The Devil’s in the Details

“Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'”

~Mary Anne Radmacher

One of those details being: I still have cancer.  That’s right, I tried to wish it away but it just wont go!  Seems as though there are still some cancer cells attempting to corrupt more pre-cancerous cells lingering in my right breastal region (perhaps you prefer boobal region?  I believe in the American right to make up words.  It is ginormously important!  It may even be in the first amendmant…).  That’s the scary truth of it: I’ve been through so much shit and I still have cancer.  Can’t you tell you’re not wanted, evil C cells?!  Theoretically, a mastectomy will get it all and we’ll be in the clear.  Ideally, hopefully, fingers-crossed-ly.

Another detail, why did Kenny Loggins “I’m Alright” from Caddyshack get thrown in here in one of the first blogs?  Danielle told me Beyonce’s “Survivor” went through her head when she heard/read the news, and I can’t help but admit, it traveled into mine too!  But then I had to quickly mute it because we’re just not there yet.  Driving around town in a state of shock, disbelief, anger and doom, the universal powers that be gave me a little Loggins time and sent “I’m Alright” to the radio.  Listening to it was a nice step back in time–ah, memories, family, friends, life–and a reminder that I’m not the kind of person that stays curled up in a ball of doom and gloom (sure, I curl into the ball sometimes, but only temporarily).  I’d rather go at this aggressively, seize cancer by the throat and chuck it out into the streets, ASAP!  I got shit to do and cancer was not on my list of life-long goals.  But here it is, already over-staying its un-welcome.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.  Life’s a bitch.  You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”  ~Maya Angelou (If she can swear, why can’t we?!)

And, Nik, thanks for the home-made CD!  Listening to it now, and mellowing.  Kari, yours in up next!

“One good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain.”  ~Marley

One more, little tiny teensy weensy detail: the armpit numbness I’ve mentioned may last anywhere from nine months (Dr. Gambhir’s estimate) to one year (my plastic surgeon, Dr. Nishikawa).  Or rather, that’s the amount of time it may take for my arm to be back to normal.  This is because of the removal of and damage to my lymph nodes.  F.  Bomb.  Ugh.  Do you know what it feels like to put on deodorant on when there’s no feeling there?!  I can’t tell if the deodorant went on!  (Which, by the way, as cousin Nicole mentioned, Aluminum-free deodorants don’t work so great; still looking for a good one.  Ash, which one did you try and like?  I didn’t like the Crystal, never thought it worked, I need something that smells good.  Should I just rub some aluminum chunks under there?  Is that the secret ingredient?  I know it’s potentially carcinogenic but, hey, I already got cancer!  I’d rather not be the smelly kid at this point.)  To explain what my upper arm and arm pit area feel like, it’s just this: chaffing.  Constant relief-less chaffing.  I see men cringing.  Ladies, it feels like a bra edge folded under a tight tank top and rubbing only I can’t just adjust it.  It’s tight and stiff and sore to move and lift my arm.  Nine months of this?!  Fuuuuuuuhhhh.

Yesterday was the Oahu day trip (I live on the neighboring island of Maui in Hawaii and not all of Kaiser’s doctors and facilities are here) to the plastic surgeon to discuss reconstructive surgery.  Folks, I’m here to be honest.  I’m not going to sugarcoat this.  You may need to remove small children from the room.  The details of a mastectomy and reconstruction, are in one word, BARBARIC (boobaric?!  Hahaha.  I may be loosing my mind, finally).  I was horrified as we talked through the process.  Cancer is obviously here in my life to show me that there-are-no-shortcuts-we-can’t-get-through-this-fast-I-need-to-slow-down-stop-and-smell-the-roses-stop-worrying-about-work-and-anything-else-but-getting-healthy-shut-the-hell-up-and-deal-with-it.  Something like that.  At least that’s what I got out of it.  I will spare you the details for this blog because there was something deeper at the heart of the Oahu trip.

