Saturday, November 28, 2009
Since none of what I have done is reversible, I must carry on in quest to restore myself to two-titted person so it’s back to Dr Rex, the young and very amiable one in Beverly Hills (very Dr McDreamy) for a second visit to see if I like him as much as I thought I did. One visit is not enough I’ve realized when sharp knives are involved. I’m shown reconstruction photos but these are not reassuring. Gruesome shots of grafts from the upper inner thigh, the stomach, the buttocks and the back with fresh livid scars leaping out at me. I immediately assume these photos mean the doc thinks I will need such surgery but he starts off by denying it, saying that he thinks my breast skin will SOMEHOW un-wrinkle and un-shrivel back to life. Maybe.
But what he REALLY recommends, to minimize the risk of re-infection is something different. He is suggesting taking both triangle-shaped latissimus muscles from my back – the ones you use for pull-ups or a mighty golf swing– and putting them into my breasts to support the implants. And because it’s my own living tissue, there’s very little chance of re infection and it will look better BUT---to make it look symmetrical he wants to do BOTH breasts-so that means two incisions under my arms – another two further down for the camera to enter my body and two more incisions where the muscles are slipped in. A four hour operation and 4 drains for a couple of weeks. FOUR BLOODY DRAINS hanging around yours truly. Two was charming. Four really sounds like fun.
He’s cute but not that cute. Jeez. And that ol dead people’s skin, Alloderm (which would support the implants –instead of the aforementioned latissimus muscles which I now realize I’m very fond of just where they are) is sounding good right about now.
Let’s leave back muscles where they naturally reside and pop some new nice clean Alloderm and an expander into my left and see if we can’t get back to where we were…and then wait two or three months till, God willing, I might be ready for the permanent implants and life again as I once knew it. That’s Dr Bob’s plan and it’s sounding good—especially when I discover that Dr Rex, contrary to what the girl answering the phone told me, is not contracted with Blue Cross and thus it would cost me a good deal of cash.
Two days Later
Dr Bob starts to seem like an even MORE APPEALING OPTION WHEN I go to see YET ANOTHER surgeon Dr John…a very well-known one at UCLA who does a heap of breast work and who many smart and well-heeled Beverly hills ladies all love and praise to the skies…I had seen him in my initial quest for MR RIGHT but passed him over when I realized I was basically penniless and HAD to go with the best of the lot who were contracted with Anthem Blue Cross but as a former journalist I am curious to educate self and get the lie of the land so to speak. At our first meeting he had concurred about expanders and finally implants as the way to go and now I am curious, IN THE LIGHT OF THE TEN WEEK STAPH INFECTION, to see if he suggests staying on the expander/implant path or might he be on the same page as Dr Rex and recommend the latissimus muscle removal- or perhaps even some other whacking great surgery.
By the way, just negotiating getting to UCLA is enough to put you off…Could it be any duller? Going to Westwood is massively dull and then getting a spot in the colossal car park and finding your way into the right building is not for the faint of heart. And though it should be comforting that the correct building, number 200, is actually named THE PETER MORTON Building, it’s not. Hard to say why as he’s one of my oldest friends since the London days and the Hard Rock on Knightsbridge (that really dates me!) but here’s my thought for the day. Once old pals become billionaires, things just somehow aren’t the same. And anyway, the last time I tried to get out of the PETER MORTON BUILDING, after seeing a wonderful oncologist recommended to me by the stunningly effective and clever movie producer Laura Ziskin (who raised $100 million in one night last year on TV in her STAND UP FOR CANCER marathon on all the networks) it was like trying to escape Fort Knox. It was about two hours after Michael Jackson’s body had been taken there and it was bedlam. The gorgeous male friend who actually accompanied me to see this marvelous man Dr John Glaspy (giving me an upsetting glimpse into how divinely comforting it would be to have a husband to go to doctors with, though, what if…. what if he disagreed with me and had ideas of his own and insisted I hook up with a doctor I didn’t LIKE---hmmm, maybe not so groovy) ….sorry, I digress…anyway my friend had been called by a music industry lawyer friend as we sat waiting for the doctor. This friend said he’d heard Michael Jackson had overdosed and died. It was hard to take in—as I feverishly studied my questions for Dr Glaspy who I was using as a final sounding board for my double mastectomy decision. I thought he was a good guy to go to for the TRUTH. When I went to see him a month or so earlier, at Laura Ziskin’s suggestion, I was blown away at first sight. This was a man with the kindest, wisest, loveliest eyes I’d ever seen – and a very charismatic, magical smile. I adored him on the spot. Husky, but definitely marriage material. Smart as a whip. A researching, groundbreaking oncologist. A winner…Okay, okay I’m getting carried away. I admit it.
Best of all, he was BRUTALLY FRANK. One of the reasons I had even wanted a second opinion was because although I liked the oncologist I had been seeing, she had basically fudged the truth. Or put a spin on it that is truly scary and horrifying when you are first diagnosed with ‘fast-growing invasive breast cancer. She had told me that chemotherapy would boost my chances of survival by about 30 %...and as my daughter and I sat in her office a few days after my lumpectomy she pretty much made sure of our business by adding that if the cancer was not ‘contained in the breast’ it was not going to be pretty. “If it spreads, there is nothing more we can do for you.”
No further discussion was offered or asked for. I could think of everything –but nothing to say and I looked over to see my darling daughter in floods of tears. So, although it seems moronically naïve and just plain moronic in retrospect, I asked not a single follow-up question. I was rendered speechless by such a definitive statement – and my own ignorance. Fearing she might lay something even scarier on us – such as, tests indicated I had six months to live, we fled. And about ten days later I embarked on my three months of vile chemotherapy. But as the weeks wore on and I lost hair and sense of self, I did start trying to catch up with the whirlwind and find out more information. I read books, I searched the internet and I bought the $350 Moss Report. He’s not a doctor but a very well-respected journalist/researcher who has written huge 500 page reports on virtually every type of cancer known to man.
But I must boast that by the time I started to wade through this very lengthy tome, I knew enough to to be able to email the assistant to Ralph Moss, pointing out that some of their facts about available breast cancer tests were out of date. She politely agreed, apologized and sent an immediate refund. But what is NOT in dispute is that most oncologists do present statistics in a way that promotes the use of chemotherapy whereas the true statistics are that CHEMO IMPROVES YOUR CHANCES OF SURVIVAL ONLY BY ABOUT 1-2%. YES, JUST ONE TO TWO PER CENT.!!!
So when I walked in to see John Glaspy and told him about my cancer he immediately responded with “Well if you’d come to see me sooner and told me you did NOT want chemo, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE GOT AN ARGUMENT FROM ME !!
Excuse me?? What kind of heretical talk was this?? I practically hugged him on the spot—simultaneously devastated that I had already finished the fucking chemo. And so I asked him if he agreed with the statistic that chemo only improves your survival rates by THIS ALARMING 1-2 % and he said YES. “But you never know’ he added, trying, I suspect, to simply comfort me,
‘Perhaps you’d have been in that 1-2% and it’s saved your life’. He smiled his ridiculously lovely smile and I found myself choking back tears- suddenly weepy, weary and touched by his kind manner as a flash of leaving one’s kids behind seized my brain.
