Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Spit for Genetic Counseling

The other day I met with a genetic counselor.  As I've mentioned previously, a cousin of mine informed me that she tested positive for the gene that is responsible for breast cancer.  She sent me her test results, and when I mentioned this to my dad, he immediately responded, "oh yeah, my aunt died of breast cancer."  Sigh.

My counselor turned out to be a nice lady with a pretty smile.  She explained that if I did have the breast cancer gene, that increased my risk of other cancers showing up, such as colon cancer. (Her comment made me remember that, since I'm now 50, a colonoscopy was likely as a health screen.  Because my brain just sort of zeroes in on these sorts of details.)   The nurse had me fill out a few forms regarding my health, and then she drew a chart. 

Squares were boys and circles were girls, and this was a family health tree.  On it were indicated such things as who died of what disorder, and which family members had had which sort of cancers or other diseases.  The counselor explained about genes and chromosomes, using some lovely color pictures.  I'd been through the biology class lecture before, but a refresher never hurts. 

Next came the test.  I expected that there would be blood.  Genetic testing involves genes and chromosomes, and that's not something that you can just phone in.  So when the genetic counselor came in with a box, I was confused. 

"No blood?"  I asked. 

"No blood," she replied.  Instead, she pulled out a small graduated cylinder with a lid and a bottle of mouthwash.  She explained that I would need to spit.  In fact, I would need to fill up the graduated cylinder with spit.  Spit and mouthwash.   She opened the mouthwash for me, since my fingers limited my ability to do it myself.  Then she left the room, because who likes to watch a person spit into a cup?  

I poured some mouthwash in the little cup provided, and sat it on the table.  I stared at it a few minutes.  Truth be told, I would have rather given them a vial of blood.  I'm not a big spitter.  When other kids were having those spit for distance contests, I was elsewhere, because I was grossed out.  Spit, and snot, just give me the flaming heebie-jeebies.  Those two particular bodily fluids just make me cringe in horror, my stomach ready to rebel.  My tolerance has improved over time, but I still don't like spitting.  Now I was being asked to spit for science, so that I could find out some answers.  Could I do it? 

I thought that maybe could.

I threw that first mouthwash shot back like it was tequila.  Then I swished it around as long as I could stand it, and spit it out into that graduated cylinder.  I repeated the exercise, again.  Then again.  Then again.  Geez, I thought.  Will this stupid cylinder EVER fill up?   I was reaching a critical mass of yuckitude, but finally the container was full.  I was never so grateful to put the lid on a specimen cup!  I sat back in my chair and had a moment to regain my equilibrium.  Then I called to the genetic counselor, who came back into the room and labeled everything and put my spit cup into a box to be sent to a lab for analysis.  The results should be back in a week or two, she said. 

I was proud of myself, but if I don't have to spit into a cup again, anytime soon, I won't be upset. Not at all. 


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An Update of Random

Since I've lost fingernails and toenails, I've had to cover those appendages with band aids.  Lots and lots of band aids.  I should have bought stock in the company, I've used so many band aids.  It takes me about 20 minutes every morning just to get all the band aids on, because do you know how hard it is to get band aids on when you already have band aids on?  And those things stick together, so that you sometimes have to just give up and start over.   It's been a trial for me, with my normal klutziness exacerbated by what they call neuropathy.  My fingertips are numb, in other words.  Why the medical people don't just speak plain English is sometimes beyond me.

Typing has been a bit, well...not impossible, but certainly more difficult, with band aids.  You really can't use a touch screen with your fingers bandaged up, for example. The computer does not recognize that you have band aids on, and just ignores you. And with band aids, you often hit the wrong key when typing; and then hit it again when you are trying to correct it.  I'm very slow at texting too, and thank goodness my friends have been patient--it's a good five minutes for me to type out "BRB" with my pinky! 

I have three more treatments to go, but they changed up my routine due to the side effects.  So today, all I was supposed to do was what they call a CBC.  This is code for "generic test of the blood"; so now, when you're watching a medical show, and they scream out that they need a "CBC, stat!", you will be ahead of the game.  They also weighed me and took my blood pressure, which was 119/74.  I haven't had a blood pressure reading that good since I was a teenager.  Maybe not even then.  Cancer might be the cure for high blood pressure.  I still don't recommend it. 

I didn't have any issues with the mediport this time(Yay!), and I waited for the results thinking that I could probably meet my mom for lunch at Denny's.  Say what you will about Denny's:  I love that place.  They have lots of food that I, as a person with chemo sores in her mouth and throat, can eat without grinding pain.  I lost five pounds in a week just because I can't eat much besides soup and eggs. Even bread is too rough! The nurses actually yelled at me for losing too much.  I pointed out that I likely have enough reserve fat to live comfortably for at least a month without food, but they still yelled.  That's why I have now been drinking lots of those Ensure shakes in addition to the soups and eggs.

