Overload

My breast still hurts, not Vicodin worthy, but still hurting. How can it still hurt after almost a month? How can there still be a hematoma (fancy name for blood gunk) in there that seems to be the size of golf ball? How can the lower half of my breast still be light purple?

The kid needs to go to school. Lunches need to be made. Can it be that we’re really out of raspberry jam, the only kind the kid will eat? Why does she pay no attention when I mention the starving kids in … fill-in-the-blank? Will the husband actually eat a pear if I put one in his lunch?

When I jiggle, it twinges. Where is that bottle of ibuprofen?

Has the kid actually put clothes on? Brushed her teeth? Since when has the cat become the king of the universe, who needs to be fed NOW? Why do herding dogs whimper endlessly at breakfast time? Why must these herding dogs plant themselves in prime tripping position, just behind your calf?

Find the ibuprofen. Fine the Ace bandage, do the Yentl wrap in preparation for the brisk walk that the UC exercise consultant assures me will make radiation or chemo easier when it comes.

Get the kid to move toward the car. She’s barefoot, carrying her high tops and her breakfast. She slips and drops her hashbrowns and strawberries in the hallway. Better than the garage. Drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to her school.

Need to do the grocery shopping. Pay the bills. Research carpet and tile and crown molding for the ground floor redo. The accountant sends a letter insisting that documents must be sent ASAP. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. (Caps his.) New York City send a notice that I forgot to pay a parking ticket there. LAST NOTICE. (Caps theirs.) A credit card company calls to say a payment is 12 hours late. I’m usually completely anal about paying bills on time, so I play the breast cancer card. Pretty shameless, but I ask the rep if please they could not jack up our interest rate to some usurious level. She says she’s sorry, but that’s not her department. I make a mental note to pick up that battle later. Drop by car dealership to get sun visor fixed, all time cheapest Volvo bill ever. But wait! Technicians discover that A/C is completely out of coolant. Try to tamp down rage about spending $1,200 to have A/C fixed before cross-country trip. Wait for complementary car wash and try to remember where the Bay Ridge Volvo receipt is. Make a mental note to pick up that battle later as well. Call to check on sister-in-law who’s going through a cardiac health scare of her own. Pick up “get well” cards for her and for an elderly family friend who fell down her stairs and is just getting out of the ICU. Try to figure out if there’s any way I can get by the hospital to see these two women.

Unwrap Yentl wrap. Step in shower. How can a breast be both sore and numb at the same time? I need to research that. I need to research all this stuff about cancer biomarkers, and chemo protocols. I need to find a breast cancer primer, not something that tells me everything is going to be OK if I’m just strong and wear pink, but something that’s science-y, something that tells me what’s going on in there. I need to find the ibuprofen again.

Contractor calls. Can you set up a Home Depot gift card so he doesn’t have to stand in the pro-line? School calls. Kid says she has a headache and a stomach ache and is seeing spots. Tell kid’s new teacher that kid often fakes being ill when she’s upset about something at school. Does she have a fever? Is everything OK in class? Would they be OK with keeping her? Hang up and worry about kid. I may be overwhelmed, but I am 47. She is nine. Wish I could make all this easier for her. Spend time wondering if I should research counseling for kid. Is it really going to help her to do play therapy with a Ph.D?

Lunch with others who are dealing with breast cancer. Grocery shopping. Try to get to those bills. Search for the elusive ibuprofen bottle. Make a mental note that regular bras, even soft ones, might not be on the program just yet. All hail to the jog bra.

Read a Wall Street Journal article about clinical trials, funny to see my oncologist’s picture in the Journal. Long consultation with “decision services” associate from UC, trying to come up with coherent questions for the oncologist tomorrow. When we were in the “out damn spots” phase, surgery, things seemed so much clearer. Now it’s all fog on the moor. (Got to keep that Macbeth thread going!). So many variables, so many possible timelines, so many side effects both short- and long-term, so many clinical trials, so many pros and cons, so many choices. Ibuprofen!

Drop by the house to have a conversation with contractor about soffits and placement of tub and vanity. Marvel at how much dust breaking up a concrete floor can create. Help mother’s caregiver to wipe down furniture and floors on the main floor. Sit with mother in her bedroom for half an hour and watch nightly news. Marvel that anyone watches the nightly news anymore. Marvel that mother can admit that she’s bored. She may have slight dementia, but some of her old sharpness is in there somewhere. Finish folding several loads of laundry.