Okay—well that was a flashback to our first meeting where he even discussed the advantages of complementary treatments like Vitamin C therapies and acupuncture etc. The guy was a veritable Renaissance Man. My kind of oncologist. And so I had revisited him to discuss the concept of the double mastectomy INSTEAD OF RADIATION and he agreed with me that the side effects of radiation were very much played down and that by using the new skin and nipple-sparing techniques for mastectomies, it was definitely a good option ESPECIALLY SINCE THE LYING PRICK OF A RADIOLOGIST – one of the top guys in Beverly Hills had lied to my face and said that he almost NEVER saw any side effects to radiation nor did he ever see problems with the skin of women who already had implants. Women like me. To my face he lied with an Aussie pal as witness who knows a lot about cancer and the whole ball of wax. She too was stunned given that it’s VERY WELL DOCUMENTED that the breast skin is fairly likely to ripple and get lumpy after radiation. Which is when I stormed off with my fellow Aussie and thought “Well bugger that for a joke” and embarked on my mastectomy research. Not that it’s actually turned out all that well of course….but still, getting an infection only happens to a small minority.
And SO it was now, after being reassured by Dr Glaspy that my chances of recurrence were down to 1-2% after a double mastectomy and that he would recommend it, that my dear friend Richard and I tried to leave UCLA. We immediately felt the buzz and panic in the air and at every turn came across hoards of crazed people running in all directions. We were assured by two nurses in the elevator that they had just been with Michael Jackson and he was NOT dead. But moments later, caught up in the drama of it, all we headed outside to see helicopters and paparazzi galore and well, the rumors now were that he had definitely died. It was ghastly and confusing and just so deeply troubling and upsetting. We had a coffee in the café and then---well, we sat in our respective cars for almost THREE hours trying just to get OUT OF THE BASTARD CAR PARK.
SO, WHERE WAS I?
Back at UCLA –about 3 months after my last visit with Dr Glaspy---to see a reconstructive surgeon, Dr John who I had seen once before. I had liked him but as I said, I chose Dr Bob as I both liked the look of his work and he took my insurance.
Well, this time round, the good surgeon takes one look at my breast area and visibly winces. He seems bad-tempered and I instantly blurt out “Please don’t hate me –I went elsewhere for the surgery because I couldn’t afford you”, but it doesn’t seem to appease Dr John. In fact I suspect he thinks the talk of money rather vulgar. He basically acts like a war general, telling me to man up and to jolly well ‘live with it’ (meaning the lopsided unibreasted phase) for about six months to “completely minimize the risk of reinfection” and stop worrying about the way I look – as if I’m some half-witted shallow vain fuckwit who is making a mountain out of a molehill. (Well I’ll be frank -I’m as vain as any middle-aged fool who still harbors just the faintest glimmer of hope that I’ll still meet my dream man and provide my heavenly adopted son with a father figure)
He then demands—with not an iota of the charm he showed the first time around, that I sit and bend slightly forward from the waist so he can grab the subsequent roll of fat and then concludes that in 6 months or more a ‘flap’ would be the way to go. He could take skin and muscle from my lower stomach, making an incision’ from hipbone to hipbone’ and use it to make a breast from scratch, nipple and all. Somewhat stunned, I ask if he doesn’t agree that I could just try having an expander put in again. No, there’s too much risk of re-infection he insists like some know-it-all-celebrated surgeon and besides, he bitches,” that’s all they know how to do at St John’s - you need to come to UCLA where we know how to do flaps.”
Only one tiny problem…I don’t want a fucking flap. (And by the way, I do not use the term ‘know it all’ lightly…fact is they have done NO studies or compiled NO statistics on any of this because I’ve asked all eight surgeons I’ve seen and it’s educated guesses ALL the way with half saying “Go ahead and fill ‘er up in 6-8 weeks---and the other half saying “Wait 6 months before putting back the expander.” So, let’s be very VERY frank - it’s a crapshoot all the way. And grudges against other hospitals are not MY BUSINESS Doc.
And by the way, this ‘flap’ thing they love mentioning …I totally understand that some women who had very large tumors were simply not able to have the skin-sparing mastectomy I was ‘lucky’ enough to have and this flap or skin graft – (taken from back, stomach. upper thigh etc) was an unfortunate necessity but I would prefer to go the simplest route for now…and once his very sweet assistant shows me horrifying photos of the huge long scars – about 14 INCHES LONG – on the stomachs of poor women who needed – or were talked into goddamn flaps, I really know I won’t heading back to UCLA for a little while.
But I do spend a fun evening at the Hollywood School House and help put up decorations for the Halloween Haunted House which is an 8th grade fundraiser and since the darling boy is in 8th grade and they are raising money to go on a fabulous trip to Washington DC I feel compelled to hit Vine American Party Store and buy lots of witty scary things—limbs and heads and bloody swords and cobwebs and you name it. All stuff I ALREADY have in a couple of boxes somewhere in the depths of my garage OR in storage but I have never boasted that I know where anything I possess actually is after so many moves so little things have to be bought over and OVER again..verrry frustrating. The kids have a ball and Nick flirts with the girls and even though they won’t kiss you in the car when you drop them off at school of a morning, Nick is clearly thrilled to see me and gives me lots of very adorable hugs and has a ball helping hang things and placing the coffin he’ll pop out of, in a prime spot. Some parent helpers get a kick out of me at the top of a very high ladder in very high bright red patent leather Mary Jane Manolo’s. What can I say? I’m chic. For an hour.
Monday, November 23, 2009
IT”S TWO WEEKS LATER
And if I could afford it, I would double my daily Cymbalta anti-depressant dose as it sure doesn’t get any easier looking down at my chest when I shower or undress. It’s sad and flat and the skin is just as I imagined –crumpled and wrinkled and unrecognizable. And to think I could have opted for radiation and NOT A DOUBLE MASTECTOMY! What was I thinking? The guilt about putting my body through this knows no bounds. (I know, I know—soldiers and car accident victims lose limbs and are far, far worse off than me, complaining bitch…but I’m sorry—I just feel better putting it down and getting it out of my brain. I doubt anyone is reading now anyway.)
Occasionally, if heading out to socialize, I pop on a bra and stuff it with Kleenex, literally, and at other times I just stick to baggy sweaters. But here’s my big confession. I am truly demented at this point I think as I am still actually thinking of CHANGING SURGEONS…after all this. Because when I visit Dr Bob a few days later, he says he wants to book me in for surgery the following Wednesday to open me up again, put in more Alloderm and replace the expander. (Yes, he admits, that he will look like a ‘goat’ if I get an infection again, but he doesn’t think I will and wants the best possible cosmetic outcome).
Now in many ways that would be fantastic but appointments with both my oncologist and the Infectious Disease doc are both issuing dire warnings that WE MUST WAIT AT LEAST 4-6 WEEKS to make sure that no microscopic infection is left that could possibly burst into bloom again once foreign objects are inserted. And my gloom and doom oncologist, by the way, who says she’s never seen anything worse, is very doubtful that putting back the expander at ANY stage will result in a decent cosmetic outcome. She’s talking about removing what skin is left and having skin and muscle grafts instead. Hot diggety dog—that sounds like fun…cutting off skin and muscle and moving it round my body.
