What the Fuck Is the Reason?

I am so sick of hearing people say to me that I’m still here for “a reason” or I’ve outlived my prognosis for “a reason.” If there is in fact “a reason,” then please tell me, what the fuck it is.

This week has been especially difficult. A close friend of mine who I see on a regular basis and talk to daily, took a turn she unfortunately wouldn’t recover from. Her Mom called me this past Monday to let me know Melissa was going into hospice. I don’t care how prepared you think you are; you are never prepared to hear those words about someone you love. As I hung up the phone, it felt like someone pulled the world out from under me. I don’t remember a time when I ever sobbed like I did on Monday. I wasn’t crying for me. I was crying for Stella; Melissa’s 6 yr old pint-sized-version-of-herself, daughter. What kind of sick joke was the universe playing?

Melissa & Stella

I went to see Melissa Tuesday evening. In true Melissa fashion, her room was packed with family and friends. To know her, that was it, you had no other choice BUT to love her. Her no nonsense, tell it like it is attitude combined with a je ne sais quois and dimples gave her an unmatched power that would evoke a response of “Thank you, Hope to see you again.” after telling someone to fuck off.

My visit turned into an all nighter. I stayed with her Aunt’s Marie and Kathy. Of the three of us, Marie slept. Kathy and I talked all night and kept an eye on Melissa. Even the night nurse Vicky spent a good chunk of the night chatting with us.

Tuesday was the last time I would hear Melissa speak any words. By Wednesday night she stopped taking any liquids.

I returned to the hospital Thursday night. I was certain that the next time I walked out of the hospital to go home, Melissa would be leaving as well. Headed where she would be reunited with loved ones from her past and friends who had arrived ahead of her who were waiting patiently for her. Kathy and I again talked all night long while Maria slept on and off. By morning, the general consensus was she was waiting to see Stella one more time. No one could ever tell Melissa what to do and she wasn’t about to let anyone pull that crap now.

While all of this was going on, I was going through periods of anger rage. White hot rage. Serious question: Why Melissa? Why not me? Before anyone freaks out, I’m thinking this because I reached my “please God just let me live long enough to see..” goal. IF something were to happen to me, I know my son would be OK. Melissa, on the other hand, is 36 yrs old. She has milestones to reach with her daughter: Kindergarten graduation, first lost tooth, first sleep over, first crush, first boyfriend…Stella needs her Mom for this – all of this. There is no good damn reason to explain this unfair bullshit.

Then I encounter stupid people on social media (by proxy) and I may have had a rage tantrum. I read in a Facebook post that someone said they felt having cancer was a gift and that comment was offensive to the person who’s now talking about what she read. What-the-what? A cancer patient, who is actively living with cancer NOW feels it’s all a GIFT?? Now I have to give my two cents, which is more like a dollar fifty in pennies.

I said my last goodbye to my all-hours-of-the day-or-night-chat-buddy, my Indian food loving, CheesecakeCake binge eating, classic moving addicted, fabulous friend at 9:48am, March 1st, 2019.

Yesterday was a blur. I slept. A lot. I forget that I can’t keep up the pace that I think I can. My body gets exhausted and I shut down. Two all nighters in 3 days was cake in my 20’s but 20+ yrs and a cancer diagnosis later – forget it.

My phone rang at 10:49pm Sunday, March 3rd. It was Melissa’s mom. I knew before I answered. For a split second I wondered if I ignored the call, could I change the outcome? I answered and heard the words I didn’t want to hear: Melissa had passed.

Part of me feels very selfish being upset. My sadness is a little about me; but mostly for Stella. As sad as it is, Melissa is no longer in pain, she’s not struggling to make it through the day while being so exhausted all she wanted to do was sleep. She’ll never be nauseous or sick at the drop of a hat. Melissa will never have to endure another scan, treatment, or side effect.

I’m still pretty fucking angry. Death didn’t have to be what gave her that freedom. We should have better treatments. We should have medications that keep us going without the worry of impending death. There’s no good reason for children like Stella to be growing up without their parents.

So, I guess I’m just going to have to use whatever extra time I’m being given and take it up with those that failed Melissa and Stella.

Maybe, just maybe, I figured out what that “reason” is after all.

Melissa DePalmo ~ March 26, 1982 – March 3, 2019

Would You Love Me If….

