Monday, May 31, 2010

Anesthesia

I was cleaning my room/unpacking, and found a journal entry I wrote when I was 15, about what it was like going under anesthesia to get my wisdom teeth (and 5 others) removed. It's SO WEIRD! I thought I would type it up and share. Here's the whole thing, unedited.

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"Okay, Gabrielle. We're going to put this mask over your nose now." She got my name wrong. [Gabrielle is my middle name]. The mask was put over my nose. "Take deep breaths." I did. for a minute, a strawberry-cherry vapor filled my nostrils and throat. I breathed slowly and tryed [sic] to relax like they had told me. Then a new substance filled my lungs. They told me to let them know when I got a buzz on my forehead. After a few seconds, I closed my eyes. It hurt to keep them open. I quickly re-opened them, though, so they wouldn't think I had already gone under. I stared straight up, at the big blue light above me. It seemed to get farther away, and my ears started to ring. It was a scary feeling, and the only way I showed the fear was my eyes. They widened and darted furiously around. I felt trapped. I closed my eyes briefly, blinking longer each time. I pointed to my forehead, indicating the 'buzz.' I closed my eyes, and everything changed. I no longer saw, heard, or was aware of the operating room or doctors. I saw nothing but blue, red, and yellow dots forming triangles so close together that it was just a greyish mass. I could sense a very cold, robot-like voice near me. "Breath. [sic]. Deep. Breathe. Deep." Instead of getting dizzy and spinning in circles [??], there were triangles. Big triangles, made of the colored dots. I watched them as they traced the shape, beeping mechanically, then they shrunk to about one fourth of the size, all smushed into one shape. The beeping became louder, and almost audible [??], but more like sensed, the letters RGM were repeated over and over in the mechanical voice, blaring inside my head. The G espesially [sic] was emphasized, and I tryed [sic] to figure out why. Since I focused on the one letter, one of the 3 points of the triangle, the triangle became one single black dot, throbbing at great speed, beeping louder than ever. The coldness, harshness, of it all was almost unbearible [sic], and I acutely remember thinking: 'I am under anesthesia. I can tell that I am, and I'm not supposed to remember it. I hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing psyically [sic], yet I am aware that I am unconscious.' It was such a weird feeling, and I hoped desperately the feeling would leave soon.
That is the very last thing I remember before I woke up in the recovery room.

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GEEZ!! That was a scary (and bizarre as hell!) experience that lasted for several minutes. I have NO IDEA what's up with the "RGM" and beeping triangles weirdness...and my writing is rather incoherent at times, making me wonder when, exactly, I wrote this - in the freakin recovery room?? Ha!!

Considering that was my one and only experience with anesthesia, I'm surprised I let myself go through it again this winter for breast surgery! Or rather, I'm surprised I wasn't the least bit scared of it. To the contrary - after my lumpectomy, K told my family I went under "giggling like a little girl." And I don't AT ALL remember the process of losing consciousness. All I remember is: K asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to, I thought that was hilarious and told her, "I'm not going to be awake to hear music!", and my giggling made the anesthesiologist exclaim in surprise, "I haven't even given her anything yet!" I vaguely remember K's smiling eyes, despite her face being cluttered with the necessary protective gear (that ridiculous poofy cap and face shield), and that's IT. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in recovery. I think it really helped to have IV anesthesia instead of that scary mask with the "strawberry-cherry vapor" - ugh!! I think they used that (when I was 15) because I was terrified of needles, but jesus christ, I would have preferred the temporary pain of a needle insertion, if it meant not spending several minutes aware of the process of going unconscious. It was like drowning, or like being blind and deaf and paralyzed all at once. SO SCARY.

