Friday, April 30, 2010

This...I Can Deal With.

Cycle 2, Day 4 is almost in the books.  

I'm still really tired from the chemo, but life has been so much easier this time around.  Physically, I have had enough energy and motivation to do my daily walkabouts.  Today, it was just three meandering laps around Willamette Park with my friend Delyne, but yesterday I was able to do most of Terwilliger. I'm hoping to make it down to the Eugene Roubaix tomorrow and get a walk in while the girls race, and Sunday, hopefully, take my track bike to the velodrome for a half hour or so.  A couple of good runs off of the top rail at Alpenrose will definitely be good for the legs--and the soul. 

Mentally, its been like living on a different planet.  Simply put, I feel like I can deal with all of this right now.  

We made a few changes to my medications this time around and I think it has made part of the difference.  I'm taking half of the original steroid dosage and, fingers crossed, haven't had any nausea complications as a result. My skin immediately cleared up and it has been easier to wind down in the evening.   I've also don't need as much sleep medication.  Part of that is probably attributable to the lower dosage of steroids, part of it to keeping up with the exercise. 

I've become one of "those people" in the last two weeks.  You know, "those people" that watch every little thing that they put into their body.  Many things have been eliminated from my diet because they don't agree with my newly finicky stomach:  coffee (!!!!!!), processed sweets and heavy carbs, soda.  I'm drinking a ton of homemade iced green tea and Nuun-flavored water.  Alcohol doesn't even sound good...a glass of wine or a half of a beer with meals on my good days has been all I've been able to handle. 

And I'm eating like a champ:  lots of protein, fruit and only organic eggs, dairy and meat.  Slowly learning how to work more legumes and greens into my daily routine.  It's been hard because by the time I eat everything on my "must-eat" list, I'm usually at my food intake limit for the day.  (The anti-nausea meds keep things down, but also make harder to funnel stuff in the opposite direction.)

Too bad it took me 30 years to consciously think about these things, because, all things considered, I feel great right now.  Less toxic, less bloated. Able to, you know, deal. 

Time for a nap...have a wonderful weekend, y'all.  I'll get into some trouble this weekend and have some good stories on the flip-side.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The $102 Dollar Haircut, And Other Weekend Stories.

Health stuff first.  Round Two of the Adriamycin/Cytoxin Cocktail Hour Extravaganza took place this morning. Post-chemo retail therapy courtesy of Whole Foods.  My household is going to eat well tonight, if I don't manage to undercook or overcook something.

My weight is stable.  If anything, I've lost some weight in the last two weeks.  Probably a regular pooping thing.  My blood work was all excellent.  Some numbers were predictably down, but I'm well within normal levels of everything that they test for.   

Chemo itself was uneventful.  I went by myself and behaved. Passed the time by listening to the She & Him albums (if you like Camera Obscura, the Noisettes or alt country, I think you'd like this collaboration) and reading another chapter in Anti-Cancer. Next time I think I'll wear my new hat to make things interesting:

Thanks, Mel.  And yes, this cancer does make my ass look fat. Thanks for asking. 

Now the fun stuff. Winner of the previously unannounced best chemo text contest: My goat, Angela Jamison.  Angie has been encouraging me to turn all of this word making into a book and had this insightful comment:  

"I bet cancer would feel exploited if you used your relationship with it to get famous." 

I was driving when I finally read this text and almost had to pull over from laughing.  (Yes, I am aware playing with my Blackberry while behind the wheel is now against the law in Oregon.  However, I was on Highway 26 at a dead stop.  So you sanctimonious traffic safety nazis can go fuck yourselves.) 

Yes, I could become the cancer equivalent of the winner of that "Be Paris Hilton's Best Friend" reality show.  Or Nicole Richie.  Same difference.


And speaking of sanctimonious traffic snobs...onto the story about the $102 haircut. I went to the Bishop's on NE 28th on Thursday afternoon to get rid of the hair. It was supposed to cost $12.

It was a refreshingly pain-free process.  It took three run-throughs with three different clippers.

No tears, no negative emotion.  Just a lot of relief, a wacky gay guy with clippers and some bad cheap beer.  And lots of inappropriate jokes:

I am now SO ready for the wind tunnel.  Watch out Lance, I'm going to KILL IT at the Tour time trials this year. In an old T-Mobile kit and on a recumbent tricycle with a flag and a Burley trailer  You will cry in embarrassment, then give me a six-figure deal to ride for the Shack next year.

When we got back to the car, I had a parking ticket.  A NINETY FUCKING DOLLAR PARKING TICKET.  And a snarky, mis-spelled, grammatically incorrect note from the owner of the driveway I was blocking by three inches.  I admit that it was a crap parking job, but I was so distracted when I parked that I didn't even notice.  And, truthfully, I am the type of person who re-parks.

Christy and I drove away quickly, and I'm glad we did.  It was the only event that ruined my zen last week and I really didn't need to make a scene in the middle of some bored, stupid person's porch.

Life has a ironic sense of humor.  Shaving my head was the most expensive haircut I have ever received. 

