Monday, August 30, 2010

So what is the latest?

Last week was the first full week of the new academic semester so I was pretty busy -- and exhausted -- by the time I got to Friday. But here is a quick run-down on how dissertation girl is doing:

* Jim showed three of his prints in an art show held in our building this past Saturday evening! I know I (sort of) forced him to do it but I think he handled the whole thing quite well. His photographs were fabulous -- and everyone told him so! I had really hoped that at least one of them would sell. Damn economy!

* I have officially had some hair loss -- not a lot, though! I have been pretty fanatic about checking the drain after each shower and I was thinking that there seemed to be more hair the last day or so. But then when I went to get a massage yesterday (Sunday), Becky (the woman with the fabulous hands) noted that she was pulling a lot of loose hair out with the scalp massage. Afterwards, I also was able to pull out quite a few strands. But then by the afternoon, no more seemed to be coming out. So maybe just a spurt of hair loss? I need to figure out where I stashed all those scarves I bought!

* I finally connected up with a place that offers free counseling and support groups for folks with cancer (The Wellness Commnunity near Manchester and 270). I seriously need to talk in a professional setting. Sometimes I feel like I am going to explode. And I am starting to REALLY think that I can't write a dissertation.

* I love my classes this semester. Lots of great students (including former students). So far everyone comes across as being serious and "here" -- and I even have quite a few talkers in both literature classes. Yipeee!

* I have had about three of these weird moments that I am not sure if they are officially "hot flashes." One of them happened at the art show -- I was talking to someone when all of a sudden I felt hot all over, I could feel sweat popping out everyday, I felt a little dizzy, and then I felt this overwhelming desire to sit down. I got a little shakey but as soon as I sat down for a few minutes I felt perfectly fine. Not sure what the deal is there. Chemo side effect? Or menapuase?

And that's about it! I am currently re-reading Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own for my honors women's lit class and I am reminded of how much I loved this book when I was an undergraduate. In fact, I can't get this image out of my mind of me when I was 20 or 21 years old, reading this book in an empty classroom late in the evening (a lot of us qeeks who lived in the dorms at St Martin's College would go to the main building at night to study since most of the classroom doors were unlocked). That book "wowed" me! And it still does -- the best writing ever. And maybe that is the sort of thing I need right now to ispire me to tackle the dissertation. I even picked up some articles yesterday afternoon and started to figure out how they fit into my grand organizational plan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chemo #2

Just a quick update on today's chemo. I saw Dr L, the oncologist, before my infusion. She wanted to make sure everything was fine on my end since I saw her last week. Other than the annoying rashes and a few mouth sores, I haven't experienced anything too bad. But I am feeling frustrated that I have gained weight -- lately, I seem so hungry all the time.

The chemo itself was pretty uneventful. The infusion center had two other patients, both older men. I pretty much read some old People magazines for the almost two hours we were there (I had brought an academic book to read but ... my mind was yearning for something a bit easier). Tracey was my nurse again, but I also met Terri, the other infusion nurse who was out the last time I was there. The folks there are super nice but I would still rather be somewhere else.

The worst part? I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the needle going in for the IV hookup. You would think this would get easier but it just doesn't. It hurts like hell for about 30 seconds and then everytime I shift my hand (where the IV is located) during treatment, I can feel stinging. Not cool!

So that makes two down, four more treatments to go. I know I should be a little excited about that happy fact but I am not. Going to the doctor's is starting to get old. And-- I am a little nervous about side effects now, as I was told things get a little crazier about treatment #2.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Moonlight Ramble in St Louis!




So there is this crazy bicycle "race/ event" which is sort of a tradition here in St Louis -- the Moonlight Ramble. I've heard of it since I around the time I first started dating Jim but I had never actually done it before. Until this year!

Basically what happens is that the race starts in Forest Park (it used to actually start downtown!) and participants can choose between a 9 mile or a 19 mile adventure. (and I think we all know that Dianna is always going to choose the onger option!) I am sure that there are people who are actually "racing" but 99% of the folks in this event are just riding their bikes and having fun in the middle of the night! You don't even know the actual course until the night of the Ramble (it's a big secret!). So we bought tickets, along with our good pals/ neighbors Bill and Laura, and met up with their friends (Liz and Dan) to take this adventure on! The best part? Meeting new people and doing something crazy like going for a bike ride at midnight. The worst part? Standing around with our bikes waiting for the event to start for almost an hour! It honestly started to feel like almost 12 AM in the morning pretty quickly! (Oh -- Did I mention that this event starts at midnight?) Because of the 10,000 participants, we didn't make it to the start line until close to 1 AM -- and then we were off! The 19 mile course took us east to downtown from the park (to Jefferson) and then on Market and onto the Forest Park Expressway (and then eventually back to the park for the finish line). Even though it took forever to get started, I do have to admit that it was pretty cool to be biking along a closed to traffic Forest Park Expressway in the middle of the night! The weather was warm but not humid! (I did end up with like a million bug bites, though!). Next year's plan will also include getting a light for my bike!

