Dippy for Dip

The senses of smell and taste can lead to powerful reminders of the past, taking us down memory lane, making us think of things we haven’t thought of in years and bringing us right back to a precise moment in time.

Given the title of this blog post, how on earth could “dip” do such a thing? When I say dip, I don’t mean a dip in the pool, although I did do that today, and it was quite refreshing and pool “dips” do sometimes remind me of the many, many summer days I spent swimming growing up in Devils Lake, North Dakota.

No in this case I mean dip as in something you eat. One Google post describes dip as a “thick sauce in which pieces of food are dunked before eating.” Hmmm. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, and I don’t think of dip as a thick sauce. I am talking about dip as in chips and creamy, flavorful dips, combined together are one of my food weaknesses. I mean who doesn’t like chips. In most grocery stores there is an entire aisle devoted to a gazillion types of chips (which thank goodness the supply of did not seem affected by the pandemic.) On the other hand, a wide variety of good quality dips are much harder to find, so I am always on the lookout.

One of my favorite dips was one made by Cass Clay, a North Dakota-based company that sells dairy products. It used to have a dip my family loved. I don’t remember the name of it, but it had an orangish tinge to it. Some years back I found a recipe for a similar dip in one of my North Dakota church cookbooks. The ingredients include cream cheese, mayo, Western or Catalina dressing, finely chopped onions and garlic powder. I still make it occasionally, usually around some sort of holiday. (FYI – I checked out Cass Clay’s website and the only dip listed was French Onion – boring!!!)

So where am I going with this? Today I needed to go to the Safeway grocery store to use the DMV kiosk to get my new registration and plate tags. I was mad at myself for procrastinating and having to pay a late fee. And also not happy about having to do a Smog check, which I think is ridiculous for newer vehicles and just some scam for somebody to make money.

Anyway, Safeway isn’t my go-to grocery store as it is further away, however while I was there I decided to pick up a few things. And since I had not been there in some time, I decided to peruse the dip selections. Note I say selections, as there is certainly not an aisle dedicated to dips as there is for chips. To my great dip-loving excitement there on the dip shelf was a Safeway brand of Caramelized Onion dip, which I hadn’t not seen on the shelf in at least five years, which is the amount of time I have been living here in Sac CA. High excitement for this dip loving girl! I was thrilled! It totally made my day. Cartwheels!!

I headed home (BTW I just now realized that I forgot to put the new tag on my license plate – obviously because I was so giddy about the dip) eager to try out the dip. Once home, I settled into my comfy chair and cracked open a bag of (low fat of course) chips and dipped into the oniony dip, hardly able to contain myself.

Once that dip hit my taste buds, I was immediately transformed back to the last time I had this dip, which was five plus years ago when I was driving from Denver, Colorado, to Sacramento, California, I had stopped for the night in a small, dusty town in Nevada (I think). The town was surrounded by dry, tan, scrubby bluffs and had few trees, making the blue sky look so expansive. I checked into a bare bones motel and snuck my traveling companion and pal Kit Kat Jenni into my room, so I wouldn’t have to pay the pet fee. I left her there briefly (not feeling totally comfortable leaving her there alone) to walk over to a nearby Albertson’s grocery store. It was in strip mall type of location with restaurants, a bowling alley and the usually assortment of strip mall type of establishments. I bought, among other things, Caramelized Onion dip and chips – comfort food for this big GIANT life changing, and slightly scary, move I was making.

I hurried back to the hotel and found that Jenni was safe and exploring the room, and was happy to see her drink some water I had laid out for her. I sat at the small motele room table, enjoying my chips and dip and watching Jenni sniff pretty much everything, scoping the place out. She finally jumped up on the bed and made herself comfortable, and gave me a solid slow stare, as if to say, “yeah this is a big change, but you can do it.”

Time travel from that vivid memory back to today in my comfy chair in Sac CA, I looked over at the patio, where my cat Chloe was sitting, and for a brief moment I was surprised it wasn’t Jenni sitting there.

Taste, and dips, powerful time travel stuff.

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I Rode My Bicycle Past Your Window Last Night

This song popped into my head as I was thinking about writing this post about biking, as it seemed to me that I remembered there being a bike reference in it. It’s funny how random songs will pop into your head, based on a memory, an aroma, etc. And I was right about the bike. In fact, it is the first line in this “Brand New Key” song, circa 1971, which also talks about roller skating. A quirky little song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJVUqzU7B-Q

Growing up in Devils Lake, North Dakota, I don’t remember my first bike, but I believe I started off riding a bike with training wheels around age seven, although I will have to check with my Dad, Fast Eddie. to see if he remembers. Following a few bike riding lessons, I think I took my first ride, without training wheels, around the age of seven. Although I might not remember what the bike looked like, I do remember that first solo ride, that even at such a young age it gave me a glorious sense of freedom and awe, doing something that seemed at first impossible and then flying down the road, pedaling furiously and ready to conquer the world, whatever that meant at the ripe old age of seven.

