Out damned spots! or, my tattoos no longer trigger my carcinophobia

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Yes, this is a photo of my chest. If you look down to the lowest loop of the necklace (made by me, 8mm moss agate beads and tiny black glass beads) you’ll see just above that strand one of my radiation tattoos. No big deal, yes? But when I see it every single time I look down, every time I spill something on myself (which is alarmingly often), every time I look in a mirror, it is a big deal. It smirks at me “Hi, I’m still here, maybe you’ll need me again.” Or it proclaims “Hey! This woman had breast cancer!” Or it snarks “Ha. Thought you wouldn’t think about cancer today, did you? Gotcha. Think about it.”

But, the joke is on the tats.

Two weeks ago I went to visit the office of Dr. Sean Rice, Toronto plastic surgeon, founder and director of Rice Cosmetic Surgery, thanks to a press release issued by Ashworth Associates, and a number of articles and TV news spots on Dr. Rice. In the month of October, Dr. Rice waives his fee, all of it, for removing radiation tattoos from breast cancer treatment.

First, I had to get clearance from my radiation oncologist. No problem. Then I made the appointment and spent ages preparing mentally for a procedure that was not medically necessary (I do not like pain of any kind). I’ll go through the whole experience because it was so short! In the door, greetings from two really lovely—beautiful—women, go to the procedure room, snap a pic of my chest, put on cool glasses, lie down, swab, a whooshing cold rush of air, three electrical zaps, and done. I couldn’t believe it. I originally said I would only get the centre one removed, but it was SO EASY I asked if I could have the second one zapped as well. They use new technology for tattoo removal, a PicoSure laser, which is apparently light-years ahead of the standard equipment. I was Polysporinned and bandaged, and told to keep applying lots of Polysporin and they would scab up and in three or four weeks I would be tattooed no more.

Oh yay!

That’s one more thing crossed off the list of things to do before I go back to work.

I cannot wait to be able to look down and see no reminders of radiation…

 

 

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Seven years of blogging; or, have I really been doing this since 2007?

Wordpress's anniversary award

WordPress’s anniversary award

After more than a month of not posting (thank you to Tessa, daughter who even at 7,457 kilometres distance can still get me to do what I’m supposed to be doing but are not) I got a little award thingy in my blog mail—see above.

I am, I stress really am, working on my fatigue by sitting with it in guided meditation, and slippery brain, and self-massage with skin care and compression garments, and lymphatic openings and exercise. I know I said I would post more often, but I am exhausted, and I honestly don’t have anything interesting to say. Sorry Tessa.

So, for this post, which WordPress marks as an anniversary, I’m going to re-post my first entry to this blog. It had a far larger audience than I now have, because I was the Mom Blogger for Canadian Living magazine then, and eyes were reading from across the country. In this post I introduced myself to them:

 

Mom blog: All about Jacquelyn, the mom blogger

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Posted on  by itsbecauseisaidso

 

Hello. If you are reading this, you are the witness to the very first words of Canadianliving.com’s Mommy blogger. I am thrilled to be here – winning the reader poll to become the Mommy blogger is on my Top Ten List of Achievements, along with giving birth to my three incredible children, beating back my son’s leukemia, being nominated for a National Magazine Award, hanging on to a marriage for 19 years, quitting smoking, and the rest are state secrets.
THE REMAINING ITEMS ON MY TOP TEN LIST OF ACHIEVEMENTS
One thing you’ll learn about me is a secret is a secret. And a state secret is even more sacred. Don’t ask me how old I am.
LET ME INTRODUCE MYSELF
I am a mom (I prefer mum – my kids call me “Mummy” not “Mommy”) (when they’re not calling me Goofy-Head, or Boss, or Mummy-Dearest, or Slave-Girl-Mummy – this is only allowed from my six year old). I have three kids whom I am currently in negotiations with regarding their privacy, the parameters of their exposure in my blog, any possible compensation – this is where I start laughing hysterically and negotiations predictably break down. The cat, Angel, who is nothing like her name, lives here, as does Nibbles the hamster.
NIBBLES, OR SHOULD I SAY NIBBLED??
When things were getting very stressful in our home a couple of years ago, the kids thought it would be good to get a hamster. They actually thought it would be way better to get a dog, but I’m not that crazy. I was crazy enough to be talked into not one hamster, not two, not three, you get the idea. We had six hamsters at the height of our love-in, in five cages. We were told that sisters could live together in the same cage. Miss Jellybean and Princess Lou Lou shared a cage for quite a while, until one day we thought Jellybean had escaped. But how could she escape when the door was near impossible for us humans to open? Realization dawned ugly when we spied a wee half-square-inch of Jellybean-coloured fur. Hamstericide!
THIS IS TAKING A CREEEEEPY TURN
Suffice to say, Jellybeans’s piece of fur was carefully wrapped and boxed and shrink-wrapped and triple Ziploc-bagged and put in the freezer alongside Hammy Yu-Gi-Oh, Crazy Connie, Victor and Ooch, to wait for the spring thaw for appropriate internment. We got a few more hamsters, among them Nibbles and Bunny. Sisters. Did we put them in the same cage?DID WE PUT THEM IN THE SAME CAGE????
Read my next blog to find out.

Illustration courtesy of Juli Waller at www.grrrdesign.blogspot.com.

You can go here too: https://itsbecauseisaidso.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/canadian-livings-mom-blog/

 

Now, I will aim for an original post in less than a week. Promise. 😉

Chemo nails

This post is out of order as far as my treatment goes: my fingernails were at their worst in March and April. They are back to their original state now. My toenails have not fared so well—I lost five of them, and while three of the little ones have entirely grown back, my two big toes are nailless, or rather, half-nailed (my control of the English language is not at its best now either, hmmm). I have a referral to chiropody to check out what’s going on there, but I digress.

I have always loved painting my nails, from Grade 7 on (prior to Grade 7, we had to line up at the back door of St. Aloyisus School, hands held out in front, palms down, so Mother Anacleta Miles could inspect our nails and their nakedness—even a hint of colourless nail polish meant you were sent home). It’s a tiny bit of prettiness, along with wearing rings, that I came to enjoy even more when working on a keyboard all day long (particularly because I never took typing at school, and still have to look at the keyboard to type, which means I really do see my nails a lot).

So when cancer was making me feel like I was out of control of just about everything, and I was spending a lot of time at home, I did my nails. One of the side effects of chemo is damage to nails, both finger and toe. As my nails got uglier to look at, I did then more often. It is even recommended to use colourless polish to keep nails strong. Two of the chemos that do the most damage are Taxol and Doxorubicin, both of which I took. Beau-Reil lines are lines that go across each nail, marking each high dose chemo like the rings of a tree, while koilonychia is the spooning of the nail. They turn yellow, crack, break, even pop or tear right off.

I took pics of my nails on their way to luckiness. I’ve been carrying those photos on my phone, and when I needed to make space on the phone, I found them. Hence, this post. Here goes (check out the middle finger—it was the first nail on each hand to go):

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After four of my eight rounds of chemo, this is what my nails looked like. Yech! But once the chemo drugs cleared out of my system, the nails that I lost grew back, and the ones that just broke and got gross grew out. I still have some lingering neuropathy in three fingertips on my right hand, but that’s it.

The jury is still out on the toenails, though. Fingernails grow three times faster than toenails, but the complete lack of nail growth on the tootsies has me happy that sandal weather is long gone. 😉

pink, pink, pink, PINK, PINK, PINK, pink, pink, pink

I did not see this, I saw it on xxx blog (vvv), and maybe found the original at http://www.luvimages.com/image/campbells_pink_label_soup_cans-5975.html

I did not see this display in a store—I’ve been avoiding stores like the pink plague this month. I saw it on Stephanie Gilman’s blog Pass Me Another Cupcake blog (http://passmeanothercupcake.com/2014/09/29/one-of-those-days/), and maybe found the original (http://www.luvimages.com/image/campbells_pink_label_soup_cans5975.html).

This photo totally explains why I’ve stayed out of the grocery stores this month. Pink packaging runs amok in October. Pink soup, pink juice, pink milk, pink M&Ms (pink outside package, pink M&Ms inside the bag), pink toilet paper, pink curling irons and blow dryers, pink Kitchen Aid mixers for heaven’s sake!!! Please send me one. And a big bag of those M&Ms.

I’ve been trying to write a posting on October, you know,

 

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But I am so conflicted I can’t really get anything out on paper. Or here either.

I knew October would suck for me. I discovered my lumps last October. I feel as though I have let my pink sistahs down—I never painted a pink ribbon on my nails, or dyed my hair pink before it fell out, or wore pink to chemo days. I don’t have a magnetic pink ribbon on my car, or one hanging from my rearview mirror. I don’t call myself a cancer warrior, and I haven’t signed up for a cancer run or walk. I discussed with my psychiatrist (new experience for me, an actual real psychiatrist just for me) how I haven’t gone to any group sessions, have done no bonding with any other breast cancer women, or men for that matter.

What I have found is some excellent writing by other bloggers who have breast cancer, and over the rest of this month I will be reposting some of their posts.

As for me and the avoidance of stores this month? I have Thanksgiving dinner dishes to prepare, and there is not enough in the fridge to cobble anything together, save a pearl onion, olive, anchovy, pickle and fish sauce stew, and I don’t think there’ll be any takers for THAT one!

So it’s off to the shops later today. Maybe I’ll wear my wig. And I won’t be wearing pink.

It was a sweet HAPPY birthday!

Happy birthday bliss by Tessa and Luka

Happy birthday bliss by Tessa and Luka, collage by Tessa

Mother’s Day this year found our house in tatters emotionally, psychologically and physically—my surgery was coming up, I was very anxious, I was sleeping far too much and ignoring everything I could.

Several weeks later, one week after my partial mastectomy, my birthday dawned to a breakfast in bed of French toast, trimmed slices of oranges, warmed maple syrup and a wide mug of café mocha on a tray decorated with ribbons of sparkly gauze and gem flowers and a ball bouquet of gardenias. Wow. And there was a Birthday Girl pin for me to put on.

Then Tessa and Luka led me outside my bedroom to show me the decoration they’d put on my door (top right photo). I have always encouraged artistic expression on our bedroom doors, and the collage of Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Chopard, Bulgari and Piaget jewellery that Tessa made for me in Grade 7 was getting pretty faded (!!!, and for devotees of The Secret, I called these items to me every day for the last 10 years or so, and no luck), so these birds who are clearly outside their cage and the pretty flowers will now inform my thoughts.

Then they led me down the stairs to find the hall and kitchen literally festooned with Happy Birthday banners, Happy Birthday streamers, all kinds of birthday balloons taped up, the door to the basement covered with pink birthday princess wrapping paper. In the hall was a HUGE map of the world (I’d been taping up little ones for all of us to sharpen our geography skills and fantasize about where we would like to go one day, but this one is a serious whole-world map).

Tessa had baked extremely health-conscious cupcakes—applesauce replacing oil, whole wheat flour replacing white flour, honey replacing white sugar, and a cinnamon cream cheese icing—and put them on her tiered tea-service plate, with candies and gem flowers and totally sweet little toppers that said “Love you Mom.”

There were gifts, all of them sentimental and revealing deep thought. The one that touched me most was sort of an affirmation of how much the kids know that I have loved them all their lives. Long story warning:

For Tessa and Graydon’s first birthdays I made sweet First Birthday cakes—foreshadowing Tessa’s healthy cupcakes some 22 years later!—carrot cakes with crushed pineapple, applesauce and no nuts. I hadn’t starting baking and decorating my fancy cookies by then, so the cakes were quite elaborately decorated. Luka’s first birthday cake would be no different. I went to McCall’s—the best by far cake baking art supply store, classroom and online presence—and got the blue gel dyes, blue and green and silver dusting sugars, silver drags (known as these teeny silver balls that go on cakes and cookies) (that I researched to see if a one-year-old should eat, and found no research, so decided to stay on the safe side and keep the blue icing and silver balls on the adult part of the cake, not where my little Lukey would be eating) (which brings again my desire to see if those silver things are actually OK to eat—see this link to http://www.snopes.com’s message board on the subject if you, too, are curious…).Back to the store: I also picked out plastic decorations—a pale blue old-fashioned tricycle, hot air balloon, a stork, baby booties, an intricate cutwork banner that said “Our baby’s first.” SO CUTE!

