Archive of ‘musings’ category

Bourbon, Boobs, Cancer and Dates You’d Rather Forget

There are lots of ways cancer survivors mark the time that passes after their diagnosis and/or treatment for cancer. I know one lady who gets a tattoo on her leg every year. They’re all moths, and the effect is stunning. Another woman I know gets a boudoir shot done every year on her diagnosis date. I think showing a little tits and ass on the anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer is a pretty badass way to celebrate the occasion.

I’ve always been a big proponent of letting cancer survivors do whatever they need to do to make it through treatment and the fear that they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. Whatever gets us through the day, as long as the day doesn’t end in the ER with a diagnosis of alcohol poisoning.

How am I getting through the day today? It’s a snoozefest, and I’m pretty psyched about that. Personally, I have no desire to celebrate the yearly anniversary of the day I was told that I had cancer. I remember my cancer diagnosis and treatment way too much as it is, and any part of it that I can keep to a blur is fine by me.

Therein lies the reason why I’m pissed that I got my cancer diagnosis on a holiday. I have no idea what the actual date was when I got the phone call telling me my biopsy was positive (Unfortunately, the date is seared in my husband’s brain). I don’t remember the day of any of my surgeries or when radiation started. I do remember when I finished radiation, but that’s only because it was two days before our wedding anniversary. The day of our anniversary started with another cancer scare, but the evening ended with bourbon and friends, so I’ll remember it as a good night.

I could figure out the date out if I looked at a 2013 calendar, but beyond burning a copy of one, I’ve stayed far away. What I can’t escape is the fact that I got the phone call on Good Friday. It’s a very long story best told another time, but Good Friday marks the day when my little sister who was in neonatal intensive care started to turn the corner. As solemn a day as Good Friday is, it’s always had a good connotation for me. That kind of got screwed up last year.

Last year, I spent the afternoon at my parents’ house waiting for the call. The entire day was nerve-wracking for my loved ones, but not so much for me. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts, but I already knew I had cancer. I wasn’t trying to be fatalistic, but when I got the first letter telling me I needed to get another mammogram, I knew. I don’t remember anything but the call, my mom and husband crying, and texting and calling my friends. Facebook seemed like a horrible and inappropriate way to give my loved ones the news. “I just had the yummiest dinner. Oh, and I have cancer”.

What am I doing this year? At first, I had no plans. Then I decided that sitting around my house was probably not the best option for my mental health. I do too much of that as it is. When I get overwhelmed, I go to ground. I turn into a hermit and tend to shut as many things as I can out of my life. Since I’m not feeling well (yay for kidney stones!), it becomes even easier. Not really the best way to process or deal with any of the things that happened last year, but it’s the truth. I didn’t want to spend today in my cave, talking to my cats.

So what am I doing today? I got up late and made myself a healthy breakfast. Then I ate 3/4 of a carton of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. I needed the calcium. I decided greasy hair was not a good look for me, so I took a shower. People of Knoxville? You’re welcome.

I’m went outside and tried to figure out how to wrest my vegetable garden from the jungle that’s supposed to be a backyard. Nothing was done to it last year, and the Bermuda grass and privet are currently eating it. It’s a hot mess. I didn’t actually do anything about it, but looking at it and assessing it made me feel like I accomplished something. Now I can procrastinate pulling out my machete and hacking through it for another few days.

I’m sitting here at our local coffee shop, ingesting more coffee than is kind to my neighbors sitting around me. As soon as it opens, I plan on parking myself at my favorite watering hole with a book and my computer. I’m going to get a bourbon, edit this post and chill. I’ve got a friend and my brother joining me later. My husband will join us when he leaves work.

At some point today, I’ll watch Dr Who. I got hooked on it when I was stuck in bed so much last year. I am now a full on Whovian, and It’s one of the fantastic things that came out of last year (sorry – I couldn’t post this without one Doctor Who reference).

I’ll eat some bacon because any excuse to eat bacon is a good one.

I wanted to write something about today, so you all get to read this post which is boring as shit and not profound at all. I love that. In a few years, I might decide to mark this day in a different way. I might find some profound meaning to this date. But the fact that today isn’t exciting or “special” seems so appropriate and wonderful to me.

I’m raising a glass. Bourbon & bacon toasts to you all.

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Unrealistic Expectations and Why Pies are Assholes

“You have pretty high expectations of yourself, don’t you?”

We were at a dinner party, and a man I had just met asked me this question. Let’s call this man, Bob.

It was hard to answer Bob, especially because Marcus spent the next five minutes making strangling & choking noises, not at all dissimilar to the sounds a pug would make straining against its collar. I turned to my husband, looked at him lovingly and whispered “Fuck off!” Some of you may think that’s a horrible way to talk to your spouse, but it’s our love language.

