Pamper Yourself

Pamper Yourself

This holiday/birthday weekend was a true joy for me.  We went away for a few days in the hopes of cross-country skiing but alas, there was not enough snow on the ground.  However, when we checked into the hotel and I inquired about a refund on the ski tickets, the lady behind the counter quickly produced a spa brochure (I’m sure she’d already done this many times already due to the lack of snow).  Although this gesture was meant as a way for the hotel to keep its money, for me, it was something totally different.  I had just learned that my latest bloodwork shows that I’m responding well to chemo (my CA125 is currently below 30 which is considered “normal” for most women).  The idea of a spa treatment meant that maybe, for a little while, I could forget that I am a cancer patient.  And this totally intrigued me.

As I poured over the brochure looking for something that wouldn’t be too invasive (I don’t care for deep tissue massage) or make my skin sensitive (I had the full “Taxol glow” after my latest chemo treatment), I found a Hot Stone Body Treatment and a Foot Soaker with Reflexology.  My sweetie called the front desk to inquire where the spa was located and I quickly made my way to speak with the staff in person.  Looking at me, it’s easy to see that I have cancer due to the scarf on my head.  I believe in total disclosure so I explained where I was in treatment and if they do any treatments on cancer patients.  I was informed that they do but some treatments are not recommended due to some can spur tumor growth.  I asked if the hot body stone treatment fell into this and I was assured that the massage therapist would research it and let me know.  I made my appointments for the next day and practically skipped back to the room in anticipation of receiving some pampering in the very-near-future.

The next morning, I showed up a few minutes early, filled out the health form, and chatted at length with the lead massage therapist.  She told me that she is not an oncology massage therapist but has worked quite a bit with hospice patients and stage 4 cancer patients.  I told her about my treatments, my ports, my CA125,  that I have no neuropathy or nausea, etc.  I laid it all out there and let her know that if she wasn’t comfortable doing the treatment, we could find another treatment that she was more comfortable with.   Interestingly enough, the conversation went the other way –  I learned from her research that hot stones can actually help some cancer patients spur the white blood cell count which is very beneficial (of course, this is not a guarantee).  After our chat, she felt comfortable doing the hot stone body treatment with a few alterations.  Due to my ports and multiple incisions, we agreed to focus on arms, legs, shoulders, and back.  In addition, she took the temperature down a bit on the stones.

I had the foot soaker treatment – a wonderful 30-minute treatment of warm water, aroma therapy, hot stones, massage, and Reflexology followed by an hour-long hot stone body treatment.  The long strokes of super-gentle massage on me was very therapeutic.  I can honestly say that I forgot about my chemo, my cancer, and my ports for a while and that was the best gift I could have given myself.  I highly recommend it – be open and honest about your health history and get pampered.  It’s SOOOOOO worth it.

Attitude really IS everything

These days when someone approaches me to ask how I’m doing, I always hear, “Your attitude is amazing.”  This is great to hear but it makes me wonder what other people’s attitudes are.  I am an honest person and will admit to fatigue but I’m happy about life and I’m happy to be back at work.  Since my diagnosis, I have taken the approach that I’m going to beat this dreaded disease. I’ve never wavered from this.  I tend to keep negative people and negative energy away from me so perhaps I’m in my own little naive world.  Or perhaps I come from a reality-driven world thanks to the incredibly strong women in my family.  Let’s back up a bit….

All the women on both sides of my family have battled breast cancer (most have had to do it twice) and won.  I have seen this for all of my adult life and I honestly don’t remember a time growing up where one of my grandmother’s didn’t manage to squeeze her breast cancer (pun intended!) into every conversation. She also managed to plan her death from the first time she was diagnosed and often spoke of that as well.   She was a 2-time 26-year breast cancer survivor so she was cancer-free during these conversations and although the conversations were a bit morbid, she taught me that it’s o.k. for women to know what cancer is and her 26-year survival example showed me that it wasn’t a death sentence even though she planned for it on a regular basis.  Although it probably tired most folks out hearing her talk about her breast cancer and subsequent recoveries, what she did for me was empower me.  Her own mother likely passed away from “a woman’s cancer” although it wasn’t talked about way-back-when.  My grandmother changed that by going COMPLETELY the other way but I’m o.k. with that.  The door of communication was open.  WIDE OPEN.

Because of my grandmother’s breast cancer and her daughter’s as well (my aunt), several members of that side of the family have been tested for the BRCA mutation.  Several of them have it and by deduction, my grandmother had it as well although I don’t know that she was ever tested.  We are able to trace it back a few generations due to the extension of the same mutation in the family.   Again, armed with the knowledge that there’s a mutation in the family, I was not afraid to be tested as well.  Because of my grandmother, I knew that for myself it would be better to know as much as possible.   I was never afraid of the results because I knew deep in my gut that I had it, too.