A few years later, maybe round the age of 10 or 12, I figured out how to ride sans hands, holding them up in the air, feeling like Superwoman on top of the world, or a Circus performer, and like one very cool kid, as nothing else I did at the time made me feel that way, being a chubby, kind of shy nerdy kid who liked to read. I cruised the green leafy tree lined streets of DL, feeling elated. Although that elation got temporarily deflated when some guy driving his car down the street yelled “get your hands on the wheel kid, or you’re gonna crash!” That grownup’s comment only temporarily put my hands back on the handlebars. One of my favorite places to ride sans hands was down one of the few hills in DL on seventh street, which led to the end of town and the cemetery.

At this point in time I had a shiny red Schwinn bike that I was very fond of that I think we had purchased at a hardware store in in downtown Devils Lake, At some point my bike got stolen out of our yard in Devils Lake, and I was devastated. I was reminded of that bike last week, when the actor Ben Stiller was reminiscing about his father, actor and comedian Jerry Stiller. Ben also had a memory about his red Schwinn bike being stolen when he was a kid.

I continued bike riding on and off throughout the years, with some memories of some particularly fun and beautiful rides along the beach in San Diego when visiting my college roommate Diane. Getting back to the “Brand New Key” song, when I was in my 20s and living in Denver, Colorado, I had just started dating a guy named Mark, who invited me to go mountain biking. Apparently the “Brand New Key” song is about a girl’s new roller skates and her attempts to impress a boy. Well this girl, new to the world of mountain biking, went out and bought a mountain bike in part (ok maybe in whole part) to impress this Mark boy. He was a hard core biker and I had a tough time keeping up with him on my brand new green mountain bike up on the trails near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Fast forward some 15 or so years later and nearing the age of 40 I decided to participate in a Sprint Triathlon. Yes, again, somewhat inspired by a boy, a different one. Gosh I hate to admit that. But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, including training for that event, which was held in August, as I spent the summer months biking and swimming, just like I did as I did as a kid in DL. Except for the running part, although I had a brief stint in track in junior high. But that is another story.

Sadly I have been without a bike since I moved to Sac, California, some five years ago. Before moving here, I still had the bike that got me through the triathlon, but I had not ridden it much and I didn’t feel it fit me any longer, so I left it behind.

However, I am ready to get back on the bike bandwagon, as there are many great trails in Sac, particularly around the American River Parkway. And I am hoping to experience those same feelings of elation I had riding a bike as a kid. I am not sure what make or color of bike I will end up with, but am secretly hoping it’s a red Schwinn.

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Signs of the Times

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Hugs…

My Aunt Mona celebrated her 85th birthday last month. The family and her close friends had a celebration at a popular restaurant in downtown Sac on a Saturday evening. The restaurant was crowded with weekend evening diners, and our birthday celebration was one of at least two private parties. Ours being the smaller of the two, we were in somewhat tight quarters cordoned off in one of the corners of the restaurant.

There were relatives at the party I don’t see very often, including my lone cousin on my mom’s side of the family, my Aunt Mona’s daughter, and her two kids and their significant others, who I met for the first time. At this point in the beginning of our coronavirus journey, we were being encouraged not to shake hands, but instead do an elbow bump. I really don’t remember what was being said about hugging then, but if you weren’t supposed to shake hands, hugging would have been taking it way too far.

However, there was plenty of hugging at my Aunt’s party, and hand shaking with new people, which we awkwardly withdraw from quickly, remembering we weren’t supposed to do it. Hugging is what you do at a milestone birthday celebration of a beloved aunt and friend, especially with relatives you don’t see very often.

I don’t think I am an overly effervescent huggy person. I am most comfortable hugging family and friends I know well, and find it awkward when somewhat I don’t know very well wants to give me a hug. Although I am sure, in fact I know, there have been times when I have been the giver of a not so welcome hug.

On social media, the term “hugs” is often used in posts to someone going through a tough time. Sometimes it seems a little contrived, and I envision a mature wealthy socialite woman with a giant hat, a flowery dress and bright red lipstick, touching her face to her lips and waving with a superficial smile and yelling “hugs” as she is saying goodbye to someone she doesn’t really care about.

