my cup runneth over, yes it does

No, I haven’t gone biblical on you.  My cup indeed–literally and figuratively–is full.

Because, you ask?

I was finally able to get my prosthesis yesterday morning.  A kind saleswoman from “Ruth’s”, corset shop extraordinaire, fitted me while Banjo Man ate breakfast at the cafe next door.

Who knew a $300 blob of silicone and two lovely bras would change my life so nicely?

I am filled with joy.  Seriously.  Pun intended.

I haven’t blogged about this particular issue, unwilling to make my male readers squirm (and I’d advise you guys to stop reading and go on to something else on the internet), but let’s just say it isn’t easy wearing a poly-fil insert that rides up a couple of inches higher than the real, gravity-driven thing.  I even made inserts of glass micro beads to add some weight.  That helped a little, but not much.  At one point I used small, smooth flat rocks from the lake (yes, I have a little collection here to remind me of summer).  The comfy “Knitted Knockers” served their purpose after surgery but were not cutting it in the reality of wanting to look and feel normal again.  I had begun to hate the very sight of them.

And then there’s the balance problem.  Not that I was Dolly Parton or anyone endowed with extra curves, but a little weight makes a difference.  After surgery I lurched to the left and walked the house like Frankenstein.  I was constantly reminding myself to stand up straight and not stagger sideways.

I opted out of reconstruction (more surgery??  Are you kidding me???!!!), but I didn’t want to feel self-conscious either.  I don’t really think that anyone is eyeing a 67-year old woman’s chest for a cheap thrill, but I longed to feel balanced again and to look nice in my clothes.  I often think it would have been easier in the long run to have both breasts removed and then I wouldn’t have to wear any undergarments or silicone at all.

I detest the shirts (prints? gathers? ick!) I wear.  I want my t-shirts back.  And my pretty knit sundresses.  I recently ordered a couple of sweaters with interestingly draped necks that will hide my flatness when I don’t feel like gearing up.  Pretty scarves will come in handy, too.  But I wanted options.  What woman doesn’t?

I’d had to wait for many weeks after radiation in order to get a prosthesis.  You have to be completely healed from radiation and you can’t get one before radiation because of the swelling from the surgery.  I’d been waiting all week to drive up to the city but the weather had been too awful to make the trip.  And I was getting nervous about the whole thing.  What if I cried?  What if they didn’t have my size and had to order it?  What if I got tired before I found what I needed?

So yesterday I wore my cowboy boots for courage.  But the fitting went better than I expected.  I tried on three “forms” before finding the one that matched, and four or five bras before finding a couple of comfy ones.  I wore my new “body” out of the store and pranced over to the cafe where Banjo Man was seated at the counter finishing his breakfast and reading the paper.  I perched on the stool next to him and opened my cardigan sweater to reveal a fitted cream turtleneck worn especially for fake-breast-testing.

“Stare at them,” I demanded, pointing my breasts in his direction.  “Go ahead, stare!”

He put down the paper and did as he was told.

“I can’t tell the difference,” he pronounced, good husband that he is.  But I could tell he was impressed.  He looked back up to my face.  “Are you happy?”

“Very happy,” I assured him.  “The extra weight is heaven and feels so good.  It was like wearing a pair of shoes where one fit and one was floppy and miserable and now I have two shoes that fit and I am so comfortable!”

And then I started crying.  Just a little.  Into a Kleenex.

So…one more step into the Land of Normal.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about another one.  Fear not, it has nothing to do with missing body parts.

 

 

 

 

Posted in family, rhode island, shopping, the cancer fight | 5 Comments

heading east and home again

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Flying into the sunrise.

I left Austin yesterday morning (Tuesday) at 6 AM.  The plane was dark and quiet, which gave passengers a few more minutes to snooze after early morning trips to the airport.

I think the above photo would make an interesting quilt.  I’m tempted to try.

And then a while later…

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I wonder what all that water is down there.

And lastly…

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Here comes the sun.

Will and I flew to Austin last Monday night.  A few delays in Baltimore meant we arrived at the condo after 1 AM.  Thank God I slept on the plane or I would have been delirious.  Will jogged down to the cafe and returned with chicken quesadillas for our bedtime snack and then we fell into our prospective beds.

