Monday, February 27, 2006

Like a box of Cracker Jacks ...

Somebody posted this on an e-mail list that I belong to:

"I've decided to dedicate my body to a medical school, and just before I die, I'm going to swallow a little plastic toy. That way, the medical student who cuts me open will get a nice surprise."


Sunday, February 26, 2006

Contested Development

On Friday, I took World's Cutest Baby to the doctor for her nine-month checkup. Everything looks great, but the doctor freaked out when I told her WCB isn't crawling yet. She gave me the phone number of a state-run program called "First Steps" and wants WCB evaluated for a developmental delay.

What? Apparently Doctor Freakout didn't get the memo that WCB is perfect in every way.

So I called the program, and the woman I spoke to said she didn't think WCB would qualify (See??), but they're going to send someone to look at her anyway. (It's free, and they come out to the house). Now we just have to wait for the Crawling Lady to call us and set up an appointment.

About 99.9 percent of me feels that there's nothing wrong with her; the other .1 percent has visions of her calling me from Harvard in 18 years, sobbing because her Brit Lit final is the next day and she can't crawl across her dorm room to reach her copy of "Beowulf".

And an even smaller part of me says, "Harvard? She's going to be living in a VAN down by the RIVER."

So we wait for the Crawling Lady.

In other news, on Friday it was close to 70 degrees! In February! In Missouri! I, however, had to spend a good chunk of the afternoon indoors, calling back and forth between my insurance company and the Mayo Clinic. Mayo said nobody has paid them; the insurance company said they totally have. I swear, there is some giant vortex in the center of the universe and all of my insurance payments are being sucked into it.

It was also interesting to call my insurance company, because they operate almost entirely on a voice-activated automated system. ("If you're calling about a medical claim, say, 'One.'") Every time WCB would make one of her infamous "I'm a Happy Girl!" shrieks in the background, it would completely confuse the computer and send me spinning off into some random part of the system. I'm not sure what she told them. I think their records show my name is Mother Shabubu now.

But I got everything straightened out (I think!), and WCB and I were able to go for a long walk through the neighborhood. Ah. Life is good.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Don't drink and read

I write a monthly humor column for a small, local magazine in South Dakota (yeah, the big time!). My most recent column was the same as the first post in this blog, "Meet My New Roomie." The column just before that was about how I had officially broken up with Tom Cruise -- who had been my imaginary boyfriend for about 15 years -- because he's recently gone crazy. Yesterday, I got this e-mail from my editor:

Get this: some crazy guy called in yesterday, and Jacqueline took the call. He wanted to talk all about you and your columns,which he reads regularly and enjoys. But he's wondering why you didn't share the fact that you have cancer earlier ... maybe you don't really have cancer, he thinks, because otherwise you should have written about it sooner. And he thinks that you ended your crush on Tom Cruise not because he's a crazy Scientologist who knocked up Katie Holmes and jumps on couches, but because you realized you'd never get to date him because you have cancer. Alrighty then, Mr. Crackpot. Oh, and Jacqueline thought he might've been a little drunk because he was slurring his words a lot.

Wow. A lot of horrible things have passed through my head since the diagnosis, but I never stopped to contemplate the most grim reality of all: TOM CRUISE WILL NEVER DATE ME NOW!! I'm not sure how I'll go on. Thanks a lot, Crazy Drunk Man!

What about Ewan McGregor? Do you think he digs cancer chicks?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Congratulations! It’s a … biopsy slide!

I thought I’d get back to writing about some of the tests I had before my myeloma was diagnosed. Today’s post: The bone-marrow biopsy.

The bone-marrow biopsy is the least fun test for myeloma; in fact, it’s probably one of the least fun tests for anything. It’s important, though, because it allows doctors to see if abnormal amounts of plasma cells are present in the bone marrow. Doctors can also use the bone-marrow sample to check on your chromosomes (abnormalities in certain chromosomes can indicate a worse prognosis in myeloma), and doctors can even run specialized tests to see how quickly the plasma cells are growing.

To do all of this fancy stuff, though, they need to stick a large needle into your hip bone and suck out the marrow, and not in the cool way that Henry David Thoreau sucked out the marrow, either.*

Yeah. Owie.

The first time I had this test done, they didn't sedate me. They did use a local anesthetic, but, as I learned that day, it’s impossible to completely numb bone.

Yeah. Owie, owie, owie, owie.

