More About My Cancer

When I last explained my cancer, I left you hanging about treatment and the extent of the cancer. Let me update you, because a lot has happened since that appointment with the surgeon.

So, I have had lots of tests run, and they almost all came with bad news. The cancer is a rare type called neuroendocrine, and isn’t just in my breast. It’s also on the top of my femur, on my sternum, and in a lymph gland near my heart, in addition to the main tumor, which is pretty huge, and the stuff in the lymph glands by my breast. That means it’s Stage IV cancer, which is the worst stage. The only way it could be worse is if I had tumors on major organs, like my lungs or liver.

Basically, what that means is, I am almost certainly going to die of cancer  someday. We hope that someday will be a looooong way down the road. But, it may not be. My incredibly kind oncologist, a delightful man in his 30’s who doesn’t mind my inappropriate sense of humor, is hopeful that because I am young for having cancer, and otherwise healthy, I have a good shot at the “down the road” prognosis.

Treatment plan is this: I am having chemo, and I also am having radiation on the femur and sternum tumors, because those two are causing pain. If I wasn’t having pain, they wouldn’t bother with radiation, they would just let the chemo do its thing. Surgery on the primary tumor would be a “maybe, later” thing, if the chemo works, which, it has so far–first check after the chemo showed the primary tumor had shrunk, so we appear to be on the right track. The chemo is 3 days in a row of treatment every 21 days. The first round, I was suuuuper tired during those 3 days and the 2 following, then progressively less tired each day after that. I’m working when I can (my office has been super about flexible schedule and telework) and resting when I need to. After chemo is done, I’ll move onto hormone therapy. My cancer is a type that should be receptive to hormone treatment, which is another good thing–some cancers aren’t.

Lots of folks have asked me about nausea, but the drugs for that kick ass. I haven’t puked at all. When I start to feel nausea, I pop a pill. I‘m eating normally and haven’t lost any weight. The other side effect, of course, is hair loss. It started falling out in clumps about 2 weeks after I started chemo, just like you see in the movies, like handfuls of it in the shower one morning. I bought a wig. Some folks have asked why I don’t just rock the bald look or wear scarves, but having hair, even fake hair, helps me feel more normal. I think it’ll be easier on the kids too. The Girl likes to brush my hair, and this way she still can.

So that’s it, that’s the story. I promise to keep you all updated as treatment progresses, and stay tuned for my take on what radiation is like.

Cocktails with the Cult: The Final Word

When The Hubs and I first started dating, we’d been together for maybe a month or so when I first got to meet The Hubs’ best friend. We’ll call him Mr. E. The three of us went to a pool hall because Mr. E and The Hubs like to play pool, and I like to play pool badly and watch other people play it well. I liked Mr. E immediately, he seemed like a good guy who had The Hubs’ back. This was confirmed to me when The Hubs stepped away to use the restroom and Mr. E turned to me and said, “If you hurt him, I will kill you.” And I was like, “OK.” And he was like, “No, seriously. If you hurt him, I will hunt you down and I will kill you.” And he clearly meant it. And I was like, “OK, fair enough.” It didn’t terrify me like you might think it would have, because I was pretty sure already that I was going to marry The Hubs. Actually, it made me feel glad to know that The Hubs had someone like Mr. E who was going to be there for him no matter what, come girlfriends or high water.

Now, it turns out that Mr. E is not only an awesome friend, he’s also a pretty damn good chef and bartender too. Mr. E does not make food or drinks with shitty half-assed ingredients. Mr. E makes mimosas with orange juice he has freshly squeezed. Mr. E makes elk steaks from the elk he shot himself. So when I made a request for a cocktail for this month’s Cocktails with the Cult post, oh man, did Mr. E come through. This one looks like a hum-dinger. You’re gonna need a special trip to the liquor store, but it’s gonna be worth it.

Without further ado, I bring you The Final Word, a la Mr. E.

3/4 oz. Bulleit Rye
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice

Shake with ice, serve straight up.

I can’t wait to hear how you guys like this one! Cheers!

What We Need: A solution to child care costs

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts about what women need and what we can do together to try to make our lives better. Today I’m going to write about a topic that’s been a big one for both my family and the families of many of my friends: the cost of child care.

I live in a big city, Seattle. Around here, the going rate for full-time care for an infant at a child care center is somewhere between $1500 and $2200 a month. Yes, you read that right. When we started looking for child care for The Girl, first of all, EVERYWHERE had a wait list. We literally got on a wait list for a daycare the day we found out I was pregnant. But what really amazed me was the cost: $2090 a month. For one kid. And we provided the food and diapers. Let’s break that down for a minute. I work at a good job with a (barely) 6-figure salary. After retirement contributions, health insurance, taxes, and all that, I bring home about $2400 every two weeks. So basically, almost half my take-home pay would go to paying for child care costs at that daycare center.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of families look at those costs and say “Fuck it, I’m staying home with my kid.” I mean, I make enough money to make it work, but I’m a lawyer and I have a husband who also has a good job with a good salary, so we can make it work. What if I made half what I do? What would be the point of me going back to work? It would make no financial sense at all.