That being said, I know that these “virtual” hugs are almost always heartfelt and well meaning, but still that image sticks with me.

Now we keep a six foot distance, or we try, with not just people we don’t know, but family and friends we don’t see very often, and, according to some, we shouldn’t be seeing at all, much less hug.

Five weeks into quarantine, most of it by myself, in this crazy, sometimes scary new world gone topsy turvy, I genuinely could use a hug. A big one. I do try to hug my cat Chloe, but mostly she is not a fan, and tries to wiggle away. Although every once in awhile she succumbs.

If you are holed up during this unprecedent time with your family, your husband, your wife, your kids, or whomever, I hope you are, at least occasionally, engaging in a few hugs. And I look forward to some hugs down the road.

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A Shirt-tail Cousin

Dad Christmas

Dad did a nice job of decorating the house for Christmas.

“I think he might be a shirt-tail cousin of mine,” my Dad said during a conversation about someone in town whose last name is Jaeger (as opposed to Jager). This discussion took place during my recent trip back to my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota, for Christmas. Shirt-tail? Say what? My Dad always seems to come up with words I haven’t heard before, or at least haven’t heard for a very long time. For example, garlic toes, which resulted in a blog post back in 2012 about making pickles with him.

According to the Legal Genealogist on Google a shirt-tail (or shirttail) cousin is a distant cousin or someone who is “distantly and indefinitely related as in a shirttail cousin on her father’s side.” What if the cousin is on the mother’s side – is it a blouse-tail cousin?

I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my Dad and all of my family during the holidays.

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Great-nephew PJ enjoying Christmas AND his birthday.

This Christmas was particularly special as it was my great-nephew PJ’s first birthday, as he was born on Christmas Day in 2018. We celebrated his birthday, and Christmas, at my brother’s house, which is across the street from Roosevelt Park in Devils Lake. As we were leaving the house that evening, you could hear the whizzing and clicking sounds of a hockey puck being batted about in the dark night at the outdoor hockey rink in the park, bringing back memories of learning how to skate outdoors in the late 1960s in North Dakota. I can still picture the skates, as they had bright yellow plastic straps that affixed the two-bladed skates to my feet. Once I learned to skate, I spent lots of time skating as a kid – at least several times a week, sometimes outdoors, but more often at an indoor ice rink, the Bill Jerome

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For you non-skaters, this is a Zamboni.

Arena,  a large barn-shaped building, where I circled around the ice rink with all the other skaters and practiced “shooting the duck” and playing “crack the whip” with friends. There was general admission skating, usually somewhat crowded, and family time where there were less people, and you could get a little more creative with your skating, and I would try a few spins and fancier footwork. When the ice was periodically cleaned with a Zamboni (driving one is on my bucket list), I would get some hot chocolate and warm up in the arena entry area. I still remember it as some of the best hot chocolate I have ever had!

 

Also during my visit home, I was talking with sister at my parent’s house as we were standing in the room where she was staying. I looked around and said “this used to be our room.”

Radio 70s

I couldn’t find a picture of the radio I used to listen to, but I can picture it in my mind.

It still has the same wallpaper with small, multi-colored flowers – that remind me of daisies – on a white background. One of the ceilings is slanted, and there is a small in-wall storage area, where when we were little we stored some of our toys, including a Barbie playhouse. We had twin beds, and I sometimes listened to the radio as a teen-ager in bed late at night under the slanted ceiling. I usually tried to listen to the KFYR radio station in Bismarck, which is the capital in the western part of the state, even though sometimes the connection was sketchy and crackly.. I thought the station’s announcers and commercials sounded so much more “exotic” and sophisticated than the radio station in Devils Lake. I am not sure why. Maybe part of it was the commercials advertising restaurants and stores not available in little ole’ DL ND, and I liked to dream about visiting these places some day and living a more adventurous life in a city, and not in a small town.

The radio was my only source of music to listen to at night, in part because this was in the 70s before cell phones or CD players or iPods and all the technology that preceded it. Although eventually my sister and I would get an 8-track tape player, and I remember in particular listening to Devo, including their hit song “Whip It.” Now at night I listen to music on my cell phone and rarely listen to the radio at home, only when I am driving.

Manger Scene

This manger scene has been part of our Christmas for many years. It makes me think of my Mom.

This was my first Christmas in Devils Lake since my Mom passed away in September 2018. It seemed so strange that she wasn’t there, as I am sure it always will be.

Written by Lisa, Dedicated Word Nerd
& Metastatic Cancer Warrior

Lisa Santa

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Grinchy Bug Hum Ba

(This is my unscrubbed, unedited, really just blog notes, raw, uncut blog post. That will explain it.)

