Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gentlemen Prefer Cancer Patients

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I've been going out and about without my fright wig. God, I am sick of that hideous itchy old thing. But as you might imagine, baring my baldish pate in public has provoked the expected reactions amongst the populace.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I counted seven (7!!) random people who approached me for no particular reason to kindly inquire about my well-being.

"How're you doing today!" chirped the front door greeter who has studiously ignored me for the past seven years. "You doing all right?"

"Good morning!" said the guy in the produce department who has never given me a second glance, or possibly even a first glance, during his entire tenure in the grocery stocking business. "You okay today? Can I help you find anything?"

"How are you?" asked the normally hostile checker in that hushed, reverent, solicitous voice often used to convey an excessive degree of compassion and concern to occupants of the deathbed.

My first reaction was, Well shit. I would have tossed that damn wig a long time ago if I'd known people were going to be this kind to me. All the wig ever did was make me invisible. Without it, I'm suddenly the belle of all earthly solicitude.

But then I started to consider other possibilities. Yeah, it could be that everybody was suddenly making such a fuss over me because they believed I was about to keel over dead from cancer any second now. But then again perhaps the store manager had instituted a new hyper-friendliness policy that had just gone into effect. Or maybe they all thought I was a rabidly violent radical lesbian militant nazi skinhead who needed to be carefully handled with kid gloves lest I suddenly open fire with the Glock .380 I no doubt had concealed in my AA brassiere.

Or, I couldn't help but wonder, maybe, just maybe, could this be the way people always treat blondes? Well, wooo fucking hoo, then. Bring it on!

My new life as a ravishing hot sultry blonde

Monday, February 26, 2007

Inaccessible Island Dreams

You know what? I'm no longer sad about selling my house. I have loved this rambling old behemoth with all my heart, and really enjoyed living here. But now I'm ready to simplify, to scale down. I'm looking forward to settling into some place that's cheerfully cozy and blessedly low-maintenance. Plus, a recent appraisal indicated that I may be able to sell this house for considerably more than I'd originally anticipated, which might allow me to pay off all my bills and still live in modest comfort.

So while I'm waiting for somebody to come along and love the house enough to hurl their bodies at it in a wild frenzy of hot passion and cold currency, I'm dreaming and planning what to do next. Everything is still tentative of course, and my plans will remain floating in the air like a helium balloon until I see what I can get for the house and how much my debts will ultimately add up to. But before I decide what to do and where to live for the long run (or until future scans indicate a shorter run), I'd like to travel a bit and have me some big fat fun adventures.

Here's a sneak preview of some likely stops on my L'chaim! 2007 tour itinerary.

First, I'm planning to spend some time this spring living in this charming little beach cottage in Florida, which is owned by a longtime blog reader who generously offered to let me stay there:

The cottage is located on an undeveloped barrier island with a state park and miles of beautiful unspoiled beaches. The island is car-free and only accessible by boat:

I grew up on a beach in Florida, and something in my soul is longing to go back home, without actually going back home, if you know what I mean. The beach where I grew up is unrecognizable now, blotted out by thousands of bustling new hotels, condos, tourist traps, and housing developments. But whenever I need to heal, mentally and physically, what I long for most is to spend many unstructured hours of solitude by the ocean, walking and running on the beach at dawn and at dusk, hunting for shark's teeth and shells, watching birds and crabs and lightning storms, building sand castles with turrets and moats. A return to the good simple undemanding life of my childhood. So, that's what I'm going to do. Soon. (Thanks, L.!)

After the Florida island, I'm hoping to spend the summer on another island. This time I'll be living in this treehouse:

The treehouse is located on an exquisitely beautiful island in the Pacific Northwest, which is accessible by ferry:

The treehouse, which is two stories plus a sleeping loft and has many majestic windows offering a fine view straight up Mother Nature's skirt, is part of a compound belonging to some old, old, very old friends of mine. Why, these friends are so very very old, they have long white beards and are listed in the Guiness Book of the World's Most Ancient Doddering People!

Haha, no, just kidding. They're only "old" friends in the sense that I knew them way back before they or I had any sense, back when even our children were young starry-eyed idealists.

Very very old friend cleverly disguised as a ripe strawberry, 1990.

Anyway, they built themselves a fabulous house on this island a while back, and finished raising their kids there. I haven't seen them in maybe 15 years and for all I know the years have turned my ancient friends into slobbering lunatic right wing axe murderers. But hey! That's part of the adventure, isn't it, taking a few wild kicky risks? For all they know, I'm the damn Unabomber, yet they've invited me to stay for as long as I like.

