Archive for May, 2010

May 23 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Not Dead After All

(continued from this entry)

Obviously, this chronicling is taking a while, in part because while recovering and healing, it’s not the most pleasant time in my life to remember.  On the other hand, in a major traumatic event like that there’s a bit of a delay in emotional processing, and now that I’m a couple of months out from the event it starts becoming the tiniest bit easier to remember almost dying.  Enough that I can start catching up on these posts a bit, but ooof.

My doctors totally saved my life by the speed with which they moved once we figured out the problem.  It was six days from official cancer diagnosis until I was on the surgery table. We talked last time about the prep leading up to the surgery day. It is very obvious during this whole process, but especially in the hospital, that my support network is much larger, more varied, and more solid than most of the people who come through the cancer ward.  This is a sad thought (one of many) that I won’t have time for until much later, so I stick it aside.  There’s no energy left at this point, for me, to do anything except keep breathing, move zombie-like where people tell me to go, and stay focused on my loved ones near by.  My mom, dad, step-dad, brother, husband, and boyfriend are all present, though arriving in different vehicles they all get there before I am wheeled in for the actual surgery part.

We arrive at horrible-thirty in the morning, since they have to do paperwork mounds and prep me with a radiological dye that will allow them to determine which lymph nodes they will need to take on the right side. (They inject the dye in several places on the right side of my chest that spreads to indicate which is the main sentinel node for that breast and which are its main support nodes.) They have to inject me six times with something that is supposed to hurt — enough that they tell the truth about it hurting before injecting me, which is always a bad sign.  It’s a worse sign of the state that I’m in that I don’t even feel the first two injections, and the next two don’t hurt.  Those last two suck pretty badly, though.

Now we have to wait for two hours or so for it to trickle through enough to do its job.  They do a couple of other medical prep checks on me but otherwise I’m left alone to doze and chat with family.  Not surprisingly, we don’t have much small talk left, and all the big things necessary have been said to everyone. (I made sure during vigil week to communicate my love directly to each person in words, in the larger social swirl.  If I missed you it wasn’t intentfully, let’s get together and make up for it if so!) It is still good to see everyone there again before going under the knife, just-in-case.

Nathan goes back with me into the pre-surgery prep room while the others go to the waiting room.  He and I have grown so much closer during all of this hideous crisis, and there’s still so much not said, not shared.  After all, we’ve only been together less than two short years at this point.  Not anywhere close to the lifetime or three we want to share with each other.  Not even a blip on that scale, really.  He asks me to come back to him, post-surgery. I tell him the last thought I’ll take with me as they put me to sleep is him, of my life with him, our lives together, and of me staying around long enough to get that life-extension technology with him that’s just around the corner so we can do it another hundred years.

Of course there are tears.  I can’t even write this entry two months later without crying.

I’m upset we didn’t get to this sooner, time runs out all over. In the prep room I use Nathan’s phone to record a message to The Kid, just-in-case.  I have to do two takes because my voice breaks down entirely on the first attempt, and the second one isn’t much better but there is just no time left at all, now.  I tell him how amazed and proud I am of him every day, how he’s the best kid I’ve ever known in a long line of really damn awesome kids I have known, how honored and proud I am to have been his mom even for just a little bit, how strong and resilient he is in the face of so much unfair Life Bullshit.  Nathan loses it a bit here but we’re both strong, so we calm quickly when it is time for me to go, enough to kiss farewell.  I don’t want to think about how hard it must have been for him to watch me wheel away.

(I’ll have to get back to the story in another entry of the recovering addict in the prep bed next to me and the surreal conversation happening while the rest of this was going on.)

They tell me they’re going to inject me with the anesthetic now, and the main weird note here is that no one counts backwards for me, like they do on TV.  It almost distracts me from holding onto my thoughts of Nathan and then

***

For the first time in my life (possibly ever, as my brain never shuts up even in sleep), my system is taken offline.  The world is, and then it is not.

And now the unpleasant thought to leave you with, balanced with the reminder that it IS me typing these up which means I do survive the story (so far): In 2010, our modern medical technology can do amazing things, including remove a 13-centimeter tumor from someone’s breast and send them home walking the next day.  But for everyone going through surgery, there is still a dark-ages barbarism lingering in the system, and that place is the Recovery Room, a harmless-sounding name for what must be one of the worst areas in the building.  I can not imagine the emotional drain it must be on someone to work in such a place, but I am very glad that there are people who do so.  Medically we’re still at a place where our doctors feel they can’t safely give pain medication to someone until they have successfully awakened from surgery. (I am not blaming the doctors here, but the Puritan-infested system that continues to decide that pain is somehow still character-building, ok, or suspect when absent and therefore doesn’t put research dollars into such things.)