I learned in 2006 that I carry a BRCA1 mutation so ever since then, I’ve been screened every six months for breast cancer (mammograms and breast MRIs).  After my last mammogram this past July, I was chatting with my breast oncology nurse practitioner and she looked me in the eye and said, “I can monitor your breasts.  What concerns me is your ovaries.  Oftentimes, ovarian cancer can start in the fallopian tubes and that just doesn’t show up on ultrasound.”  This was an “ah-ha” moment for me.  I got a referral from my family doctor to see the gynecologic oncologist and I met with her about the possibility of removing the ovaries and tubes as a preventative measure because of the BRCA1 mutation.  One week later I woke up from surgery and she told me that I have ovarian cancer (I had no symptoms).  Had I not known I had the genetics for this and been vigilant about the breast exams for the last several years, I would not have had the nurse telling me that my ovaries concerned her.   I would still not know that I have ovarian cancer and by the time I did find out, my prognosis might not be as good as it is now.  This all leads back to my grandmother’s continuous babble about her own breast cancer. (In the end, it was ovarian cancer that took her life.)  At least she opened that door of communication for me and I’ll always be grateful to her for it.

The other side of the family has breast cancer as well but it’s not likely that there’s a mutation and no one has been tested.  The women are strong souls and all have beaten breast cancer.   With all the cancer in my family, I have never once heard, “Poor me” or “Why me?”  It’s certainly possible that all the women have uttered these words at some point but if they did, it was behind closed doors and it didn’t last long.  All the women in my family are strong women with strong personalities (both a blessing and a curse, I’m sure) who aren’t going to let a cancer diagnosis mess up their plans for long.  Which brings me back to the original topic:  Attitude is everything.

Last week, I was texting with my BFSB (Best Friend Since Birth) and I mentioned to her about people continually mentioning my positive attitude.  She wrote back that some people are probably still curled up and having pity parties while I’m not doing that.  This was an eye-opener for me.  I wrote back, “The women in my family don’t have pity parties.  They have the suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it parties.”  Honestly, that is such a true statement.  This is what I have always seen and I know no other way to handle a cancer diagnosis.  I will always be grateful to all the women in my family for showing me grace and strength while dealing with whatever life throws at them.

I will stay positive because I’m not ready to die.  While it’s true that I have all my legal stuff in order, I do not dwell on it.  I take comfort in knowing that my wishes are on paper and that frees up my energy to fight this disease.  Remaining positive also gives me energy to fight.  If I don’t stay positive, I might as well give up.  In my family, that is just not an option.  If I have anything to say about it, it never will be an option.

If you have less than 10 items, stay out of the regular checkout line

There will be teenagers rummaging around the house this weekend and heaven forbid, even if the fridge is stocked to capacity, someone will inevitably say, “There’s NOTHING to eat!” Therefore, I donned one of my new stylish scarves to cover my shaved head and went to the grocery store this afternoon with my sweetie to pick up some items that should garner approval – frozen snacks guaranteed to be filled with some sort of toxic waste but super-tasty nonetheless, an assortment of juices (we’re not much on sodas), and ingredients to make a chocolate cake which was requested by one of the teenagers (mine, of course).

We went to the shortest line – even though it was a “regular” line – and the cashier was nearly done checking out the person in front of us. His progress slowed because apparently he cannot multi-task. He can check groceries OR talk but dare not do both at the same time. So, he made up for lost time and rambled on and on and on with the lady in front of us. She was more than ready to go but he was also trying to bag her groceries. Again, only one thing at a time. He commented on the colors of her reusable bags (purple, green, and blue). He put a couple of items in and chatted some more. This went on for a few minutes. The woman was so ready to go that as soon as the groceries were loaded she tried to take off. He called her back. “Ma’am, you need to sign for the credit card you swiped.” She returned and mumbled about being so distracted and needing to leave while she signed her name. She hastily grabbed her receipt and left.

We are next with our items and Teenage-Boy-Who’s-Never-Going-To-Be-Employee-of-the-Month looks at my scarf and says to me in a condescending tone, “What, was the express lane too busy?” Since I am not alone and don’t wish to embarrass my sweetie, I show remarkable restraint when I look at him and merely say, “It was the shortest line when we got here.” He scans our stuff and my blood pressure quickly rises because his comment offended me. No one has ever said that I had too few items to be in line. Since he’d looked at my scarf before commenting, I wonder if I’m experiencing some sort of shaved-head discrimination or perhaps it was reverse discrimination for not having a boatload of items. Who knows what motivated Teenage Boy to say such a thing? I look at my sweetie and repeat what Teenage Boy said. My sweetie looks at Teenage Boy with big corks in his pierced ears and said, “Dude. We chose the shortest line.” Teenage Boy said, “Why would you come here when people have big orders?” My 6′ tall sweetie said, “You were nearly done when we got here. It’s not the orders that made your line slow down. And where’s the sign that says we need to have 16 items or more?” Much-shorter Teenage Boy looked at my sweetie and decided to direct his eye contact towards me (my height was less intimidating) so I said to him, “I’ve never had anyone comment on having a few items and be made to feel that I need to leave.” He stammered and said, “I didn’t ask you to leave” as he turned 5 shades of purple. It was a joy to watch the color changes on his face because the gentleman behind us was watching this whole scene with just the slightest hint of a smile on his face.

Perhaps it’s because I’m old enough to be this kid’s mom (so I know better) or because of the cancer in me – or both – but I feel that all people should be treated with some sort of positive respect. Teenage Boy is in a customer service position and he needs a filter – the lady in front of me couldn’t get away fast enough because of his chatter and he should have thought about commenting on the number of my items with such a nasty tone. Neither one of us was treated with respect. It’s not just his age that got him in trouble. It’s a sad state when we have 9% unemployment (here in my area the unemployment is just over 7%) and there’s still a lack of management presence ensuring that customer service is being taught in most entry-level customer service positions.

%d bloggers like this: