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Focus on Pooping

It was inevitable. It was to be expected. 

A post about poop.

I have colon cancer for God's sake. Talking about poop is imperative, and I'm going to do it. I almost named my blog "Focus on Pooping," so if this topic is starting to gross you out, give thanks that I went with WunderGlo.

Anyway, back to the subject. Pooping is incredibly important, as you well know. But it's not just about function -- it's about form, too. For months before getting diagnosed, I knew my bowel movements were...not anything to write home about. Don't get me wrong -- they were regular, they weren't painful, and blood never made a cameo at any of my toilet appearances. But still...the poop just wasn't pretty. I chalked it up to stress, a tough exercise regimen, spicy foods I took pleasure in eating, etc. I felt fine and strong and healthy, so I simply ignored the less than spectacular quality of my poop and went about my days. But the problems persisted.

Lesson Number One for my dear readers (you deserve a lesson or at least some kind of a treat after bearing with me during this post so far): if your poop is even slightly disturbing, and it persists for a period that extends past weeks into months (like mine did), you need to go see a GI doctor and demand a colonoscopy. I don't care how old you are or what insurance says, etc. Demand a colonoscopy. They give you great drugs so you won't even remember it, so don't stress. Just get one.

After a week of being in the hospital, nauseous and vomitty (I'm going to go ahead and treat "vomitty" as a word) and quite distended in the belly (essentially, I looked like I was with child), the docs finally figured out exactly what was up with me only after a colonoscopy. A large cancerous mass in my colon was pretty much making solid poop an impossibility, which explained the prior months of my unfortunate performances in the bathroom. 

Right after surgery, pooping was the only thing standing between me and a diet of solid foods. And after nearly two weeks of no food or ice chips or clear liquids, I wanted those solid foods BADLY. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty, but my digestive system woke up and started doing its thing. And it kept improving every day. Until it became the glorious thing that it is at the present moment.

These days, now that 1) the mysteries of my bowels have been solved, 2) Dr. Ramos skillfully snip snipped out part of my colon and any other intestinny areas (yeah, that'll be a word, too) where a potential blockage looked remotely possible, and 3) my body started functioning without the burden of a blockage, I can't get enough of my poop. To put it lightly, my poops are AWESOME. I examine my movements of bowel every day. I call others over to see. Sometimes, I take photos. Always, I rejoice.

Today, poop is one of the key indicators of my overall health. A good, wholly formed piece of waste means this WunderGlo's intestines are open and clear, without a blockage in sight, just as they should be. It means that whatever tumors I've got left in my abdominal cavity have not thrown a wrench in my GI happenings, which is also great. It also means that, so far, the GI-related side effects of chemo have not reared their ugly heads. (Speaking of chemo side effects, today is Day 4 and I haven't experienced any of them. Sweet!)

We all make jokes about poop, but bowel movements are crucial to me these days and they should probably be crucial to you, too. This, however, does NOT mean that we should stop making jokes about poop. By all means, continue. 

Lesson Number Two (which is, I'll admit, similar to Lesson Number One, but don't hold that against me): pay attention to your poop. And, if you want, pay attention to mine. I make masterpieces every day.

Taking It Easy

The conventional wisdom regarding chemo side effects, it seems, is that they generally start on Day 3 post-treatment, which is today. Anticipating these side effects, I took it easy. Lots of rest, cuddling with my cuddly pooch, and TV/movie watching. Besides a dull headache that came and went throughout the day, no side effects came out to play today.

Cancer is already teaching me something that I've either failed to learn in life or forgot very quickly - taking care of myself is really important. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Not to this kid.

Before this all went down, I would thrash my body around - working very late hours, spreading myself thin with activities, seeking fun and refusing to rest when rest was necessary, and eating and drinking whatever I wanted. What a silly little warrior I once was.

