective. The skin around my scar is just red - no peeling, no blisters, and no icky bruise color.  I'm not sure but I would guess that the boosts will change that.  I'm hoping that the fact that it's scar tissue means that I won't feel it as much.  We'll see....

The only other boob news is that, while my skin is still peeling quite a bit, there's new skin coming in now.  The burn cream and dressings seem to be doing the trick.  I never did lose that patch of skin under my arm that the doctor was concerned about.  Of course, now that I've said that I'm sure it will come off tomorrow. The doctor told me that my skin is looking better now than they would expect at this stage of treatment.  Wahoo!   Only six more to go.....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Walker is a December baby.  Our first year together, I planned a birthday weekend for him that became one of our favorite holiday traditions.  We take a couple days off work and head to Minneapolis for a long weekend.  We like to stay downtown, and we always attend the Holidazzle.  If you've never lived in a cold climate (or maybe if you have), you might think we're nuts to stand outside in December, at night, to watch a parade, but it's so pretty and we have so much fun.  All you need to do is dress in layers and grab a hot drink and you're fine.  It only runs about thirty minutes.  Jack Frost can't even find you in the crowd in that amount of time.

Last year, we lost my beautiful Aunt Henrietta to cancer the weekend before our getaway.  Honestly, at that point I didn't really want to go.  But my brother and sister-in-law were bringing my nephews up, and we didn't want to miss their first Holidazzle experience, so off we went.  And I'm glad we did.  We spent some time with my Aunt Nade while we were in the city, we had some great conversation on the drive, and we were able to step away from the sadness for a bit. 

This year, it's just not going to happen.  I have radiation treatments every weekday until December 23rd, and I'm too sore to ride in a car with a seat belt on for that long.  Even with a pillow between the belt and my chest (thank you, again, Janine, for that suggestion - it really helps!) I think it's too long.  Add to that the budget busting medical bills and the case is closed.  We're staying home.

Since I won't have Holidazzle 2010 photos to share with y'all, here are some of the floats we saw in 2009:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Janine, This One's for You!

My friend Janine was feeling nostalgic for snow after her move to a more temperate climate.  I can understand that.  Snow is so pretty and it puts one in the Christmas spirit.  Sometimes.  Other times, like today, snow is scary and messy and exhausting.  Well, it's exhausting if you're Walker and you have to shovel.  If you're me, snow provides an excuse to stay in your jammies and make candy with your niece.  Anyway: here are some photos I was able to take without actually going outside. 

This one shows our patio door, from the inside.  Last night, we got snow followed by freezing rain followed by more snow.  Then the wind kicked up, creating whiteout conditions.  The result of all this weather is snow covering pretty much everything.

Then I opened the inside of the patio door.  Snow was piled between the screen and the glass, and the screen was frozen shut.  No photos of the patio - the camera just picks up the screen.

Then I went out to the garage. Here's what I saw when I opened the garage door.

This one shows a big mound of snow on the roof - right over our front step.  Hopefully it won't cut loose when someone is ringing our doorbell.  You have to clean your roof with a snow rake when it gets like this, but with the high winds, it ain't gonna happen right now.  If we tried, all that snow would blow down right on us.  It's not just messy, it's heavy from the rain we got between the snow falls.

So far, we've gotten 7 to 10 inches of snow, with more to come.  The  temp is about 25* with winds up to 40 mph and a wind chill of -5*.  It's still pretty, but I'm not going outside in it until it quits blowing around.  Janine, hopefully this will make you miss your snow just a little less.  If not, well, you can always come visit!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just Stuff...

I'm sitting here listening to freezing rain hit my windows.  It's kind of like white noise - it lulls me.  Right now, I don't think it would take much to put me in a stupor.  I have never experienced fatigue like I have this week.  If I sit still for too long, I fall asleep.  No road trips for me for a while.  I don't drive any further than my office, which is a twelve minute commute.  Even I can stay awake for twelve minutes.

My peeling skin has gotten much worse, and more painful.  I have patches of open skin in several places in my treatment area.  My clothes rubbing cause the discomfort, as does showering.  I can't do much in the shower but the rest of the time, I have these dressings to wear.  They look and feel like the packing material my last computer was wrapped in.  The only place in town that carries them is the home care pharmacy in the hospital complex, and I walked over there on a windy day when we were experiencing single digit temps.  I chose to walk because parking is scarce in that area, but I was regretting that decision as I waited at the crosswalk for ANYBODY to stop.  I can't believe how many drivers, warm in their cars, ignored the few of us standing at the corner in a marked crosswalk.  How incredibly rude, especially given the weather and the fact that we were in the middle of a hospital campus.

I'm down to nine remaining treatments.  I can't wait to be done.  All in all, it hasn't been too bad, but as the doctor told me last Tuesday, it's going to keep getting worse from here. He said that in two to three weeks after I finish treatment my skin will start healing.  Two to four weeks after that, it will be completely healed.  I'm looking forward to that, counting down the days.

Right now, I'm grateful for a warm home. I have Diva tomorrow, and we'll whip up some holiday treats.  Walker will be busy digging everyone out from the snow that fell before the rain, so it will be just us girls.  We don't need to go into the storm at all.  Maybe we'll just stay in our jammies.  I like that idea.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's in a Name?

Cancer patients are encouraged to eat a high protein diet.  Protein helps build strength and keeps energy up, two much-needed factors in successful treatment.  I, specifically, have been asked to maintain my current weight, since before my diagnosis I was successfully working at losing the last chunk of weight I gained when my thyroid went nuts.  Radiation treatment is planned out in millimeters, so losing even a couple pounds could alter my treatment.  My diet is now on hold.

With that in mind, I pulled out some low-carb recipes from the "maintenance" section of my old South Beach cookbook.  Most of them are heavy in meat products, which can get expensive after a time.  Not one to give up, I kept looking until I found my forgotten stash of quiche recipes.  They fit the bill perfectly:  high in protein, fast and easy to make, and made with just a couple cheap ingredients.  There was only one problem:  Walker told me he doesn't care for quiche. 

You know, it's amazing how easy life is when you know how your partner's mind works.  It didn't take me long to figure out that since Walker rarely turns down dessert, all I had to do to get him to eat quiche was to change the name.  So last night for supper, we enjoyed Egg Pie.  I know.  My creative gene was on vacation.  Anyway: I cut the "pie" into ten slices.  I had two for supper and I took one to work.  There were no leftovers.  Haha, Walker, real men do eat quiche!

