I realized the other day I’ve been holding my breath since October 22, 2013. That was the day my surgeon called to tell me I had breast cancer. The next thirty-six days were a gut twisting, pulse racing rush from doctor to doctor trying to make an informed decision that would hopefully be the best choice for me. On the thirty-sixth day, November 26th, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The surgeries (2) one by my general surgeon to remove both breasts and one immediately following by my plastic surgeon to start the reconstruction process by implanting tissue expanders to stretch the remaining breast tissue over a period of time to a size of my choice. After I reach the size of my choosing, I will go back in for more surgery to remove the tissue expanders and put in the implants.
A few days after my surgery the results came back as Stage 1 cancer with nothing in my lymphatic system. Outstanding news and I thought I was done, but no I was told that I needed to call and make an appointment with an oncologist. I did and had to wait six weeks to get in to see the doctor. I had no idea that there are that many people with cancer. When the day finally came I thought for sure that it would just be a simple in and out, no cancer, pay your ten dollar copay and thank you very much for stopping by. But that wasn’t the case. The oncologist wanted to run another test, called an Oncotype DX test, where they test twenty-one genes of the cancer to see what the chances of it returning and then score the results. I told the doctor that I didn’t have any more cancer to share and he said that the lab saves it. Why would the lab save my cancer? If it was me, I would have tossed in the trash and been done with it.
The oncologist spent an hour just explaining my type of cancer and what different types of treatments were available. It was so overwhelming, because I kept thinking that was what I had the surgery for, to remove the cancer and my breasts so that there was nothing left to get cancer. Even my surgeon had said that he didn’t think I would have to have any extra treatment, eg. Chemotherapy because the cancer was so small and only stage 1. No matter how hard I tried to remain detached not getting my hopes up that this would all be over, I started believing that I would walk out of his office with a clean bill of health. So news of an additional test threw me back a few steps.
I went online to read up about the oncotype-DX test and found that the lab tests 21 genes of the cancer cell to check the likelihood of the cancer returning scoring it from 0 to 100. A score of 17 and below puts a cancer patient in the low range of the chance it returning, a score of 18 to 30 puts the patient in the moderate range of the chance of the cancer returning and a score of 31 to 100 puts the patient in the high risk range of the chance that the cancer will return.
Because the cancer was so small, .5 centimeters, when it was found, I decided that the score would have to be way below 17. Foolish me. When I went back for my appointment to get the results and score, I looked down at the report and all I saw was the number 23 screaming at me. I am in the moderate range, meaning I have a 14% chance of the cancer returning or an 86% chance of the cancer not returning depending on whether or not you are a pessimist or an optimist. My doctor was explaining what it meant and what we needed to do for treatment, but all I heard was a roaring in my ears, my throat closed and my eyes started to well up. Damn I wanted that score to be way below 17 so badly. I had to stop and focus and quit feeling sorry for myself. There are a lot of other women out there that would have given anything to get a score of 23 and I needed to sit up straight and stick out my chin. I can take it, I kept telling myself.
In the end, the doctor told me he was putting me on an estrogen negative drug, Arimidex, as a treatment. The drug is used for treating postmenopausal women with early breast cancer. I asked about the side effects and he said it causes hot flashes, bone softening and can cause joint pain and those are just some of the common side effects, the really bad side effects are a lot scarier. Goody I thought, I will be a bent over old woman walking around in the dead of winter wearing a sports bar and shorts. I am not looking forward to start taking the drug, but I don’t really have much of a choice, I haven’t come this far or gone through everything to date to give up now.
I go back to the doctor every three months for blood work for the next two years and take the drug for five years and if after that I’m still here, then I’m considered a breast cancer survivor. Now that I know what and how we’re treating me, I have a goal and can start planning life again and stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s time to exhale.
Three poems for Tuesday
The reddish glow of the setting sun
Gives way to the twilight skies
The rising moon orange and bright
Casts a warm glow on the earth below.
Glowing eyes searching for
Movement in the forest barely seen
Ears cocked listening for
The slightest sound almost unheard.
Swift legs and strong body leaping
From its vantage point
Giving chase to the fleeing prey
The creature draws near with deadly accuracy.
The dark night sky moonless
With only stars to light the way
The forest below cloaked in blackness
Masking all from view.
The hunter waits silent and still
Listening for the slightest sound
Searching for any noise
That might give him the advantage.
