What would Ruth do?

Sunday, September 20, 2020. This has been a bit of a scary week. Hell, it’s been a scary year what with the upcoming election, the pandemic, the fires and our evacuation, the poor air quality due to smoke and always being on guard for whatever’s coming next.

Then yesterday, as I was on my way to post about the next scary thing, we heard the saddest news—Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

I was caught off guard at how hard RGB’s passing pummeled my heart. I was quiet and moody all day. I could barely get motivated enough to get off the couch to get a drink of water or eat. This tiny figure was not just a giant among women, but of us all. I can’t imagine where we would be now if she had not paved the way for so many.

And I was angry, because the media didn’t have the balls or integrity to give us just one day to mourn her passing and reflect on how incredible her life was. How impactful her presence was in this world. Within minutes it was all about how her passing would affect the current political state of affairs, and all the bullshit and posturing and ugliness we are forced to endure 24/7. The lack of respect was disgusting.

But today we watched CBS News Sunday Morning, and their coverage of RGB’s passing was all about this inspiring woman with none of the BS. They highlighted how she fought her battles with cancer with such dignity, strength, and fearlessness. That’s when the tears came, and I truly realized what an enormous void there is in our world without her in it.

Thank you for all you gave. Rest in peace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Of course the one thing I have in common with Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg is cancer. I could relate to her battle on a deeply personal level.

Cancer is always foremost on my mind. I am always on guard, keeping a watchful eye for its return. So on Wednesday when I found an unusual lump near my right armpit, I immediately suspected the worst. It felt like a betrayal to find this new lump when I’ve been on my latest chemo treatment for the last 7 months and will continue to be through the month of November. As luck would have it, I already had an in-person appointment with Dr. Rugo scheduled the next day.

I was surprised at the level of anxiety finding this new lump gave me. It’s out of character for me to have a discovery like that affect me with such overwhelming force. I’ve always said, “It’s nothing until they tell you it’s something.” It’s just that all my nothings have always morphed into something.

Even though he couldn’t go into the appointment with me, Steve drove. It was comforting not making the long drive alone, caught up in my thoughts. I was so grateful to have him at my side. Even so, I was really nervous all the way to UCSF.

I was scheduled to have labs done at 9a and see Rugo at 9:30. So once my bloodwork was done, I headed across the way to my appointment. Luckily there wasn’t a long wait, and it was business as usual—check my weight, oxygen level, temperature, pulse and blood pressure. I have never had high blood pressure…ever. So I was shocked when the nurse remarked that my blood pressure was a little high. I told her that was weird because it’s never high. So she took it again. It was even higher. I then confessed I’d found a lump the day before and was feeling a bit anxious. She said she understood and that either Dr. Rugo or her Nurse Practitioner would be in soon.

As I waited, I listened to three different guided meditations, hoping to bring my pulse rate down. But my heart continued racing, and it never dipped below 80. My normal is 62. Shit!

Emily, Rugo’s Nurse Practitioner, questioned and examined me first. Of course, the lump was an unexpected element for what was meant to be a routine visit. We also talked about my Xeloda side-effects which I’m happy to say are manageable, the worst being the extreme fatigue that never goes away. The other being my foggy brain, which is the main reason I rarely post anything these days. I just don’t have the concentration or stamina.

Anyway, then Dr. Rugo came in and examined me. She measured the lump, and said she wanted me to get a mammogram, an ultrasound, and a fine needle aspiration. Emily said she would talk to imaging and try to get me in right away. I was also examined by another nurse practitioner Susie, who assists my surgeon Dr. Ewing. She was sweet and reassured me that whatever this was they would take care of me and I’d be fine.

So that’s what happened. In record time I had a mammogram followed by an ultrasound. Here are the results:

There are no mammographic features of malignancy.

Ultrasound Findings:
Targeted ultrasound performed by physician. No sonographic correlate at site of palpable bulge indicated by patient. Normal appearing pectoral muscle is noted in this location.
Nearby normal appearing lymph node.

Right breast: Benign (BI-RADS 2).
Left breast: Negative (BI-RADS 1).

YES! ! ! ! ! ! ! !

Is the lump still there? Yes, it is. Does that make me a little uneasy? Yes, it does. But, I just have to remind myself whatever it is, it’s benign. So, I’ll just keep monitoring it for any changes, and hopefully it will eventually disappear.

So as my journey continues and I reach any unexpected hurdles, I’ll try to stay calm, look into my heart as I think of my super-hero, and ask, “What would Ruth do?”

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. —Franklin D. Roosevelt


Wednesday, July 15, 2020. I’ve been told I’m strong. My mom just said it again the other day. Throughout this entire journey that’s the one word that comes up over and over again. “You’re so strong.” “I can’t believe how strong you are.” When I hear that word, the voice in my head always wonders, “What does that mean? Strong. I just don’t see myself that way.” That being said, I’m not the type of person who melts into a puddle on the floor, rolling around crying, “why me? why me? what have I done to deserve this?” Feeling sorry for myself just seems like one more burden I don’t have the energy to deal with.

The truth is, I don’t feel strong. I feel tired. I feel numb. More than that, I simply feel like this is the hand I’ve been dealt. I didn’t put myself in harm’s way and now I have cancer. I didn’t have someone cough on me and caught cancer. Yes, I have cancer, but it’s not my fault. It’s no one’s fault. It just is. That leaves me navigating through the muck of it all. I am forced to forge ahead for as long as it takes. Do I like it? No. Do I feel strong? No. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to fall flat on my face.

I don’t see any of it as being strong. I see it as a constant fight to survive a disease that ultimately wants me to stay alive, too. Let’s be honest, as long as I live, it can live. If I die, well…no more cancer. It’s not like it can jump out of me and into someone else. Right? Cancer isn’t trying to kill me. It just happens to like living off the parts of me that are also necessary for me to live…but as we all know, that’s not sustainable.

So where does that leave me at this point in time? I had a video visit with Dr. Rugo and she wants me to continue with the oral chemo until the end of November. Ugh. I was hoping I’d be done mid-October. So I can look forward to being abnormally fatigued for several more months. Yippee. There is some good news. Because I seem to be tolerating the twice-a-day-for-7-days poisoning with manageable side effects and my bloodwork has been consistently good, the chemo dosage was not increased as I had anticipated. Yippee, and I mean it. Also rather than getting labs done every other week, she increased the time in-between pokes to every other month! Super yippee!

A small price to pay for eventually getting my life back.

I’ll get through this. We all will. Thanks for having my back and thinking of me once in awhile and sending all that loving, healing energy my way. I truly feel it and appreciate it every day. If there is any part of me that is strong, it’s because you feed me and make me that way.

The best way out is always through. —Robert Frost


Upside Down

Saturday, June 27, 2020. There’s been a long pause since my last post. Nearly two months. The treatments have left my brain feeling mushy and it’s hard to get inspired to sit down and share. With our world in such an upside down state, sharing my personal cancer journey feels so boring right now. Like I’m a broken record. You know, same shit different day.

The good news is I’m done with radiation and all the redness and slight blistering have disappeared. All in all, I tolerated it really well. The only way to tell I had anything done is that the skin where I was radiated has a color reminiscent of the muddy brown you turn after a bad sunburn.

radiationBellAs a reward for completing the radiation treatments, I got to ring the celebratory bell. It was anticlimactic given I was the only one present for the actual ringing. No fellow radiation patients. No staff encouraging me to “ring that bell.” No family members or friends cheering in support. Just me and the bell. It left me feeling like, big deal. So what. Upside down.

I’m just happy the treatments are behind me. I really hated getting zapped every day.

Once the radiation ended, my oral chemo doses doubled. My next appointment with Dr. Rugo is in about a week and a half. At that point I expect the dose to increase again. I’ll also find out how much longer I’m expected to take it. My guess is through September. 

The side effects continue to be manageable, my immune system remains stable, I have all my hair, blah, blah, blah. Compared to the world at large, I’m doing great.

I look forward to that glorious day when the rest of the world is doing great, too. The wounds we all suffer now are so deep. The pain so intense. The fear overwhelming. I long for the day when our upside down world has begun to heal. Healthy and united. Right side up.

Stay safe. Be well. Share the love.

Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved. — Jane Goodall