The Red Devil (hint – it’s gross)

I was a senior in high school when “Purple Rain” came out. I’ll never forget loading up my parents’ old rust colored Vega with some girlfriends and several foreign exchange students and going to see this Prince guy on the big screen.  Let’s just say he seemed more than a little worldly and quite the hipster to kids coming of age in small town rural Minnesota.  His look was remarkably different than anyone we’d ever seen before (no one at the legion ever looked anything like him – and let’s face it – it’s not just anyone that can pull off that much purple and sequence).  For once, it felt almost cool to be from Minnesota.  His music is embedded with so many memories of my final year of high school, my college years and well into my 20’s that it jolted me in ways I didn’t expect when I learned of his passing.  While I can’t claim to have been the biggest Prince fan on the planet – I did love some of his music, and I vividly remember that line in “Let’s Go Crazy” about punching a higher floor because of the fascinating dance moves we all had for that part of the song.  Learning that he was discovered in his elevator made me hope in some profound way that he found his way to that higher floor.  I wish him purple peace.

Pondering your own mortality is fairly unpleasant – at least from my perspective. For me, it’s always been in the abstract, though every once in a while it bubbled up mostly as it relates to having kiddos with life-long disabilities and the fear of not doing every single thing in our power to help them in the here and now.  Still – the topic is unsettling at best.  Breast cancer has changed all that for me, and in big and small ways, I’ll never be the person I was before my cancer diagnosis.  That still feels weird – I was really ok being pre-cancer Kammy – with all the funkiness and imperfection that involved.  But having a clear PET scan gave me a glimmer of hope that I have a shot at becoming post-cancer Kammy – likely just as funky and imperfect, but also filled with hope and possibility and quite a lot of gratitude.  Ok – I’ll own it – continued inappropriate humor as well.

Following the news I received about my PET scan (no spread beyond the areas removed during my surgery) I got to meet my new oncologist, Dr. Zander. He’s a snappy dresser, and a bit serious but thorough, brilliant and with just enough kindness.  This is a person I hope to have a long and productive future working with – and I’m very grateful for the chance to be his patient.  He’s exactly the kind of person I believe can help save my life, and I wanted to have a positive first meeting, but also wanted to be me – so let’s just say I’m grateful I didn’t opt for my “Cancer is an Asshat” necklace during this initial visit.

Dr. Zander is the guy who had to give me my numbers and percentages after interpreting my surgical pathology report, and to be fair, they were gross. That said, I learned a ton, and he was patient with me when I needed time to process some of this information and then cry and say things like “that’s gross”.  He took the time to explain that the reason my cancer was so much different than what any of us expected was that it had lobular characteristics, meaning it hid quite well, and was undetected by all my mammograms until it started forming more typical tumor characteristics.  It kind of reaches out in little arm like fashion, and so even though it was measured at 10 cm from end to end, he explained that it wasn’t like I had a solid baseball hiding in my breast – that within that tissue, much of it was healthy.

Still, because it was so advanced, and because of the spread to my lymph nodes (which he said he would have expected to be far more significant considering the size of the tumor) my stage is classified as 3A, and my chances of recurrence are larger than most. That said, I need to treat this aggressively with a dose dense regimen of chemotherapy followed by 6 weeks of radiation and then hormone therapy for 10 years.  Even after all of that, my chance of recurrence is still 30%.  Yep – that was a bitter pill to swallow.  Still, I needed to hear it, and to recognize that no matter how gross these next steps are – they are my best shot at staying in the 70%, and therefore, I got a good cry in, shared an IPA with Tom, photographed a toilet in my front yard (it’s now gone), and woke up the next morning with a more positive attitude.

My chemo will begin May 12th.  I’ve already had some sort of special heart scan to ensure that I’m healthy enough for the “red devil” which is the special name given to my more aggressive variety of chemo.  I’ll be getting 4 cycles of AC (Red Devil) chemo 2 weeks apart, and then begin 12 weekly cycles of a less aggressive chemo called Taxol.  I will lose my hair, and I hate that.  Everyone hates that, I get it.  I hate that it might be especially weird for my kids – so I’m doing my best to share all of this in bits and pieces and on the advice of my friend Sarah who has traveled this path 6 years ago, I hope to include them in the process and maybe take Ada along when I donate my hair to Locks of Love and just have it a shorter length before treatment starts to reduce my trauma.

