Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm Mad as Hell

My children recognize "the look," and if they were still living at home, they would be heading for the recesses of their rooms or the safety of somewhere else...anywhere out of the reach of Mom's voice and the need for soldiers in her army. I am on a mission, and I am enlisting "volunteers." I recognize that I have a compulsive personality, and that I am like a dog with a new bone when I find a project, a problem to solve, a fact that needs (in my opinion) to be known. A problem/question that has been niggling and whining in the back of my mind for a number of years is "where is all this cancer coming from?" Growing up in a small town, I knew almost everyone; and, I swear, I knew only one woman of my mother's generation who had breast cancer. Now, among my group of nine friends from that same town, four have had malignancies in the breast. You don't have to be unusually perceptive to see that these numbers are striking. My uneducated, purely intuitive response to the question was that we must be eating, drinking, applying, or inhaling some bad, bad things; but I didn't have a clue how to sort out fact from fiction, old wives tale from science, in trying to determine what to avoid in the environment. The task was just too daunting. However, I had decided that I would begin to "strike at the darkness" by eating organic vegetables and meats, or at least avoid eating the really pesticide/preservative/hormone-heavy ones, and...just in time, I received a handout at Cancer Services listing the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.

You know how these things happen. You hear about something in one place, then it shows up everywhere. Last night, Brian Williams on NBC NEWS quoted this same information (Dirty Dozen and Clean 15) about pesticides and food, noting that it came from the Environmental Working Group. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon, before hearing about them from Brian, I received an email from - guess who??? - Environmental Working Group. I do not recall signing up for their notices, but I am glad I did. I have learned that this organization was founded in 1993 with the mission of using the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. A perusal of their website was impressive and frightening, but also comforting, because I think I have found the avenue to the kind of information I need for living a healthier life for the rest of my life.

I hope that everyone who reads this blog will take a look at and if you only read two sections, please read the information about the Dirty Dozen and also find Preventing Cancer: Nine Practical Tips for Consumers. And one more thing, I am headed out to buy new sunscreen for myself and my family, because I learned some upsetting information about ingredients in sunscreen which could be increasing our incidence of skin cancer rather than reducing it. I also learned that many sunscreens contain synthetic estrogen which can be absorbed through the skin, and which is a big NO NO for me. Don't I just love the thought that I have been smearing estrogen on my chest all these years, thinking I was doing myself a favor? Anyway, I may have to revisit some of this information in future posts, because I am angry, angry, angry....and I need to vent. In fact, I keep hearing those famous lines from the movie "Network," "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." I think the character also said "I'm a human being. My life has value." These lines have special meaning for me now, and I hope that, for the sake of future generations, other people will stand up and say that they are mad as hell and will not take it anymore.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Baby alligator

Well, I certainly did not intend for this blog to turn into an examination of my subconscious, but last night's dream just calls out to be recorded, embraced, remembered, and enjoyed. It seems that alligators are here to stay, and it might not be all bad. Here's the scene: I am a little girl...maybe 8 or 9.....and I am sitting on a dock with my father. This is my father in a much younger version than I usually picture him, very slim and fit with no grey in his hair. There is a baby alligator in the water, and he keeps making those cute baby alligator noises that I remember from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Interestingly, he has a very blunt snout....not like the big, bad, toothy one that I saw gaping wide in my previous dream. I ask my father if I may get in the water and catch the baby alligator for a pet, and he says "yes" he thinks I am mature enough to take care of it and that he will watch very closely while I am in the water to make sure that the mother alligator doesn't bother me when I take the baby. So I slip in the water very carefully, to keep the baby from being frightened, and I swim around the corner of the dock (the water is very warm and soothing) and scoop up the baby gently from behind and hand it up to my father on the dock. Then I climb out of the water and sit with the baby in my lap.

Here's what I choose to take away from this dream. First of all, my father and I did have a wonderful relationship, and I choose to think that much of my belief in myself comes from his affirmation. In this dream, he certainly affirms my maturity and good sense. I also feel very safe, because he was watching out for the big, bad alligators. If I continue to see the alligator as a symbol for cancer, as I am sure it was in the first dream, then I choose to see that in this dream, cancer is something to be tamed, appreciated, and cared for in the right way. I need to tend to it, as one tends to a pet: feed it properly, teach it that I am the boss, not let it run loose and wreak havoc in the neighborhood, and appreciate the things I can learn from being responsible for it while it lives. Finally, the most striking image in my head is the blunt nose of this baby alligator. Without the sharp snout, the beast has no clout.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wigged Out...or not

This morning we went to church, and I wore a wig for the first time. It looks fine, I guess, and will be handy for occasions when bald just won't "do."I bought a wig because I didn't know anything about going hairless, and everyone told me I would want one. Many women I have spoken with seem to like their wigs better than they like their own hair. I guess I am lucky in that I was content with my own hair, but I also don't object at all to the way I look hairless. In fact, it completes the "Sigourney Weaver/Alien" look that makes me feel pretty damned powerful. Also, the bald head is cool, cool, cool on these hot North Carolina days. When I still had a little hair, I was inclined to cover it up with a cap or a scarf; now that I am down to the nubbins, I feel better just trotting around open to the air. Although I am pretty sure that my mother would never have allowed me to shave my head, I wish I had known how great this felt when I was a tomboy preteen who hated her curly, bushy hair and who desperately envied boys for their easy freedom. I might have tried to talk her into a "summer cut." There would have been no worries about ticks hidden in the knotted curls, nor would I have had to endure the efforts to bring the mess under control for a public outing. I've got to say, I like being bald. And I promise, I am no Pollyanna. This is a true breast cancer bounty.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Alligator Dreams first, then Breast Cancer Bounty

First of all....why alligator dreams? Most of the time, I do not think about the fact that I have cancer, something deadly, insidious, and dreadful. But, occasionally, I do slap the side of my head and think, "whoa, this is not good." Early this week I had one of those moments, and I went to bed thinking about it. Luckily, I decided to move out of our tall four poster bed, because Gordon was snoring, and move down the hall to Gord's room where I could read a bit and not disturb the sleeping bear. I had no trouble falling asleep, but during the night I had a dream about being between a rock wall and a river full of alligators. One of the alligators, mouth wide open, lunged at me. In my dream mind I imagined that I could fling myself up on the rock wall, and I did fling myself...out of bed and slap into the dresser. I tried to stand, but lost my balance and fell against the bedside table, hitting my nose and making a nice gash. At least the alligator did not get me. I do not need a dream analyst to figure out what was going on here. I know that there will be other occasions during this experience that will fall into the catagory of "alligator dreams," but I hope they will be limited in number.

Now, what about Breast Cancer Bounty? This experience of bounty is something I have heard about from other cancer patients. There are kind people everywhere, and they seem to come out of the woodwork when they see a bald head, a baseball cap, a flat chest, a scar. I have been told to appreciate all the people who come my way, and there have been many already. Going to chemo treatment turns out to be a pleasure. How bad is this: three hours in a reclining chair, a warmed blanket, snacks brought to chairside upon request, books to read, crossword puzzles to solve, and no telephone calls? My idea of heaven.

Also, under the heading of bounty, is the amount of time I have spent thinking instead of just spinning from one place to another at a frantic pace. One of the things I have pondered is why I feel so good in all this, and I have decided that I have my parents to thank. My parents approached things in diametrically opposed manners. My father was easy to please, relaxed. He had serious illnesses throughout most of his life, beginning with cancer in his late 30's and heart disease from his early 40's until his death at 80. Throughout all of this, he seemed to just relax into the experience, trust his doctors, not ask a lot of questions. He was an easy patient, and I think the nurses always loved him. My mother, on the other hand, hardly experienced a sick day in her life, until she died at age 94, except for catching mumps (on one side only) from me sometime in her 40's. However, she never went to the doctor that she didn't have a list of questions. Plus, she was always researching. She wanted to know everything. She was exceedingly curious, and this quality defined her. Once she jammed her arm through a window pane, severely cutting her wrist; and when the doctor wanted to put her to sleep to sew her up, she said "absolutely not...I want to watch." - Lucky for me, I seem to have inherited or learned a bit from both of my parents. I DO trust my doctors and I am trying to do what they say. On the other hand, I am curious about the procedures and drugs coming my way. I do not dread appointments; I enjoy them. Learning about alternative therapies has been a good diversion, which I hope will lead to a longer, healthier life after this chemo phase is over and done with. I was already interested in eating healthier. Now I am learning about how to keep cancer at bay by amending my diet, my exercise habits, and my stress level. There is much to learn, and I love a project. So, I guess that's why I feel so good.