Friday, February 26, 2010

Round 15 going into Round 16 "Stockholm Syndrome"

So today could be my last chemo treatment. I am up early. My stomach in knots. At 8:30 pm last night I was too manic to lie in bed with the girls and watch “Idol” so I rode the exercise bike for an hour and made them watch it on the 17 inch television in the corner of my bedroom office so that I could keep the anxiety at bay. They have gotten used to my mania and don’t even look up from what they are doing to question my irrational requests. (I had already cleaned and organized every pile in my room.)

I should be excited. Greg and I should be pulling out that bottle of Moet that Anne Harrison dropped off the week I was diagnosed. (Except I don’t drink anymore so even that seems like a waste.) But it is really just one thing...the Irish in me that is unwilling to say this is the ‘last’. I know all too well about Murphy’s Law. It’s in my DNA (my broken DNA). And, anyway, I missed one carboplatin treatment, but the doctors and the jury are out still out on whether it is necessary or a good idea to try to squeeze one more in before surgery. It wreaks havoc on my blood levels and it may be better to move on. We will decide over the next few weeks.

But the real reason that I am anxious is that I am scared to stop chemo. I have gotten used to the ritual. I look forward to it. Chemo Tuesdays turned into Chemo Fridays. And as much as I hate being there and the reason I am there, I actually look forward to it. I have built the whole rhythm of my week around the ritual. I get an extreme adrenalin boost gathering my books and magazines and music as if heading off for a long transatlantic flight. I am usually running late because I try to squeeze in one last workout (thinking that will do the trick) and then as we drive down Wisconsin Avenue, I am still putting my make-up on in the car, even making Solomon (the head valet at Georgetown) wait while I draw in my eyebrows. Getting the chemo is when I feel most in control and proactive about killing this disease. I will miss my nurses (they have a gift and a kindness and a ministry). But mostly I will miss the benadryl. Such a happy, dopey grinning sleep. I haven’t felt so good since I took helium hits at a Lampoon party.
I know. I have turned into Patty Hearst. It’s a simple case of Stockholm syndrome.

In fact, last week when we arrived at the “infusion center’ at Lombardi, my nurse, Jordan, offered me a bed or that I could wait a few minutes for a lounge chair. The young, kind, fresh-faced Jordan had been my first nurse for my first chemo treatment back in October. I hadn’t had her since. I will never forget how gentle she was the first time as she prepared my line and carefully shot the bright red, large, wide vial of adriamyacin “The Red Devil” into my left arm vein. It looked like something out of Frankenstein’s lab. But I digress.

The choice to lie down in a bed or sit in the chair remained. I stood like a deer in the headlights. Paralyzed. I didn’t like the idea of the bed (but it had been mighty comfortable). And Greg said I had slept like a baby the week before and wondered why I wouldn’t leap at the opportunity. (I know I slept like a baby because our friend Paul Nevin had called during the treatment and I hadn’t heard the phone ring and Paul told me later he knew I was asleep because Greg was talking a mighty big game.) After toing and froing, I decided it was ok to lie down. Just this once. The benadryl was going to put me to sleep anyway and I was receiving the taxol plus carboplatin - a double whammy so I might as well enjoy the ride.

As I lay there, I looked at the back of my iPod (the one Greg Scholl sent me from New York) and read the faint gray writing: “Property of Jen Griffin ‘Who Rocks’.” I hadn’t noticed that Greg had engraved the thing. I quickly found “Exile on Main Street” and remembered being in 7th grade at St. Agnes and heading off to a ‘record convention’ with Sarah Williams, Susan Hobson and Shelly Webb to find an early and original copy of “Exile” and “Some Girls”. Now my kids ask me, “Mom, what’s a record?” Oy vay. They also seem to think I am old. When we were studying for Annalise’s social studies test on Wednesday we were trying to find ways for her to remember the definition of ‘citizen’. “Someone who votes”, “someone who can run for public office, attend meetings.” Amelia, then chimes in: “You know, Mom, like you are a ‘senior’ citizen.” We have had a lot of togetherness these past few months.

I take a lot of abuse these days from my daughters. They tease me, which I take as a good sign because it means they aren’t scared. On Monday I am going to ‘model’ for the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good, Feel Better” campaign. Before and after pics - how to put on make-up and rock a wig so that you ‘feel better’ during these months of treatment. It is not exactly the kind of modeling I had dreamed about and it won’t put me on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which is where I had hoped I might land after all this Pilates, but Hans (my brilliant wig master) had suggested I do it - so I am.

I also have some choices to make now that chemo is ending - do I get a double or single mastectomy? Do I use silicone or saline implants? Do I spare the nipples? (I know, who knew?) Or do I just have them tattoo them on. My surgeon, the genius Dr. Shawna Willey, told me I can even choose the color of the tattoo. She told me about how one of her patients even took her interior designer to help her choose the color. Another friend told me that a woman she knew in the same predicament chose to tattoo blue stars on each side instead of nipples. And then there is the decision about whether to go for a harder surgery up front and possibly do a flap reconstruction where they take your own fat from your tummy or hips and construct the breast. For me that sounds like a twofer - a little liposuction and breasts like Pamela Anderson. A win-win. But when I explained to 7 year-old Amelia the choices and how they reconstruct the breasts she was not buying the idea of taking my belly fat and turning it into a boob. “Then you would have a belly button on your breast,” she said matter-of-factly. How true. It would be like a Cyclops.

I am heading off to Georgetown in a few minutes. Remembering all the Vince Lombardi quotes I can muster: “It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up.” “If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?”

Wish me luck with chemo. Counts high. Maybe the last. Maybe not. But as Ceci Kurzman reminded me the reason I haven’t had any side effects from the chemo is that my body is used to abuse. In fact, really chemo has nothing on the Scorpion Bowls we got from the Hong Kong and drank with straws off of the floor of Wigglesworth H freshman year.

Greg wants to know if they will give him the benadryl ‘to go’ so that he can start administering this stuff to me at home. He always thought that I was most happy and most mellow when attached to an epidural while waiting for babies to arrive. He has asked a number of anesthesiologists about whether it could be permanently attached and he could administer a daily dose. People say I should meditate. I prefer to kick a little *%$#. And, yes, Melie cancer does have an $#@!. I know because I have kicked it.

(Photo Courtesy of Fuschia Foundation and cards can be ordered from