Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had entered a dark place in my life. While I was never suicidal or self-destructive, I found myself within a deep depression; completely at loose ends and wondering if my life would ever begin. I had botched yet another job interview, though mercifully it had been done over the phone, in both questions and rejection. My crushing disappointment was mostly unseen, hidden as best as I could from those around me. I was utterly exhausted, unable to sleep, and even brief trips to and from town would leave me completely drained of energy. The good news, if you can call it that, was my fatigue had a medical cause. While I am still not sure I am any closer to finding a paying position, I have tentatively resumed my job search. If I were to be interviewed and/or hired, I suppose logistics would have to be figured out afterward—for medical reasons, I am unable to drive and will remain that way through March or April of 2015. As I have previously stated, every day of life since my surgery has been a blessing; if a person was so inclined, they might even say my old life ended October 8, 2014 and I was reborn October 14 upon being discharged from the hospital. I came out of the surgery a different person, but in the best way possible—I actually enjoy life now.
Friday, December 26, 2014
In life we wear many different masks. As children we wear various Halloween masks—I was mostly a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, though once I went as Garfield and twice as a vampire, no mask required. As adults our masks become emotional: we feign being happy, healthy, or satisfied when we are anything but. We pretend to be excited or overjoyed for others’ success when in reality we are dying inside: resentful, jealous, or even bitter that we are not experiencing the same thing. But I am here today to tell you about a different kind of mask, one that is very much real and physical. It is a white, plastic mesh mask that I wore to receive twenty-nine radiation treatments into my brain.
The mask was placed onto my face as a warm piece of plastic, which the therapists then molded into shape. Each morning before going into the machine to receive treatment, I would lie flat atop a table and have the mask locked down so that my head was unable to move. This act, while not necessarily comfortable, was essential to my treatment; it made sure that the radiation was delivered to the precise spot necessary each and every time in order to destroy any microscopic cancer cells that might have remained after the removal of my brain tumor. For the first few weeks I would receive a scan prior to the four-minute treatment. For the last few weeks, as I began to respond to the treatments, my scans were cut down to two per week. But for the final six treatments, the radiation was delivered in more accurate six-minute doses.
The radiation, much like the mask, causes some irritation and discomfort, but you understand going in that the process is for your benefit. And considering that I, in my perpetually-anxious state, didn’t expect to survive the craniotomy, well, everything else since October 13 has felt like a gift, a blessing, and a second chance at life.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
I don’t suppose I am a vain person in the conventional sense, though I do try to make sure I look decent (read: put together) when I leave my home to go somewhere. One warning they gave me when I was fitted for my radiation mask, however, was that it could cause scalp/face irritation and hair loss. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until my third week of treatment that the hair began to break off and get everywhere. It started on Thanksgiving, and around the incision in my head. I still had some hair in the front for the next day or so. But with each subsequent shower, more and more hair has come out in my hands, in the drain, and everywhere else. The good news is that hair will grow back, and I am not completely bald; my head is simply “fuzzy” now. But I have never had a shaved head in my life—I was born with a headful of hair—so this has been yet another interesting adjustment in this period of my life.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Our memories of childhood are often hazy, idealized, or altogether fictional—but the older I get, the more I appreciate these snapshots of the past. When I was very young, my father worked in Lexington and would get home every evening around six PM. He always carried two things with him—a green Thermos, and a white-and-blue Coleman lunchbox called Lil Oscar. Lil Oscar remained a constant throughout my life, likely because it predated me. I am sad to say that after thirty-plus faithful years of service to my father, Lil Oscar has finally been retired to disability. In other words, his handle fell off. The good news is I bought a replacement model, but I will never quite forget the impression a lunchbox made on me throughout my years.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
At the end of May 2014, I experienced two days of weirdness in which I could barely walk. It was literally as though I had to mechanically force my legs to bend at the knees. I didn’t think anything about it other than I might have suffered a spider or tick bite. Based on my general life situation, I keep problems to myself. Not the best idea in the world, but it is what it is. After the second day any pain subsided—and after all, I didn’t want to miss the Indianapolis 500 on television. You can see exactly where my priorities were, no matter how bad I might have felt.
I was seemingly fine for the next few months. Just after Labor Day I received my annual flu shot and woke up the next morning in excruciating stomach pain. A visit to the Instant Care clinic in Richmond, followed by blood work and receiving an antibiotic, was then followed by a gallbladder ultrasound and a HIDA scan, both of which showed my internal organs to be functioning normally, as did a subsequent doctor’s visit that showed all of my systems were in proper working order.
On October 8, 2014, I experienced my first (to my knowledge) seizure. Luckily my father was home and heard and saw me making the noises. Because I had no history of them, a visit to the emergency room resulted in a CT scan of my head, a life-saving measure that showed a lesion/tumor in the frontal lobe of my brain. Because I went to college for several hundred years and possess a degree in psychology, I know that “tumor” and “cancer” are basically synonymous. From Marcum and Wallace Memorial Hospital I was transported via ambulance for the first time in my life directly to the new tower at UK Hospital, where I was admitted to the emergency department. After additional testing and such, I was placed in a room on the sixth floor of the tower and visited by many, many physicians from the neurosurgery department. This small, invasive thing inside my head had to be removed and promptly. Therefore I was kept in the hospital for the weekend, given enough medication to keep a horse calm, and the surgery was performed on October 13. I can admit without reservation that I was terrified at the entire prospect; when I left my room and was taken down to surgery for anesthesia, I didn’t think I was coming back. I guess I could have been a little more optimistic, being that UK is obviously one fine hospital, but I know enough about the brain to know that these things are never certain.
