Sunday, December 28, 2008
Geez, I wonder if these people at the insurance companies get special training on how to make their customers extra miserable. Maybe they get extra points and bonuses for certain patients with specific diseases.
Make a cancer patient cry: Gift card to Nordstrom and a week in Cancun.
Get $355 out of them for no reason at all: A free iPod
Show that there was an extra caregiver in the room while the patient was under anesthesia: Bingo, a signed letter of recommendation from the CEO of BCBS and a Starbucks gift card.
My faithful reader (s) are clearly more brilliant than I – if any of you ever want to be a guest Triathlon Goddess blogger for a day or two, just let me know. George, you get dibs. Oh, and by that I mean the traditional meaning of dibs, i.e. first chance, and not the Chicago meaning, i.e. put some random crappy piece of houseware out on the street to save your parking spot after a big snowstorm. Just wanted to clarify.
In another shocker today, I was reading the Sunday paper, and as usual, skimming the obits. Yes, I know that’s kind of weird, but I find myself morbidly curious about women who die at relatively young ages – young being less than 70. Pretty much without exception, unless it’s Gertrude dying at the ripe old age of 92 after working at the sewing factory her whole life and proving herself to be quite the spitfire, the younger ones all die of cancer. Usually breast cancer. This feeds my pessimism, but I also kind of like it because it gives me something else to get pissed off about, rather than the usual nonsensical outrageous bills, the ridiculous weather that will in all likelihood next visit upon us a plague of locusts, the new yuppie neighbors whose 6-foot “privacy” fence is shading my entire yard, the fact of the 21 Dobermans who wound up at Chicago Animal Control after being rescued from the asshats and their puppy mill operation, the price of Wheat Thins, etc. You know, the usual.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the obits. After I saw this one, I looked at the rest of them and noticed that 99% of them read “So-and-so, beloved wife of....”. Or beloved husband. Not a single “POS loser husband who couldn’t even be bothered to cut the grass so we wouldn’t look like the white trash neighbors on the block”. Imagine that. But I digress. The word that actually got my head spinning was this: spinster. SPINSTER!! This poor woman, Wanda Piernikowski or whatever her name was, actually had the stark word “spinster” after her name in her obit. I looked at the front page to see if I had accidentally picked up a copy from 1942, but no.
So just promise me this – if I somehow meet an untimely demise before some man is lucky enough to snag me as his wife, just please PLEASE make sure that word doesn’t make it into print. Describe me as the “crazy party girl” or “triathlon goddess extraordinaire” or “hockey vixen to end all vixens” – but none of this spinster bullshit. Even if I’m 92 and still single and working at the library when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil. Deal??
Thursday, December 18, 2008
While some people who’ve gone through life-changing events suddenly find that they’re much calmer, even-keeled, they don’t let the little things bother them, etc., I’m the polar opposite. Even the smallest of things are enough to send me into a rage. If I had a gun, there’d be a trail of bodies strewn across greater Chicagoland, especially on the highways, especially for people who insist on driving exactly 55 in the left-hand lane. Sniper fire for all of them.
So by the time I made my way to Northbrook today to meet Laura for coffee at Starbucks, having battled my way through the crowded parking lot full of brake-hitting crappy-driving recession-proof suburbanites shopping madly at 1PM on a Thursday afternoon....I was in a fine mood. Fine. Mood.
Since I was early, I decided to go ahead and get my latte, and as I stepped up to the counter, the stylish older woman looked at me, smiled, and the following conversation ensued:
Clerk #1: I love your hat – that’s great!
Me: Yeah, it kind of sums it all up, doesn’t it.
Clerk #2, looking: Let me see it – oh yeah, that’s a perfect hat.
Clerk #3, peering over: Where? Oh, I LOVE that hat. We should all wear them!
Clerk #2: I agree, though Starbucks might have a problem with that.
Clerk #1 then proceeds to tell me that both her MILs had cancer, and so does her sister, who has a recurrence and is now getting everything removed, and who waited to see the doctor after she found a lump the second time since she was scared of more bad news. I can certainly understand that. The other two women chimed in, and it was like we were in some special magical cocoon of solidarity, since I was the only person in line, which is almost unheard of at a Starbucks. I then tell them that my NEXT hat will be a Fuck BCBS one, and we all commiserate over that, with the first woman telling me her tale of woe. Basically that there’s depression that runs in her family, and when they had self-employment insurance BCBS tried to screw them over with their usual babble about pre-existing blah blah and incorrect forms and so on.
As an aside, I looked up “BCBS evil” in an attempt to find an appropriate picture that would capture their evilness, and discovered that hating BCBS is an entire cottage industry. They are reviled far and wide – unsurprisingly.
Anyway, our little cocoon doesn’t last as other people are inconsiderate enough to come into Starbucks wanting coffee, so I pull out my money to pay for my latte – and the woman tells me there’s no charge. I tell her that’s not necessary, but she insists. I am practically moved to tears – the kindness of strangers is a beautiful thing, like a little point of light shining down on an otherwise bleak world.
So today’s lesson is this: one little Fuck Cancer hat has the power to change the world. God bless us, every one....
Monday, December 15, 2008
No. The answer to that would be no. Because I do call, and a very nice woman tells me that the person they’d assign me to would help me with very useful things, like determining what treatment I need and where I should go for it, what doctors I should use. I ponder this for a brief moment (picturing myself heading off to Stan’s House of Fine Boobage for reconstruction surgery), and decide, no thanks. Especially after I ask if this person would help me sort through the maze of insurance stuff – umm, no, though they’d tell me what number to call. Thanks – I can get that from looking at the back of my BCBS card.
Onward. I decide to call to first find out about the $5000 bill that’s due to an “adjustment,” whatever the hell that is. After much time on the phone, during which I sense a few rounds of darts are going on in the background, the woman comes back noting that the dart has landed on “extra person in the room.” Huh? Supposedly there was a registered nurse in the room during surgery, and BCBS won’t pay for that, just for the doctor. This practically stuns me into silence, because what the hell do I come back with? Was I supposed to poll everyone pre-surgery to make sure that only the bare minimum of necessary people were present? Wouldn’t my doctor know who should be there?