Ham & Artichoke Quiche
2 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c light sour cream
4 eggs
1/2 c half and half
2 c shredded Swiss cheese
1 can chopped artichokes, drained
1 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/4 c chopped ham
1- 9 inch unbaked pie shell

Melt butter and saute onions and garlic until tender.  Combine sour cream, eggs, and half and half until well blended.  Add onion mixture, cheese, artichoke, salt, pepper, and ham.  Pour into the pie shell and bake in preheated 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 minutes until set.  Cool for 25 minutes before serving.

** I love the Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust in the red box.  It bakes up more evenly than a frozen crust and tastes great.  Also, since this dish needs to set for 25 minutes before you serve it, it works well as a "dish to pass" for a brunch.  I pull it out of the oven right before we leave and put it in a box lined with a couple dish towels so we don't have to carry a hot pie plate.  By the time we get where we're going, it's ready to eat.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Looking out for Little Friends

Walker helps Diva knock out her chore list.  One of her jobs is to keep the bird feeders filled. I just love watching Walker and Diva together. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


My skin has started coming off.  As gross as that sounds, it looks worse.  And it doesn't exactly feel good.  The techs noticed it when I had my treatment today, and when I took a look, I don't know how I missed it.  Unless it had just started.  Now, several hours later, the peeling part has more than doubled in size. 

I see the doctor for maintenece tomorrow.  I wonder what he'll have to say about this.  I know the skin sometimes peels but I don't know if mine is better than normal or worse than normal.  Plus, I thought "peeling" would look like when you have a sunburn and it peels. Um, no.  This is way worse than that.  The skin that's coming off is thick and slimy and the tissue underneath is not like regular skin, either.  It's more like the kind of wound you get when you fall down and skin your knee.  Guess I skinned my boob.

Thirteen more to go.....


Somebody asked me, "How is Walker doing?  Is he handling everything okay?"  I realized I didn't really know the answer.  I mean, I ask him, and he tells me he's fine, he's good...but I thought maybe we should talk a little more.  It turns out, we should have talked sooner.

I have a theory that it is harder to watch a loved one go through something horrible that it is to go through it yourself.  Walker can't fix this, no matter how badly he wants to.  He can be supportive, he can be helpful, he can pick up my slack, but he can't fight this fight for me.  So last night, while he was working on the bathroom remodel, I wandered in and asked him, "How are you doing?"  He knew immediately what I was asking, and he just kind of spilled it all: how scared he is, how ineffective he feels, how terrible he feels when he has to wake me up and watch me drag my tired butt out the door for another shift at the office.  He said he was doing okay up until Dr C told us I would need chemo, and that even though the oncologist disagreed and my Onco test indicated that I wouldn't benefit from chemo, hearing that scared the crap out of him.  It bothers him that we can't afford for me to take unpaid leave from my job while I finish my radiation treatment.  I didn't know that he went to his mom when he didn't know how to help me.  I didn't know that his big brother, a friendly but stoic guy we don't see often, called him and coached him through a rough patch.  I had no idea he was carrying all this inside.  I wish I could promise him that I'll be fine, but I can't.  I just don't know. I did promise to follow all the doctor's orders, and to never give up no matter what happens.  It's not much but I think Walker felt better after we talked about everything.  I just wish we had done it sooner.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Good Lord, He's got a Nail Gun!

I woke this morning to Diva hunting for her snow pants and the most obnoxious humming noise coming from the hall.  When I investigated, I found Walker in the bathroom with an air compressor, tacking trim onto the bathroom walls with a nail gun.  What started as some loose tile in the shower has become a major project.  We pulled the trim, painted the walls and ceiling, and stripped and painted the vanity.  Tomorrow, Walker's uncle is putting in new lighting (which we actually need as the fixture we currently have has a broken ballast) then hopefully, we can end the phone tag with the shower people and I can get the tub and shower system ordered and scheduled for installation.  Walker decided to replace the trim because when he first installed it, several years ago, he couldn't get the mitered corners to line up.  It's been bugging him the whole time.  This time around, he borrowed a compound miter saw from his uncle, which apparently was the missing link before.  The new stuff looks a lot better.  Now if I could just get him to wear safety goggles.....

Update: so I went back into the bathroom to take a photo of my handyman and discovered that he has REMOVED all the trim he just put up.  He said he should have started from the other side, so he's doing it over.  Sigh. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010


The snow started yesterday.  Walker and I were driving home from the cancer center when the sky began spitting the first flakes.  Rumor had it we were due for a big snow dump, but we've been dodging weather for months now so neither of us gave it much thought.
By the time I left work this morning, the snow had been falling, light but steady, for about ten hours.  The roads were a mess.  The landscape, however, was gorgeous.  It looked like a Christmas scene.  This time of year, before shoveling gets old, before I get tired of dressing in layer after layer just to run an errand, I love the snow.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Radiation Takes the Lead

Oh. My. God.  My boob hurts.  Radiation has started kicking my ass.  After twenty treatments (only fifteen more to go ~ wahoo!) the side effects have kicked in, big time. I am so. Stinkin'. Tired.  Pretty much all the time.  My skin goes from dark tan to red to blistered to dark tan in phases throughout the day.  It itches like crazy, and out of the blue I get these pains that feel like I'm getting stabbed in the boob with a needle.  And I do know, first hand, what that feels like.  The area under my arm is so dark it looks purple, like a big, nasty bruise.

The doctor tells me that eventually my skin will peel, which will make the itching stop.  I have burn cream with Lidocaine for the pain. People keep telling me to take it easy, to rest, yada yada.  Well, believe me, I would love to.  But you know, I have a job and another job and a home and a cat and a family and myself to take care of.  There's only so much resting I can do before things start to fall apart. I'm literally counting down the days until I'm done with the daily runs to the cancer center. The treatments take less than fifteen minutes but the whole process - getting there, checking in, changing clothes, treatment, changing clothes again, driving home - adds up to over an hour.  In twenty more days, I can use that hour for extra sleep. Right now I just have to power through.

In the meantime, I take it one day, sometimes one hour, at a time. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Not-So-Little Girl

Before Diva was born, I would talk to her momma's belly.  I would tell Diva that she had to hurry up and grow big enough to come out into the world.  I could not wait to meet her. I also told her that I would be her favorite auntie. *grin*

She made her appearance after a long week of torturing her momma with Braxton Hicks contractions.  It was bitter cold, and of course, she decided to get born in the middle of the night. Why do babies always do that?
I met her for the first time just a few hours after she was born.  I have seven nieces and nephews, and each one brought the same excitement, the same hope.  Diva was the second girl baby in our family of boys.  Her older sister, Mara, was twelve at the time.  We were all ready for more pink.  I loved her even before I met her.