Talk to a Brooklyn friend on the way home. She’s also recovering from surgery. She advises letting go of all goals, listening to my body, resting when I feel the need to rest, being easy on myself, trying not to worry about work, just letting things unfold. Such good advice.

But then, I get home. Kid insists she’s sick and seeing spots. “Really, Mommy! Oh, and Mommy? We really need to fix that hanging ghost that I’m working on for the Halloween committee. And we need to start my Halloween costume.” Husband says he’s sick, and asks if I would mind looking at these printouts of bathroom fixtures. Dishes need to be done. Some sort of dinner needs to be prepared. Laundry needs to be put away. I need to get back to those bills, and the documents for the accountant, and the car receipts, and health claims that need to be made. Animals begin the dinner drumbeat. Cat gets outside the window. Again! On the tenth floor!

I pour myself a glass of wine. Under my new, self-imposed rules, I am not supposed to drink during the week, but I feel like I’m going to crumble. As the child of an alcoholic, I know alcohol is a bad solution for anything, but ibuprofen is inadequate this day. Husband gives me a hug and I just start to cry. How can I do everything? Why are there so few minutes in the day? Why does everything come at once? Why can’t I seem to get a hold on things? When will there be space and energy and time enough for me to do actual, paying work? The Journal article on clinical trials ends with a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, “When you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Good old Winston, he was the go-to guy for a rousing quote. What he didn’t add is that there is absolutely no choice except to keep going. And keeping going is hell.

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About leftbreast

I have had breast cancer. I was diagnosed at 47, and am now 49. I have finished "active treatment," two surgeries, chemo, radiation, monoclonal antibodies. These days, I only take a drug to suppress my uptake of estrogen, since my tumor was highly reactive to that hormone. I have been married to my husband Pete for 21 years. I have a stepdaughter, Maureen, 30, and a daughter, Erin, 10. I've been a freelance magazine journalist for 20-plus years, covering everything from Chinese foreign policy to Catholic nuns to endangered species. I have had a great life. I have lived in Asia and all over the United States. I have spent nights with tree-sitters in Oregon and with astronomers at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. I've been to a cocktail party on the poopdeck of a British destroyer docked in Shanghai. I've taken the bus to Tibet, and tramped through the cloud forests of Panama with biologists. A magazine sent me on a raft trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon; another sent me to cooking school for a week. I have spent time with celebrities, presidents and heroin dealers. I love my work. I have a loving, supportive family and more friends than I probably deserve. I have had the space and time to camp, ski, cycle, garden, cook and spoil my pets (an Australian shepherd, a German shepherd and a tabby cat). If it all ended tomorrow, I would have to say that it has been a really, really good ride. When I was in thick of treatment, I was simply fighting for more time. Now, I'm trying to connect the experience of cancer with the rest of my life, with the time that's been won. I hope the cancer never comes back, but if it does, I'll be ready. That's what this blog is about.
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9 Responses to Overload

  1. Dick Guthrie (Tio) says:

    Heather:
    Keep on keeping on, dear, we’re with you.
    Dick and Cynthia

  2. Catherine says:

    Lord, have mercy. And I mean that literally. xoxo to you.

  3. laurie says:

    Hey Heather,
    You are in the WORST PART of this process now…the not-knowing-what’s-next phase…once you know more about exactly what you’re dealing with, and how to proceed, you will just start walking that path, and it will feel great to HAVE a path, a direction, even if it’s challenging sometimes. I really think for myself, and everyone I’ve spoken with, the waiting and wondering what’s next phase is the most overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. You’ll have your answers soon, I hope, and then begin to just take the steps you need to take, to get to the other side of this. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and to take things off your plate, inasmuchas you can, that only increase your sense of panic/rumination….answers and info are coming. Then, you hit the ground running, knowing which direction to go.
    Hang tough, mama.

    • leftbreast says:

      Laurie, I know you’re right, but just too, too much going on. Looks like I’m probably on deck for a short course of chemo, BUT there’s a trial where you can wear a cold cap and not lose your hair. Fingers crossed!

  4. Catherine says:

    LOL! I’m sorry, but I have to laugh that there’s a trial for the cold cap–I hope it works! I second what Laurie said–you’ll feel better when you know what to expect. Not that that takes everything off your plate. Damn, I have an overdue NYC parking ticket, too. I keep forgetting to go over the court and have it reduced.

    I know you feel like changing the channel. I know. I know. xo

  5. leftbreast says:

    Heck, the cold cap will be like sticking my head in Lake Tahoe for 6 hours. As soon as I go numb, I guess it will be “well tolerated” in doctor idiom.

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