Tiny Dancers

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My rescue dog – Dexter The Elderbull – is finally here!  Earlier this week my brother drove with me to Hamilton to pick him up from his foster family.  The drive home was relatively smooth, though Dexter did try to jump into the passenger seat to eat my brother’s Tim Horton’s donut, but really, who can blame him for that?

Many people have asked me why I adopted an elderly dog – Dexter is a twelve year old Pit-Bull.  What I usually tell people is that elderly dogs have a difficult time getting adopted and they deserve a loving retirement home.  And that’s the truth.  And I’ve always wanted to adopt an elderly dog, that’s also the truth.  But here’s the other truth: with my type of cancer – Peritoneal Mesothelioma – a “long-term survival rate” is considered five years.  I was diagnosed and treated in November 2014.  So far my scans have been good, though that doesn’t mean as much as it does with other cancers.  Often patients with Mesothelioma have regular “clear scans,” then start feeling sick, then get exploratory surgery, only to find out that there are Tiny Cancer Dancers doing The Hustle in their abdomen.  So, my thinking was: “I will adopt an elderly dog and hopefully he or she will die before I do.”  But of course that’s not exactly the kind of thing you say casually to someone at the park, no one wants to hear that.

There was also my partner to consider.  After my dog Leroy’s death in March, my partner didn’t really want to get another dog.  His primary concern was that I would die, he would be devastated and he wouldn’t be able to or want to take care of my dog.  Again, that’s not something that I usually tell people, (other than my family & friends), because I have no interest in making people feel uncomfortable.

Though I am often prone to getting carried away with theatricality, sparkle infused dreaming and wishful thinking, when it comes to my cancer and the strong probability of dying young (ish), I am very pragmatic.  I wanted a dog and I found a creative solution.  One Elderly Dog + One Mesothelioma Patient who naps like a toddler = the perfect joyful solution!

Editor’s Note:  A special thank you to the friends and family who have volunteered to take care of Dexter if ever we need the help.  xo

Doll Hoarder

While in the hospital for two months I had very little control over my day-to-day life. I couldn’t walk, I had to poop into a bag and I was dependant on nurses to drain my urine.  I had to find ways to make myself feel like I still had some shred of control over my life and that I wasn’t completely helpless.  So, I became a “pill hoarder,” or, if you prefer, a “doll hoarder” (“Valley of the Dolls” is one of my favorite movies – not sure what that says about me).

Like any skill, pill hoarding requires practice.  Since I was trapped in bed for so long I had lots of time to perfect my craft.  But first, I should mention that I also had my own personal stash of pills with me in the hospital – technically  I wasn’t allowed to, but it’s not like anyone checks your bag.  I had Xanax tucked away in my toiletry bag, under my facial wipes, hand cream and tinted lip balms.  I had been given the prescription by my Doctor to help with the epic panic attacks that began a few months before my diagnosis.  I’m actually very grateful to those panic attacks (I still occasionally have them).  The attacks served as a huge Red Flag Warning: “Something is f-ing wrong with your health!  Don’t stop harassing your doctors until you get to the bottom of this!” is what my “I can’t breathe” attacks were telling me.

Every night I was allowed two Ativan, (small dosage), but I had to take them both at the same time.  I assume that rule was in place so that a patient couldn’t hoard them and then take a whole bunch at once.  Ahem…The overnight nurse would always ask me “do you want one or two pills?”  Well of course I always said two – who turns down perfectly good drugs?  And thus would begin my nightly pill trickery.  Though I adored most of my nurses, I still played this game every night and I had a 75% success rate.  Being a Chatty Cathy I would engage them in conversation and then like a magician I would swallow only one Ativan and pocket the second one.  Later when the nurse was gone I would reach over to my toiletry bag and add the pill to my growing stash. I had no grand plans to take them all at once and overdose, I just liked knowing that I was well-stocked.  Of course there were a few hard-core nurses who knew all about my kind of crazy.  They engaged in no conversation and stood over me like drill sergeants, watching me with frown-y faces as I swallowed both pills.  Those nights of defeat were always hard.  Afterwards I would lie in bed, high from my pain killer drip and the two Ativan and try to come up with new tactics to outfox the frownies.

During this period of intense vulnerability, my pill hoarding gave me the strangest sense of hope.  With each pill I pocketed, I felt one step closer to getting out of the hospital and reclaiming my life.

 

Editor’s Note:  I do not condone pill trickery – please don’t copy my crazy ways!   I had amazing nurses & I am forever grateful to them!

**I wish I knew who created this fab glitter pill image, thx you!**

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Out & About with Ron

My stoma, Ron, is always busy spewing out everything that I eat and drink.  It is exhausting keeping up with him – staying hydrated and nourished is practically a full-time job.  Though Ron has resided with me on my tummy for a year and a half now, I am still not 100% comfortable bringing him out of the house.

