The Hubs

So, The Hubs frequently comes up with very funny things to say. He doesn’t usually plan these nuggets, they just emerge out of thin air. For example, when I told him I told my first graders that Plastic was going to use an ice cream scoop to take the sick part of my leg out, he replied, “Looks more like he used a melon-baller to me…or that’s an awfully small ice cream scoop!” When applying ointment to the Telfa pad that goes on my donor site, he said, “This stick, I mean swab looks like it’s at the breaking point (he holds it up for me to see), kind of like one of those pencils with the guys on top.” Yes, he was referring to troll pencil toppers.

I’m not sure how he’s handling all this. Sometimes I worry that it will be too much for him. Sometimes I wonder if my cancer is payback for the rough patch he caused in our marriage. Sometimes I worry that he will use my cancer as an excuse to make really bad decisions. But then, out pops another nugget. Like early on, he was the one who pointed out, that I have the “ultimate card.”

“What?” I asked.

“You have the ultimate card! When someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do, you just say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t, I have cancer,” cue maniacal laugh from The Hubs.

For example, the Friday after my diagnosis, we were arguing over what to have for dinner (keep in mind, he had already put “playing the card” on the table). Pink and her husband were at our house. Pink & I wanted Mexican, the boys wanted Outback. I finally said, “Look, we’re having Mexican. I have cancer.” To which The Hubs and I bust out laughing. Pink & her husband knew I had cancer, but neither knew about the conversation The Hubs and I had had regarding “the card.”

“Oh no you didn’t!” Pink started laughing.

“Oh, gosh, you’re right, I’m sorry, we should do what you want,” her husband stammered, which just caused us to laugh even more.

The following week, prior to my first visit with Plastic, we had received a significant snowfall and I was shoveling the driveway. RetDog was going to take me to my appointment and I didn’t want her to have to struggle with our driveway. The Hubs comes home from work for lunch, jumps out of the car and yells, “What are you doing???”

“Uh, shoveling?” I replied.

“You shouldn’t be shoveling!” he said, incredulous, “You have cancer!”

(Remember at this point, my life is normal other than the diagnosis.)

“Yeah, well tell that to the neighbor with the industrial snow blower across the street,” I said, giggling.

“Seriously, why aren’t you using our snow blower?” he asked.

“Because I couldn’t get it started and this needs to be done,” I replied.

“Well, go inside and rest, you have cancer, I’ll do this later,” he smiled.

Now, I won’t pretend that everything with The Hubs is sunshine and happiness. His way of dealing with cancer is by blasting it away. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve sat, leg elevated watching him play Call of Duty on-line with his buddy, Dude. Dude’s pseudonym is easily explained:

“Dude! I said follow me!”

“Dude! What are you doing!?!?”

“Aw, Dude, you didn’t kill anyone, I had 13 kills, what’s up with that?”

And so on. So, you see, Dude was an easy one to come up with. Recently, we had this exchange:

“Hey babe, do you mind if I play some video games online with Dude?”

“No, it’s fine,” I say, thinking in my mind that if I say no, then I’m a bitch because he’s been so good at taking care of me.

“Awesome, thanks!”

Three hours later…seriously? How many hours do you have to play this stupid video game??? Even if you wanted to play for three hours, does it have to be three hours a day every day??? And seriously, why is it that everyone is allowed to have fun but me? Cancer is getting very old, very quickly.

Honestly though, in spite of the video games, The Hubs has been, is, amazing.

Outings…

Since I have been released from the hospital, I have enjoyed four outings. The first was the Saturday afternoon after my first follow-up. We went to Kroger and I got to drive an electric cart. It was exhilarating! I mean, who knew going grocery shopping would be so fun and would relive my feelings of being imprisoned! I posted my adventure on Facebook and learned the following:

  1. A friend thought I was racing old people instead of shopping
  2. WalMart has bigger, faster electric carts
  3. Another friend thought I was getting into mischief in my cart
  4. Target has “Power Carts”
  5. Another friend thought I was driving under the influence

Interesting to know what my friends think of me… 🙂

The second outing was to Olive Garden on a late Tuesday night as mentioned in The MIL post. This time I was in a wheel chair. The Hubs made several jokes in front of the OG employees referring to my mental status and that they should ignore my drooling. My indignant replies brought more laughter. Then, I attempted to go to the restroom on my own. All in all, it was pretty easy, except entering into the restroom. I understand that they want to prevent peepers or whatever, but do they really need to make the door that heavy? After finally figuring out how to get in, I was relieved to find the handicap stall unoccupied. I was able to maneuver easily into the stall, use the handrails, and leave the stall. Washing my hands was a little difficult as the sinks were a bit too high and I couldn’t scoot up to the sink because they had placed a trashcan under the sink in the empty space where my wheel chair could have fit. Interesting… However, I managed to complete the entire trip without help on the first try. In my humble opinion, I rock!