Nine years later, that kid still holds my heart.  Her parents split up just before she was born. When she was little, I was able to help out by taking care of her much more than I probably would have had they stayed together.  We spent a lot of long nights together, pacing our way through teething, ear infections, colic.  We've traveled together to Disney, to the seashore, the Mall of America, Wisconsin Dells.  We've gone to swimming lessons and football practice and trick-or-treating.  When we moved to a bigger house, she chose the colors for her very own room.  I painted and laid the carpet, and my mom sewed her curtains.  She has a chore list posted on the fridge.  After my breast cancer diagnosis, she  passed out pink rubber bracelets to everyone in her little world.  She may not be my daughter, but she is my little girl. Two years ago, when I was confronted with my own infertility, I told Walker, "It's okay. We have Diva.  She's all we need."  It's true.

Happy Birthday to my beautiful little Diva.  You are the light in my life. I hope you have a wonderful day!

Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's funny but right after I wrote the last post, early this morning, I suddenly couldn't stay awake.  I logged of the computer, went back to bed, and slept like a rock.  Which makes me wonder: am I keeping too much inside?  Maybe my efforts to pretend everything is normal, everything is fine, I am fine, is acting against me. I've been trying to just accept all this cancer stuff as just another speed bump of the road of life but I'm thinking it might be getting to me more than I'm willing to admit.  It might be time to look into a cancer support group or one of those alternative programs my cancer guide was talking about.  They do healing touch massage, acupuncture, wellness classes, stuff like that.  I kind of dismissed it because the programs are generally held in the evenings, when I'm working, but I could always take a couple days off. 

Something good came out of my insomnia, though: since there was nothing on TV except infomercials and home shopping, I chose QVC for my late night viewing.  They featured an iCarly video camera on their toy show, and when I woke up this afternoon I ordered it for Diva's Christmas gift.  There weren't any product reviews on it yet, so I hope it's a good toy.  Diva loves anything iCarly and she's been wanting a video camera since Mattel came out with a Barbie doll that has a camera in it.  This one cost less and looks a lot more sturdy. Plus, it's purple, her favorite color. I have my fingers crossed that it works well. 

Walker went to town on the bathroom project this weekend.  He took down all the trim, gave the walls and ceiling a second coat of paint, and sanded and primed the vanity inside and out.  On the plus side, we're almost ready to have the new tub liner, shower surround, and lights installed.  On the minus side, the bathroom is torn up worse than before.  Walker had to empty the vanity and take down the towel bars to get his stuff done.  I'll be able to put everything back together after he goes to work, if I can stay awake that long.  If we ever move, I'm going to insist we find a place with two full bathrooms. 


It's after four and I can't sleep.  In fairness, I'm usually just getting home from work around now, so it's not unusual for me to be up, but I only slept about five hours last night.  I thought I'd be winding down early.  Frankly, I'm exhausted.

I've started having skin reactions to my radiation treatments.  I've got little blisters on my chest and under my arm.  Some of the blisters have broken and have turned to scabs.  Lovely, huh?  Yesterday, when I woke up, there were welts on my skin that looked like I'd been scratching in my sleep.  The blisters do itch.  I was thinking I might have to sleep wearing mittens or something.  I had visions of having Walker tape oven mitts to my hands like the "Friends" episode where Phoebe had chicken pox.

The doctor gave me a prescription for a burn cream compound, which I carry around in my purse and smear on when the pain starts to get to me.  Most of the time, my skin doesn't hurt much but then it comes out of nowhere. The cream has a topical pain reliever.  It helps, but it doesn't last more than an hour or two.  I'm not supposed to use it more than three times a day so I wait until I really need it.

Around midnight, I was dozing off at my desk so I went to bed and turned on the TV.  There were all these holiday themed shows on.  I started thinking about last year at this time, how we lost my aunt to cancer so suddenly, right between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and of course I started thinking, what if.....what if the radiation doesn't work, what if it works but the cancer comes back anyway, what if the doctors missed something, what if I made a mistake passing on the chemo, what if this is my last Christmas and I don't even know it.....I'm sure it's normal to go through thoughts like this, I just don't like it.  I'd much rather think positively.  I don't know how to turn off my mind.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It's raining.  The air has a heavy feeling, and I would not be surprised if that rain turned to snow.  Diva and her little friend Alli made the rounds yesterday, delivering Girl Scout cookies.  I'm glad they got it all done, cause the weather today is bone chilling.  I was planning to go grocery shopping when Walker gets home with the van but I'm starting to rethink that plan.  Right now, I'm parked at home with a loaf of bread dough rising and home made beef barley soup simmering on the stove.  Going outside is just not appealing.

Friday, when I drove to work, the oil light in my car came on whenever I was sitting at a stoplight.  Walker spent yesterday online trying to figure out why, since the car is not low on oil. All he learned was that happens when the oil pressure isn't ideal, but he wasn't able to find a cause or solution.  I'm not sure I should be driving my car until we get this figured out, especially in this weather.  I definitely don't want to get stranded and I don't want to damage my engine. 

It's hunting season here.  Despite the lack of snow (yay!) my neighbors managed to bag six deer yesterday.  Unfortunately, they have three of them hung from a large tree in their front yard.   Where they will likely stay for a week or so.  Right across the street.  Where I have to look at them every time I pass my living room window.  Which is pretty much all day long.  I get that hunting actually helps the deer herd.  I understand that hunting is more humane than letting them starve.  But I would much rather watch them playing in a field than strung up in a tree.  That's just how I roll. 

And finally, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my big sissy.  I promise not to mention which one this is.  *grin*

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Milestone

Today was my twelfth radiation treatment, which means I'm more than a third of the way to the finish line.  Just the last few days, my skin has started turning a little red and my "treatment area" has become just a bit sore.  All in all, it's not bad.  I have learned to squat rather than bend over, as that reduces the chances of squishing the girls.  I make a pillow barrier around me when I sleep, so the dogs don't jump on any sore spots when they greet me in the mornings.  I reach for things with my right arm, as the left arm has some tender spots underneath.  Like that.  It's all good.