I then decide to tackle one portion of that $5000, a bill for $355 to NW for surgery with Dr. Jeruss. I call my doctor’s office and speak to the assistant, who has no idea what the hell this is either, so she sends me to the NW Memorial billing person. Who also has no idea what this is, so she calls BCBS, and has a conversation with someone who tells her that no, the charge is because I haven’t met my out-of-pocket limit. Again, huh? This is clearly not the case. Whereupon we have the following conversation:
BCBS loon: My records show that you haven’t met your out-of-pocket limit yet, so that’s why you got that bill.
Me: But that’s not the case. I have a whole stack of bills here and I met my limit early on, probably back in July.
Loon: Well, it really depends more on when we process the bills. So you could get billed for things because we haven’t processed them as showing that you’ve met the limit.
Me: But regardless of when you process things, paying this bill would put me over my out-of-pocket limit.
Loon, speaking slowly: Let me see if I can explain this in really simple terms. Doctors have up to a year to bill us so what matters is the date we process things. But you’ll still never pay more than your out-of-pocket limit.
Me: So you’re saying that because of your delay in processing these bills that means I have to pay more than I should? Because that’s what’ll happen if I pay this bill.
Loon: No, you’ll never pay more than your limit, even if you pay that which puts you over your limit.
Me: Excuse me a moment.
I go retrieve my head from across the room, since it’s just spun free of its moorings.
When I go back to the phone, I tell her that we’re not getting anywhere and that it would be simpler if I just wrote everything down and faxed them the info, so we agree on that at least. I get the feeling that BCBS just wants to badger me into paying this bill, figuring what’s $355 out of tens of thousands of dollars? I’ll tell you what it is – it’s the principle of the thing, dammit. And it irks me that here I am with an MBA from Wharton, and I can hardly figure this stuff out. What about all the poor schmoes out there who are too sick or confused to deal with this crap? BCBS, as soon as I can figure out how to get it made, there’s going to be a Fuck (XXXX) hat with YOUR name on it.
Speaking of Wharton, I decided to actually make some use out of LinkedIn the other day, and got in touch with one of my connections, even though I wasn’t sure exactly how we had connected. Though we both have a background in B2B, and he went to Wharton, so it must have been one of those. Anyway, we’re chatting when suddenly he mentions something about “that blog of yours.” Oops. I try to keep fun/personal stuff on Facebook, professional stuff on LinkedIn, but clearly the blog snuck through. Which made me think of my mom, who doesn’t read my blog but who cautioned me against it back in the fall, when I was entertaining thoughts of returning to full-time Corporate America. She thought it might scare companies off, and I admit I did toss that possibility around in my head.
And quickly discarded it, figuring – who’s going to google an interview candidate and find my blog? Puh-leeze. But now, I care even less. Because it occurred to me, as I was having this delightful conversation with Mr. Fellow Wharton alum, who clearly appreciated the humor of the blog, that if there are people out there who would ding me because of the blog......then they’re not the kind of people I’d want to be working with anyway.
And finally, for all you naysayers who had me doubting my eyesight and my sanity, in questioning whether or not I actually saw a sign for the Quaker Steak and Lube restaurant, behold:
Quaker Steak & Lube®, voted Best Wings USA, is a family friendly restaurant with a motor-sports themed atmosphere. The restaurant has 18 Award-Winning home-made sauce recipes with a menu variety that include Buffalo-style chicken wings, ribs, steaks, salads, signature appetizers, distinct beverages and Kids Lube Cruiser meals. Founded in Sharon, PA in 1974, Quaker Steak & Lube® houses unique décor, including race cars hanging from the ceilings and motorcycles, Corvettes and gas station memorabilia decorate the walls. The Lube® began franchising in 1997 and currently has 25 locations in nine states.
This was from a press release for a Hamburger Festival, where QS&L won with its “Lubeburger.” No, seriously. My question is, how have I come this far in life without ever having even heard of this place? Much less stopping there??
Monday, December 8, 2008
But while I’m ready for anything, even I wasn’t prepared for the reality of what actually happened that cold, wintry day in Lincoln Square.....
We got to Lincoln Square, magically found parking, and discovered that instead of being an open air market like the one in Daley Plaza, this was inside a big tent. Fair enough – as long as they have glogg, who cares? We’re standing at a round table drinking our libations, when suddenly I’m hailed by a strapping young man at the next table over.
Cute guy: Hey, awesome hat! Love it!
Cute guy: Yeah, my dad died of cancer 2 months ago. Cancer sucks!!
Cute guy’s also cute friend: Yeah, that’s an AWESOME hat!
I then got a fist pump in my general direction, and we raised our glasses of glogg to each other. Thus buoyed by feelings of solidarity, Kat, Annie and I make our way to our next stop, Merz’s Apothecary, where I’m determined to not buy anything because the thousands of dollars in medical bills, as wrong as they may be, are weighing on me like a yoke. Alas, I succumb.
So I go to the counter with my little selection of nice-smelling soaps, and the 3 shopkeepers behind the counter are irrepressibly jovial. Kat’s buying some stuff at the same time, and she gets her items in a Merz reusable mesh bag, since she bought more. Mine is in a smaller albeit equally adorable paper bag.
MLSFBF Kat: Hey, look at the cool bag I got!
Me: That IS nice.
Girl behind counter: This smaller one is nice too.
Me: Oh, definitely, that’s still an adorable bag.
MLSFBF Kat: But look at how cool mine is!
Guy behind counter, jovially: Oh, let me give you one of those as well!
Me, stammering: But....
Guy: Really, here you go! Merry Christmas....and fuck cancer! Ha! I’ve never gotten to say that to a customer before!
Me: Well there you go then, there’s a first time for everything!
The 3 people behind the counter continue smiling and joking around as we make our way to the door, a bit bemused. I kind of feel like I’m in some weird alterna-world, where the words “fuck cancer” open a magic portal to sunshine and light. Everyone’s so damn chipper and smiley. And if anyone IS giving me the ol’ stink eye, I don’t notice at all. Glogg will do that to a person.
Kat drops me off at home, and I get ready to go to the Christmas party, ready to beat someone with a frozen ham if I have to. This doesn’t turn out to be necessary, but that’s because everyone is so busy talking about their favorite chi-chi restaurants and what stocks to buy and blahblahblah. I guess I should be thankful that unlike at the Tri Club party Wednesday night, no one asks me “Oh yeah, so that cancer, is it gone, are you done with it, are you cured or are you terminal?” No, really. Those are actual words that came out of one drunk person’s mouth. What does one say to that? “Were you born stupid or do you practice that?”