Our third outing was to my favorite Mexican restaurant on a Friday night. The Hubs thought the wheel chair would be more trouble than it’s worth because everything about this place is small. So, I trusted his instinct and went on crutches. Exhausting idea. He was right though, the wheel chair would have been too bulky. It’s amazing though how many people looked at me on my crutches and didn’t even scoot their chairs in to make it easier for me to get to our table and sit down. I wanted to lean in and go, “Pardon me, I have cancer. Excuse me; I have cancer. I’m sorry to be in your way, but I have cancer.”

While we were checking out, another party was leaving and I heard them talk about me while they were behind me.

“Poor thing,” said condescending voice number one.

“Oh look, you have a crutch buddy,” said condescending voice number two.

“Oh, no, she has two crutches, poor thing,” said condescending voice number three.

At that point I looked up from signing the credit card receipt to see this woman hobbling out on one crutch. I mean, what is the point of one crutch? “Get a cane, ya big baby!” I wanted to yell. Instead, I looked the hubs and laughed. What else can you do?

Sometimes I think it would be interesting to see people’s reaction if I wore an LED t-shirt that blinked, “Cancer Patient” on it. Of course, I know that many people would look at me like I was disgusting, and then I would want to scream, “It’s cancer! It’s not contagious, assholes!”

The fourth outing was to Scarlet’s bar. It’s amazing how nosy people are. I had several strangers as why I was on crutches. I’ve found the best explanation is the simplest one, “I have cancer.” No follow up needed. It generally makes people uncomfortable and turn away. The Hubs asked about this once. I think he thought I was being a pain in the ass on purpose. Well, that’s sort of true. You see, if you say, “I had surgery.” Then they say, “What for?” Then you still have to say, “I have cancer” and get the same uncomfortable look and then they turn away. I know how the conversation is going to end, I just choose to get to the end quickly. Other than the interjections of strangers, Scarlet’s bar was the best outing yet. I got to have some beer & pizza, be a little loud with my friends, and laugh. Who could ask for more?

Making Up is Hard to Do…

So, I have decided that the people who most offended me during my first week of recovery weren’t jerks, they just don’t know how to deal with their life and my cancer at the same time.  I mean, how can you complain about how bad your life is when you don’t have cancer right?  It makes sense.  So, I extended the olive branch to Scarlet.  I sent her a text today.  She was pissed about my list, even though I had deleted it from Facebook.  Apparently, based on the texts, I was correct in assuming that our other friend had been throwing me under the bus to Scarlet.  However, I’m not mad.  I’m over it.  That’s something that cancer has done for me.  It has made it so much easier to let things go.

Scarlet has apparently had a shit storm go on in her life.  She’s considering quitting one of her jobs, going back to school, dealing with 2 kids and a husband with whom she doesn’t have the best relationship.  I guess she didn’t feel like she could complain to me about how crazy her life was when I had cancer.  I mean, I understand that cancer is pretty much the trump card, but I don’t want it to trump the lives of the people around me.  I don’t want it to trump my life either.

I wasn’t sure if we were back on track, or still volleying grenades.  So, I suggested to The Hubs that we go to Scarlet’s bar for lunch.  He agreed, and off we went.  It was interesting.  Once we sat face to face and talked, we both realized what had happened.  The third wheel in our relationship, Pink, had been throwing us both under the bus and causing more problems than it was worth.  Maybe making up isn’t so hard to do.

Another interesting note, before we headed to Scarlet’s bar for lunch, The Hubs received a text message from Pink’s husband asking him to help them move.  About a half hour later, I received 2 texts from Pink wanting to apologize.  I ignore them.  Not because I’m bitter.  Let me tell you, the one thing this ordeal has helped me do is to let all the meaningless BS go!  I don’t want or need an apology.  I want to move on.  I want to have fun with my friends.  Besides, I knew whatever I texted back would be taken wrong and stir up the whole thing all over again.  This is Pink’s specialty – drama!  So I left it in The Hubs’s capable hands.  I told him to text them and see if they still needed help – at this point they were done.  I told him to tell them we were going to Scarlet’s bar for a late lunch if they wanted to join us.  They did.  Thankfully, it was a drama free afternoon.  Maybe we are back on track afterall.

 

The Means Well, but is Excruciatingly Over-bearing, Mother-in-Law

As I mentioned earlier, my mom is a nurse in an outpatient surgical unit.  She lives an hour and a half away.  She came for my surgery, spent the night with me in the hospital so The Hubs could actually get a good night’s sleep, and stayed for a total of three nights and four days.  She did laundry – asked me how I wanted it sorted and didn’t chastise me or criticize when I went into our bedroom with her to help her sort.  She knows how independent I am and didn’t flinch at all when I insisted on helping.  I have said this numerous times in emails to friends that the worst part of my recovery is that I feel fantastic – no pain for the most part and no other kinds of issues like fatigue.  It is driving me crazy that I have to just sit here.  My mom was great at staying out of my way, but still accomplishing helping The Hubs and I out without being annoying and over-bearing.  The same cannot be said for my mother-in-law.  Even The Hubs has choice words when his mother is involved.