The radiation team tells me I'm a rock star when it comes to treatment:  I line myself up perfectly on the table, I've got gated breathing down to a science, I don't freak out when the machines are buzzing and moving around my head.  I joked that finally, I had found my talent.  It appears that I'm really good at being a cancer patient.  Go figure. 

I've started the bathroom makeover, but I have to admit we're not moving very fast.  I have one coat of paint on all the walls and ceiling.  That's it.  Unfortunately, I did that about ten days ago.  Last weekend I just wasn't up to working on it. We also have to hire a guy to put in our new exhaust fan, and he's booked out a couple weeks, so I don't feel any rush.  Sometimes I feel like I need a deadline to motivate me.  As long as we're done sometime this year, that's good enough for me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Yay for Johnae!

Johnae got the all clear on Thursday!  To say she was relieved would be a major understatement.  I'm willing to bet she never blows her mammo off again.  Hugs, Johnae!  I'm glad you got good news. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

One Down, Six to Go....

Today was my fifth radiation treatment, bringing to close the first week of my seven week treatment plan. I have the routine down pretty well now.  It's been so far, so good with the treatments.  My skin shows no sign of damage yet.  I have some weird discomfort when I reach with my left arm, but that could still be nerve trauma from the surgery.  Dr C told me it could be up to six months until that goes away completely.  At any rate, it is more "bothersome" than painful.

This week, I had meetings with the radiation oncologist, the oncologist's nurse, and someone called a "cancer guide" who gave me information on the holistic services offered at the cancer center.  Some of the programs sound like fun: a monthly meeting of patients and surviors, healing touch therapy, and even acupuncture.  The problem is, many of the programs are offered during my working hours, and my office isn't close to the clinic.  If I want to attend these offerings, I will need to use vacation time to do it.  I took the pamphlets, but I'll make my mind up later.

Yesterday, my wonderful friend Johnae got the dreaded "call back" on her mammogram.  Our local clinic sends a letter if all is well.  The call means there is "something" on your films.  Not every "something" turns out to be cancer, and the clinic asked Johnae to come in next week for a follow up.  With me, they wanted my butt (well, they actually wanted my boob, but I digress) in there at 8 o'clock the next morning.  So to me, telling Johnae to come next week is a good sign.  She didn't want to wait (of course!) and asked to be put on a cancellation list.  They must have heard her anxiety because they told her to come tomorrow, early, and prepare to wait.  They will work her in at some point during the day. Johnae credits my cancer with prodding her into her mammogram.  She was two years out from her last one.  Hopefully, she'll have an all clear by lunchtime tomorrow.  If not, well, we can travel this journey together.  If you're a praying sort, please think of Johnae.  Otherwise, we appreciate the powers rabbits feet, four leaf clovers, horse shoes, and crossed fingers, too.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Radiation Therapy

Finally, I've started radiation treatments.  Wahoo!  Okay, it's not exactly a party but it isn't bad.  The treatments only take about ten minutes and the techs are fun to work with.  If you can get past being topless in front of a bunch of people, it's not a big deal.  I'm long over the whole topless thing.  I lost my last shred of dignity when I had to spend two full days naked, with a catheter hanging out of me, in a glass walled room full of people at Mayo when I had treatment for a uterine fibroid.  I think there were twelve people coming and going through that one.  Nothing much embarrasses me any more.

Each week day I go into the cancer center, change into a gown, and wait to be taken to the treatment room.  It's pretty much like the sim:  gown comes off, lay on the table, feet strapped together, bumper under the knees, arms up overhead and held still by my custom bean bag pillow thing. A couple of techs line up my tattoos and leave the room, then I start doing gated breathing and the radiation thingie zaps at my chest.  Turns out I'm really good at gated breathing.  The techs kept telling me I was the best gated breather they've ever had, and I was all proud of myself, but then I found out that the breath monitor is a brand new piece of equipment at the cancer center so only a couple of us have used it.  Still, I asked for a banner and a crown.  Hey, a title is a title.  It's not often I'm declared the best of something.

After my first treatment, I got dressed and headed out to the front desk.  As I passed through the waiting room I was surprised to see my mom sitting at a table working a jig saw puzzle.  She was all settled in with a cup of coffee and a muffin like this was just another part of her routine.  I had told her that she was welcome to come to the cancer center anytime, but I am able to drive myself so I really didn't expect her to come.  She brought me a snack size Butterfinger candy bar.  I love my mom.  She was there the next day, too.  With another Butterfinger.  After my treatment I sat down with her, and we finished the jig saw puzzle together.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Shooting the Moon

 Working nights, I often come home to beautiful night skies.  For months now, I've wanted to learn to photograph the night sky, but my old camera just didn't have the capability to get good night shots. One of the first things I tried with my new camera was shooting the moon.  Clearly, I would need a tripod if I wanted to continue to get night shots.  Here is my first attempt:

It occurred to me that I could try steadying the camera on something, so I leaned my elbows against the car and tried again.  Still not a great shot, but there was some improvement.

Finally, I rested the camera on the roof of my car and hit the shutter button.  It took a couple tries to actually get the moon in the shot, but eventually I did it.  I still think a tripod is in order, but I was encouraged enough to stay outside practicing until my fingers got too numb to handle the camera.  Here was my last attempt.  I love the way the branches of this locust tree look when they're bare.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Happy Birthday to my biggest sissy!  See, isn't this much better than the old days, when you had to listen to me sing to you?  Hope you have a great day!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Heavy Dew

Here's a drippy post for Watery Wednesday.  This was taken as the sun came up, after a particularly dewy night.

To view other Watery Wednesday posts, click here.

The Sim

On Monday I went to the Cancer Center for a "sim", or simulation, to get set up for radiation treatments.  The procedure is simple, at least from the patient perspective, but lengthy: first, I had get photographed.  The tech, Kristin, told me they take head shots so that the Cancer Center staff can be familiar with the patients when they come in. Next, I was taken to a dressing room to change from my shirt into a hospital gown, (I was able to keep my jeans and shoes on), then I was off to a large room with a CT scanner.  Kristin had me remove my gown and lay on a table with a bumper under my knees.  She wrapped a band around my feet to keep me from crossing my ankles during the procedure.  Then, she fitted a pillow sized bean bag under my head and shoulders while I lay with my arms over my head.  Kristin used a vacuum to suck all the air out of the bean bag, which formed the pillow to my body position.  The radiologists will use this pillow to ensure I'm in the same position each time I have a treatment.