By the time we made it home and into bed, it was close to 4 AM. And then Stella woke my up at 8:30 AM to go outside (even though we took her out before heading to bed a few hours earlier!). I couldn't go back to sleep when I came back from taking her out so I did a little work. Eventually, though, I managed to go back to bed (where Jim was soundly sleeping!) and did my best to not screw up my sleeping schedule.

Especially since today was the first day of the Fall 2010 semester! Everything went well, though, and who knows? Maybe the Moonlight Ramble was just what I needed to kick off what might be a challenging semester!

PS: Thanks to Liz for taking the pictures that you see above! :D

Friday, August 20, 2010

Classes are Ready to Go!

Although the week didn't start off in the best way, this was a productive week ... Most importantly, I have the syllabi ready to go for all of my classes now and I am particularily proud of the schedule and syllabus for the Honors section of LIT 117: Literature by Women. Dr Maya Angelou is coming to UMSL in November and I have enough money in the honors budget to purchase tickets for the students in the class (and maybe even get a few extra for any other interested students!). I also completely redesigned the entire course and made "packets" for each of the students (using these super cool American literature folders I was smart enough to buy with honors money last year before the budget woes of this current academic year!). I hope the students are as excited as I am!

I also decided to sign up for some Japanese themed community education classes that will take place on my campus of SWIC on Wednesday nights. One of the courses is a Japanese language class and the others all have to do with Japanese cooking. Jim probably thinks I am adding to my already busy schedule but I thought it would be nice to have one thing (in the middle of the week!) to do that has nothing to do with teaching, researching, or writing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Elephant in the Room


So I finally get the saying, "the elephant in the room." I know that this idiom is based on the idea that an elephant in a room would be impossible to overlook; thus, people in the room who pretend the elephant is not there have made a choice. They are choosing to concern themselves with irrelevant issues rather than deal with the looming big one. And when I say "they," I mean "me."

Humor me for a minute while I explain how I noticed this elephant. Yesterday was the first day for teachers to be back at SWIC -- we had a divisional meeting (which I was slightly late to -- a whole other story!), a department meeting, a union meeting, etc. You get the idea -- lots of meetings. I am actually excited for the semester to start: all summer I have been focused on the fact that I have breast cancer and dealing with the doctor appointments that go along with that (not counting the feeling bad days). Since school ended in May, I have had two surgeries (something I had never experienced before this summer). I've experienced a serious infection that happens to only 1% of surgery patients. I've got toxic chemicals going through my body now (OK, maybe that first round of chemo has exited my system by now!) -- and this is coming from someone who usually doesn't take an aspirin. My skin is breaking out everywhere -- seriously, my scalp (my scalp, people!) has pimply-like things on it! And I have a complete hysterectomy scheduled for Dec 20, just as the Fall semester ends. So you can see why I am anxious to get back to the one thing that I love doing -- teaching (OK, and writing a dissertation!)

Back to the elephant. In my department meeting yesterday -- and I must add that I work with the most fabulous people -- I ended up sitting near a colleague who just had a baby (baby was with her!) and another who is pregnant. And that's when the elephant creeped into the scene. While the meeting was in progress, I was sitting there thinking, "Oh my god. I have cancer. I -- Dianna -- have cancer. I won't ever have a baby. Ever. How can these people go on and have a meeting -- like everything is normal and right with the world -- while I am having a major life changing experience?" So for the the rest of the meeting, I felt like I was sitting there with my pal, the elephant (breast cancer). They were talking about important department business and I was thinking about the things the elephant represented: getting IV's in my arm, freaking out over anesthesia before each of the surgeries, being wheeled into operating rooms, reading year old magazines in waiting rooms, being told that I needed chemo when I didn't think I needed it. Well, you get the idea. Somehow that damn elephant was making me have this internal "needy" crisis. And like the definition of the idiom suggests, I think that I haven't always dealt with the "looming big one" -- the elephant/ breast cancer. I keep getting hung up on the small, more irrelevant issues -- stressing out about my skin, hair, etc.