My mother-in-law (The MIL)…my absent friend Scarlet would say, “Bless her heart.”  She started calling almost immediately after I got into my room after surgery.  She was determined to come to the house to help the following weekend.  Well, let’s The MIL’s idea of helping is to overrun everything and everyone in her path.  I had to explain to her that we did not need (read want) her come on the weekend.  This was more The Hubs decision than mine.  I’d rather get the visit over with quickly, come Friday, leave Sunday.  He did not want to be trapped in the house for the weekend with his mother.  If she came during the week, then he could at least escape her presence while he was at work.  So, how was I going to get her to change her mind about coming on the weekend?

Thank God for snow – albeit only a few inches here.  See, there are 3 things you should know about the MIL:  1.  she doesn’t drive after dark, 2.  she doesn’t drive in any kind of inclement weather, and 3.  she is an alcoholic.  So, I called her and suggested that due to the oncoming snow, she wait until Monday to come up.  I also added in the part that The Hubs was home on the weekends, so we (I) didn’t really need help on the weekends.  She thought it was a marvelous idea, marvelous is her favorite word.

She arrived on Monday afternoon and proceeded to make ten or so trips from the car bringing in bags of who knows what.  Since I wasn’t supposed to get up from my chair, I didn’t make any effort to display my independent nature.  I know this may seem rude, but honestly, I don’t know anyone who likes The MIL.  I know people tolerate her, but I don’t know anyone who truly likes her.  So, I let her “move in” to our spare bedroom on her own.  At one point she quipped, jokingly, “Aren’t you going to get off your ass and help me with all this shit?”  Laughing all the way.  I know she was joking, but just a hint for your future reference:  let the person with cancer make the jokes.

So, she takes up residence.  She is omnipresent, hovering, and imposing.  She begins by doing the laundry.  Now, before I was unable to do it myself, I could get a week’s worth of laundry for The Hubs & I done in about 5 loads total.  She arrived Monday and did not leave until Thursday afternoon and was doing laundry almost continuously until she left.

I was happy that the day of her arrival, we only had to change the dressing on my donor site.  I am still coming to terms with the appearance of the excision site and I’m not ready to let anyone, other than The Hubs see it.  The Nurse, hasn’t even seen it.  I knew that The MIL would want to watch if not help.  Frankly, I didn’t want her to touch me.  She came in, watched The Hubs change the dressing and praised him profusely.  The MIL also proceeded to gush about how much her son loved me and blah, blah, blah…  I know The Hubs loves me.  Had I not know before this, which I did, he has shown me every day since diagnosis.  It is her not-so-endearing way of poking me by implying that I am so lucky that someone like her son chose someone like me and that I’m not really deserving of it.  Trust me, I’m not reading in to this.  She has told me in exactly those words several times over the last 17 years that I’ve known my husband that I am not what she would have chosen for him.

Day one wasn’t bad.  She moved in; she fixed dinner; we went to bed.  Day two, however was a disaster.  One of the boxes and bags she had moved in was a box of wine.  The MIL had been drinking all day.  She proceeded to also pull out a comforter set that she bought for our bedroom.  It’s not horrible, but it’s not what I would have picked.  Even RetDog had a hard time picturing it staying in our room and she is the most gracious person I have ever met.  In addition to drinking and redecorating my bedroom, she found time to criticize The Hubs and I for not yet fixing the painting mistakes of the previous owners (we both work full time and are on a pretty tight budget), and made several digs about my housekeeping skills.  I was exhausted by the time The Hubs got home from work and decided to roll my little mechanic’s chair into the bedroom to prepare for my dressing change.

We had planned to go to Olive Garden for dinner, so on my way to the bedroom I stopped by our spare bedroom to get my clothes for our outing.  I about killed myself tripping over all of The MIL’s stuff.  Even more frustrated and exhausted, I made my way into our bedroom and tossed my clothes on the end of the bed.  Then, I had to search for my prop pillows.  When she remade the bed, she hid the old pillows.  I found them, and tossed them on the bed.  About this time, she walks in the room.  “Oh God,” I thought, just go away!”  The MIL proceeds to confiscate my crutches and place them out of reach.  Then she throws the prop pillows on the floor after I had just put them on the bed.  I picked them up and put them back on the bed.  She threw them on the floor again!

“The Hubs is coming in to change my dressing,” I said angrily.

“Well, I (big emphasis on I) want him to see the new bedding,” she insisted.

“He won’t care,” I said.

Sure enough, The Hubs came in, she said, “Look!”  and he said, “What?”  My point had been made.

I threw the pillows back on the bed and then testily demanded my crutches so I could get in the bed to have my dressings changed.  She pawed over me and I asked her to stop, while The Hubs went to the kitchen sink to wash his hands.   She said that she was excited to see the excision site.

I told her, “I’m sorry, I’m not ready for you to see it yet.”

“What do you mean???” she was incredulous.

“It’s hard enough for me to look at right now, I’m not ready for other people to see it yet.  It still has a lot of healing to do.”

“Well, honey, I’m your mother,” she drunkenly cooed.

“Not even The Nurse has seen it yet,” I replied icily, “I don’t want you to see it.”  Admittedly, I was a little harsher with her than I normally would have been, but she was drunk and that was the only way to get through to her.

Thank goodness The Hubs walked in, I was almost in tears.

“I can’t stay,” she whined, “SHE doesn’t want me here.” And then she walked out pouting.

As I mentioned in my previous posted Recovery, this dressing change ended up not happening at all.  I was grateful for that because it meant she didn’t miss out and couldn’t stay mad.  But was I wrong…

On the way to Olive Garden, she proceeds to give me a monologue – yes, a full blown monologue – on how she was diagnosed with detached retinas in college and how nothing could be done because the medical technology didn’t exist (a quick scan of the Internet proves this is a lie as she would be blind by now!)  and I (the cancer patient) can’t let this get me down, blah, blah, blah.

“I know how you feel, I went through this too, well, not cancer, but it was serious…” she babbled.

I sat in the backseat rolling my eyes as she went on and on.  Finally, she took a breath and The Hubs ever so wisely turned up the radio.

I thought we were done, I thought wrong.  She continued the monologue at our table at Olive Garden only this time bringing up things that were long past about the family.  It was excruciating, leading to my going to bed the minute we got home.

On Day 3, we had my second follow-up.  She wanted to go, but when The Hubs said he was going she backed off.  We went and got the good news and came home.  When we told her, you would have thought that we had told her she was cancer free.  I mean, I understand being excited and all, The Hubs and I were, but once again, she was tremendously melodramatic.  We went to breakfast to celebrate.

When we got home, The Hubs went off to work and she “suggested” I clean out the refrigerator.  The reason suggested is in quotation marks is because I knew it wasn’t a suggestion; it was an expectation.  So much for staying off my feet.  So, I cleaned out the fridge and freezer, and then feigned exhaustion so I could take a nap.  Which meant, I sat in my chair and whenever I heard her walking towards the living room, I pretended I was asleep.  When RetDog came to visit, I “awoke.”  She stayed for a while and The MIL went shopping because since Ret was there, I was supervised.  I vented to Ret, which caused her to laugh riotously.  I am much more dramatic in person than in writing.  I can confidently say my facial expressions and gestures are hilarious!  The MIL came back and proceeded to inject herself in our conversation.

“Did she tell you she gets to take a shower tomorrow?” The MIL asked.

“Yes,” Ret answered patiently, “she did.”

“Oh, I can’t wait, I’m staying to make sure I’m here for her so she doesn’t hurt herself taking a shower,” The MIL said, as if I were a child.

Later, I told The Hubs that if she did not go home I might have to kill her.  He laughed, knowing I would never kill her but that the fantasy had crossed his mind as well.

I ended up with a minor medical drama that night when I accidentally ripped the bandage off the donor site and replaced it without adding more ointment.  This caused the bandage to become stuck to the wound as it was drying.  It was extremely painful.  When we finally discovered what was causing the pain, we didn’t know what to do.  We called The Nurse at 10:30 pm.  I woke her up and I was crying – not a good combination.  She freaked out, The Hubs said something really funny that for the life of me I cannot remember, and I was laughing and crying hysterically at the same time.

Finally, The Nurse was finally awake enough to give us her professional opinion and I was calm enough to listen.  Two warm, wet washcloths later, the bandage peeled off gently and The Nurse had saved the day.  I took two pain pills that night.  One for pain, the other for nerves and to keep me asleep until hopefully The MIL moved out the next day.

I woke up several times the next morning, no pain, but I could hear The MIL packing up.  Hallelujah!  I stayed in bed, sleeping off and on until 12:30 pm.  When I finally got out of bed, I had a pain pill hangover.  I staggered on my crutches to my rolly chair and rolled out to the living room.  She said little, and left at about 1:30 pm.  The ordeal was over.  When The Hubs got home for work, he was visibly relieved as well.

Beginning the Recovery Process..

Well, we have determined that cancer sucks.  But, I haven’t heard anyone talk about recovery.  This has been a trial.  It has now been two weeks since my surgery.  On a positive note, the pain has been very manageable.  I went to my first follow up on Wednesday, January 19, five days post-op.  I have two areas to heal – the donor site for my skin graft, which is located on my upper left thigh, and the excision site, which is on my lower left calf.  I have seen the donor site since the day after surgery Plastic first changed the dressing.  According to The Hubs, it looks like road rash.  It kind of feels like that too.  It’s never been terribly shocking to look at the donor site.  However, at my first follow-up, I also got my first look at the excision site.