All I know is, back in the day these crazy fools used to regularly make me laugh so hard, often at the most gallingly inappropriate moments, that I popped arteries and peed my pants and made loud snargling nose noises that frightened horses and small children. And surely that right there is the big red arrow pointing to The Quickest Road Back To Excellent Health. And I plan to follow it.

So stay tuned as the hair sprouts, the Saturn hums, and the plot thickens. Stick with the blog, dear readers, and these harrowing hair-raising island adventures can be yours as well!

Punk flamingos, a long-ago gift from the ancient snargling nose noise island people.

Hair Today

Again with the Monday morning hair watch. As we can see, progress in painfully slow.

Three weeks ago

Last week

Today, top & side

Today in the back

Astute viewers utilizing powerful magnifying devices may notice a slight change in length: the new tresses seem to be about three molecules longer than last week. And if the light is right and you still have the dewy eyesight of youth, you might also notice a slight change in color as well. I thought it was looking kind of mousey so I bleached it with some Ultra Blonde. Wheeee! Am I having more fun yet?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Exorcizing My House

So one of the things you're supposed to do when you put your house on the market is called "staging" it. This means sprucing it up and toning it down in order to make a favorable first impression. Staging a house includes, among other things, cleaning it up and depersonalizing it. Experts recommend that sellers remove any items that could be too distracting, such as personal photos and collections, or offensive (anything pertaining to sex, politics, or religion) to prospective buyers.

Hoo boy, am I ever up the creek.

Naked Women!

Naked Men!

Ode to Excessive Cardio

Virgin of the Fireplace

Virgin Gives Birth to Little Buddha

Little Buddha Admires Big Venus

Venus de Milo Goes to the Mardi Gras

Bill Shakespeare Goes to the Mardi Gras

Bill Shakespeare Observes Ash Wednesday

Sheesh. Once I get rid of everything personal and/or potentially offensive, there won't be anything left except a mattress on the floor.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sex & Cancer

On one of the online lymphoma support boards where I hang out, we've recently been discussing this article:

Intimacy And Sex: The Unspoken Casualties Of Cancer

Now, an innovative study conducted by the University of Western Sydney looks at the lives of cancer carers and how they negotiate issues surrounding sexuality and intimacy in the context of caring for a partner with cancer. ... Of the group surveyed, 80 per cent responded that the diagnosis of cancer had a detrimental impact on their sexual relationship with their partner. ...Dr Gilbert found that a lack of communication about sex and intimacy - both between the couple and with health care professionals was a major issue for carers.

"For some couples, the person with cancer was hesitant to discuss issues relating to sexuality and carers generally felt they did not want to put further stress on the partner with cancer by raising the topic," Dr Gilbert says....Dr Gilbert says the reason the subject of sex and intimacy was not raised more often by providers was because some may have felt it would be seen as either intrusive or disrespectful. There could also have been other issues such as gender, age and culture which may have been factors dissuading both sides from raising the issue, she says. She also believes there is a need for support to be offered to people with cancer and their carers to facilitate communication about sexuality, and address sexual issues and concerns.

Here's my frank and uninhibited contribution to the conversation:

One of the chemo nurses gave us Teh Big Cancer & Sex Talk before treatment started. She warned us that during chemotherapy, my bodily fluids would be contaminated by the chemo drugs and therefore extremely toxic to my partner, so we should always use "protection" to make sure he wouldn't be exposed.

She also told me I should always flush the toilet twice so my toxic waste wouldn't accidentally splash on anyone, and that I shouldn't let the dogs drink out of the toilet bowl. Which wasn't an issue since my dogs are only about six inches tall in stilettos, but gah. It all made me feel so repulsive, so polluted, like a dangerous disgusting walking toxic time bomb that nobody in their right mind would ever want to touch. I was afraid if we even kissed passionately, my beloved's hair would all fall out!

Next the nurse warned us about the potential risks to me. She warned us that the chemo-induced menopause would cause vaginal drying and tissue thinning so that intercourse might result in abrasions which could then develop into serious life-threatening infections. So great, I'm not only the Evil Destroyer, I'm also the Easily Destructible. Sheesh. How much less sexy could I possibly feel?