Now, I don’t begrudge child care workers their salary. Because, honestly, do you know any child care workers who are rich? Like, seriously, the (mostly) women who provide child care in this country work long hours of dealing with tantrums and poop and gazillions of children all at once, for often very low pay. The whole thing is completely fucked up. We can barely afford to pay for child care, but they can barely afford to live on what we can afford to pay them. How the hell did this mess happen?

I think the real structural problem is the way that labor and family rearing have evolved in this country since the 70’s. Women can work now, and workplace discrimination is slowly receding, but with women coming into the workplace, there has been no change to the way we structure salaries and work hours to reflect that somebody’s gotta be watching the children. Who is that going to be when both parents are working outside the home? It’s got to be someone, but somehow, society hasn’t evolved a solution to make child care affordable for working families.

What is the solution, then? Honestly, I have no idea. Child care workers deserve decent pay; families need safe and affordable places for their children to be while their parents work. I’ve seen people float the idea of tax credits as a way to offset child care costs, or perhaps subsidies for low income families. Coops seem to help for people who can make those work? Maybe there is no silver bullet, but I feel like there HAS to be a way to make it less shitty. So, if you know of a great idea to fix this, please share it in the comments.

Beth’s Classic Film Club: Cleopatra

It’s been all down and depressing around here lately, hasn’t it? Let’s cheer things up a bit with a little movie night, shall we? I bet you could use some box wine and popcorn, amiright?

OK, so Cleopatra. I fucking LOVE this movie. I know people thing it’s overdone schlock, but I don’t give a shit. Elizabeth Taylor was a fucking goddess AND a damn fine actor. And the incredible and yet totally fucked up sexual energy between her and Richard Burton in this movie practically lights your television on fire.

Besides that, there’s the sets and costumes, which cost a fortune. That’s not costume jewelry, my dears, that’s actual gold. And that is why if you watch this movie on a tiny TV in pan and scan instead of letterbox, I will come to your house and I will smash your TV in. I mean it. If you have a shitty little. TV, get yourself to a friend’s house so you can actually see the props and the sets and the costumes as they were meant to be seen.

And as if Richard Burton wasn’t enough, this film has Rex Harrison in it too. I mean, there’s like two whole movies in this movie, you don’t even get to the Richard Burton part until the second half. Is this movie long? Yes. Is it overproduced? Yes. THAT IS THE FUCKING POINT. When we say they don’t make movies like they used to, we mean a studio can’t afford to make movies like Cleopatra anymore. It’s incredible, you will literally never see anything like it ever again.

Look, I’m not saying you should watch Cleopatra as if it’s some perfect, serious movie. This is not Schindler’s List. It’s Cleopatra. Imagine how much fun Liz and Dick had on the set–how much booze and how much fighting and how much sex. And just watch it ooze out onto the screen.

I love this movie so much. Just, watch it, and maybe even upgrade from box wine to the hard stuff, and I bet you’ll love it too.

I am a fraud

I can’t begin to tell you how many people lately have called me their hero, or said how strong I am. All because of the cancer, and how I am keeping my chin up most days. I am keeping my chin up most days, but dude, what choice do I have? I can lay down and die, or I can get up and keep fighting. I mean, maybe if I was alone and didn’t have a family that needed me, maybe I could just lay down and die. Probably not, though. I’m too mad at the cancer to let it win.

Also, yeah, there are days where I just sit and cry a lot. Where I can’t be useful to my family who needs me, not just because I am physically a wreck from the chemo, but also because I can’t stop crying. On those days, The Hubs tells the kids I am sleeping and I lay in bed and mourn the life I had just a few weeks ago. A life that didn’t involve doctor appointments and medications I can’t pronounce. A life where I didn’t have to figure out what happens to my life insurance through work if I have to stop working.

I don’t show that face to the world much. I did the same when The Boy was in the NICU–although, I think I also didn’t show that face to myself when he was in the NICU. I was in total denial that anything was wrong then. Now? I know. I know my best case scenario is chemo that works, radiation, a radical mastectomy, hormone therapy, and pills for the rest of my life, however long that is. Or, maybe the chemo won’t work. Maybe I feel exhausted and queasy for no good reason and I won’t make it to Christmas. Either way, my future is not what I thought it would be a month ago.