SO, having heard of yet another great breast surgeon, I head off to Beverly Hills to meet him, desperate to hear if he thinks my breast skin will survive if I wait the month or will I need skin grafts. If he says what Dr Bob says, then I will relax…maybe. Well, it’s a tedious 95 minute wait cos Dr Cutie (he is very, very attractive this guy—looks no more than 30 but who can say for sure?) was in the back doing liposuction on some woman who had a lot of silicone injected into her butt and breasts that needed to come out. “I’m a perfectionist” he boasts and I believe him. Within moments, like the pathetically compliant person I’ve become, he drains the small amount of fluid I’ve told him that Dr Bob put in there to keep the breast skin from sticking like super glue to the chest wall and HE says, and this is where I can’t help but wonder if he is not just saying it to diss Dr Bob, that all fluid must be drained to avoid any infection breeding. BUT now, it’s like a GIANT industrial vacuum has sucked the life out of me and I am left, just moments later, CONCAVE…with a little mound of skin still above my nipple and so when I look down, I cannot see it. It’s like a very dried prune and how this can end well I have NO IDEA. He does say that he has seen skin come good again once it is inflated with the expander but I DO NOT BELIEVE HIM.
How can I wait another six weeks? I will go crazy because here’s the thing- Like a phantom limb that people claim causes pain, this lack of breast actually hurts. I swear it and now that the air has been sucked out, I actually feel a straining tension every time I breathe. IT’S DEEPLY DISTURBING AND SO, within days it’s back to Dr Bob and I mutter something about going to the acupuncturist and getting a massage to explain why the antibiotic fluid he put in has now disappeared. LET’S GET THE SHOW ON THE ROAD DR BOB, I SAY …CAN WE GO BACK IN AND DO SURGERY AT THE END of the week?
But blow me down if someone hasn’t got to Dr Bob and he’s now changed his tune and says we HAVE TO WAIT for 6 weeks at least. “So what about the fact that you have been saying how nervous you are that the skin will not survive this wait?
He claims, in a veerrrrrrry soooothing voice, that he is sure the skin sticking like glue situation is NOT irreversible. I DON’T BELIEVE HIM. I wish I did .I’m sad. He is now just playing it safe and the truly upsetting thing is that because of that, I may end up having to have tons more surgeries—skin grafts, flaps and endless opportunities for infection. I’m fucked. Whatever. Life goes on. Like the insane half witted moron I am I have yet another appointment with Dr Cutie in three days—just to see what he says.
I know I know,I need to get a life and start making money and find a guy.
So I have a lovely friend –a writer, actress and painter whop attributes her endless creativity to pot. Marijuana. Weed. She calls it pot as she is old like me. She’s been, like many others, urging me for months to take up Bikram Yoga, meditation and pot. Since I am now officially a sleeping pill addict – Ativan and Ambien definitely do the trick as distinct from the 12 melatonin a night the homeopathic dame suggested –which I did try for a few days but they did fuck all and I do have a crumpled up prescription from my Santa Monica doctor Cynthia so I decide that despite my abiding fear of pot due to several horrifying experiences over the years, perhaps I should give it a try. But I have to say I am terrified.. I truly am a ridiculous lightweight and just one or two puffs can render me comatose One dinner party I gave an English friend about a decade ago might give you some sense of my low tolerance.
Back in the days when I had some dough I had invited a dozen people over for a lovely sit-down dinner and there we were – in the huge living room of my stunning Spanish house in Hancock Park (painted walls and a double height ceiling, a Romeo and Juliet balcony – those were the days !) sipping Cosmopolitans when a music producer friend of mine lit up a joint. So as not to be a party-pooper when handed the joint, I took one hit, ONE, and within about three minutes felt very odd and thought I should perhaps check on how dinner was coming along. I staggered to the kitchen to see how my housekeeper was doing with the roast chickens (yep, used to have a housekeeper) but found myself unable to speak and felt really, really strange so I managed to retrace my steps to the divine Malibu-tiled staircase in the gorgeous circular foyer and climb up them, into my office at the top of the stairs on my way to the bathroom to splash water on my face. But as I entered the office, I found I could move no further and had to lie down IMMEDIATELY on the office floor- no longer able to function or MOVE. Not sure how long it took for someone to find me – but suffice it to say that I spent the ENTIRE DINNER PARTY on my office floor. Every time I tried to move I collapsed again, sometimes vomiting into the bowl someone had thoughtfully put next to me. I could think a little but only horrifying thoughts of never being able to move or walk again and at least three times I muttered “Ambulance, call an ambulance….need to go to hospital.”
At that point in my life I had never spent a single moment in hospital and have an abiding fear of them but I truly thought that with this one puff of a joint I needed to be there. Fortunately they all ignored me and even my horrified but cool under fire daughter Lola, 13 at the time, had the nous to say “Mum you’ll be fine, no need for an ambulance.” Naomi Watts, one of the guests, was the most capable and she spent a good deal of the dinner holding frozen peas to my head. Several other people popped by for a glimpse but only momentarily. They were having a ball in my gorgeous dining room and didn’t need to dwell on the downer hostess. Lola was brilliant enough to get Nick, then only four, to bed before joining the adults at the table and laughing over ‘silly old mum’. By the time I could move a muscle again and get to my feet, ( I had been motionless for almost four hours, not able to move ) the dinner was over and everyone had left, including the guest of honor – a former boyfriend from the London days who knew my lack of oomph as a pot smoker and hadn’t batted an eyelid or been in the least bit worried. “You shouldn’t smoke, you know better” he chided as he headed off into the night. It was tragic and humiliating and I had missed all the fun. I was furious with myself.
And yet and yet—maybe chemo had toughened me up. And so off we head in my pal’s electric car to a “Pharmacy” on Western. It’s surprisingly neat and clean – not the grubby den of iniquity I have imagined but still I feel completely wicked though my friend reminds me that it’s just been announced that they’re not even bothering to bust these joints any more. Oh, how civilized of them to come to this conclusion. Doctor’s letter and drivers license are handed over and forms are filled out and I start to feel as I’m waiting to see another medico. Not quite sure why we have to wait since there isn’t a soul there on this Tuesday morning but finally we’re ushered into the inner sanctum where my friend is greeted like a long-lost friend by the three smartly-dressed very sober dudes in there. They ask me to describe my preferences and my pal quickly steps in to explain that I’m ‘not a smoker’ – but that I’ve been through ‘cancer, chemo, you name it’ and need a little cheering up.
Any pain, they ask. Nothing dramatic I say, emphasizing that I truly do get stoned with alarming speed and thus want the lightest pot they have.
Any depression, I’m asked? Yes!! Trouble sleeping? Absolutely, a big problem!! And perhaps something to get me going in the morning I suggest, suddenly rather thrilled at the prospect of these precision strains of pot. From under the glass counter jars of pot are produced for me to sniff. They all smell rather lovely but the different aromas are utterly meaningless – I’m hardly a weed sommelier. “Just something light and breezy” I keep repeating. “Nothing too strong!”
They look at me quizzically and I finally suggest “You decide, I trust you”. It’s odd when words come out of your mouth that you simply didn’t plan. Whatever. They are happy to be in charge and I am given three containers with different labels
Morning – “Big Wreck”
Day –“Blue Haze”
Evening – “Sonoma Black”
Not sure I want to spend the day in a ‘blue haze’ but too late she cried… now we are ushered over to the refrigerated section. The stress of my first purchase over, I’m now on a roll. I buy liquid pot – some sort of lemonade soda that boasts a warning “This bottle contains two strong doses”, a pot brownie and a sort of chewie thing that’s ‘like a protein bar with a kick’.