Eyes black in the darkness
Open wide scanning the forest floor below
Sitting on his perch high up in the branches
Ready to fly swift and sure.
Stepping carefully and slowly
Ever on guard
Eyes darting furtively back and forth
Scanning the forest for movement.
Ears cocked listening for sounds of danger
A crack of a branch or crunch of fallen leaves
In the distance
Cause the body to stiffen.
Nostrils flare sucking in the air
Catching the whiff of peril
The legs rear and the body bolts
Desperately trying to outrun death.
Oh what to do, what to do, so many choices. My fun options for the day, finish working on the tax return, clean out the closet or spend some quality time on my elliptical working out. I mean, these are some difficult choices to make. Which sounds like more fun, taxes or closet, closet or working up a sweat, I just can’t decide. How much fun can one person stand on a snowy cold Saturday? Any takers? No? Can’t say that I blame you, I even gave Mitch the choice of taxes or ironing and can you believe it, he would rather spend the afternoon ironing than work on the taxes.
I would make the dogs do the taxes, but they don’t have thumbs so they get out of it by default. They get to have all the fun. They lay around sleeping on our bed storing up energy to be able to eat, run around like lunatics and sleep some more. I shouldn’t complain, I have to do the taxes because we are lucky enough to have jobs to feed us and pay the bills. Sidebar to the jobs, I splurged and bought a Powerball ticket at the store so maybe next year we won’t have jobs. We’ll still have to fill out our tax return, but it will be more fun when I have a few extra zeroes and commas on the end.
And because of the jobs I have a closet full of clothes that I desperately need to clean out. I can also blame the jobs for me buying the elliptical to work out on at the odd hours of the day and night. Come to think of it, it’s all the jobs fault I have to make these choices. If we didn’t have jobs, I wouldn’t have to fill out a tax return (no earnings), clean out a closet (no clothes) or work out on the elliptical (no elliptical). We would starve and freeze to death, but that’s beside the point. I wouldn’t have to make a choice between the above options. I would have other more fun choices to make.
Choices, like which bridge to sleep under, which dumpster to go diving in for dinner, or searching for a job to be able to eat and stay warm. Okay, so I don’t have anything to really complain about, but it’s my Saturday, my day off from the grind, my day off to do something fun. I could be going hiking or shopping, something fun, but no I’m sitting here trying to decide between taxes, cleaning out the closet or working out. I would flip a coin, but then I would have to flip it twice and with my luck the coin would roll into the closet and I would have to clean it out to find out which choice won. I am such a drub.
The day started off so benignly, I took Mitch to work, walked the dogs, went to see my grandchildren and picked Mitch up from work. Boring stuff. After we got home from picking Mitch up, I started to fix us some lunch. Mitch was in the process of changing out of his work clothes to his grubbies so he could finish installing a step to the passenger side of the pickup truck. It’s a real challenge for me to climb into the truck, since I’m vertically challenged. Yesterday he installed the driver’s side and today it will be the passenger side.
I had set the table and finished making the salad, filling the salad bowls when I heard a weird noise coming from the third bedroom. I turned to look and saw both of the dogs lying on the floor in the dining room not the least bit interested in the noise. Because of their lack of interest I thought that Mitch was looking for something there.
We are in the midst of ripping up the hardwood floor and replacing it with bamboo. Because of the age of the house there has been some settling and the back corner of the room has sunk a few inches. Mitch is tearing out the floor and the subfloor to assess what will need to be done. This has left a small hole in the floor opening up to the basement on the old side of the house. The basement on the old side is made up of shelf rock, limestone, I believe. It’s very primitive and if I had a way down there without going outside first, I would have the perfect place for a wine cellar, cool and dark. Otherwise, it’s just creepy down there.
I called out to Mitch to ask what he was looking for and there was no response, but I could still hear the rustling sound. So I walked to the bedroom stepping over two sleeping dogs and started to walk in the room to ask Mitch again what he was looking for. Imagine my shock and surprise when I walked in on one large panicked squirrel running around in the room jumping up and down on each window looking for a way out. How he got in there I have no idea, but the last thing I wanted was the dogs to wake up and discover him in the bedroom. There would have been mayhem and carnage unimaginable. I’m not sure the house would have survived.