It was 97 in Austin the next day.  And the day after that.  And the day after that, etc.  I stayed in the condo and read and sewed and watched tv while Will was at work.  It was lovely.

Ben, Amber and the Funny Grandson arrived for dinner Wednesday night.  We went out, of course, which was great fun.  I’m always grateful to be together in Austin again.  My little family is a cheerful bunch.

Friday was the FG’s Early Birthday Party.  He would spend the weekend and not return home until Sunday night, so this Party Grandma was ecstatic to have him around for such a long visit.  We walked to the cafe every morning for pancakes and bacon and plenty of conversation.  We watched football, including the pregame shows.  We read in bed at night, even though I always fell asleep before he did.  We played lots and lots of UNO and even treated ourselves to root beer floats before the Nebraska game.

He didn’t want to go home.

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Lego cars make him happy.

I even threw a couple of roasts into the crock pot for our family dinner party Friday night.  Unfortunately 8 hours in the crock pot was not long enough to cook them to the “fall apart” stage.  I think the “high” on that appliance has broken and we’re left with “low”.  Or else I was cooking a very old steer (it would take six more hours the next day to tenderize that meat).

Despite all that trouble, I was thrilled to have had enough energy to put something in a crock pot.  A good feeling!

Other than that I was pretty much useless.  Will wanted advice about redoing the living room, so on Monday–when it was a shocking 78 degrees (a cold wave!)–we drove to a couple of furniture stores to get ideas.  We even remembered to take along a tape measure, which definitely came in handy for eliminating possibilities.

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You have to love the metal bats.

So I am back in Rhode Island with a very happy Banjo Man.  Tonight we will have a “Survivor” marathon to catch up on the new season.  The weather is cool, windy and rainy–the opposite of Texas–and it feels pretty darn good to wear a sweater.

I’d had my doubts about going to Texas.  I would have cancelled it if not for my excited grandson.  He loves the tradition of Early Birthday and we always have fun.  But both Will and I were nervous about how much energy it would take for me to make the trip this year.  I worried the lymphedema would rear its ugly head due to flying (it didn’t).  And I thought I’d be too tired to have fun (I wasn’t).  In fact, I think the new medication (Arimidex, to keep the cancer from returning) gives me a little extra zip.  I’ve had more energy since I started taking it and, believe me, I’m grateful for any little bit of energy that comes my way.

Maybe in a couple of days I’ll dust off one of the crock pots and make a soup.  Now that would be progress!

 

 

 

 

 

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a mayflower kind of day

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Will and Banjo Man with the recently restored Mayflower II behind them.

It was a beautiful day for some seafaring history at the Mystic Seaport Museum.  We hadn’t visited for almost fifty years and Will hadn’t toured the village or the Captain Morgan (last surviving wooden whaling ship) since a fourth grade field trip.

it was good to have Will home for a few days.  We spent a morning at the Patriots Hall of Fame, scarfed down chowder and clam cakes in Galilee while the rain poured down, installed the corner wall mount for the new television and sorted through storage bins.  The days went by too quickly.

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Where they made the barrels for the whale oil.  My 8x  grandfather was a cooper in Bermuda in the 1700’s.

The guys toured a lot of buildings.  I rested on a lot of benches!

We finished the day with a 90-minute ride in the Mystic estuary on a steam-powered boat.

IMG_3546I saw a yacht you can rent for $70,000 a week.  It sleeps 7 so gather your friends together for a “Below Deck” experience.

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Banjo Man can’t wait to return.  We’ll be touring the upcoming Turner exhibit there with Barbara and Rod in a few weeks.

I’m working on my stamina so I can keep up.  One baby step at a time!

 

 

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49 years but who’s counting?

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September 26, 1970

Oh, we haven’t changed a bit!  LOL!!!

My hair is brown.  Banjo Man’s hair is…there.  And I certainly can no longer fit in my size 5 wedding dress!  We turned into parents and then grandparents.  And had many, many adventures–good and not so good–together.  Always together.

But love endures, as they remind us on the Hallmark Channel.  We made it through 49 years and life is good!

So we are going down to the ocean tonight and will sit on the second floor deck at Champlin’s while eating seafood and watching the fishing boats.  Will has arrived and will be joining us in our celebration as he’s anxious to leave all that Texas BBQ behind for a few days and instead eat oysters and whatever fresh fish appeals to him.