I spent last weekend out enjoying the Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic.  Enjoying it because I wasn't fucking racing it.  The road courses on Friday and Saturday were short enough that I was able to ride them in the opposite direction and watch the racing from my bike.  I did 18 miles on Friday and 25 on Saturday.  The Saturday ride was what I like to refer to as a Grandpa's Tall Tale Ride:  either uphill or into a headwind the entire ride.  All it was missing was a blizzard and a plague of locusts.  But it was sunny, and,  dear jesus, I was ON MY BIKE.

My team had a great weekend.  The Mexican finished 6th in the Cat 4 race.  He's only been bike racing for six weeks and finished sixth in a stage race.  I am very impressed. (Yes, I am hanging out with the Mexican. Again.  Don't judge.  Next time you catch the cancer, shave your head, have a wonky boob and are covered in some sort of weird steroid acne breakout, you will understand how good it feels to have someone in your life that tells you that you are sexy, and acts like you are sexy, every time he sees you.  Even if that person is certifiably insane most of the time.  Turns out that it is all about regulating my own exposure to that crazy, sexy, irresistible insanity.)

But my girls?  My Cat 3 girls ROCKED it:

From left to right:  I won the 10-lap cancer patient crit (as the only entry) on a borrowed bike while wearing running shorts and wore a rad cowboy hat for the rest of the afternoon.  Everyone else here made it to the real podium.  Alice finished 5th in the General Classification for Cat 4s:  5th in the Crit, 5th in the TT and 6th and 7th in the Road Races.  She is now a Cat 3.  Mindy was second in the GC in a totally stacked Cat 3 field. Rock. Anna was second in the Stage 1 road race.  Amanda was second in the criterium.  The gal in the Veloce kit is Kelly McKean.  She finished second in the Stage 3 circuit race (also known as the "Hardest Circuit Course I've Ever Seen").  I am a climber, for sure, but Kelly is a climber on a whole different level.

The Cat 4's also did exceptional:  everyone finished and Mo pulled a Ninth Place GC finish out of her sarcastic, gluten-intolerant ass.  And didn't get dropped in the crit. Mo is awesome.

But, team business aside, I do have to say the highlight of the weekend was watching one of my favorite people, Anne Linton, win the Cat 3 crit.  Anne is older than dirt (which is something I tell her every time we race together), but is one awesome fast old lady.  She has been part of my lead-out for several PIR victories and I still owe her some return favors.  I was so excited to see her finish first that I almost missed my own teammate finishing second.

So proud of you, Anne. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010


First, the big news.  I rode outside yesterday. For the first time in 45 days. 

Before the ride was the mixed joy and frustration of working on my bike.  An activity I hadn't done for months.  I sold my race bike to a teammate before the diagnosis and, now that there is no reason to spend big money on a 2010 model race bike (why do that when I can buy a 2011 model race bike-duh), I am planning on using my Tri-Cross for summer riding and Cycle Oregon.  

Which meant conducting what is usually a very simple exercise...swapping out wheels.  A simple task that was made completely infuriating by one of the most aggravating pieces of equipment in the cycling world:  Tektro cyclocross brakes. It should not be that f-ing hard to (1) undo the brake arms and (2) adjust the brakes to eliminate rub.   

I threw a tool yesterday. I have been doing some of my own mechanic's work for a long time and had never thrown a tool in frustration.  I felt like there was a hidden camera in the ceiling and a roomful of lab-coated engineers and psychologists in a secret test facility sitting in front of a screen and rejoicing that there nefarious plan had finally worked. 

Anyways.  Breathe. 

I met Heidi at her house for a short spin around SE Portland.  For some reason, I didn't want to wear my team kit, just casual knickers and a long-sleeved shirt.  It seemed like if I wore the pinstripes, there would be pressure.  Pressure to do what, I have no idea. Train?  Win the hills? Not die of a heart attack in the Springwater Corridor headwinds? Who knows.

The first 15 seconds were a total rush.  My legs literally went:



The motions were automatic were once I had a few minutes to adjust:  Shift, pedal, brake, weight the corners, bunny hop to check for rattles.  

It was like my soul was coming out of hibernation.  

I think we were out for an hour, but an hour was enough.  I was breathing pretty hard into the headwinds and inclines and my shoulders were aching from being forced back into the cyclist's hunch.   But I finished the ride feeling more joyful than I had been feeling for weeks.  And between the hour on the bike and the hour on foot in Forest Park in the morning, I fell asleep without a sleeping pill last night.  Again, for the first time in weeks.


Second piece of news.  I'm shaving my head today.  

It's a control and timing issue.  I'm on Chemo Day 10 and common wisdom is that it starts to fall out around Day 14.   I'm going out to the Gorge this weekend to support my teammates and friends at the Cherry Blossom Cycling Classic.  (And by support, I mean heckle.  And by heckle, I mean finding the longest hill on the course and yelling "Why are you going so slow?" at everyone.  This also might involve an air horn and a bucket of Gatorade to pour over people's heads. I'm a good teammate like that.)  I didn't want to deal with the hair over the weekend if it happened early, and I can already tell something is happening with my body.  I haven't had to shave my armpits since Saturday.  (Yes, we're talking about my armpits again.  Hopefully for the last time in a few months.)