A whole lot less, it turns out. What she hadn't warned us about was his reaction the first time he saw my port with the bandages off. I have very little body fat in my upper chest area, so the darn thing sticks way out, like a huge creepy doorbell. And the first time I showed it to him, he involuntarily gasped, blanched, went weak in the knees, and staggered out of the room moaning in horror. The poor man apologized profusely, and insisted his reaction wasn't because I looked ugly and disfigured but because it upset him to think about how much I'd been hurt. But still. I have to have the hideous thing for two more years, and I'm extremely self-conscious about it. Of course that made things even worse.

Throw in the hairlessness, the loss of muscle tone, the fat gain, the edema, the puffy moon face, the intestinal dramas, the depression, the bone crushing fatigue, the other stressors on the relationship, and, well, I'll be frank with you: my sexual self-esteem pretty much plummeted through the basement floor.

I imagine it will take me a while to rebuild it. And I too am relieved to hear other people talk about this. It's a pretty lonely situation sometimes.

You know, I honestly can't even imagine how people survived cancer back in the days before online support groups. It's such an immense relief to find out that others are having the same experiences, that I'm not a total freak, that what I'm going through--things the oncologist didn't really discuss, like sexual issues, extended fatigue, post-chemo depression and anxiety--are all perfectly normal, and that they will get better with time. I sincerely hope that my going out on the precarious TMI limb and talking openly about my own private cancer experiences here will help somebody else in the same way, and that nobody dies of embarrassment from reading it.

Happy Mardi Gras!

I walked downtown this morning for the annual Deep Inferno small town Mardi Gras parade.

I met Miss Wanda under the Jim Bowie oak.

Never watch a parade with Miss Wanda, she hogs all the damn beads.

Miss Wanda shoves me out of the way for the crawfish float.

Float made out of an old school bus.

Elvis on the Lost Vegas Casino float.

Parade going by on Main Street

I walked home with some neighbors.

I want to go to the big courir parade and street dance out in Eunice this afternoon, but I'm so tired, my back is stiff and sore, and my feet ache from the neuropathy so I don't know if I'll make it. No matter how much I long to have my life back to normal, the truth is my energy level just hasn't bounced back yet. But maybe if I rest of even take a nap. We'll see.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chicken On the Run

I spent the day today at the Creole Lundi Gras courir in Soileau. A courir, also known as a chicken run, is an old tradition celebrated at Mardi Gras in the small rural communities around here. It's sort of like trick or treat. People dress up in costumes and ride around the countryside on horses and in wagons, stopping at farmhouses along the way to sing and dance and beg for gumbo. At some houses the family serves us food; at others, they throw out a live chicken for us to chase. If we catch it, we can use it to make our own gumbo.

Here's the story of my wonderful day in photographs.

It was a chilly day so I wore my favorite jacket on the chicken run.

Here's me with my friend Anthony, who is also a recent cancer survivor.

In spite of the cancer, Anthony is still a very handsome guy!

This is me with Mr. Jack, riding on a haywagon.

Julie, Marla, and Claire on the haywagon.

Looking off the back of our haywagon at the courir stretching out behind us.

Rayfield is one of the flagmen who directs traffic and keeps everyone in line.

We stopped at a farmhouse where the family served us a gumbo.

At the next farmhouse they served us homemade donuts.

At this house they served us jambalaya.

Hanging out at one of the stops along the way.

Young riders join in an old tradition.

Friends enjoying a rest stop together.

Kids learn how to make their own Mardi Gras costumes.

Teens get in on the act.

Even the horses get dressed up.

Big horses

Little horses

At some of the farmhouses they bring out live chickens and let them loose for us to chase around the yard.

Here I am, ready to pounce!

Everybody chases the poor chicken.

Not so dumb after all, the bird escapes! Looks like we'll be having a vegetarian gumbo this year.

It's funny, I was sitting next to a man named Mr. Jack on the haywagon and we got to chatting. He mentioned that he was really happy to be there because he'd missed Mardi Gras last year. He said he'd had "a little health problem." Then he grinned at me at me and said, "And look what I got from it." He unbuttoned his shirt and showed me...a medi-port! "Hey, that's just like mine!" I said, and opened my jacket to show him my port. After that we bonded the big cancer bond, of course, big time.

You know, my very first thought when I got sick last year was that I might not live to see Mardi Gras. Or if I did that I might be too sick to enjoy it. So being able to go on this courir today really meant the world to me. And I'm sure it did to Anthony and Mr. Jack too. The whole event took ten hours and I'm exhausted now, tireder than I've ever been. But so very very happy! So very grateful to have been given another shot at Mardi Gras.

But before I crash into bed and sleep, can we pause for a moment of silence to honor those whose cancer didn't allow them that gift? Thank you.