After I extricate myself from the Christmas party, I meet Annette at the Village Tap for a drink. At this point I’m a bit glogged out, so I just order a coke, and we hang out at the bar. Since I’m perpetually cold, I’m still wearing my hat. After a few minutes, I realize that my Coke is nowhere to be seen, and as I look up at the bartender, he realizes the same thing at that same moment, that he totally forgot about it.
Bartender, apologizing profusely: Oh my god, I’m SO sorry about that! I can’t believe I forgot your drink!
Me, pretend-forlornly: It’s the hat, isn’t it....
Bartender: NO, of course not, the hat is great! I love the hat! I just forgot – I’m so sorry! It’s on the house, and...
Me: Oh, that’s not necessary, I’m just teasing you.
Bartender: No really, no charge, and it’s a bottomless glass, all you want all evening, for free!
Bartender: Really! And I’m SO sorry!
And sure enough, as soon as I’m done with my coke, he whisks my glass away and promptly refills it, with a smile no less. Hmm. Hmm........
I think they’re all scared of me. But hell, I’ll take it. Besides, it occurs to me that some of these guys are actually kind of cute. Hmm......
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thanksgiving morning started out the same as usual, with Deanna calling me at 9:39, the second her Turkey Trot finished, to tell me that she had gotten yet another PR and that it was clearly due to how tiny she was and blah blah blah. I “accidentally” hung up on her when I was unwrapping another bonbon to stuff into my own gaping maw – oops.
Then Thanksgiving at my mom’s, which was a bit of a surreal experience. I guess I’m used to my friends and I making cancer jokes, about the prime bike rack position I should have at triathlons next year, about how I can save on electricity because of the glow from the radiation, etc. So being in the company of people (old friends of the family) who must know about the cancer thing but aren’t sure if they should bring it up – that’s just weird. I know all my mom’s friends know about it – hell, I think I have the entire church of someone from my mom’s Bunco group praying for me – so I’m sure these friends know but just don’t know what to say. I wind up being silent for most of dinner, because I just can’t relate to my idiot brother’s complaints and asinine comments and whatever. (NOTE: this is my idiot brother who moved into the family summer home in WI, not my great and cool brother in CA who works for Nickelodeon and is always trying to kill me when I go out there for a visit.)
Kona at least enjoyed himself, not questioning the pieces of turkey coming his way, like manna from heaven.
Then Tuesday was a drive to South Bend, IN, to pick up two Dobes that needed transporting back to IL. Poor pooches being abandoned, sweet as pie, same old story. The noteworthy thing about this trip was the sign I saw on the way out there. While I’m used to seeing local treasures such as Chubby’s, Mama’s Fried Chicken, and so on, this was the first time I’ve seen the following on a billboard for restaurants: Quaker Steak and Lube. I don’t even know what to say about that, except that I’ll probably not be eating there anytime soon.
Thursday I picked up another Dobe from Chicago Animal Control, and this poor guy was so emaciated it made me want to cry. He got the spare dog biscuits that I keep in my pocket, and he was sweet as can be. I’ve started wearing my Fuck Cancer hat this week, and the woman who works at CAC liked it, though she noted that it took guts to wear it. My response: “I’m a bitter, angry person with cancer – who’s going to dare say anything?”
Then this evening I decided to do the adult, responsible thing, i.e. open my mail. I know I shouldn’t have, but I bit the bullet and decided to go for it. What the hell, right? And promptly discovered that my radiation treatment cost.......$59,000. Really. And that apparently BCBS doesn’t feel like paying my bills anymore, because there was another one that said I shouldn’t pay (yet), but should contact my insurance provider to see why they’re not paying. And my favorite, the letter from BCBS that states that they’ve “made an adjustment” and due to that I need to pay them $5000. For what, it’s not clear, though the date on the claim is 8/29, i.e. the date of my surgeries. So which part of that they think was optional or unnecessary, I’m not sure. I would make the case I saved them money by having the 2 surgeries at once, with only one set of anesthesiologists and one use of an operating room. So fuck you insurance, BCBS, and I mean that profoundly. How dare you saddle me with this bullshit when I have been paying you on my own your super-high premiums for YEARS, without a single health problem? Fuck YOU. FUCK you.
So clearly the cancer isn’t going to kill me, but the stress will. Tomorrow I get to go to a Christmas party that some friends are having – the friends who have everything but never seem happy, and whose latest stress in their lives is, well, planning these parties. So I say this now as a warning, as God is my witness: the first person who complains to me tomorrow night how stressed he or she is because they “have so much shopping to do, and so many parties to go to!” – is going to be soundly bludgeoned with a frozen ham. Or a socket wrench, whatever’s handier.
What’s ironic is that some friends thought that I was depressed earlier this fall, what with the whole cancer and collarbone thing, basically because I was sleeping a lot (brain injury). As they say, “tired is the new depressed.” Or something. But I wasn’t – I was fine, rolling with the punches, doing my own thing. But now? Now I’m depressed. Cancer couldn’t break my spirit, but letters from insurance threatening me with collection agencies have. And yes, I have an out-of-pocket limit, which I met a long time ago, and all my doctors are within my “network.” So BCBS is apparently just trying to harass me to death. It might work yet.
I’m going to go cry now. Really.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Friday I met with my pixie/sprite oncologist, Dr. Von Roenn, and I mean the pixie thing as a compliment. She’s just so petite and adorable and chipper and practical – I adore her almost as much as I do Dr. Jeruss. As expected, she tells me that they’ll put me on Tamoxifen, a drug that’ll make me fat and surly (I can already hear Deanna asking, “how is that any different?”). Okay, so theoretically FatSurly only has side effects in some people, but since I was only at 0.6% or less risk of getting breast cancer in the first place, who are we kidding?
Then of course I start bombarding Dr. Von Roenn with questions. To her credit, she does NOT blanch or twitch when I start off with “Well, I read on the internet that.....”
Basically my main question is – what can I do to lessen the chance of recurrence? Since I have a cancer that’s essentially 100% estrogen positive, what should I do if anything to lower the level of estrogen in my body, other than taking FatSurly? I’ve been reading about the anti-estrogen diet, which can be summed up as follows:
Dairy, including cheese (!)