I also didn't want to deal with shaving my head in the first few days after chemo. And I sure as shit don't want to deal with any clumps of hair falling out, EVER.

So today's the day. 

Which is totally ironic because my hair has been behaving marvelously for the last two weeks.  Its mocking me.  So, with everything that dares mock me, it's time to dole out some punishment. 

But in all seriousness, I'm expecting to need to grieve for a little bit of  time over this.  I've never been a hair person.  It's been short for over 12 years and my haircut has always been about keeping it out of my face and off my neck (its very thick) and how quickly I can look normal after taking off my bike helmet (with the help of a few genius styling products, I can go from ride to work appropriate in 15 seconds).  

But although bald may be beautiful, it also immediately flags me as a sick person.  Throughout all of the surgeries and scans and doctor visits, I was able to hide my "sick person" status under my bra or by holding my affected arm close to my body.   Can't so much get away with hiding anymore.  

Being bald will also force me to work on my patience with other human beings.  Like most reasonable people, I do not like being stared at.  And I'm going to get stared at.  Yelling "WHAT?! I HAVE FUCKING CANCER. FUCK OFF!" to everyone in Portland is not going to make me someone anyone else wants to be around for the next few months.  

So I am going to have to grow up and learn to make eye contact and smile insanely at strangers.  My theory is that if they think I'm also totally cuckoo for CocoPuffs, the staring will stop in a more timely manner. 

My life is already one big lab experiment.  I might as well make it an entertaining one.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cycle 1, Days 7-8. There Is Light at the End of the Tunnels.

Gaaaahhhhhh!!!  If you were using this blog to check in on me and have been worried for a few days...Sorry!!  I have improved 4000 percent since Sunday evening, took Monday off from the computer and felt so good yesterday that I spent most of it out of the house catching up with some friends (go eat brunch at Tasty & Sons on Williams, owned by TNT alum John Gorham, NOW), running some personal errands and going on a walkabout in the West Hills.  

Monday morning was like waking up on a new planet.  I slept seven straight hours and was able to eat breakfast and drive myself out to my naturopath appointment at St. MCV's.  

Going to the naturopath was probably the best thing I've done for my mental health since the stupidfuckingcancer odyssey began (by the way...its been exactly two months since my diagnosis.  Never has a 60 day chunk of time seemed so short and so long at the same time.)  Our appointment was 30 minutes of my verbal dump, 15 minutes of him processing that verbal dump and 15 minutes of him laying down some new laws.

At first, I thought the guy was a bit of a kooky hippie, but by the end of it I found him to be quite remarkable.  Working with cancer patients is all that he does and I believe him when he says that he's good at it.  This is why.  

For 30 minutes he listened to my life story quietly, without affect, judgment or posture.  Asked me about work, about why I liked bike racing,  if I had set any post-treatment goals.  Then he left the room, gave me 15 minutes to compose myself and came back into the room in exactly the form I needed:  the coach.  Which is basically to say that he was able to read me like a teary-eyed open book and presented his treatment plan in a way that totally resonated with my personality.  He's given me a set of nutritional, mental and physical challenges and has basically said "If you do this, you can win."  And by "win," he means "not get your ass knocked around by chemo for four months." 

We're starting small--base miles, bitches.  There is a list on my refridgerator that is 6 items long.  Three of those items are related to digestive health, otherwise know as pooping.  I will save the lengthy pooping discussion for another day, because it really does merit its own post.  Suffice to say, everyone knows that if you're not pooping, that is bad.  If you are doing chemo and not pooping, this is super duper bad because that means your system is struggling to get that toxic shit out of your body.  It just sits there like antifreeze in a sewer.  Ugh.

The fourth item is protein related.  In a nutshell, chemo kills your fast growing cells like a Serbian mercenary--that is, without discrimination.  Chemo get cancer, but it also gets hair cells, fingernail cells, cells on the inside of the mouth, blood cells.  Without protein, the body struggles to rebuild the good fast growing cells. Most people get enough protein, but apparently cancer patients struggle with protein because many of the food that are palatable during chemo are high-fat, high-simple carbohydrate foods, not high protein foods.

Sorbet and dry cheerios, my comfort foods of choice, do not contain enough protein for my body to rebuild and fight.  Thus, from here on out, yogurt and at least two eggs per day, every day.  Normally, I can't eat eggs on a regular basis because my body doesn't do well with them when I am exercising at a high intensity.  Which, obviously, is not happening right now.  So eggs now taste good.  I'm going to try and learn how to poach eggs one of these mornings.  Maybe should get a video camera first. 

The next item on my marching orders, pun intended, is to walk at least 5 miles every day.  Even if I have to do it in 3 or 4 segments on my rough days, 5 miles.  I made it four miles on Monday (was still pretty tired from the four days of chemo hell), but did five and half yesterday afternoon.  On Terwilliger.  None of this pussy waterfront shit for me.  If I was going to walk five miles, I am going to WALK FIVE MILES. In the rain.  Uphill both ways (seriously-it was Terwilliger, people, there is no downhill.). 

My whole concept of five miles has changed.  On a bike, that's what....15 minutes?  Maybe 30 if the whole 5 is uphill?  Five point five miles on foot took me eighty minutes yesterday.  Granted, that was because most of it was uphill, but still.  Eighty minutes. 

I was fucking sore and tired by the end I got home.  But I was gloriously happy the entire time.  It was like exercise crack.  Slowing down made me appreciate the scenery and really listen to song lyrics.  As much as I hate to admit it, Lady Gaga is sort of a genius.  Madonna, too but she tends to waver between awesomely ridiculous and ridiculously awesome.  Compare anything on "American Life" to anything on "Erotica."  Night and day.  

Next item is my reading list.  He looked at me and said, "You're a smart woman.  You can read two books this week."  Um, okay, hippie facist doctor man.   First on the list was Lance Armstrong's book.  You know, that one.  The one we have all already read.  I read it ten years ago, while my grandfather was dying of leukemia.  Reading it ten years later as a bike racer and cancer patient, it basically blew my mind.  I will write more on that later.  The second book is "Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life" by David Servan-Schreiber.  Going to start on that one today. 

The final item on my list is a writing exercise that is intended to help with my anxiety.  As soon as I wake up, five minutes with a written journal.  Whatever is making me happy, anxious, angry, depressed, sad gets written down--without proofreading or wordsmithing.  

It may surprise you, but I've never been a private journaler.  I've kept private blogs every once in a while, mostly to play with writing styles, but nothing freeform, personal or on a consistent basis.  I've only done this exercise twice, but both times its lasted over 20 minutes and I feel like I've been through detox when I'm through.  So THIS is what I've been missing with journaling, but its better to have learned this lesson later than never.'s eight AM and I have to get moving.  I have a walking date in Forest Park, lunch with another survivor and, if the weather holds, a short bike ride with the effervescent Ms. Heidi Swift planned for today.  Better go eat my eggs and yogurt.

Over and out. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Days 5-6. Not a Happy Post.

I keep thinking it can't get any worse, but then it does.  In stages and fluctuations.  Its moved from a funny stomach, to a wonky stomach plus fatigue, to fatigue that was manageable emotionally, if not physically.  

Chemo dump is on a whole new level today.  Like the amp in Spinal Tap.  You know, the one that goes all the way to 11.  Chemo plus sleeplessness equals...seriously, fuck me, this is awful.  I am having a hard time staying awake for more than 15 minutes and I ache.  Everywhere aches, my skin, neck muscles, scalp, toenails.  Toenails ache, who knew.

The only exercise I am getting is in my head.  The tug of war between the voice that pleads to have my old life back and the one that shouts that I have to be stronger than all of this. Who has the advantage depends on whether I'm grateful or angry that it is an absolutely beautiful day in Portland. Right now I have the windows and curtains wise open, and am curled up with my new quilt in bed, closely supervised by the cats.  Grateful that its not only a perfect day for a ride, but also the perfect day to rest and heal. 

Tonight, who knows. That is part of the sonofabitch of all of this.  Being trapped in my own body and in my own head.  The downward spiral of anger and loss and sadness is so easy to get trapped within and, at night, there is no one that can pull me out of it.  Except me.  And my goddamn toenails hurt too much to pull anything right now.  

But it will get better.  It will get better because it has to.  The challenge is not losing my mind in the meantime.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cycle 1, Days 3-4

From Wikipedia, the word of the Day(s):

Fatigue (also called exhaustion, lethargy, languidness, languor, lassitude, and listlessness) is a state of awareness. It can describe a range of afflictions, varying from a general state of lethargy to a specific work-induced burning sensation within one's muscles. It can be both physical and mental. Physical fatigue is the inability to continue functioning at the level of one's normal abilities.

I am so fucking tired.  And there's really nothing funny to say about it.  Chemo is seriously lacking in a sense of humor...what a crabby whore.  Sleeping 15 hours a day is not funny.  Forgetting words and whether I've taken a shower today are not funny.  The effects of horse steroids are not funny.  Being too tired to flee your own chemo farts is not funny.  OK, maybe hotboxing oneself is slightly funny (especially when the cats get caught in the fray).  But don't laugh about it to my face.  Yet.

What I really want to do today is send A HUGE THANK YOU AND LOVE YOU out to the lovely ladies that collaborated (behind my back...the only time they'll ever catch me with my guard down) to make a beautiful new quilt for me to cuddle in whenever I need some good, strong sisterhood energy:  Sarah, Casey, Cathy, Heather, Heidi, Tiffany, Stephanie, Alice, FT, Margi, Anna, Mindy, Shari, Sage, Jen W., Michelle, Angela, Alia and my wonderful mother. 

With a particular shout-outs to Sarah for masterminding the whole affair and to Steph for her very inspired "Whip Cancer" square:

You all rule.  I am so blessed. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Guest Author: The Most Awesome Race Report Ever

Quick Cycle 1, Day 2 Chemo Update:  I was wonky in the stomach this morning, but pills and lots of naps had me feeling a lot better this afternoon.  I walked for an hour this evening, with a break at Zupan's for a Haagen Das bar.  

Now onto the main event.  Kings Valley, as written by my Aussie teammate, Jamie.  Read it and try not to laugh out loud.


WARNING, WARNING – unusually high number of scientific jokes contained in this report. Do not read if you have liver damage, are a serious cyclist, or may become a serious cyclist. Your doctor can conduct a simple test if you are at risk.

April 12th, 2010

Dear Editor of ‘Crap Cycling’,

Please accept our paper on the analysis of Sprint Wombat's King's Valley Road race. We feel that our findings will be of interest to the wider cycling community and our hope is that with publication in ‘Crap Cycling’ others will learn from his mistakes. In accordance with the international nature of the Journal we have used SI units throughout.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Cannon Dale, Dr. Van Iller and Sir Velo.
Lactic Threshold Laboratory
Institute of Advanced Cycology
Bonktown, OR

Title: The King's Valley disaster – how, why and what!

Study Aim: To dissect the 2010 Kings Valley (KV) road race of Sprint Wombat (‘the subject’). His self-proclaimed goal was to support more talented Hammer Velo team mates; Driveby, El Luchador, The Kid, Mr Smith, The Neighbor, The Quiet Achiever, and Ryan (no known alias), and finish as high as possible with a minimum of errors. This paper is based on observation, satellite imagery, mental telepathy and interviews with the subject and race officials. It analyzes the known knowns (but not the unknown unknowns - we know what they are) and attempts to understand what went wrong.

Method: The subject (aka ‘The Wombat’) rode his bike around rural Polk County (Oregon, USA) for 93 km (56 miles) under OBRA race conditions. The subject rode a 2010 Cannondale CAAD 9 (54 cm) modified with fancy titanium time trial seat-post and saddle. 50/34 x 11/23.

Results: 47th out of >60 (actually number of finishers will never be known because of mass quitting and at least one rider who took a wrong turn and nearly ended up on 99W).

Discussion: With input from a well meaning, non-cycling State Champion, a well-crafted team plan was formulated. The ‘body mass index (BMI)-challenged’ were to stay close to the front of the pack to control the pace. The plan was for these BMI-challenged individuals to work later on in the race protect the 4th percentile BMIers (light fourckers) for the final sprint. The subject totally ignored this plan for no good reason and settled mid pack for the first half lap. This turned out to be a grave error because of the narrow road, large pack and large quanta of inexperienced riders who braked at every opportunity. There was little room to pass. The wind on the back half of the course was formidable but not an issue for the ‘mid-pack’ plodders.

The 25 km (15 mile) point marked the hill that what would become the finish line. At a mean grade of 6.02 (+/- 0.56)% the hill was of modest steepness and about 1 km in length. The subject was in 41st position at this point. Due to his high BMI, the subject slowly drifted back through the pack at -2 m/sec. This backward motion is described in the ‘regression analysis’ plot shown in Figure 1. Within seconds, the subject was ‘off-the-back’ and losing ground at a rate of -5 m/sec. The subject was observed to repeatedly shout at his legs “shut the f*** up, legs”.

As the subject breached the hill he placed his arms in the ‘drops’ and proceeded to increase cadence to 95 rpm. With the tailwind and downward gradient, the subject increased velocity to 43.4 kph in an attempt to rejoin the pack. Within 3 km the subject caught a strong rider from Portobello. Together, they worked to bridge the gap with the pack, passing riders at regular intervals. They gained ground on the pack on the flats at a rate of 10 m/min but lost ground on the climbs and in the wind at a rate of 5 m/min. After working together for 16.84 km they ceased the chase and ‘sat up’. Mr Smith, who had been chasing the subject for a time then caught up and they rode together discussing their options still with 40.09 km to complete the race. The long-range microphone picked up the subject uttering the phrase “mate,……. I’m buggered if I’m going to get another DN-friggin-F”. Mr Smith then replied “although my ass really, really hurts I’m with you all the way, Jay-me”. At this point it turned into a training ride and the subject and Mr Smith rode the rest of the way, taking turns to ‘pull’ each other. Although the final kms (miles) were traversed with 20% lower intensity than something faster, they appeared to be pleased to finish in the top 50. At the end of the race the subject was overheard to remark that his mouth was “as dry as a dead dingos’ donger” and sought rehydration assistance.

In summary, the subject rode poorly and was positioned too far back in the pack to cope with the finish line hill on lap 1. Consequently, the subject was dropped and failed to influence the race in any way at all. We hypothesize that with a more advanced position at the start of the hill, the subject would have been safely cocooned in the pack-womb sucking his thumb. We predict that he would have survived to deeper into the race.

Conclusion: STAY AT THE FRONT 95 (+/- 7.0)% OF THE TIME

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 1, Cycle 1

Before I get knocked on my ass by the toxic cocktails that were pumped into my system this morning, some updates and some smart ass comments about what I have already learned about chemo infusions.

[Skip the next part if you don't want to read about chemo drugs.]

My first four chemo cocktails are a combination of cytoxan and adriamycin.  This is a standard treatment for breast cancer.  The adriamycin is the hair killer.  It is bright red and pumped into me using a syringe over 15 minutes.  The cytoxan is administered through IV drip over the course of an hour. 

Before these are administered, I visit with the oncologist and a blood draw is taken.  Once in the treatment room, the first course is an IV drip of  super-steroids and an anti-nausea medication.

Then the chemo drugs.  Shit that might burn a hole in the universe shot into my bloodstream.  

After that, guess what....more medication.  I have four bottles:  must-take anti-nausea pills, must-take horse steroids and two sets of  "in case of emergency" anti-nausea pills.  I hope all of it works because I waited at the hospital pharmacy for two hours after chemo.  Rad.  Tomorrow I go back to St. My Cousin Vinnie's for a shot of Neulasta, a white cell booster that aids my immune system.  And for the drugs they were out of at the pharmacy.  Because, as I have learned, hospitals run of things all of the time.  Like sane patients. 

I can expect to feel OK for a day or two and the worst over the weekend.  

[Rejoin here for some more non-essential cancer advice.]

The infusion room at St. MCV's is very nice.  As something that has only been open for a few months, it should be.  Huge windows on two sides, comfortable recliners, and all of the beverages and lights snacks you can stuff into your face while impeded by an IV pole. 

Hydration is my new big THING I CAN CONTROL, so I came prepped with three full water bottles with the goal to get through all of them before I left the infusion room.  The infusion time was shorter than I had expected and I spent most of that time talking or being talked to, so I only made it through two.  Good for my system, but it also meant having to pee every five minutes.   And,  of course, I had to go and pick the seat the farthest from the bathroom door.  Every 450-700 seconds, I would have to clomp past (because, of course, I am wearing cowboy boots...and ninja socks) all of the other cancer patients to the john.  Thud, Thud, Thud. Slam, Flush, Slam.  So much for keeping a low profile.   But I did get all of the adriamycin dye out of my system within 40 minutes. 

Non-Essential Cancer Advice Note to Self #1:  Next time, sit closer to the bathroom door.

Non-Essential Cancer Advice Note to Self #2:  Hospital wireless sucks balls.  Bring more magazines and cell phone charger. 

Non-Essential Cancer Advice to Everyone Else #3: Please text me  at will during infusions.  Playing with my blackberry in an important manner keeps me from staring at other people.  Staring at other people makes me look like an asshole.  No one want to be The Asshole in a chemo treatment room, but I can't help it when I'm anxious.

So help me out on this one. Next round, April 27 from 10AM to 1PM.  If you want my cell number, email me off-line.

Non-Essential Cancer Advice to Everyone Else #4:  Post-chemo retail therapy is highly recommended.  I have been going to Target after all of my big appointments.  All of the adrenaline rush, but for  one-sixth of the price of downtown Portland.  I bought at $15.99 cowboy hat this afternoon.  It is ridiculously fantastic...I haven't taken it off yet.   That or the ninja socks.  Which, considering that I am now also wearing a seersucker miniskirt around the condo, makes me sort of awesome-sauce right now. 

Non-Essential Cancer Advice to Everyone Else #5:  If you don't know about Cleaning for a Reason and are going through cancer treatment or know anyone going through cancer treatment, please go here NOW and learn about them.   While I was packing up my bags, my mom and I just happened to be talking about the service that spit-shined my condo yesterday  (Maid to Shine in Vancouver, WA....did a phenomenal job), the patients next to me and the oncology nurses overheard, but had never heard of it.  WTF?!

These ladies donate their valuable time and supplies to help cancer patients.  All I had to do was make a phone call, get a doctor's note and sign a waiver.  And voila!  You can now eat off of my bathroom floor.  Not that I would recommend it, but you get the point. Cleaning for a Reason pays for it once a month and I am having the service come in twice monthly on the day before infusions.

The doctor's note requirement threw me for a loop.  Apparently there are people out there that fake cancer.  For fuck sake people, really?  For these people I have created a special level of hell.   This level of hell involves screaming uncontrollable three year olds, dog shit that hasn't been picked up, neon-colored skinny jeans, BumpIts and Jack Johnson playing on a continuous loop. And the only thing to eat and drink are PBR and bananas.  And everything operates using Windows 97.  That, to me, would be the worst hell could possibly be.  This is saying something, as I have fucking stupid cancer.

OK,  off to pee (again) and try and control my anticipation anxiety.  Will keep you all posted.

Monday, April 12, 2010

And So It Begins.

The following ditty is about support groups, in general, and, specifically, about the one I went to last night.  I can't tell the story however, without breaking a bit of fucked up news.  R ended our romantic relationship this weekend.  That is all I really want to say about that until I work through some things in my head and with him.  I'm not going to judge, blame, make excuses for him.  Suffice to say that both of our lives are really fucked up right now and we both need a lot of time to get healthy. 

So, support groups.  After last night, I have this theory that most people come to support groups partially for the support, but mostly because it is cathartic to tell horror stories to terrified individuals.  People with normal experiences don't come to support groups.  People whose vaginas turn inside out and grow hair on their backs during hormone suppression therapy...those are the people that go to support groups.