And that's about it. I made it through the meeting but I think I am going have to truly really deal with that elephant or it's going to be hard to teach and interact with folks. And I am not sure what I mean when I say I need to do this. Not everything in my life is about breast cancer but I think about it a lot. And I mean a lot. That's why teaching is good for me. I put 200% of myself into helping students develop their voices as writers. I think the elephant will fade to the background a bit more if I concentrate on teaching -- and the dissertation.

In dissertation news, though, I got my hands on a $5 copy of an old NCTE publication -- A Long Way Together: A Personal View of NCTE's First Sixty-Seven Years -- this memoir has some fantastic comments about how first-year writing was taught in the early 1900's, including some comments on some early "themed" courses (on the politics of WWI).

See -- just talking about this book, I can see the elephant moving a little further back behind the crowd in my head!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love


Today -- I have three quotations from Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. I just saw the film version this afternoon (with Jim and some friends) and I wanted to focus on three things she says in the book (and the film):

"People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life."

Are those not the wisest words ever?!

"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it."

Yeah -- I need to work on this.

"I am a better person when I have less on my plate."

I like all three of these excerpts. I think it's even a good idea to read them over a few times everyday. The last one I don't see in terms of food but instead what we do in our lives that makes us so darn busy. I am not about to jump on the breast cancer bandwagon and say "Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me" but I do think it's possible that this diagnosis has slowed me down, at least a little. I need to seriously think about what is on my plate 24/7 -- do I need everything? Is there anything weighing me down? Making me feel guilty? Making me happy?

And one side note about this book/ film: it must be pretty cool for Gilbert to say that Julia Roberts played her in the film version. Can you imagine? A film of your life being made and freaking gorgeous Julia Roberts plays you?! I think if a film were made about my life it would probably have to be someone like Winona Ryder ... maybe?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oncologist Appointment

Today I met with Dr L, my oncologist (and my pal, Peggy, came along for company!). The good news is that my blood cell count looks good and my side effects from last week's chemo are pretty minor at this point -- two different kinds of rashes (non-itchy; and there is a chance that at least one of them was heat-related) and congestion in my nose. I was pretty sick (i.e. tired and grumpy) for a few days after chemo but that is pretty much par for the course.

I also asked Dr L lots of questions about the hysterectomy in December and I think I have finally made the decision to go ahead and do it. I am most concerned about some of the side effects I had been hearing about from some of the women on breastcancer.org but she said that these are all related to menapause for the most part and I AM going to experience these while going through menapause at some point anyway. Again, she thinks that if I take the ovaries out there is no reason to keep the uterus in there anyway. AND -- I won't have to take Tamoxofin for five years with the hysterectomy. There is another hormone treatment drug I will have to take; I forgot the name but it's not for 5 years (which makes me happy!). There is also the insurance issue -- I can pretty much get the surgery paid for (hopefully) if I do it before the end of the year.

The only issue we talked about was radiation (or "rads" as they are called by in-the-know-cancer-patients!). Rads happen everyday (excluding Saturday and Sunday) for something like 35 treatments. Dr L wants to get this new step set up by my next chemo date (August 24) but my concern (since it is 6-7 weeks) is that I will be leaving town twice in October. On Oct 15 (a Friday), Jim and I are flying to San Francisco for the Nike Women's Marathon (no time for rads that day as I will be going from work to the airport). I won't be back until the following Monday night so that also leaves out that day for rads. And then later that week I leave for a conference in Kansas City and that takes Thursday and Friday out of the picture. Dr L wants me to call Dr B and find out how rigid she wants the treatments to be. If Dr B wants them everyday no matter what I won't be able to start rads until the end of October -- which does get in the way (possibly) of chemo and the hysterectomy.

Whew! And that's about it on the cancer front! Work-wise, I have a few of my syllabi ready for the new semester and I have been reading some articles on themed ENG 101 classes. Tomorrow, we are meeting pals for lunch and a film ("Eat, Pray, Love") and then Sunday we are hosting our nephew's birthday party -- can you say "rock climbing"!?!?! I can't wait! :D

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Christopher Hitchens

I am basically stealing a post today from a blog that I have been following all summer, "But Doctor ... I Hate Pink!" The fabulous writer behind this blog used the words of author Christopher Hitchins, who comments on his recent cancer diagnosis in the new issue Vanity Fair magazine (and if you don't know who Hitchins is, make sure you look him up! His controversial book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice is fabulous!):

Just a taste:

The oncology bargain is that, in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here’s the wager: you stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head. This certainly appears to be a reasonable trade. Unfortunately, it also involves confronting one of the most appealing clich├ęs in our language. You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality.