They then ‘gift’ us both with a gorgeous colorful glass pipes – or is it called a bowl? Hand over my credit card, am given my future discount card and it’s out the door with my score like a giggling schoolgirl. Head back to my friend’s house and she shows me how to load the bowl, put my finger on the hole and light ’er up. (Strange, I know –to be such a totally hip sophisticate in so MANY areas – just not the dope-smoking one.)
I take one tiny puff, then another and feel completely fabulous in about thirty seconds. Mainly with the anticipation of having fun -such a novel concept. Am too scared to go home and face the boxes I am meant to be packing up for my big move to new digs in a week so I drive off to the local Thai Massage Parlor for one of the 40 buck sessions I have been meaning to try for the last year. But it’s only once I’ve been directed next door to the Peruvian chicken joint to use their ATM machine and come back and forked over the cash that I remember why I’ve been avoiding a massage. It’s because I can’t lie on my stomach and I am wary of arms being pulled and really only want my head and and legs and feet massaged, lying on my back. My masseuse apparently speaks NO English and I am finally forced to pull up T-shirt and show ghastly lack of breast and mime that it hurts so she will understand. By the time she finally summons the cashier who speaks English and I go through it all again, I feel fairly straight and I start to notice the place is hot and stuffy. A cup of tea and some toast at home is sounding good but I daren’t hurt her feelings so I lie there tenser than I’ve been for quite a while she tries to rotate my arms and do other painful things. But when she starts to walk on my thighs, approaching my stomach, I draw the line and make a run for it – pointing to my watch and pretending I’m late. She gives me a filthy look, realizes she ain’t getting no tip and I’m outa there.
Home Sweet Home. For that much-needed cup of tea and well, it’s downhill from there. I begin a very unfortunate read of the New York Times which has me in a white hot blaze of anger within moments as I read a truly horrendous story about how mammograms are next to fucking useless and how the bastards at the American Cancer Society now admit that the benefits of mammograms have been OVERSTATED. The American Cancer Society now actually admits that mammograms “mainly detect innocuous tumors that will never become life-threatening while they FAIL to detect most of the dangerous tumors.”
Oh REALLY !!!????? That’s great guys…well done. Fantastic work. So you’ve made a bunch of radiologists and oncologists and drug companies and surgeons rich because of INSIGNIFICANT TUMORS THAT HAVE BEEN DETECTED and silly bitches like me have rushed off to be opened up, blasted with chemo, radiation and whatever other shit a bunch of dinosaur doctors can come up with. I’m so angry I have to get the stepladder and reach up to the very top of the kitchen cupboards and find the American Spirits and light up immediately before heading off to pick up the teen from school. I sure as hell don’t dare take a hit of pot and risk freaking out as I ponder whether my tumor would in fact have finally dissolved of it’s own accord or been of no danger whatsoever. HAS THIS WHOLE FUCKING YEAR BEEN AN INSANE WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY AND TEARS??
What can I say? Another night of takeaway, history homework and Ativan. Who knew that the Duke of York both named and used to own all of New York and treated the farmers like shit, charging them huge taxes. Men can be foul. What’s the bet it was a bunch of guys and not a female who decided we ALL NEEDED TO PUT OUR TITS IN THOSE CHARMING MAMMOGRAM torture machines and then get diagnosed with cancerous tumors? When the darling daughter finally gets home exhausted from college at 10.30pm, I give her a Tiger Balm neck massage. And then she gives me one. That’s the kind of fun-loving folk we are.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday Oct 5
And so, the former health nut who prided herself on never having spent a single solitary night in hospital (gave birth to daughter squatting on bedroom floor, seriously!) is now packing for another two nights at St Johns and wondering just how many moisturizers I will have the energy to slather on. It’s very drying in hospital rooms and a gal can’t help but feel that a general anaesthetic sucks the life out of both body and facial skin..And here’s the good news, no school lunches or homework to nag about for two days but could there be anything more aggravating than a 7 pm surgery and an entire day without FOOD, water or coffee . A friend comes to collect me and am teensy bit tense and irritable as we fight our way through peak hour traffic from Hollywood to Santa MOnica and I realize that I will in fact be there long after the 5pm check-in time. As a result everyone seems to have clocked off for the day and the place is like a ghost-town…There are two other very sweet friends meeting me inside the hospital and we’re all non-plussed as we wander up and down, take the elevator to different floors and resort to calling out “Hellloooo”, literally, trying to find some humans who might be appropriate to the situation.
Twould be laughable if I wasn’t dying for a vodka and a fag – but finally, passing janitors and floor-cleaners, we come across a dimly-lit admitting desk in an inner lobby straight out of the Shining. The gals there seem cranky and crabby and when they realize that no pre-op bloodwork has been done they start to whisper and I find myself defending Dr Bob and explaining that as he thought my breast was about to explode there simply had not been time for any pre-op niceties and besides, I say, I was here a few weeks ago. I am very healthy – “Except for the exploding tit” snickers one of my pals and they both collapse in hysterical laughter. A humorless scowling nurse hustles me into a pre-op cubicle and her colleague joins in and vitals are taken. I point out that they were taken a few hours ago at Tower Oncology but they ignore me and the usual dull questions are asked about allergies and crap and then they ask who will be driving me home and I say that I am to be admitted for two nights and all hell breaks loose and they insist they have NO knowledge of a sleepover whatsoever !!! They are very indignant about it and I actually scream as one of them, who may or may not be trying to emulate the drug-crazed Nurse Betty on the new TV show, inserts an IV with all the finesse of a panda bear wearing snow mittens. My two pals appear in the doorway as the other nurse repeats over and over that there is NO paperwork that will allow me to stay the night and I keep insisting that Dr Bob said I WAS!! It’s farcical and surreal but TERRIFYING too and both pals are now suggesting, with total candor, that perhaps it’s best “we leave now and come back another day”. I am sorely tempted but Nick is now staying the night at a friend’s and I would hate to waste that. And then I’m asked the dreaded question –“What procedure are you having?” and I have to say in my own words “Well they’re taking it all out – the expander, the alloderm and leaving me …empty.”
And in the nick of time, here comes Dr Bob –or God to the nurses and both women seem to relax. One of my girlfriends, a New York toughie, demands to know why it all seems so chaotic and disorganized. I am mortified. He’s a SURGEON, for fuck’s sake. You can’t demand to know anything. But Dr Bob really doesn’t have any of the arrogance or sense of superiority that so many have and he is totally unruffled and pleasant as he tells soothingly it’s all ‘under control’. (So he lies a little..) He confirms to the nurses that I am indeed staying and that’s that. Indeed, I don’t have the energy to go home and come back another day- even though, Dr Bob has bags under the bags and I ask him when he last ate. He just smiles and attends to paperwork and I search feverishly in bag for a protein bar thinking that may revive my flagging surgeon. Damn. Nothing. I suggest a cup of coffee, prepared to personally run to the nearest Starbucks—but he doesn’t seem tempted. Well just give ME some drugs then, I shout to noone in particular. Am ignored. Pat on some eye-cream and rub lotion on hands and then it’s off with the goddamn ’undies again. I make one last cell phone to call Lola and then, as the girls are now chatting merrily, already charmed by Dr Bob, I try to get their attention for a farewell. But they’re distracted. They want to make sure they have an ‘in’ with someone who’s renowned for doing stunning faces and eye jobs.
