A little itch, a big itch and some glitter, I think

I have, thankfully, never suffered from allergies — seasonal, food or animal hair. I have “allergies” though they are probably more like just bad reactions to penicillin and some other families of antibiotics. All duly noted in my charts and I am given other types of antibiotics when I infrequently have to take them. Usually under the penalty of death, or I just can’t take it anymore. I just hate taking them. Even for a headache, it’s usually where my head is pounding like I am marching in a band before I open the bottle of Advil.

So having to take all these meds post surgery is well, pretty sucky. An antibiotic until all drains come out, some nerve thing, Valium, and Percocet. I stopped taking that one because frankly it kicked my butt so badly I couldn’t function. And the pain was doable with a higher dose of Tylenol. Like I said I am usually an Advil or Motrin kinda girl, but its a no-no for me right now.

As far as the physical recovery, it’s been pretty ok. I had 3 of the 4 drains taken out so now I look less like a plumbing supply truck and more like a person. One who wears oversized shirts and has pretty smelly hair. No showers till ALL the drains come out. It’s fine. I never sported the grunge during high school. Missed it by a decade. I was ruffles and shoulder pads then in the mid 80s. So, well I guess here we are now. Perhaps the grunge look will come back among stay-at-home-moms?  I’m guessing no. I kid. It’s not that bad. I can bathe just a little bit and have actually been to the salon for some washings.

In any case, things were moving along swimmingly with my recovery. That is until I began to itch. Like really itch. Like give me Freddy Krueger claws to scratch my skin till it comes off kind of itch.

freddy-krueger-glove

Of course I googled “itching after surgery” because, let’s face it, the Internet is here solely for self diagnosis and to keep up with entertainment. And Facebook, of course. But anyway, I found lots of stuff.

Mostly I read that the itch was due to healing. Healing schmealing. The itch on my torso and under my arms sucked worse than surgery itself or even having a catheter up the hoo ha for three days.

Needless to say, after at 2 am I hadn’t had more than 5 minutes of sleep, I said screw it and reached for the Percocet. I had a few hours of uninterrupted unitchy sleep. It was nice.

The next day, however, still the itch and the visiting nurse said to try hydrocortisone. So my husband was able to strategically place the lotion away from any incision site and  give me some relief.

But the next day at the plastic surgeon’s office visit, she took one look at me and my now very red, itchy and bumpy self and said I was allergic to the steritape they used during my surgery. She and her nurse promptly ripped EVERY single piece of tape off me. I mean it when I say ripped. I only wish there was some on my chin so she could have taken those pesky whiskers too. They wouldn’t have grown back in a year. Ouch.

So now I am a reddened, bumpy, little less itchy and tape-free version of my former grungy self. She gave me a prescription for some kind of anti- itch thing, like a Benadryl on steroids or something like that. She said it would make me very less itchy. And sleepy.  I couldn’t wait for that.

I think the lack of sleep the previous two nights combined with this new med to make me not itch, and sleep, was a recipe for a Jimi Hendrix-like out-of-body experience. It wasn’t that bad, but it was pretty funny, at least I think so. So I will share.

Yesterday was a snow day. I heard the phone ring at 5:30 a.m. and I knew it was the alert call that school was cancelled cause there was like 2 inches of snow on the ground. In New England. Where it is supposed to snow in the winter. But whatever. So, I fell back asleep. Then around 7 a.m. each kid came in to tell me that there was no school, kissed me on the cheek and went downstairs.

And here’s where it gets funky.

I feel my daughter take my foot out from under the blankets and start playing with it. Only I can’t really feel it. I thought it was weird. Then I hear her go into her room and come back and begin to outline my face with something cold. Then I hear her pad back into her room and come back and begin to shake something on my face. I realize she has just put glue on my face and shaken glitter on me. I actually feel the excess glitter sliding down my neck. Only I can’t open my eyes or talk. I think I hear myself call her name. I think I open one eye. I feel myself grab her by her pajamas and bring her close and whisper “get Daddy now.” Then I hear her leave. And then silence. I can’t move.

And then all of a sudden, I wake up, my own pajamas balled in my fist, and sit up in bed. No problem. No glitter. No glue. Just happy kids downstairs watching tv on a snow day. Holy Hallucinations.

But as far as hallucinations go, having my sweet daughter put some pretty glitter on her sleeping mommy’s face to brighten things up isn’t so bad, now is it?

Anyway, the second night, no strange and sparkly hallucinations to speak of. Now as far as the itching madness from the steritape, it’s better. I won’t talk about the other itch that comes with antibiotics. Unless of course you want me to.

I don’t think you do.

One drain to go and then I’ll stand in the shower for 6 days. And frankly, I can’t wait.

Nerves and Pancakes

Nobody wants a mammogram. Really. I mean, it’s not like we look forward to it or anything, right?

I mean it’s a machine that squishes boobs into pancakes. There’s pushing and prodding and moving the mammaries into position. The turning of the crank as the tray comes down, down, down and flattens more what is already flattened onto the little shelf thing. You hold your breath. You wait a minute. Wait. And then the beep when the picture is taken. Ah. Release.

