Nuts and Bolts

Subtitle: “The Et Cetera Shop”

(that’s actually a real place, or used to be, in New Hampshire, so I will protect the assumed title rights and not use it as a true title in my blog)

Lets rip this band-aid off right now and just get the bad news out of the way.  And don’t hide from the words “bad news.”  We’ve done this before; just another layer of the onion.

I had an echocardiogram and a CT (Cat) scan to check my organs as part of proceeding with treatment options, making sure every thing else functions, and to kill time while touring the medical system and playing in their machinery.  Experience is the teacher, right?  Sounds familiar…  My heart and lungs and everything checked out just fine… except for madam liver.

It seems that my liver has “what appear to be cysts,” not verbatim to what I was told by my health care team but pretty darn close.  Remember the last time I had “what appears to be a cyst”?  It’s now the reason that I have a piece of plastic and rubber for a right boob.

So pardon me for freaking out, googling, and coming to my own plausible conclusion that maybe I could have fucking liver cancer too.

Sharp intake of breath.

Before we all over-react, read the rest of my story (and then we just have to wait for actual scientific legitimate results).

I googled and found that the first listed symptom is “losing weight without trying.”  Well, last year around this time I went in to Kaiser to use my health insurance one last time for OBGYN fun before I went up to Washington to play with orcas.  The nurse did the usual height and weight and looked up shockingly from my chart to say, “You’ve lost ten pounds, is everything OK?  Is that normal for you?”  Nope.  I don’t own a scale so I would never notice and, sure, clothes may fit differently but that just means shopping for new clothes, which is acceptable to me.  And never enough to where I was worried.  Oh, and I’m sorry if this just pisses anyone off but I’ve never been too focused on my weight except all those times people said to me “you’re so skinny” or “you’re so skinny!”  I know people think it’s a compliment but does anyone think, “oh, your so plump” is a compliment?  I didn’t think so.  Have you every wondered if maybe I wished I wasn’t so skinny?  Yeah, body image issues go both ways, folks (sorry if I just slapped you on the wrist; I got it out and I think we’re all cool now).  But I could come up with twenty excuses, musings and thoughts as to why I lost weight… sweating my body weight out through work in the hot Maui sun, going from partying around the Maui bars to pretty much one glass of booze a week (no lie; this isn’t like when you tell your Doctor, “oh, I’m a casual drinker” when really you sling back three glasses a night five nights a week, which is your little secret, our little secret) since dating man-friend, gradually ceasing surfing and losing muscle mass.  It all sounds reasonable but her comment continued to nag on me this whole year.

Back to current times, what did I do with this new information?  I finally called back and gave them the “Look, man” speech, recognizing that I know they probably hate when patients Google shit but that I still had my genuine concerns.  And I appreciate that you probably don’t want to freak me out by introducing the word “tumor” but I’m too smart for that (Google told me so).  Tumor is definitely a possibility in my professional well-researched opinion (Ok, I’m basing it on my past experience with the word “cyst” mostly).

The oncologist nurse read word for word from the report, mentioning it could be “mangiomas” or two small cysts.  She reassured me that I should be optimistic and hopeful (is that scientific?) that maybe this really is all it is; 5% of the population has these things, it’s normal.

My surgeon, Dr. Gambhir, must have gotten wind of my freak out (the power of the computers to connect these different departments, just when I thought they didn’t share info!) and called me to give me the more spelled-out science of it: a hemangioma (pardon the spelling, I haven’t googled this yet but she said it like our favorite hero: “HE-MAN-gioma) is like a blood blister on the liver and we are born with them; they are on my right side (yay, more specific info = more believable for my science brain & not treating my like I can’t follow your diagnoses).  There were also many tiny dots on my liver that appear to be cysts or other hemangiomas.  Great.

I’m buying it for now, with heaps of hope.  But I’m maintaining a level of dignity through realism: I don’t need this building block shit of “tell the patient there’s something but keep it in best-case scenario format and work up from there.”  I want you to tell me the sliding scale of good to worse of what it could be so that I am prepared.  To me, that’s different.  I hate the hope of “looks like this” but “oh wait it’s not that at all; it’s waaaayyyy worse.”