Which leads me to another piece on non-essential cancer advice. Which I will preface with my second favorite line from Raising Arizona:  Let y'all without sin cast the first stone.

Lesson #2:  Do not show up to your first support group high.  

I needed a serious break from my life yesterday afternoon.  Insomnia, the break-up and chemo were all bearing down on me like a lead weight.  Too exhausted to go exercise, but too emotionally wired to sit still.  The solution:  some specially prepared baked goods and three hours of "Nurse Jackie." 

I'm not an expert in the craft of baking medicinal food stuffs, but my guess is that picking dosage is an art form.  Too little, you just get gassy from eating 14 rice-crispy treats.  Too much, you end up upside down on the floor of your condo talking to the ceiling while your mother watches.  Then you fall asleep face down and wake up with a puddle of drool on the Pergo floor two inches from your face.

This is my life as a cancer patient, folks.  A total champion of humanity.

By the time my ride to support group arrived, I had rejoined the land of the living, but still had a nice bit of a head buzz.  We arrived at the meeting a bit late, me with a not unexpected sense of paranoia that it was going to take everyone about 15 seconds to realize that I was showing up to a cancer support group stoned. 

We all quietly ordered drinks while one woman was giving the group her health update.  The McMenamoron that was serving us rolls back up to the table five minutes later, interrupts a heated discussion on vaginal dryness and calls out our drinks in roll call.

"Water, water, water, iced tea, green tea, water, water.....jack and bourbon."

Everyone pretends not to stare as I take my drink, remove the straws for ease of access and take in 3/4 of the drink in a single pull. 

It takes two hours before it is my turn to talk.   I drink two more bourbons and listen to stories about vaginal atrophy, unexpected hair growth, debilitating bone pain, treatments that don't work and denied health insurance coverage.  I am freaking out by the time it is my turn to talk.  Lucky for me, we are already 20 minutes over time and everyone has one foot toward the door.

No one asks questions as I go through my diagnosis and treatment and when I get to the part to about the break-up and the baked goods and the bourbon, I get a relieved sense that my obvious bout of binge drinking is completely understood.  They've all been there.  And there is no shame is seeking relief anywhere we can find it. 


Chemo countdown is down to 17 hours.  I'm trying not to take an outsider's view of my life right now.  It's easier just to take everything an hour at a time, rather than obsessing about side effects and reorganizing my care-giving now that I'm now a single person with cancer. 

So, for now, its all about making lists, packing for chemo and wrangling up some lemon drops and ginger candies. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Thank You, Team in Training.

I'd been meaning to write something like this for awhile, but finally got around to it when my friend Cat asked me to put something together for this year's Team in Training team.  

It's not exactly blog-format-appropirate, but I like what I wrote enough to include it here verbatim

First, thanks to all of you for being here.  I heard you all were riding Hagg Lake today and it made me smile...I have fond and not so fond memories of racing my bike out here in three consecutive weekends of monsoons last spring.  Second, I am sorry that I am not here to meet you myself.  I am down in Corvallis supporting my cycling team at a big road race, but hope to make it to a Saturday workout later in the spring.  And thanks to Cat for reading my words for me.  I have faith that she'll be able to convey the perfect amount of cantankerous wise-assery that I have become known for.  

Some of you know me, but many of you do not.  I was part of the very first Team in Training Pacific Crest team in 2005 and was hooked from the first moment I stepped onto the track with my new teammates.  I was a mentor and captain for the 1/2 ironman teams in 2007 and 2008 and a swim coach last year.  Although I have transitioned from triathlon to bike racing over the last two years, I still consider the Pacific Crest teams part of my extended family. 

On February 23, 2010, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  For those of you not fluent in cancer-ese, that means breast cancer.  The five seconds that it took the doctor to give me my diagnosis completely changed my life.  At 4:45 PM I was a state champion bike racer and reluctant part-time attorney.  At 4:46 PM I was a 32 year old cancer patient.

Over the last six weeks, I have undergone three different surgeries to remove the tumor in my left breast and several infected lymph nodes.  I start four months of chemotherapy on Tuesday.  That will be followed by 8 weeks of radiation treatment later in the fall.  If you want the hard and fast medical details, Cat can direct you to my blog. 

We all started this TNT journey for a reason.  Mine was because law school interfered with my ability to really support my mother while my grandfather died of Leukemia in 2001.  I felt like I had to put something back into the world to make up for what cancer had taken from my family. 

But what I want to talk about is why I stayed on my journey.  Take a minute and look around you.  This was my the reason.  My teammates. 

These people will become your rocks in the next few weeks.  Some of them only until Pacific Crest, some of them for much longer.   These are the people that will not only ride with you in the rain and get catastrophically drunk with you during race weekend, but will also be the first to contact you on scan days or bring you food when you're too sick to get out of the house.  

One of my rocks is my boyfriend Ricardo.  Not surprisingly, we met through TNT last year. In fact, our first real conversation was out here at Hagg Lake a year ago.  It took me six months for me to realize that he liked me, but it has been worth the wait.   We are an odd couple.  I am 155 pounds of leg muscle and stubborn obnoxiousness. He is small and smooth and suave.  When we ride together, he climbs like a mountain goat.  I climb like a monster truck.  But, somehow, we make it work. 