I stammered out a reply. I don’t remember how I answered this question, but I do remember Marcus mentioning the time I got a 95 on a paper for a college horticulture class. I was upset because it wasn’t an 100.

My husband reminded me of this conversation Wednesday night when he came home to find me, hysterically crying over a pie.

I had come up with a brilliant idea. The success of my marmalade had blown up my ego and given me the notion that I, too, could be a recipe developer. Pioneer Woman posting your link on her site makes you feel like you made it as a food blogger. The only thing that makes your feel more accomplished is Williams Sonoma publishing your recipe for Early Spring Pea Pesto. (I think recipe developers are amazing. My comments are made in jest. I’m posting this because I still have people strangely upset over my “hate” for baking twine.)

My idea for a pie was brilliant. I’m not going to write about it here. Food bloggers are sneaky bastards, and someone will steal my original idea that is probably posted on 100 blogs already.

Instead, I fucking created a buttermilk chess pie.

“But Kristina – chess pies are awesome!” I can hear you all saying that now. Yes. Yes, they are. There is only one problem: I did not mean to make a buttermilk chess pie. I can’t pretend I’m awesome and post it on my blog, telling you all that I meant to do this. Why? Because I already have a buttermilk chess pie on my blog, and I already have enough Joe Biden references in my posts.

I pulled that pie out of the oven, noticing that it did not appear to be what I wanted it to be. My pie crust also looked like shit, but that’s to be expected. I let it cool, cut a piece and tasted it. Then, I burst into tears. This is when Marcus came home and found me weeping.

I will not deny that I am prone to histrionics. I will not deny that Marcus has to live with a lot of these moments. He usually manages not to laugh at me or roll his eyes while he’s consoling me. I’ve tried fighting this part of me and have never been successful. I’m left trying to mute that tendency as best I can. I’m pretty successful, especially when it comes to checking my anger. I’ll throw a hissy over some overly pretentious thing that someone says or wrote in a blog post, but when it comes to the ones I love, I’ve learned to bite my tongue.

I’m usually not so ridiculous that I let a pie break me. But I wanted that pie to work. This week was going to be the week that I POSTED TWO RECIPES IN A WEEK ON MY BLOG!!! It’s also Pi day. I know some other bloggers try to make Pie Day happen on another, lesser day, but Pie Day is Pi Day. Period. It’s in the Bible.

I went to bed, making a plan to cram a frantic pie session into today. It’s not that I’m overly busy. I’m not. I’m a bit of a housewife right now, except without the wrapping myself in saran wrap part and meeting Marcus at the door with a cocktail. I think it’s because I usually drink the cocktail.

But I’m done. I am so done.

I’m not sleeping. I’m exhausted. I’m so anxious that I’m crawling out of my skin. My brain feels like I’m thinking through quicksand. I’m dealing with ongoing nausea that sent me to the doctor on Tuesday crying, asking them to do anything to fix it.There’s a myriad of health issues that I’m not listing that are making me miserable.

I’m trying to manage as best as I can. I’m taking medication to counter some of the above (I want to gay marry Zofran). It’s not enough. I can’t take pride in a day where my main source of accomplishment is taking a shower and doing two loads of dishes.

Marcus tries to tell me that it’s OK not to be at the top of my game. I always point out that I’m not just screwing up the top of my game; I’m wallowing in the bottom. He tells me that I’ll get “me” back, that it’s just going to take time. Sometimes I believe him.

I cry and rage at everything. I’m crying right now. My emotions are a tidal wave, and I’m drowning. I know this is normal. My brain was concerned with dealing with the physical problems I had, not the emotional ones. These emotions randomly hit me now. I do not like this.

Part of the problem is that I never feel that I am enough. I felt like that before I was diagnosed with cancer. I feel like that now. There are so many things that I want to do. There are so many projects I want to take on. There are so many ways I want to make a difference in this world. There are so many ways I want to show people how awesome I can be. These rarely happen.

I know I’m not alone.. We are an elite bunch. We spend hours creating something. People tell us how awesome it is, and we know we could have made it better. That’s preferable to our other option: trying to create something and quitting out of frustration because it’s not good enough. We chain ourselves to the limitations that only exist in our brains.The dialog in our heads is full of self-loathing. We even loathe ourselves for loathing ourselves. It’s not a fun way to live.

I’d love to finish this post with some amazingly, insightful answer. I don’t have one. If I did, I wouldn’t be struggling.