Luka’s first birthday , December 21, fell on a Friday, the party was set for Saturday. Graydon hadn’t been feeling well the week before. I took him to the doctor the morning of the 12, and was called back that afternoon to take him to Sick Kids for stat bloodwork, then back to his paediatrician on the 14 for a full exam and workup in anticipation of an upcoming appointment at Sick Kids. That appointment was 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, Dec 17. That’s the day Graydon was dxed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, and we didn’t leave the hospital for two weeks. I stayed at Graydon’s side 24 hours a day, slept on the window seat at night (fitfully), and Al brought Tessa and Luka to visit. But the cake, and the first birthday party as it was planned, never happened. I still have the decorations packed away.

Tessa and Luka bought me a new box of baby cake decorations for my birthday, and I think it echoed the Mother’s Day that didn’t really happen, to show me how much they know that I love them. I love my kids. They are everything to me—Tessa, Graydon and Luka—and the reasons I get up every day.

Sorry for such a long post, but I’m having a surge of energy, and I gotta grab it and take advantage while I can.

To eyebrow, or not to eyebrow?

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Way back in February Tessa and I attended a Look Good, Feel Better seminar. I was pretty successful at getting my skin cleansed and toned and moisturized and made-up, all except for the eyebrows. From that day:

After putting the eyebrow pencil dots at the right co-ordinates, using the inside of my eye and the outside of the iris to line it all up, the seminar leader came over and told me I had lovely eyebrows and we had to get rid of the dots. But what do I do when the eyebrows go the way of the rest of the hair on my head? Then I’ll be making strategic dots and filling in the rest. Ugh.

So, here I am, parked outside of a hospital, with barely any eyebrows left, but what I thought were artfully feathery-pencilled-in fauxbrows. When I checked in the mirror for a last look before exiting the car, the right one didn’t look so good. I tried adding a bit more, and the curse was cast. A little more was too much, so I had to add a bit more to the left side. That proved to be too much, so I wiped it all off. I drew the dots, filled them in and it looked like I was trying to channel Jean Harlow from Bombshell. I supply a poster image:

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I scrubbed off both fauxbrows to start all over. By the time I thought I was happy with the right side and started the left again, I saw Jean staring back at me. I wiped off the left side once more, then took this picture, hoping to get a more objective look from a photo than from my visor mirror. I did. It was a disaster! I removed both sides, fluffed the bangs from my wig well over my forehead and into my eyes and vowed not to attempt eyebrows again, but wait for them to grow back.

They’re starting! And I have peach fuzz, and some horrible little eyelashes, but anything will be better than the lizard/alien eyes I have had for the last two months or so. Yay!

 

My tongue is no longer wrapped in Vaseline!

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Here is a rant I’ve been meaning to have, but haven’t because it seems very petty in light of cancer and chemo and blisters and pain. I had mouth sores that killed, and moved out to the corners of my mouth, which was both painful and pretty, and I did complain about them.

The most annoying, disappointing and frustrating side effect of my chemos has been the fact that I cannot taste anything. That is apart from foods tasting too spicy and hot when in reality they weren’t hot at all according to everyone else at the table. When food didn’t taste too hot, it tasted like my mouth and tongue were covered in Vaseline. Like no flavour could get through, no matter how good it smelled, or looked, or even when I made it myself, and seasoned it just right just like I would always season it—it tasted like NOTHING. And I behaved like Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I made my special spareribs with secret molasses orange sauce, roasted garlic mashed Yukon potatoes,  roasted marinated peppers, even my beautiful cookies, and nothing tasted like it was supposed to. Nothing tasted like anything!

But now, after another rollicking week of not being able to taste anything the way it is supposed to be tasted, I had THE FIRST THING THAT TASTED NORMAL SINCE THE BEGINNING OF JANUARY!!!

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!st prize for a food tasting like what it is supposed to taste like goes to half a toasted everything bagel with Philadelphia herb and garlic cream cheese!

Now of course I’m not going to eat anything for hours in hours, in case this was a fluke. I want to luxuriate in a taste that tastes the way it is supposed to taste!