Would you love me if I burned dinner?

Would you love me if I forgot to buy toilet paper?

Would you love me if I dented the car?

Would you love me if I left Christmas shopping to the last minute?

Would you love me if I’d rather stay in on a Saturday night?

Would you love me if I forget to put gas in the car?

Would you love me if I hate to fly?

 

 

Would you still love me if I had a miscarriage?

Would you still love me if the doctor said it’s Cancer?

Would you still love me if I had scars from surgery?

Would you still love me if I no longer had breasts?

Would you still love me if I lost my hair?

Would you still love me if I could no longer work?

Would you still love me if medications made me moody?

Would you still love me if I couldn’t go out because of chemo side effects?

Would you still love me if the doctor said it was Metastatic?

Would you still love me if you knew I was going to die?

 

Will you love me…….now?

And The Verdict Is…….

It’s been some time since I’ve talked about the Brain MRI I had back in May and there was a reason. The biggest reason was that I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions or speculate ‘out loud’ while the two biggest events in my son’s life were happening – his graduation from High School and his 18th Birthday. Both of which have happened. (Happy Birthday Pup!).

I had a Brain MRI because I was having an increase in the number of migraines per week/month than I am used to having since being on a maintenance medication (Topamax) that is supposed to stave off the migraines. I have also been having some issues with the sight in my right eye as well as the hearing in my right ear and some cognitive issues such as some trouble finding words I want to say or just not remembering words at all. Both of my Oncologists agreed that a Brain MRI was the most logical next step with these particular ‘complaints’.

The results of the Brain MRI were a bit surprising. It showed that I have a small 6mm little brain baby in my frontal lobe. Not exactly what I wanted to hear. And here’s why. The good news is that this little guys is does not appear to be Metastatic in nature. My little guy is what’s called a meningioma tumor. Meningioma tumors are mostly benign and if they aren’t causing any issues they can stay put all comfy and cozy forever. In comparison to previous scans, it does appear that my little guy is growing and if he continues to grow, I will eventually need radiation to zap him back into submission.

OK, so there’s that. But it still doesn’t answer the question of why am I having increased migraines and the other issues. So, I was referred to a new Neurologist to see if she could get to the bottom of what was going on.

I spent 2 hours with my new Neurologist, Dr V. She was THROUGH. So much so she was asking my questions about my medical history so far back that I couldn’t remember! Things took an interesting turn when we got to the physical exam portion of the visit. (Relax, that’s not what I mean). Dr V did all the typical neuro tests – touch my finger to my nose, then to her finger. Follow her finger with just my eyes. You get the idea. Then she had my bend over a bit so she could examine my neck and press on various spots asking if this or that hurt. All was fine UNTIL she got to the right side of my neck and head and that’s when the mother off all pain kicked in and I was answering her with a loud YES, STOP! Dr. V seemed quite surprised to find the spots she was pressing on were painful to me and frankly, so was I considering that they didn’t hurt me 20 seconds before she started the whole pressing/poking process. She pressed up on my head as if following a path and each press hurt a little more than the last. EVEN MY HEAD!! What the hell was she doing?? I told her before she started this that I decided I liked her but now I was going to have to re-think my decision. She giggled at my statement, taking it as a joke but I was definitely NOT joking. This woman was hurting me and I wanted it to stop.

Finally, Dr. V told me I could sit back up. She told me she was pretty sure she figured out what was the cause of my complaints and probably the root cause of why I had been suffering from migraines for such a long time. Dr. V said I had something called: Occipital Neuralgia. Holy Hell. I have another damn medical condition??? So, Occipital Neuralgia is when the nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp, (those nerves are called the occipital nerves), are inflamed.

Dr. V tells me there is a procedure that can be done to ‘turn off’ that particular nerve and it will probably solve my issues and get rid of the pain I’ve been in. Um, OK, tell me more….  She tell’s me that the Neurosurgeon can do a procedure called a Nerve Block where he will inject pain medication into various spots along the nerve and in effect ‘block’ the nerve and kill it. Said in an easier way, it’s an epidural for my head but will last longer. I was all for it UNTIL she tells me WHERE the injections go. NEEDLES IN MY NECK AND MY HEAD. (There really needs to be a better way) Oh, yeah, and the best part, Dr. V tells me that yes indeed, there WILL be pain. LOTS OF PAIN. Oh goodie! Where do I sign up???

