Why I’ve Been Avoiding Your Calls

As a writer/ content creator, I try to keep the BS to a minimum and get right to the point.

So, here it is.

I’m a little cancery again.

Here’s what went down:

After I finished chemo last September, I went to Cedars every three months to get my blood monitored. They test my CA-125 (apparently it’s a protein, cancer antigen 125) which acts as a tumor marker – the higher the number, the greater chance of cancer. A normal person will have between zero and thirty. But since I’m so high risk (thanks to the BRCA gene mutation), my handsome Rock Star Cancer Ninja, Dr. Li, doesn’t want me over twenty.

When we tested my blood in September, December, and again in March, my CA-125 was five. Great!

Then in June, the proverbial sh*t started to hit the fan. My CA-125 went up to eleven. Dr. Li said he wasn’t worried – we would simply repeat the test in six weeks. I’d recently adopted a new weight training routine, and inflammation can cause a false high with your CA-125, so I figured the elevation stemmed from my gym sessions. 

July rolled around and I breezed back to Cedars, confident that this round of blood work would show a lower number. Dr. Li called the next day and my CA-125 increased again, this time to twenty two.

He said he still wasn’t worried – it was too early for a recurrence. Plus, if it were a recurrence, the number would be in the hundreds. But if I wanted a CT scan for peace of mind, he’d sign off on it.

Yes, I wanted a CT scan.

I ventured into Cedars yet again, positive the scan would indicate that I’m fine. After all, this was just for peace of mind, right? Turns out, he spotted a little nodule next to my liver, in the same area where I had a tumor last year.

F*ck.

Dr. Li noted that the nodule could be scar tissue. Or something more sinister. We’d wait three weeks, then repeat the CA-125 test on August 3rd, the day I was scheduled for a pre-op to get clearance for my upcoming double mastectomy.

The next three weeks felt like three years.

Finally I went back to Cedars for another blood test. As my nurse inserted the needle, I wondered if she could sense my panic. Sweat pooled across my lower back.

Do I really have cancer again?

I sat by my phone for the next twenty four hours, spooning it as I slept. Finally got the call in the morning.

It was not a good call.

Dr. Li said my CA-125 shot up to fifty five. My double mastectomy would have to wait. We needed a PET scan ASAP.  He said he’d submit the order that day, so I should receive a call from the Scheduling Department soon.

A day went by. Then two. Then three. Turns out, BlueShield was taking their sweet time to approve my scan.

TEN DAYS later, I called Dr. Li’s office and said f*ck insurance, I would pay out of pocket. I couldn’t wait any longer. I got panic attacks. My mental health suffered. Each day was agony. And once I offered to pay cash, my scan was booked for the following day.

(Side note: my angelic Nurse Practitioner, Corina, saved the day at the last minute. She got insurance to approve my scan twenty minutes before my appointment, so I didn’t have to pay out of pocket, but this shows how awful insurance can be. To them, I was just a piece of paper on someone’s desk. But to me, this was my life.)

The scan itself went smoothly. But the anticipation ate away at my stomach lining while I waited for the results.

Four excruciating days later, Dr. Li called.

It’s cancer. A small tumor (3.8cm) nestled inside my liver.

So now what?

I have a consultation with my new Rockin’ Radiologist next week (who, incidentally, is just as good looking as Dr. Li. I think Cedars is smart for hiring hot doctors!). After that, we’ll schedule my tumor ablation (which, according to Google, is a “minimally invasive surgical method to treat solid cancers. Special probes are used to ‘burn’ or ‘freeze’ cancers without the usual surgery.”)

I’ll recover for a week, then…we start chemo again.

<this is where I usually stomp my foot on the ground, like an angry toddler>

As much as that sucks, there are some poignant silver linings about this situation, compared to last year:

  • Chemo is only once a month, versus once a week
  • I only need four to six chemo sessions, versus eighteen
  • I’m not getting the evil chemo drug that made me so sick last time
  • I’m not getting the evil chemo drug that made my hair fall out last time
  • The little tumor is not a “new” cancer; it’s just some leftover cells that didn’t get eradicated last year

OK, now you’re all filled in.

That’s why I’ve been dodging your calls, avoiding your texts, duct taping my door shut, and returning your mail. Just kidding, I never get mail. But I’m planning on rejoining your species sometime next week, so I’ve got to sign off and start doing my hair. See you soon.

Getting “That” Phone Call And Eating My Words

Real talk: I’ve had a draft of this post written for awhile, but each time I sat down to type, I suffered a Code Red Meltdown, shed a few hundred tears, and threw my laptop across the room.

I recently posted about the power of fear, and not letting the “F” word take control.