Most days I have medical appointments of some kind, and it can be mentally and physically exhausting digesting everything. Still, these amazing oncology folk “get” that, and they do their best having worked with lots of others before me.  I’ve also been tremendously lucky to have support from near and far in making all this work – and that’s no easy task!

Thankfully – my sense of humor remains, and sometimes it’s all I’ve got. Tom aka “Hop-a-Long” since falling off a ladder 2 days before my surgery, breaking his leg, and wearing a boot and crutches wherever we go, gets much more attention than I do when we visit any medical establishment.  People are often trying to put him in a wheelchair or guide him to orthopedics and offer him candy, while I am left simply as his door holder.  Until I am bald, I’m considering a temporary “cancer patient” tattoo.  Whatever!

Our home renovations stemming from the dishwasher flood in February continue to be a comedy of errors. Last week, when moving the washing machine back to the laundry room from in front of the tv, something dislodged and caused more flooding when the contractors hooked it all back up.  Now, they must rip out all that flooring, reinstall, and deal with the water damage in Elliott’s new room located below the laundry room in the basement.  Ugh.  Sometime soon I will be able to locate our pizza cutter – it is likely in some box stacked on my red couch somewhere . . .

Autism doesn’t seem to care whether or not I have breast cancer, and although the kids are surprising us in new ways and stepping up while Tom and I are unable to do any lifting, etc., there are days that are more challenging than others. Trying to get plans updated and in place for everyone before chemo begins has been stressful – it could be I’m not always the biggest fan of special ed evaluation language as I’m much more comfortable sitting at a table and chatting things through over brownies.  But, I have faith in the system, and believe we can find common ground.  Plan B will involve me wearing a sombrero to all future meetings.  Wish me luck.

The kids were quite jazzed to welcome their cousins to MN last Friday. My sister, Kristine, her husband Chuck, Nikolas and Xander are Eagan’s newest residents!  They have purchased a home walking distance from us, and will be moving into it in early June.  Xander is especially thrilled with my chocolate chip supply and Nik will be starting at Ada’s school next Monday to finish out his elementary school career in style.  I’m ever grateful to have them here as the next steps in my treatment begin.  That said, I’ve decided to pass on Chuck’s suggestion to ask my plastic surgeon for bright flashing blue light breast implants that will signal my arrival from several blocks away.  Keep in mind he’s from Boston, and has yet to learn the importance of cream of mushroom soup and proper MN waving etiquette.

Most of all, we are enormously grateful for the kind messages, meals, cards, gifts and even people stopping by to see the toilet that was in our yard. When I was beyond frightened about the PET scan and asked for your support – you shared your well wishes, good vibes, prayers and even an interpretive dance number or two – it was humbling and helpful, and I will always remember that.  There is no doubt that cancer is very gross – but every day I’m astounded by how many people I’ve crossed paths with in my life that are reaching out from near and far – wow!  One of the nurses I’ve come to adore said it best – “cancer has a way of reminding us how much we are loved” and I now know how true that is.  Our family has had a really rough few months, but I know with every fiber of my being that what we will all remember looking back at this experience is the amazingness of those we are lucky enough to have in our lives.  Yes, even Chuck.

So take that Red Devil! Time to enjoy the children complaining about how awful it is to carry laundry baskets and scoop the litter boxes – all while I research wigs and listen to “Purple Rain”.

Love ya, man!

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4 responses to “The Red Devil (hint – it’s gross)

  1. I don’t know you personally but let me tell you…..I love ya girl! Your writing, your outlook on this dreadful disease……. “cancer is an asshat”….I thought I was the only one to use the word “asshat”…..love it! Stay strong and kick that “asshats ass”!

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  2. I hated wearing a wig during my breast cancer episode; however, it was the best hair I ever had!! Pick a good one!! You remain in my prayers. Asshat toCancer!

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  3. Thanks for such a thorough explanation of what you are facing, Kammy. You are a very brave girl and I know you’ll handle it well. I’m so sorry I can’t come to you to help but please know that you are in our hearts and thoughts all the time. We do understand a lot of what you described, but you’ll kick cancer’s ass – big time!
    Much love, Sandy & Marv

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