Next, Kristin made some marks on my chest with a Crayola marker.  She added some funky stickers and wire thingies, then the radiologist came in and doodled a bit more.  As they moved around I closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing and trying to stay calm.  When I opened my eyes Kristin was gone and a young guy was standing there.  He introduced himself as Charlie, and then Kristin came back and they sent me into the CT scanner.

The scans themselves were very brief, maybe five minutes all together.  Charlie told me they took two quick scans and one long one.  I only noticed the machine moving twice.  I wasn't supposed to move at all, but I could see out the back of the scanner while I was in there - much better than an MRI.  After the first set of scans Kristin and Charlie and another woman put a band around my ribs with a small light board attached.  The lights hung over my head and measured my breathing as I was scanned again.  There were two red lights in the middle and a strip of green lights going out from the top and bottom of the red lights.  The goal is to take a deep breath, making the red lights come on, then, while holding the deep breath, take shallow breaths while the scanner took another set of pictures.  You want to keep the breaths shallow enough that the green lights don't turn on.  I've been practicing, and I had a couple breaths that never went to the green, but I had a hard time maintaining that as the scan progressed.  They said I did well, and that it would get easier as I progressed through the treatment.

After the CT scans, Charlie pulled off all the stickers and gave me a set of four tiny blue tattoos.  The radiologist will use the tattoos to line up my body for each treatment.  Each tattoo was just one needle stick, and except for the top one, right between the girls, I probably won't notice them.  The one between the girls is high enough to be clearly visible above my shirt.  If it bothers me, meh, I have some great concealer.  It's a small price to pay to (hopefully) cure me of cancer.

After Charlie finished his graffiti, I got dressed and took a tour of the radiation treatment area.  Charlie and I  sat down and went over the side effects while Kristin scheduled my entire course of thirty three treatments.  All told, my appointment was just under two hours.  The treatments will start in a couple days.  Each treatment will be ten to fifteen minutes, and I'll have to come into the Cancer Center each weekday.  If all goes well, I'll take my last treatment just before Christmas.

I have very sensitive skin, which could cause some trouble down the line.  When Charlie removed the boob stickers, I warned him that I would probably have welts.  Still, when he saw the bright red, raised marks, he commented on them.  I think his exact words were, "Wow, that is not good!"  Radiation can cause the skin to burn, peel, and blister.  Charlie gave me some cream to get started with, in hopes of preventing or at least minimizing the skin damage.  I've added aloe vera and hydro cortisone cream to my shopping list. I've also been advised to give up deodorant on the left side for the duration of the treatment, and to use Ivory or Dove soap in the shower.  I guess I'm lucky that I'm taking treatment during cold weather.  My co workers are even luckier, LOL. I Haven't told them about the no deodorant policy.  I will miss my Philosophy shower gel, but I have a bottle of their Bubbly lined up for when this is all over - it smells like champagne.

I'm glad the simulation is behind me.  Now all I have to do is wait.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Such a Great Day

Today started with a surprise:  Diva and I were driving a few blocks from my house and found a young couple enjoying the beautiful fall weather: 

We spent about half an hour watching and snapping pictures.  I'm very proud that Diva, at eight years old, has learned to appreciate and respect wildlife.  I will never forget witnessing a dumbass tourist in the Yukon Territory hop out of his car, walk right up to a wild black bear, snap a photo, then turn his back and return to his car.  I was taking video of the bears (zoomed in from a reasonable distance and the safety of our car) and thought sure I would be handing my vacation video over to the authorities after the mauling.  Diva knows that the wildlife is here, in the city, because of all the building going on in the hills.  She knows that wild animals, no matter how calm they appear, can turn on you in an instant, and that they deserve to be left alone.  We sat quietly in the car until they looked our way, then took the pictures.  We never even considered trailing them, feeding them, leaving the car, or trying to get their attention.   Our patience was well rewarded:

In case you're wondering, that's an office building in the background, and we were in a parking lot.   The camera I used for these photos is new as of yesterday, and I'm still learning how to use it. So far, I'm impressed with how easy it is to maneuver.  Some of the shots could be more clear, but I was using the zoom feature for the first time, so I expect I'll get better with time.  I'm just grateful to have had a camera with me. 

After our wild encounter, we hit the mall.  We found everything we need to transform the bathroom (on sale, plus the clerk gave us coupons - major score!) had lunch, picked up some school clothes for Diva from Macy's clearance rack, and grabbed Halloween candy for tomorrow, along with a jar of Walker's favorite salt & pepper cashews.  When we got home we carved Diva's jack o' lantern and settled in front of the TV.  Right now, Diva is sacked out in her bedroom, Walker is getting ready for work, and I'm feeling all relaxed and happy.  Life is good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Girls' Day

Ah, the weekend.....cue the sound of birdies and violins.  It's not here yet but I'm practically counting the hours.  Tonight will be a long one at the office. But: Walker has to work this weekend and tomorrow, I am taking myself SHOPPING. I haven't been out shopping for anything other than groceries in months.  Seriously.  Months.  Unless you count the afternoon I spent looking at shower curtains with Walker, which I definitely do not.  Shopping with Walker shouldn't even be called shopping.  He gets a ginormous  cup of melted milkshake (otherwise known as a latte) and makes a game of how fast he can get out of the store and back to his Laz-E-Boy in front of the TV.  It's kind of pathetic how excited I am that he's working and I can go it alone.

It started with the whole "Walker hates the bathroom" fiasco. The shower still is not fixed.  We don't even have a contractor lined up.  I've called to schedule one, twice, but so far I haven't gotten a call back.  I'm rethinking hiring them now - if I can't get them on the phone to schedule the work, where will they be if I have a problem? 

So while I wait and ponder my options, I decided we need a fresh coat of paint to go with the new shower curtain.  Since we're changing colors I want to look for some bath sheets.  The old ones are getting ratty anyway, plus they are a pukey shade of peach since an unfortunate bleach incident.  Then I realized that I start radiation on Monday.  I have exactly one pair of "good" socks, and I don't intend to traipse around the cancer center in holey ones.  Socks went on the list.  I have a pretty wool sweater with shamrocks on the pockets but nothing to wear under it.  Wool against the skin?  Um, no, thank you, I don't like breaking out in hives. I'll look for a green top.  Halloween is when?  Sunday?  Oops!  Better get some candy.  Et cetera.  By the time I was done I had half a page of errands, so I told myself to call it a shopping trip and make a day of it.  I might even pick up the new Sex in the City movie.  I haven't been to a movie since before my last shopping trip.  I wonder if I can still find the mall.