Dec., 12, 11:26 p.m., almost Friday the 13th

It used to be when I couldn’t sleep and had an idea for a blog post, I would get up and start scribbling notes on random pieces of paper. However I have had now for some time, as any self respecting writer should, a laptop. So why not scribble away on it.

I used to adore and look forward to Christmas, the holidays, for many different reasons. The lights, the decorations, the music, festivities, parties, church, time with family and friends, etc., etc., just the general festiveness (is that a word) of it all. I have written several blog posts about it, which I will connect to later, including some about growing up in my small town of Devils Lake, ND, and so many family and other wonderful memories there.

But tonight on Dec. 12 for awhile now I have been a big ole Grinch, an Ebeneezer Scrooge of giant proportions. I wonder if I could put some antlers on kitty Chloe so we could ride off somewhere down Sacramento’s soggy steets and make sure someone else is as miserable as we are. Ok I don’t think Chloe is miserable. 🙂 There – a little smile.

Take Christmas music for example. I would already have been listening to it before Tday, driving people nuts, saying it’s too early. I would be listening to it at night, as I always listen to music when I go to sleep at night.  Now when I walk into the grocery store, instead of holiday music making me happy, it makes me want to cringe.

Decorations. I have boxes full of them. Yet so far all I Have managed to do is put up my little Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Dragging all those decorations out and putting them out just sounds like too much work.

Why all the negativity? Well let’s face it a lot of time I just don’t feel that great. With cancer for me comes pain and fatigue and insomnia and other not so fun stuff, and all my energy I have goes into my job and trying to keep somewhat of a household going. Well meaning friends will sometimes ask regarding my cancer, are you still working? Well what the hell else would I be doing?! My job is my sole source of support, and I have to hang on to it as long as I can.

Things always seem worse late at night. And my attitude might be a tad better in the morning. Maybe I will even wish someone Happy Holidays or hang an ornament on my tiny tree. Who knows, I might go crazy and deck kitty Chloe out in Christmas garb, take some pics and make it into a Christmas card. Or not.

Maybe tomorrow night I need to drive around and look at some Christmas lights. That might get me into the spirit. And maybe some hot cocoa.

Not looking for sympathy here – just telling it like it is. I know lots of other people are going through hardships. I just tend to whine about it more than others.

Better sign off now before it’s Friday the 13th.

 

 

 

 

 

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Fast Eddie – The Coolest Dad Ever

Fast Eddie

Fast Eddie, aka Pops

My good friends and those of you who follow me on Facebook know that my Dad’s nickname is Fast Eddie. Friends ask me from time to time how he got the nickname. The story goes (I think?) is that one of my younger brothers and his friends gave him that name during their high school hockey playing days, because at the time there was a boxer/fighter called Fast Eddie. I don’t actually call him that by nickname in person – it’s usually just Dad or Pops, but I do often refer to him as Fast Eddie in print. When I was working at the newspaper in Devils Lake a number of years back, I wrote a weekly column often referencing Fast Eddie. Some of the ladies at my Dad’s church, where also works, apparently didn’t like it. Too racy? Too un-churchlike? Not sure. I also don’t think my Mom was too wild about it either. But still, it stuck.

Speaking of the church ladies, my Dad has worked as a custodian at his church for many, years, after running his own, long-term successful dry cleaning business – E&M Cleaners (E for Ed and M for my Mom, Marcia). And yes at age 81 he still does work at the church part time, pretty amazing as it is a fairly physical job. Honestly I think Fast Eddie is in better physical shape than me. He rocks.

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First day of school in the sixties. My sis and I often had matching outfits.

On this Father’s Day I am reflecting on some of the things I love and appreciate about my Dad. One is his wickedly dry sense of humor. He comes up with some truly funny and sometimes zany one liners, often without cracking a smile until we start laughing. I love and appreciate that he had two young daughters in the 60s and 70s and didn’t always get us “girlie” things for gifts. One year for Christmas we got a race car set (maybe that was more for him?).  He also often took us fishing with his buddies – Don and Gary. Don still teases my sister about how she flung my Dad’s new fishing rod in the water because a bee was buzzing her.

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Dad always whips up a batch of deviled eggs for holiday gatherings.

