Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Round 13

On Friday I had my taxol. By Sunday our friends the Wilsons had been without power for two days and arrived just in time for the Super Bowl. I had just enough steroids in me to go outside and power through shoveling out my car - even though there was still 32 inches packed down the middle of our street. My toes were numb. I wasn’t sure if it was the taxol (chemotherapy drug) or frostbite so I went inside. The national anthem was being sung. Luke kept thinking every time anyone said “hooray” that it was his cue to toddle into the middle of the family room and put his arms up above his head as though he were making the field goal symbol. Everyone laughed and clapped so he kept doing it every time he heard the crowds go wild. A little after halftime when I realized that the Saints might actually win, I lunged for and grabbed from Izzy’s jaws, the signed pro football that Drew Brees had autographed when I had travelled on a USO tour with him a year and a half ago to Iraq and Afghanistan. I wiped the cockapoo slobber off the ball and put it up high thinking it might be something Luke would appreciate one day. We cheered the Saints and then I, of course, cried with the rest of the country when Brees lifted his 11 month old son up in the air like a trophy. He had been born at about the same time Luke had a year ago. And that trip to Iraq and Afghanistan is where I first figured out I was pregnant because I kept throwing up everytime Brees, myself and the others got onboard our C-130 transport planes and Blackhawk helicopters.

On Tueday as I prepared to leave town for New York with reports of another snowstorm on its way, I pictured Union Station would look like a scene from “The Day After” - that 1980s made for TV movie about a nuclear holocaust with Americans running for the city exits - at least that is what you WOULD picture if you watched the news. I wanted to leave Washington DC for New York to beat the snow and make sure nothing got in the way of my date with the Today Show, I realized I hadn’t been out of town since my diagnosis on September 28. Suddenly, my heart was in my throat and I was paralyzed with anxiety. Ridiculous, you might say after 15 years overseas and a penchant for flying on aid planes to get into the most damaged and war stricken places. I was so nervous I even packed the night before leaving for the train station, which I never, ever do because I like the added adrenalin of cutting it just a little close. Part of the rush. Rookie move. I know.

But Washington being Washington as we headed down Massachusetts Avenue, my nervous preparations and insistence that my neighbor, Adele, leave at 9 am for a 12 noon train, paid off. I had just had chemo Friday. I had already learned how to give myself shots of neupogen to lift my white blood cell counts when we got snowed in that weekend. I packed the one last shot that I needed Tuesday night in the gray ice bag that I used to take my lunch in to the Pentagon each day. I slipped two ice packs in and hoped they would last. When we got off our side street, who could imagine that Mass Ave in front of the Vice President’s house (the Vice President of the United States’ house) still had not been plowed - not even once - since the first snow fell on Saturday. We crawled along with the other white knuckled drivers. Not because there was so much snow - after all Greg and I had lived in Moscow for goodness sake - but because no one could believe the city still hadn’t plowed. We got to Union Station and I hopped out of the car, found a porter, and begged him to watch my bags for an hour. His name was Tom. I was wearing “the Miley” with a cute black skullcap on top. I told him I would meet him at 11:30 am at the Acela. I said, “Are you sure I can leave my computer with you?”
“What was your name again?” I was in a hurry.

I ran across the street to the Fox Studios and into the Green Room where Rhonda was expecting me. I had tried to wash my wigs by myself the night before and the short red “Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago” one that I love came out a little flat and a little flyaway. I ran in the door and Rhonda started working her magic. Kissed the Fox Prayer Warriors goodbye and ran back to the train station, forgetting that in the process I had switched from the long brown Miley wig to the short red Zeta-Jones (which really looks more like ‘Josie and the Pussycats’, I’ve decided). It’s red with with a skunk-like highlighted blond stripe. “Tom” was waiting by the gate, but at first he didn’t recognize me. He must have thought I was a hooker. I was so dolled up and had changed wigs. But he was too polite to say anything. On the train, it looked like a scene from Dr. Zhivago - the white smokey snow drifts as we plowed our way up the East Coast. It was so romantic. I sat in the Quiet Car.

I had gone into get my blood work done the day before leaving town so that I would be all teed up when I came back on Friday for my big chemo treatment - carboplatin plus taxol. But I hadn’t taken into account the long lines for blood work. Only one nurse in Lombardi drawing blood.