If interested, click on this sentence to read the entire article!

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Look Good, Feel Better" Seminar


OK -- so this morning I went to a beauty seminar hosted by the American Cancer Society called "Look Good, Feel Better." I am not a big makeup person but it sort of was fun to hang out with some women and get an expert to show my how to wear makeup (especially since I don't generally wear it at all). The only unfortunate thing was that I was the only white girl in a room full of African American women -- and the professional makeup artist was also African American -- and so the talk was geared more towards folks with darker skin tones. Don't get me wrong -- everyone was super nice but I was the quietest one in the room (my fault totally) and so I didn't get a lot of one-on-one attention. BUT -- I walked away with a bag full of free makeup that I am guessing is not super cheap in the store (the kind of makeup I would usually buy). The brands were MAC, Bobby Brown, Mary Kay, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Calrins, and some other names I didn't recognize (all in the cute red bag pictured above!).

The best part was the info on scarves and how to wear them -- oh, and info on dealing with skin problems, so far the only big side effect I am experiencing right now as I start week #2. My tummy hurts off and on, too, but it is manageable most of the time. But every now and then I get an intense amount of pressure and just have to sit down for a few minutes. Not sure what is going on but at least these side effects are do-able.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Joys of a Four Year Old!


Jim and I spent part of the day with our fabulous friends' four-year old daughter Odessa (see her beautiful mug to the right!). We have known Odessa since her parents adopted her from China when she was 11 months old and I don't think I have ever known a friendlier or more active kid! And she has the uncanny ability to get me to buy her anything she wants in whatever gift shop we happen to come across! We started by meeting for lunch at the yummy Kopperman's Deli in the Central West End and we couldn't have asked for better weather! The patio was PERFECT! After brunch, we headed over to the St Louis Science Center and hung out there for a few hours ....

But there is something I can't describe when I hang out with Odessa -- I know my frineds with kids know what I am talking about, but she is so good and relaxing for the soul! I can act silly and play on the ground and she is right there keeping me in the moment at all times (not thinking about what I did yesterday or what I need to do tomorrow). And I love that she calls Jim "Mr. Jim" and wants to shove stuffed animals up his shirt -- she has such a good mememory (she did this to Jim at a Mexican restaurant for an hour a few months ago!) and gets such pure delight at "having fun." I suspect there is a lot I can learn from her!

Tomorrow? I am attending a seminar at the Siteman Cancer Center called "Look Good, Feel Better" -- these are the folks who help you with your beauty needs when you are going through chemo. The only big question I have right now is ... when did I go back to my teenage face?? My face is breaking out like you wouldn't beieve (actually, ever since I was told to stop using my birth control pills). I have tried all the old products I used to use (and some new ones!) and so far none of them are making a difference. As far as other side effects, the only other one I have is also skin related -- a rash. It's not as bad today but I have tiny red dots on my chest, stomach and back. It's not itchy so I am not complaining!

My other big plan for tomorrow is to paint the guest bathroom. I know that seems like a strange thing to be doing right now but (1) it was something I wanted to do this summer and (2) we have guests coming over next Sunday and I want the guest bathroom to look "perfect." And tonight ... actually working on syllabi for the upcoming semester.

PS: I just finished reading the third Stieg Larsson, the author behind Lisbeth Salander. I am sure you have probably seen the covers of one of the three novels somewhere in the last few months (it seemed like when we were in NYC in June, everyone was reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); anyway, I am not usually a big mystery reader but I loved, loved, loved Lisbeth. She's a kick-ass woman -- I've seen reviews where folks claim she has Asberger's Syndrome -- but what I love about her is that shit happens to her and she claws her way out of whatever happens. And -- it's cool that she is a prominent computer hacker and even solves the classic math problem Fermat’s Last Theorem. And I am pretty sure she never broke a sweat! Anyway -- this is good reading if you are looking for something fun. (and as a side note, I caught a bit on NPR where a Swedish academic was ... well, "academicizing" Salander in terms of feminism and subjectivity and all that fun stuff!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Quick Thursday Post!

Well, I went back to the gym this morning and cranked out almost 19 miles on the bike and then did 15 minutes on the elliptical -- and I have to say that I feel exhausted. Usually, I don't tire out this easily so I am not sure if this is something that needs to be chalked up to chemo or not. I have some reading that I MUST get done today -- some articles and a book related to the WPA list serve question from last week -- it looks like some good stuff but I've been struggling with motivation again the last few days.