It’s going to be nice evening, 75 degrees and blue skies over the water.  Happy Anniversary to us!

 

 

Posted in family, rhode island | 7 Comments

home alone

Banjo Man is partying in Nebraska this weekend, so I am home alone and, I will admit, have felt a bit lonesome since his Wednesday morning departure.  I am used to his chatter.  He cleans up the kitchen and takes out the garbage and drives me places and goes grocery shopping and fixes fruit snacks and assures me five times a day that I look better.

You can understand why the man needed a vacation.

But today I am luxuriating in the silence and pondering the possibilities of long weekend of puttering with my various sewing projects and eating chicken salad sandwiches.   So I am content.

I am making a couple of reversible Halloween banners to give to my two favorite young mothers.  I saw one of these at the Sew Expo and had to make it.

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I’ve had a wonderful time figuring out how to do this.  Trial and error with pinking shears (once I found them)!  And what to use for the inside?  Lightweight interfacing, batting or heavy fusible interfacing?  I tried each one.  The heavy fusible won.  I tore apart my sewing closet to find the various options, which was another fun thing to do.  Driving the car still hurts so I ordered seam binding on Amazon when I normally would just drive down to Walmart (I am saving all of my driving energy for picking up Banjo Man at the airport Monday night).

Today Amazon is delivering new HDMI cords (I called Verizon Fios to replace my SD boxes and was informed they no longer have such dinosaur-like things so I had to go get HD boxes and somehow I ended up with a new router, a $200 Visa gift card and a cheaper “bundle” price, but please don’t ask me to explain how) so I can set up the new tv’s and a standing floor lamp to replace my 25 year old bedroom wall lamp that finally died on Thursday.

Phew.  That was a long sentence.

I’ve learned to do brainy things in the morning because things fall apart after 2 PM.  I’ve been assured that this is pretty typical after radiation, that it takes quite a while for the body to heal itself no matter how much I complain.

It is a beautiful day.  This is supposed to be the last warm (80’s) weekend of the summer.  I just picked a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes and one beautiful zucchini from our mini-garden.  I fed the chipmunks and turned on ESPN’s College Game Day and made another mug of coffee.

Bring on the weekend!  

 

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changing the paradigm

Anyone remember Disney’s “Pollyanna” movie from way back in 1960?  As a 9-year old, I was at first annoyed by Pollyanna’s relentless optimism.  But it was a good movie, it really was.  And I became intrigued with Pollyanna’s creative thinking.  I tried doing it myself for a while, for my own amusement.  But I started to annoy myself and gave it up a few weeks later.

I’m sure my family was relieved.

Which brings me to a week ago, when I stopped feeling sorry for myself (well, not completely–my chest was still painfully decomposing) and got a grip.  A semi-grip.  As I explained to Banjo Man, I’d spent months referring to this time as the “Summer From Hell”.   It had occurred to me–while tearfully sipping my second mug of coffee and thinking about my miserable situation–that I wasn’t being fair.

It actually had been the “Summer That Saved My Life”.

Oh, undoubtedly a lot of very unlucky things had happened:  the tumor being three times the size the doctors thought it was, the malignant lymph nodes, the cancerous involvement of skin, the aspiration in the operating room, the many complications after surgery, the onset of lymphedema and the intense skin damage after radiation.

Shit bad luck.

BUT, as I told Banjo Man, I’d been lucky where it counted:  the Oncotype number, meaning no chemo.

AND…
Two hours after our first visit to the breast cancer surgeon’s office, as I held my mammogram test results and wept with fear over what it all meant, Angela called me to say she was going to get us through this.   Which she did, getting me into tests faster than the speed of light, relaying and explaining test results the minute (I swear) the pathologist read them, prescribing much needed medication and being with us through intense, emotional and often confusing “team meetings” with the breast cancer physicians.   She researched the Oncotype statistics and studies for stage 3 cancer and insisted I have the test despite the other doctors’ objections.  She had my back, as she’d promised she would. How lucky am I?!?

AND…
I’d been surrounded and cared for by a lot of kind and compassionate medical people.  I cannot stress that enough.  Kindness is so important when you’re terrified and falling apart.