Fruits and veggies are just too acidic for my throat right now, which has been frustrating for me.  Zane and his grandfather planted a garden, and the tomatoes went completely nuts with all the rain.  I have these huge, gorgeous tomatoes that I can stare at fondly, but I can't eat.   Summer is when gazpacho is a big hit, and I normally would be eating huge vats of the stuff right now, but I can't.  At least the will is there to eat.  I'll call that a win, while I dream of the day when I can actually eat all the food all the time.  What a great day that will be.    

Do you have any idea what the blood types of your children are?  I know that I'm one of those universal donors, but I don't remember my son's.  Or my husband's, for that matter.  I started to feel bad about that, but then I remembered that I have cancer and I don't need to worry about something like blood type right now.  Another good thing about having cancer is that you start to give yourself a pass on being a super mom.  Yes, I actually used to feel guilty that my kid didn't have the mom who makes the decorated cookies for the classroom "just because", or the mom who sews the wonderful costumes for the Spring Jamboree.  Cancer has done away with my Momguilt, at least for now.  I've learned to just do the best that I can, even if that just  means getting out of bed. 

Okay, time to give the fingertips a rest. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Some Things Cannot Be Unseen

It was just a routine Tuesday at the oncologist.  Larry and I headed back to the chemo lab and sat in two of the empty chairs.  Across from me was a new patient, an older woman.  I checked her out while I was waiting for them to get my mediport ready for chemo.

White haired, I placed her age as late seventies. She was wearing a housecoat, the kind that was popular at one point in the seventies, white with little flowers on it and the snaps running up the front.  It gave me pause to see that housecoat, since I equate such outfits with jammies or other things that you wear around the house but never in public.  Most of the people we'd seen at chemo were dressed in their every day clothes.  I myself usually wear loose fitting pants with a V-necked shirt for easy access to the mediport.   No fuss, but certainly not jammies.

So the housecoat stood out, but the lady was otherwise unremarkable as she sat there sound asleep, a blanket covering her upper body.  She snored a little, but that's pretty common in the chemo lab, too. Because I like to create stories in my head, I hypothesized that this lovely woman likely lived in assisted living, and the facility had brought her over.  Then the nurse got busy inserting the needle into my mediport and I had to focus on that.

Not because it hurts.  They have this wonderful numbing spray that anesthetizes the area around the mediport, so when the needle breaks the skin, all you feel is a little pressure.  And not because of my historically obnoxious needle phobia, either.   No, I had to focus because when they start to pull blood into the tube...sometimes nothing comes out.  That freaks me out a bit, and I have to focus on not completely losing what tiny bit of sanity that I have left.  There's a perfectly logical explanation for the lack of blood, and that is because the needle did not go where it was supposed to.  I know this, but I still freak out when it happens. Larry is no help, because his needle phobia is worse than mine. By the time I was hooked up and had the IV running, the lady across from me was awake.  I smiled at her, and she smiled back. 

And then she decided that she wanted to recline.  She pushed and pushed and pushed, but like most of us, her strength was limited. Larry and I watched; it would be a violation of chemo etiquette to offer unrequested help.  Finally, one of the nurses came over and helped recline the chair, and everything got quiet again.  Larry started answering emails on his phone, and I got a magazine from the table next to my chair.  Before I started to read I looked up at the newcomer.  She was directly across from me, her feet up, her legs slightly spread.  Right at my eye level.

It was a bad day for me to be a short woman. 

The housecoat was apparently all this lady was wearing for her chemo appointment. It took a moment for my brain to fully comprehend the horror that was right in front of me. This elderly lady, who looked like a stereotypical grandma, wasn't wearing underpants!  My eyes protested vociferously this visual invasion.  It was all I could do not to throw my hands up over my face and scream. I got flashed by Grandma. 

My first instinct was to grab my husband's arm and share my torment, but I managed to smother that thought with a coughing fit.

"You okay?"  Larry asked.  I merely nodded, my eyes watering.  He didn't need to share in my pain.

I decided the better course of action would be to pretend that I saw not a thing. Deep breaths, I told myself.  Take deep breaths, and try to forget.  That's it... Just shove that retina-burning image right down there in the dark with that one night in Nuevo Laredo when I did drink the water.   I  buried my face in an old magazine, until I calmed down.

I do not think that this woman was showing off her hooha on purpose; I just happened to be looking in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It was an unhappy accident, at least for me.  She did speak to me later.  I was polite, and we traded medical information regarding our cancers, just like I have done with all the other patients.  When I see her next time, I'll pretend that it never happened. 

But some things just cannot be unseen.