It’s so late in the day, no one bothers to put me under before I am wheeled into the operating room which is scary and messy with boxes piled in one corner and the white tiled walls are a little dingy. It’s certainly not as gleaming and groovy as on Grey’s Anatomy. At least there’s a gloved, masked person attending to very large long sharp instruments—but where are my drugs?….Ah here’s the drug man and all I can think about as he chats wearily to me is that it is nearly 8 pm and aren’t all these folk tired and hungry and desperate to get home?? They must HATE me.
And I’m out.
But only till midnight when I come around. This was a quickie—just a 90 minute surgery. I don’t feel so bad—but then I remember – and like some tragic amputee, I feel for where my left breast was… Nada. Flat as pancake. GREAT! Even though I knew it was coming, it SUCKS.
And on top of it all, I am bloody starving and all they can find is a cranberry juice and some dry stale crackers as they give me yet another round of IV antibiotics. I try to tell them that I’ve had my antibiotics as 2pm but have no energy to argue and thus can’t even go to sleep till about 1.30am.
Okay—I’ll admit it. This is no longer fun. The nurses barely come anywhere near me for over two days. The lunch ladies come in and give me food. But two or three times I have to get up and make my own bed so I don’t have cold tootsies. Aren’t nice cheerful nurses meant to do that? One tit and cold feet. Give me a fucking break.
And when two sweet friends do come to visit, it ‘s so tiring having to chat and entertain them that I suddenly have such guilt at the amount of time I spent trying to divert and amuse my old dad during his endless stays in hospital.
By 2 pm on Wednesday I pack up and wander off past the nurses station to meet a friend who has come to pick me up who is waiting in the car park. I don’t even bother to say goodbye to anyone—they don’t seem to care.
It hurts like hell as I, A NEWLY MINTED MONO TIT, schlep all my belongings to the car and head off home. Moments later I make a dash to pick up the teen who grumbles a lot but I can tell is secretly pleased to see his mum. But I’m embarrassed when he gives me a gorgeous giant bear hug back at the apartment and I shrink back slightly so he doesn’t feel the lack of a bosom on one side. Does he even know what has happened? Not important – there’s a heap of homework to nag about.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
It’s now Saturday night.
Vadim has just finished the 90 minute ritual of stabbing me hard before giving me the IV antibiotics, Nick is skateboarding over to a friend’s house in the hood and then they’re off to the Grove to see a movie. My daughter is off to an art gallery opening and they both think I’m tragic for staying in yet again. Their obvious sympathy makes me feel even worse. I wasn’t always this anti-social hermit. But then my phone beeps with a message and it’s one of those alerts attached to my Gmail calendar reminding me that I actually DO have an INVITE tonight…to a friend’s house for a dinner party. Shit. I think I will have to make the effort to go just to prove to my kids that they don’t have a pathetic recluse on their hands.
So off I schlep in foul mood to find several smug married couples and a few old ring-ins like moi. Polite chit-chat and whenever anyone lowers their voice and tries to engage me in conversation about ‘my cancer news’ I very politely and humbly tell them that it’s all totally under control and have never felt better. I know they’re dying to see what growth there is on head under my cute raffia pork pie hat but perversely, I don’t take it off. Fuck’em.
Now the hostess, an actress, takes about an hour explaining to the guests all the renovations she has made to the house---every last one is a shocking mistake and she has rendered the house now virtually unbuyable and unlivable—but would she listen to my clever, cunning ideas? No. Thus, a miniscule kitchen cut off from everything, two front rooms with zero flow and a big back family room devoid of atmosphere or anything resembling decent lighting. I start to yawn and there is nothing but bitter cold white wine. My cosy bed and the pile of Netflix is beginning to beckon. “Get a grip”, I scold myself. Smile and mingle. Exercise your very flabby Chat ‘n Be Witty muscle.
But it’s when she gaily announces twenty minutes later (now getting on for 9.15pm) that the pizza will be delivered ‘very soon’ and then we can all start playing CHARADES, that I start to panic and realize it is IMPERATIVE I find a way TO ESCAPE. Pronto!. Cats, she has three or four cats. That’s it. I am allergic. (I was about thirty years ago – once, I think) So now I run to the bathroom and rub my eyes vigorously and splash them with water and then struggle back out to the throng and my hostess. I sniff a lot, hold tissues to my eyes, and in a sad-eyed whisper, BEG forgiveness but it seems my cat allergies have ‘come back with a vengeance” and I must sadly take my leave.
YES!!!! I am driving back down Sunset deliriously happy—even though I am actually a rather superior Charades player, I just wasn’t in the goddamn mood and I decide that I might be a tad devilish and stop by Pinkberry for a medium passionfruit and then pop next door to the newstand for an early Sunday New York Times. Now we’re talking.
Well first off, there are 14 PEOPLE IN LINE AT PINKBERY and I cannot abide a queue so I head next door to the newsstand and as I pause to look at Star magazine I watch as the last Sunday New York Times is bought from under me. Okay, this isn’t going quite as planned but figure I should just get something achieved and drive a few blocks up Vine to get some gas as am very low. Dangerously low. So low that I run out right on out of fucking gas one and a half blocks later. I manoever to side of road and realize, to my horror, that it is another one of THOSE Saturday nights. The good news is that having run out of gas about 5 times this year I had to fork over and move on up to the Deluxe membership level with AAA so that I can just call up my buddies there any old time when, like the total fuckwit I have become, I run out of gas. I dial my cousin in Melbourne and probably blow $80 chatting while I wait for my saviors to arrive. Then hit the gas station, spend another $80 on my worthless gas guzzling Discovery and head back home, having nailed another fun-packed Saturday night. I hate weekends and I hate Saturday nights and all they represent and the fact that they still have the power to make me feel so sad and alone. But hey, there is an email from Dr Bob waiting for me.
It seems that the one I sent to him two days ago–where I pleasantly but rather pointedly remark on his NOT noticing my infection or treating it aggressively enough has certainly gotten his attention and playing it hard to get in NOT going to see him this week has also proved rather effective. He insists on coming to see ME, the next day, to see my breast for himself. It feels odd but I do sincerely like the guy and well—who can resist a home visit from a cute surgeon in his scrubs. I can’t help but wonder if he put them on just for me. To look professional.
I insist Lola be there for the visit –in case he is mean and there’s some secret doctor network that means he knows just HOW many other surgeons I’ve seen and there’s a big showdown, a shouting match…but no.. he’s sweet and very pleasant. Although, as my cancer therapist (who at $225 a session is only affordable once in a blue moon) later points out, anyone who thinks they might be sued is bound to be pleasant AND very careful NOT to apologize in any way, shape or form. He doesn’t blink when he reveals that he knows I saw the surgeon from Cedars who deflated my expander but does mutter something about the problem of accumulating fluid in the space. He sticks to his upbeat spiel of “Well there’s less redness and I think the antibiotics are working” and then even ventured a “Well I understand that you felt safer with IV antibiotics” which was a bit much given that at this point at least 6 other doctors have said that was the ONLY fucking way to go. Why I can’t say those very words to him makes me feel like a giant wimp the minute he has gone. I was even hoping my feisty daughter might chime in with something that resembles chastisement but she doesn’t. Not her job. It’s tough. He asked if I would PLEASE come to see him the following Friday to see what progress my unruly, disobedient, wayward breast was making. I say yes and he’s gone.