Ricardo was the one that found my tumor and harassed me into getting it checked out when I was sure it was nothing.  He has held my hand in recovery rooms and has helped me unwrap my bandages after every surgery--probably because he gets to fondle my boobs in the process.  He hugs me when I cry and pulls my ear when I get difficult.  I get great care because he flirts with the nurses and he has an uncanny ability to make me laugh in waiting rooms.  You haven't seen anything until you've seen a confused Mexican play with your prosthesis bra in front of your surgeon.  Or talk about boob drains in front of your father. 

Without TNT, I would not have Ricardo.  Or Cat, who visits me even though she is deathly allergic to my worthless housecats.  Or any other of the dozens of people who have lit up my life in the last six weeks.  I think about that every day. 

I love riding, partially because I'm blessed to be a talented racer, but mostly because riding bikes is an experience where our humanity tends to shine through most purely.  I have never seen human joy and suffering like what I have seen on training rides and at the end of bike races.  The people that are brave and wise enough to show those emotions to the world are the people that you need in your life when the going gets rough. My going is rough right now and the people I have depended on the most are the ones that I have pedaled with over the past six years. 

My hope for all of you is that you will never have to lean on your TNT family like I have had to lean on mine. That the worst experience that they ever have to get you through is a flat tire or a hangover.  But it should be comforting to know that these are the people that have the strength of character to step up in times of crisis and chaos. 

You should all be very proud of yourselves for starting this journey.  Not only are your efforts improving the lives of cancer patients, but you are opening yourself up to a world of friendship and camaraderie that only exists on two wheels. 

Now get out there and ride. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chemo Countdown

7:  Days until chemo starts.

105:  If all goes well, days until chemo ends.

90:  consecutive minutes I am able to sleep right now.

4: consecutive days I have had sleeping problems.

I probably over-educated myself into this sleeping problem.  As I have spent a lot of time in the last four days catching up on my cancer reading, every night I have a "side effect" dream.  Not really nightmares.  More of farcical exaggerations of my worst fears.  Two nights ago I dreamed that I gained 100 pounds from the steroids and the only clothes that fit made me look like Larry the Cable Guy.  (If you don't know who this is, google it yourself.  I'm not including a link to him here.  On principle.) 

[Warning:  Adult-ish content ahead.]

So when you have chemo all of your hair falls out.  ALL of your hair, if you know what I mean.  Last night I  dreamt that somehow my body got massively confused in the hair-growing back process and I had pubic hair growing out of my head.  The dream was so real (thank you Ambien), that when I woke up at 3AM, I got up and went to the bathroom to check that my head wasn't covered in short and curlies.

Yes, my name is Lindsay and I have chemo anxiety.  Can't really deny it anymore.  There is absolutely no way to predict how the drugs will affect my system.  I could feel crappy two days every two weeks, or I could be in hell for four months.  I could get unhealthily skinny or become a puff-o-saurus rex. I can't wait to get it started just so the uncertainty ends.

My oncologist is optomistic and I believe her sincerity when she says that the side effects will be less debilitating than I think they will be. However, it seems to be a more pragmatic strategy to hope for the best, plan for the worst. 

Many of you that read this blog have also stepped up to help in the last few weeks.  Thank you , thank you , thank you for that.  And here is some information to help you, my team, plan for the next few months.
  1. If you have contacted Christy about food and she's told you to hold off for a while, late next week would be a good week to bug her again.  My mom will be here most of the week and will take care of feeding us, but we have run through most of the meals that have been sent over so far.  Please check with her to see what sort of foods I am able to eat before sending anything over.  It is almost guaranteed that my sense of smell and taste will be wacked out.
  2. I love visitors, but if you are sick, getting sick, have sick children, work with sick people--I love you, but please stay the hell at home. And when you are here, I'm going to be OCD about hand sanitizer and hand-washing.  Which is totally not my style, but, then again, neither is going through fucking chemo.
  3. I am apologizing in advance for the times when I am crabby or fall asleep while you are talking to me. 
  4. Autumn Peterson at Verte Massage and Brooke Jordan at Therapeutic Associates/PACE have graciously volunteered to take care of my body for a few months.  Please help me thank them by sending some business lovin' their way.
  5. Finally, if I am up to it, make me get out of the house and enjoy Portland. It's going to be a beautiful summer and it would be a shamed if I missed it because I was moping inside watching Heald College commercials and talking to my cats.  
Last item of business.  Above all of my cancer reading, I highly recommend the following book (in spite of its slightly annoying name and format): Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr.  My copy was borrowed from the St. Vincent's Breast Clinic, but I am going to go out soon and buy my own so I can mark it up.

Kris was my age when she was diagnosed with a rare and inoperable vascular cancer.  Her energy and outlook really resonated with me (and not just the chapter on retail therapy), and, more importantly, her advice got me back to my private journal and motivated me to plan for my future in a way that I have never done before.     

And that's good stuff for a chemo patient, yo.