Before the test, I asked the doctor and a couple of nurses if it was going to hurt. The reply was always the same: “Have you been through childbirth? Yes? Then it won’t seem that bad.”

Any test that has a pain level that medical professionals casually compare to childbirth is not a test you want to have without sedation. Also, when childbirth is over, you've experienced, well, the birth of your child. All I got at the end of that bone-marrow biopsy was a nurse showing me what my bone marrow looked like. Cool, yes, but you can’t dress your bone marrow in a Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper and take photos of it.

By the way, bone marrow looks just like blood. All my life, I thought it was white. Why? I don’t know.

The second time I had the test done, I was at the Mayo Clinic, and they offered sedation. Bless you, Mayo Clinic. Bless you. The nurse started an IV in the back of my hand, and the rest of what I remember of the entire procedure went something like this:

NURSE: I’ve started the IV, and now it might seem like the room is spinning.
ME: Yeah, the room is spin…
NURSE: OK, we’re done.

The nurse wheeled me back down the hall to where my husband was waiting, gave me some apple juice and cookies, and then let us go. I staggered out into the main waiting area, which, unfortunately, contained computers with Internet access. I immediately e-mailed at least one friend and told her I thought I was a puffy pink cloud. The drugs wore off in about an hour.

* Obnoxious use of my English degree!**
** And isn't that the only way to use an English degree? Obnoxiously?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Oh, what a night

World's Cutest Baby woke up at 12:30 last night wanting to eat and then again at 3 a.m. because she'd misplaced her pacifier. (It's always in the last place you look, WCB.) About a half-hour later, I awoke to yet another joyful noise: World's Cutest Cat producing a hairball in the hallway.

I tried to ignore it, but that's physically impossible for me. My husband could sleep through a helicopter crash in our bedroom; I'm now programmed to leap out of bed at the first hint of a baby gurgling, a cat retching, or, occasionally, imaginary axe murderers making vague, furnace-like noises in the basement.

I staggered downstairs for some Resolve Carpet Cleaner and a roll of paper towels. About an hour later, World's Cutest Cat decided to thank me for my cleanup job by jumping up on the bed and poking me in the forehead with her claws. Again and again. And again. And again. I finally distracted her by carrying her downstairs and reminding her where her food dish is.

World's Cutest Baby decided to wake up for the day at 6:30 a.m. She was cheerful about it; I was not. If I end up plopping facedown onto my keyboard, do not be alarm6yymyfr68fyhjfr688885i;l';kl

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Meet fellow cancer bloggers

I've also received some cell-naming ideas from some fellow cancer bloggers. DavidE suggested "spore no more". How very Dr. Seussian!

David is a good friend of one of my neighbors, and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer about a year ago, when he was just 42 years old. He has been blogging since the diagnosis, and you can check out his blog here.

David also founded the FLHW Foundation, which raises money for prostate cancer research. Those letters stand for his personal cancer-fighting philosophy: Faith Love Hope Win. The foundation sells blue wristbands (similar to the Lance Armstrong bands) bearing these four words. So stop on by and order one. Or two. Or ten.

I received another suggestion from JohnW: a variation on my aunt's "cella-butt". John says, "How about the Cellibacytes? Then they can't, or shouldn't, reproduce." John is battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia and says he is "a lymphomaniac with too many lymphocytes." He is beginning a second round of chemo, which seems to be going well, and we wish him the best of luck! Check out John's blog.

Memories of an underwear inventor

Another entry! Jennifer B writes:

Your cell should be named focell in hopes that you only find crusty, old remnants of it.

Plus, I live really close to Kansas, where fossils are only a "theory"!

It was great to hear from Jennifer B. She grew up just down the street from me. We used to walk together to Bloomer Elementary School, which was actually named for the husband of the woman who invented the big, poofy, turn-of-the-century underwear. I've always felt that the school should have been named after the wife; after all, what is the husband remembered for these days? Being married to the underwear inventor, that's what.

I haven't thought about that in years.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Caseworker, smaseworker

When I was first diagnosed, one of my doctor's offices contacted my insurance company and told them I was teetering on the verge of a bone-marrow transplant. (I'm not. Perhaps one day I will be, but that day is not today.) The insurance company then assigned me to a transplant caseworker who now calls every few weeks to verify that I am not dying or possibly trying to transplant my own bone marrow on the sly.