Lots of other tasty stuff
Lots of other yucky stuff
The only positive thing here is that grapefruit = bad, and white flour = good. No, really. Far be it from me to ever MSU. So clearly the perfect food in my future world is blueberry Pop-Tarts. Or blueberry pie. I guess I can live with that.
Well, except she tells me that diet doesn’t make a difference, and that there’s really nothing I can do to prevent anything – oh, except work out. Gee, thanks. Maybe I’ll try that once in a while. (!)
And I do get the bad news that I can’t have reconstruction surgery until later next spring, which would be too late for me since I need to get my lazy ass training for IMCDA (IronSpud) which is in June, so it looks like surgery will have to wait until next fall. And yes, I do need reconstruction because they HAD TO REMOVE A GOOD PORTION OF MY RIGHT BREAST. Just thought I’d put that out there, for the folks who tell me “well, hey, at least you still have your chest!” Umm, no. And for some reason it’s usually guys who say this, but trust me, you will not be seeing me in a t-shirt, sundress, or god forbid bathing suit anytime soon unless I get this figured out. Anyone have a line on waterproof sports bras that would allow for strategic “enhancement”?
And for anyone who thinks this is TMI, hey, too bad. This is my life now, this is what I get to deal with. But I’m not saying this with a po’ po’ pitiful me intent, nah. I’d rather have a deformed chest than be, you know, dead. And if putting this out there helps anyone who might stumble on my little blog feel a little less like a freak, then that’s a good thing. (P.S. For radiation treatment, I was not in fact actually put in a big, cold, water-dripping tube upside down. FYI.)
After my appointment Friday and I’m a free woman, I get a call from Liz who suggests getting together for dinner that night, to continue the celebratory streak, which I’m all for. I meet her and Jon at Johnny’s for a drink (oh, just learned that alcohol is also on the Bad list, so I have to drink while I can), and we meet up with Jim as well. Gary’s meeting us at the restaurant. In an amusing bit of precognition, as we’re driving to the restaurant Jim makes the point that Gary doesn’t seem to have a filter, the kind that stops him before he says stupid shit. I put it down to it being a typical Russian thing, meaning Gary isn’t tactful, sensitive, or possessing any of the other niceties of polite society as far as conversation is concerned.
This becomes clear when we find Gary and all sit down, and as soon as he hears the reason for celebrating, he starts with the questions.
Gary: “So is that it, you’re finished with cancer? You’re now cured?”
I’m about to tell him that no, there’s no such thing as being cured really, and breast cancer in young women is pretty aggressive so there’s a pretty good chance it’ll come back at some point so I get to worry about that, yippee, so it might be “gone” for now, kind of, though for all I know there are cancer cells already teeming through my bloodstream looking for a friendly organ to latch onto, and all of this is why it really isn’t very helpful for people to tell me about their spitfire 72-year-old aunt who’s alive and kicking 10 years after BC, because that’s not really my kind of cancer, even though I’m happy for them, but no it’s not the same thing, and anyway this is going to be my standard response when people ask me if I’m “done”.....but I don’t get a chance to speak, because Gary continues.
Gary: “Because, you remember when we both played HNA hockey, and we had that one guy, Mark, on our team, really nice guy, and he had cancer and went through treatment and all of that. And they said he was cured, done with it, he was totally fine, and then a year later he was dead.”
There is dead silence for a moment. Then of course we all turn on him like a pack of feral dogs.
Jim: Waa....waaaaa.......talk about Debbie Downer!
Me, snarling: Oh, sure, why don’t you tell us MORE stories about young people who die from cancer! Don’t you know the RULES about that?? Seriously! What the hell?!
Jon: Hey, only happy cancer stories are allowed!
Liz, shaking her head sadly: Gary, Gary...... (she makes a notation on her iPhone whatsit, probably noting that Gary will never be invited out for dinner again)
Gary continues to be soundly ridiculed for the rest of the evening, which is as it should be.
Me: Oh, hey, we’re getting waaay too jovial and happy here. Gary, why don’t you tell us another uplifting story about yet another young person who DIED FROM CANCER??
Gary tries to explain away his idiocy by the enfeebled plea of “But I thought you knew the guy!” Oh, like that makes the news all the better and okay, that I might have KNOWN the guy who died? Sure. Right.
I’m telling this story to Deanna later, and get to the part where I’m about to tell Gary that breast cancer isn’t curable per se, and she interrupts me.
Deanna: But you don’t have cancer anymore.
Me: Yes, yes, I know, you were the one calling me when I was still groggy from surgery to congratulate me on not having cancer anymore, since they had removed the tumor.
Deanna: Well, I did give you until you were done with radiation - but now, done with the excuses! No more using this whole “cancer” thing as a crutch. I know how you are. Any little thing and you’ll just run with it, whining the whole way – meanwhile, the rest of us are just slogging on, sucking it up.
Me: The rest of you with cancer, you mean?
Deanna: No, just the rest of us. And, you don’t have cancer!!
Deanna is the only one who is accorded this sort of leeway with the whole “cured” bullshit, because I full well understand just how important it is to her that I be completely healthy. You see, I know what Deanna’s raison d’etre for getting out there and training every day is. Not only does she see me as her role model (“Be like Tasha, come on Deanna, BE LIKE TASHA!”), but I’m also her rabbit, so to speak, as she guns for me and tries to beat my multitude of PRs and the like. And in order for that to happen, we need to be on a level playing field. Take IMMOO this year. Me breaking my collarbone was the best thing that could have happened for Deanna, because no matter what, had I competed, I would have come out ahead. Had I beat her by a substantial time (okay, in part because she kept futzing with that damn HR monitor of hers with the faulty batteries!), I would have looked like my usual rockstar self. But even if she had beat me, she would have only had the satisfaction of muttering about “beating CancerGirl” – and what fun is that? I still would have gotten the accolades just for finishing the damn thing.
But you know, for next year, that whole level playing field? I’m good with that. Bring it.
Anyway – now that I’m technically done with treatment – except for having to take FatSurly every day for the next 5 years and having follow-up appointments and trying to deal with a huge stack of medical bills – I’m kind of, well, at a loss. Even though going downtown every day for radiation was a pain in the ass, at least I felt I was doing something as far as treatment. But now? Now I get to wait for the other shoe to drop.