My Dad is an excellent cook, not just limited to the often traditional male affinity for grilling, although he does like to grill. Everything he makes is delicious and has just the right amount of intended for flavor or crispiness – or whatever ‘ness it needs. He would often make a roast beef in the oven on Sundays with onions that were carmalized to perfection. I have tried to recreate it, and it is never quite the same. The same holds true for camper potatoes – basically cut up potatoes and onions cooked in foil on the grill or open fire. I still make those on my grill

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Fast Eddie tending to his garden.

and can never achieve the Fast Eddie-like golden brown perfection crispiness of the potatoes.

Dad likes to garden, and the year I lived in Devils Lake working for the newspaper we got a chance to do some canning together, which I wrote a column about. He also is an excellent baker with one of his specialties being rhubarb pie with a custard filling and meringue topping. One year when I was living in either DC or Colorado, I flew to Bismarck on a business trip. I rented a car and drove to Devils Lake for a quick weekend visit. My Dad decided at the last minute to make his famous pie, half of which I drove back with on the seat of the rental car, still warm.

Despite the word “Fast” in his nickname Dad is very laid back and easy going. Growing up for some reason my Mom often didn’t want me going places too far away. During my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to go on a school field trip to California, with money I had earned working part time jobs. Mom wouldn’t sign the parental waiver form. I wrote my Dad a note pleading (begging) him to sign it. I left the note and the form on the stove after he went to bed, knowing he would find it when he made his morning coffee. He usually left in the morning before I did. I remember coming down the stairs feeling nervous, wondering if he had signed it. And yep, Fast Eddie came through and I had my signed note, and a few weeks later off I went to take my first plane ride and my first trip to California.

imageMy Dad has many other excellent qualities too. He is an incredibly hard worker with an extremely strong work ethic. He was a good, faithful, loving, patient husband and is dedicated to his kids and grandkids. And much, much more. But I’ll save the much, much more for future Fast Eddie posts.

Fast Eddie. I am one darn lucky girl to have you as my Dad. Love, Lisa.

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Slumber Parties and Side Effects

10dec18716859d75f9116ca7506c8f34Somewhere around the age of 11 or 12 I went to my first slumber party in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota. Prior to that I had had sleepovers at a friend’s house, just the two of us, but never with a big gaggle of girls that generally constitutes a true slumber party. At the time I don’t think I was even sure what a slumber party entailed. What I remember about the first one was a lot of gabbing, giggling, eating and playing games – think truth, dare, double dare, promise to repeat, and some kind of bizarre game/ritual where one of the girls would lie on her back on the floor, and we would chant “now let’s rise her from the dead” and try to pick her up with each us only using two fingers on each hand. Needless to day the girl was often dropped, although I don’t remember any serious injuries. (FYI, when I tried to google the chant to see if there was actually such a game I got a lot of zombie references.)

There definitely was not a lot of slumbering at these parties. In fact the idea seemed to be ff82d55cffde37b0cfaff94fa9b17ce3--sleepover-pranks-sleepover-partyto not sleep at all, and the first person who had the audacity to fall asleep first was met with some kind of prank/punishment, like toothpaste all over her face or putting her hand in warm water, the idea being it might make per pee. I don’t think I quite succeeded at not sleeping at all, and ended up with an hour or two in the wee early hours of the morning, after which the host Mom made pancakes, and then we all went off to our respective homes. I remember stumbling home, feeling like I was in a fog due to lack of sleep, and it went downhill from there. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I think there were tears involved and feeling nauseous and a little delirious, and my Mom saying you are not going to another slumber party and staying up all night, which, of course, I did.

Not dealing well with lack sleep has carried throughout my life. it’s a good thing I never had kids, because even a few nights of very little sleep makes it difficult for me to function and go through the necessary motions of life, and I feel the same as after the first slumber party, nauseous and a little delirious, and extremely irritable.

So in a way the side effect of the slumber party was temporary self-induced insomnia. Cancer treatments includes more side effects than I could ever have imagined, including insomnia, and others that seem almost cruel as you really need every ounce of strength to battle something as serious as cancer. Nausea from chemo is the first side effect that comes to mind for many people, including myself before I became a cancer patient. I’ve always had a problematic stomach, easily upsettable, so I was fully expecting to have a IP-aug16-paina great deal of nausea with chemo, however I actually experienced very little. Chemo has come a long way in terms of nausea, and now a variety of drugs are given to prevent it. All in all, the most common side effect of my cancer treatments has been pain, something I never would have thought of as a side effect. As mentioned in previous posts the second chemo drug – Taxol the Terrible – caused a tremendous about of pain. Both insomnia and pain have presented have themselves in new ways in recent weeks as I am involved in new treatments, including preparation to start radiation treatment.