But I get up every morning and I hope, as scary as it is to do. I hope to see my kids graduate and go to college. I hope the medicine works. I guess that’s what makes me brave–it’s being scared, and sad, and going forward anyway. But I still feel like a fraud when someone calls me their hero.

Talking About The Cancer

No, this will not be the dreaded foot-in-mouth post with the long list of “don’t say this to someone with cancer” things that people say to you when they find out you have cancer. You can relax, big sis. (She was really worried I would write about her, and wanted a warning before being publicly embarrassed. Honestly, big sis, you’re awesome.)

Look, who puts their foot in their mouth more than I do? Nobody, that’s who. And, what DO you say to someone who has cancer? Like, I’m sorry, that’s awful…and then? Like, how do you finish that conversation when you’re done with it? We’ll be praying for you, if you do that sort of thing, which most people in Seattle do not…good luck? I mean, the whole fucking thing is completely awkward.

Which is why I’m going to say this. I give everyone I speak to about my cancer a free pass to react however they’re gonna react and say whatever they’re gonna say. Nothing they can say will make me angry. Mildly bemused, perhaps. But not angry. Because, in the end, is it their fault I have cancer? No, it’s the cancer’ fault. I am angry at the cancer, and I will destroy the cancer with my rage. I can’t be wasting my energy on well-meaning people who say the wrong thing when faced with a completely awkward conversation.

I’m probably selling out my fellow cancer peeps with this attitude, because I have read some humdingers of articles by cancer survivors calling out all the dumb shit people have said that hurt their feelings. And hey, if it helps them direct their anger in a way they find productive, then rock on, the world could always use less awkwardness. I just don’t feel that way. I did about having a preemie and the stupid shit people would say, but I don’t now.

The other thing I keep in mind is that, although I am indeed the one with the cancer, this shit impacts a lot of people. Obviously my family, but also my friends, my coworkers, my neighbors, just so many people, who care about me and want me to get well. All of that love and caring is so incredibly powerful. It makes the feet in mouths seem so trivial in comparison.

You guys know that I am not a religious person at all, but I once heard a rabbi say that he believes that what God is, that ALL that God is, is our connections with each other. That when we feel those connections, that is how we experience God. That idea has stuck with me over the years, and in fact, it’s the only explanation for the supernatural that has ever made any damn sense to me. A god who is all-powerful and decides to smite little children with cancer? What a douche, why would you worship an asshole like that? But our connections with each other, when we aren’t alone? THAT is something I can get behind, and something I have experienced throughout this cancer journey, which I am only just beginning. I am more grateful than I can even begin to express for those connections, because they give me so much strength. They make me cry happy tears instead of scared ones.

So, don’t worry about saying the wrong thing to me. Don’t worry about conversations being awkward. I’m just glad you are here with me.

Picky Eating

When I was a kid, I was a very picky eater. I became less so when I went off to college and wanted to impress my friends, who didn’t think it was cool to be a picky eater, but I’m still not a fan of certain foods, like pot pie. I feel like pot pie is where you take perfectly lovely meat and/or vegetables and you coat them in goo made of who knows what and then top the whole thing with a pie crust, which also isn’t my favorite food to eat. (Although, it’s one of my favorite foods to make–rolling out a pie crust is so soothing to me. I know, I’m odd.) One time when I was little, my mom made pot pie, and as usual I refused to eat it, so my parents told me I had to sit in front of that pot pie until I ate it. I sat there for probably 2 hours, until it was bedtime, at which point they sent me to bed without offering any other food. I didn’t care if I was hungry, that didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that I was not going to eat that pot pie. And I didn’t.

After that, my mom didn’t serve pot pie very often, because she knew I wasn’t going to eat it. She’d try to get me to eat foods I didn’t like, but if I refused, she’d just make sure there was something on the plate I’d eat. In short, she adapted her meal choices in part to suit her picky eater. Nowadays, that’s frowned upon by the Parent Education Industrial Complex. They say to just keep offering that food over and over again because eventually that kid will eat it. Apparently the Parent Education Industrial Complex doesn’t know what stubborn looks like. If my mom had offered me pot pie 1000 times I still would have said no to it. In hindsight, I think my mom made the wise choice to feed me things I would eat, so that I could grow, rather than watching me not eat every night. I was literally that stubborn. I needed to come to the idea of eating outside my comfort zone in my own time and in my own way. And, I’ve never struggled with obesity or eating disorders, so, I’m pretty sure she made the right choice for me.

The Boy is a picky eater too. I think he may even be pickier than I was, because he won’t eat chicken nuggets anymore. He wasn’t always a picky eater–when he was 2, he’d eat Indian food and jambalaya and all kinds of stuff. Now, it’s easier to tell people what he will eat instead of what he won’t because it’s a shorter list. I tend to do what my mom did and offer foods not on his “I will eat that” list, but when he refuses, I provide something we know he’ll eat. Especially now that he’s on ADHD meds that can affect his appetite and slow his growth.