That’s not to say that I dwell on the whole thing – I just feel like I’m being realistic. But there’s a difference between thinking ok, I should be prepared for the worst, and being gloomy and depressed all the time, which is so not my style. Being pissed-off, sure. That I can do. Depressed, not really. Honestly, sometimes I think the reason I’ve had so much bad luck on a regular basis is because it helped me learn the ability to bounce back quickly. But rage? Oh yes. Which is why in addition to the mottos “doing the stupid things so you don’t have to” and “just don’t fuck with me,” I’m adding to the list “Fuck you, cancer.” (I’m accumulating so many mottos I could pass them out like cheap party favors.) I refuse to let you freak me out or take anything else away from me or keep me from living my life exactly how I choose to. So fuck you. I mean it. Fuck you.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Anyway, I get there and an ushered in, and then they take more x-rays. Great, I think. More radiation, just what I need. Then I wait mere seconds until Dr. Merkhottie comes in, and we gaze at the x-rays that expose his brilliant handiwork to the world. I can sense the admiration in his eyes, probably due to my obvious athletic prowess and extraordinary healing ability. Well, at least I’m pretty sure it’s admiration. Not fear or anything. Admiration.
Our subsequent conversation goes as follows – and please note that I don’t even have to add the relevant subtext, as I usually do, since it’s soooo obvious what he's really thinking.
Dr. Merkhottie: “Okay, well, everything looks like it’s healing really well. The bone is filling in, and that one shard that we left, that looks fine too.”
Me, modestly: “Thank you....”
Dr. M.: “And you’re still seeing your other doctors? Dr. Jeruss.....”
Me: “No, I haven’t seen her in a while, just the radiation people.”
Dr. M., clearly outraged on my behalf: “Oh, so they just get done with you and that’s it?”
Me, sadly: “Yes, they just pass me along like a bad penny.”
Dr. M.: “So I’m the only one you see on a regular basis – I’m not sure if that’s good or bad....”
Me, leaping in: “Oh, trust me, it’s GREAT,” I enthuse. “Umm, purely from the standpoint of having some continuity,” I add, weakly.
Dr. M.: “Oh, of course. So the form from Erica says that you’re anxious to return to hockey. Is that true?”
Me: “Well, you know how it is – the team is really kind of stuck without me, their enforcer. Oh sure, they’re apparently in first place, halfway through the season, but how long will THAT last?”
Dr. M. nods sagely, or maybe it’s a twitch.
Me, continuing: “But while I’m a little crazy, I’m not a total idiot, and since I play with clumsy and oafish guys who often don’t know how to stop, I wasn’t going to jump back into games anytime soon. I figured I’d start out with some clinics or open skates.”
Dr. M., clearly alarmed at the very thought of my perfect collarbone being roughed up by hamhanded hockey players: “Okay then....you can get out there and whack the puck around on the ice. But no physical contact of any kind!”
Me, batting my eyes innocently: “Oh, perish the thought!”
So I think there’s a game Friday night that I can hop in on. Hmm. No, seriously, while it’ll kill my team, as it’s done so far judging by their pathetic record (I’m sure the first place thing is a fluke), I’ll wait the (sigh) requisite 6 months after surgery to get back on the ice. The hockey nation weeps.
Now, it’s evident the esteem in which Dr. Merkhottie holds me – I mean, just because some things are unsaid, they’re still pretty obvious. I do wonder, though, why every time I see him he has a couple of people trailing into the room after him, like puppies, these lowly “interns” or “residents.” But I think that’s pretty transparent too - clearly he just wants as many people as possible to meet the star on his roster of patients. What else could it be?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
So Monday was my last day of radiation, and naturally I felt the need to bring an appropriate celebratory victual to the hospital to mark the occasion. And to perhaps get something for that evening’s celebration with friends. I wound up at a favorite German bakery in Chicago, one that’s a familiar standby for such things. After deciding I’d get brightly-frosted, flower-shaped cookies for the rads crew, I then set about getting a cake.
Me: Well, my first question has been answered – I see you have stock sheet cakes that you’ll write on right away.
Girl 1: Yes, we have chocolate or yellow cakes.
Me: Great. Now, umm, is there, say, a limit as to what you’ll write on the cakes? Like, certain things you won’t write?
Girl 1, giggling: Umm, well, I don’t know, we don’t really write curse words and so on....but what do you need?
Me: Well, I’d like a cake that says (whisper whisper).
Girl 2: Oh, THAT we can write.
We all start whispering now.
Girl 1: When did you want to pick it up?
Me: I’ll pick it up tonight, before I go to meet my friends.
Girl 1: Okay, no problem. I’ll just wait until you come in to decorate it.
Me: Sounds good. Thanks!!
We smile at each other conspiratorially.
I then go to rads, and am greeted like a rock star. Hugs all around, well wishes, thanks from everyone, etc.
Nurse 1: Tasha, you’re the best – thanks!
Nurse 3: Oh, thanks so much, you’re so sweet!
Oh sure, some would say that the thanks were for the huge, beautifully decorated cookies....but I know better. I’m sure it was the mix tape. Huey Lewis, rock on!
I spent my usual weekly minute with my radiation oncologist – and kind of figured out why my surgeon wanted me to see a different rads oncologist, who I didn’t see because he was booked. You see, you make friends in the radiation treatment waiting room, because you’re there every fricking day at the same time for at least 6 weeks. So I got to know Mary, a funny, smartmouthy woman who had her appointment a bit after me. We had the same rads oncologist, and when I saw Mary on my last day, she told me that when she saw Dr. C. the week before, she asked the doc about her prognosis, i.e. did she have 5 years? No answer from Dr. C. 2 years? No answer. A year? Six MONTHS?? No answer. So Mary brought reinforcements in the form of her husband for the weekly meeting – a man who looks like a pugilist, I might add – and at that point I was thankful that I never had the chatty kind of relationship with Dr. C. that Mary did, because otherwise she might have freaked me out just as much. Or not, since I plan on asking similar questions of my regular oncologist when I see her on Friday – but I’m assuming I’ll get intelligent answers, not silence. Otherwise they’ll see just how irate their cancer patients can be, yes sirree.