I've got things a lot more figured out now. In order to truly be a warrior, you need to respect your body and prepare it for battle. That means eating good foods, getting good rest, and balancing stress and endless activity with tranquility and days where you don't do much of anything (like today, for example). Thanks for the lesson, cancer! I'm still going to kill you, though. ;)

I did do some things today -- including, quite notably, becoming detached from my bag o' chemo. Now I can move freely sans fanny pack and without a needle firmly secured to my portacath, which is awesome. Will actually handled the entire detaching process (while guided by a seasoned nurse, of course) -- from flushing my portacath with saline, to adding some blood thinner to prevent port clotting, to pulling out the needle (which freaked him out way more than me, since he had to squeeze this butterfly-like contraption that made the needle practically fly out of my chest). At first, I was a little concerned that the nurse was such a teacher-type (frankly, I was hoping she'd handle everything at least for this first detaching), but bravo to my hubby for his careful and excellent execution. I felt no pain or discomfort (or fear that he'd somehow mess up) at all.

Now, my nurses (Mom, Dad, and Will) and I are going to enjoy this rainy L.A. weather with a roaring fire and a scary movie.

And some food, of course. Chemo side effects or not, I'm not planning on losing a pound.


On Music

Last night (yes, about half a dozen hours after finishing chemo at USC), I went to a concert at the Palladium. I saw a great British indie-folk band called Mumford & Sons. Their music is beautiful -- a well-played banjo and cello really adds such depth to a normal guitar/keyboard/drums ensemble. Their lyrics are even more beautiful -- mainly about love and loss and growth, and truly earnest. I'm not going to lie -- I teared up many times as I felt the energy and passion of their music flow right through me. So invigorating.

I made a decision last night -- concerts are a must during the chemo process. That means I gotta get on the internets and start searching for some shows.

I've always known that music is incredibly therapeutic, particularly for me since I am so crazy about music in general. I can pretty much listen to anything, and I'm passionate about a wide variety of artists -- from old school hippies (Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez), to the king of rap music (Tupac Shakur), to a whole host of female vocalists (Sarah McLachlan, Norah Jones, Fiona Apple, Stevie Nicks), to Radiohead, Antony & the Johnsons, Elton John, etc. I also love the theme song to The Golden Girls and have been known to belt it out on a daily basis.

So far, music has been totally helpful during this whole process. It gives me an extra boost of energy and confidence -- in essence, it supercharges me (and I'm already pretty charged). For example, before I got wheeled off to the operating room for my first surgery, as the nurse was taking one last vial of blood, I was bumpin' some serious Lil' Wayne in my hospital room and feeling more confident about the procedure than anyone at Good Samaritan was, I'm sure. Also, about two days after surgery, I started dancing (and haven't really stopped since) on the way to the bathroom when my iPhone inadvertently started playing a 50 Cent song. (For those of you who don't know, Lil' Wayne and 50 Cent are two titans in the hip hop world -- you should probably check them out. I'm quite partial to Lil' Wayne. He's adorable.)

But there's really something about hearing one of my favorite bands play their incredible music live that really moves me. It's like my heart just fills up to the brim, then does the same to my eyes. Every now and then, I try to choke back the tears, but usually not. It's dark in most venues, anyway. :) 



Fun with Chemo

Well, today was my first day of chemo, and I was amped from the minute I woke up, which was pretty darn early. It always happens to me this way: on a big day, -- say, when I've got to get to court for a hearing, or catch an early flight, or it's my birthday or Christmas -- the minute my body senses that it's an acceptable hour to wake up, I'm up. This morning, it was around 6am. I forced myself to go back to sleep, napping here and there for 20 minutes at a time, but I couldn't really control my energy. By the time I was up and dressed and chomping on my massive breakfast, I felt like I could literally beat cancer with my bare hands. Just pure adrenaline and excitement at the notion that I'd be actively killing cancer today.

Here's my game face/cancer-killin' face.

Got to USC Norris (I've gotta say it, FIGHT ON!) at about 8:30a, where I checked in at the Day Hospital and basically told them to start preparing my chemo cocktail (they don't start making it until you check in because if they do and you don't show up, they have to dump it and will have wasted $15,000). After that, I headed to the blood draw place where an awesome nurse painlessly took my blood and chatted about baseball with me (she's pulling for the Yankees, and given my intense dislike for the Phillies and hatred of the Giants, I had to agree). Then I headed over to see Taline (Dr. Lenz's nurse practitioner) and, of course, Dr. Lenz.  Dr. Lenz and I had a quick chat, a hug, and I was off to the Day Hospital again to officially get the party started.