I'm like to take Diva with me, but I have to wait to see if she has a date with her Daddy. I think they were planning some Halloween excursions if he doesn't have to work.  Either way, it's retail. therapy and maybe even a little lunch out on the town.  Bring on the weekend!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pink Warriors ~ Fighting Like a Girl

My sister is wearing a pink shirt.

If you knew my sister, well, you'd probably be going, "Awwwwww!" right now. My sister is - ahem - slightly older than me and I can't recall ever, ever seeing her in anything pink. Ever. In fact, a couple years ago Walker and I were on vacation on the Gulf Coast and this surf store had these really cool pink jackets with little embroidered sea shells over the chest pocket and I wanted to pick one up as a thank you to my sister for taking care of our kitties while we were gone. Walker talked me out of it: he could not imagine my sister in pink anything.

But today, my sister is wearing a pink ribbon shirt in support of the cause. Walker has been passing out pink rubber bracelets to everyone we know ~ and they are wearing them, too. Two of my sisters friends violated their dress codes at work to wear pink camo tee shirts in support of a difficult appointment that I had to get through. Even the dogs are now sporting pink collars.  Go, Pink Warriors, go!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Still Going!

I'm nearing the end of my first week back to work.  I don't mind telling you, I am worn out.  I've been sleeping way more than usual, too, but when I'm up and moving around I feel just fine.  I guess my body is still recovering, though I don't feel it outside of needing the extra sleep.

The weather has turned cooler; the last two mornings, when I left work, I had thick frost on my car.  My poor veggie garden, abandoned after my diagnosis, is looking pretty bad.  The area around my house is in a valley, so we don't get frost right away, but I'd better get out there with Diva again this weekend to salvage what we can.  I doubt we'll have another chance before frost turns it into something resembling seaweed.  The gorgeous trees are nearly bare.

Walker is on a new schedule where he works four long shifts, then has four nights off in a row.  He loves it.  I'm still adjusting.  He gets home about the same time I get up each afternoon, and he has off all this weekend.  I hope we can juggle our time well enough to get some things done.  Last weekend, he was up while I was sleeping and vice versa.  We never did finish the housework last weekend.

On Tuesday, I had my last appointment with Dr C before she turns me over to oncology.  Everything was fine, technically, but my blood pressure has been creeping up a few points with each appointment.  Right now, it's still normal, but it's at the top end of normal.  I want to work on that before I see her again in April for my six month check.  She tells me that an increased BP is normal for cancer patients, with all the stress and so on, but I still want to try to bring it down a bit. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Think They Missed Me

On Monday, I went back to work after a month on medical leave.  I walked into my workspace to find my peeps had been busy decorating.  Not only that, they were all decked out in pink.  They had decorated my other wall with a collage of Post-Its full of well wishes and prayers for my recovery. 
You get to choose your job, but usually it's the luck of the draw on your coworkers.  I feel like I won the lottery.  Thanks, y'all!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho!

I go back to work tomorrow.  Wahoo!  Sitting around the house got old a long time ago.  My job isn't physically demanding, but I do have to watch out for repetitive motion, which can lead to lymph edema.  I had a physical therapy appointment last week, where I learned tricks to prevent lymph edema, and what to watch out for, so I feel as prepared as I can be.  Really, I'm just looking forward to getting back into a routine and having something productive to do with my time.  Lymph edema isn't a big concern for me right now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Radiation Therapy 101

On Wednesday, I had my first appointment with a radiation oncologist.  The appointment consisted of a review of my breast cancer history, as well as an overview of the upcoming radiation treatments.  I've been reading my "How Not to Die of Breast Cancer" book so nothing came as a big surprise.  About the only thing I didn't know was that I would get my first tattoo ~ a tiny dot that will serve as a reference point for the treatments.  A permanent reminder of my experience, as if I could ever forget.

The radiation oncologist was aware of the situation with my insurance, so they are prepared to hold off on my treatment until November first, when they become part of my insurance network.  And after I got the call from the Mayo Clinic business office, informing me that I would have to pay up front for any out of pocket expenses, I went in prepared to fork over the copay for the consultation, but was told that they don't collect payments at the cancer center.  Anything I owe will be added to my monthly clinic bill.  Huh.  Guess they didn't get the memo from Mayo.  Oh, well!

I know this will sound odd, but I kind of enjoy my appointments in the cancer center.  Don't get me wrong ~ I will be perfectly happy when all this is behind me, but everyone at the cancer center is friendly, informative, and encouraging.  If you have to go through cancer treatment, I hope your local facility is as great as mine.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Dr N just called with the results of my latest batch of tests.  All the news was good.  And the final verdict - no chemo!  Wahoo!  I can't even express how relieved I am.  Mostly I'm just grateful that I don't have to go through all that, that I don't have to be sick and I can go back to work.  I'm also grateful to know, for sure, which direction my treatment will be taking.  I still have to wait a couple weeks to start, but it helps tremendously to know what I'm up against. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Back in the Ring

Last night I went to bed early.  I haven't been sleeping well ~ trouble falling to sleep, bad dreams, waking up a lot.  So after Walker left for work at midnight, I went to bed.  I know for a lot of people midnight isn't early, but we work nights so for me, bedtime at four or five a.m. is my normal.

I woke this morning still tired, but I had a date with Diva.  She's a pretty great kid, always looking for ways to help out.  I have explained to her in kid terms what breast cancer means, and she's been on the lookout for ways to make my life easier.  With Walker working six or seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, and me on restrictions, things are sliding at home. Diva and I set out to remedy some of that.  I picked her up (I drove!) and we went grocery shopping.  Diva pushed the cart and we finished in good time.

Back home, Diva brought in the bags while I put everything away.  Then we headed to my neglected garden for our harvest.  We dug potatoes and peanuts, collected tomatoes and peppers, pulled some weeds, cut down the dead stuff....we did a good job.  Diva had to be home by noon, for visitation with her daddy.  We made our deadline, though I have to say, I hated having to take that kid home.  Spending time with her is one of the best things in my life. 

I didn't do that much this morning - Diva handled most of the physical labor - but I was exhausted.  To be honest, I think the stress of all this is wearing me down more than the physical part at this point.  Walker called to tell me that he was stuck at work for a couple more hours, so I decided to take a nap.  And boy did I sleep.  I didn't hear Walker come home, though I was sleeping in the living room.  When I finally woke it was after five. And I feel like a whole new person.  I've got my fight back.

