April 1, 2021

abnormal mammogram
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Photo: Neal E. Johnson
A JOURNEY I WOULDN'T WISH ON ANYONE, PART II

Three months ago, I was not cool, calm, or collected.  In January, I received word of an abnormal mammogram.  What made it worse was having to wait two more weeks for additional testing.  

On the day of the diagnostic mammogram, I felt fairly calm.  I was called back to the exam room for four different x-ray views.  But after waiting thirty minutes (and getting more and more worried) I found out that the results were inconclusive.  So, I was called back for an ultrasound.  While the technician performed the test, she assured me that everything looked normal.  The radiologist also performed an ultrasound.  She too, thought the breast tissue looked normal.  Finally, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  But then the radiologist wanted to know more about my family history.  When I told her that my mother died of breast cancer, she recommended that I have an MRI with contrast dye.  Really?  First the mammograms, then the ultrasounds and now this.  January was a miserable month and from what it looked like, February was going to be no better, and all I wanted was for this journey to be over.  

I had a telehealth appointment with my physician, hoping she'd say an MRI would not be needed.  No such luck.  We talked about my risk factors and though the chance of getting cancer was low, she wanted me to go ahead with the MRI.  It would be a more definitive test.  My doctor reassured me that everything would probably turn out alright.  She prescribed an anti-anxiety med that contained an antihistamine in case I'd have a reaction to the dye and she told me to take Pepcid and my migraine medicine.  Eh...I wasn't so sure this combination of meds would keep me from getting queasy.  Believe it or not, that was my biggest fear about the procedure.

The MRI would be in ten days.  In the meantime, I tried to psych myself up.  I'm BRCA (breast cancer gene) negative.  I'm not overweight.  I exercise and don't drink much alcohol.  I've calculated the risks and the chances of cancer were low.  I sent good thoughts into the universe.  And still, fear crawled into my brain, poisoning my tenuous hold on positivity.  As I waited for the date of the MRI (February 5) to roll around, I tried to stick to my writing routine, but it was hard to concentrate.    

The night before the MRI, I set out a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and tennis shoes.  Afterward, I got this feeling that the meds would work and keep me from being sick to my stomach.  In fact, the next day, I woke without feeling anxious.  I ate a light breakfast and took my medicine.  Then, my husband drove me to the clinic because the anti-anxiety med could cause dizziness.   

In less than fifteen minutes, I was called into the exam room and was given the option of removing my face mask.  The head rest had been sterilized so I chose not to wear a mask since I would on my stomach for twenty minutes.  The tech gave me headphones to drown out the noise.   

I climbed onto the metal bed and tried to get comfortable, but lying on the hard surface strained my back and pressed against my chest.  I gave myself a pep talk:  you can do this, it's only for twenty minutes.  I calmed down and then the procedure began.  And then...HOLY CRAP!  I hadn't bargained for this kind of noise.  It blasted louder than a fire alarm.  No volume of music could drown it out.  The only thing that helped take my mind off the racket was to visualize peaceful images. 

After the test was completed (HALLELUJAH) the tech helped me to my feet.  I put on my mask, got dressed and joined my husband.  He was relieved that I wasn't nauseous, though I had stuffed a plastic bag in my pocket just in case. 

The results would be reported in four days—on February 9th, the death anniversary of my mom.  That totally sucked.  I did not want to receive news that day.  So, a day earlier, I checked the patient portal for test results, hoping that they'd be there.  They weren't.  

I checked on the ninth, hoping there would NOT be any results.  There weren't, thank goodness. I would have broken down if I had heard bad news on the day my mother had died.

I expected to hear something on February 10.  I didn't.  So, it was time to muster up courage and check in with radiology.   Damn, I hated making this phone call.  My heart was beating a mile a minute.  I waited for the nurse to find the results.  And then she read the report.  It was negative.  Negative!  Finally, this worrisome journey was over.

Many of my friends and most of my family stayed in touch and sent texts to check up on me as I waited on the results.  It's funny how something as simple as I'm thinking about you can mean so much.  For those who reached out to me, thank you.  I'm forever grateful for your kind thoughts and prayers. 

Two months ago, I began a journey that I wouldn't wish on anyone.  But after the experience, I found there were opportunities to be thankful, to reevaluate goals, and to realize strengths.  There were opportunities to reach out to friends for support.  And what they said surprised me and warmed my heart.  They told me I should not have waited to until the end of the journey to tell them my story.  They told me I should have shared it with from the start and every step along the way.  

À la prochaine! 






March 1, 2021

 

abnormal mammogram
                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Matteo Vistocco

A JOURNEY I WOULDN'T WISH ON ANYONE, PART I 

Last year, I forgot to schedule my annual mammogram.  

I'm usually on top of things, but it never dawned on me to make an appointment for the yearly x-ray.  That's something I've been doing for thirty years!  I blame it on COVID because the pandemic had a way of distracting me.  I wasn't the only one.  In fact, when I scheduled a date, the receptionist told me quite a few women had forgotten to make their appointments, too.  