I confidently believed everything I said. Stay positive. Don’t let the fear win. You got this, girl! <Snap your fingers in a sassy “Z” formation>…blah blah blah.

Then I got one of “those” phone calls.

The type that activated my upchuck reflex. That promptly shattered all the empowering BS I just spewed from the digital mountaintops.

“We got the results…and your CA-125 doubled again.”

Well….sh*t.

(For reference, a CA-125 test, also called a tumor marker, measures the amount of cancer antigen 125 in your blood. A CA-125 test can monitor certain cancers during or after treatment, and the lower the number, the better. I get tested every 3 months.)

Fighting the urge to simultaneously vomit, sob, and inhale a large pizza, I asked my handsome oncologist if I had a recurrence. Dr. Li said probably not, it was too early for a recurrence, but something seemed amiss. Certain things like inflammation can cause a spike in your CA-125, and I adopted a new weight training routine a couple months ago. Could that be it? Maybe, maybe not.

Suddenly all my upbeat, empowering advice came crashing down and pistol-whipped my psyche. A proverbial “Hold my beer” from the universe, if you will.

I booked a CT Scan. I figured the scan would show that my belly looked spotless, tumor-free,  and ultimately give me peace of mind. I chugged the bitter mocha-flavored oral contrast and hopped into the CT tube, half-excited, half-terrified.

The next 24 hours ping-ponged between I’m totally fine and OMFG I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING AGAIN.

Finally my handsome rockstar ninja oncologist called…and it was another one of “those” calls. The CT scan indicated that a little nodule had snuggled up next to my liver – the same spot where they removed tumors last year.

Now, before we all start panicking and planning my unicorn-themed funeral, let’s focus on the fact that this nodule COULD just be scar tissue. But is there a small possibility of something scary? Yes. So the next step is to repeat the CA-125 in 2 weeks (just a handful of days before I get cleared for my double mastectomy – beautiful timing, right?).

So this became a waiting game. I hate waiting. The uncertainty sucks. I’m desperately trying to stick with my “Keep On Smilin” demeanor but I’ve realized it’s ok to fall apart and feel scared. (So let’s all give a hypothetical middle finger to my “Rah rah rah, positivity rules” blog post.) And sharing this info is cathartic. After all, as I learned from Sex & The City – when you have information you don’t want, the best way to get rid of it is to pass it on.

Consider this passed on. Thanks, Miss Bradshaw!

The Struggle Is Real: Letting Go Of The “F” Word

No, not that F word – as a Massachusetts native, that’s a major component of my vocabulary, and I could never give it up.

I’m talking about the other four-letter F word: Fear.

According to Psychology Today, fear is an “emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change in brain and organ function, as well as in behavior.”

Fear can be useful in the right setting – say, when a bear chases you or a rattlesnake slithers by. But when you constantly stress about imagined dangers, it’s a quick slope into insomnia, panic attacks, and in my case…whiskey pizza cravings.

Once upon a yester-decade, I feared all the usual stuff: spiders, clowns, and for some reason, a little wooden chair in my dollhouse that I thought had evil powers.

Over the years, my fears morphed into bigger things, like earthquakes, car crashes, and blowing up my kitchen. (But I still don’t understand the difference between “baking” and “broiling.”)

After my whole cancer debacle in 2017, fear took on a whole new meaning. Suddenly my old worries seemed silly. I no longer had the headspace to stress about black widow spiders lurking around my pillows – now I wondered whether I’d live to see my 40th birthday.

As I navigated the rocky path of chemotherapy and surgery, I began to comprehend the power of fear. I was terrified of shaving my head. I dreaded my first chemo session. The thought of a hysterectomy made me want to barf. But one by one, I made it through those milestones without a problem. I saw that the anticipation leading up to those events was always worse than the actual event itself.

Upon finishing chemo in September, I desperately needed to clear my head so I visited Sedona. (If you’ve never been, you GOTTA go – it’s absolutely magical.) I booked an excursion into one of Sedona’s legendary vortexes and got some wonderful clarity from my tour guide, Jared. We talked about everything I’d been through in the last 6 months, along with the long list of fears that consistently plague my psyche (pertaining to financial stability, career trajectory, airplane turbulence, North Korea, political tensions, my seeming lack of achievements, a cancer recurrence, and the size of my butt).

Jared said that rather than stress about each of those triggers, I should try and adjust my outlook to not view the world through fear-colored lenses. Doesn’t that sound so easy? A simple perspective shift. But that’s easier said than done.