I finally had my meltdown; I went and sat at rock bottom and had a brief pity party.  Obviously, the last blog represented a terrible day and the descent into no-man’s land.  I thought it was the bottom and that I climbed back up.  But I was wrong.  I got through the Oahu trip and then got home, went to a lovely movie with my man and then started telling Sean about the horrors of the reconstructive surgery, the time it will take to go through the three surgeries and six plus appointments that make up the reconstructive process.  By re-telling what I had heard earlier that day, the reality came in fully and sat like an elephant on my chest and a storm cloud over my head.  Cue giant fat rolling tears on the car ride home, pause to get ready for bed, and cue more tears in bed.  Sean chose the tough love method in the car as I whined and pitied myself and this sucky path of life I got put on and then, at home, I “yelled” (spoke strongly sounds more accurate, “voiced my opinion”) at him that he needed to baby me (as a stubborn man to my stubborn lady-ness, he finally relented and  chose to alternate between supportive things and being quiet while I got it out; we are quite a match of stubborn-ity!).  But the whole magic of it all, is that once I gave in a cried it out, I was over it.  I was lighter.  It took maybe ten minutes and then I could let it all go.  All that shit just floated off in the breeze and I slept.  Don’t think for a minute I’m telling you that I’m emotionally balanced but that chunk, that situation, has been processed away and put to rest.  I’m better today than I was yesterday.  And guess what mastectomy with reconstruction?  I’m still coming at ya.  You.  Me.  Tuesday.  See you (in part) in the OR.  (Stronger drugs, please).

“Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do.  But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.”  ~Unknown.

How are you all doing?  I’ve gotten some feedback that you experienced many emotions from reading this, but what exactly?  I know I promised you a poll in the Results are In blog but I couldn’t have your opinions weighing on my decision; it just had to be my decision or as an independent young lady, I would second guess myself.  So let’s try the polling feature below.  The Unknown/Other category are for those of you that say, “Serena, I don’t know how I feel.  My girlfriend made me read this.”  Or perhaps, “Serena, I don’t know what emotions are.”  Or even, “Serena, I’m cry/laughing so hard I don’t know what I’m clicking.”  Or the usual, “Serena, I’m not good at multiple choice, is this a test?  Is there a right answer?  A wrong answer?  WHY IS THIS SO STRESSFUL?!”  Just, shhhhh, click it, breath, take a walk and come back when you’re ready.  Stop channeling college nightmares.

Another detail: To Bob and Maryellen, I have changed the tag line to reflect your witty input!  We are no longer here for therapy but “Tumor Humor and Cathartic Carcinoma Quips.”  Much more attractive and far less scary.  Therapy is scary sometimes.  I did a little dictionary-dot-com-ing to make sure I was using “cathartic” properly (Darlene Wilt, I almost always check my work!) and I found some interesting definitions.

The first was “a purging medication; stimulates evacuation of the bowels.”  Well, according to that definition, we are going to shit all over this blog!  Go for it, purge away: shit on it, I dare you!  Life is shitty.  We often get stuck in shitty situations.  Shit will hit the fan at some point.  This is shit and this is shine-ola (The Jerk, a classic family and Lake Winnipesaukee Labor Day Party movie).  We are never too hold to deal with shit and have fun with shit; some of you are even cleaning up shitty diapers (even from adorable Sellier girls, Cami and Cossette!).  Ah, shit.

The second definition was far more accurate and exactly what I was looking for: “emotionally purging.”  Yup, in the case of shit hitting the fan, we’re usually experiencing a lot of emotions (ideally, the fan will whisk those emotions away and just a hint of a poo smell will remain as a humbling reminder of what we went through, the shit).  I am using this blog to emotionally purge.  I’m kind of shitting on you.  In some species, that is special.  Maybe not in Homo sapiens.  But a bird shitting on you is lucky, right?  Or did a parent somewhere make that one up so console a shat-upon child somewhere?  Hmm, I digress.  Where were we?  Oh, yes, I shit on you with emotions.  But I leave the door open for you to shit back!  That’s what the comments section is all about!  Shit away (the overuse of this word is leading to it’s loss of intensity; granted, it’s a bit more acceptable in society and culture than the F word; kids reading this, I’m just referencing Fudge or Fruit or something else Fantastic).  We’re emotionally purging our way through a very difficult matter with equal bits of reality and crap and humor and fun; like a fine life recipe, huh, mum?

Can you find the shit in this picture?  Guess what?  It’s from the brown BOOBie bird!  Life is ironic!