Unlike the previous years however, this time felt different.  I'm 66, the age my mother found out she had breast cancer.  I was nervous and could not shake the bad vibes.  Being two months overdue did not help.   

Then a week after the mammogram, my cell phone rang displaying a number associated with my doctor's office.  I braced for bad news.  My heart thumped against my chest.  During the short call, I learned that a diagnostic mammogram would be needed.  The latest x-rays looked different from the previous views.  

This was not good news.  Worry doesn't even come close to describing how I felt.  So to quell my fears, I spent hours googling the two words the appeared on the report:  architectural distortion.  The terminology basically meant something did not look right.  Now, I had reached new levels of anxiety.  I kept searching the Internet to find some positive information.  That's when I ran across One Frugal Girl.

This blog is written by a woman named Jewels who shared the emotional journey of an abnormal mammogram. She even published other women's personal experiences.  Jewels and her followers had been diagnosed with an architectural distortion, too.  After reading the blog post and other people's comments, I felt a little better.  Jewels revealed, as did every follower, that the outcome was negative for cancer.    

On the day of the diagnostic exam, I sat in the waiting room socially distancing from (and yet part of) this cranberry-colored gowned and masked group.  It kind of blew my mind that all twenty of us needed diagnostic mammograms.  The strange thing was, everyone appeared to be at ease.  One woman, who spoke loud enough for all to hear, revealed that she was a cancer survivor.  She spoke in great detail to the lady sitting next to her.  I'm not sure how the listener felt about it.  Had it been me, I would have been reduced to tears.

After a half hour, the tech called me back for the mammogram.  I returned to the waiting room and began reading one of my books.  An hour later, I was called back for another set of x-rays.  Again, I returned to the waiting room.  But as the time passed, I was becoming a nervous wreck.  What was the reason for two mammograms?  My brain could no longer comprehend the words in my books.  I was not like the other women in the room who appeared to be brave and calm.  I was drowning in a pool of waiting and of not knowing and needed to be rescued from the clutch of worry and to be delivered by the voice of good news.  

I wanted this to be over.  Instead—a tech called me back for an ultrasound.  

This was going from bad to worse.  And then during the exam, I received some encouraging words.  The tech told me that she didn't see anything abnormal.  It was a minor relief, like taking a quick breath after being denied air for so long.  Still, the radiologist had to perform an ultrasound to be sure.  I waited again, staring off.  Trying to not think about anything.  Feeling numb.  About a half an hour later, the radiologist performed the ultrasound.  She agreed with the tech.  There was nothing suspicious.   

At this point, I was worn out, but relieved.  Finally, this day of not knowing and waiting was about to be wrapped up.  And then (never assume something is about to be over when you see the words and then) the doctor wanted to know more information about my family...and then when she learned about my mother's medical history, I found this journey was not even close to ending.   

To be continued...



February 1, 2021

writing, porta potties
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Photo: Julien Delaunay

WHEN YOU GOTTA GO 

I'm not a fan of porta potties.

But when nature calls and you're away from the conveniences of a restroom, sometimes you have no choice.  As my mother-in-law used to say "What are you going to do?"  And in this case, it would be: use the damn outside toilet.

Porta potties go way back.  They were invented during World War II for ship crews that spent a long time on board without coming back to shore.  The first portable restrooms were constructed of metal and wood.  Later, they were made of fiberglass and polyurethane so they could be more easily moved.  To mask odors, a blue liquid was developed and added to the toilet.  This deodorizer contains a biocide to inhibit the growth of odor-producing bacteria.  

Though I'm happy to know the manufacturers put this blue stuff in porta potties, they might think long and hard about upping the fragrance.  I should know.   I've used plenty a porta potties during the years my daughter ran cross county.  Before a race when she and her teammates warmed up, I'd scout out the blue toilets.  Thank goodness they were not hard to find and were situated in an area that could be called Potty Parkway, Toilet Throughway, or Got to Go Row.  

My bladder had a mine of her own.  During those open-air races, she was quick to let me know that she demanded attention and would not take no for an answer.  One time when I was on my way to the potties, the men's race had just begun.  To get to the toilets one had to cross the runner's path.  I streaked across as fast as possible so that I wouldn't interfere with the race, but an enraged fan fussed at me.  Didn't he know I could run pretty darn fast when I had to go?

Just so you know, toilets on trains are no better than porta potties.  In fact, they're smaller (lots smaller) and not necessarily cleaner.  More, they can be nerve-wracking.  Several years ago, I got trapped in a bathroom on a train heading to Madrid.  It took me three to four minutes to get out.  When I returned to my seat my husband asked, "Any problems?"   

He could barely control his laughter.  He said that the indicator light at the entrance to bathroom had been flashing on and off.  I had no idea I was broadcasting my predicament.  In my defense, it was a Spanish lock so I'm pretty sure it worked differently than American locks.

Airplanes can be even worse.  There's always the possibility of turbulence. 