Amelia (7) and Barry had gone across for a hot chocolate at Starbuck’s. I didn’t want Amelia to see all the sad and slightly scary looking folks waiting for blood work. She didn’t need that so I told them I would just be a minute, but I wasn’t. The line was long. Dr. Isaacs’ right hand, Janet, sensed I was in a hurry and asked the chemo nurses if I could come up to the “infusion” center and have the blood drawn through my port. I sometimes feel that port is like a plug for a gas nozzle and that I am the Bionic Woman - walking around all the time with a metal plug in me that they simply need to stick with a needle to fill me up or take some fluids. It’s like pulling into a gas station. But I always underestimate how emotional it is walking into the “infusion” center when it is not my chemo day. For some reason, when it is chemo day, I put my game face on and I am so psyched to get treatment that I don’t mind being there. But any other time, it takes your breath away.

I saw Mary Ellen. She told me that Gloria, another patient, had picked up the green fleece hat that I had dropped off for her - for when her head gets cold when her hair falls out. It was only her second round. I smiled and made my way to the back and waited alone in a corner chair - the one made of blue fake leather - like a Barko Lounger. I sat and looked at the snow outside. Keith took my blood pressure and vitals and then I sat and waited. Alone. That’s when the tears started. I started weeping like a baby. Almost couldn’t catch my breath. Didn’t like the fact that my 7 year-old was waiting for me across the way at Starbuck’s. I should never have brought her. Just had wanted to get her out of the house - we had all been so housebound by the snow. She was none the wiser, but my heart was in my throat. Mary Ellen drew my blood, but she knew I wasn’t myself. I didn’t have to explain. She already knew. She took the blood quickly and I left with red eyes. I can be so tough, but then the thought of my kids will bring me to my knees.

I also have been a bit thrown because Dr. Shawna Willey, who is doing my double mastectomy on April 6, measured the tumor the other day and much to my dismay, it’s still there. Much smaller than the 6 - 9 cm one they found in September (we’ll never really know what size it was), but nonetheless still there. 1.2 cm by 1.2 cm by 7 mm. It’s a totally different shape, of course - flat, not round and maybe not even filled with cancer cells. Could be scar tissue, but for me until it’s gone, I won’t rest. I felt like I had taken my eye off the ball. All my visualizing the Navy SEALs going after the Al Qaeda cell (or tumor) in my breast had worked at first, but perhaps I had let my team of warriors get a little complacent. They seemed a little comfy on their bases. They needed to get back out and set up some FOB’s (that is Pentagon-speak for Forward Operating Bases), get out amongst the other cells and make sure that the AQ cell doesn’t have any place to run or hide. Where were the Sons of Iraq when you needed them? I went back to visualizing and ordered the imaginary SEALs and others to get back in there and take no prisoners. Perhaps they had gotten complacent because, I, the commander in chief had announced a date for when they could go home. I got ahead of myself. Focusing too much on counting down the chemo treatments (13 down, 4 to go, finish treatment March 5). Perhaps they were already packing to leave without having carried out the necessary mopping up operations. The enemy knew this and was just waiting them out. Not acceptable. I gave the order again and I hope when Dr. Willey goes in for the surgery, there is no sign of the tumor (or the Al Qaeda cell). Not one bit.

Of the 4092 new songs on the iPod that Greg Scholl sent me, I found it funny that I kept gravitating back to Tom Waits and Lou Reed as I came out of my benadryl induced haze - perhaps it is their onetime and my newfound proficiency with needles. In fact, Greg and I were such novices at first with the neupogen shots that he pinched my thigh. I swabbed it with alcohol and then I held the $100 a shot up in the air and accidentally pressed the syringe just enough for the invaluable serum (which will make my counts rise miraculously) to squirt out the top. It felt like a scene from “Dumb and Dumber.” But just a few days later I was shooting up alone in my NY hotel room before heading out the door to dinner. What a slippery slope.

One last thought, Annalise and Amelia were driving with Greg and listening to NPR before the Super Bowl. There was a segment on “NFL coaches” that caught their attention. A montage of screaming coaches from the sidelines. One after the other shouting, “What the hell is going on out there? Get back out there. Listen to me. What the...” Different coaches, same idea, same emphatic yelling. Annalise says to Greg, “Mom would be a good NFL coach.” To which he smiled.

Tune into the Today Show tomorrow (Thursday) at 8:20 am for my segment with Hoda Kotb on Triple Negative breast cancer and how to survive chemo!