I feel like I’m going to be judged for that, because it’s not what the experts recommend, and I’m sure people will say “He’s never going to learn to like other foods if you only feed him stuff he likes.” In fact, I have friends who brag about the foods their kids will eat that I know The Boy would adamantly refuse to try. But then I remember, parenting isn’t a competition. And I also remember what it felt like to be that kid who didn’t want to eat the pot pie with the weird goo in it (Mom, I’m sorry I keep calling it goo as though you’re a bad chef–I’m sure it was a lovely gravy to anyone who isn’t so picky!), and wishing I could just have food that didn’t weird me out, and being excited to eat when my mom made foods I did like. I guess I just feel like maybe there isn’t one right way to approach the complex relationship that kids have with food in our society. Because every kid is different, and some kids, like me, are never going to eat pot pie, and that’s OK.

My Cancer

So, the cancer. Let me give you the rundown of how this has all gone down so far.

On March 18, during a breast self exam in the shower, I found a lump in my left breast. I’d say my immediate reaction was disbelief. It was like 5:30 in the morning, and The Hubs was still sleeping, and waking him up with “Honey can you feel that lump in my breast” was not something I wanted to do, so I went to work and tried not to think about it. I had case meetings and was super productive.

When I left work, I couldn’t distract myself with complex projects anymore, so I went to our car in the parking garage in The Hubs’ building to wait for him, and while I waited, I felt for the lump again. And there it was, right where I had found it the morning before, at the bottom of my left breast, right where the band of my bra sits. And then I started crying.

When The Hubs got in the car, I told him. And he hugged me and said, “Have you been carrying this around all day?” And I said yes. And he said “It’s OK, we got this. We got this.” Have I ever mentioned that he’s a fucking saint? Because he is. I don’t even have words to express what he means to me.

That night, I told my best friends, including my college BFF, whose awesome mother-in-law died of breast cancer. (SO UNFAIR, practically nobody has an awesome mother-in-law and hers has to die?!?! You see why I think cancer is such an asshole?) Everyone was supportive, because I have awesome people in my life.

The next day, right when they opened, I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment. Of course, my doc was booked up that whole day, so I saw her the following afternoon–that brings us up to Thursday. I also woke up that morning with an insanely sore hip, like, it hurt to put pressure on it. The Hubs came with me to the appointment, and we told the doctor about the lump and the hip. She sent me for a hip X-Ray, which came back negative and so she said “if it’s not better in a few days, see about starting PT.” She also wrote me a referral to a local breast clinic that does mammograms and ultrasounds and all that.

So, I call the breast clinic, and the only time I could get in that week was on Friday at 8AM, which conflicted with our first medication review appointment for The Boy’s ADHD meds. So, I schedule for 8AM on Monday instead. This would be the first of many weekends I would spend trying not to worry about what a test on Monday would show.

I’m going to now share a pro-tip I learned while on bed rest in the hospital after my water broke before The Boy was born. When you have a ultrasound, and the tech says, “I’m going to bring in the radiologist,” that’s a sign you’re about to hear bad news. It’s even worse if the radiologist spends a long time using the ultrasound wand. Both of those things happened that Monday. And I knew. I knew right then that I had cancer. I didn’t need a biopsy report. I didn’t even need the radiologist, a very kind woman, to say “It looks extremely suspicious and we need to do a needle biopsy right away. Do you have time right now?” I cried, quietly at first but with more force when they took me into the wig room (THE FUCKING WIG ROOM) so I would have a quiet place to call my husband while they set up for the needle biopsy. And after the biopsy, she walked me across the hall to make an appointment with a surgeon for Wednesday, when the biopsy results would be back.

After that, I cried some more, and called a bunch of people. My college BFF, even though it was her dead mother-in-law’s birthday. My dear friend and cruise buddy who survived breast cancer in her 40’s. And then I went to work. I mostly sat at my desk and stared into space, or cried. I talked to my sister too. I went home that night and cried some more, and barely slept, and took Tuesday off from work.

And then came the big day, Wednesday, March 26. When the kind radiologist called that morning, she didn’t surprise me with the news that it was cancer, and that it was in a lymph gland. What surprised me was that it was a form of cancer that is extremely rare in the breast. It’s called neuroendocrine cancer, and if you google it and “breast” you’ll find that there’s practically no research on it because it’s so uncommon, let alone in women as young as me. They aren’t even sure the best way to treat it.

I met that afternoon with the surgeon, another very kind woman, who talked to me about the cancer, how big it was, where it was, and how treatment can work. While we talked, her staff were busy setting up zillions of tests for me, so when I walked out of her office, we had a plan for next steps.