I’m also not posting this, so you can all feel sorry for me. I was too overwhelmed last year by pain and exhaustion to post about most of my “Fun trip with cancer” journey, so posting this is a self-centered thing to do. When someone comments or emails me telling me that one of my blog posts helped them, that critical part of my brain shuts up and lets me feel happy and useful.

The best answer I can come up for me right now? I am not going to make a pie today. I’m going to get up and take a shower. I may even get fancy and put some lipgloss on. I’m going to try to not spend the day loathing myself for something I can’t control. I have no control over how tired I am. I do have control over the shade I throw myself. I will feel proud of myself for getting a post up. I may get some laundry done. I may even go crazy and get one of my garden beds weeded. This may be the day I succeed at taking a nap. Or it might not. .

I ate a piece of my pie this morning. It was delicious.

If your day would be incomplete without a pie recipe, this is the link to the chess pie that is supposed to be a chess pie. Also Joe Biden! This is a recipe for the worst pie I ever made on one of the worst days I ever had. This is a pie recipe for something that you could easily turn into a pie. Happy Pi Day, everyone!

The Fixing of the Knee – Take Two

By the time most of you read this, I will be in the pre-op area about to get my knee fixed. My husband and I have been self-employed and tried to get health insurance coverage for over five years. Since breast cancer automatically qualifies me for our state’s version of Medicare, I now have insurance coverage until at least one year after my diagnosis. As my doctor put it, my car is in the shop, so I might as well get everything taken care of.

I have a mildly torn lateral meniscus. I have no idea how it happened. I was in San Francisco, and I would love to say that I slipped on stage during my first ever drag king show tune. Or that I did it breakdancing. Or that I was helping to protect the rebel headquarters. Or that I tore it doing something unspeakable while at the Folsom Street Fair. But no – I have no story.

My knee has been messed up for over two years. It’s kept me from doing things to stay fit like running or walking, and it’s kept me from doing things I love like yoga, hiking and dancing. I would normally be thrilled by the fact that I was finally going to have my knee fixed, but I’ve been having mini panic attacks since this past Tuesday about this surgery. Rationally I know I’ll be fine. It’s a quick and easy procedure being done by a good doctor in a nice hospital. But irrationally, I’m terrified.

I’ll explain in more detail later, but this is the second time I’ve been in for this surgery. The last time I was in the pre-op area, my lumpectomy incision popped open because I had a huge abscess in my breast. My knee surgery was cancelled last minute while my family rushed me over to UT. I ended up having to have emergency surgery that evening, and the complications that have ensued have been awful. All of this was caused by a shitty luck set of dominoes, not by any care that I received at UT.

I desperately want this surgery to be done before my first appointment for radiation. Otherwise I’ll have to wait at least two more months to attempt it again. So as irrational as it may be any prayers, good thoughts, mojo, juju or voodoo magic that you can send would be greatly appreciated. See you on the other side. Don’t worry. Hugh’s riding shotgun on this one as well. He’s even brought a friend along for the ride.

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Good Samaritans, Bourbon and Kittens

This is a speech I gave recently at our church. Our associate pastor had asked people to contribute stories of good Samaritans in our lives since that was the reading for the week. I edited it down for a time limit for our Church, but this is the unedited version. I mean, why try for brevity when I don’t have to?

Writing this speech was hard. Really hard. Not because I lacked examples; I was overwhelmed with examples. I just wanted to do the speech justice because of all the ways my husband and I have been showered with love and support this year.

I also wanted to feel competent. There has not been a surfeit of that in my life lately. I felt so out of control that I almost didn’t write it. Procrastination through perfectionism – my specialty. But I made myself do it. I wanted to feel like I had given something back to all the people who have helped us. I’ve been dealing with some ongoing vertigo and balance issues, so Marcus went up to the podium with me.

As soon as I started, I just got this wonderful feeling running through my veins. I’m pretty damn good at giving speeches or talks, and that adrenaline rushed over me. As I walked back to my chair, it was actually hard not to give a big fist pump and shout a “Hell yeah!”. I sat down thinking “I totally kicked ass on that speech”. Then I realized that probably wasn’t what Jesus would have done and asked God to forgive me for being so awful. I do kind of feel like He was down with me feeling like I had kicked ass.

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On Good Friday of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 2013 had been pretty awful up to that point, but this seemed like a particularly cruel twist. Rationally, I know there is an end game in sight.  I have a very good prognosis. Things could be much worse.

But it’s hard to be rational when you’re in the middle of the storm. Marcus and I are both relieved that my cancer was caught in a very early stage, but the way we found out about it was personally heartbreaking to us both. I’ve had one complication after another. If I had to pick one adjective right now to describe myself, it would be defeated. I know I’m not, but I sure feel that way.