Interesting fact about my summer: during the course of this thing probably/possibly growing inside of my brain, I travelled to Florida, walked up the mountain at Cumberland Gap, and drove myself to and from Irvine many, many times. I guess I was blessed and lucky that I never experienced the seizure while behind the wheel or home alone.
I was discharged from the hospital on October 14, which seemed exceedingly premature. However, I was apparently medically ready, and they didn’t want to risk infection setting into the large, nearly ear-to-ear gash in my head. I felt pretty swollen after the surgery, but apparently I didn’t look nearly as bad as I could have. My head was patched back together with about forty-nine staples, give or take one or two (everyone else counted them—I couldn’t bring myself to do it). I didn’t really want to come out of recovery afterward; I felt nice and calm and sleepy and I only had to leave to have another MRI and to watch my Monday-night television shows: Fast N’ Loud and Castle. Also, I needed to see my family. I had many, many well-wishers during my hospital stay, and I am grateful for each and every person who visited or sent a card or left a message for me on Facebook. I would argue that your prayers were far more faithful than mine, considering I didn’t think I would survive having the craniotomy. I do have a piece of advice I have gleaned from this situation, however.
DO NOT IGNORE THE WARNING SIGNS TO BE FOUND WITHIN YOUR OWN HEALTH. IF YOU ARE FEELING ABNORMAL, TELL SOMEONE. For me, the signs only seemed to manifest themselves as a severe, persistent headache that stayed with me for the four days prior to the seizure. But I can only speculate on how long the tumor had been growing inside my head. I have driven myself to and from Irvine on numerous occasions; I was both lucky and blessed not to suffer a medical episode along the road to town.
As of now, it has been recommended that I undergo six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation in order to destroy the remaining cancer cells and prevent a recurrence of the tumor. Start date was determined later; however, I have been fitted for the radiation mask, which was an interesting experience. It was a warm piece of mesh that they laid out across my face; as it cooled, they made marks and performed another scan on my head. It was like a warm washcloth, but a completely different texture and result. And here is another fascinating wrinkle to my story—in the midst of all of this, I advanced from the top twenty-five to the top ten of a publishing contest. I literally had to email a manuscript to an editor while I was in the hospital, preparing for major surgery. However, I would gladly send the manuscript again from any location. It’s just an interesting story, especially if I was to win the contest and contract. Then again, due to my condition and the nature of my surgery, my timeframe in regard to when the manuscript was actually sent could be completely skewed; I may have already been discharged and sent home.Unfortunately I didn't win the contest, but I did receive a lot of positive feedback about my novel,
Love for Sale. And that type of validation is always nice to have.
My first radiation appointment is scheduled for November 10, and part of me is oddly fascinated about what it will entail. Radiation has been going fine so far, but I am extremely tired afterward. Then again, I was tired before, so I don’t know if this is a side effect, or merely leftover from my tumor and subsequent illness. The first two weeks of radiation and chemotherapy have gone fine, and I have (thankfully) not experienced the severe nausea that I had always associated with cancer treatments. The primary side effect seems to be fatigue; for the first time in my life, I am now a regular napper. It seems every afternoon I have to spend an hour or so in bed recuperating. The radiation mask locks me into place on the table and is a bit uncomfortable, but I take a pragmatic view of things—it could always be worse.
One of the more irritating after-effects of brain surgery—aside from the nearly ear-to-ear incision in my head—is the damage to my short-term memory. The doctors insist that my brain will continue to repair and heal itself as I recover, but for now I have even more trouble than usual remembering what or where I am. But if you don't see me writing much for a while, I have a good excuse.
Monday, November 24, 2014
Kentucky Summer will turn three years old next spring/summer, but the book is experiencing a bit of a second life thanks to a feature article done in Kentucky Living, AKA the Electric Book. The book is not selling like hotcakes or anything, but to go from selling nothing to selling a few copies is always nice. I also worked on a plan in which the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea now stocks a few of my books along with those of other local authors and artisans.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Over the past two months I have gone through some pretty serious health issues, which I will relate to you in a future blog. This one is simply a promotional piece; several months ago I wrote a manuscript, Love For Sale, which I held back from self-publishing because I knew Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write publishing contest would be rolling around eventually. Well, great news: early this month I received a phone call from an editor at Harlequin letting me know that my novel had advanced to the top 25 finalists, which meant that they wanted to read a full manuscript. I prepared and emailed it and received another phone call once I’d been discharged from the hospital, a call letting me know I had advanced to the top 10. I liked my manuscript, but apparently they did, too. I signed and had notarized an affidavit and sent it in, and the process was complete. When the day arrived and my book was posted in full for everyone to read, I began to stump for votes, and everyone seems genuinely excited about my opportunity to win this. I’m pretty excited, too. It’s always nice to receive some recognition. If you’d like to vote for my novel, here’s the link.