I don't know what's going to happen in the next couple weeks, but then, who does?  You might think you have it all figured out but unless you have a crystal ball stashed away, you just can't. So I'm going to do what I have always done: take it one day, even one hour at a time.  Learn as much as I can about each phase of my treatments, whatever they end up being.  Appreciate the good days, spend time with my family and friends, and most of all, trust myself and my decisions.  I've gotten myself this far, and I'll get myself through cancer.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Yesterday, I decided to find out exactly what kind of financial headache I was in for with my upcoming radiation treatment.   I have contact information for a very friendly, helpful guy in the financial services area at Mayo Clinic, so I gave him a call.  I explained the situation with my insurance company, and I told him that I need to know as accurately as possible what my charges would be for each phase of the radiation treatment, so I could figure out what the insurance would pay and what my responsibilities would be.  I told him that I want to make sure I can pay my bills in full when they start coming.  I told him about the mess from my first time at Mayo and explained that I wanted to make sure neither of us went through that again.

As usual, this dude was very helpful, but he wasn't able to give me all the numbers right away.  He told me that I need to get a detailed treatment plan, which I should receive at my consultation on Wednesday.  When I have that he will be able to give me an itemized list of the expected charges.  Then he gave me the best news I've had all week: as of November 1, Mayo Clinic will be an in-network provider for my insurance group.  That change will come about a week later that ideal, but I'm willing to wait it out.  It's only a week.  We made an appointment to reconnect by phone on Monday, when we'll call the insurance company together to see if there is anything we can do to bridge that gap in coverage. Things were definitely looking up.

Today, however, I got a call from the business office at Mayo.  They initially called to update my insurance information, but then, they dropped the biggest financial bomb yet in this nightmare: oh by the way, because I took financial assistance on that one previous occasion, I am now required to prepay any and all charges that the insurance isn't likely to cover.  That includes the deductible, copay, non-covered charges, and any amounts above the "reasonable and customary" amounts allowed by my insurance.  Of course, they don't have any idea how much that will be, but I have to provide full payment before I receive each phase of treatment.

What the hell? 

Over the years I've had clinic and hospital bills that I've paid in full right away, and some that  I paid over a period of months.  It's never been a problem.  I've never had delinquent credit cards, never been late on a mortgage payment, never had any sort of credit problem.  I took the financial assistance from Mayo only because they decided, a few months in, that the payment agreement I made (and was current on) wasn't good enough.  They started calling and harassing me for more money, threatened to report me to collections, all kinds of unpleasantness.  Considering that we had a written agreement that I was keeping my end of, I probably could have fought back, but I was overwhelmed by the idea of hiring an attorney, and of course I didn't have the financial resources for that.  When Mayo offered me an out, I took it.  I guess that was a mistake.

Then again, maybe not.  Had I not taken the financial assistance I would still be paying on that bill.  I would probably be in the same boat, or worse, if that were the case. It's possible that I would have turned down the mammogram that detected this cancer, for fear of running up yet another clinic bill. 

I'm not sure where I go from here.  I'm planning share this news with the helpful guy I'm scheduled to call on Monday, to see if he has any ideas.  At my consult on Wednesday, I'm going to tell them that I absolutely can't have any further appointments scheduled before November 1, when in-network benefits will apply.  I'm still waiting to see if I need chemo.  If I don't, prepayment may be a non issue as I'll be able to finish my radiation therapy in 2010.  I've already met my out of pocket maximum for this year, so there should be no additional charges after November 1st.  I did call Dr N to see of the results of the 21 point test are back, but they are not.  Until I get those results, and learn whether or not I'll be taking chemo, I'm stuck in limbo.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

When Good Appliances Go Bad

Apparently, the water heater was jealous of all the attention that the shower has been getting.  Last night, I went downstairs to find this:

Yep, looks like somebody's trying to get my attention.   Walker has been tasked with finding a plumber to replace this beast when he gets home from work today.  Just to make sure the other mechanicals stay happy, I scheduled a maintenance check for the furnace, too.  I think I'll just stay in bed tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hanging in There, Sort Of

Today the first bathroom contractor stopped by to give us an estimate for fixing the shower.  A few years ago, we had the same company install the same system into the house we lived in at that time.  The cost was about $2,200, which seemed like a lot of money at the time but they did great work, the bathroom looked beautiful, and they were very professional from start to finish.  I was looking forward to having them fix my shower.

Well, times have changed.  The same system this time around started at over $5,100.  Yikes! There was a discount for this and a discount for that but the total estimate was still over $4,000, well above what I was willing to shell out, the current medical situation not withstanding.  And that price expires at the end of October. So I came up with my own low cost, low tech solution.  I know it won't last long, but at three bucks a roll for duct tape, I can replace it as often as I need to until I get my buns back to work.  Even then I'll take a pass on the five thousand dollar shower system.  That's just out of line. 

As an aside: Walker and I are not married, and the house we live in was purchased by me.  For some reason, when we have contractors in, they want to speak to Walker.  I call for the appointment, I greet them at the door, I sign the contracts, and I pay the bill.  Yet when they're writing estimates and doing the work, they want to deal with Walker.  I understand as well as he does the work that needs to be done, the materials used, et cetera. I'm not just the girly girl waiting for the workers to leave so I can decorate.  Whether they like it or not I butt in when I have questions or concerns.  Frankly, it seems to piss them off.  I don't care.  When I am paying for their services, I am the boss.  The salesman here today didn't push me aside but then, Walker wasn't home.  When they called yesterday to confirm the appointment, the man I spoke with asked twice if I was the sole homeowner.  When I confirmed, twice, that I was, he flat out asked me if I had a husband.  I almost canceled on the spot.  Women may have come a long way, Baby, but someone forgot to tell that to the contractors of America.

Anyway, after the shower guy left, I called my insurance company.  There are no radiation oncologists in my insurance network within at least 75 miles of my home.  To see the radiation oncologist at my regular clinic, I needed to get a "gap extension" to be billed at in-network rates. After many department transfers and much frustration I received the bottom line: my policy does not allow gap extensions, and I will be responsible for any non-covered charges plus ten percent of all fees plus anything priced above what my insurance company deems "reasonable and customary" for each service.  I need a consultation plus a care plan plus thirty treatments.  Even at ten percent, those charges will add up fast.  That is in addition to the out of pocket charges I have already incurred for 2010.  There is no maximum limit for out of network charges.

This whole situation is compounded by the fact that in 2008, I went out of network to Mayo Clinic for treatment of a uterine fibroid.  Mayo offered treatment options not available locally.  At that time I had a different insurance company that did approve my visit to Mayo; however, when the bill came the insurance denied the claim.  After a lot of appeals and other BS, I ended up stuck with about 90% of that bill.  I worked a deal with Mayo where they discounted the charges and I paid it in full, but one of the terms of the deal was that I was not eligible for further financial assistance from Mayo, ever.  I figured, okay, they're not local, I have two options in town,  I won't need to go back there again.  Little did I know.  The radiation oncologist I have been referred to works in my town, but he's employed by Mayo Clinic.  Mayo leases space in my local clinic and runs it as a satellite of their facility in Minnesota. 

 I really want to keep my attitude positive as I continue on this journey but it seems every day gets more difficult.  I could really use some good news about now.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Days are a Total Waste of Makeup

Nothing went right today.  First, I called the clinic to confirm my appointment with the radiation oncologist. When I made the appointment I learned that there are no radiation oncologists in my insurance network in a 100 mile radius of my city, but I could request permission to go "out of network" to see the doctor at my regular clinic. I still don't understand why that doctor doesn't join the network, but regardless: the insurance company had not yet responded to the request for permission, so my appointment had to be rescheduled for next week.

Next up was the shower. Nothing scary there, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. Until a tile fell off the wall. The wall behind it was mush. Apparently, the grout has been damaged for a while and the drywall behind it was soaking up the shower water like a sponge. There's no easy fix for that. We have to take off all the old tile, replace the drywall with cement board, and put up a new surround. I've been wanting to do something about the ugly faded terracotta tile but the alternatives were cost prohibitive. Right now is not the best time to be raiding the savings account, either. But it's our only shower, so there really is no choice.

Since my mood was pretty much shot, after my shower I put on a fresh pair of jammies (at 1 in the afternoon) and called the bath tub repair places in the area to schedule estimates.  Then I called my mom to make sure we could use her shower until ours is fixed.  Right about then, Walker fessed up to the fact that he really doesn't like the look of our bathroom, so as long as we're having work done he'd like to do a fresh coat of paint and a new shower curtain.  The kicker is, I have to choose the colors.  Sure, honey, I'll get right on that.  I'm not looking forward to it since I chose the current decor, which apparently he hasn't liked since I put everything in five years ago.  I went online and found three options that I loved, but he vetoed all three of them.  I offered to get dressed so we could go to a department store and take a look, but he didn't feel like driving me.  (Officially, I'm not supposed to be driving myself yet, though I'm not taking any meds so I probably could.)  Yep, this is going to be a fun project.

Finally, Walker's work schedule changed.  He now starts working at midnight.  That means he'll be sleeping in the afternoons, so I have to find another driver to take me to my appointments.  I also have to try to be quiet in the afternoons.  I'll need to start getting up earlier to run the dishwasher and blow dry my hair before he goes to bed.  He's been working so much overtime, I'm glad that his company is making changes to give the crew a break, but we're both going to have to make some adjustments.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How Much is Too Much?

Last Thursday I had my first appointment with an oncologist. I went in thinking I would get a treatment plan, and I had decided to spend the weekend researching the drugs and making a plan of my own for managing the effects my treatment would have on my daily life: how to prevent getting sick while my immune system is compromised from chemo, figuring out how to keep up with the housework if I'm too tired to do it myself, finding what I would wear when my hair falls out, looking for support resources for Walker if this whole thing gets overwhelming for him, dealing with my job....

I didn't get a treatment plan.

Dr N, the oncologist, first went over my treatment options. There are three choices on the buffet: radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. In my case, there will be a combo meal of at least two, radiation and hormones, but I'm still in the holding tank on the chemo. A test has been developed that looks at 21 factors of a tumor to determine the risk of cancer recurrence. The tissue excised during my quadrectomy is used for this test. The results take one to three weeks to come back. The lower I score, the less likely it is that chemotherapy is warranted.

Some women take the chemo regardless. They want to use every available weapon in their fight and no doubt, chemo is a powerful weapon. Some women absolutely refuse chemo, taking their chances with just the other therapies. And for many, that works out fine.

For me, well, some days I feel like my brain is a puddle of mush, incapable of making a decision. I don't know if it's stress, or fear, or information overload. Right now, without the information from the 21 point test, Dr N rates my risk of recurrence at 30%. Radiation lowers it to about 20%. Hormone therapy will lower it further, as much as down to 10% but more likely somewhere in the 12% range. Now, there is never a 0% chance of recurrence, unless you're dead. Chemo would knock a few more points off that risk rating, but it's pretty hard on your body. Some side effects can be permanent. So I ask myself, how much risk is too much? Is going through chemo worth a 5% drop in risk? What about a 3% drop? Every woman in America has nearly a 13% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Radiation and hormones put me right about at that same spot. Do I really need to go through chemo?

I'm trying not to form any opinions or make a decision until the test results come back. It's hard, though. For a person like me, who needs an action plan, sitting around waiting is the worst part of this whole thing. I just want to get on with it.

Click here to read a more clinical explanation of the test and treatment options.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pink Ribbon Controversy?

I came across this article while researching breast cancer. It seems that some people resent the pink ribbon symbol being added to, well, pretty much anything. They aren't thrilled about October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, either. Some breast cancer patients feel reminded of the disease when they see the ribbon symbol, and patients dealing with other cancers feel the pink ribbon takes attention away from research and fund raising for other cancers.
Well, I guess I can understand their points but to me, money raised for any cancer research is beneficial. What may start out as a breast cancer treatment could end up as a viable treatment for other cancers. Or possibly research done to learn what can cause breast cancer might also help identify causes for other cancers.
Then there's the awareness. Breast cancer is a very treatable disease when it's caught early. I think women need to know about screenings. I'm a reasonably intelligent woman but I put off getting my first mammogram because I didn't think I need it: I had no family history, I did self exams, and I am under 50. Too young for breast cancer. Or so I thought.
As far as the constant reminder to those who have the disease: do you ever really forget? I'm new to all this, and my life is much more than cancer, but I can't say that I ever forgot I was a cancer patient from the first moment I heard the words, "This is cancer. You have cancer." Pink ribbons at the grocery store won't suddenly remind me.
October means a lot of things to me: football games, local festivals, family time, evenings toasting our tootsies around the fire pit, and yes: breast cancer awareness. I'll be wearing my pink bracelets with pride.