Brain Tumor

A Thing I Did While Growing a Brain Tumor

summerfest dmb

Facebook tells me that on this day three years ago, Dan and I attended the Dave Matthews Band concert at Summerfest in Milwaukee. I remember it well. It was raining and only like 50° F outside. We could see our breath.

In July.

Fuckin’ Milwaukee, guys.

Anyway, we had lawn tickets but no chairs or blankets, because we weren’t anticipating the rain or the cold, slippery grass.  So I stood for the entire show. For HOURS. I wiggled and danced for a bit, walked around a little. Then stood still. Then shifted my weight from one leg to another. Then started the routine all over again.

At the end of the concert, we had to walk back to the car. My legs were tired. The car was parked several blocks away, and I remember saying to Dan, “My legs feel weird. Like I can’t walk. I don’t know if I can make it all the way to the car.”

I had no clue what was happening to me at that time. I just thought it was exhaustion and that I was really and terribly out of shape. (Even though my height, weight, and activity levels were still leaning toward the decent side of healthy because I’m stubborn.)

At that point, I had already started seeing doctors about weakness and fatigue and a bizarre sort of limp that came and went, but I wouldn’t get a fibromyalgia diagnosis for about three more months.

I wouldn’t learn I had a brain tumor for a couple more years.

I did make it to the car without aid that night. But it was hard, and I remember stifling fears that something was really wrong with me. I remember plopping in the passenger seat and sort of lifting a leg into the car because it just wouldn’t.

Anyway, I wanted to take a moment this morning to say I’ve done a lot of really hard things with a tumor in my head—a tumor that I knew nothing about. Wonder what else I can do now that I know and have doctors that know how to fight it.

Brain Tumor

Dear 17 Pounds

7Dear 17 Pounds I Lost in June Because I puked for 10 Straight Days,

I’m glad you’re back. No, really. Honestly.

When you left, I felt like I was obligated to appreciate your absence on some level. Like, If I’m going to be this miserable, I should at least be proud that I am getting skinnier. Cancer chic. Like the world expects of a cancer patient.

But it was all kinds of awful being that sick. And there is nothing about watching the ceiling fan blades over my bed collect motes of dust while the rest of the room spins that makes me grateful for sweatpants that fit a little bit better.

I’d rather put on two pounds a week, some of it water weight and some of it weight weight, than wonder if I’m dying. So, 17 Pounds, when you saw the dexamethasone party was happening again and returned, I was relieved that I didn’t have to request others make sure Dan was going to be okay.

He gets withdrawn even without grief, without stress. Please check on him if something happens to me.

Pre-tumor me was fairly confident that it was impossible to be 5’6″, 220 pounds and happy. But here, now, I understand that I can weigh a little less and be bedridden—or I can weigh a lot and walk around the back yard to inspect the garden, helpfully empty the dishwasher a few times a week so Dan doesn’t have to do everything, and fold a basket of laundry or two.

I’m hungry all the time now, 17 Pounds. When Dan asks what I want for dinner, I have answers instead of shrugging shoulders or requests for him not to list off the names of foods.

I want Stroganoff!

Charcuterie!

Tacos!

I gush as I eat. Everything tastes so delicious. And I know that the return of my appetite calms Dan as it calms me.

I don’t know how long you’ll stay. The doctors are still trying to figure out what treatment comes next. But whatever it is, know that you are welcome. And so are your friends.

Love,
Emily

Brain Tumor

Junky Old Edema

stay puft

Being back on the steroid dexamethasone is slightly bothersome, but mostly a pure delight. In comparison to the several days of vomiting, spewing bile, and dry heaving during my taper from the drug earlier this month, the last several days have been joyous.

I am putting weight back on, but don’t really give a shit about that. I can walk around. I can type. I can think not-depressing things. And I enjoy eating and recipe hunting so immensely that some days I just soak up being alive instead of contemplating the tumor in my head.

If there’s one major dislike, though, it’s the edema (or swelling) caused by the steroid. I can deal with my balloon-like feet and hands, but the face stuff. ARGH!