It doesn't help that it has been 100 degrees + the last few days. I have to (1) work at one of my volunteer jobs this afternoon and (2) do something for the social committee (in our loft building) so maybe those little adventures will light a fire under my butt.

As far as any side effects go, by the way, nothing major has come up yet -- Yipeee! I am taking some meds for nausea and Biotene for mouth sores but neither issue has really been a problem (maybe because I am being proactive?). Let's hope it stays that way! :D

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Only Five More to Go!


Chemo #1 is out of the way! (and the picture to the left is my actual arm getting the drugs!) It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be -- I think nerves probably got the best of me and made it worse than it had to be. But this does tell me that the next ones won't be so bad -- I hope! Even though I didn't get a bunch of sleep last night (maybe the steroids they gave me yesterday? Or maybe the butt load of water I am supposed to be drinking?) so today I think the worst of it is just feeling a little tired. And that is a pretty normal feeling for me anyway!

So here is the run-down on what happened: The chemo I saw before, at the Infusion Services at the Ballas Road location, is a much larger area than the South City office where I will be getting my infusions. But this location had the arm chairs and reading material that I saw at the other location (and not as cold either!) When we (Jim was with me!) walked into the chemo room, there were a bunch of people already there. One was an older woman who had a small group of people with her and another was a middle-aged woman by herself. After a little while, all those folks left and it was just the two of us hanging out with the super-cool chemo nurse, Tracey. We ended up being there about two hours -- Tracey started with an IV of fluids and an IV of something to help me with nausea. Then she started with one of the drugs on the IV and two of the others were directly "pushed into" the IV. And that was about it! I walked out feeling pretty much normal -- though it was fabulous to have Jim there and be my driver! Also, Tracey said that in her 16 years of working there, she has never seen a patient on CMF ever lose all their hair! So that was good news! (though I am prepared for thinning hair -- I have a few scarves already lined up!)

While hooked up to the chemo drugs, we also talked to Dr L, the oncologist, when she was between patients. I wanted to get her thoughts on the hysterectomy suggested by Dr D, the GYN. Dr L feels that I don't have to do the hysterectomy right away -- if I even choose to do it anyway. She had been talking about just taking out the ovaries but added that if you are going to take out the ovaries, why leave in the uterus? She suggested that I keep the surgical date and think about it a bit more. On the breastcancer.org discussion board, I posted a question about this and have gotten tons of responses -- both pro and con. Some folks are saying that there are real physical ramifications to doing this -- including bone disease and heart issues. Otheres talk about the peace of mind associated with the removal of both -- no chance of cervical cancer or cancer of the uterus. It also makes birth control options a bit easier (as in none!). My sister-in-law D got her ovaries taken out and told me that other day that she should have gotten the uterus taken out while she was undergoing the surgery and my mom said that she only has a little intestinal discomfort from her hsyerectomy. So ... no idea yet. But it's nice to think that this isn't the "for sure" thing that I thought the other day.

In a nut-shell -- I don't know what to do right now. I will certainly do some more reading and seek advice from medical types (and I am going to get my surgeon's take on it when I see her this morning -- getting the stiches from lumpectomy #2 out today!). I know the first few days after chemo are the toughest -- I just hope that they feel like I do right now -- OK!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chemo #1


Well, today is the day. I start CMF chemotherapy which stands for the three drug cocktail that I will be receiving every three weeks (6 times; total of 18 weeks):

C yclophosphamide
M ethotrexate
F luorouracil, which is also known as 5FU

For someone in my situation, I would typically be walking into the unknown but ... I visited infusion services three times when I was recovering from lumpectomy #1 (infection problems) and saw lots of folks undergoing chemotherapy. The funny thing is that at the time I thought, "Whew, at least this is something I will never have to do since I will only be getting radiation treatments." Yeah. That plan didn't exactly work out. I saw folks lounging in arm chairs, attached to IV's (see the picture above!) Some had lost all their hair (there were men there, too) and others had not.

So I have that experience under my belt and I watched the chemo section of a DVD that talks about what happens during each breast cancer experience (suggested from the folks at breastcancer.org). And I know that I can't prepare too much for the side effects since it often works out differently for every person. But I have the coolest looking scarves that came in the mail the other day so I guess I am ready for any hair loss (which might not even happen and if it does, it won't happen for a few more weeks anyway).

In dissertation updates -- I am reading some articles suggested from the WPA list serve and will bring those with me to chemo since we will be there for a couple of hours. I will finish this darn thing -- I will!