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Photo Credit

Regrettably, I am having an Occipital Neuralgia Nerve Block on Monday morning. I did tell Dr. V that I would be taking some Xanax prior to the procedure and she was agreeable. Which is kind of funny because she really didn’t have a vote in the matter. I am ONLY doing this because I am having 3-4 migraines a week, the vision in my right eye is not good and when my head hurts it’s almost impossible to see. When I don’t have a full blown migraine, the right side of my face feels heavy and the hearing in my right ear is strange, like there is water in my ear after I’ve been swimming.

This has all been going on for the last 4.5 months and has gotten progressively worse. It makes being on the computer or my phone very frustrating because I can’t see things very well. Even if I wear those magnifying reading glasses that are supposed to make things appear clearer, well, not so much for me.

So, if you happen to think about it, on Monday, please throw some good juju my way. That this procedure is really not going to be as horrific as I envision it to be and that it gives me some relief.

(Next milestone is in 30 days – Moving Adam into his dorm room!)

Trying To Catch A Break

I should have listened to my gut and stayed in sunny Florida but you know, Adam and Bella needed me.

Spring break was uneventful (for the most part) until Wednesday the 22nd. I had my monthly Oncology and treatment appointment and was also looking forward to seeing a friend and fellow Stage 4 patient. Our appointments finally lined up on the same day. It was going to be nice to see a friend there for a change.

When I arrived, of course the nurse called me immediately and I didn’t have time to chat with Melissa for very long but we met up again in the infusion room. We eventually had some time to chat before we went our separate ways and that’s when my day went sideways or I should say “fell apart”.

I went to pick up lunch for Adam and as I walked into the restaurant I tripped on the sidewalk and fell HARD onto my right knee. I’m still not sure how I didn’t smash my face into the concrete but I didn’t. I literally couldn’t move for a few minutes because of the incredible pain. Thankfully,  a few very nice people came to my aid. The way my leg/knee looked and felt, the decision was made to call an ambulance and have me checked out. I’ll be honest, smashing my knee sure took the pain from those injections right away. Forgot all about them!

Big props to the Ambulance company and EMT’s that helped me. They were very nice. Unfortunately, the double dose of Fentynal they gave me while enroute to Strong Memorial didn’t touch the pain. I told Neil, the EMT who was stuck in back with me, that I have a high tolerance to narcotic pain meds and it would probably take a horse Tranquilizer to take the edge off. It was adorable that he thought I was joking. (See that bag in the picture? Because I ordered ahead of time I STILL managed to get Adam’s lunch thanks to the Manager at Panera’s!)

I was extremely lucky I didn’t break anything. After x-rays to my knee, hip and femur, it ended up being a very bad bruise to my knee cap. I was sent home with a brace, crutches and muscle relaxers. Not a fashion statement I recommend.

I was glad February was over. I was ready to start fresh with a new month. March had to be better, right??? Eh, not quite…..

Wednesday March 8th, I woke up with a fever of 102°. This was not good. Rule of thumb is that when you are on a medication that affects your white blood cells, any time you run a fever of 100.5° or higher you must call your Oncologist. Most of the time you end up in the ED.

I called. They ordered labs and based on those would make further decisions. At the time I had no other symptoms other than a wicked headache.

Next day, my chest began to burn. Still had that fever. Labs were fine. I was told to “keep in touch”. Um, OK? I debated much of Friday about seeing my GP and ultimately decided against it because I was afraid I would end up in the hospital.

By Monday, I was a wreck. I was weak, my chest felt like all my ribs were broken and I had trouble catching my breath. I saw my GP. She ran some tests and when she called me the next day and told me I tested positive for the flu, I couldn’t believe it.

This is why I have to be very careful about who I’m around, making sure I wash my hands all the time and staying away from people that are sick or getting over being sick. I did have the flu shot but because my immune system is weakened and because of the medications I take comprise it even further, I’m at a high risk for, well, everything.

