Sunday, December 9, 2012


Hello! I've been at a loss for what to write. The immediate misery of extreme treatment has given way to a slow, uneventful period of maintenance treatment.

I'm trying to decide whether to stay on Lupron, because the drug makes me completely miserable for one week per shot. I'm still struggling with this "new math". "Quality of life is important!" "Yeah, but not being dead is also important!" "But the side-effects might kill you anyway!" Etc etc.

I'm able to enjoy a pretty normal life, most of the time. I forget why my shirts don't fit quite right or why I suddenly feel so INCREDIBLY HOT*. And then I'll read a story about a woman who was coasting along for 9 years after treatment until a sudden brutal metastasis, and I'm back in that unbearably scary Cancerland, where things can go from normal to dreadful in the blink of an eye.

For the past week, I've had a cold. I've also been clutching a thermometer like it's my new best friend. Every single time I take my temperature, I've got no fever. So why do I do it?

A few months ago, something happened that was so scary I didn't want to write about it. I'm not good at admitting when I'm afraid, but my obsessive use of the thermometer does all the admitting for me, I think.

I'd had a pretty normal cold. It was finally fading, so I went on a fantastic hike with some friends. It was the kind of hike that made me feel strong and good and myself! Plus, I caught a snake, so, y'know, best day ever.

But that night, my cold returned with a vengeance. I had chills and I felt really awful. I let it go for a day or two, and then finally thought to take my temperature. 101 degrees. Huh. Could I be getting a flu right on the tail of my cold?

That was when I looked under my arm.

Where my skin was tight from so many surgeries, I had a growing itchy red spot. I'd had cellulitis before, but it was a slow-moving thing -- an infected cut that happened totally by chance, lingered for a week, and was easily knocked down with antibiotics.

But this time, likely because of an overly-tight backpack, I'd damaged the skin under my arm and somehow contracted Super Cellulitis.

I went to the ER. I felt worse and worse as the doctors tried (and failed) to draw blood -- I've always had stealth veins. I started off joking and laughing and ended lying on the blood draw bench. I got admitted. They gave me a bag of IV antibiotics. My fever went up and up.

Throughout all of this, my husband was by my side, going through all of the misery of hospitalization right there with me. Which is why I get angry with cancer, even though it's an abstract concept and doesn't take my calls.

By midnight, I was shaking and asked for a blanket. My fever had spiked to 104, and the nurses were looking worried. I heard them talking about whether to give me an x-ray of my lungs; instantly I imagined them discovering metastases in my lungs, and having my whole life change, and I responded in the only intelligent way I could: I threw up all over the entire room.

My husband woke up and fainted. It was very impressive. The nurses put him on a stretcher and carried him out. I asked the nurses if I should call my parents; they said "Wait a few hours," but then told me that my condition was "Serious." So I called my parents and told them that I loved them. "I've had a good life," I said. And then I lay back and waited to find out if I was going to make it.

The weirdest stuff passed through my mind. I wanted to keep the light on, because if this was the end, I wanted to see it. Does that even make sense? I lay there feeling so mad -- really, does a little cut do me in after all of this? I watched the sky turn from navy to turquoise and suddenly my fever was going down. The antibiotics were working. The lady in the next bed walked past me to get to the toilet and I looked at her face; we shared a really happy smile, even though we'd never spoken and she only understood Spanish. In my haze I interpreted it as "We're still alive in this terrible place."

They wheeled my husband back in, and I reached over and we held hands very tightly. I slept.

They kept me in the hospital for another few hours once I woke up, to give me more antibiotics. They finally sent me home with a fever of 101 -- but I was steadily getting cooler so I think they were happy with the trend.

I haven't wanted to write about this experience because it's not an especially happy story, and because I don't want to seem dramatic. I've heard much more terrible hospital stories. Really, I was in there for a night, and they fixed me up.

But argh, it's hard to adapt to a life after cancer. Fingers snap, and you're sick. Fingers snap, and you're okay. It's freaking exhausting. I'm not great at it, yet, which is why I clutch a thermometer when I have a cold. But it's also why, when a friend and I go out for coffee, I'm usually just grinning away and have pretty much no interest in making decisions like "what should we eat"? I'm alive! Hot dog.

Also, the Lupron makes it hard for me to remember stuff or focus. But let's just pretend I'm a master of inner peace.

*I think I'm going to start calling these "Hotflashbacks".