“Well he’s sweet and kind and he cares” says Lola and to cheer me up, drags me up to he heinous Universal City Walk where she’s heard about Zen Zone. A place that hails from Japan where you hand over yet more dough for healthy, brain-boosting cocktails made from exotic fruits and a smidge of medicinal alcohol, an oxygen tube up your nose for energy anti-ageing and if you’re in the mood, a massage. We blow $50, skip the massage and decide that the Universal City Walk is an unacceptable location.
The next week
Is spent waging a losing battle—with my inflamed breast which refuses to go back to normal. Months of antibiotics have been dumped into my system and still the nasty red patch persists where the skin itself is hard and creepy and crepey and just looks like it could be breaking down. I hit Tower Oncology every day to be stabbed and whereas I would once read the Times and try to make notes, now I have resorted to turning on my little TV and watching it like a zombie. I‘m too tired to exercise, I’m shattered from not exercising – it’s a vicious circle I can’t seem to escape. I do take all my supplements and try to think positive thoughts…no, I lie…there are few positive thoughts in my cloudy brain and I begin to fear it will be another slicing open for yours truly. I visit the surgeon from Cedars and he curtly says to make an appointment for surgery – but with no feeling or affection and I feel like an anonymous patient whose name he’s forgotten. (He had forgotten!)
Is he my guy –or do I stick with Dr Bob? Why can’t I make a decision here? This is ludicrous. MY brain hurts from thinking and I’m so bloody pooped but can never sleep and am invariably still awake when Letterman come on and then it’s a quick switch to Jimmy Fallon. I do love the Letterman show where President Obama points out, to folk saying he is being disrespected because he’s black, that he was in fact a black man before he became president and Dave responds with a wonderfully dry, stone-faced “And how long have you in fact been a black man Mr. President? I like that we can now use ‘black man’ again instead of the idiotically pc ‘African American’ moniker.
And so when Dr Bob calls on Thursday and asks if I can pop down to Santa Monica to see him the next morning, I start to say yes—but then realize I have to see both the Infectious Disease guy and the oncologist the next morning. I offer to come in the afternoon but he has a conference and so he begs me to at least email photographs. Reluctantly I ask Lola to do the honors and she takes some photos that actually make it look quite frightening. I send them off and he calls Friday evening and begs me to come in and see him on Sunday at his clinic. He adds, fairly dramatically, that he’s worried my breast might EXPLODE. I kid you not—that’s the word he uses and adds that he is afraid the skin might rupture or EXPLODE as it looks so thin and that he NEEDS to see me for himself.
Sunday Evening oct 4 Pre-emptive Surgery or The Real Deal
I drag a friend with me to meet up with Dr Bob at 6.15pm …it’s already getting dark and everything’s locked up when we get there and it all feels weird and scary and a teensy but unorthodox. I’m ready to head for the hills and just settle for Cold Surgeon from Cedars but no, here’s Dr Bob telling me to come on in –he’s inside. So sweet –he’s popped his pale blue scrubs on and it looks like just a regular consultation, almost. My girlfriend, who’s never seen the breast in question – tries to act cool when I strip off and makes a valiant attempt at asking some of the questions another friend has emailed to her iphone to ask…but they soon become redundant somehow in light of the fact that Dr Bob has actually taken the liberty of already booking me in for surgery the very NEXT day at 5 pm. Either he is genius clairvoyant/mental telepathist who is reading my mind and knows I am on the verge of dumping him as my surgeon and wants to scare me into a preemptive surgery quick smart—or he genuinely thinks I need to be under the knife quick smart! My pal Sheila dutifully asks some questions as I moan about how to logistically plan how Nick will gets to and from school but the darling daughter, despite her crammed schedule as both college student and coffee shop manager will help it happen. She is the best and am secretly thrilled she is breaking up with her boyfriend. He is very sweet but I need my darling girl.
Monday, November 2, 2009
I’m back at Cedars where I spent mucho time for scans back when first diagnosed. No more confusion with the East and West Tower and which of the 82 parking lots to use. No sirree. Am revolted by my own familiarity with so many medical establishments around LA and reminds me of how my whole life revolved around these places in Melbourne as I spent four years trying to keep the enlarged heart of my father beating.
East Tower—into one of those elevators that are beyond crowded. Every floor is lit up. Could I be any more irritable? I DO NOT LIKE BEING ONE OF THE SICK PEOPLE.
3.30 Appointment with Infectious Disease dude. Doctor Sam. Like one or two of the surgeons I interviewed he insists on his female receptionist being present – so that double mastectomy patients won’t make subsequent accusations of sexual harassment or inappropriate touching. AS IF!! What jury would believe a doc hitting on the angled breasts of yours truly.
He politely asks me to ‘disrobe’ but I note rather petulantly that there are no robes to put ON and suddenly feel very modest and hideously exposed sitting on the annoying paper-covered table naked from the waist up.
Apparently, a dark red crimson-colored breast is all an experienced ID needs to see before demanding the name of my oncologist. I tell him and before you can say “WILL I LIVE?’ he’s called my esteemed oncologist Dr O on her cell and is saying
“Lyndall’s had a staph infection for 5 weeks and has only taken oral antibiotics so far. Can she come down right now to start on IV?
And so, just 35 minutes after arriving at Cedars I am forking over a mere $9 to the parking lot guy- my cheapest stay ever. How much DO they make at those Cedars Car parks in a year???
Fifteen minutes later I’m back at Tower Oncology Center, a place I hoped never to set foot in again, despite the kindness of all the nurses and nurse practitioners who pumped me full of cytoxin and taxotere - the heinous chemo drugs from March to June. I recall Buck Henry’s alarming email back at the end of February when I first announced my chemo schedule..”Welcome ! You’re in the cancer club now whether you like it or not—with all us old codgers!” And when I told him I was off to Tower he actually uttered the words “ I’m jealous”
“You’re going to love it there, he insisted. I used to look forward to it. They’re soo nice., They bring you warmed blankets, ladies come round with snacks –(or hand-knitted beanies if you’re going bald) and you can even order meals from about a dozen restaurants.” claimed thefamous fusspot enthusiastically. All true, I discovered and they bring it straight it your numbered recliner chair.
Well my fond memories didn’t match Buck’s but there were friendly familiar faces everywhere. They greet me like a long-lost buddy but also express shock that I’m back. I swipe a few candies from the giant jar they keep as if we were kids getting a shot. I prepare to go and use the machine that I know will produce foul tasting coffee but somehow can never resist but before I can even decide on hot choc or vanilla latte I am being ushered into the massive Chemo Lounge, a massive 3000 sq foot area consisting of several nurse stations and about 40 widely spaced recliner chairs - all with their own TVs and uncomfortable side chairs for the poor old friends/spouses that sit grim-faced and uncomfortable for the 4 hours that most chemo treatments take…Though in my case, the chair was usually empty as Lola found the proximity to Barney’s a tad irresistible and would sprint down there and come back to give her tethered old mum a show and tell.
I’m weighed, vitals are taken(so dull and unnecessary) and I’m down in the chair and hooked up in record time. Do they think I’m ill or something? Just a burst of pre-closing time efficiency I tell myself till my oncologist Dr O comes rushing up, aggressively pulling the hospital-like curtains shut to envelop us in our own rather claustrophobic little cubicle. No verbal greeting. Just a big hug and an uncharacteristically pointed “I cannot believe that surgeon! Why did he let it go this long?” She motions for me to lift up my tank top which I do and her eyes widen a little but before I can ask if she thinks my breast will fall off she chides me for not having come to see her earlier. I am tempted to point out that her scheduling assistant never responded to my email but fear it would sound ungracious so instead –
“Yes I wish I had too…” but here’s the weird thing. It truly had NOT occurred to me to discuss the Flaming Red Tit problem with my oncologist. I guess I thought I was done with cancer treatment, not fully comprehending that my compromised system and thus a susceptibility to infection is all part of the chemo/cancer deal and if I had a brain in my head I would have realized that but chemo has definitely dulled my brain –plus I think that in some corner of my brain I still cling top my former identity as health nut/athlete/gym junkie…and so who needs to check in with their oncologist before surgery is even over?