A few months after my Sedona trip, I started getting pains in my abdomen – in the same spots where my tumors had lived earlier that year. Terror gripped my entire soul for a couple weeks. Was the cancer back? Did I eat too many gummy worms and let the sugar feed those demonic cancer cells? Was I dying?

As it turns out, no, those pains were just from my body adjusting to a new gym regimen. But the fear crept in and took control. That’s when I decided to push back and never let the F word win again. I’m still very much a work in progress but I’ve finally found ways to let it all go. Daily meditation. Taking CBD oil. And approaching life with an air of gratitude. That may not be the ultimate winning formula, but it’s definitely on the right track.

Now you’ll need to excuse me as I check my pillowcases for 8-legged predators….

What It’s Like Getting The Worst News Of Your Life

All my life I’ve wondered what it’s like to get “the news.” The bad news. The scary news. The news that changes your life forever. The news you hope you’ll never have to hear.

I’ve seen it on the Lifetime channel and in plenty of films. The moment where a terrified person sits across from a doctor and his fate is sealed with one sentence.

“You have cancer.”

And I always carefully watched the face of the poor sap who’s getting the news, thinking, “How would I react if that happened to me? What would it feel like?”

Well, now I know.

I’ve been keeping a diary to chronicle my cancer journey and I wanted to share the entries from the week surrounding my diagnosis. I find solace in sharing my experience and hope that it may help someone going through the same ordeal.

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Thursday April 6, 2017

PANICKING. Was getting into the shower this morning, and something is very very very wrong. I’ve lost a little weight recently because I gave up dairy and was mostly eating a plant-based diet, but I looked at myself as I got into the shower and noticed that my abdomen had swelled up. Like, HUGE. Like, I looked 8 months pregnant. If I’ve lost weight and my pants are looser, why is my stomach this size? I’m worried.

Friday April 7, 2017

So I showed Jon my stomach, and he agrees that it’s not normal. He made some chicken noodle soup for dinner since I’m repulsed by most foods. But the soup tasted like dirt to me. He swore that it tasted fine, which I think means something in my body is seriously messed up, since my taste buds are now malfunctioning. We agreed that we’ll go to the emergency room tomorrow. Mom and Dad think it’s my gallbladder, so I hope they’re right.

Saturday April 8, 2017

Went into Cedars around 11am this morning. Didn’t have to wait long before I was in a comfy bed and watching infomercials. Bunch of tests during the day – blood, ultrasound, CT scan. The doctor on duty said it seemed like I passed a gallbladder stone, but they needed to make sure. After several hours, a nurse came in and said they needed to admit me into the hospital and I needed to go upstairs and put on a gown. But why? We were still waiting for the results of my CT scan. I didn’t understand and started to get anxious.

After I was admitted as a patient, I settled into my new room and sent Jon home to feed the cats. They hooked me up to an IV, which screeched a horrible alarm every time my arm bent. Ugh. I tried to get some sleep, but every time I drifted off, the alarm screeched me awake. I didn’t get more than 20 minutes of sleep at a time. And I STILL didn’t know why they were keeping me overnight. This sucks and I just want to go home.

Sunday April 9. 2017

At 8 in the morning, a woman came into my room and woke me up.

She quietly said, “We have the results of your CT scan, and you have ovarian cancer.”

Sorry, what? Wasn’t this supposed to be a gallbladder problem? I saw spots. Everything went white, and I saw black spots. The air was thick and wet. I don’t have cancer.

She was still staring at me and continued, “I know this is a lot of tough news…” but I couldn’t pay attention. I only saw her mouth move. It didn’t make any sense. I had no idea what to say, and eventually she left, probably to go drop this bomb on someone else.

I called Jon in tears, and he started crying on the phone, and said he would be by my side in 15 minutes. I then called my parents, sobbing. Alone. Terrified. How the F*** did this happen? How could I get the best news of my life a couple weeks ago (landing my book agent) followed by the worst?

Would I have 6 months to live? Would I die before my 50th birthday? My 40th? Jesus Christ, I’d never even been to Hawaii, gone skydiving, or owned a rescue dog!

Mom and Dad said they would come out next weekend to be with me. Between crying and hiccuping and panicking, I said they didn’t have to, but they insisted. Jon showed up and we sat together, scared and weeping.

That afternoon was a haze, but then the clouds parted and a magical man walked in. His name was Dr. Li. He was an ovarian cancer specialist, and he was my new doctor. His bedside manner was calm and confident. His voice washed over us like a soothing balm that we SO desperately needed. He said that yes, my CT scan did indicate that I could have ovarian cancer, but he was suspicious because I’m young and healthy, and there’s no history of cancer in my family, so it didn’t make sense.