I’m still too new and rubbed raw into this journey to even attempt to make sense of why this has happened to me, why cancer happens to anyone & how to sift the wheat from the chaff from this whole experience.

The one thing I have learned from having cancer is the incredible power of unexpected kindnesses, big and small, from strangers, acquaintances and loved ones.

It’s a friend who sends you a stuffed manatee to make you laugh – a manatee that has been named Hugh and who comes to every doctor’s appointment with me. He’s had his picture taken with every member of my medical team at UT. After my lumpectomy, I woke up to him lying next to me dressed in a surgical outfit.

It’s a voice teacher who helps put your confidence back together after two awful choir teachers stole the joy of singing from you.

It’s a woman I don’t know very well from the internet who commiserates with me about well-meaning people who say stupid things about cancer and/or your health and who makes and sends you a t-shirt that has a manatee on it and says “Leave me Alone – I Have Cancer”.

It’s a Facebook or twitter message from a friend checking in on you. A friend posting a picture on your timeline of the most ridiculous use of baking twine yet. A kind reply on a status that you’ve posted from someone that you really admire.

It’s the cards from people telling me they’re praying for me. It’s multiple encouraging cards from a woman here who just held me one day when I cried, telling me it was going to be ok.

It’s the nurse and the nurse practioner who have answered every call, helped me through every setback, hugged me each time they see me. It’s a nurse that hugs you and gently wipes the band-aid smegma off your wrist and arm. It’s a doctor that’s done surgery on you who ends a personal phone call because he sees you in a walkway and wants to know how you’re doing. It’s a nurse practitioner who waits around after his workday is done, so he can get a prescription for you to your husband.

It’s the local Young Survivors group leader whose closed door you can knock on just so she can comfort you, love you and get you the help you need. It’s the UT Cancer Center social worker who has a safe place to melt down when you’ve needed it.

It’s the neighbors who have helped your husband scrape the rest of the paint off of your house and the big bunch of them who showed up one Saturday to paint most of your house with primer.

It’s a text message from someone who wants you to know they love you. It’s a call from a friend telling you that you can get through this. It’s a post card of a pigeon shit covered statue from a friend who tells you that no matter how shitty life may feel, at least you’re not a statue covered in pigeon shit.

It’s the neighbors and friends who make stealth deliveries of food, bourbon, duck eggs & crayon pictures.

It’s the 4 women at my yoga studio who insisted you take their classes for free and who are eagerly awaiting the time when they can help you get stronger again.

It’s friends and church members who know you’re struggling financially right now, and have offered to help you by letting your husband know about job opportunities and hiring him to do odd jobs so you both can make ends meet. It’s a pastor and friend who visits you in the hospital.

It’s the man you meet in the cancer center parking lot who volunteers at the Norris Animal Shelter and offers to take the scrawny kitten, who has just run up to you and climbed into your arms purring, to the shelter and make sure she gets a good home.

It’s a group of church members who buy you a birthday pastry cake and sing happy birthday to you , especially because they wanted to bring some joy to an unjoyful 40th birthday.

It’s a husband who holds your hair back when you vomit. It’s a husband who sits there and strokes your hair while you dry-heave for 20 minutes. It’s a husband who has taken the wedding vow of ‘in sickness and in health’ and who has proven that he meant that in every way possible, no matter how disgusting or hard or how strong he’s had to be for you. It’s a husband who tells you every day how beautiful you are.

When Marcus and I went looking for a church, we had two very simple requirements. One – that they loved and accepted people no matter what gender, race or sexual orientation they might be. The second was that we wanted a church that focused on Jesus’ teachings about love and kindness. We wanted a church that walked the talk. Marcus and I felt very honored to become members here. Because we’ve also found a church full of Good Samaritans.

Hospitals, Doctors, GI Scopes! Oh my!

Actually, we really do love just about every person that’s taken care of Kristina at UT. I kind of feel like Kristina helps them too. Her deadpan wit has kept many a medical professional on their toes.

Once again, I’d like to take the time to post a picture of my lovely wife showing just how she feels about more medical procedures:

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It’s a GI scope. Nothing major, but we’ve all gotten a bit anxious over anything medical related. Hopefully they’ll get to the bottom (pun intended) of why Kristina was so sick and why she still suffers from nausea. She set her alarm for 3am, woke up and took some Zofran and ate all my doughnuts. She said there was no way in hell that she was going to go this thing anxious AND starved.

I’ll post on her account on twitter and on her Facebook page when she’s done. She gets mad but when the drugs kick in, I take over her phone. I’ve seen her drugged text messages. They are a treat, but can frighten small children. I’ll be sure to keep you updated; it comforts me to know that you all worry as much as I do.

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