Anyway. After fielding the celebratory telegrams, good wishes from the Queen, the ticker tape, the champagne toasts, the red carpet, etc., I mosey out of there and head home, with my record of having found street parking downtown for 6 whole weeks intact. (Note to self: mark this as second of life’s greatest accomplishments.)
That evening I got to the German Bakery that Will Not Be Named (GEBAWINBEN), and as soon as I walk in, Girl 1 gives me a knowing glance and a smile. We head over to the cake section and continue our earlier conversation, still sotto voice.
Girl 1: What color frosting do you want for the writing?
Me: Hmm, I don’t know, something festive.
Girl 1: We have green, blue, yellow, red....
Me: How about red?
Girl 1: And do you want the writing in cursive or block letters?
Me: How about cursive? That’ll just make it look all the more elegant.
I head over to the Village Tap, where we all gather in the beer garden in back, which they open up and heat just for us, probably recognizing that it’s better to isolate the crazies as much as possible. Happily, YCBG Matt makes a surprise appearance. Life is good.
And after food and beverages, I bring out the cake, and preface it by noting the enormity of this feat: that I got a stalwart, 100-year-old, very much old school, straightlaced German bakery in the heart of yuppieville to decorate my cake thusly:
I'm sure this is what they mean when they talk about the power of cancer to transform lives. Because I think all of us, me and the girls at GEBAWINBEN, emerged happier for our shared experience. How could one not?
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Then tomorrow will be my last day of being irradiated in a dark, cold, water-dripping tube, with radiation particle beams zapping at me from every direction, painfully so. And I still have to make that mix tape for my rads technicians, the one that has lots and lots of Huey Lewis and the News, and Jefferson Starship, and even that perennial favorite, Yanni. Maybe even some Cat Stevens after he went all crazy on us and became Yusuf Islam and his "music" consisted of chants from the Koran. Yeah, that's it. I hear that's kind of soothing.
So I could be drunk and giddy for a few days after that. I will try to avoid PUI (Posting Under the Influence), however, so as to avoid accidentally posting anything blindingly chipper, the way drunk people sometimes do. That would be so wrong.
In the meantime, we have a clip from my favorite comic, which as always speaks to me in hauntingly appropriate fashion:
Friday, November 7, 2008
Anyway, there I was in Galena earlier this year with a bunch of tri friends, gazing off into the distance as I was cooking up a couple of packages of bacon for the house – or at least the early riser or two – wondering how I could show my admiration for those bepurpled clans who run/walk 10 abreast, who stop on a dime when their watches beep, who have their own support on race courses because they’re that special. But how?? Suddenly, my mind latched onto the obvious: bacon! What do people love more than anything? Bacon! What’s known to be a perfect food with antioxidants galore? Bacon! What says “hey, we’re serious people” like nothing else? Bacon! Thus did Team in Bacon come about, with the motto of “Because there is meat in team.”
Flash forward to this fall, when a dear friend suggested a bunch of us run in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Chicago, sortofinmyname. Which was beyond sweet, but there was going to be a death (not mine) if we, say, got t-shirts with anything about me on them. Enter Team in Bacon. One logo later (thanks Karin’s sister!), the t-shirts were printed up (thanks Erin Menvielle!) and off we go.
The day of the race was a beautiful fall day, and you could feel the sportsmanship in the air. Colleen was running under a mantra of “step aside, Baldy!” – hoping for a PR. Deanna had her elbows ready to shove people into a cement culvert, and told me she had reserved a seat for me on the “too enfeebled or undertrained to run” trolley. Kimberly, pictured above, was sunshiny and smiley as usual, acting for all the world like this was some tea party that she’d stumbled onto. That was before she smoked everyone and came in 2nd overall. We’d hate Kim for this, for being so fast, except that she’s one of the nicest people out there, damn her. Sulk.
And in spite of all our efforts, we did NOT find a cure for cancer during the run. Apparently this is not unusual: 6,000 runners fail to find a cure. Still, one must have hope, so maybe someday, perhaps during a Triathlon for the Cure? A girl can dream......
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Me, glumly: “Well, they called the first state for McCain – Kentucky. That’s not a good sign.”
Motria: “We might still be okay. Kentucky has gone red every election since Herbert Hoover.”
Me: “Still. We’re doomed. Hey, we got Vermont! 3 electoral votes from the hippies. Sigh.”
As the evening wears on and we drink more margaritas and keep hitting refresh on the laptop to see if that offers more up-to-the-minute information, the returns looks good, but not good enough to get giddy, Pennsylvania notwithstanding. Especially since they declared PA with only about 2% of the state counted. Then Laura calls.
Laura: “Can we celebrate yet??”
Me: “I don’t think so. Anything could still happen – the Republicans could declare that gee, they have all these ballots they just found in someone’s car trunk, or thousands of absentee ballots from overseas, or god knows what other kind of shenanigans could take place. Remember 2004! Say, what’s that noise?”
Laura: “Eddie’s already celebrating – he’s got the noisemakers and champagne out.”
Me: “Well, I’m cautiously optimistic, but nothing more. The scars are too deep. As they say, fool me once......you can’t get fooled again. Besides, we want Indiana to come in from the cold.”
Laura: “Eddie says Indiana doesn’t even matter at this point – Obama has enough electoral votes anyway.”
Me: “Of course Indiana counts! If you think about it, Illinois is right next to Indiana, and that makes our relationship critical. We even share a narrow maritime border, Lake Michigan, and sometimes the Indianans fly over our airspace, and we have to send someone out to keep an eye on this not-very-powerful state. Besides,” I add, “I can see Indiana from my house.”
Motria pipes in: “I can see Indiana from my work.”
Me: “So clearly it’s to our benefit if Indiana goes blue. Because right now with them being red, it’s like our next-door neighbor is a foreign country, right next to our state. Plus then I can spend money when I drive through their state, rather than buying everything in Illinois, gassing up beforehand and so on.”
Laura: “Okay, McCain just called Obama to concede – can we celebrate NOW?”
Me: “I’m cautiously hopeful.”
While I’m decidedly non-partisan, I did get in my email inbox this morning the celebratory missives from Environment Illinois, the Center for Biological Diversity, and of course the NRDC – which was amusing, because they note that since they’re a non-profit, they’re not allowed to endorse any presidential candidate, but they then go on to gush about Obama and what his victory means for the environment after all these years of decimation by the Bush administration. Hmm, I wonder who they wanted to win.