AND…
I had so much love from family and friends.  I don’t know how to tell you all what it meant to me.  I was so grateful…and awed.  I am weepy now just thinking about it.  The cards and gifts and prayers and many, many kindnesses have been so appreciated.  You have no idea how much.  

AND…
I had Banjo Man taking care of me.  How lucky am I?

So while it really was a Summer From Hell in so many ways, it saved my life.  And I have stopped being angry and resentful (most of the time) and am looking ahead to being normal again.

I have decided I no longer have cancer.  It’s been cut out of me and burned out of me, right?  A brutal cure.  According to all of the medical research and statistics, the five years of Arimidex should keep it from coming back.  I wanted to ask my oncologist when I could say, “I had cancer” instead of saying, “I have cancer”, but she was so fixated on my radiated chest I lost the opportunity to discuss it with her.

It’s not completely over.  I have one more physical therapy appointment.  A follow up with the radiologist in October.  A meeting with the oncologist in December.  A check up and mammogram with the surgeon in February.  I will be dieting and exercising and wearing my compression sleeve and doing “Yoga For Breast Cancer”.  I’m a little nervous about this new medication and its possible side affects, but I’ll deal with whatever comes next because nothing involves a scalpel.

The “Summer That Saved My Life” is over and it is time to eat pumpkin pie and break out the tequila.  I wish you could all celebrate here with me.

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My new dish towel, because in my world you can’t have enough dish towels.

 

 

Posted in a more pie opinion, family, friends, rhode island, the cancer fight | 5 Comments

if you like numbers

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My friend Pat sent me this.  I think it’s pretty interesting.

But I am easily entertained on my computer these days, having little contact with the outside world.  I long to get dressed and drive out of the woods and get myself a Spicy Italian sub, with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers and red onions, please.  Toasted?  No, thank you.  Vinegar and oil?  Yes, please.

One of these days…

Tomorrow I go to physical therapy.  Please pass the burn pads.

Yesterday I walked three laps around the driveway.  I intend to do that again today.

One step at a time, right?

 

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a monday in september

Just some notes on what’s going on here.  In no particular order.

My skin is healing, but I am still unable to get dressed and leave the house or see anyone.  But the pain has lessened and my spirits are higher.  I have some new medication for the pain and it helps me sleep.

I’ve learned I can accomplish something for about two hours a day and then I have to get on the couch, put my feet up and rest.  This is quite the boring lifestyle.

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At this rate this new quilt won’t be finished until 2020.

Harley Chick delivered squash soup, fresh bread and a pair of pumpkin socks to me Saturday.  I was not able to get dressed to say hello, but the gifts were much appreciated.  Squash soup is an all-time favorite.

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Love this soap!  Sent by my daughter-in-law, it is wonderfully soothing for aggravated (and radiated) skin:

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We are devastated by Nebraska’s overtime loss to Colorado on Saturday.  We thought we were going to have a pretty good offense this season, but we don’t.  We are all sad.

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Oh, Scott.  What the heck is happening????

Son Will is hiking in Zion for several days, along with an overnight in Las Vegas, as part of a bachelor party getaway.  Of course, after having seen the movie HANGOVER two times, we cautioned him against stealing Mike Tyson’s tiger and entering wedding chapels with prostitutes.

Oh, how funny are the old folks!!

Watching this reality tv show on Bravo has gotten me through this summer from hell.  Banjo Man can’t remember the name of it and calls it “Deep Water”.  I am endlessly fascinated.MV5BZGRiNDVjNDAtZTk4Zi00Mjk4LTlhYzEtZmNmMWFmYWU2NzE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_

There are multiple seasons, plus a spin off (BELOW DECK MEDITERRANEAN with Captain Sandy.  Luckily there were several marathons on Bravo and I was able to DVR about 54 episodes.  Not kidding.

I love Captain Lee.  He doesn’t put up with any nonsense from the crew.  Imagine a world where bad behavior = consequences!

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Captain Lee and Kate, who produce a lot of hysterical one-liners.

Banjo Man is painting the basement floor.  This is a huge job, but he is thrilled to have a project for the weekends.  And it is looking good!  We combined five cans of old white/cream paint into one huge bucket.  No trip to Home Depot to buy new paint!  Hurray!