It's so strange that surgery to get a few teeth pulled was scarier than surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from my body. And it's so strange that for a few weeks in December-ish while I was waiting for surgery, my sprained pinky finger was way more painful, bothersome, and life-interrupting than the CANCEROUS TUMOR was. I never had a single symptom of the cancer...no way of knowing it was there, other than doctors telling me so. This is still so weird when I think about it. It's the only time I've had to undergo extensive, intense, uncomfortable medical treatments for a health problem that was simultaneously the worst health problem I've ever had and one I did not feel at all. It's not like having a really painful sore throat, getting dx'd with strep, taking the antibiotics, and then feeling the pain go away and knowing you're better. It's not like having coughing fits that kept me up at night for months, getting dx'd with asthma, treating the asthma with a combination of inhalers and alternative medicine, then stopping coughing and sleeping soundly once more. I didn't know I had cancer, and couldn't feel the cancer, and then spent a month and a half getting irradiated, which I also could not feel, and now I'm cancer-free, but it all feels so unreal, like I either possibly still have cancer or never had it at all, because either way, I CAN'T TELL! Does that make sense?? It sounds awful to say this, but I almost wish the cancer had been accompanied by at least one symptom*, so that the cancer treatments could have eliminated the symptom, and I'd thus have something to hold on to - I could believe both the reality of the cancer in my body and its elimination. Because right now it's feeling like... 'cancer? Really? REALLY?!'

*Edited to add: the lump was a symptom, duh. And I could feel it when I poked at my breast, and yeah, surgery removed it...so THAT was a clear distinction between cancer's presence and absence which I could understand. But the little lump never hurt me/bothered me so it was still hard to understand in that regard, and it was even harder to understand the whole invisible-radiation-killing-invisible-cancer-that-might-not-even-be-there thing.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Anti-cancer weekend :)

Tamoxifen in 5 days, but I'm not thinking about that right now.

I have had a WONDERFUL weekend, and a very ANTI-CANCER weekend! :)

I've been re-reading Dr. David Servan-Schrieber's Anti-Cancer. I think I should read this book on a regular basis, because it's so uplifting and inspiring. Every time I read even a little part of it, my determination to make my body's terrain totally unwelcoming to cancer is reaffirmed and increased and I get a little more excited by how truly possible this IS. Also, re-reading it reminds me of details I had forgotten.

Dr. David says that these are the good things to be doing:

* Eating a healthy anti-cancer diet

What I ate (just yesterday and today) included the following:

-2 bags of frozen cauliflower (contains sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinols - anticancer molecules)
-1 bag of frozen sweet potato ("a study that tracked breast cancer patients for six years showed that those who consumed the most foods rich in carotenoids lived longer than those who consumed less." p. 136)
-1 bag of frozen strawberries (ellagic acid and polyphenols stimulate mechanisms of elimination of carcinogens)
-1 clove garlic (sulfur compounds promote apoptosis - cell death - in breast cancer)
-1 can of grapefruit (anti-inflammatory flavonoids)
-a few cups of nettles infusion (nourishes every system of the body)
-1/3 of a bar of 85% dark chocolate (antioxidants, proanthocyanidins, and polyphenols slow the growth of cancer cells and limit angiogenesis.)

And I had all of the following supplements each day:
-3 dropperfuls of green tea extract (facilitates death of cancer cells, rich in polyphenols)
-4 Juice Plus capsules (concentrated fruits & veggies)
-1 Turmeric capsule ("the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory identified today." p. 134. also stimulates apoptosis in cancer cells)
-20 mg melatonin (slows breast cancer growth by reducing linoleic acid)
-2000 IU vitamin D (stimulates apoptosis in cancer cells, increases healthy cells)
-3 digestive enzymes capsules (so my body can actually assimilate all the good stuff I'm eating!)
-2 fish oil/omega-3 capsules (reduces inflammation, reduces cancer cell growth)
-2 T ground flax seeds (phytoestrogens, flushes estrogen out of the body, acts like Tamoxifen)

* Avoiding products containing industrial chemicals whenever possible
This weekend, like every day, I used all-natural, paraben-free shampoo, soap, deodorant, and toothpaste. Today I bought and used Badger Balm sunblock, the 2nd best/healthiest sunblock, according to the Environmental Working Group's 2010 report. I drank filtered water out of glass and ceramic containers.