It’s also going to take me longer to get over this. I’m told I’m going to feel sick and generally crappy for another 2 weeks. It also means I had to stop my chemo meds. I need to give my body a chance to bounce back. That may not sound like a big deal…missing a few pills, but when 21 chemo pills cost $10,950/month and I can’t take 6 of them, that’s a loss of $3,128.58.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, thanks to my craptastic immune system and catching the flu, Adam ended up with it too. At least I was able to get him Tamiflu so he’s managing. But the guilt is there nonetheless.

Solar Powered Florida Adventures

Last week I did something I rarely do but realized I should really do more of – I took a mini vacation. The two days in Albany and the press that followed after took more out of me than I realized. I was exhausted. So, when the opportunity came for me to travel to Florida for a few days I (reluctantly) said yes.

My adventure began with a red-eye flight out of the Niagara Falls airport (yeah, who knew?) via Spirit Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale, FL last Sunday. Apparently, if you pack light enough, something I am NOT known for, you can fly very reasonably on this airline but don’t even THINK of using a legit carry-on bag. Nope. Think small backpack or something half the size of a carry-on suite case and it should also function as your purse ladies or you’ll be paying an extra $50 for luggage. I digress….

I landed in Ft. Lauderdale at 5:30am Monday and it was a glorious 75 degrees!! It already felt like I was going to have a good time. My second wind was waking up and asking about breakfast.

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My early morning breakfast view at The Hilton Doubletree

I should have taken a nap but where was the fun in that? In stead, I decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and get into my (GASP) bathing suit and head straight to the pool for some much-needed Vitamin D. I am extremely deficient after all. It would be very irresponsible of me not to lay out in the sun for a little while, right?? Yes, of course I had sun screen.

After a lovely afternoon of sun and Piña Colada’s, I made plans to see a friend in Key West. The last time I was in Key West was in 2014, which was my first time. It was a difficult trip for me because of all the bone and joint pain. I was also 45 lbs heavier. The heat made moving around that much more painful. I was looking forward to going back not as that person and creating some new memories.

Bright and early on Tuesday, I began the trip to Key West. The drive thru the different Key’s is so nice. About 4 hours later, I rolled into New town Key West and checked into the hotel. I had a bit of time before dinner and meeting up with Monique so that meant I had to check out the pool. It was a bit warmer at 85 degrees but still absolutely lovely. My brain can’t even comprehend leaving anytime soon and returning to cold weather.

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I met Monique for dinner in Old Town Key West at a lovely restaurant where she works part-time. It’s on the water where the cruise ships dock. There is a large crowd that gather for cocktails at the outside bar to watch the sunset. The food was amazing and the dessert was from heaven. Yes, I could have had the Key Lime Pie but when Caramel Crème Brûlée is on the menu you order the Caramel Crème Brûlée. Always. Thems the rules.

We had a LOT of laughs and a crazy adventure after dinner that involved visiting a local dive bar off the beaten path that, if I had to guess, is probably only known to the locals. Probably for good reason. The rest of the night will, as they say, stay in Key West.

I wrapped up my stay with lunch with Monique at the Blue Macaw for Conch Fritters and then a quick picture of the Southernmost Point. A landmark that I didn’t make it to last time I was in Key West because of the extreme heat.

I also have to add that if ever in the area, at Mile Marker 15, you simply MUST stop in at Baby’s Coffee. They roast their own beans and have the most outstanding blends of coffee. There are also sandwiches and snacks if you’re hungry. If you’re a coffee connoisseur but not going to be in Key West, you can order their coffee online.

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Wednesday night, I very begrudgingly made my way back to the airport to begin my way back to the cold tundra of NY. I was already beginning to become sad knowing that I was leaving the lovely sun and warm weather but Adam and my pup Bella were waiting for me to come home. Oh, they are SO lucky I love them so much.

I barely remember getting back home Thursday morning. It was sometime around 3am. I just know Bella came our of Adam’s room to great me and jumped into my bed with me. When it was time to wake Adam up 4 hours later, this is how I woke up…..

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This trip taught me something important. If I’m going to keep doing the things that are important to me. If I’m going to keep trying to make a difference in the world, I need to remember to take time for me too. Not just Dr appointments. I need to remember to take breaks and recharge. I can’t run myself down or I won’t be good to anyone.

It was great to get away. I’m so lucky that I was able to. I had a fantastic time and I am absolutely counting the days until I can do it all over again but God help me, coming home to that furry face is the sweetest thing ever.