I’ve since researched my liver more.  Found a list of liver-kind foods to focus on (I have a pretty healthy lifestyle so I’m mostly already there).  I have “The Raw Foods Bible” by Craig Sommers which I find scientifically very interesting.  It has a liver cleanse that seems harmless—maybe a little gross—but we’ll see (I know, we don’t want to shock my system).  And to let the looming liver cancer gods know what’s up, I’ve had a beer a day for a few days!  I gotta keep exercising that organ, don’s want to shock it with a booze-free existence!  Plus, I’m still trying to put on the LBs.

And I do want you to know another thing that the oncologist’s nurse mentioned: my weight loss could be a symptom of my breast cancer.

I’m crossing my fingers so hard right now.

My mental approach—as alluded to in how I want Doctors to deal with me—is that if it is cancer, it’s already there.  I can’t do anything to change that.  So like with my boob, we’re just going on from here, towards treatment and improvement.  And I sincerely hope it’s just like the Doctors are saying/hoping, that it’s just cysts.

But with my track record, when is it ever “just cysts”?

And now the band-aid has been ripped off; let us move on to some more nuts and bolts that will make this a smorgasbord of updates.

The CT scan made me almost shit my pants.

Yes, we’re in full disclosure mode here.  I know, you didn’t see that one coming!  Sweet.  I did warn you day one about grossness.

Yup, those drinks are pretty disgusting not because they taste bad—berry flavor is A OK—but because I think on another level, my body knows that shit ain’t normal.  Or digestible.  And it really just wants it OUT.  I know because it 100% told me so [insert gross visual for yourself here].

I asked the tech if it’s supposed to, “clean me out.”  He chuckled and said no but that it does that to some people.  He also said that the CT machine likes chubbier people (ok, maybe he said fat people, but that was between him and I) and that the MRI likes skinnier people.  HAHA.  Well, I hate them MRI machine!  So how does that work?!  And obviously the MRI hated me that one time… (I’m eluding the previous blog “A Bad F-ing Day” in case you’re lost).  Now the CT and the MRI machines and I do not get along?  I was not cut out for being a cancer patient.

And here’s the kicker: since my liver came back questionable, they told me to get an MRI!  Oh, it gets better.  I called to schedule my MRI (I’m always proactive in my medical appointments now because Kaiser has a bad track record with me—and probably many others—of conveniently forgetting to tell me they’ve made an appointment or making one on a day when I fly to Oahu or just plain not making the call to set up the appointment) and they asked a few preliminary questions.  Such as, do I have any implants.  Why, yes, I do!  ERROR ERROR!  We cannot perform an MRI on you because of the giant metal magnet in your boob.  This is like a double-edged sword (is that the right phrase?).  On the one side, NO EVIL MRI!  Yay, winning.  But on the other hand, shit, no clear visual answers about madam liver’s bumpy coating.

Next step: I have an appointment to have an ultrasound.  And, halt again: last time we used the ultrasound on my cystically tumored or tumorically cysted breast, the results were confusingly inconclusive.

So, ultrasound machine, we shall meet again.  Bring you’re A game and give me some damn answers about my liver!  No fucking around this time!

Well, we’ve covered nearly shitting my pants; let’s move on to stinky pits.

This has been a recurring theme ever since mom came out to Maui and threw away my Aluminum-based toxic deodorant that actually at least worked.  I have this thing about smells: I hate bad smells.  It’s really not that complex.  I must have an amazing sense of smell (maybe I’m what’s known in the beer and wine tasting industry as a “super taster.”  Career shift?  Chemo, please don’t kill my taste buds).  Sean has assured me in my quest for nice-smelling armpits, that I don’t stink, but I know I do!   I can smell me even if no one else does; it really irks me.  It’s a personal personal hygiene pet peeve.

I have sampled many deodorants.  No really, look.  Some people collect baseball cards or stamps; I collect deodorants.