* 20-30 mins of physical activity each day, minimum

I did some pull-ups, and I walked for an hour yesterday and another hour today. I did not use my car at ALL, and thus helped take care of the Earth as well as myself.

* Sunlight for 20 mins per day (vitamin D)

I spent at least 2 hours walking in the sun, and 90 minutes at the river with friends. I got plenty of vitamin D and then put on sunblock so I wouldn't get burned!

* Regularly practicing a method of self-centering and relaxation
I spent time in nature, wandering around the cemetery and taking photos of my favorite statues, like this:




* Accepting yourself and your emotions, and getting support from family and friends
I journaled, and processed emotions in long emails to a friend. I spent a lot of GREAT time with friends this weekend... we had brunch, and went swimming at the rock river. I said thank you prayers, and slept a lot, and spent the first hour that I was awake this morning just lying in bed and thinking happy thoughts.

And I was SO SO HAPPY with my hair!!! :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

haircut





I got a haircut today. It was very freeing! I did it to donate my hair to Matter of Trust, the organization that uses human and pet hair to make mats and booms that help clean up the oil spill. I've been feeling so grief-stricken and helpless in response to the oil spill, and was glad to discover that I could at least donate my hair.

I've never had hair this short before. I gave the stylist free reign to do whatever she wanted with my hair, with my only criteria being that I wanted to donate as much hair as possible without looking like I'd been through chemo. :) While she was cutting my hair, I sent love and metta to the dolphins, whales, seaweed, shrimp, plankton, sharks, turtles, manatees, lobsters, scallops, horseshoe crabs, sand crabs, mussels, swordfish, coral reefs...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Good Day

Okay, on to happier things!! Today was a really, really good day.

I slept in, then had a yummy breakfast of cottage cheese, Green Goddess juice/smoothie, and coffee, while watching an episode of Gray's Anatomy.

I put on my happy, rainbow-striped tank top and shorts, because it was EIGHTY DEGREES AND SUNNY :D, and went downtown.

I had a wonderfully productive therapy session.

I went to the post office, and found a nice paycheck in my box.

When I came out of the post office, there was my good friend B, right there on the sidewalk, whom I hadn't hang out with in over two months and had missed so much. And it turns out her afternoon work was canceled, so we'd have time to hang out! My friend A waved to me from down the sidewalk while B and I were walking.

I got some great exercise walking all around town doing errands. I sold another stack of DVDs to the used DVD store, enough to pay for another month and a half of Netflix.

I went to the Co op and got a delicious nut shake for lunch (hazelnuts, banana, maple syrup, rice milk), and ran into friends to chat with.

I got back to my car only one minute after my parking expired and had no ticket on the windshield, whew!

I went home and did some work on the meeting minutes, which went surprisingly well.

I walked back downtown, and spent the walk chatting on the phone with a family I used to work with and hadn't seen for a while, to see how they're doing and they sounded great and told me all about the funny circus show they went to yesterday.

Also while walking, I left a voicemail for my friend SS, in an attempt to make plans to hang out soon.

I met B at Coffee Country and we had yummy iced coffee drinks and sat at a table outside and caught up on everything! We saw and waved to our friend D and her daughter R as they passed by.

B walked me partway home then continued on down the street to the circus school, while I dashed home to throw on a unitard. Then I went to the circus school, too. There were so many friendly faces to say hello to.

I had a wonderful time in the 90-min trapeze class that B and SR taught! It was a small class, fun and low-key. I noticed differences in my body (e.g. my left chest and armpit feel really tight, because of scar tissue and radiation), but going back to trapeze wasn't difficult like I had worried it would be and my body felt really good back on the bar.

I came home, and had a great chat with C (my friend/housemate!) while cooking my dinner. I made well-boiled/mushed broccoli and mixed it with cream of rice cereal, goat cheese, and coconut oil, which gave me a meal that my teeth could handle AND included vegetables, grains, fat, and protein, all at once.

I watched another episode of Gray's Anatomy while eating my dinner, which was surprisingly tasty, and a square of 85% dark chocolate.