It was awful.  It looked angry.  It was black and purple and shriveled.  You could easily fit a ping-pong ball inside of it.  Sorry if the description is too graphic, but I think it’s important to know the shock of seeing it for the first time.  Plastic’s nurse, named after a fruit, so from here on out she will be called Fruit, left the room and I lost it.  The Hubs has been fantastic through everything.  I can’t imagine how he deals with all of this.  He has never once let me see him sweat, so to speak.  He calmly got up from his chair in the exam room and came and put his arms around me.  He said, “I don’t like it either, but it beats the alternative.  It will get better.  It’s ok.”  And then he just held me.

Plastic came back into the room and tried to reassure me as well.  By this time, I had calmed myself down a bit, even though it was still ugly and still a shock.  “I’m hoping it’s like a bad haircut,” I said, “and that I will get used to it and it will grow out.”  Plastic laughed.  That’s me.  Trying to make a terrible situation something I can laugh at so it’s not so terrible.

After the first follow up, The Hubs continued to change the dressing on the donor site daily and had to add the excision site every other day.  The first day, I still cried when I looked at it.  I told The Hubs it wasn’t fair that he had to deal with this and that this isn’t what he signed up for.  He just looked at me and smiled and said, “It’s ok.  We’ll do what we have to do.  It’s better than the alternative.”  I think this has become his mantra.

The Hubs is a mechanic and he brought home a rolling mechanics chair for me the following day.  At first, I was slightly offended, but after using it for several days, I have found it is a lifesaver.  I can move quickly across the hard wood floors without the risk of falling or tripping with my crutches, and I definitely have more freedom.  Besides, our house is too small for a wheel chair.

The second excision dressing change was better.  I was still uneasy, but no tears.  The third change, well…the third change didn’t happen.  We ran out of “sticks” to apply the ointment.  Now, we are not hillbillies, but it never occurred to us to call the “sticks” by their appropriate name “swabs.”  I don’t know why the word escaped us, but it did.  So, we called The Nurse.  My mom is an outpatient, surgery nurse, thus her moniker in this blog.  She said, “ Well, duh, you’re seeing Plastic in 12 hours, just let him do it in the morning.”  The Hubs and I giggled and went on our way.

The second follow-up was odd.  I felt like Plastic rushed through his visit and I had to really work to get my questions answered.  The good news, I could shower starting the following day and I could start putting a little weight on my foot.  But, could I go back to school on February 7th (the three weeks I had already scheduled)?

“Oh, well, huh…let’s try at least another week,” he said.  Well, crap!

So, Plastic left the room.  Wait!  Was the pathology back?  Did the surgery get it all?  Wait!  Don’t leave yet!

Fruit came in and proceeded to give instructions for how to change the lower dressings every day now, explained the new sock I got to wear, how to shower, but no one said anything about my pathology.

“Any questions?” Fruit asked.

“Yeah, has my pathology come back yet?” I asked nervously.

“Oh, well, I don’t know, let me see,” she stammered as she opened my chart.  Really?  No one thought to look in my chart yet today?

“No residual melanoma discovered.”

“What does that mean?” The Hubs asked, “Is the cancer gone?”

“Well, yeah, for now,” Fruit replied.

I’m not sure who was more excited – or why – me or The Hubs.  I mean we were both thrilled that I am now officially cancer free.  But, for the first time in two weeks, I was going to be able to shower!  WAHOO!  I know that it sounds really stupid to be more excited over the shower than the prognosis, but I am kind of obsessive about showering and have rarely gone more than a day or two without a shower.  Aside from the loneliness of missing my friends, the showering has been the most difficult thing to deal with.

Maybe I should explain further, cancer sucks, but once I had the diagnosis I was determined to fight and win.  All I was focused on was doing whatever it took to beat this disease.  I have always had a positive attitude towards my prognosis.  Even if it came to chemo, I was going to win.  So, finding out I was cancer free wasn’t really a surprise and was only a bit of a relief.  Some people may perceive that as cocky, I prefer to call it determination.

So, anyway, it was a good day.  I’m not scheduled to see him again for two weeks this time.  Hopefully, some progress will be made.

 

The Reality Sets In…

***I am uneasy about posting this… it caused a huge uproar the first time when I posted it on Facebook.  I am hoping with the further explanation, people who come across this will realize that I am not angry.  Disappointed would have been the word at the time.  Now, it’s just a reference point.***

Cancer sucks, but it does not define me.  I will not let this disease change who I am.  Unfortunately, having this disease seems to have changed a lot of people around me and that quite possibly sucks more than cancer.  It’s funny, after the diagnosis, but before my surgery, everyone acted the same.  Maybe it’s because it wasn’t as noticeable.  Since the surgery, I guess people have freaked out.  I’m not dying.  Even if Plastic didn’t get it all, I’m not giving up without a fight, and those of people that really know me, know I can be a real bitch when the situation calls for it.