The only potential for pain during the chemo-getting process (at least, in my mind) was the insertion of the needle into the port on my chest. The nurse mentioned that we couldn't numb the area and it was at its most tender given how recently I'd had it placed, so this first shot might hurt.

It didn't. :)

The rest of the process was time-intensive (I was at Norris for about 6 hours) but painless and fun. Played on the iPhone, emailed with friends, watched a little TV, hung out with my parents and Will, cracked jokes with the nurses, and generally had a good time. What really threw it over the top in terms of fun was my constant faking of side effect symptoms, and then taunting the poor souls (namely, my parents and Will) who fell for my gag time and again. 

Got out of there around 3ish, picked up meds (I'm on a new drug that helps with blood clots and also has anti-tumor (read: tumor shrinking) properties), grabbed my second lunch of the day, and bought some more shirts like the Rocky one I'm wearing above (Muhammad Ali, Clint Eastwood). I left the Day Hospital with a little parting gift -- a small water bottle-like contraption attached to me via portacath that has some additional meds in it. It rests in its own little fannypack-type deal, and I can either clip it around my waist (dorky, but whatever) or put it in a coat pocket. If I want to go to Disneyland and act like a tourist between now and Wednesday (when it'll get removed by the Day Hospital folks), I'll be all set. 

So now, the plan is to chill out, work out when I "feel up to it" (please, that's going to be every day), and wait for these side effects to hit me or not hit me at all. Side effects include some poop issues, nausea, fatigue, and that should be about it. I've got pills to counteract all of them. I should keep my hair (which is great but I was pretty ready to lose it and do the short Mia Farrow haircut from Rosemary's Baby when it grew back), and my immune system won't be taking a major hit so no surgical masks when I'm out in public (nice). All in all, a pretty sweet deal if you consider the fact that RIGHT NOW, the chemo could be doing some actual cancer-killin'.

Do your stuff, chemo. Shiver in your boots, cancer.



Getting My Game Face On

In any competition, mental preparation -- in addition to physical prep, of course -- is essential. Getting your head right could be the difference between merely showing up and truly excelling. In order to ensure success, you must get your head right, and get your game face on. I know these things, and that's why I asked my parents and Will if we could go to Santa Barbara for the weekend. Of course, they said yes. 

We had a great time this weekend -- I continued to stuff myself with healthy food (yes, I consider a vegan apple and quince crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to be "healthy" and don't you dare tell me any differently), took long walks (which didn't bother my incision, gut, or portacath in the least), got a good night's sleep, and was inspired by the beauty and power of the ocean. 

Some other highlights:

* We learned that my mom and Will are a supremely talented duo when it comes to washing my hair in a hotel room sink (I can't shower like a normal person until the portacath is for sure, definitely, not even close to becoming infected).

* We learned that extremely hot wasabi has no effect on Will's tongue when he's taken a Vicodin (he had two wisdom teeth out earlier this week and has been milking the pain meds ever since). The stuff that was making my eyes water literally had no effect on Will, who -- as you might have guessed -- is usually a lot wimpier than me when it comes to ingesting wasabi.

* We went to a "metaphysical bookstore," where I stocked up on many sticks of incense and other "metaphysical bookstore" goodies. I'm pretty sure that working at a "metaphysical bookstore" is one of the most stress-free jobs in the world.

* Oh, and I forced my parents to watch The Crazies (I'd already seen it, as is the case with almost all scary movies), which scared the hell out of them. Bonus! 

So why, besides just wanting to spice up my weekend, did I choose to go to Santa Barbara and what the hell does it have to do with my game face?

I spent a lot of time in SB when I was a little one, and I attended an incredible retreat during high school that also took place there. I've got countless wonderful, unforgettable memories from my time in Santa Barbara. It's a place where I feel truly relaxed and energized all at the same time. Before I started my first week of chemo, which begins tomorrow, I knew that I needed to harness some of that special Santa Barbara-inspired peaceful aggressiveness (yes, aggressiveness is a word). During the course of this weekend, I did just that.

The picture below captures my game face on this day, the day before I begin chemo. As you can see, I'm relaxed, engaged, and supremely confident. My body has healed and is ready for battle, and my game face is on. I can't wait for tomorrow. Cancer, you're going down.