Sunday, December 30, 2012

I Wish Cancer Would Get Cancer and Die

Approximately three weeks ago I had my first screening mammogram. I should have had my first mammogram when I turned 40, but last year was kind of chaotic, so I finally got around to it this December. When I worked for a hospital's medical clinic in the Milwaukee area, the x-ray department was across the hall from the lab where I worked. I would go in and look at some of the films (yes, they were still actually on film back in the day) and although I am in no way, shape, or form a Rad Tech, when I see a mammo film (ok, "image"; old habits are hard to break) I have a general idea what should be seen and what shouldn't be. Three weeks ago after the tech was finished, I asked if I could see my images which were being emailed to the Radiologist as I was standing there in my bare feet and ill-fitting maroon half-gown. I looked at them and pointed to a round, white circle on my left side and asked, "What's that?" The tech answered, "That is something the Radiologist will probably talk to you about." Sure enough, two days later the Mammography Department called me and asked that I come in for "additional views of the suspect area and an ultrasound of the same area." Ironically, I received a letter in the mail the same day with the results and the word "ABNORMAL" in bold letters. So I had my additional views and ultrasound of the "suspect area" on my left breast last Thursday, December 27 at 11am. The original mammogram didn't hurt nearly as much as this one did. The tech explained that the machine was putting extra pressure on a smaller area, hence the increased "discomfort." Discomfort? It hurt like hell. Then I moved across the hall into the ultrasound suite, padding along once again in my bare feet and ridiculous maroon colored half-gown. The ultrasound didn't hurt or feel like much of anything at all; I was pleased that the ultrasound gel was warmed and not room temperature. This technician said she needed to show the images to the Radiologist who was in another viewing booth. After what seemed like all of two minutes, the tech and the doc came back into the room where I was still laying on the ultrasound table. The doc introduced himself and shook my hand. He was wearing a Mickey Mouse Christmas tie. Then he said what I was dreading to hear: "We've found something on your left breast that we'd like to have Pathology look at, which means..." He went through my surgical options, sounding very sincere until he said,"there is a lot of blood flow to the area and cancers like a good blood supply." He answered all of my questions, including, "I've known women who have had needle biopsies and said it was the most painful thing they've felt in their lives. How do you prevent that from happening?" He went on to explain how they numb the area (but of course can't numb the entire breast) and use a a needle and vacuum to suck out the suspected tissue. He then told me the needle is about the diameter of a ball-point pen. That, I didn't need to know. They left, I got dressed and this is when I started to cry. Both of my grandmothers have had breast cancer. My Grandma Krause had it in one breast and then in the other breast 25 years later. It outright killed my Grandma Porath. But it wasn't my family history that was the first thought that came to me. That was: but I haven't seen the Great Wall of China yet and I want to do that before I die. Granted, no one has said anything about dying, but when you're a woman with my crazy medical history (if something bad will happen or go wrong, it will happen to me) these are the types of thoughts I automatically have. Next I met with a Breast Care Coordinator who is like my own personal guide through the process from scheduling the biopsy to everything else that could possibly happen. My ultrasound guided needle biopsy is scheduled for Monday, 12-31-12 at 2pm. Because of the holiday on 01-01, I likely won't have results until Thursday, 01-03-13. As I write this, it's 24 hours and some change until I put on that damn maroon gown again and have a piece of my breast tissue removed and examined for cancer. I wish cancer would get cancer and die.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