It is an affront, nay a violation, of my world that this level of pain still exists for anyone in the 21st century, with all our ameliorative capabilities already known.  Why the hell we have not freed ourselves of this tyranny is one of the many neuroses our species will have to answer for, if there is a cosmic scale of judgment anywhere.

I awake into pain beyond all meaning, pain that breaks consciousness in a body that has already recently experienced some of the worst pain measurable with the tumor’s growth.  This is the Recovery Room.  And in true asshole-writer style, I’ll leave you with that emotional cliffhanger (and a reassurance that the pain mentioned will not last long in actual minutes, though the subjective is another thing entirely).  I need a bunnies-and-kittens type break after this entry, and the Recovery Room needs its own entry anyway.

(to be continued)

Love and hugs to anyone who needs ‘em.

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May 21 2010

Internal dialogue (good morning edition)

Writing-mind: “Hey, I’m in physical rehab too, ya know.  There’s only so much energy to go around.  You aren’t bitching out the OTHER minds for operating in fits and starts…”

Get-Shit-Done-mind: *raises one eyebrow* “Uh, have you HEARD some of my conversations with exercise-mind? You’re getting the same breaks as everyone else, baby.” *pokes W-M with stick* “Now, work! We can’t very well establish a ‘daily writing routine’ if you won’t at least TRY to write some words every day, cancer recovery or not.”

Writing-mind: “Nope, huh uh, I’m tired. And achey. And cranky.  Make exercise-mind work.  Or how about errand-mind, she’s been sitting on her ass for most of the last nine months. ”

GSD-mind: *looks skeptical* “Your ‘rehab’ looks a lot like ‘avoidance’ from over here.”

Writing-mind: “No, hey!  Out of the house equals adventure!  Observing humanity!  Pattern recognition! Fodder for writing ideas!”

GSD-mind: *rolls eyes* “We have not yet had problems with the idea pipeline, even during the worst of times.  Look at you!  I assign you one simple task from the list, “pick which story to write next”.  Simple friggin’ to-do item, easy check-off.  But noooooo, YOU decided that was some kind of challenge and now instead of picking between two story ideas, we have EIGHT.”

Writing-mind: “Hey, four of them already have titles, even!  This is work, we’re working here!  Also, hungry.  And tired. Wouldn’t moving around do some good?”

GSD-mind: “Well, we do want to get moving earlier in the morning to see how that works for loosening up throughout the day, and…hey! I see your tricks.  We aren’t leaving this house until YOU write some words.”

Writing-mind: “Oh yeah? What if I just put little quote marks “around everything”?”

GSD-mind: “Nope.  You can write dialogue, though, if you feel like writing quote-marks.”

Writing-mind: “You won’t complain about what I write, I just put some words down on one of our projects?”

GSD-mind: “Sure, writing words equals no complaints.”

Writing-mind: “And the blog counts as one of our projects, right?”

GSD-mind: “Counts as two or three of them, if you look at the Callie project, Cancer Chronicles, and writing posts.”

Writing-mind: “Agreed then, no take-backs! I’m off to write down this conversation as a blog post.”

GSD-mind: “Hey, that’s totally cheating!”

Writing-mind: “You didn’t say no cheating.  Now, go wake up errand-mind, I’m going back to bed.”

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May 17 2010

Quicky update, too busy writing

The auction ended and was a great success! With the generous matched donation offer we received, the auction raised over 4000$ in medical bill help for us, which is awesome and quite appreciated!  Everyone seemed to enjoy both all the lovely items and services offered for the auction as well as watching the bidding as it happened, so we will keep this in mind in case any other fundraising needs arise in the future.  I do like the fundraisers where people get things in return for their generosity…

I’m a bit behind on the self-imposed writing schedule but nothing I don’t think I can’t catch up on if I choose to.  Last week had several large energy interruptions due to doctor’s appointments and other things that seriously disrupted my writing schedule.  Since I’m still getting my work legs under me again post-surgery and my available energy changes daily and weekly, there will inevitably be a few bumps in the path so I’m trying to remain patient with myself as I figure it all out.

And on the recovery front, two major pieces of progress: I can now drive myself again under many circumstances (during the functional part of the day at least, the beginning and ending of a day is still usually much more impaired in movement and function), and Nathan and I went dancing Friday night as part of my physical rehab (because when we can, we try to make ouchy limit-pushing activities also fun!) with surprisingly pleasant results.  We haven’t been dancing since, oh, summer of last year? and I haven’t driven since November 2009, so those are definitely large chunks of progress toward feeling like a functional human again.  Feeling-wise, things are still all over the place; some pain, some emotional flux, lots of fatigue.  In other words, still healing at or above the “normal” rate, so no worries.  Doctor info progresses slower than we’d like but this week should see larger chunks of new information when we talk to the oncologist again on Thursday.