I am so moon-faced that I can’t put earrings on. Seriously. My cheeks stick out too far and my ears are hidden BEHIND them. I can’t turn my head and look at myself in the mirror for a couple of reasons. First, the range of motion in my neck and shoulders is still pretty limited, even though I’m nearly five months post-op. Second, my nystagmus is unchanged. When I look left or right, the room gets very, very spinny.

And then there’s that glorious feeling that I’m being choked to death by my own neck. Probably the most irksome of all the swells. I have a neck roll that, aside from being unattractive, is like totally impossible to dry thoroughly after a shower.

TMI? Yeah, don’t care.

I ingested 66 ounces of fluids yesterday plus had an entire plate of produce for supper—mostly for the high water content. Still woke up this morning feeling all Stay Puft. (Heat me up and I expand like a marshmallow, baby.) It’s going to be a lot warmer today, which doesn’t help. So if you need me, I’ll be in my recliner with my feet up waiting for Second Breakfast and playing Fallout Shelter.

 

Brain Tumor

They See Me Rollatin’

cat on rollator.PNGWe’re having unseasonably fantastic weather here in Urbana, and that means that I’ve been spending anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes outside for the past few days.

I mostly just stare in wonderment at Dan’s garden from under the shade of our maple tree, but I’m moving around a little bit too. Grabbing my trusty rollator and walking around the back yard.

Today I was so pumped, I walked to the front of the house. In my pajamas. Part of me wants to wear a sign for my neighbors: PAJAMAS ARE FOR CLOSERS.

***

 

“I don’t know why I love staring at these plants so much,” I said to Dan. “It’s not like I’m going to see them grow in the time I’m out here. Just something about it makes me happy.”

“I think it’s because there’s something inherently optimistic about a garden.”

So true. Also? I get to imagine all the things I’m going to eat. Nothing tastes bad on dexamethasone. Nothing.

I mean, I’m not going to start eating mushrooms anytime soon, but I have a suspicion I could tolerate them now.

***

My ACA health insurance kicks in on July 1, so I got on the phone yesterday to schedule that appointment with the allergist I had to cancel when I lost my job and insurance at the end of May.

The test is to determine whether or not I have an official allergy to Temodar, my chemotherapy pill. I am mostly hoping that the answer to that question is yes, because I want absolutely NOTHING to do with that pill ever again. And I want my oncologist to say nicely to me that he will never ask me to swallow certain death in pill form ever again.

But it’s not clear to me yet what other chemotherapy options I will have if the Temodar is a no-go. Fighting brain cancer requires treatments that can cross the blood-brain barrier, and that’s kind of complicated. And, yeah, I want to fight this shit, so…

***

If you’d like to donate to help us with medical and living expenses as I continue treatment, please visit my YouCaring campaign.

 

 

 

Brain Tumor

Did Someone Order a Chaplain?

hospital signLet’s see. So far today I have:

  • Filled out paperwork for the allergist’s office
  • Emptied the dishwasher
  • Cooked macaroni and cheese
  • Paid some bills
  • Written a few thank you notes

It might not seem like much. In fact, compared to my pre-cancer lifestyle, it doesn’t seem like much. But I’m doing what I can, trying to take more steps without my mobility devices, and looking for ways to take some of the domestic burden off of Dan. (Dude’s got his own chronic illness to contend with.)

We’re a real pair.

So, while taking a breather in my new recliner this morning, I recalled a vivid memory of my days at Barnes-Jewish Hospital back in February.

Not sure what brought it to mind, other than that I have a lot of time to contemplate and reflect these days. Weird stuff pops into my brain, typically unsolicited. (And the stuff I actually want to remember? Nowhere to be found.)

Anyway. Several times during my visit, I was asked by hospital staff if I wanted the hospital to address any religious or spiritual concerns on my behalf. Each time I was asked, I told them no. So I was surprised to awake one day from a drug-induced nap to find a hospital chaplain standing at the foot of my bed.

He smiled and offered an introduction. Immediately, I recoiled. I told them no, I thought to myself. Do not want. I don’t need last rites. I am not dying. YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG HOSPITAL BED, MOTHERFUCKER.