Let’s go through the list of what I’ve tried so I can help you.  (And big thanks to a care package from Boston for providing half of the assortment!):

1)    Alba Botanica in “Lavender”: smells nice in the container, pits feel sticky, smell last maybe 2 hours

2)    Tom’s of Maine in “Maine Woodspice” (technically, this is Sean’s): smells great—woodsy and manly, I will borrow it cause it actually works, but I’m still seeking something more feminine and that lasts; doesn’t smell so manly that I would shy away from it.

3)    Tom’s of Maine in “beautiful earth”:  I ordered this on-line seeking another Tom’s that wasn’t apricot (the usual available in-store on-island ladies scent) and thought “I wonder what a beautiful earth smells like?  Floral?  Linen?  A nice breeze?”  It smells like apricot.  I don’t want to smell edible, and I’m stinky again after 2 hours.

4)    Tom’s of Maine in “refreshing lemongrass”: Love the smell!  Stinky after 2 hours, sticky feeling at first.  Hard lessons learned on Tom’s of Maine deodorant products.

5)    Trader Joes unscented deodorant with Cotton: obviously imported from the mainland since we have no TJs in Hawaii (Dear TJs, I love you and you seem to love the hibiscus as your image which is our state flower, why are you not here?  It is unfair.), stinky after 2 hours.

6)    Jason in “purifying Tea Tree”: Ding ding ding, we have a winner!  This is potent enough to last!  And it smells good.  It feels like the tea tree oil is bitch-slapping my underarm bacteria (don’t act like you don’t have underarm bacteria!  You, with your mock disgust, have pit-teria!)

7)    Tom’s of Maine in “wild lavender”: I know, I know, not gonna work.  But as suggested, I just tried it before bed cause it smells pleasant, and I had no plans of running laps in my sleep.

8)    Arm and Hammer Essentials “Natural Deodorant”: Admittedly, haven’t tried it yet; gotta leave at least one for “hope.”

If you had a hard time getting through the results section of this research paper, in conclusion, I support JASON PURIFYING TEA TREE PURE NATURAL DEODORANT STICK.  Go out and buy yourself one.  If you tend to be less stinky than I may be, try one of the other more fun flavors.  And chuck all that other bad-for-you stuff.  It’s not worth it to take the risk even if we still have no idea where the F-bomb cancer comes from.

(Dear JASON, would you like to sponsor me?  I’ve already pinged you as the leader in armpit beautification.)

In other household change news, my cheap Walmart Good Buy brand dryer sheet have been tossed for the more environmental and health-conscious brand.  So many toxins in our world, so little time!  We’re all kicking ourselves in the butt for the wonderful things we invented over the years that we are now realizing will kill us; even if these products give us five more minutes of free time, are they actually shaving of five years of life in the end?  Dwell.  Discuss.

I got to do some normal person things this week, like touring Lahaina-town on a Segway!  Don’t worry, our first thoughts in seeing others on these were: Lame!  Doofus!  But then we got on them (for free through a buddy of Sean’s, always nice to have connections and mutual back scratching opportunities) and realized they are wicked fun!  No, really!  And I did actually get a stitch in my side (more water next time) from the bouncing, and low blood flow to the feet.  All embarrassing, I know.  But remember, still fun!

My big moment of I’m-still-living-my-chosen-life came when I successfully snorkeled at Kapalua Bay!  Post surgeries, I’ve had a hard time lifting my right arm comfortably and without pain (I tried to swim once too soon after surgery and semi-drowned but luckily I was in 4 feet of water and just had to put my feet down; full disclosure).  Snorkeling went very well, I could swim and move my arm and was able to realize I had more range of motion.  We saw eels (my favorite!) in crevices and cruising the sea floor (a bit uncommon to see them leave their cubby holes), a flying gurnard (that’s a rare but badass fish that sits on the bottom and has fins that spread out to look like wings).  It was wonderful to be back to my marine bio roots but bittersweet knowing that during chemo, I will probably be told to stay away from the ocean (I will have to stay away from the sun and with high bacteria counts in the ocean and my inevitable chemically-weakened immune system, I can guess what the recommendation will be about mother ocean).