Then begin again. Other side. Same drill.

If you are lucky, that would be about it. Two or four big squashes and out you go on your merry way. No worse for the wear and that dreaded annual exam is over and done with. The happy gram that says “Come back in a year.”

Done.

There are naysayers about mammograms, but a mammogram at 40 is still a good thing to do. If you have dense breasts, then you need to know that too so you can get additional screenings in the form of ultrasounds or MRIs.

In the big scheme of things, your mammogram, or other screening,  is one more thing to check off your list of things to do. It’s necessary. And once it’s done, you know it is one less thing to worry about doing.

So, yes, they are necessary, but I hate mammograms. I wouldn’t NOT get one, but I hate them nonetheless.

It’s not the pain. I have a pretty high threshold for that. (My ob gyn once sewed me up following six hours of natural labor. Natural labor = no anesthesia down there. She forgot and started sewing. Yeah. If I could have gotten up, I would have slugged her.)

But for me — and I know I am definitely not alone — — the annual screenings and mammograms are nerve-wracking. There are millions of others out there like me, I am sure. 

It’s the cloud of uncertainty as you wait for results. It’s the fear of the other shoe dropping. A recurrence. Another cancer. The 1 in 8. The every 3 minutes.

I have already had breast cancer, and my annual screenings take extra time. I have had so many biopsies and lumpectomies, that when the radiologists are looking at my films and scans, I think they get dizzy from all the dots that show up.

There is a lot going on.

It’s been 14 years this October since I received that breast cancer diagnosis. And each year comes with more anxiety over getting my annual screening done.

This year was no different.

A few weeks ago, following my mammogram, while I was waiting to get my ultrasound (dense breasts, you know) the mammo tech came back in to let me know she needed more views.

It’s not uncommon for me. One breast is so small I feel for the techs when they take half of my rib cage with them onto the mammography machine. It’s not your fault, it is what it is, I usually say in response to the ever-present “I am sorry. I know this hurts.”

But during the ultrasound part, I lay there on the table and started fending off those shadowy “what ifs” that kept creeping up on me as the sonographer dragged her transducer slowly over my very lumpy “girls.” It was a new program, I was told, so that is why she was going slow. Really slow. I didn’t talk and neither did she.

She kept stopping on that one spot, the one that had me run to my surgeon last November. The one that turned out to be nothing. The one where my surgeon put a marker in to prove it is not really growing, but my boobs are shrinking. (Can they actually get any smaller? Seriously,  junior bras from Target.)

It took a looooong time. And all while I was wondering. Why is she stopping? Why is this taking so long? What does she see? Has it grown? What will happen? I had to give myself a mental slap across the face a la Cher in Moonstruck.

Snap out of it!

And so, after an hour spent at the imaging office, the tech came back and told me I was fine to go. Everything looks good and they’ll send a copy to my surgeon. Yada yada yada.

Another year.

This is my life unless or until I decide to have a double mastectomy and start over with a fresh pair of boobs. I opted for lumpectomy and radiation 14 years ago. Thankfully I did not need chemotherapy. And I didn’t need reconstruction back then.

 Now, even if I wanted to get them redone — breast-feeding did take its toll on the working one — I am not willing to undergo anesthesia for a new pair. I have kids to think about. A family.

And besides, I’m chicken. Anesthesia is scary.

So, for now, I endure the nerves that creep up every year when the mammography office calls to schedule me. And every year I am damn glad when it’s over.

During the remaining days of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, schedule your mammogram. And tell someone else to do the same.

Early detection is still the best protection.

Pick Your Color

Usually at this time of year, I send out an email blast urging all my friends and family–  and anyone whose address I may have — a reminder that, since it’s October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to get a mammogram or screening, do a self exam and tell another person, or two, to do the same.

I am late but plan to do that task sometime today.

And to mark the first day of October yesterday, I proudly wore my pink Lucy shirt, one that features a cartoon girl kick boxing — to represent kicking breast cancer’s ass. I won it on a breast cancer blog two years ago during an October breast cancer giveaway.

I am a firm believer in using the color pink as a way to spread breast cancer awareness. At least in October, when people see that color, it is a way for them to stop and give themselves a once over — for a woman to make sure the girls are working properly and for a man to stop and check himself as well.

Yup. I can personally attest to the fact that men can, and do, get breast cancer. My dad died of metastatic breast cancer in 1990. My neighbor was luckier. He discovered his lump, had surgery and radiation and is doing great.

Although the color pink is not first in my day-to-day fashion choice, I do have a lot of pink things now. It wasn’t until many years after I was diagnosed with breast cancer that I had the good sense to come out in public and say “Yeah, I had breast cancer at 30 and I am here to tell you that early detection is the best protection.”

So I bought a bunch of pink things, registered for some breast cancer awareness walks (which I loved) and decided to be an advocate for the disease. And at 44, I am now a 14 year survivor and am trying to do my best to spread the word.