Had a fabulous brainstorming session for my novel-in-progress on Saturday, I have such lovely and smart friends!  Thanks to everyone who showed up.  And I sent out two more short stories last night to various markets, so hopefully one of these days I’ll get another hit instead of the many very near misses I’ve been collecting.

Now, back to work!  I’ll try to blog more later, but in the meantime everyone take care of your health!  Ladies, when was the last time you gave yourself a breast exam?  Don’t end up like me with a Texas-sized tumor, fondle yourself early and often for best detection!

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May 10 2010

Benefit Auction is Live!

Published by Reesa under me vs. cancer = I win, spinathon

Check out the awesome pretties available over at the Auction website, and make your bids!  The auction runs through the 15th and we have over 50 items available for your bidding.  Go browse and bid now!  All proceeds go to defray the medical costs associated with my recent breast cancer surgery.  And you get nifty things in return!

http://spinathon.reesabrown.com/auction

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May 08 2010

Auction Deadline Today!

Published by Reesa under me vs. cancer = I win, spinathon

Hey everyone, heads-up!  If you were and are interested in donating an art, craft, or service to the benefit auction starting in just a couple of days, then TODAY is the day you need to get that information over to Andrea!  She has enough to do that she won’t be trying to chase down everyone who expressed an interest, but is asking instead that you send her an email with either pictures of a finished product or descriptions of what service you are offering.  That email needs to be sent by the end of the day today.  I finished sending her my own offerings yesterday, but YOU still have this whole day to get that email sent!  I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the different lovely things that will be put up for bidding, it won’t just be yarn in the least!  We’ll be linking to websites if they are provided, so this is also a way to get some free advertising for your arts or services.

As with the SpinAThon (which was an awesome success — we raised over $2500 in sponsorships and had 42.8 hours of continuous spinning and knitting), the artisan auction proceeds will be going toward our copious medical bills we incurred during the cancer experience.  I’ll probably post about it a couple of times to boost the signal once the auction actually begins, but needless to say that every bit we receive is needed and useful help.  Thank you all so much for continuing to read and contribute!

Andrea email: naturalobsessions@gmail.com

Deadline for having your donation listed for bid in the auction: Today, May 8 2010

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May 07 2010

Cancer Chronicles : Vigil Week (bare bones version)

(continued from this entry)

This is a hard week to write about. Hard to think about, too. This is the week I was literally dying, incrementally and tangibly. We’ll probably revisit this time once or thrice before we’re done.  For now, just the facts, ma’am.

We meet with the surgeon in charge of my surgery, a brisk but competent-seeming guy (Dr. Uecher - gotta check spelling on that one) who is willing to be asked and answer our many questions.  He does his duty in describing the options that are normally explored with malignant breast lumps, but agrees with our assessment that in our particular case, it is surgery first and ask questions later given the nature and size of the swollen left breast. We also receive the official diagnosis of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma) in this visit, and report to the doc that the lump the first specialist originally palpated in the right breast hadn’t been further examined by anyone since, and I’d noticed in the last week it had started to hurt similarly to the other breast pain.  He looks irritated at this and gets a sonogram machine brought in so he can scan the right breast and get pictures of that.  (So far we haven’t managed to get our hands on a copy the ultrasound pictures, but we think we will soon.)

After the scan, he announces that he’s concerned about this lump too, so we agree that they both should come out.  He tells me that I will be scheduled for a modified radical mastectomy on the left side, as it is so swollen and we know so little about it that they plan to take as much of the affected breast tissue as is needed — up to all of it — as well as the nipple, all of the lymph nodes feeding to that area, and enough surrounding tissue to test clean.  I ask if they are going to have to take the muscle, and he tells me honestly that he doesn’t know.  They can’t tell how far into the chest wall the tumor extends, based on the pictures, and given the size he isn’t all that confident that they won’t have to cut deep.  They inform me what I already know from research, that if they have to remove some or all of the muscle I will have permanent crippling effects on arm mobility.  On the right side the lump is much smaller, and he feels confident he can get away with a lumpectomy (which he calls a partial mastectomy for precision’s sake) and possibly only one lymph node removed on that side.  They leave the room to consult and find out when my surgery can be scheduled.