I refuse to be invisible.  If you can’t handle it, then say so.  I don’t need you to baby me, I don’t need you to take care of me, and I don’t need you to talk about the cancer or even ask about it.  I need you to be my friend.  Have a drink, send a text, have some fun.  I’m sorry that I’m not able to get out of the house and party it up.  It’s kind of difficult when you’re on crutches and not supposed to be doing anything but staying off your leg and keeping it elevated.

I try very hard to treat people the way I would like to be treated.  Hoping that one-day, when I need it, someone will return the favor.  I’m not trying to sound holier-than-thou or ungrateful to the people who have helped me out – particularly The Nurse, The Hubs, some of my school family, and some of my Facebook friends that have periodically checked in on me.  That help has been a pleasant, and welcome, surprise.  It’s the people that have disappeared from my life that I’m taking issue with.  People who I thought would always be there, but instead have come up with a plethora of excuses.

Lonely is not a word I would have associated with cancer before.  Sick, painful, depressing, those words fit.  So, on that note, here is a list I’ve started on ways to be a jerk when your friend has cancer.

1.  Don’t call

2.  Don’t text

3.  Don’t visit

4.  Tell your friend you’re coming for lunch

5.  After #4, don’t show up, text hours later with a rain date

6.  Don’t show up on either rain date

7.  After #6, don’t call or text either

8.  Say you’re going to check in on them later in the week and then don’t

9.  After #8, don’t call or text

10.  Offer to help them with a basic necessity then bail with a lame excuse

11.  After #10, say you’ll get back with them, then don’t

12.  Come to visit, while visiting come to tears over how bad your life is

13.  After #12, talk on your cell phone to other people, text other people & make plans to go out so you don’t have to stay at the invalid’s house too long

14.  After #13, spend as much time as possible in the invalid’s bathroom getting ready to go out with your other friends

15.  After #14, pick a fight with your husband because you think the invalid won’t figure out that you know what your doing is wrong but you’re doing it anyway

16.  Reply to your cancer stricken friend who needs a little cheering up that you can’t help cheer her up because you have the blahs

17.  Act like you’re too busy to hang out because of whatever reason

18.  After #17, go out with a mutual friend & both of you post comments & pics of how much fun you had together

19.  Shut down and disappear.  Don’t explain.

20.  Text like crazy, but disappear when you are asked to visit.

21.  Get mad/indignant when the cancer patient posts something like this on Facebook, tell yourself they’re not talking about you and continue to do #1-21…

So this list is a culmination of my frustration during my first week of recovery.  Week 1.  I knew I was going to be out for at least three weeks, but I did not know how I was going to be able to survive two more weeks.  I made a mistake and in the heat of frustration posted this list to Facebook.  Several of my more supportive friends understood.  Pink took serious issue with it – or the conversation it was based on that I had with her husband during the day – and posted a scathing response.  Granted, she didn’t mention my name, but it was so pointed and specifically mentioned cancer that I knew she was referring to me.  I’m not sure which hurt more, her behavior or response to me calling out her behavior.

Another response was from my brother-in-law.  It was interesting.  My brother-in-law is a nice kid, not terribly mature, but nice.  He believes he is wise far beyond his years, and beyond his brother who is 10 years older, and even beyond his own father, a very intelligent eye surgeon.  He spouts off that I should not think that my friends are being jerks but that they are simply scared of their own mortality, which my cancer has made them face.  At first, I rolled my eyes and thought he was an idiot.  I’ll admit it.  But in the days since, and in the aftermath, I have come to realize that he might be on to something.  But just because he might be on to the reasons why some of my closest friends have disappeared from my life, I can’t agree with him that it is ok to do so.

If your friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, your first reaction may be to think of your own mortality and withdraw.  I can understand that.  It’s scary.  But, the cancer diagnosis isn’t about you.  It’s about your friend or family member that needs you.  I have always considered myself a very independent person.  I don’t rely on many people and when I do, it’s not for much.  But the first week of recovery was by far the loneliest of my life.  My closest friends didn’t call, or text, or offer to come by at first.  When I reached out to them, they offered and then reneged for various reasons, some valid, others not so much.

Let me tell you, I am reeling from the aftermath of my surgery.  I feel defective.  I worry that my husband won’t find me attractive anymore; that my first graders will be scared of me; and that strangers will point and stare.  When my friends failed to be there for me, it increased those feelings.  They were fine before I was defective, but now I was defective and they couldn’t be seen with me.  That may not have been the reality, but it is definitely how I felt.

Lesson:  No matter how uncomfortable you feel, if the person with cancer is someone you truly care about, you will be there.  I know that my friends would be mortified if they knew how they made me feel that first week.

In the Beginning…

Cancer…the word is kind of like Voldemort – he who must not be named.  Well, I guess I’m Harry Potter and I don’t give a crap what everyone else thinks when I say its name.  I won’t live in fear of it.