About a month ago I started taking two cancer fighting drugs – Letrozole and IBrance – that if they do their job will shrink the existing tumors in my upper back and lungs and prevent new ones from forming. Trouble sleeping is just one of the side effects of letrozole and boy have I ever. Nights and nights of life-sucking insomnia and the same post-slumber party delirium.

Tuesday I had a pre-radiation appointment called a simulation, which means you get everything set up, aligned and positioned so the radiation can precisely target the areas (tumors) that will receive the radiation beams. Due to the insomnia, I arrive at the appointment in a sleep-deprived state, and more than just a little cranky. Also I am not wild about the idea of doing radiation for a multitude of reasons. I am led back to the simulation room by a young female technician with a strong accent who starts peppering me with questions and seems to have difficulty understanding what I am saying. We enter the room for the simulation. where there is another young woman in what looks like a control booth room, who also starts asking questions. All I can see and focus on is the equipment in the room, which includes a CAT scan like machine (which is very claustrophobic for me) and a long, extremely narrow metal table. Will I need to lie my not-so-tiny-me-any-more self and my extremely sore back on this hard, narrow thing and then be shoved into the claustrophobic machine?!?! Sounds like torture to me.

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I tell one of the techs I’m not so sure I can do this, as it is difficult for me to lie on my sore back. Her response to me. “Well how do you go to sleep at night?” I think, are you flipping kidding me?! What kind of a question is that? With a lot of grumbling from me (I know I am being difficult), I finally lie on this hard as a rock table, which is followed by a lot of pushing and pulling and yanking at the hospital gown by the not so gentle techs and then putting my hands back above my head to hold onto some kind of bar. Then into the CAT scan rabbit hole I go, and am told to lie perfectly still in this excruciating uncomfortable position. After some whirring and clicking and what seems like forever the simulation is complete and the torture, I mean procedure, is over. Actually not quite yet.

My back hurts to some degree each evening, but this time the pain comes on with a vengeance, and I can only think it was aggravated by the simulation earlier in the day. So there you go – side effect number one from the radiation process, at least for now, pain. Make that more pain.

Eyes on the big picture. The radiation is supposed to (no guarantees) shrink the tumors in the back, which should result in far less pain, maybe even no pain.

One torture session down. Fourteen more to go.

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Lisa, Cancer Warrior

 

 

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Chloe, Catolongist/Therapist

 

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The C Team

 

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Fantasy medical team? I would be hard pressed to choose between one with Patrick Dempsey or George Clooney. You see where my priorities lie? 😉

Any medical condition requiring long term treatment means dealing with a variety of medical personnel – nurses, doctors, techs, etc. They each have their unique personalities and bedside manners, often formed by their long term medical, and life, experiences. Mostly I have had positive experiences with these caregivers in my cancer journey and am exceedingly grateful for them.

My surgeon Dr. Foster was an upbeat bundle of energy, with a shiny, smiley face, always positive. And I couldn’t help but like her even Purple-Heart-Emojimore as we shared the same favorite color – purple. Every time she saw me noticed any shade of purple I might be sporting, even if it was just nail polish.

Nurse Carrie was a tall, lanky, 30-something nurse with short, dirty, blonde hair. She was a no nonsense, confidant tough cookie with a heart who called me hon.  Prior to starting chemo, she was the nurse who placed my PICC line (used to administer the chemo) deep up into my arm under the careful guidance of another, more mature nurse. It turned out I was her first PICC line placement that later was confirmed by Nurse Dan (up next), who said “oh you’re the one” and confided in me that Nurse Carrie wondered if I knew (uh, yeah, and see hospital gossip isn’t just a TV thing). Ironically Carrie would be my final chemo nurse, immediately following which the PICC line was pulled (that was a GOOD day!).

My first chemo nurse was a young, dark haired, brown-eyed man with pale skin named Dan (easy to remember, one IMG_1958 (3)of my brother’s names). An always quick with a joke coworker brought me to that first chemo appointment, and Dan seemed slightly amused that we were trying to find some fun in the procedure. My favorite nurse during chemo was Penny, a redhead about my age from New Orleans with a southern drawl and a quirky sense of humor. She remembered the days when chemo patients receiving treatment had buckets placed next to them, making it easier for them to puke (oh how far we have come) from the strong chemo.

nurse rThere really (so far) has been only one bad egg in the bunch, a nurse whose name I won’t mention who seemed to be missing the sensitivity and compassion gene (why in the hell is she a nurse?!), who sometimes came across as downright mean, surly and impatient. I dubbed her Nurse Ratched (think Jack Nicholson and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and quickly found someone else for her part in the cancer treatment picture.