They return shortly and tell us that it is scheduled for Wednesday March 24, only 6 days away.  The speed of the surgery scheduling is directly related to their concern about the tumors, especially the left one.  They decide that I can’t safely be drained further before the surgery, so I have to deal with feeling myself slowly inflate again over the coming week.  They describe how it will go: after surgery prep, they’ll first remove the sentinel node for the right breast (the main one that drains the breast) and flash-biopsy it to see if the cancer on the right side has spread to the lymph node.  They’ll get the results of this back while still in surgery, so if it tests clean they won’t remove any more lymph nodes from that side. While they are testing that they will get to work on the left breast, removing all of the stated areas, then finish up by removing the lump on the right side.  They will flash-biopsy the surrounding tissue after removing the tumors and cut more tissue away on any questionable areas until the slides show clean non-cancerous cells, then remove a tiny bit more of the clean layer to try and minimize the chance of cancer returning.  I’ll have side drains installed, possibly on both sides, to deal with the excess fluid production.  They estimate only an overnight hospital stay, assuming no complications.

They ask if we want them to go ahead and install the catheter port for the permanent site for needle sticks in my chest that they have to put in chemotherapy patients.  I say we want to get through the surgery and learn more about what the heck is actually going on before we make a firm decision about chemotherapy, and they agree the port cath can be done as a separate day surgery if or when it’s needed.

We enter a very trying wait, pre-surgery.  Externally, I make sure the important things get done that need to before I’m put under - last will and testament, medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney, last wishes reminded to the people who needed to know them.   Friends ask what they can do to help and all I can ask for is “shared time”; the people are the only thing still keeping me here at this point, because internally this week, the lights are going out one by one.  I can actually feel myself dying, feel the cancer growing (it did increase in size from the first scans to the surgery), feel my connections to everything I care about life and the loved ones around me becoming harder and harder to hold and touch.  My color melts away from my face and I am a ghost still walking and breathing.

Four days before the surgery I had a sharp internal downward turn, and spent most of the day asleep trying to get enough energy to fight for just a few more days.  The last few days pre-surgery, our house was never empty as a stream of friends and family came to share their time and their love and their energy with me in what had to be a scary time for all involved.  I got calmer and calmer even as I grew more distant from life and the world.  The last three days, I could tell that it was only my strength of will COMBINED with the physical presence of all our guests that allowed me to make it through to surgery day still breathing.

I am 32 years old.

And that’s a good place to pause the accounting, in quiet thanks for all of you who made it possible for me to have enough extra energy to keep up the fight.  Next time, we’ll learn about surgery and the absolute worst area of the hospital — the Recovery Room.

(to be continued)

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May 05 2010

Beta reader request (short story)

Published by Reesa under Editing, beta readers rock

OK, I’m looking for someone(s) willing to give feedback on a short story, details following:

I need a fresh set of eyes or two, so it needs to preferably be someone who hasn’t read this particular short story from me before.  (The story in question is “Flowers In the Desert”, for anyone wondering if they qualify.)

The story has been significantly edited and is a fairly clean draft, and I’ve received several positive comments from editors in rejection letters, hehe.  The main critique remaining on it is that it is not a sufficiently stand-alone piece.  (It’s set in the same world as the novel-in-progress.)  I’d provisionally agree with this critique, but I’ve gone over the thing so many times that I’m too close to see where the fixes lie at this point. So I’d prefer someone who thinks they’d be good at reading it over and pointing out where more backstory/exposition/necessary detail for understanding can be included without damaging the overall fabric of the story (among any other feedback you wish to share, of course).

At least one market I’m interested in submitting to closes at the end of this month, so preferrably I need a reader/critiquer who has the time to both read and give feedback before that deadline (and back to me in enough time I can make said edits and submit by deadline).

If you think the story isn’t easily fixable on the stand-alone issue, that’s relevant feedback as well, no worries!  I have plans and uses for the story even if I can’t make money off it commercially (seems like it would be a good promotional piece when I start marketing the novel, for one), but I want it to be the best story it can be regardless of pro marketability. (And ideally, it gets published and gets attention for the novel on its own!)

Comment here or contact me privately if you are interested. I might get enough volunteers on this that I can’t use all the help offered, but if so I will keep you in mind for future situations of this type, I have a couple other trunked stories that could be cleaned up!

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May 03 2010

Actual post about writing

(Note: I know many of you are anxiously awaiting more tales about the recent cancer experience, and they will be coming — and soon! — but at the rate that works for me and my processing of what was, among other things, an extremely traumatic event. Anyone needing more up-to-date health info and who is on Facebook can join my Fan Page there, which posts 2-4 times a week on health status and current known recovery info. I appreciate the concern!)