Emptying Ron’s beige click-on bag in a public washroom is stressful.  First of all, I don’t like to be rushed and women’s bathrooms always have lineups.  It takes a few solid minutes to smoothly and cleanly empty the bag.  With ileostomies the “output” tends to be very liquid, so you have to line the toilet bowl with tissue, otherwise there will be a splashfest of gnarly!!  Then you have to make sure that the opening of the bag is perfectly clean before you roll and seal it back up, otherwise you risk burning your skin or ruining your clothes. (Been there, done that!).  Finally, there is the always humiliating scent.  Ron, like most stomas, could use a lesson or two on pretty fragrances, perhaps a little lavender or mint to go with that “output.”  The smell is shockingly hideous.  I have a toilet bowl spray called “Poo-Pourri” and though it does help, (if you spray twice the suggested amount), it is expensive and most people with stomas probably won’t have access to it.  So going to a new restaurant or to a dinner party at someone’s house, I am now always filled with dread, as I don’t want Ron to ruin the vibe or people’s appetite.

Then there’s how to dress to conceal a stoma bag!  Right before my cancer operation – when I got Ron – I had started wearing high waisted 70’s style jeans with fitted tops.  It was a good look on me and it made me feel attractive.  Now I have much more limited options.  My go-to outfit consists of skinny low-rise jeans (the jeans hit me under the bottom of the bag), a snug stretchy camisole to kind of “flatten down” the bag and a loose, longer top.  Thankfully I can pull off this look, but as someone who enjoys clothing I hate not having more options.  Plus, even when concealed, the bag can fill up quickly making you look lump-sided.  The other day I had lunch with my lovely cousin and by the end of eating I was tenderly holding Ron’s full bag – I was cradling it as if I was cradling a miniature alien baby!  Whether I was comfortable or not I was forced to empty Ron’s bag at the restaurant or risk having it explode.  No one can prepare you for the strangeness of having a stoma.  It is heartbreaking, lifesaving and funny all at once.

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Death in the land of Facebook

I am lucky enough to be a part of a private FB support group for those with Mesothelioma.  About 70% of the members have Pleural Meso, (lungs), 28% have Peritoneal, (abdomen, my type) and about 2% Peri-Cardial (heart).  There are close to two hundred of us, plus two medical professionals who operate & administer the group.

Thankfully, approx every month we get a new member.  I say thankfully because approx every month we also lose a member, so at least we are replenishing ourselves. One month this year we lost three people.  Pouf! Gone.  Leaving behind their dreams, their children, their spouses and families.  I’ve come to dread FB notifications, always fearing the worse.  One death, a couple of months ago, hit me especially hard.  He was a young man in his late thirties, married with two kids.  Like many other Meso patients, he had to travel a long distance to receive treatment.  Mesothelioma is a very rare form of cancer, there are only a handful of doctors who specialize in, let alone know anything about it.  Since he was going to be away from his family for treatment, we were invited to send him cards to cheer & strengthen his spirit.  I sent a lovely note, writing that I too had Peritoneal and had received the exact treatment he was about to receive.  I wrote him that I would be thinking of him and sending him strength and positive energy and that he was welcome to ask me any questions he might have.

It was radio silence for a long time after that and then….the dreaded FB notification: “I am sorry to report that we have lost another one…”  Nooooo!  He was dead.  Not only was he dead, but he suffered.  The treatment he received, the same one I had received, is called “Cytoreductive Surgery and HIPEC” – and it is fucking gruesome.  But, it is also an amazing invention.  It used to be that with a diagnosis of Peritoneal Mesothelioma you were screwed, usually dying within a year.  But with this treatment patients often gain a few additional years and sometimes even more.

Sadly this young man was not one of the lucky ones and I initially felt very guilty.  Guilty because although I have a partner, family & friends, I don’t have children.  And in some weird way I felt it would be more “just” for me to die and for him, a father, to be able to live long enough to see his children grow up.  Then, after the guilt passed, I started to get angry with “God.”

Hello God, are you listening?  Why can’t you just kill all the evil freakers out there and leave the good people alone?  People always say you – God – have a plan.  But I don’t think you do have a plan, or perhaps you are super disorganized and all of your plans have gotten mixed up and you are killing the wrong people.  Maybe you need a Personal Assistant God.  Someone who can keep all of your plans and paperwork and charts organized.  That way you can focus your energy on killing off all the horrible, bad people and saving the good people – like my nice Facebook friend who died, whose children are now fatherless.  

 I look forward to hearing back from you regarding my suggestion.  Take Care.  Sincerely, Mary Ellen 

Hospital-Chic

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I can now officially say that I have a sparkly brain!  On Wednesday I had my brain aneurysm “coiled” with platinum, so I’m feeling pretty swanky!  The surgery went smoothly for which I am very grateful.  I only had to spend one night at the hospital and I had the loveliest nurses.  But, my God almighty, I have never experienced headaches like that!  I spent the night riding waves of intense nausea mixed with the most brutal headaches.  They gave me morphine which helped the pain – a bit – but made the nausea worse.   And as with all my recent medical experiences, there was an absurd quality to it: the patient next to me had an odd, bedazzled female visitor who was blasting Celine Dion while performing a weird interpretive dance – in an ICU style recovery room – r u kidding me?!

The doctors wrote me a prescription for Percocet to help with my headaches, which are supposed to last for a few days.  For some reason I felt deep shame picking up the drugs – I felt like a low-life!  I was paranoid that I would become addicted and that I would end up like Nurse Jackie, doing anything to secure my next high.  Once home though, the drugs were a godsend and I spent most of the day in a loopy sleep dreaming of Iron Maiden – who were dressed like Wizards! – flying through the sky.

Editor’s Note:  A special thanks goes out to my cancer!  Had I not been in the hospital being treated for Mesothelioma – where I ended up with “Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome” after a bad reaction to the drug Haldol – I never would have had my brain scanned and my aneurysm would have gone untreated.  So thank you Mesothelioma!

Don’t Stepford Wife Me

 

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You know that expression that God only gives you as much as he thinks you can handle? Well, I think it’s a ridiculous expression.  But on the off chance that it’s true, then God must think I am one hardcore broad.  Because in addition to dealing with Mesothelioma, (special thanks to Asbestos for giving me this lovely cancer), I also have a Brain Aneurysm to deal with.  Fuckety Fuck Fuck.

On days when I am feeling “oh the glass is so very beautifully half full!” I feel extremely lucky that my brain aneurysm was found.  Most people don’t even know they have one and then one day they’re walking to the 7-Eleven and – pouf! – they die on the spot.  But my brain aneurysm was discovered while I was being treated for Peritoneal Mesothelioma.  I forget exactly why they were scanning my head – that whole time in the hospital is a bit of a blur – but they basically stumbled upon it.  When my Oncologist told me I was like “ok, whatever!” because I had more pressing issues at the time.  But now I’m worried.

On May 18th I  go back to the hospital – cue the scary music – to get my aneurysm “coiled.”  Basically the surgeon packs the aneurysm with platinum coils which prevents it from bursting.  Luckily they don’t have to open up my head lobotomy style – thank you Jesus!  Instead they weave a small catheter from my groin all the way up to my brain.  Is it just me, or does that seem like something that you would see on The X-Files?  I have decided to think of the platinum in my brain as an alternative engagement ring from my partner.  Instead of wearing platinum on my finger I am wearing it in my brain.

Intellectually I understand what the operation involves and I trust my amazing Neurologist.  But I also have an irrational fear that I will wake up from this operation a changed woman, that I will be turned into some weird Stepford Wife. I will go from a tchotke, sparkle loving collector, to a Plain Jane Minimalist.  Or worse, all the things that make me “me” – my many neuroses, my belief that I was a showtune singing Broadway star in a former life, my rule about never leaving the house without lipstick on – will vanish and I will become someone different.  I realize that it’s a ridiculous fear, but there is just something about messing around with my brain that freaks me out.  It feels like I am about to enter an old episode of The Twilight Zone.  Stay Tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

Love and Loss

Since my beloved dog Leroy died, the house has been painfully quiet. My partner is enjoying the calm, dog-free environment, but I am not. We have no children, so at night there is just the sound of music playing and laptops buzzing. No pitter-patter of paws, no head-butting, no fake sneezing, no barking, no “I wanna go on a walk” dance performance, no cuddling, no old-man snoring, no silky coat to be combed, no belly rubs, no licks on my face. I can’t live like this.

I want to adopt a dog now, but my partner wants to wait. He wants to wait a long, long time – as in he never wants to get another dog. He is worried that my cancer will start to metastasize, (Peritoneal Mesothelioma), that I will die and that he will be left devastated and having to take care of the dog – something he is not sure he will be up to doing. Now, the thing is, I can’t promise him that all that won’t happen. Right now my cancer is stable, but unfortunately Peritoneal Mesothelioma is rare and aggressive and without a cure. So yes, I could be dead in a couple of years, that’s entirely possible. What’s also possible is that I live for another five years or more. With this diagnosis the average life expectancy is 12 months. But, but for those lucky enough – like me – to be able to have Cytoreductive Surgery and HIPEC, (hot chemo poured in your abdomen), then the life expectancy increases to up to five years and beyond. There are even a few people in my private Facebook mesothelioma group who are ten years into living with their disease.

I don’t know how long I have until this cancer kills me. But I do know that having a dog allows me to experience pure joy and I think joy is the best medicine out there. If I’m being totally honest, I think I deserve that joy and I want it now. And yet, I have this amazing partner by my side. When I was in the hospital for two long months, he visited me every single day. He is not freaked out by my hideous ostomy bag and he is more than happy to continue having an intimate life with me despite my rather mangled looking tummy. He is protective of me and my immune system, buying bottles and bottles of vitamins and making sure I eat enough protein. He is in love with a woman who has a terminal illness – how fucking hard must that be?!! So, how do I reconcile my desire for a dog with my wanting to support my partner as he navigates the emotional war zone of living with cancerdame?

To Be Continued…

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