I quickly stepped out of the room and started yelling for Mitch. I had no idea where he was, so I ran to the door and shouted for him out in the garage, luckily he was still in the house and I didn’t have to search for him, leaving the squirrel and the dogs alone together. I told him we have a squirrel in the house, to which he didn’t believe me. I told him where it was and grabbed the dogs to take them to the master bedroom for the squirrel’s safety. Of course the panicked squirrel didn’t stay in the bedroom; no he ran to the kitchen and starting running around under the kitchen table. All I could see in my future was it jumping up on the table destroying dishes and scattering food everywhere. At that point I probably would have just burned the house down.
Mitch stood there watching the squirrel run around with a silly grin on his face. I could see the ten year old boy very close to the surface just when I needed a superhero and not a ten year old boy. Mitch regained control of himself and told me to open the kitchen door, close the bedroom door and hand him a broom. I thought oh please don’t start whacking things. I don’t want squirrel parts everywhere and in the course of killing the squirrel destroying the kitchen. I know most men resort to the caveman inside when an opportunity to be the tough guy comes along and I didn’t want to have to clean up the mess.
Thankfully Mitch just used the broom to point the terrified animal in the direction of the open kitchen door. The squirrel couldn’t get out of the house fast enough; he raced across the yard and fled up a tree. I still am not sure how the dogs missed the sound of the squirrel running around in the bedroom or didn’t catch a whiff of him either. But one thing’s for sure, I am really glad they didn’t.
Question: Know anybody that wants a ninety eight pound drool machine? Answer: No one in their right mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intentions of getting rid of Orso or Charlie for that matter. I simply posed the question to examine on my own sanity or lack thereof. The main reason we have dogs is for pheasant hunting. The by-product of that is companionship, unconditional love (from both humans and dogs) and entertainment. So why is it that we own a ninety eight pound chocolate lab that doesn’t particularly like water that would prefer boat rides to swimming and doesn’t care at all for hunting? Oh sure he enjoys being out in the field with us, wandering around behind me so I can break down the brush ahead for him. But the idea of sticking his nose to the ground and searching for a bird is beneath him. That’s Charlie’s job. Orso will rush up and try to play tug of war with Charlie when he finds the downed bird. But the hunting part, that is not his style.
Orso’s main purpose in life is to eat anything and everything he can get in his mouth, sleep on our bed sprawled out to his full five and a half foot length and launch drool missiles on as many walls as possible. He is also the most vocal dog I have ever seen. He barks at me when I pick up my purse and put on my coat to leave because he wants to go too. He barks at me when I come home. He barks at me when I do take him with me, especially when he has to stay in the car. Orso has learned and memorized the routes to the store, the gas station and Mitch’s work and knows the difference in each. When I take Mitch to work in the morning he just sits patiently and barks once to tell Mitch goodbye. He knows when we go to the gas station and waits patiently while I fill the tank, watching all of the other people around. But when I go to the store he howls like a girl as soon as he figures out where we’re going. People turn and stare at the shrill high pitched wailing coming from this huge brown head hanging out of the car window. God forbid if I go someplace he is not familiar with or take a different route, he starts wailing before he even knows where we end up at. Sometimes he is the most annoying dog ever.
Orso is also totally devoted to me. He follows me everywhere. When I sit at the computer he jumps off the comfy bed to lay on the floor next me. Outside he follows me or lies down to watch me mow and when I’m done he runs down to meet me and walk back beside me while I push the mower to the shed. If I can’t go on the walk for some reason and Mitch has to take the dogs by himself, Orso turns his head back over his shoulder to watch for me. Mitch has said on numerous occasions that he spends the major part of the walk tugging on Orso’s leash to get the dog to walk with him
He’s a big a doofus, but he’s my big doofus.
Your eyes haunt my soul
Your lips tantalize my skin
Your touch makes me quiver
Your words break my heart.
My tears blind me
My lips grow cold
My skin stiffens
My brain tells me to run.
The treachery and lies
Spill from your lips
The truth is in your gaze
Eyes cold and hard.
These are some photos that I took on our walk this morning just after sunrise. I would have taken more, but in my haste to grab the camera and dogs, I didn’t check the battery and guess what, the battery died after just a few pictures. I was so bummed.
Photos taken by Susan Kelly
Morning mists rising from the lake
Soft sounds a bird calling
Dew on the grass
Leaves the trail of trespassers.
The night sky turns red
As dawn breaks
A sliver of light
On the horizon.
Dappled light breaking
Through the trees
On the forest floor.