DR O then proceeds to inform me that –after routine post-surgery antibiotics – an ongoing infection should be treated with oral antibiotics for just 3-4 days before getting aggressive with IV antibiotics. She notes with barely-concealed contempt that I took two weeks of Tetracycline before two weeks of Augmentin followed by a week of Clindamycin.
‘About 21/2 weeks too long” she says and then justifies her claim by painting a very grim potential scenario. “If the infection is allowed to take hold and then really won’t budge, at some point you will have to be opened up, and all foreign objects taken out -ie both the expanders and the alloderm have to be removed. The problem is that then the breast skin tends to stick to the chest wall like superglue and when you try to pry it all apart, the resulting cosmetic effects could be ---well, less than ideal. (Code for HORRENDOUS!)The ID doc had already warned me of this. Funny how Dr Bob had never mentioned it.
“So aggressive treatment as soon as possible is the only way to go. I want you to do IV for two weeks 7 days a week. The IV antibiotics bypass your stomach. I can’t imagine how you feel after five weeks of them. It’s very bad for your system you know.”
“Well yes,” I say suddenly very close to tears as I notice a good-looking man holding his wife’s hand tightly as the nurse inserted an IV.
To think I might have avoided over a couple of weeks of the bloating, diarrhea, toxic exhaustion, depression and sleeplessness due to the oral frigging antibiotics but DIDN’T, makes me very, very sad.
“What do I say to Dr Bob ?” I ask
“Tell him I’m trying to salvage the situation. Use the word salvage.” Another hug and she’s off and I sit there, unable to stop watching the couple opposite. The lovely husband has just brought his wife another pillow and keeps smiling at her and rubbing her arm.
I dread those stomach-churning moments of clarity when both denial and one’s Pollyanna-ish belief that some criminally handsome soul mate will appear one of these fine days and make up for his tardiness by being extra heavenly and sexy come into sharp focus and one realizes it is bullshit and one is very much ALONE. Now and forever. Unless some utterly freakish seventy year-old decides he can go nuts and date someone over 40 which is darn bloody unlikely.. AND I KNOW OF WHAT I SPEAK. TWO OLD BOYFRIENDS, 70 AND 72 RESPECTIVELY, ARE BOTH DATING WOMEN UNDER 35. OKAAAAY??
The nurse returns, pulls out the IV and I’m free again. It’s now 5.45. Nick’s school ends at 6pm. I’ve already texted his math tutor to say “Please tell Nick to hit the lunch tables right after tutoring and to do his homework.. That’ll be the day! Poor child. He’s very social, a bit of a chatty Kathy and loves nothing more than a good gossip at the lunch tables after a long day.
I arrive at 6.05, five minutes after the very strict closing time and there’s my gorgeous tall teenage boy perfectly happy to be the lone student - the center of attention with the afterschool staff and dreading the sight of his dragon lady, whip cracking, homework-enforcing mean mother. I fork over the late fee and we speed off.
There’s approximately 9 minutes till the next tutor arrives at our apartment but Nick is starving so we make a pitstop at the fabulous Cactus Taqueria on Vine (no fast food Taco Bell for us) and then rush home to discover that if I’d checked my texts I’d have seen that the tutor cancelled and then realize in my hurry that I’ve left my wallet at the Taqueria. A weeping, cursing dash back, convinced it would not be there and that I deserve to be flogged or worse. But it’s there. I love Mexicans. If only Nick and I had kept up the Rosetta Stone Spanish CDs I spent a fortune on…I leave them a twenty and rush home ecstatic. My biggest kicks these days come when I find things I have just lost.
Two days later. Saturday morning.
Tower Oncology is shut at weekends…so, in order to have my IV antibiotics they send a nurse to me. In my case a 6’6’’ Russian in jeans and flip flops called Vadim – much to the surprise of Nick who seems faintly irritated by the rare sight of a male on his territory. As it is, he’s like a caged lion in our small apartment, desperate to get out and start cruising the neighborhood with friends but that’s along way off I point out. You still have science flash cards to do and reading and math and I begin my weekly sessions of bribery, begging, maybe some more bribery followed, almost always, by screaming.
“Do your flash cards and then I’ll drive you to drumming in West LA and then to the opposite side of the earth to meet your skateboarding pals ”
We both know I’m wasting my breath. I’ll end up doing the history flash cards because the ludicrous curriculum at my Aussie Church of England Girls Grammar School let me study Latin French, English, Math and Science (supposedly preparing me for a proposed career as a doctor) which means I am staggeringly ignorant and I’ve actually come to enjoy doing the flash cards and learning who folk like Kubla Khan were and what caused the Civil War and stuff like that.
But I digress. MY brain is fuzzy. To the well-known syndrome of Chemo Brain has been added the “I’m permanently buggered from antibiotics” brain.
So here we are in a charming street right next to the 405 where Nick takes drum lessons in some random warehouse and I am on the cell phone in the sweltering heat probably getting brain cancer according to Dr Mercola who inundates me and many other nuts with his medical newsletter just about every day and No, I can’t find my ear device and so my ear will just have to suck up the radiation as I give breast surgeon Dr Peg an update and she says I should just dump Dr Bob and offers to call him on the spot and tell him he’s fired.
“He SHOULD have put you on an IV weeks ago!”
But I hate to hurt anyone’s feelings and what if he’s still the best surgeon in town but just skipped the “How To Treat A Staph infection” classes.
“I’ll call him now. You don’t have to ever speak to him again.” Says Dr Peg very matter-of-factly. They’re a tough breed, these surgeons.
Whoaah! It’s like getting a friend to break up with your boyfriend for you. Not quite. But I tell her to hold off. I need to digest all this. I quickly hang up because I can see that Dr Bob is calling in. Well blow me down if he doesn’t sound all hurt and offended that I have cancelled Monday’s appointment. (This is after both Dr Peg and Dr Sam have called him to tell him about the unanimous decision to put me on much stronger IV antibiotics).
I explain that I will be seeing the Infectious Disease doc again to see how the IV drugs are working.
“Well you need to come in on Tuesday or Wednesday and if the redness is still there I’ll open you up and wash you out and take out the expanders for a day or two and then put them back.”
Well that’s a winning suggestion. Ignore the fact that I am now on IV antibiotics and just hit me with two general anaesthetics and slice me open twice in three days. Wow, who could resist the thrill of being unconscious and then fighting one’s way back out of that lovely anesthesia fog twice in three days.
And by the wayI don’t even understand –nor do I care to frankly- the logistics of how he manages to drag out through a small incision around my aureola a huge whacking great thing called an expander (which can be inflated or deflated by injecting a section of it with liquid through my breast) as well as cutting out all the Alloderm, the dead people’s skin which may or may not be the cause of the infection?
That would leave me with crumpled up skin for a couple of days.