Now that we are metastatic, some new folks are becoming part of the C team. Enter Dr. G.I. Joe., (thanks to one of my good pals for the nickname), radiation oncology, so we can consider radiating the upper thoracic area of my back to reduce the tumors. When I made my appointment with the doc via my health care provider, I read his bio online and learned about his military background, hence the G.I. Joe.  Could be a good thing, or bad, I thought. We’ll see.

Dr. G.I. Joe shows his military persona right from the get go, confidently strutting into the examination room, standing tall, chest held high. He booms hello Miss Jager, sounding a little staccato (or is just my imagination?) He sits down next to me and doesn’t mince his words – radiation doesn’t always work and your particular type will have a very unpleasant side effect. I am a little startled, but decide to go with the flow. We talk about naked gunthe treatment, and he moves to a computer to bring up my CAT scan results so we can review them together. He has a fast way of talking and while he is firing up the computer, he turns around and says with a straight face “did you ever see the Naked Gun movies?” My brain scrambles to remember, Naked Gun, Leslie Nielson? Well at least the guy has a sense of humor.

I leave the appointment unsure of how I will proceed, but thinking overall I liked the doc, G.I. Joe and all. He has an extremely important quality in a doc for me, being a good listener, and he seems to know his stuff. The next day I look at his biz card I grabbed on my way out the door. In his picture he is in his full military medical attire.

Private-BenjaminI have a follow up phone appointment a few days later with Dr. G.I. Joe to ask a bunch of follow up questions that have been brewing and as a result of Dr. Googling, the most pressing one being how many people, what percentage, get this very unpleasant side effect – 30 percent, 80 percent, what percent? His answer, again in that booming voice as if issuing an order – 100 PERCENT, YOU ARE GUARANTEED TO GET IT!!!!  I had to smile in spite of my disappointment (I was hoping for 50 percent). His tone of voice and delivery made me feel like I should stand up and salute. But since I was on the phone I just sat up a little straighter.

Stay tuned.

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Lisa, Cancer Warrior

 

 

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Chloe, Catolongist/Therapist

 

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Metastatic – Sounds Like a Band, Not a Cancer

IMG_2512My Facebook Memories told me last weekend that I posted “What’s a girl to do when she can’t sleep cuz of post chemo side effects? Well she watches the Royal Wedding with kitty Chloe, who gave it two paws up.” The chemo at the time was, as I dubbed it, Taxol the Terrible, due to the truly awful pain it inflicted post chemo, for which even morphine hardly made a dent. After eight treatments I was done with chemo in mid June. To have chemo and cancer treatment behind me was a thrilling, invigorating, liberating feeling. My hair started growing back about six weeks later, and I looked forward to a cancer free life, even though I knew there was a chance it could return. A good friend of mine, who also went through breast cancer, had it return, and I knew friends of friends who had experienced the same. But I did not dwell on that, and instead looked forward to putting cancer behind me and moving on with life, making vows to live a healthier lifestyle, including exercising more and eating better. Life was good.

neck-pain-bg-5976606d6d779However the return to normalcy didn’t last long. Fairly early last fall I started feeling some pain in my left upper outer back area, right below the shoulder blade. Occasionally over the years I have pulled a muscle in that area, and it usually improved within a few days or a week. However this was not the case this time, and I begin noticing similar pain in the same area on the right side. It’s age I thought, I’ll take longer to heal. Or maybe bad posture. Like many people for my job I spend a great deal of time sitting in a chair in front of the computer. I need a better chair I thought. The one I was using didn’t provide much in the way of back support. So I got a spiffy new ergonomic, back friendly chair, I messed around with where my computer was placed on my desk and really worked hard on maintaining good posture, taking breaks to move around, etc.

4454ef0a-fc27-4298-a1cc-02a31f21116b_1.0565a79b86a3b37c7051e92bd73f11e1I did the same at home, rearranging furniture and working on good back alignment. Still the back pain didn’t get better. In fact, it got worse, sometimes making it difficult to sleep at night. I finally went to see my doctor, my primary physician, First she recommended alternating heat and ice (which helped temporarily.) But still no long term relief, so back to the doc again, and she recommended back Xrays (which looked normal) and physical therapy. I gave it my best shot, and even though the stretching felt good overall, in general the PT didn’t seem to be making any improvement. It actually seemed to make it worse. I tried modifying the exercises. By now, months have gone by.