My defiance is genuine, and thankfully well-contained. He was just letting me know who he was, and had no intention of being pushy or nosy. When he finished, he stepped over to my roomie’s bed and asked her if she would like him to pray with her.

She said yes.

Brain Tumor

Inclined to Recline

On Wednesday, a new recliner arrived at our home via UPS. Believe it or not, I have not had a recliner in my home since something like 2003. That was three cities and a whole state ago. Sheesh.

For weeks, I’d been spending too many waking hours in bed or trying to get comfortable and see the TV from the living room couch. My neck and shoulder pain was only increasing, and I was depressed. Spending hours upon hours in bed made me feel sad and incapable.

Power ReclinerSo, I used some money from my YouCaring campaign to purchase this power recliner from one of those online stores always being advertised on HGTV.

I didn’t have to leave the house to shop for it. (Going out in public is hard—harder than it was when I was getting daily radiation treatments, but I’m also a little skittish about the possibility of getting “normal” sick because the dexamethasone “may lower my body’s ability to fight of infection.” So I stay home except for the odd trip to the ER.)

The chair basically just snapped together. And it’s comfortable. And my cat Izzy likes to join me for afternoon naps.

Now I can sit by the picture window in the living room and watch the birds and squirrels at the feeder and bath. When I lie back, I can look up and watch clouds float by. And when we’re binge watching Orange is the New Black, I can watch relatively pain free.

It’s nice.

***

Speaking of the dexamethasone, I’ve been back on it for about a week now. I generally feel better, but I’m not thrilled about regrowing unnatural facial hair. (If I’m honest, probably another reason I stay home these days.) They might be wispy and blond chin hairs, but they light up like the sun glistening on Lake Michigan when exposed to daylight.

The more important thing, though, is that I am eating and drinking again like a normal person. Everything tastes delicious on dexamethasone. Everything.

***

Thursday night I signed us up for health insurance through the ACA exchange. We still don’t officially have health insurance. They have my money, but BCBS of Illinois has things “under review.” It really, really sucks losing your job because you’re sick with brain cancer and losing your health insurance at the same time.

I know that, at least for now, I’m not supposed to be declined insurance for a pre-existing condition, but I don’t trust insurance companies. They’ve got ways of wriggling out of their responsibilities. And I am quite aware that should something not go in my favor, I have next to no resources to fight them.

What bearing should a person’s employment have on their ability to access healthcare? Why should someone with so much health-related stress be forced to navigate a ridiculous bureaucracy in addition to fretting about paying the mortgage without stable income?

I have to stop thinking about it or I stress too much for my own good.

***

While there’s plenty for me to worry about, I do want you to know that I’m more optimistic than this post lets on. I can’t stand the thought of people worrying about me too much.

Thanks to all who have donated and promoted my fundraiser, sent cheerful gifts, messaged me with words of encouragement, and who check in on me when I get a little quiet.

Enjoy your weekend!

 

Brain Tumor

Yes, I’m Still Kickin’ (Sort Of)

Last week I went to the ER. Not once, but twice. I was severely dehydrated because I couldn’t stop puking. On the second day, while lying in the hospital bed, Dan was sitting beside me. We didn’t really know what was wrong, but we knew that I was in bad shape.

I swear to God Dan’s eyes got a little blurry with tears as we speculated what could be going wrong. I was scared as shit too.

About seven days earlier, I’d finished up my last Decadron (dexamethasone) and was confident that withdrawal was severely messing my shit up, but the big scary question in front of us was whether or not coming off that steroid was causing brain swelling.

Long story really, really short: it was not.

It was run-of-the-mill withdrawals I was experiencing, but I’d put off going to the doctor for so long (because my health insurance and job were terminated two weeks earlier) that I was not just dehydrated, I was severely dehydrated.

I could just barely get myself to the toilet. I had’t showered in an entire week. And everything I tried to eat and every medicine I tried to take returned to the outside of my body via my mouth in a most violent fashion.

So I’m recovering, but still pretty damn low on energy. More later, but no promises when.