40 Has Really Kicked My A$$

In 11 hours and 56 minutes, it will officially be my 41st birthday. There was so much going on in my life last year at this time: Commencement happened on May 8th, which was also Mother's Day, my internship was wrapping up and I was interviewing for the job I currently have, I was finishing my first of the five classes needed at FVTC to obtain my Substance Abuse Counselor certificate, I was planning a substantial graduation/birthday party, and I was getting ready for surgery on the great toe of my right foot, made infamous by a series of photos I posted on Facebook, documenting my progress. Oh, and then there was the roller coaster I was riding related to Mark's inability to maintain his sobriety. Late last week a relatively new client asked me when I graduated from Lakeland, and the one year anniversary of graduation had come and gone without any type of acknowledgment on my part. That struck me as somewhat unbelievable because for almost an entire year, May 8, 2011 was the end-date, the grand finale, the day I began counting down to in June 2010. Yet it had entirely slipped my mind last Tuesday. That just goes to show me that what I considered to be the "most important date of my entire life" is likely to change along the way. So, how has my 40th year kicked my ass? Oh, baby let me count the ways: 1) Mark entered into 4 months of residential treatment for his alcoholism at the end of July. He was discharged on the Monday after Thanksgiving and started drinking again within two weeks of coming home. Ugh. 2) At the end of August, I happened to mention to my dermatologist that I had this "thing" on my forehead near my hairline, and would he take a quick look at it? He did more than look. He numbed me up, shaved it off and called me 4 days later with a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma, which would require a very tedious 4-hour surgery and "full body checks" every three months for the next year. I had my second body check with him last Monday, which is the first appointment I've had in which he didn't numb me up, lob something off and send it to pathology. He did, however, take measurements and a picture of "something to monitor" near my right temple. I guess I'll know more when I see him again in August. 3) As most of you know, neither my parents nor my brother are speaking to me right now. This whole ugly process started two weeks before Christmas. Without laying down all of the bloody details, I'll just give a brief version of what happened which is very biased in my favor: Plans were made for the December 11 Packers game, plans were slightly altered four days before the game, my mother flipped out and uninvited my sister, her boyfriend and his daughters, as well as me, Mark, his daughter, and his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson from celebrating Christmas at my parents' home. Sometime between the 11th and the 23rd my mother changed her mind and re-invited me and Mark. News of their invitation being yanked didn't make it to Mark's son and his family, and when the two of us pulled into my parents' driveway on Christmas morning, Mark's son and family were already there. Not good. We all managed to get through an extremely tense three hours. On the drive home Mark and I resolved that we weren't going to go through something like that again, EVER, and decided that when Christmas 2012 comes along, we're telling everyone that we're going to be out of town for the holiday and plan on spending the day in our pajamas at our own house. 4) My maternal grandfather died on March 5, 2012. That alone was stressful, but added to it was the fact that neither my mother, father, nor my brother went to the funeral. Again, whole, big, hideous story cut short, my mother repeatedly called our house for two days after the funeral to find out "what happened and who was there." When I finally answered her call and she asked me "how it went" I wasn't cooperative. This was not to her liking, which she began loudly "explaining" to me, so I hung up. Shortly after that my brother called to inform me that I "no longer have a brother" followed by a message from my father, asking me to "just leave us alone." Message received, loud and clear. 5) Mark went back to a local hospital for alcohol detox twice so far this calendar year; once in February and once in March. After the March detox he began attending an intensive outpatient program, but he was drinking again by Easter. This is when I "moved myself" into our second bedroom to sleep, watch TV, read before bed, etc. It was a nice arrangement and the quality and quantity of my sleep improved so dramatically, even I was surprised. I say "was a nice arrangement" because he's in treatment right now in Oconomowoc and I "moved myself" back into the master bedroom for now. 6) Two weeks ago I saw my primary care MD and my blood pressure was 132/94. That is insanely off-the-charts high for me. I average 112/68, maybe 114/74; NEVER anything near what my doc recorded. I checked it again the next day at work, and it was 132/92: still WAY out of whack for me. The last time I checked it, last Friday, it had gone down to 122/84, still beyond where I want it to be. I explained just a few of the current stressors to my doc and she related my bp spikes to my stress level. Really? I hadn't considered that coorelation before. (Sarcasm) 7) I love my job and have gotten to really enjoy working with the older adult population. Unfortunately, that increases the likelihood of some of my clients dying while in my care, which is what happened 2 1/2 weeks ago, twice within 10 days, actually. This is the first time I've experienced this type of "professional loss". Grieving the death of a client, or in this case, the deaths of two clients, is complicated. As a therapist, I am the holder of people's deepest fears, darkest worries and most horrifying secrets. The therapeutic relationship is like none other. In addition to sharing in my clients' successes, I am a witness to their pain, shame, anger, confusion, and a myriad of other emotions. Often, I am the only human being who knows "everything" instead of bits and pieces of stories. It's for these reasons that therapists and neither current nor former clients can be "friends." What I know about my clients naturally creates a power differential, hence the therapeutic relationship being like none other. However, that doesn't mean that I'm not still a human being with all of the emotions that come along with the human condition. Grieving the deaths of clients is very complicated. 8) Having run out of local centers that will accept Mark as a client, last Thursday I drove him down to Oconomowoc for another detox and residential treatment. He's hasn't been there for 72 hours yet, but with hope, he'll be there for roughly 45 days. Regardless of the final outcome, I know that my stress level has already decreased. When I pulled into my driveway after work last Friday, for the first time in a really long time, I wasn't dreading getting out of my car and walking through my own front door. There are plenty of examples illustrating that my 40th year wasn't exactly stellar, but, to steal portions of a song from The Who, I've got a feeling 41 is gonna be a good least I hope it's better than the last.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

After 168 Hours Have Finally Passed

So maybe it's not exactly 168 hours since the Packers defeat by the New York Giants, but I know 168 hours ago I was sitting on this very couch, watching this very TV, likely wearing these very pajamas, and my heart broke.

Not because my family wouldn't be going to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis (which, in all honesty, is not a very exciting town). No, my heart broke for those 53 players on the Packers roster. My heart broke for Donald Driver who played like the team's life depended on him, and for a good portion of that game, it did. There's just something magical that happens when Driver catches that rocket and rides it for 10 more yards and another first down. My heart broke for Aaron Rodgers. As a team captain, much is expected from him and generally much is delivered, but not on this given Sunday. And for the dozens of coaching staff, the trainers, equipment personnel, travel staff, and everyone else affiliated with the team that would've been eligible to travel with the Pack to Indy, my heart broke for you too.

But my heart was really breaking for the family of Offensive Coordinator, Joe Philbin. Michael Philbin was 21 years old and drown in the Fox River. The portion of the river where his body was found runs parallel to the UW-O campus and happens to be right in front of my office at the Oshkosh Seniors Center.

Had the Packers lost without the trauma of a death affecting their Offensive Coordinator, without several players likely experiencing thoughts of their own families suddenly popping into their heads, and without someone likely taking a step back from all of the hype, the spread, and questioning what was really important, would the loss have been any more or any less disappointing to us, the average fan?

Sometimes something very horrible has to happen in order for a group of people to gain a deeper understanding of life. As much as I love my Green Bay Packers, the week they spent before last week's game had to be dreadful. Traditionally men aren't very good at expressing their feelings, much less deep, sad emotions. It's never better to say nothing, no matter how awkward you feel about approaching a grieving person or someone you know who has just lost a loved one. Say something, do something, but don't just stand there and do nothing.

Maybe ask that person if he'd like to go toss the ball around. Who knows? Maybe that's just the out he's been looking for.