I won’t claim to be a cancer expert.  I am a first grade teacher.  I knew at the age of six that I would be a teacher.  My mom, The Nurse, always thought that I should write a children’s book.  Well, this isn’t a children’s book.  I’ve been debating whether or not to write down my experiences lately and I’ve decided the heck with it.  I’m writing this.  If it makes people uncomfortable, mad, feel guilty, or whatever, I don’t care.  Try being in my shoes or any other cancer patient’s shoes for a day.  Let’s just call this my personal manifesto – laden with a little humor.

Let’s start with a little background knowledge.

During the summer, contrary to what most people think, most teachers are working hard tweaking lessons and getting ready for the following fall.  This particular summer, 2010, I was working on my Master’s degree in educational leadership with the hopes of becoming a principal.

I had a rare day of laziness between summer class sessions in early July and I was flipping through one of those fashion magazines you see in the checkout line.  They had an article on skin cancer – you know the one that no one talks about, the one that doesn’t give the appearance of being as serious as other cancers (breast, colon, lung, etc.).  The article had several pictures of moles, kind of like a “ruler of risk.”  On the left-hand end were moles that were very low risk, the right side of the page showed high-risk moles.  About three quarters of the way up this ruler was a mole that looked exactly like the one on the inside of my left calf.  I was curious, but not alarmed.  I read the article with an attitude of detachment.  “I’ll ask the doctor about it,” I thought, “but I won’t make a special appointment for it.”

Later that summer, late August to be exact, I saw my doctor, The DR, for my annual.  Ladies, you know what that means.  Fellas, let’s just say it’s the lady-parts appointment.  While lying on the table with my feet in the stirrups, The DR notices the mole.

“Have you ever thought about having this removed?” she asked.

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “I read a skin cancer article this summer in a magazine and there was a picture of a mole that looked exactly like this one.  The article said there might be some risk associated with it.  I was going to ask you about it but forgot all about it until you mentioned it just now.  What do you think?”

“Well, honestly, I don’t think it’s anything,” The DR said, “but you’re not really a ‘moley’ person, so let’s take it off and do a punch biopsy.”

I was a little concerned by the word biopsy, and apparently my face showed my concern.  “It’s no big deal!  We’ll do it in the office, just a little pinch,” she said.  So, I scheduled the procedure for fall break week in October – I’m a first grade teacher, I don’t want to miss any time with my little people.

About a week before the procedure, I got a call saying The DR needed to reschedule.  She was going to be out of the office that week.  I figured her kids were on fall break too and that they were going to do something fun.  Well, if The DR wasn’t concerned about putting it off, neither was I.  I mean, the mole didn’t bother me, it didn’t hurt or itch or anything.  The weather was getting cooler and I was wearing more pants.  Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

Well, I finally got around to rescheduling the procedure – on my husband’s fortieth birthday in December.  Now, I know that it might seem to be a strange choice, but his birthday was on Thursday and we had planned a party for Friday.  I figured if I had it done on Thursday, I could squeeze an extra sick day to recover on Friday and get everything done before the party.

So, I went to the doctor at 9:30 am.  She put me in this funky recliner kind of chair and let me watch the whole thing.  I’m a teacher, naturally curious.  First, she injected a numbing agent into the area around the mole.  Then, she used a strange metal rod to punch into my skin and pull the mole out.  She put it in a little specimen jar in some clear liquid.  Then, she cauterized the area to help with the bleeding.  I remember looking at the mole in the jar.  It was like a tiny mushroom.  Benign.  Harmless.

“Looks good,” she said.  “We’ll send this to the lab, but I really don’t think we’re going to find anything.  It should take a week or so to get the results back.”

And so I left her office, feeling fine, no concern at all.  Thinking, “that only took like 20 minutes and now I have 2 days off to enjoy!”  I thought about it off and on over the next week, but after a week of hearing nothing, I kind of forgot all about it.

On December 13, we had that rare and wonderful occurrence that teachers and students dream of – a snow day!  I spent the day in my pjs watching mindless daytime television.  Then, the phone rang.  I answered it and it was my doctor.  The DR.  Not the nurse.  Not an assistant.  That should have been my first clue.  She explained to me that I had malignant melanoma.

“Ok,” I said, not phased at all, “What do we do now?”  I was in kick-cancer’s-ass mode.  Apparently, that was not a normal reaction.

“I don’t think you understand,” she said.  “There are three types of skin cancer.  Basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.  Melanoma is the worst.  That’s what you have.  I am scheduling you an appointment with a plastic surgeon as soon as possible.  I’ll get back with you in an hour or so.”

Wait…what?  What just happened?  I told her ok and hung up the phone.  I sat down in the living room and tried to process everything.  What is going on?  She said it was nothing…I have cancer???

Shortly after I hung up the phone, my husband came home for lunch.  I told him what had happened and he nearly fell to his knees.  He apparently grasped the seriousness right away.  Oh my God, I have cancer.