I would rather have a clean, nice-smelling, big bathroom when I'm away from home, but you take what you can get.  And those cross-country meets have groomed me well.  So, allow me to offer some tips, 
that is if you have the misfortune opportunity of using a porta potty.    
  • Bring a tissue because you never know if the roll will be empty.  (Chances are good the roll will be empty).
  • Roll up pants hems.  The floor may be damp due to rain, a spilled drink, or body fluid.   
  • Do not look down.  Trust me, there's really nothing you'd want to see.
  • Follow potty etiquette.  No line skipping.  Those standing at the front of the line have to wait till the door they're facing opens.  
  • Hold your nose.  That deodorized blue liquid ain't fooling no one. 
À la prochaine! 

January 1, 2021

 <img src=”writer's cat.png” alt=”writer writes about a curious cat">

I'M AN INDOOR CAT AND I DON'T BELONG OUTSIDE

I never knew cats could bring me to tears. 

My sweet boy, Ozzie

Had I been blessed with foresight, I may have never have adopted one.  But since my daughter begged for a pet, we found a cat at the Lexington Humane Society, unaware of what the future would bring.   

Ollie was a smart cat.  He could obey commands like sit, stay, and come here.  He did however, have a peculiar habit.  Ollie insisted on scooping kibbles from his dish to the tray before eating them, which was quirky as well as noisy.  Sadly, Ollie only lived to be eight-years old.  He hid his illness well as most cats do.  When his symptoms began to show, it was too late to do much for him.  We tried to enrich his diet and to give him sub-cutaneous fluids, but nothing seemed to work.  Ollie was wasting away—not eating, not able to clean himself, not being able to make it to the litter box.  It was agonizing to see him struggle so much.  

Then after bringing him to veterinarian to administer fluids (we were not that successful at home), I learned that his condition would only worsen.  He could develop seizures.  So, it was time to make the painful decision to put Ollie to sleep.  I sat sat in the waiting room sobbing, my tears flowing like a fountain.  When the vet returned, I received Ollie's body wrapped in a clean white cloth.  I swore I'd never go through this heartbreak again.  

After three months, I missed having a cat in the house and consequently, I went back at the animal shelter.  Companionship outweighed the risk of heartache.  And the minute I saw Ozzie's eyes (one is amber and the other is green), I knew this was the cat for me.  

Ozzie is a good ol' boy.  The sweetest, loving cat.  A talker.  Ask him anything and he'll speak right up.  You want food?  He answers with a meh, meaning yes.  You want to go upstairs?  Meh.  You want to watch bird Youtube videos?  Meh.  Granted, his vocabulary is limited, but he'll speak up when spoken to.

As you can expect, he's as curious as any other cat.  If a cabinet is open, he'll climb inside.  If dinner is on the table, he'll hop up for a sniff.  If stray cat comes to our deck, he'll go to the door to have a look.  


Ozzie is not only curious, he's daring.  He'll slip outside if we have not completed closed a door.  He has darted out a few times, but we were able to catch him quickly.  But one time, he snuck out and the timing couldn't have been worse.  He took off to the great outdoors on the day we needed to pick friends up at the airport and go out for dinner.  

I was a nervous wreck. I envisioned him being run over by a car or getting into a fight with a stray cat.  I imagined him never finding his way back home.  My husband Jim and I had a few minutes to search for him in the neighborhood, but we didn't have any luck.  Our friend's flight would be arriving and we had to get going.  For my peace of mind, we kept the garage door up and the basement door open just in case he'd return.

During dinner, I had a hard time concentrating.  I fought back tears worrying about my sweet boy.  Daylight was fading.  Ozzie is an indoor cat.  He didn't have the skills to take care of himself in the wild.  Ever since we adopted him, we had always provided food and shelter.  

From the time we went to the airport, had dinner, and drove back home, Ozzie had been missing for four hours.  But when we pulled back into the garage, I caught a glimpse of something furry scurrying from the left side to the right side of the garage.  Ozzie!  Either he had been hiding in the garage the entire time, or he was close by and slipped inside the minute we pulled into the garage.  

Jim and I try to keep close tabs on Ozzie.  But no matter how careful we are, Ozzie could escape again, so there had to be a plan in place.  But we didn't know what we could do.  Then one evening, Jim and I took a walk in the neighborhood and discovered a lost puppy.  The dog wore tags that had his name, an address and contact number.  After making a phone call, we were able to unite him with his owner in less than ten minutes.

And that sparked the idea.  Though Ozzie is chipped and wears vaccination tags, he needed another tag with his name, an address, and a phone number.  It was easy enough to find tags online that could be personalized.  I found a cute one that had room for a name and a phone number (which we put on the front) and space for four lines of text on the back.  Neighbors would be able to learn his home address and give us a call.  They would see he's an indoor cat—and that he doesn't belong outside. 

We'd like to think that Ozzie is happy.  He could however, be bored being in inside.  To that I would say, "Sorry, my sweet boy.  Being inside keeps you safe."  But he wasn't born with good sense and one certainly can't reason with him.  When a door is ajar, it's an open invitation.  He just can't help himself.  Off he goes.  There are so many sights and smells to experience.  He'll take off regardless how it makes me feel.  I know, I know, he's a cat.  He's certainly not considering my feelings.  Still, I wish he had an inkling that his curiosity has the power to bring me to tears.     

Bonne année à tous!