Me, I stay out of politics. But I would like to take this opportunity to reach out to our Republican brethren, out across party lines in a show of unity and harmony, to those who know how we’re feeling because they’ve been here, kind of, to all those who voted for George W. Bush and then re-elected him in 2004, to those who yammer on about “morals” and “values” and then have no problems destroying our planet and wishing death on gays and bombing abortion clinics and letting the super-rich get richer while everyone else suffers and giving the biggest tax breaks to oil and pharma companies, to them I would like to say just this: Suck it, red states.
That is all. And so, after I’ve expounded on this bright, shiny new day in America, we now return to your regular programming.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Me: I’m going to vote but I’m Undecided. McCain was funny on SNL, but Obama might have to get the sympathy vote since his grandmother just died. And that Palin – that whole “winking” schtick of hers really says to me “hey, I’m competent”. So I’m torn – what do you think?
Motria: I had a similar dilemma, but then I learned something that decided it for me.
Me: What’s that? McCain has a secret plan to overthrow Iran? Obama actually hates the environment because he has hayfever and plans to pave, baby, pave?
Motria: No, nothing like that. Michelle Obama went to my high school!
Me: Sweet! Obama it is then. Sympathy PLUS connections – that works for me.
Thus decided, I get to my polling place prepared for lines – and there’s nothing, no throngs of people outside clamoring to get in. My grueling ordeal subsequently goes like this:
10:30am - get to polling place, walk in, no line
10:31 - have first efficient person ask me my address, they find me right away, check me off
10:31:30 - second person asks for name and address, find me, give me paper to sign, pick up paper ballot
10:40 - Octogenarian takes my paper ballot, feeds it into machine, it's counted, I get a slip of paper. Tell him we should get stickers - we never get stickers. He's pretty much deaf so he has no idea what I'm babbling about. Leave. Walk to Starbucks for an iced latte.
Bah, so easy. What’s the point? Clearly there’s a vast right-wing conspiracy afoot to take away the Sturm and Drang that makes voting so essential. Since I have no fun voting stories, I have to live vicariously through friends – Jillian, for example, had a long wait, but the best part of her tale was that when they asked for her last name and she said “Busch – like the beer, not the president” – she got a bunch of audible “thank you for that jesus!” exclamations in return. And at Deanna’s polling place, apparently they emptied out the local nursing home for their workers, who apparently could neither see nor hear well enough to actually look up anyone’s names.
Then there was Lynn, the wife of someone Deanna works with, the story via email:
- - - - - - -
5:35 am lynn arrives at logan square library to vote,thinking that they might open the polls early. There is already a line. But she's fifth, so that's good because that means she'll be out of there by 6:05 at the latest. yeah right.
5:55 am line is now about twenty people long. Still waiting for the polls to open.
6:01 am library still hasn't opened. lynn getting a little annoyed.
6:05 am library still hasn't opened. other people are getting a little annoyed. woman about five people behind lynn (will later in the email be referred to as the leader of the rebellion) starts getting mouthy, saying things like "this is f---ing ridiculous"
6:08 am about 30 people in line. woman about five people behind lynn asks us to hold her place in line while she goes to bang on the library windows.
6:09 am about 6 other people join the woman who was about five people behind lynn but is now the leader of the rebellion. all 6 start banging on the library windows, chanting things like "we need to vote!" and "let us vote!" the leader of the rebellions starts yelling "you can't deny us the right to vote!!!"
6:13 am library still hasn't opened. a few more people have joined in with the rebellion. security guard comes out to say that there is an "altercation" going on in the library, and it will be a few more minutes.
6:18 am. the rebellion settles down. they get back in line. lynn turns around to see patrick about thirty people behind her. lynn says a little prayer that patrick has been there the whole time and got to witness the rebellion.
6:21 am doors finally open. we walk in to find all of the election judges in the library yelling at each other. nothing is ready. mass chaos. The leader of the rebellion proceeds to get in a fight with the woman from the states attorney's office. woman from the state's attorney's office throws her file folder in the air and says, "fine. if we are so disorganized, then we won't help you! i'll just stand here and let you figure out the voting process on your own. " she then refuses to help any of the volunteers who have questions saying, "no, i'm not allowed to help. these people here say that we are disorganized, so if we are so disorganized maybe they can do it better. i'm just going to stand in the corner and let them take care of it."
and the woman from the state's attorney's office stood in the corner with her arms crossed like a two year old, refusing to help anyone who had a question by saying, "sorry, i'm not allowed to help."
6:36 am lynn leaves wondering if her vote will actually get tallied but so happy that she witnessed the crazies.
best morning ever. best voting experience ever. by far above and beyond election 2006 with the goth people.
- - - - - - - -
Deanna then relayed the goth story from 2006:
Lynn who is a blond, tiny, preppy high school teachers asks Pat (who has already voted) where the polling place is. Pat tells her is down by LuLu cafe (which is next to the logan square auditorium) on the square. Lynn heads down and sees a line. The line slowly moves up a stair case and then Lynn goes through a metal detector. About that time she realizes something is not right. She looks around and everyone is wearing black, white makeup and red lipstick. She had spent 30 minutes or so in line in order to get into some goth show at the Logan Square Auditorium. She graciously makes her exit and goes one door down and successfully votes.
Sometimes, truth is way better than fiction.....
As for me, I stopped by the Jewel on my way home from being irradiated in a big cold tube and picked up a bottle of margarita mix to take to Motria's later, to drink as we watch the returns. I refuse to get my hopes up - I still remember 2004 all too clearly, when the night went sour. Damn it, I really LIKED John Kerry. So he was an "intellectual". WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT??? Umm, not that I lean one way or another, no sirree. Obama got my vote just because of that sympathy thing, doncha know?
Monday, November 3, 2008
And besides, red is such a pretty color.
I do have to note that when the news of Obama’s relative came out, I thought to myself, is that the best you can do?? I thought the Republicans would be trotting out Osama bin Laden on a leash or something, having “miraculously” found him at the Army canteen over the weekend, taking the risk of being caught so that he could stock up on Ho-Hos. I guess we still have the rest of today – I will remain glued to the tv or computer for updates.