Next week he’ll fly to his 60th high school reunion in Nebraska.  How did we get this old?  He’ll have such a good time, as his siblings will gather for a little mini-reunion on the same weekend.

I’m staying home, which is a good place for me to be.  But I expect to feel a lot better–dare I say back to normal?–by then.

Lastly, here’s another meme from my friend Pat:

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better

There is a distant light at the end of my little tunnel.  I am healing.  I am down to only one “open” area on my chest.  Imagine that.  Only one!

I felt a lot better Wednesday afternoon after my physical therapist informed me that I had the worst radiation burns she had ever seen in all of her years of treating breast cancer patients.

That announcement made me feel less crazy, less of a whiny hypochondriac who couldn’t hack the basic side affects of a few weeks of radiation.

It is cloudy and 62 degrees here in Rhode Island.  We’re expecting some wind and rain leftovers from hurricane Dorian tonight and tomorrow.  I have celebrated the end of hot weather by making another mug of coffee, eating the last two mini-muffins and cleaning out a closet.

I love cleaning out my clothes closets, but it was especially fun this morning because I tossed out my ugly mastectomy, button-down blouses and various other ugly post-surgery tops.  Now I don’t have to look at them hanging from the rod.  They have pissed me off for the last time.  In another week or so I can probably get rid of my “radiation tank tops” (destined for the garbage) and go back to regular clothes.

A multi-year collection of v-neck t-shirts also went into the donation bags.  Obviously those days are over.  By next summer I’ll know what I can wear without feeling self-conscious.  Honestly?  It’s the last thing in the world I worry about.

Banjo Man went to a lot of effort to roast a whole chicken last night.  He squeezed lemons for juice, zested them (four of them!) and on and on.  He was a bit disappointed with the results and, as he has recently discovered roasted supermarket chickens, has decided that buying them already roasted is the better deal.   The chicken was ready around 9 PM, when I was on my way to bed, but he ate a leg and said it wasn’t worth all the work.

We are not doing well with cooking, but Banjo Man’s sisters have given us a gift certificate for a food-delivery service.  Now that I am starting to want to eat again and we are no longer eating our main meals at Cracker Barrel or Denny’s, it’s time to take advantage of having meals cooked for us.  Frankly, we’re exhausted.

I still haven’t decorated with my pumpkins yet, but maybe tomorrow I’ll have another little burst of energy.  My son Will reminded me that my body is sending all its resources to healing my body from radiation and there is nothing leftover.  I hadn’t thought of it like that but it makes sense.

My friend Pat sends me funny memes about fall.  Here’s one:

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So true!

 

 

 

Posted in family, rhode island, the cancer fight | 2 Comments

greetings from the dark side

I haven’t blogged for a week because I have been in Hell.  Hell.  Capital H.

There are various degrees of Hell, of course.  I’m not comparing my situation to trying to survive a massive hurricane in the Bahamas.   I’m talking about my own little personal version of Hell.  And I haven’t blogged about it because I am whiny and angry and miserable.

I thought I’d avoid letting those feeling spill out on the blog, but…here I am, my radiated chest and I, baring it all.  Not for sympathy–please, no–but just to share, I guess.  And if someday you know someone going through this you will understand her anger and why she can’t leave the house.

It has been two weeks since my chest (collar bone to armpit) was radiated.  The following five days of radiation were spent zapping a different place:  my incision, which is about 12″ long.  Last Wednesday was my final day of that “boost” radiation and coincidentally I saw my oncologist that morning.  We were to discuss the endocrine therapy and my future.

I didn’t think she’d be so happy to see me (July’s meeting had been long and tense), but she gave me a hug and cheered the Oncotype test and its miraculous number three (“that is your lucky number from now on”) and was warm and friendly.  And then she saw my burned chest and gasped.  She grabbed her phone and took a picture to text to my radiologist.

“She needs to know about this,” Dr C. said.  “She might not want you to have radiation today.”

As if anything was going to stop me from having my final zap?  No way!  I had a giant box of chocolates for the radiation technicians in my tote bag.  I would not be driving up back up to the Cancer Center any time soon.  It was OVER.

I explained that the radiation was not hitting my chest, that it hadn’t hit my chest for a week, that yes, the burning was getting worse and Dr. L, the radiologist, had seen me a week ago.