Thankfully, the tumors had not spread to my lymph nodes, nor were they inside my organs. But those nasty little growths were on my ovaries, uterus,  liver and spleen (that explains those nagging pains in my upper abdomen), and scattered throughout my belly wall.

Dr. Li said that I would need to stay another night so that we could do a biopsy tomorrow, then we’ll know for sure what we’re dealing with. And that no matter what it is, he will help me get through this. What a relief to hear. I knew at that moment that Dr. Li is a precious gem and I started thinking about what to get him for Christmas. A framed photo of my ovaries, perhaps?

Monday April 10, 2017

Slept like garbage again. Every couple hours nurses were coming in and out, and I kept setting off the screechy IV alarm. Plus, I felt sick with nerves. And the worst part is that I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight. And anyone who knows me knows that I drink liters upon liters of water every day. I’m always kinda thirsty and water is my jam. But not being able to have any water was a new form of torture. My biopsy was supposed to be around 11am. So I watched the morning hours slowly tick by. Then it became noon. Then 1pm. Then 2pm. Then I was told that my biopsy wouldn’t be until 5pm. Ugh. My mouth was like sandpaper and not having water for 17 hours was (almost) worse than finding out you have cancer.

The biopsy itself was easy and quick. They told me to come back on Friday to meet with Dr. Li for the results. After I got dressed, I could FINALLY go home after two and a half days. What a freakin’ disaster.

It felt amazing to be home and smother my cats with love, but my mind was racing. Do I seriously have cancer?!

Tuesday April 11, 2017

I keep vacillating between, “There’s NO way I have cancer” and “Oh my God, I can’t believe I have cancer.” Work today was surreal. There’s a small bandage on my stomach where they took the biopsy, but the weird part is telling everyone what’s going on. I missed work yesterday, so they knew something was up, but reliving the past few days kinda sucked. I couldn’t even bring myself to say “ovarian cancer.” All I could muster was, “I’m hoping it’s not the big, scary thing.” But being at my desk is sort of helping me cope. Everyone is warm and sympathetic and we even cracked a few jokes. But my knees won’t stop shaking and I can’t eat anything and a thick omnipresent rope of fear has wrapped itself around my neck.

These tumors better be benign.

One good thing is that Mom, Dad, Rob, and Brian are all coming out this week! Thank God for my family. I’m beyond lucky to have them. And I’m so touched that they are all dropping everything to come be with me.

Friday April 14th, 2017

Armed with Jon and my family, we went to see Dr. Li for the results of my biopsy. While we were waiting, I kept praying that I had some strange new disease that made me grow benign tumors which could be cured with a lifetime of chocolate and whiskey. But alas, no such luck. Dr. Li came in and introduced himself to my family. He sat down and said that unfortunately, I did have ovarian cancer. Stage 3. I immediately broke down into tears, as did everyone else. No, no, NO!

Dr. Li’s adorable face was arranged into an expression of true empathy. He assured me that I WOULD beat this. I have age on my side. I’m active and healthy. My cancer will respond amazingly to chemotherapy and I will be cancer-free after this is done.

OH CRAP. It hadn’t really hit me that I would need chemo. My hair will fall out. My teeth will turn yellow. I’ll have purple bags under my eyes and I’ll look frail and sad and bald and old and crackly like the people you see on those cheesy Lifetime movies. 

Dr. Li recommended an aggressive treatment plan, with 9 consecutive weeks of chemo, then surgery (farewell, ovaries and uterus and possibly spleen), then 9 more consecutive weeks of chemo. So….basically the rest of this year is gonna suck. I don’t want to be bald.

Hmmm…with no ovaries or uterus, it will be difficult to conceive a child. Well, impossible, actually. Huh. So having children is officially off the table. I guess this’ll just be yet another crappy piece of information to accept and eventually make peace with. I suppose I could adopt, but I heard that’s super expensive. Wonder if I can put a baby on my Visa Rewards card?

The nurse practitioner, Corinna, gave me about 10,000 pieces of paperwork on everything from the side effects of chemo (yikes) to info on their psychology services (maybe necessary) to a list of Los Angeles wig-makers (definitely necessary) to a marijuana prescription (YEAH BABY).

After the meeting, we zipped back to the hotel because Rob had arrived. We all had a cocktail at the hotel bar, then went to dinner. It felt great to have the whole family together now and we shared the news with Rob. My food smelled good but tasted like dust. I just couldn’t believe it. It was real now. I have cancer in my body. 

My Friends Are All…And I’m All…(Part 2)

Ok, it’s time to wipe away the dust from my beloved little blog, and pick things up with a little dose of Vitamin Truth.

