Deep roots

Funny how life doesn’t stop with a cancer diagnosis, especially when you’ve got a kid. I spent my weekend running around like crazy to various kid events, and even got a chance to look around the inside of my hopeful, prospective new house. These pictures from the weekend tell the tale better than I could! My sister-in-law was in town for a visit. Interspersed in this happy and life-affirming weekend was talk of cancer, what I’m going to do about it, how I feel.

Stage 1 feels like normal. It feels ironic that in a few weeks I’ll be sitting in a chair all day with a needle in my arm, killing all my B-cells. At the same time, it isn’t ironic at all. I’m lucky that we found it now, lucky someone thought to stare down my throat and kill the cells before they massed so much they harmed me.

So despite this, I go on planning for the future: Halloween (my costume’s made, see if you can spot it); the house I want to live in; my daughter’s school year. I’m staring ahead into long years and growing more and more roots. I’ll take care of the root-rot and keep on living, just like a tree.


No surgery for me!

I never thought I’d be celebrating the year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis with more cancer, but c’est la vie, right?

Today’s visit with the surgeon revealed that he thinks my cancer is still too “negligible” for surgery. He said that the prognosis for treating the cancer by other means is still too good to do anything life-altering like snip out a section of my duodenum. I quite agree with him. I still don’t know the next step (pending a visit to the oncologist), but it’ll be chemical, no doubt.

The actual purpose of this post is to shout out to a constant and faithful friend. I bought Cancer Pig (a Boynton plushie from Barnes & Noble) a year ago, shortly after my diagnosis. In the past year, Cancer Pig has been with me to every single doctor’s visit, chemotherapy treatment, endoscopy … bone marrow extraction … CT scan … MRI … since, and I’ve always relied upon Cancer Pig to get me through moments it was just not possible to ask another human to go through with me. Cancer Pig’s goofy pink face has always been a reminder that life is worth laughing about.

Illustrative story: My doctor was five hours late for my bone marrow extraction. I’d been fasting since the previous day, my blood sugar was dangerously low, and I was GRUMPY. When the doctor finally came to meet me, I forced him to shake Cancer Pig’s hand. He gave me this appalled look, but finally did it with a reluctant smile. In small ways, Cancer Pig helped me take back some power when I was feeling powerless, and laugh about it.

And that’s why I decided to dedicate my Halloween outfit this year to Cancer Pig (I’m wearing a kigurumi based on the iOS game Wacky Pigs, but it looks pretty similar). Here’s looking at you, transitional object! Thanks for sticking by me (not that you had a choice) through thick and thin.

Doodles, depression, dealing with it

“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”

Ever since hearing the news that my cancer never actually went away, I’ve done some hard thinking. Obviously the first question that I asked was, “Wait, you said it was in remission, why’s it back?” Well, turns out that my cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) grows so slowly that the chemotherapy medication Rituxen (Rituximab) doesn’t cure the cancer so much as only kill the growing cells. Therefore, anything dormant remained in my body until it lazily woke up and decided to grow again.

“Have a RAPTORous Halloween!”

The first time around I thought, “So, I have cancer, but if I put my body through a lot of terrible stuff I can exterminate it and it’ll be gone.” This gave me a lot of hope, and a very positive outlook. I felt like I had Cancer Lite ™! Then it came back, and my first-time-around innocence was wrecked by the fact that yep, I actually have cancer, it’s persistent and virulent, and it’s probably not going away easily.

When I realized that my cancer might never be fully treated by chemotherapy, and that it might return often, I got quite depressed! The depression didn’t lift until I got some good news on Tuesday, that the cancer might still be around, but it was once again in a small area, and we caught it before it got to the rest of my lymph system.

We’re trying to figure out a different treatment for this stubborn spot of cancer. Maybe it will be surgery (I’ll have a surgical evaluation next Tuesday). Maybe it will be a different set of chemotherapy drugs. What helps is knowing that even though it’s an enormous drag to have it back, it’s still something that can be dealt with.

I am incredibly lucky when it comes to depression. I don’t have any sort of clinical depression, so when I get depressed, it’s usually for a very good reason. The second it felt like my issue wasn’t life-threatening, my good mood returned. I focused on all the bad stuff that was NOT happening to me, and upon the fact that even if this is a life-long illness, at least it isn’t a DEATHLY illness, and shit happens to us all.

I filled my schedule with a lot of things (corn mazes and Disney and concerts and all kinds of stuff), and I also drew a lot. Creating ridiculous doodles is my reaction to stress, so I made some elaborate Halloween postcards. I made sure I was having fun! I tried to keep in mind this very important fact:

Enjoying life is the way to really live it!

Next step, surgical evaluation. I’ll keep people posted.

Autumn on the inside

I’m still waiting. Nothing to do but wait for a few days, until I get more testing done and figure out my treatment. I’m not the most patient person in the world, so distractions are totally necessary! Lucky for me, it’s my favorite month…

It’s beautiful outside. Not crisp or cool, but not as hot as summer. This past weekend my kid and I took to the outdoors and enjoyed autumn. We went to a local corn maze and got lost in the corn, and then took home a bunch of pumpkins. We’ve also celebrated the season by orangifying, fingernails and shoelaces and outfits. We are slowly turning orange even if the trees aren’t.

Drawing La Calavera for remembrance

October is my favorite month, and always has been, but it might just spill over into November this year. My kid is in an elementary school program that focuses on Spanish. Because of this we take the time to read up on Spanish-speaking cultures, and it was the perfect time of year for us to learn about Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

These are first and foremost happy days (there are two!) rather than sad. According to legend, the dead cannot return along a path made slippery from tears. On November 1st and 2nd, all kinds of traditions collide and become a Mexico-wide celebration of those who are gone.

The traditions come from a merging of celebrations of the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl (the lady of the dead) with Catholic traditions of All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day. These days are marked by celebrations in which the dead are remembered in a loving and light-hearted way, and certain foods are cooked (including pan de muerto, sweet bread made to look like skulls), graves are cleaned and decorated, and much merriment is made.

I drew my own too

One famous bit of iconography from the day is La Calavera, the skull. It is made into art, and into the form of sugar candy or chocolate that is put on altars to feed the dead (who apparently have a sweet tooth, which explains Halloween). These sugar skulls also given to the living as a reminder to suck the sweetness out of life. These skulls are not scary or sad, in fact, they are decorated with symbols of rebirth — orange/yellow marigolds, vines, and bright colors.

In honor of these days, my kid and I decided that we wanted to make a few of our own Calaveras on blank post cards that we can send to people this month. This is what we did!

Heh, for my kid to follow

— Strathmore Kids Post Cards
— Pencil and eraser for penciling in our designs
— Gel pens and colored pencils
Google search for “Calaveras” for good examples of the colors and design motifs.

I sketched out some instructions based upon studying various websites with pictures of Candy Skulls, so that my kid had something to follow. I think she did a great job!

My kid made a candy skull drawing :D

The important parts are keeping the skull simple but happy, because Dia de los Muertos is a time of happy reunion of the dead with the living, and using the motifs of orange marigolds, vines, and flourishes. I was inspired and drew a few too! So in honor of remembering those that are gone, and in honor of the life we have right now, happy Dia de los Muertos (early).