Enter a new twist in the story, when I found a small bump/lump in my upper abdomen, which seemed to literally come from nowhere. So off I went to Dr. A., my oncologist, to get it checked out. (Dr. A. is short for her incredibly long Indian last name. It’s not my nickname for her. Pretty much everyone in her Kaiser world calls her that, including Dr. A. herself.) Dr. A. seemed extremely optimistic. I am pretty sure its nothing, she said, but we better get it checked out with an ultrasound, which found it looked irregular, and the techs recommended a biopsy. Still Dr. A. was confident. I still think it’s nothing, she said, but just to be safe, let’s do a biopsy. Since Dr. A. is so extremely hopeful I am too, so I, and Dr. A., were quite surprised, when the biopsy finds that the small bump/lump is indeed malignant and is the same cancer found when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2017. Dr. A. still maintains her air of confidence. She says we best to some scans, but is thinking all we do is remove the lump, do a little radiation and bing bang, we’re done.

I am CAT scanned on a Saturday afternoon and then the waiting game, which turns out to be agonizing, begins. I forget to ask how many days it might take to get the results. In my head I am thinking surely Dr. A. will have the results Monday, which comes and goes without hearing anything. I call Dr. A.’s office and am told they don’t have the results. My catastrophizing brain with its vivid imagination already has Dr. A. telling me the cancer has spread everywhere and I have two months to live. What will happen to kitty Chloe I wonder?

Cat-resizedTuesday I am off on a road trip with a co-worker to a meeting a couple of hours away. She knows my story, and that I am anxious to get the results. I make a little joke – “well if I am going to die in a few months I won’t have to get all that dental work done” (I’ve got a bunch I need done and I am a HUGE denta-fraidy-cat, but that’s another story). My co-worker, who generally has a great sense of humor, does not find this amusing and screeches Leeeesa, I can’t believe you just said that.

I incessantly check my phone all day for a message from Dr. A, but nothing. Wednesday I am in a meeting and see on my phone that Dr. A’s office is calling. My stomach does flip flops. I check my email and see that Dr. A. has scheduled an appointment with me the next morning. More tummy flip flops and a few heart palpations. After the meeting is over I call her office. I tell the Dr. A. staffer that if Dr. A. has the results I want her to call me and share them with me NOW. I am very insistent. Shortly after Dr. A. sends me an email and says she really want to share the results in person and hopes that I will understand and be patient. Friends are optimistic about the possible diagnosis, but not me. I know the news is not going to be good. The question is how bad will it be.

Thursday morning I head downtown to Dr. A.s office, fully prepared for the worst, but feel oddly calm as I walk down the Kaiser hallways (all those prayers from people, I think). Nurse Annette, checks me in and, of course, weighs me. My last recorded weight I think. (And I am actually down a few pounds, which would be good if they recorded your weight on a death certificate – do they do that?!). More odd, random thoughts pop into my head, and I am cheered by the thought that I can take an exotic trip in my last few months of life with all that money I will save on not having to do the expensive dental work. Where will I go? Greece has been on the top of my list for awhile.

FCNurse Annette brings me into the exam room, and I wait for Dr. A. I don’t have to wait long and in she walks, looking a little nervous. In summation, she tells me, and shows me, that the CAT scan indicates the cancer has spread to my bones in my upper back and to my lungs, which has numerous small spots. It is metastatic breast cancer. A bone scan will later show in more detail where the cancer is in my bones, including some ribs and the upper/thoracic back area, which, finally many months later, explains the back pain. Dr. A. shares the treatment plan, during which she says “do you need any dental work done?” Uh, funny you should ask, yes. Apparently a component of the treatment is an infusion of a drug, which, if you need dental work while taking it, can possibly cause a truly horrible sounding side effect called Osteonecrosis of the jaw. I cringe when Dr. A. describes it.

On the not so great side of this diagnosis, metastatic cancer is serious business, and from what I understand it’s something you can treat and hopefully refrain from spreading even more, but most of the time never completely eradicate. On the plus side Dr. A. says we caught it early. I am not sure we would have if not for the small lump/bump.

One question I have is why didn’t someone on my health team didn’t make the correlation sooner between the back pain and the cancer? My Dr. Googling shows that the bones are one of the first places breast cancer spreads to, especially to the back/spine area that can result in back pain as a symptom. And also why wasn’t I doing my own research so I could be my own health advocate? Dr. Google isn’t always a bad thing.

Now back to that dental work. Time to buck up and get it done.

And big, huge, giant thank you to all my friends and family and their continuing support. Remember I love and receive great satisfaction from cards, especially humorous ones, phone calls, etc. Keep ’em coming.

The second card reads in the great swimming pool of life there is always going to be a little pee. 🙂

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Lisa, Cancer Warrior

 

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