And this leads me to one of our last devilish details: the amazingness of all of your [unshitty] support!  And my extreme inability to call you back.  I’m still Serena, I still have a hard time with the phone.  I have received so much love and support from you and I haven’t been able to keep up with it.  But the cancer books say I don’t have to and the cancer books say (because you probably haven’t had as much time as our household to read them so I did for you) that you should not be offended that I didn’t call or write or email or text you back!  Yay!  Cancer, the scapegoat, strikes again!  You can blame it too!  I got flowers from mom and dad, Erik and Lisa, Michael and Craig, the Pacific Whale Foundation Lahaina-side family.  Care packages and thinking of you gifts from godparents Carol and Craig, Nik, Kari, Mike and Laura and Reno dog (and Scupper even got a doggy care package from them!), Aleta and Gary, Steph and Linds, Jac and Andrew, Sierra and Drew, Uncle Dennis and Mary Lou, the McClellands.  Cards from all over the place from all areas of my life, phone calls and texts all up in my phone, emails filled my in box.  It has all been overwhelmingly amazing and continues to be so!  I write this as a huge thank you.  I cannot always get back to you.  Sometimes I’m busy, sometimes I’m just too tired with all this stuff.  And I do feel guilty about even though I know you understand and the books say I don’t have to.  But your love and support and respect and care do not go unnoticed.  You all want to do something and you have; just reading this and sharing this is enough but you’ve gone above and beyond.  Mahalo cannot be expressed enough and I know I’ve said it a lot in here; I’m shooting for overkill anyway!  I love you kids!

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  ~Lao Tzu

Our final detail: did you feel yourself up yet?!  Woah, WOAH!  Let’s not get carried away!  Get your mind out of and away from the gutter!  I just want to make sure you did your boob check.  It can take 6-10 years for cancer to develop into a notable lump.  Ain’t that a mind trip?  All this reading and learning about cancer and I’ve maybe possible potentially had it for a long time.  But, dear, cancer, you are still not an old friend!  You are still not welcomed with open arms.  I still plan to find you.  And kill you!  Don’t put up a fight anymore.  Let’s just make this quick–and since we can’t say painless, and hardly even quick for that matter and my mind set; just go peacefully.  And never ever come back.

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Post-surgery Update

“Those who preserve their integrity remain unshaken by the storms of daily life.  They do not stir like leaves on a tree or follow the herd where it runs.  In their mind remains the ideal attitude and conduct of living.  This is not something given to them by others… it is a strength that exists deep within in them.”  ~Anonymous Native American

*We do all have this strength and can share it.  I’ve felt it from you and it has made all the difference as I and we travel though this.

Greetings loved ones.

After my Thursday interview with the nurse on my medical history while at my unique “office” of the boat Ocean Discovery crossing from Manele, Lanai back to Maui (not easy to have a serious chat on the phone with diesel engines running in my ear!), I proceeded with the semi-normal life of grocery shopping in anticipation of parental arrival, walking the puppy, cake for dinner (why not) and picking up the parents from the airport.  No food or drink after midnight so I ate and drank until midnight.

Let’s go through this together…

Friday morning, up and showered, no breakfast allowed, load up the caravans with Ash, Mom, Dad, Sean, a cancer patient.

8:00AM – Valet parking at Maui Memorial, check in at registration, ID me, more paperwork and signatures, up to my private room.  Take away all my stuff and wash down with warm scented cleansing cloths that smell, taste (yeah, somehow I licked it, I’m a very sensory and sensitive person) and feel sticky, into the gown, into the bed, wait.

8:30AM – More questions, yes, I’m still Serena Neff born 6/30/83.  Time for my first jabbing needle: an IV.  Now, I am skinny and I have small veins.  I gave blood last week for my pre-op shenanigans and they jabbed me twice before getting a smaller needle.  This time, the nurse couldn’t find an obvious vein in my hand, so she went to the elbow and poked unsuccessfully (but made a good bleeding wound).  She called in the RN who seems to be the take-no-prisoners get-er-done kind; she tied off my arm, lidocained my hand, found a vein and stuck the IV needle right in there.  I hate the bee sting feeling of needles.  Let the fluids flow!