(Also note: SpinAThon raised over $2500 and sponsored 42.8 hours of spinning and knitting! Thanks so much to everyone who participated and donated, that will help a lot towards current medical costs. Stay tuned next week when we’ll have a silent auction and put up for bid the results of the SpinAThon efforts, along with many other lovely unique arts and crafts.)

I just planned out the next year and a half of work.

Talk about milestones on the “feeling like a Real Writer” path! Tomorrow/later today/after I’ve slept more, I’ll be officially “back on the job”. (Thankfully for my recovery I have a sit-down job where I can take nap breaks as needed, since tomorrow also starts Yoga-as-rehab sessions.) I have a much clearer idea of what rate I need to be writing at on certain projects in order to have them completed by my goal dates. The rest of 2010 is still going to be a bit off, but it looks like I might actually get some decent work in, as well as finish a long-overdue project.

No worries, regular blogging will continue on a weekly basis if not more frequently, and Callie posts will continue (probably at a rate of 2-3 a month) until…well, until there aren’t any more posts on that arc to write! I’ll also probably write about this new writing routine and how well it works out, and where adjustments need made, and all the other blathery things I think are interesting about life and work. Glad every day that I’m still here to fill the screen with words, words, words.

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May 01 2010

The Places We Don’t Like to Go

Published by Reesa under Writing, callie, momentum

Z’Aria’s chatter seemed to have more of a nervous edge than before their encounter with the trapped little kid. Callie considered the thought once more that her companion might not be the sort of person to keep herself together in a crisis. It was worth watching.

Out loud, she said, “Who is this person you mentioned who helped you before?”

“I think they’re some kind of detective. I met Johnnie originally over at the Elm Creek Cafe, we were both having burgers at the bar and I can talk to people pretty easy.”

“A detective sounds like a good source for getting more information.”

“Johnnie’s a little weird, but helped me find my way back to the overpass when I was super lost.”

Callie didn’t think that was a strong selling point for this person’s ability to help their current situation, but it also sounded as if they were nearing the end of options for assistance. She wasn’t looking forward to having to do all the work herself, whatever it was.

They topped the hill and descended into a strange scene. A car was stopped in the middle of the road, driver motionless behind the wheel. A body lay prone just forward of the front wheels, and another person bent over the body as if to inspect it, also unmoving. All three continued to hold position as Callie and Z’Aria drew near enough to see. Callie chose to watch Z’Aria’s face first, which melted into disappointed lines when the girl was near enough to see the standing person in front of the car.

“Let me guess, this is Johnnie?”

Z’Aria sighed and shrugged, then stomped off to the side of the road and sat down, looking away from the scene. Callie bent down to look through the window at the driver’s face and stopped, sure she could hear murmuring as if someone was talking very low and quite near. Her attempts to pinpoint the sound by tilting her ears first slightly one way, then another, completely distracted her for a full minute from noticing the full weirdness about the situation.

She realized the body in front of the car had the exact same face as the frozen driver and the bending observer. At the same moment, she finally figured out that the muttering was coming from the mouths of all three: “Fuck, I’m dead. Fuck I’m dead. FuckI’mdeadfuckI’mdeadfuckI’m…”

Callie backed away until she reached where Z’Aria sat. “I’m fairly certain your friend won’t be helping us today. Is there anyone else?”

Z’Aria finished wiping away the signs that she’d been crying and said, “I remembered there was a guard in this one spot, back that way. Mostly he kept people away from a dangerous area, but maybe the guard could help us?”

Callie didn’t feel any more hopeful, but didn’t show it. “The guard it is, then.”

*

Callie squinted hard, but even her well-trained eyes couldn’t make meaning out of the few flecks of words peeling on the battered and chipped sign. The sign hung from a simple link chain, long rusted, that stretched across the road. “This is where you met the guard before?”

Z’Aria gulped and nodded. “I was scared of him then. But he just wanted me to go around the chain a different way, he was sorta nice after all.”

Callie sometimes found it difficult not to stare openly at Z’Aria’s peculiar ways of thinking. She returned to examining the barrier.

“Uh, Callie?”

“Yes?”

“I don’t think I want to follow you past that chain. Remembering that guard still scares me.”

“Wait here. If I don’t return after a while, try to go find your overpass again. Understand?”

Thankfully, Z’Aria didn’t start crying again. The girl found a comfortable place to sit where she could watch the road and see when Callie came back.

Callie stepped over the linked chain easily, knocking a few more paint chips loose from the old sign in the process, and waved to Z’Aria as she landed on the far side. Three steps later, she vanished from sight. Z’Aria sighed, and waited.

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