Now I will try and take my melatonin and go to sleep before midnight, so I can wake up early for the Airport Advisory Committee meeting that I'm the minute-taker for.

And I will have happy dreams, at the end of this happy day. :) Today was a perfect blend of everything - social time, alone time, exercise, outdoor time (gorgeous weather!), self-care (therapy), nourishing food, a little bit of work, and a true sense of community. I love it that I not only spent planned time with friends, but bumped into so many other friends while out and about downtown. That's why I love living here - there are friends around every corner. I used to think that community like this only existed on TV shows!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I F'ing Give Up

You know that tooth I just got crowned less than a month ago? IT JUST CRACKED. I'm 31 years old and have had 5 root canals and an extraction, and now this tooth just cracked for the third time in a year. I f'ing give up. I brush, floss, use xylitol, sleep with a mouth guard, and stopped eating sugar 4 months ago. I don't know what more to do than stop chewing food. How the F else can I make my teeth last for the several decades that they are supposed to? I'm THIRTY ONE FREAKIN YEARS OLD. I'm just going to eat things like hummus, yogurt, applesauce, soup, refried beans, and smoothies from here on out. No more chewing. This is insane.

Last year when my tooth cracked and I went for 3 or 4 weeks without eating solid food (e.g. used my immersion blender on all of the foods I ate), I unintentionally lost over 10 pounds and that's not good. I'm a healthy weight now and will be underweight if I lose, and I don't want or need to lose weight. I need to have a plan for how to do this better than last time. Any ideas? I am looking for foods that do not need to be chewed, and don't have sugar, meat, soy, artificial ingredients, or a lot of processing. And they also need to have enough protein and fat to help me maintain a healthy weight.

My list so far:

Fruits & Veg: applesauce, mashed avocados, mashed bananas, smoothies, mashed sweet potatoes, those Indian sauces/veggies/meals in a box
Protein: refried beans, hummus (?? does this have protein?), yogurt, PB, scrambled eggs, some kind of salmon that's really soft?
Grains: oatmeal, grits, cream of wheat...?
Etc: chia seeds added to things provide lots of nutrients, coconut oil adds fat, soup combines everything, nettles and chickweed tea are full of nutrients...

What else is there? How do I do this?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ramblings

It's been a week since I last blogged, so I'm feeling like I should write something here, but I'm not sure what to say.

My fatigue has decreased - I can stay up late again, and sometimes I now only sleep for 7.5 or 8 hours, instead of 9! This weekend, I was exhausted, but that was due to working 27 hours in 3 days. (Which I know is normal to so many people, but not to ME, at this point in my life.) So of COURSE I was tired from that! But I could definitely feel that it was the 'overworked' fatigue, which is familiar to me, not the heavy fatigue from radiation. I can say with confidence that I'm healing very well from the radiation! My skin is now tan instead of pink/burned, and rather splotchy because it's peeling. I'm still using lots of aloe. And it doesn't hurt!

I worked too much this weekend. I just started this new job that's 19 hours one weekend per month, and in theory, this is great for me, because my other work is usually only on weekdays so I am not overtaxed by this set-up. I like the work, and I like being able to earn a big chunk of money in just one weekend and then having all of my other weekends free! But this weekend I took on an extra assignment from my other job, too, and also spent my "break" helping my former roommate clean our former apartment to increase the chances of my former landlord giving me at least some of my security deposit money back. So, combined, it was TOO MUCH for one weekend!!! But the fact that I was even able to do it showed me that I really have recovered from radiation, woohoo!