9:00AM – My posse huddled into the room.  They ate delicious breakfast foods in front of me (those jerks), we watched some depressing murderous missing people mass murdering news (did I mention they talked about murder in most of the stories?  Ah, CNN, so uplifting) and then switched over to Family Feud.  What job should a dude have to ensure a saucy encounter with a housewife?  I guessed plumber (#2 answer); the best answer came from Sean: Pool cleaner (#7, what?!); Ash guessed Gardener (#4 I think) but the #1 answer was mail man.  What?  Does no one watch Glee?!  Pool cleaner.  Should be top choice.

10:00AM – Wheeled to x-ray.  Dude, I gotta pee.  Moved into a new bed, warm blankets, time for my radioactive dye injection.  Boob warmed, and numbed, and warmed and shot with yet another needle, and warmed again with the heating pad.  Then…….. I get to pee!  Ahhh.  The small things that let me feel human.

11:00AM – Back in bed and to my room?  No!  Straight to surgery.  I have a brief moment of dread and panic and sadness.  My boob will never be the same, my body will never be the same.  This shit is scary.  What if they find something else?  What if something goes wrong?  WHERE’S MY ANESTHESIOLOGIST?!  Shh, brain, shh.  Meet a bunch of nurses and, at last, my anesthesiologist, my saint.  See I’ve got this pounding headache from pressure or stress or lights, that feels better when my eyes close but would feel a whole lot better if I could just stop being conscious for every step of this whole process and just go to sleep and wake up with things done.  Dr. Baker seems to agree and gives me my first shot: the sweet icy nectar of Valium.  Ah, felt like ice cubes to the vein. and after being wheeled into the OR, scooting to the table, getting vitals hooked up and leg massagers wrapped on, I was out in 5 minutes.

Fast forward to about 1:30PM, I think…

I don’t even know where I woke up or what I said first but I was wrapped in bandages and on lots of drugs.  And pretty happy and comfortable.  My doctor said something about everything going well.  I somehow ended up back in my room.  My personal support team came in.  I got juice and crackers (food, finally!) and then I had to pass my test: drink something, stand up, walk to the potty, and pee.  God, can’t the rest of life’s tests be so easy!  For the record, my pee was green from the blue dye.  Cool.  Very St. Pats Day.  And I did pass all my tests even though I walked like a drunkard.  I would fit in at Lahaina harbor real well.

So, what happened while I was out in la-la land?  My lumpectomy procedure removed more tissue surrounding my original tumor in an attempt to get all the cancer cells that were associated with the lump; they took a gold ball size amount.  A GOLF BALL?  Well, shit, I don’t have that much to spare!  Sean said maybe they could put a squeaker from the dog’s toy in there to both fill some space and entertain Scupper man.  Kinda funny, huh?  Kinda gross too!  We’ll see how it all looks after and go from there.  I still have my vanity to protect.  The radioactive blue dye indicated that my sentinel lymph node had potential for present invasive cancer cells.  Yikes.  That lymph node was removed and is being biopsied.  Results to come.  I currently wear a drainage ball.  It’s gross.  There’s no way to sugarcoat or beautify that one.  Use your imagination and then block it out.  Ear muff it; brain muff it.

For now, we’re in sigh-surgery-is-done-now-wait-and-see mode.  We’ll be hearing from Dr. Gambhir in the next 3-6 days and I have a follow up appointment next Wednesday.  I feel pretty good, just sore and tight.  My mom threw away my deodorants that have Aluminum in them and I can’t shower for 48 hours so who wants a hug?!  Don’t worry, I have a sponge bath and new good smelling hippie deodorant in my future.  Big plans for our day, eh?

I hope to make it to Mikey’s benefit tonight so watch where you’re walkin!  Don’t bump me too hard.  We’ll see how I’m feeling later.  No drinking either, just drugs!

Boob-gate 2012

What a whirlwind!

First of all: mahalo nui loa, thank you big time.

You have all followed the rules and found your own way to get through this with me.  I have received countless texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook posts, tags, blog posts and even a few hints at snail mail to come.  Wow.  Just wow.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, you don’t know how much it means to me.  I didn’t realize how far and wide the circle and waves reached.

I am not at all the person that puts myself out there.  I prefer to be private.  If I was a celebrity, you would see more pictures of my hand in OK magazine than my face, and the paparazzi would be trying to dig dirt on me but I would be changing my cell phone number and posting only pictures of my dog.  I’d also be the one with the dirty mouth and lawsuits against Star mag.

But in this situation, I had to get a lot of intense information out fast, far and correctly so I decided to do a personality u-turn, rip off the band-aid and blog it.  Everyone has a blog these days anyway!  Word spreads like wildfire with technology; and between the combination of technology and this generation of “experience everything everywhere with every person you can find,” my circle of friends and family is big and international (hey you Aussies and Canucks out there!).

I wanted this to be my words, and not so much the grapevine and the “hey, did you hear?”

And mostly, I wanted Sean, my parents and my brothers to have a way to share the burden.  Really, we’re all sharing the burden.  And I feel lighter by it!  This is the place we go when even words are too difficult to speak.  When you don’t know what’s going on and you’re not sure if you should ask.  When I cannot vocalize all the shit that goes through my head and all the emotions that go through my heart, we come here.  You read it, hopefully laugh, sometimes you cry, you share; you keep living.

When the blog idea became part of the cancer plan, I googled (where else would we start our research in this day and age?!) where I would start my site (WordPress came up first and I liked that it didn’t use the word blog in it’s site address), and signed up and stared at–duh–the start page.

Big problem.  What the hell was I gonna call it?  “Serena’s cancer”?  Boring.  “Cancer journey from Maui?”  Ooh, tropical but boring.  “My boob harbors a fugitive”?  Haha, but not appropriate.  This was not an easy task to come up with a title (or a TIT-le if you’re feeling the need for corny).

And it finally hit me.  I’m 28.  Cancer has been in my reality, my non-ignorant world for six days.  Six days of 28 years.  F that!  That C word ain’t touching my title, because I don’t plan on keeping it or ruling my life by it.  It is what made me start writing but it’s not going to be the only thing I have to say.

But what would I rule my life by?  What have I ruled my life by?  What will I always tell you to rule your life by?

Obviously, read the title, people.  Pursue with Courage!

Are you going to read this blog with courage because you might throw up at the thought of someone you know, someone my age, someone your child knows, etc having breast cancer?  Are you closing your computer and contemplating your life and morality with a little courage?  Are you calling your parents/siblings/friends from long ago and putting aside old issues with a little courage because your perspective on what’s really important just changed?  Will you realize that time is precious, and that relationships and being our best selves are all we have and that waiting on that job to come to you, or the other person to start the conversation is a waste of your innate courage?  You damn well better!  Get of your butt, put on your big person pants, go to your dirty laundry basket and dig around for your ball of courage, dust it off, shine it and hackey sack that thing around!

And just in case I said that word so many times it has lost its meaning, here’s a little lesson:

cour·age

noun
1. The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete . the heart as the source of emotion.
Ok, ok, you can keep a little fear.  But only for motivation.  Like when I’m fearful of spiders in my shower, I use it as motivation to wash them down the drain and recognize that it was a courageous effort.  Hey, don’t fault me.  I love nature, I love bugs but if you’re in my shower, you crossed the line.
Tomorrow is surgery day.  I’ve been assured that they will not need to take too much out (I have little 32Bs, there’s not a lot for removal so those cancer cells had better have stayed local and small) and that I will be headed home after.  I’ve got a party bus of four coming for support: Sean, Mom and Dad and Ash.  We’ll be going in at 8am HAWAII time (if you call me at 8am east coast time, we won’t be friends anymore; Sean will tell you how much I AM NOT a morning person, especially a 2am morning person!) but my appointment time is on island time; meaning, whenever.  You can call my mom (Lauren) or look for Ash’s post or wait for mine.  They told me they didn’t want me to stagger out of the hospital so I expect to be walking in full consciousness by the time I leave!  And I can type with my left hand (my right boob is the culprit, there, now you know which boob to blame–and I had a clean mammogram on Wednesday so no other tumors in the boobal region) so I will update when I’m sober (yeah, cancer will lead me to hardcore drug usage of mild pain killers, watch out).
And as I gear up for surgery, Mr. Michael Ray, a friend and coworker is recovering nicely from brain surgery!  He had a cyst that pressed on his cerebellum and built up enough pressure that by the time he had surgery, it burst.  But the outcome is good and healthy!  We’re thinking we may have to blame work for our issues… 🙂