I will never forget my first Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. I looked out to a sea of pink — more than 3,000 women and men on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston — wore the hue in some way shape or form to walk the 40 miles for themselves or someone else. It was moving. And while it probably would have been moving had there not been any chosen color, looking out and seeing all those people in some shade of pink made me cry. And my friends who were doing the walk with me were awe-inspired as well.

Recently I have heard and read that the use of the color pink to denote breast cancer awareness has come under scrutiny by some who say it is more of a marketing or packaging gimick than anything else.

To that I say phooey.

I personally think that the creation of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the pink ribbon and use of the color pink is a great idea. It’s a chance for people to help people with out doing anything other than wearing something pink. It’s a chance to see manufacturers give something to a charity for doing nothing more than presenting a different choice to their customers. It’s a chance to say ‘hey, we care.’

So, while I think it’s a great idea, I realize not everyone does.

But I am sure everyone does know someone who has had, is fighting or has died of some form of cancer.

So whether you choose pink, or blue for colon cancer, or orange for leukemia or any color for cancer in general, when you do that, you are creating awareness for something near and dear to you.

Dear people, don’t judge me because my cancer color is pink and the most recognizable. And please don’t NOT buy a York Peppermint Patty or a Yoplait yogurt or any other product that goes pink for October to spite the marketing. Buy the product you want and, if its packaging is pink for BCA, maybe, just maybe, you’ve helped someone in line behind you think about getting a breast cancer screening.

I think about it this way — breast cancer awareness and the color pink wouldn’t be so big if there wasn’t such a huge population of women and men who have had the disease.

In my immediate family, four out of six of us got the diagnosis. I have two sisters-in-law both diagnosed, one first cousin who had it and last year, we lost a second cousin to the disease last year. In my little town, I have personally met 8 women and 1 man who were diagnosed. I found out that two friends from high school were diagnosed with it last year and  recently heard that breast cancer claimed one girl from high school whose family is now motherless because of it.

There are countless others and then there are the friends and family I know with leukemia, skin cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer, throat cancer, oral cancer and kidney cancer.

Cancer is cancer is cancer is cancer.

So if you ask, I will wear the awareness color for the cancer you are passionate about during your cancer awareness month. I’d even buy a product that changes its packaging to promote an awareness.

Mine is still pink. And I am proud to wear it.

Kick Ass Mom

I am so proud of my cousin, Maureen. Today she stands ready in front of a camera to bare her soul, so to speak, for a really good cause.

She’s a model for the 2012 Moms Who Kick calendar and her photo shoot is today. She’ll don workout clothes for one shot and fancy evening dresses for others, maybe because she is the Zumba Queen!

If you have not heard about this organization, Moms Who Kick  is a 501(3)c public charity dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer research. And the calendar is one way they do it.

At only 45, Maureen is a two-time cancer survivor. She had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 20 and breast cancer just four years ago. Kicking cancer’s butt twice. With grace. So with her photos and biography, my awesome cousin will show people through this calendar that she is indeed a fighter.

Isn't she cute?

Maureen epitomizes a healthy life style. She is staunch Weight Watchers girl and, like I said, Zumba queen. She shakes her stuff and does it good! I think she even said she is going to get her certification so that she can get paid to show people how to shake their butts — Latin style.

Maureen never let the cancer, either one of them, get her down. She has never, ever stopped smiling. She honestly just kicks ass anyway with her positive outlook on life so it is no wonder she was picked out of tons of women to model for this calendar.

Her husband and her two sweet little boys adore her. They will be excited to see their mom all fancy and ass-kicky in the calendar I am sure.

Moms Who Kick is a great cause, one that I had never heard of before Maureen told me about it. It is Long Island based – a place where breast cancer is, for whatever reason, very prevalent.

The Moms Who Kick calendar was created in 2009 by a Long Island woman, Joanne Hutchins who was inspired to create a calendar for fundraising purposes since her mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It featured beautiful, fit, over 40-year-old moms – kicking, punching, and lifting weights – while tastefully displaying their fabulous figures.  By enlisting women who shared her enthusiasm for all aspects of physical fitness, the Moms Who Kick calendar project was born. 

During the next two years, the calendars expanded to include women who are fighters and survivors of cancer, and the “model moms” were photographed while engaging in various sports.  All 100% of the net proceeds received from calendar sales are donated to The American Cancer Society to benefit breast cancer research.

Causes like these are near and dear to me. Especially when it takes both hands, sometimes more, to count how many people I know who have been affected by breast cancer and cancer in general. In our family at least, those with cancer outweigh those without. It’s crazy. Our family genealogy could be named the Cancer Tree. Bad genes.

On my mom’s side, four out of seven siblings had cancer and some has also been passed down to our generation. On my dad’s side, both he and his brother had different cancers, along with their mother. Cancer is like this family member that won’t go away.

So it’s very cool to have my cousin out there doing this great thing to raise money for something that has affected her personally and so many of us. For Maureen to put herself out there and say, “Yeah, I had cancer twice, but look at me now. I am smoking!” it is a great thing.

She rocks.

I love you Mo! You are making a real difference! Go get em.