This morning, I slept in, and then, to reward myself for getting through my marathon weekend of work, I took myself out for brunch! I went ALL OUT! I had a spinach/onion/mushroom/cheese omelet with sour cream and olives, hash browns, sunflower wheat toast, a short stack of blueberry pancakes with butter and VT maple syrup, and coffee! The waitress thought I was done ordering after I said the omelet part and started to turn to leave, but I kept going with, "And I will also have..." She grinned and said, "You go, girl!!" at the end of my list, haha!! Okay, no, I did not really eat all of that food. About a third of it is in a box in the fridge right now. And I've been too full to eat a single thing since that brunch 8 hours ago! But oh it was so fun! (I think my body needs tons of food/nutrients right now to fuel the healing process. :))

I have to say, I'm in a strange place right now and don't know how to describe it. I thought that when cancer treatments were over, it would be this clearly-defined event, like, "WHEW, glad that's over, now I can go back to my life!" But it doesn't feel like that at all. Radiation's over, and that's a HUGE milestone which I'm thrilled about, but is that all it takes to automatically make me go from "cancer patient" to "cancer survivor"? Am I now "cancer-free"? But who's to say I wasn't "cancer-free" right after surgery, or after my 9th radiation treatment, or my 23rd? It's all quite confusing. I'm glad that I can used the past tense now and say "I had breast cancer," but at the same time, it's the same phrase that a person who had breast cancer 17 years ago can say, whereas it feels like just 5 minutes ago that I had breast cancer. It doesn't feel like it's "over," or at least, not as clearly or as much as I THOUGHT it would at this point. Partly it's because my datebook is still cluttered with doctor appointments. I'm seeing my naturopath on Friday, then my oncologist will put me on Tamoxifen the first week of June, and I have a thermogram a couple weeks after that, followed by a check-up with the radiation oncologist (and Lulu ;)) a week or so after that, and a check-up with my surgeon in early Sept (probably with more imaging tests?), and probably at least one more visit with my oncologist before then, etc. So I really don't have this "YAY, IT'S OVER! LET'S HAVE A PARTY!" feeling.

On the other hand, I AM returning to my "normal life" in many ways now (or rather, a new normal), and I looooove having the whole month of May to not have to go to the cancer center at ALL. I think it's the first time in 6 months that I've had more than a couple weeks without needing to go to the hospital for something. Wow, that blows my mind. I mean, the fact that I spent HALF A YEAR being a regular at the hospital. Really?? Ultrasound, biopsy, mammogram, MRI, chest X-ray, blood work, meeting with surgeon, more mammogram, surgery, surgery, check-up with surgeon, thermogram, consult with oncologist, consult with radiation oncologist, surgery, check-up with surgeon, 33 radiation treatments, more blood draws, more thermography, more oncology. All of that for 6 straight months. It seems so...not like my life!!

Six months of having my breast poked, squished, cut, sewn, injected with things, stuck with wires, compressed between mammography plates, looked at, discussed, photographed, tattooed, irradiated, washed, stuck with stickers, drawn on with Sharpies, scanned, analyzed, by dozens of strangers. Thank the gods THAT IS OVER!!! (Mostly.)

But, Tamoxifen looms. It's not so much that I'm "done with treatment," it's that I'm done with the local treatment and am moving on to the systemic treatment. That is, surgery and radiation were treatments done only to my breast. This daily Tamoxifen pill is going to effect my entire system/body. I don't yet know what this will be like and I'm getting nervous about it. It's possible that I won't experience any side effects at all, and I will just feel like myself and everything will be great! But this is unlikely. The other extreme is that I could basically feel like I'm in menopause, with hot flashes, nausea & vomiting, vaginal problems, fatigue, depression, headaches, etc. This, too, is unlikely. But there is no way to know except to just start taking the stupid daily Tamoxifen pill and see what happens. Probably I won't be totally miserable or totally fine; it will be somewhere in the middle. The not knowing is driving me crazy....when I let myself think about it. Mostly, I haven't been! I've been working, unpacking and settling into my new home (apartment shared with friends!), reading lots of library books, playing on the Internet, walking in the sunshine, drinking tons of coffeeshop coffee, spending time with friends, watching Buffy, journaling, making Michfest plans, and all of that good stuff. I don't WANT to be researching Tamoxifen and compiling a list of questions to ask my oncologist about it in preparation for our June appointment...the cancer books are collecting dust on my bookshelf while I instead read interesting and enjoyable books. Somehow I need to keep working on finding a balance, neither obsessing over the cancer stuff nor ignoring it. Maybe one reason I haven't been blogging much is 'cause I'd rather just ignore it right now. I want to just spend this one month without having to focus on the cancer treatments, you know? Radiation's over, and Tamoxifen hasn't begun. Why can't it just stay May forever?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Overdue Update