And then, three days later, cutting me open again around my nipple he somehow manages to shove a nice fresh expander back in there. As well as another fresh gob of Alloderm to strengthen my now paper-thin skin?
I know—don’t ask. Talk about a can of worms. My head is spinning and I can barely hear Doctor Bob who is at his son’s baseball game and so I just say
“Well I’ll have to think about that” not daring to even hint that I’m being told to give him the old heave-ho. I politely promise we’ll speak soon even as I feel shocked that he’s so cavalier in the way he talks about cutting me open. I click the phone off as he is still speaking . I CAN NO LONGER COPE. My son and his drumming teacher have been standing outside the car in the sweltering heat. Feeling completely frazzled I open the window and we discuss Nick’s drumming. As he lingers I realize he needs his $60 cash for the lesson-oh and another $60 for last week’s missed lesson. Great. Is it any wonder I am still toting the $20 handbag from Forever 21 that I bought for my 23 year-old daughter who refused to be seen dead anywhere near it on the grounds of it being cheap and nasty. So mumsey sports the cheap bag while daughter dearest has snatched the vintage but divine Prada bag I was keeping for best.
Here’s the rest of my day—as if I needed any further confirmation that I now officially have NO LIFE. I drive Nick from West LA halfway to downtown where they skateboard at Lafayette Park. It’s a big scene. Everyone there looks like a scary gangbanger but it’s broad daylight and he’s 14, nearly 5’ 10’ and has size 13 shoes. I watch through the wire fence for a while and then rush home to sleep. As my head hits the pillow, my phone, always close enough to keep radiating my brain, rings and it’s the teen calling in the sweet, kind, loving totally MANIPULATIVE voice that I am powerless to resist explaining that his friend’s brother can’t make it and would I come now to pick them up and drop off his friend in the Hollywood Hills and then take him to Toluca Lake to spend the night with my ex-husband. Not Nick’s father but the father of my daughter. I adopted Nick and he has no father but occasionally my ex, who likes him a lot, has him for the night and he and his third wife, take him to the Smokehouse, Bob Hope’s favorite where ribs and meat a plenty are devoured.. Wife Number three is twenty years younger than me. Of course. Nick and she have a blast together.
What a fun day. I’ve just had my eighth intravenous antibiotic session at Tower Oncology and been to see my third reconstructive surgeon in hopes of finding someone who ‘feels right’ to replace Dr Bob. And I’ve yet to even fire Dr Bob on account of I’m a pathetic, guilt-ridden moron and also because I want to keep my options open. What if I don’t find anyone better who takes insurance who I feel is ‘right’ for me?
Anyway, they all have different plans of attack but on one thing they agree. If we can’t get the Flaming Red Infected Tit to calm down and the expander and the alloderm have to come out, ‘tis not a good thing. Because to be on the safe side, they would have to stay out for a month, at which point the crumpled skin would shrink and shrivel and almost certainly not recover. Thereupon, best bet might be to lop everything off and do skin grafts with skin taken from my back. Although Surgeon Number two, a woman, did suggest the radical and universally rejected plan of waiting a week, taking out the expanders and in one feel swoop, popping in the permanent implants, sewing me back up and ‘hoping for the best”. My oncologist – and the Infectious Disease doc were not amused by that scenario.
This third plastic surgeon, Dr Keith – let’s see –young , unsmiling, serious, kept me waiting an hour and a half in a frigid overly-chilled Cedars consult room and having already googled him and found out he was someone who excelled in sewing back arms and hands and fingers, I couldn’t help but think he will be somehow less intrigued by my old tit than a chopped off leg needing to be stitched back on….
And yet and yet…I feel so utterly and completely confused, at the end of my rope, sick to death of weighing up my options and basically at my wit’s end that within about three minutes of rather theatrically opening my paper gown to reveal the tragic rack, I have let him have his way with me---which is to say I am letting him deflate my poor, POOR bosom’s expander so that there is ’less stress and trauma” on what is clearly already a traumatized area.
I am squeezing my eyes shut as the doc injects me with a big old needle and the nurse gently pats my balled-up fist. Suddenly, I am outside my body and watching this little scene and it truly is SO surreal that this is what it has come to—virtual strangers injecting a breast within minutes of meeting you. I even feel disloyal to Dr Bob.
And although the look is not good, think deflated balloon where the surface is crinkly and sad, the deflation does produce some relief. Like other surgeons I’ve seen he’d like to see what happens after another week or two of antibiotics and then, yes, he’s all for opening me up and taking out the expander. But is he the doctor for me ?? Is he the surgeon I will dump Dr Bob for? So hard to tell in one quick consultation that began an hour and a half late and that lasted only fifteen minutes. But at least everyone’s on the same page. Things have GONE HORRIBLY WRONG AND UNLESS THERE’S SOME KIND OF MIRACLE, the surgery will basically have to be undone and the crap that’s been put in will have to be taken out. “You will have to be device free for a couple of months.” He insists.
Titless on one side for two months? Excuse me?
He did suggest that smooth expanders were the way to go rather than the ones with a rough surface. The tiny little crevices are a breeding ground for bacteria he says but when I mention it to daughter dearest Lola later she recalls that Dr Bob said the rougher expander meant the skin did not adhere to them in some demented unhealthy way. When I sneakily ask Dr Bob about the smooth ones, he says he has never heard of them. What does this mean? Every last tedious detail takes on more meaning.
I BORE MYSELF TO DEATH AND DON’T CALL BACK THE FRIENDS I have because I am dull and self-obsessed and have little good news but some of them are even more boring than me –especially when they tell me “Well you sound FANTASTIC ” Oh yeah?? or “I’m sure it’s all going to work out really well.”
“In six months you’ll be good as new.”
Is that a FACT?
or this one today…”You know, I haven’t called but I really do have your back cos whenever I pray, I pray for you.” OH JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP. And if I ever read about one more jerk saying that CANCER WAS A GIFT, I will personally punch them.
WHAT SORT OF FUCKING GIFT IS IT, PRAY TELL. I’ll tell you what a gift is… a gift is a new Prada bag, a $10,000 gift certificate to Barney’s, a gift certificate for a massage, a lovely orchid, very expensive perfume or something of that goddamn nature. NOT CANCER. And for what’s it worth, I am no different, certainly not gentler, nicer, kinder--I am already nice!!! And my priorities?? Well yes, they may BE A LITTLE DIFFERENT...now I think I may put more emphasis on being BITTER AND TWISTED. (Ah, feel better now).
But of course I am nothing but polite to all these deeply irritating souls who just don’t get that a simple, mundane expression of sympathy would be so appreciated …like ”You poor old thing’ or I’m going to be dropping by with some goodies/groceries….but it’s okay. Folk get nervous to be around sick dopes going through surgeries and think that instead of dropping off the Greenblatt’s Chicken and Vegie Soup, (which they’ve promised about 8 times) they can just substitute it with an email about Kathy Freston’s Reasons To Be A Vegan post…You know, I could be as happy and glowing and healthy looking as Kathy Freston if I was married to a zillionaire and had my own fucking chef to cook tasty, anti-oxidant packed grub. Kathy Freston bugs me. Entire world bugs me. And moments later I am filled with monumental self-loathing for being such a ninny. I’m not blind, deaf or paralyzed so clearly am just whining ungrateful jerk. And those penetratingly negative feelings have probably just proved enough of a catalyst for new cancer tumor to have formed. I CAN’T WIN.