In between Paula Deen, that is, whose program I’m sure they would never dare interrupt, no matter what kind of breaking news is coming down the pike. Who had the best quote EVER on her show last week: “I gotta say, the best thing I ever did for myself was to have these deep-fat fryers installed in mah kitchen.”
The woman’s brilliance cannot be overstated.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Okay, so I paraphrase just a wee bit, but you get the gist of it.
But before I post those pictures, I also found on my camera the following picture of me, Jillian and Deanna the morning of the Dairyland Dare. Clearly we have no idea of the total chaos that’s in store for us.
And then there are the collarbone photos:
Dr. Merkhottie left one of those perpendicular shards as apparently it was too hard to remove, and of course I trust his genius. I look at this picture of the before and I think wow, they sure gave me some good drugs. And I realize that if one is ever going to be in a bad bike crash, make sure you get a concussion at the same time. Because seriously, if there was major pain at the time or afterwards, I don’t remember it at all. In fact, except for that last week before surgery when the achiness was keeping me up at night, the collarbone actually wasn’t too bad. Of course, the oxycontin could have had something to do with that.
The thing that’s great about having a broken collarbone and the ensuing scar is that now for all the guys who are too intimidated to speak to me at bike rides and triathlons and such, because they don’t know what to say or even where to begin, well, they’ll have an automatic opening. Instead of the usual “oh, you’re that really witty person, the charming one, so athletically gifted which is obvious by even looking at you from a distance, and so practically perfect in every way, and and and and..... aaaaaaaaAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" And then they run off screaming –it’s been known to happen, people. The intimidation factor is HUGE. But now? A jaunty “hey, cool scar, how’d you break your collarbone?” will suffice, because then I get to talk about the horrific crash and the months of rehab, and yet how even in the face of that, here I am, doing the Dairyland Dare again, not the least bit afraid of going screamingly fast down any big hills, no way, because that’s just the kind of person I am.
Of course, I may “accidentally” forget to mention that I don’t remember the crash AT ALL, and so being scared of descending wouldn’t make much sense. Not sure how that part would even be relevant though.
Deanna has told me in so many words that she’s scared of the additional speed my new titanium collarbone will give me, so she’s upped her swimming from 6 times a week to twice a day. Poor dear. In the meantime, I continue with my dryland training regimen, which has worked so well for me in the past.
In other news, I would like to note a grave moral dilemma I faced yesterday while on my way to PT. I stopped at the 7-11 for coffee, yet when I went to grab a medium cup, as usual, I noticed that the only medium cups were bright red John McCain cups. I took one, put it down. Looked at it – WTH? They’re doing some kind of “count the vote” thing. How cute, and yet utterly stupid. I pick up the cup again, put it back. Pick up, put down. Pick up a small cup and compare the two. Nope, small won’t do. Pick up and put down the McCain cup again. Do they really only have these damn McCain cups? I walk around the counter, notice the end-of-aisle display explaining this malarkey of “vote independent! Vote Democrat! Vote Republican!” – yet even on the display, there’s only a big stack of McCain cups, nothing else left. Shit. Do I really want to pay more for a large coffee, which I don’t really need? Apparently I do, as I walked out of there with my large coffee. Is this election over yet???
In a final note, when I get to PT these days, there’s usually some kind of news or sports show on the big tvs. A minute later, by the time I’ve taken my coat off, the channel has been changed to Paula Deen – and no one would dare try to change it, as one foolish person once did. And at radiation, we have an understanding that while I’m there, it’s a Huey-Lewis-free-zone.
Life is good.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
We get our pink foods (mai tais) and wait for the game to begin, but first of course they do the ceremonial puck drop. Now, call me crazy, but since they’ve loudly proclaimed on their website and everywhere else that it’s their big BREAST CANCER AWARENESS night, I’m kind of assuming that hmm, maybe they’ll have some of us out there for this kind of thing, the shootout between periods, etc. You know, bring just a bit of attention to the cause and all that.
I know, it must be the lingering effects of the brain injury that causes me to have such odd thoughts. Because next thing you know, they’re announcing that the family of some kid who was just diagnosed with.........LEUKEMIA (????).....is going to drop the puck. Huh? My jaw drops........you’ve got to be kidding me, right? I mean, it’s bad enough that us breast cancer people are the bastard stepchildren of the cancer world, but this, this is too much. WHAT does one have to do to get some recognition around here?? (Oh, as an aside, driving downtown to the game I did see that the Sears Tower antennas are lit up all in pink. Very nice!)
Anyway, I yell “get your own month!” at this little tableau playing out on the ice, but I think I’m drowned out by the guy in front of us who yells “Detroit sucks!” at the same time, even though we’re playing Edmonton tonight. However, even after this travesty of justice, I still have the hopes of a nation resting on my slim shoulders – the hope that for their usual The Kid, the Geek, the Bimbo shootout, they’d at least pick my people, aka the breast cancer stricken. Or strucked. Whatever.
Alas, I’m gravely disappointed yet again, as they have the usual kid and geek (both male) and then not one but TWO bimbos, one female and one male, both from the United Wrestling Federation. HUH??? Now, if that isn’t the antithesis of what those of us fighting breast cancer stand for, then I don’t know what is. (I don’t know what this means, but it sounds good.)
I was so disheartened for the rest of the game, sulking with my anti-cancer hot dog and the pink-wrapped candy that Jillian had brought us, that I could almost feel the depression sinking over me like a black cloud. What’s the point of it all anyway? If this is how we get treated, with this kind of disrespect, then how can we even be expected to go on? Then in today’s paper I read that this game was the designated “Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness” night. Seriously. Which, as I read it, means that hockey does NOT want people to be aware of cancer, they’re fighting it tooth and nail. Aha, now it all makes sense – just ignore cancer and its victims, go ahead. Hmph. Chicago Blackhawks, you’re dead to me.
At least until the next game. By the way, note to the Blackhawks: if you’re looking for a new marketing person, which perhaps you should be, give me a call. I do great freelance work. I’m just sayin’.......
(And, ahem, not that I want to bring up the much-hated Redwings, but this is part of what THEY did with their BC Night:
All proceeds from the breast cancer awareness merchandise sales, the puck draw and the silent auction will benefit local hockey families battling breast cancer.
The team will host breast cancer patients, survivors and their families in an executive suite at the game.
Sad. Methinks our beloved Blackhawks were slightly, shall we say, owned by Detroit on this one.....)