“She needs to see this today,” was the reply.

She asked me how I was feeling and I explained that at first I’d been tired but as the radiation went on I’d had more energy and was even continuing physical therapy.  This earned me another horrified look.

“You’re stretching?  Stretching?”  She peered at my very red and swollen armpit.  “You shouldn’t be stretching.”

I left the examining room with a prescription for Arimidex, which I will take for at least five years, and instructions to hold off on physical therapy until my burn healed.

I went downstairs for my last treatment.   The technician looked at my chest and said, “Yeah, you’ve got it bad.  It’s gonna take a month, no way around it.”

(A month.  A month?)

Dr. L (radiologist) caught up with me in the hall.  She looked at my chest and said, “It’s extreme but normal.  Keep using the cortisone cream and the Silvadene.  The worst is the two weeks after the radiation stops and then it plateaus for a while before it heals.”

She was very cheerful.  I wanted to strangle her.  If I’d known what was ahead, I might have.

This is the same woman who sweetly cautioned, at the beginning of radiation, “You may experience some redness during treatment.”

Some redness?  My skin looks like it was blow-torched.  Fortunately for her, the real pain began the next day, when the blisters opened and my chest became a red, weeping wasteland.

And it still is.  According to one article I read, these aren’t technically burns, though they look and feel like burns.  Radiation temporarily destroys the body’s ability to make new skin, hence the open wounds.  Until new skin is produced, you’re screwed.

I had to go out on Friday for a bone density scan.  That was no big deal, except that I had to get dressed.  I was there and back within an hour.  Wearing a blouse was excruciating and I dug out the Percocet when I got home.  On Sunday Banjo Man drove me twenty minutes south to Westerly to CVS.  I had remembered Retired Mountain Lady’s cure for burns:  burn pads, sometimes called “Hydrogel” pads, and I hoped I could find them and they’d be the answer for the blistering open skin in a particularly bad area below my collarbone.

I was also determined to go to Michael’s and buy a mini-muffin pan (after a search here at home I realized I had taken my old pan to the lake).  I wanted to bake pumpkin muffins, a back-to-school treat, for Angela and Jeff’s children.  I wanted to do something normal.  (You’ve never heard of self-medicating by baking????  It’s a thing.  Especially with cream cheese frosting and orange sprinkles.)

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How cute is this?

Banjo Man said he knew I was in pain because I didn’t want to go out to lunch.  No, I said.  I just want to go home and get naked–and not in a good way.  I want to take a pain pill and make muffins and cry and stick burn pads on my blisters.

Okay, he said.  I’ll be in the shed.

Thank God for his shed.  And his tomato plants.  He can escape his miserable, shivering-in-pain, mad-at-the-world wife for long hours.  It’s good for him.

So as I wait for this to heal itself, I alternate between organic aloe vera gel, Silvadene, Aquaphor and Calendula salve on my skin.  I try something different every hour, depending on the pain, itching, etc.  The little burn pads cover up the worst of the blisters and, because I am going to physical therapy today (my armpit has healed so I think it’s okay to stretch it) I am going to use a large aloe-soaked pad my daughter-in-law sent me to protect the wounds from my shirt.  Ibuprofen helps a lot, and I use the occasional pain pill for when it’s really, really bad and I need to sleep…or bake muffins.

Today marks two weeks, the two weeks that I was told would be the worst of it.  I’m waiting for some kind of miraculous end to this before I self-destruct and end up in a strait jacket, highly medicated and staring up at a hospital ceiling.

I’d like to say that I have vowed to stop complaining and whining, but I’m not there yet.  I drink a lot of water and I get plenty of rest watching dvr’d episodes of BELOW DECK.  I have no appetite, so Banjo Man slices melons and strawberries to tempt me to eat.  I nibble.  I sew.  I play Wordscapes on my phone.  I chat with Banjo Man at least forty-seven times a day.  The topics range from tomatoes to chipmunks to Chinese tariffs to Nebraska football to chicken salad recipes to the Funny Grandson’s flag football adventure to…well, you get the picture.  A visit with Banjo Man is always entertaining and, thank God, distracting.

So there you have it.  The stupid Cancer Saga continues.  I should be more cheerful next week.  Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in rhode island, the cancer fight | 2 Comments