Plan for today: scan some materials in for my students to read (excerpt from Russ’s _How to Suppress Women’s Writing_) and send it to them, then head to Loyola for six-month mammogram. Try not to stress. It will probably be fine. Take laptop with me, spend any free time between 9 and 12 on e-mail. Come back, meet Chris and go over what he’s doing for me today (he’ll start by watering the lawn, finishing up the party dishes, and taking out any remaining party trash from yesterday’s union BBQ, but after that, I’m hoping to get him started on cataloguing how many extra copies of my books I have, and then setting up a quick clearance sale on my site. I’ll let y’all know. Also starting the Patreon daily posting, woot.).
From noon to 3, try to write. I’ve gotten comments back from several people on stories (THANK YOU!), and I think I know how to fix “Skin Deep” now, or at least know more clearly what was wrong with it. (Essentially, I rushed the character development for one character, so her motivations for a fairly dramatic action felt unclear and implausible. The fix is probably going to involve going in and writing another scene or two from her past, so you can see why she did what she did.) Russ (agent) also read the first four chapters of the novel that I gave him and sent me comments late last night, so I’m itching to get back to that.
At 3, I meet with a representative of the League of Women Voters to tell them about what’s been going on with the library board, the last three months. They usually send an observer to the various boards, but they didn’t have anyone available to cover library (local folks, especially younger folks, the League of Women Voters could really use a little of your time and energy!), so they’re sending someone to get a report from me. (Matt Fruth, if there’s anything in particular you want me to pass along, please feel free to send it.)
I have time tomorrow morning to finish grading and prep before class, so then I relax for a bit, hang out with the kids, maybe knit or putter in the garden. There’s a local Indivisible meeting at 6:30 at Edwardo’s, and I’ve been meaning to check them out, so if I have the energy, I’ll go to that. But mammogram day means all bets are off, even if the news is good, as we expect it to be — it’s just a stressful day. If I want to tuck myself in bed this evening and eat leftover strawberry-topped cheesecake from the BBQ, that is totally okay.
Well, that was interesting. Not sure what I’m feeling right now, to be honest. A little sad, I think. But satisfied that I agreed to be part of this.
Plastercasting courtesy Elizabeth Vandermolen, an art therapist with Loyola. Part of an Oak Park Art League breast cancer project — usually the plaster cast would then go to an artist, but I’m going to be doing my own. We’ll see how it goes. The show will be October 13th at OPAL, and I think all are welcome? I’ll find out more and post info.
I went in today to consult with the doc about whether to do another round of post-lumpectomy fat transfer. He had told me at the beginning that it typically takes 3-4 rounds to gCancer log 189: Reconstruction, round 3.et to symmetry. I honestly hadn’t been sure if I would come back for a third surgery, because he’s released the worst of the scarring and improved the appearance notably. But esp. in a swimsuit, or a form-fitting top worn without a bra, the difference is still pretty notable, and it does bother me.
We talked today, and it was a little bit of a ‘let’s be realistic’ conversation. He think he probably can’t get it perfectly symmetrical, because given the scarring and the radiation, the ‘envelope’ that he can insert fat into just isn’t very elastic. There was apparently this kind of fancy bra contraption, called Brava, that for a while people were using to stretch out the skin of the breast, but for whatever reason it’s mostly unavailable right now, which clearly frustrates the heck out of him, because he brings it up every time we meet.
But that said, he does think he can at least reduce the scar tissue a little more, and add a bit more volume; I decided to go for it. Waiting to talk to the scheduler now, so not sure yet when exactly this will be.
I continue to have ongoing complex feelings about plastic surgery as a woman, as a feminist. I glanced at brochures while I was waiting — for breast lifts, for facial skin tightening procedures. I am so glad I had the original breast reduction in 2011 — it made my life much more comfortable, made me more capable of physical activity. That one was simple, because it was a choice in the direction of comfort, of pain reduction, and I honestly didn’t care whether it made me more or less attractive.
These other choices are more tempting, more dangerous. What kind of example do I want to set for my daughter? What kind of woman will I be, in the community of women? The lines are getting blurrier, and I am unnerved by how blasé I am becoming about surgeries. The facial youthening procedures were surprisingly tempting — not actually for dating, but for professional reasons. Author photos, book tours, academic promotions. Beauty and youth sell.
I’m going to try to just concentrate on writing better books, though.
I’ll leave you with this, as the author considered gastric bypass surgery:
“What those doctors offered was so tempting, so seductive: this notion that we could fall asleep for a few hours, and within a year of waking up, most of our problems would be solved, at least according to the medical establishment. That is, of course, if we continued to delude ourselves that our bodies were our biggest problem.
After the presentation there was a question-and-answer session. I had neither questions nor answers, but the woman to my right, the woman who clearly did not need to be there because she was no more than forty or so pounds overweight, dominated the session, asking intimate, personal questions that broke my heart. As she interrogated the doctors, her husband sat next to her, smirking. It became clear why she was there It was all about him and how he saw her body. *There is nothing sadder,* I thought, choosing to ignore why I was sitting in that same room, choosing to ignore that there were a great many people in my own life who saw my body before they ever saw or considered me.”
– Roxane Gay, _Hunger_
This is just a small good note. After the chemo and the chemo-induced menopause (summer 2015), I found that I was sleeping badly — I’d wake up every three hours, very disruptive. I took to mostly using some kind of sleep aid; even a quarter dose of NyQuil turned out to be just enough to keep me under. If I missed it (while traveling, etc.), I slept poorly. So I was semi-resigned to continuing it indefinitely; my doctor said it wasn’t a problem to take a little every night if I felt I had to.
But this week, I had enough leisure time (yay, summer) that I felt like I could risk sleeping poorly again. So four days ago, I stopped taking it. The first night, I did wake up once, but went right back to sleep. The other nights, I haven’t woken up in the night at all. And I’m getting up a little earlier — 5-ish instead of 7-ish, but I think I’m okay with that. The NyQuil was, I think, making me a little groggy in the mornings and possibly keeping me asleep longer than needed.
So, yay. Most of the side effects of chemo are gone now. Happy to be rid of this one, finally.
a) we talked about switching me from Tamoxifen to the other med whose name I’m forgetting, but which you can’t go on until you’ve not menstruated in at least a year, which now applies — the disadvantages are that the new med is likely to bring on hot flashes and other menopause symptoms. The advantages are…unclear. It’s been the standard of care, I think, and she’d sort of prefer that I made the switch, but there’s not enough evidence that it actually has long-term recurrence reduction that she’d push for it. We decided to leave it for now, but I’ll probably try switching over at our next six-month appt. As she said, if there are going to be hot flashes, better to have them start in winter than in summer…
b) she asked about my weight loss, and I told her that I hadn’t actually lost any pounds, but that I’d been lifting with a trainer once a week, strength-training, and that was probably what she was seeing, because I had gone down about a dress size and a half over the last year. A fair bit of fat turned into muscle, I think. She said that sounded right, and that she’d particularly noticed it when listening to my…lungs? It was so straight and clear? I was honestly a little confused by that bit and not sure I was hearing her right, but I didn’t want to make her go over it, but she seemed approving, so I guess it’s all good.
Turning fat into muscle and continuing to take Tamoxifen (or the other med) are basically the only things I have any real control over, in terms of reducing risk of cancer recurrence. So I’ll keep on with it. The kids used to play this great board game when they were little, called “Go Away, Monster!” That’s a little bit how I feel now, when I think about cancer recurrence — stay away, monster. You’re not wanted here.
I had a routine mammogram on Monday, which is not the most fun way to start spring break. Exacerbated by the fact that they had trouble pulling up my records again (which has happened each of the three times I’ve gone in, some problem with my MRIs crashing their computer), so it took much longer than it should have to get a result.
Then they pulled me into a room and did an ultrasound, which is not normal procedure and was anxiety-making, and then once it was done, the tech went off to get the doctor to read the results. That was a scary stretch, I have to say; I was semi-convinced that they had, in fact, found cancer again, and I was silently talking myself down from getting completely stressed out. I was imagining telling the kids about it, now that they’re two years older and would understand more, and wondering if UIC would be able to give me as much financial support as they did last time, and I wasn’t really worried that they wouldn’t be able to treat it, but I did start dreading the prospect of going through another year like 2015.
I can do it again, if I have to, and of course I’m grateful that the docs have gotten so good at treating my particular kind of cancer when caught early, but god, that was no fun.
Finally the doc came in, an endless time later (probably less than five minutes). The result is probably fine, but there were two issues — a small darkness near where the port went in and came out (on the right side, which is not the cancer side from before), which they’re almost positive is just a seroma (fluid left over from surgery). Also, they can’t see one of the clips on that side, which seemed to really confuse the doctor; he said it had probably just shifted far enough back that it didn’t show up on the scan, but still, better to be safe. So instead of having me back in six months, they’re having me back in three, and I suppose it’s good that they’re so extra careful with me, but sigh.
And now I’m in Florida at a conference, and I have been trying to relax a little, but I admit, I have had some trouble with feeling an intense urgency to do ALL THE THINGS, and feeling super-frustrated that I can’t do them all simultaneously. Which might be a teeny tiny bit connected to my exacerbated sense of my own mortality. Maybe. A little.
I tried to take an hour to watch a tv show, and I just found myself getting tense again. So far, I’ve felt best when I was a) writing or b) swimming (and thinking about writing), so I guess I’ll keep focusing on doing those things. Although it’s also fun talking with all these lovely, brilliant people. I’m guessing that after another day, I’ll be able to relax a little more.
I am grateful that I am not normally subject to anxiety, because I have to say, it’s very unpleasant.
Feeling frustrated that my lower belly has developed seromas (accumulations of fluid) post-reconstruction surgery — they are harmless, but somewhat achy, and exercising much at all, even walking, makes them hurt more, so I’m not sure if it’s okay to exercise. I meet with the doc again on Tuesday, so I’ll see what he says, but I’ve gained a bit of weight the last two weeks, and that combined with the soreness (and this damned administration) has made me cranky.