Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Strange things

People say some pretty strange things to me. Lately, as I've been talking to people about going through radiation, and complaining a bit about it, I've received this comment more than once: "well, it's better than the alternative."

Meaning...what? It's better than being dead? It's better than chemotherapy? It's better than having both your breasts cut off? Yes, I guess radiation is "better" than those things. But I'd rather not have cancer at all, thank you very much. And I'd rather not be reminded of it every day. And I'd rather not have ANY treatment, no matter how innocuous.

Even my oncologist, when I was wondering aloud about some of the possibly yucky side effects of the hormone-suppressing medications, said: "well, it's better than chemo."

So I guess if you have cancer, you aren't supposed to complain too much. Good to know. And if you are actually having something terrible done to you, people will respond that it's not as bad as something else. Either to make themselves feel better, or to try to make you feel better.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Radiation lists

Things I don't like about radiation:
1. I can't use my regular soap (because it has a scent - and I miss the scent)
2. I can't use my regular deodorant and I don't like this one as much (it doesn't work as well and it doesn't have a nice scent)
3. I'm not supposed to shave under my right arm (but I did anyway)
4. I have to remember to put cream on right before bed
5. I have to think about breast cancer every day because I have to go to radiation every day
6. The radiation techs love to write on me with Sharpies (!) even though I have the 4 or 5 tattoos that they are supposed to use as guides
7. It's quite cold in the radiation room
8. The radiation machine makes a loud noise when it's on
9. The position I have to lie in for treatment includes putting my arms way over my head in an extremely uncomfortable position, and if I'm perspiring at all, I notice it (see #2)
10. Once I'm done with my treatment, they quickly start setting up the room for the next patient. No time for chit chat. It's a bit rushed.

Things I don't mind about radiation:
1. It only takes a few minutes to get zapped
2. The facility is very close to work (sometimes I can drive there, get treated, and come back within about half an hour)
3. The treatment is very non-invasive (it doesn't hurt, or involve sticking needles, knives, medicines, or anything sharp into my body)
4. The people there (nurse and techs) are very nice

Things I worry about:
1. What is radiation doing to my body? Is it working? Is it hurting me?
2. Will I get tired from the radiation, as others have suggested/experienced?
3. Will my skin get tanned/burned/affected, as others have suggested/experienced?

Time will tell...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Last period?

Today, I got my period. For the...oh...423rd time.

Is that all it's been? Seems like it should have been more. Let me check my math again: age 12-48 = 36 years. About 12 periods per year, but didn't have them while pregnant. That's 432 minus 9. 423. Give or take a few.

So... 423 periods. The joy. The unexpected blood in the underwear, the cramps, the overall yucky feeling, PMS. Pads, tampons, and everything in between. Running out of supplies at inconvenient times. Advil. Heating pads. It's been fun, hasn't it?

Well... all that is about to end, ladies and gents. Next month, I get my first ovarian suppression shot. Bye, bye periods. Hello, menopause.

Just tryin' to look on the bright side.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stupid cancer

I love this.

The radiation odessey begins

Today I began my six-week stint with radiation therapy. Overall, it's the most impersonal yet least invasive of the different treatments I've been receiving. It has a lot to do with mathematics. Angles and such.

A few weeks ago, at the planning session, they put me on a table and starting drawing on me with colored Sharpies, measuring me with rulers, and taking images using the CAT scan machine. I was told not to move: they would move me if it was necessary. I just lay there like a lump. The worst part was having my arms up over my head in a very uncomfortable position that made my hands and arms fall asleep almost immediately. The "tattoos" that they marked me with are more like freckles than tattoos. Just a few tiny black dots, so small you can hardly see them.

Last week, at the final "verification" session before treatment, it was more of the same: lying on the table, being written on with markers, and having my arms in the uncomfortable position. This time, they took x-rays instead of a CAT scan.

So today, at my first treatment, it was really somewhat anti-climatic. I got on the table (which is part of the radiation machine) and they lined me up; put marker on some of the tattoos so they could see them better; ran out of the room, and then zapped me. The machine made a louder noise than I expected, and it started above me to the left, and then swung around below me to the right to get at a different angle. (If you look at the image below, you can see how large the machine is, and that the arm that is swinging around you is quite huge and imposing.) I think the actual radiation part took less than 5 minutes. And that was it. Now I just have to do it 32 more times. And wait to see how my skin (and body) reacts to having this strange energy beamed into me.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Loving yourself

Speaking of Faith is a wonderful NPR radio show (and podcast) that I'm really enjoying these days. The most recent episode featured Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is known locally in Boston and nationally for bringing meditation ("mindfulness," as he calls it) into the mainstream of medicine and culture. You should definitely listen to the whole podcast, but this poem that he shared at the end really moved me. It has to do with listening to and getting to really know YOURSELF. What a concept.

"Love after Love"

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bye, bye Passover

Thanks to D for turning me on to this video. I love it!

Notice that the Matzo Man is featured in #6 of the video! The Matzo Man appears every year at my parents' house. I just had to take a photo this year.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I'm in Florida with my FOA (family of origin) for about a week. In lieu of an original posting, here's a peek at what the Obama's White House seder looked like. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall (or a person at the table!). Why didn't they invite ME?

Also, here's the funniest "take off" song we did this year at the seder:

Leaving on a Desert Plane
(Sung to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane")
© by Randi and Murray. Spiegel, Passover 2000

All our bags are packed we're ready to go
We're standing here outside our doors
We dare not wake you up to say goodbye
But the dawn is breakin' this early morn'
Moses is waiting, he's blowing his horn
We're planning our escape so we won't die

You'll miss me, as you will see
You've been dealt a harsh decree
You held us like you'd never let us go
We're leaving from this great strain
We pray we won't be back again
God knows, can't wait to go.

There's so many times you've let us down
Your many crimes have plagued our town
I tell you now they were all mean things
Every pace I go, you'll shrink from view,
Every song I sing will be 'gainst you
I won't be back to wear your ball and chain

You'll miss me, as you will see
You've been dealt a harsh decree
You held us like you'd never let us go
We're leaving through a wet plain
We hope we won't be back again
God knows, can't wait to go.

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time, let me diss you
Close your eyes, we'll be on our way
Dream about the days to come
When you'll be left here all alone
About the time when I won't have to say

You'll miss me, as you will see
You've been dealt a harsh decree
You held us like you'd never let us go
We're leaving all our bread grain
We know we won't be back again
God knows, can't wait to go.

Monday, April 06, 2009

This is what public health does

This week is National Public Health Week, and the American Public Health Association created a really great video about the impact of public health on people's lives. Take a peek! It's surprisingly moving!

To find out more, go to

Friday, April 03, 2009


No, I'm not planning on dying anytime soon, although this bout with cancer has me thinking a bit more than usual about death. My death.

When I die, please don't put something like this in my obituary:
She was happiest when surrounded by her family. She was always patient and kind. She never raised her voice. She always thought of others.

The reality is, my family, who I love, often drive me crazy. When we are at home, both my husband and son find it impossible to relax. They roam around the house, looking for stimulation. My son constantly wants something to eat. He will not leave me alone for more than 10 minutes at a time. It drives me batty.

I am not always patient and kind. I am often impatient and mean. I am often yelling and screaming. I am often selfish and thinking only of myself.

Will they put this in my obituary?

Probably not. But I can hope.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Judaism, guilt, and pizza

I'm taking a wonderful class on prayer at my synagogue (shout out to my prayer class classmates and Rabbi B!) and we are all wrestling with some of the traditional prayers, including the teacher. Today, we got into a discussion about how some of the prayers make us feel guilty that we aren't doing more: keeping more kosher, doing more of the mitzvot (commandments), keeping Shabbat more or better, etc. This is something I've been wrestling with myself for years.

Our teacher pointed out that while he, also, felt guilty sometimes, he thought that feeling that "tug," call it guilt, call it G-d, call it what-have-you, is a good thing. It makes you want to do better, to do more Judaism.

This made me think about something completely unrelated that happened a month or 2 ago. I was having lunch with some co-workers, and one of the items that had been ordered from the pizza shop was Gorgonzola and steak pizza. I had to laugh at the combination, and they all looked at me quizzically. I said something to the effect of: "well, it's not very kosher." And they all looked at me. I realized, then, that "regular" non-Jewish Americans don't spend all their lives looking at food and thinking: I can eat this, but I can't eat that, and I really shouldn't eat that. They just looked at the pizza and I looked at it and saw a kashrut problem. True, I don't keep kosher, but I still recognized it as something non-kosher. I felt "the tug."

Somehow, that incident was very enlightening to me. When you are Jewish, you have a reaction to things in the world: a Jewish reaction. Even if you don't keep all the mitzvot, you still react in certain situations in a Jewish way. Is this a good thing? I'm not sure. I know I've spent a great deal of energy feeling that "tug." The question is: what do I do about it?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April showers...bring May flowers....

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it's raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn't raining rain, you know, It's raining violets,
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list'ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

My mother always used to sing that song in the spring, and now I can't stop singing it, either.

Happy April, everyone!