I haven't written a real update in so long. Mainly this is because my "update" is: I AM EXHAUSTED. I've been averaging 9 hrs of sleep per night (along with experiencing sporadic insomnia, go figure!), and still, I feel half dead by late afternoon most days. This is normal/common for the last couple weeks during and after radiation, presumably because your body is putting so much energy into repairing all of the cells that spent 6 weeks getting an ass-kicking from the radiation. My skin held up very well, overall - my breast just looks sunburned. I can clearly see the lines of the radiation field, because the burn is a perfect rectangle, an inch or so around my breast in all directions. While my skin looks fine, I have no idea what the extent of the damage is INSIDE my breast (and LUNG, which the radiation field DID go into a bit). I know that my body is good at healing, but it just takes time. Right now it feels like that rectangular area of my body is sucking up all of my energy!!

I'm having trouble dealing with the fatigue. It makes me frustrated and impatient. I've always been a night owl - for years, my natural sleeping schedule has been 2 am to 10 am. That is, if I don't have work that dictates my hours of sleep, my body naturally reverts to its 2-10 am cycle. I was used to late-night alertness and slow mornings, whereas now, I'm more like a toddler - ready to crash by 8 pm, energetic and productive for several hours in the morning, then cranky without an afternoon nap and it's all downhill till 8 pm again. I somehow keep forgetting that I won't be able to accomplish anything more than dinner-and-a-DVD after approximately 7 pm - I have the best of intentions to do a bunch of tasks in the evenings, like return phone calls, fill out forms, work on the meeting minutes, map out my schedule, or whatever - and then I end up feeling like such a slug and can't do any of it and it makes me mad.

I'm also frustrated because I have several friends whom I used to see on a regular basis and now haven't spent time with in such a long time, and I want to catch up with everyone, and I want to have the energy to do it NOW, but I don't. :( I keep overestimating my energy. It's hard, because sometimes the fatigue hits so fast - I'll be going along just fine and then all of a sudden feel like I just cannot walk another step, or like I have to go home RIGHT NOW from wherever I am. I need to get better somehow at recognizing the fatigue sooner so it doesn't blast me like that. Or maybe I need to schedule myself rest times and stick to those, even if a scheduled rest time comes and I don't feel like resting/don't think I need it.

I got a chiropractic adjustment today for the first time in approximately a month and a half, and my chiro said that my spine has actually changed since my last adjustment, most likely due to my decreased activity level. e.g. I used to do trapeze and yoga once a week each, and now I haven't done yoga in 2 months and have only trapezed twice in the past 3 months. And I can FEEL it. :( I know I need to get back to exercising because it will be good for me in so many ways... but it's feeling like a catch-22 - exercise will give me energy, but I'm too tired to exercise. :P I've been walking an avg of 30 mins/day, but that's not enough.

Now it's 8 pm and I'm trying to decide between dinner or a shower, because I don't think I can handle both. AARRGGHHHH. SO ANNOYING. But I know that this fatigue is temporary and I will soon feel better and better. And I need to remember, too, that if temporary fatigue is the worst of my problems right now, then HALLELUJAH, because I am so blessed to be as healthy as I am. I freakin SURVIVED CANCER!! I am alive and well, and still have a full head of hair, and am not in pain, and yes, Tamoxifen is still coming up, but you know, it could be a LOT worse than it is right now. Underneath all of my anger and frustration at the fatigue, I'm grateful to be where I am right now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

YIPPEE!!!

RADIATION IS OVER!!!! I'M ALL DONE!!!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Month Off!

Great news from my oncologist yesterday! Once radiation is over, I get to take a WHOLE MONTH off from cancer treatments of any kind to rest and recover!! SO HAPPY AND RELIEVED! I won't be starting Tamoxifen until early/mid-June!!

And my last day of radiation is Friday, May 7. I'm down to my last 5 treatments!!