My friends are all, “Woo, summer’s here!” and I’m all, “Woo, summer’s here!”

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Roof Pool.jpg

My friends are all, “Got the cutest new suit!” and I’m all, “Capris & a tank count as a two-piece, yeah?”

My friends are all, “Time for a new car!” and I’m all, “Time for a new car!”

My friends are all, “Just got in on that new tech IPO” and I’m all, “Mah shiny savings account is immune to the market crash.”

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My friends are all, “Loving my new Neiman Marcus curtains!” and I’m all, “These vertical blinds really add a touch of class to my living room.”

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My friends are all, “Dinner party 4TW” and I’m all, “Who’s down for a BBQ?”

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My friends are all, “Finally Baby Chloe slept through the night!” and I’m all, “Princess Meow Paws woke Mommy up for nom noms at 5am.”

My friends are all, “#OfficeVibes” and I’m all, “#OfficeVibes.”

My friends are all, “#MondayMotivation” and I’m all, “Need to Google ‘Saving compooter from coffee death’ but currently have compooter dying a coffee death.”

My friends are all, “Abs Day!” and I’m all, “Plz to send halp!”

My Friends Are All…And I’m All…

adulting

My friends are all, “Can’t decide between the black granite vessel or Italian ceramic sink for our bathroom renovation” and I’m all, “Just watchin’ The Simpsons in mah underwear.”

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homer-simpson

My friends are all, “Crazy that my baby girl is starting 5th grade this week!” and I’m all, “Who’s coming to my kitty’s birthday party tomorrow?”

My friends are all, “So excited to make this garlic-rosemary-roasted-artichoke-chicken-and-pureed-leeks recipe I found on Pinterest!” and I’m all, “F*** you microwave for burning my frozen burrito.”

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My friends are all, “5 year anniversary dinner with the hubs. #blessed” and I’m all, “I just used my sock as a napkin.”

candle dinner

My friends are all, “Poor Lillie is sobbing after she fell off her big girl bike & got a boo-boo on her knee,” and I’m all, “Moooooooom, I’m watching Rocky 4 and no one likes me.”

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My friends are all, “Just put in an offer for a 4 bedroom Colonial” and I’m all, “Better start claiming my cats as dependents if I wanna upgrade to a 1 bedroom apartment.”

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pretty kitties

My friends are all, “Facebook check in: Boston to Bali via Amazeballs Airlines” and I’m all, “Guess who’s driving to Santa Monica and has two thumbs? This betch, that’s right.”

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My friends are all, “Beautiful roses from the hubs today for my birthday. #blessed #bae” and I’m all, “Cat barfed up my dying plant.”

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My friends are all, “So psyched to submit my film to Sundance!” and I’m all “I just wrote a blog post and my mom thinks I’m hilarious.”

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My friends are all, “Getting up at 7 to do yoga” and I’m all, “Stayed up til 2 watching informercials and eating cheese.”

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cheese

The Patient Girl’s Guide To Caring For Your Drummer

Drummers are a special breed. They’re idiosyncratic. They’re fun. And they need a unique type of TLC to keep them happy.

I’ve compiled a checklist for you fabulous females out there who may need a little help in properly caring for your drummer.

You must feed him.

You must remind him to cut his nails once in awhile.

You must remind him to shower, trim his beard, and brush his teeth.

You must not get angry when his fingers tap EVERY FRIGGIN SURFACE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD in a rhythmic manner.

You must not get annoyed by how much space his stuff takes up – this includes, but may not be limited to, his cymbals, his hardware, his drums, the 10,684 drum sticks he owns, and the thousands of loose papers “just in case I ever need to play that song again.”

You must accept the fact that he likes to show off every now and then.

You must realize that drum sticks are to him, what hair ties are to you = they are strewn about EVERYWHERE, yet you always somehow run out.

You must not get angry at how many T-shirts he owns. Even though he never wears half of them. And the other half are permanently stained with beer, sweat, food, and possibly vomit.

You must accept the fact that you are not more important than band practice.

You must realize that when you go to a show or concert, he will not pay attention to you.

You must realize that going to Sam Ash or Guitar Center “just for 2 secs” means you will be wandering the store for 2 hours while he tests out cymbals, sticks, and other things he doesn’t really need, and probably can’t afford.

You must accept the fact that you have different ideas about what constitutes “dressing up.”

You must know that if you go see him play, and he thinks he messed up, nothing you say will comfort him. It’s just like when you feel fat, but nothing he says can help you.

You must not get angry when he drinks beer in his underwear.

But most importantly, you must accept that however annoying and frustrating your drummer is, he’s just so dang irresistible.