I’ve been proudly taking phone calls again; sorry for the hiatus.  And know that if I take your phone call, it will likely be on speaker phone as I multi-task my way through this current life I lead.  Usually, I’m juicing orange-carrot juice with and without spinach (and whatever I find in the frig) and testing quinoa recipes with turmeric and peas (pretty good, needs more flavor; quinoa is tough, I must admit, but very healthy and very Aztec/Mayan-chic).

And lets not forget why we’re all here: to laugh.  I’ve currently been reading Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants.  That lady is awesome and hilarious.  I laugh or chuckle to every page, and I completely relate to so many parts of her life and her sense of humor.  Go out and get one (or add it to your iPad or Kindle) and we can read together.  And if you have read it, I haven’t gotten to this part yet, but two very important men in my life told me about a dark joke from Ms. Fey about a pedophile in the woods…

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4 thoughts on “Nuts and Bolts

  1. Jess Rosenthal says:

    Serena!
    As always, thanks for keeping us all updated. My parents and I are constantly thinking of you and your family. My mother asks me daily how you’re doing, and continues to get mad at me if I don’t show your latest blog post to her the very SECOND I discover it! (I’ll probably get in trouble now for taking time to write a comment to you instead of notifying her immediately!) ANYWAY, what is your email? My neighbor runs a culinary school and loves quinoa so if you are looking for recipes that taste good I’m sure she could help you out! Let me know! As far as the more serious stuff goes, I’m not the praying type but I do pray for you almost every day…so now I’ll pray for an ok liver as well!
    Love to you always…and if you ever need anything from Trader Joes let me know!

  2. eileen falahee says:

    Serena,
    You are an amzing and beautiful woman! I know we have not really gottten to know eachother very well at all but I want you to know I am here in your corner if you need anyhting…. I am so glad that you got to get in the Ocean and snorkel and soon this will all be in the past and you will be off swimming with the Eels and the Honus and getting on with life. Thanks for the sampling of the deodorants I am always looking for one that actually works.. I make a mean Quinoa Loaf (its actaully whole foods recipe) it is simpe and delish my husband the irish meat and potato guy even loves it here is the recipe you can tweak it to add other veggies too. I am going to get that book I love Tina Fay and a good laugh.. Miss you xo

    Welcome spring–or vegetarian guests–to your table with this delicious main-course recipe that is destined to become a favorite for family and feasts alike. For killer veggie burgers, serve any leftover slices on toasted whole wheat buns with lettuce and spicy mustard.

    Ingredients
    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
    8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
    Salt and ground black pepper to taste
    1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
    3/4 cup rolled oats
    2 cups cooked quinoa (Learn to Cook: Quinoa)
    1 cup frozen green peas
    1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley and/or 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
    10 sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
    1 cup (about 1 onion) chopped red onion

    Method
    Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8-inch loaf pan with oil; set aside. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

    Meanwhile, put beans, oats and 1/2 cup water into a food processor and pulse until almost smooth. In a large bowl, combine mushrooms, bean mixture, quinoa, peas, parsley, tomatoes, onion, salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to prepared loaf pan, gently pressing down and mounding it in the middle. Bake until firm and golden brown, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Set aside to let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

  3. Danielle says:

    Dear Serena,

    You are amazing. I feel the need to start every comment like that. You are also beautiful and a fantastic writer!!

    Some recommendations…

    My boyfriend has been using LifeStinks deodorant for a while now and swears by it, according to the website it is made by some pretty cool ladies.

    http://www.duggansisters.com/lifestinks/lifestinks.php

    And when you are done Tina Fey and moving on to your next book I’d suggest something by Sloane Crosley (http://sloanecrosley.com/). She makes me laugh. Or Mindy Kaling’s book. She makes me laugh too.

    Thinking of you lots and wishing I had more to offer than just suggestions and positive thinking, but I promise I will keep sending both your way!

    Danielle

  4. Johnna Fay says:

    #1: I used to eat (and still do eat) quinoa ALL THE TIME when I was vegetarian (for 10 years)!!!! I’ll see about digging up some good recipes.

    #2: I will make you a halophilic bacteria-free suit! 😀

    sending hugs and smiles, as always!

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