Of course, my next reaction was to check WebMD.  And, par for the course, what I read was frightening.  In its late stages, melanoma can be 70% fatal.  Who knew?  It’s skin cancer…no one really dies from this do they?  I mean, have you ever heard of a skin cancer run?

Nine days later, I was sitting in a plastic surgeon’s office with one of my closest friends, RetDog.  My husband’s employer would not let him have the time off to go to the appointment with me – brilliant!  The doctor was really dry and I immediately thought, “I can’t let this guy operate on me, he has no personality!”  I, on the other hand, am full of personality – sometimes admittedly to the point of obnoxiousness – so personality is important to me.  He drew a circle on my leg and explained what he was going to do.  The chunk of tissue he was removing was going to be the size of a golf ball, but he didn’t think he would have to go into the muscle – hallelujah!

“Since the excision will be so large,” Plastic said, “we’re going to have to do a skin graft.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, curiosity piqued, “Where will you take the skin from?”

“Oh, the upper thigh,” Plastic replied.

“Awesome!  I could stand to lose a little there,” I replied with my usual sass.  I thought RetDog might clobber me for being so flippant.

“Well, we’re not really going to take that much…” Plastic began.

“I know, I know…just trying to be funny,” I rolled my eyes at RetDog.

“Well, you should be prepared for some scarring, there will be a divot,” Plastic told me.

“Oh yeah?  I already have one,” I said, proudly.

Plastic raised his eyebrows.  I think he was starting to warm up to me.

“Yep,” I said, “on my right thigh, from where I crashed my motorcycle!”  True story.  Several years ago, The Hubs bought me a motorcycle and I crashed it within a week of getting my license requiring 17 stitches in my upper right thigh, and resulting in a small think divot.  Upon pulling up my pant leg and showing Plastic the evidence, he just chuckled.  It was official.  I had won him over.

Since it was just three days before Christmas, the surgery was not scheduled until January 14.  I was relieved.  That gave me time to get back to school, tell my little people, and make lesson plans for the substitute teacher.

“So, how much time will I have to take off work?” I asked.

“Well, normal recovery time is two to six weeks,” he said.

“So, I should take off two weeks?”

“What do you do again?”  Plastic was not that easily persuaded.

“I’m a first grade teacher,” I said proudly.

“Let’s start with three weeks and see how it goes,” he said.

Crap!  Three weeks!  It normally takes me several hours to make one day’s worth of sub plans…three weeks???  This was going to involve a lot of long nights!

So, I returned to school.  I discussed the situation with my little people without mentioning the “Big C.”  Side note:  I have three students in my classroom whose moms have various kinds of cancer bringing to mind the question, what’s in the water???  Anyway, they thought it was kind of cool when we talked about the doctor using an ice cream scoop to scoop out the sick part of my leg.  They also thought it was super cool that when I returned to school I might be in a wheel chair and there was even the remotest of remote possibilities that they might be able to push me in it.  We talked about how after the surgery I would be a pirate.  Yep, a pirate!

Why a pirate you might ask?  Well, it just so happened that a week before I had surgery, The Hubs and I met his parents, his brother, and his aunt and uncle for dinner and a night of entertainment of the musical variety.  The band played these crazy shanties and sailing songs from long ago.  My favorite was one called, “It’s All Part of Being a Pirate.”  It details the plethora of body parts lost by pirates – how, why, what happens next – and is followed by the rousing chorus, “It’s all part of being a pirate, you can’t be a pirate with all of your parts!”  So, seeing as I was going to be losing a (small, yet golf-ball-sized) part of my leg, I was officially going to be a pirate.  My husband even joked about getting me a peg-leg prosthesis and an eye patch.  See, in this house, we laugh at cancer.

Everything was fine.  I had accepted my fate.  I was going to fight.  It came down to the wire, but I even managed to get all of the assessments and lesson plans done before I left.

Even walking into the hospital for surgery, I was great.  I wasn’t scared – ok, I was, but I wasn’t going to let anyone see it.  I was a fighter!  I was positive.  I was cracking jokes and making the doctors and nurses laugh all the way into the operating room.  I fell asleep and a mere two hours later woke up in recovery and commenced singing my pirate song much to everyone’s amusement.

So, why am I writing this blog?  So far, it seems like my cancer experience has been fairly short and painless.   Well, my cancer experience is far from over.  As I write, I am still awaiting the pathology from my surgery to see what happens next in my treatment.  It may be over and I just have to monitor from here on out, it may get much, much worse, but from now on, I will be a cancer patient, no, a survivor.  The point is, this is not about my cancer.  It’s about my experience.  It’s about how my friends and family reacted to it and how you can learn from our successes and mistakes to be supportive when someone close to you is diagnosed.  And in the process, I hope to make you chuckle a couple of times.

Please note that I am not speaking for all cancer patients.  Some want to be anonymous and hide from the world.  I am not one of those people.  I am speaking of my own experience only, and maybe people who know people like me or people like me can get something from it.

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