CASEWORKER: How are you doing?
ME: Oh, just great! I'm certainly not trying to transplant my own bone marrow! Ha HA!
CASEWORKER: That's good to know and ... wait, do I hear screaming?
ME: I can never figure out how to get the donor to hold still ... I mean, that's the TV. Gotta go.

Shortly after I got off the phone today, I received a letter from the doctor's office -- the same doctor's office that arranged for the insurance company caseworker to torment me -- telling me that they don't believe I'm actually covered by this insurance company. (I totally am.)


Monday, February 13, 2006

The Cell-a-bration continues!

We have even more additions to the Name That Cell Contest. Here are a few great ideas from my Aunt Margie:

A name for your cell is tricky. It could be an imbecell or unwanted cellulite, but I want it to be cell-a-butt so it doesn't reproduce. But in the words of the famous song by Three Dog Night, "Cell abate, cell abate, dance to the music!"

... and another entry from Mike P. (In case you've forgotten, he was the force behind "Godcella"):

"O-Cella been Hidin'": Lurks in dark places, terrorizes innocent people, and is just waiting to be destroyed.

Yes! A terrorist cell!

Finally, we have an entry from an anonymous poster:

"Peek-a-boo I see you" cell: You never know where the damn things are hiding.

You know, that's true! Just last night, I thought I spotted a couple of plasma cells lurking in the bushes outside my house, but I wasn't quite sure.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The cells are short, purple, and funky

We have another fine entry in the plasma-cell contest, this time from my college roommate, Rachel:

How about "the cell formerly known as plasma" ? Then you can shorten it to the catchy TCFKAP if you want, or you can come up with an incomprehensible and unpronounceable symbol for it too!

Ah, but what would the symbol be? And what, exactly, does it sound like when doves cry? These can be secondary, spin-off contests.

I want to congratulate Rachel, because she just earned her PhD in chemistry. Now we all have to call her "doctor." Just think: I knew her back when she'd play Super Mario Kart for hours on end. Well, she probably still does that. You just have to call her "doctor" while she's playing it. Here is a link to her blog:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Thank you, anonymous Banana Man savior

World’s Cutest Baby has a beloved toy we call Banana Man. It’s basically a life-sized, “stuffed animal” version of a banana, only it has a tiny head, teeny little eyes, and a mouth. It also appears to be wearing a stocking cap. Who created this? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet that hallucinogenic drugs were involved in some part of the creative process.

Technically, I think it looks more like a Banana Woman, but Banana Man is just catchier. If you wanted to be completely accurate, you could call it, “Banana Gender-Neutral Being”, but that’s even less catchy.

While mall walking with WCB the other day, I looked into the stroller to discover that Banana Man had disappeared and was God-knows-where, probably alone and frightened, fending for himself. I never realized how attached I’d become to him/her during our short time together. I tried not to panic; I tried not to blame WCB for flinging Banana Man to the floor; I tried not to blame myself for not keeping a closer watch on my child’s artificial fruit.

Just when I was imagining how our lives would be forever changed by the absence of Banana Man, I found him: Someone had picked him up off of the floor and set him atop a mall signpost. We had a joyful reunion: WCB celebrated by trying to eat him/her.

When my husband got home from work, I met him at the door. “We almost LOST Banana Man at the mall today,” I said. He gasped in horror.

Banana Man is home now, resting comfortably.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Don’t look in the jug, officer

I thought I’d write about a few of the medical tests I had to have before I was diagnosed with myeloma. Since this ordeal started, I’ve learned about medical tests that I never dreamed existed. The most unusual one, by far, is the 24-hour urine sample.

Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. It involves a very large jug.

Most people with myeloma have too much protein in their blood and some also have it in their urine. The 24-hour test – as gross as it is – is the best way to check.

The first time I had this test, it was with my local doctor. I was horrified and amused at the same time. What if, while I was driving my sample back to the office the following day, I got pulled over by the police? What if they wondered what I was transporting in the big orange jug and wanted to check? Deep down, I almost hoped this would happen so that I’d finally have an interesting story about myself to tell at dinner parties: one that could end, “… and then my parents sent the bail money, and everything was fine.”

Or – and this would be even more exciting – I could finally have a fun anecdote to share with Alex Trebek if I ever were a contestant on Jeopardy!.

ALEX: It says here that you were once arrested.
KAREN: Yes, Alex. I was pulled over while transporting an enormous jug of my own urine.
ALEX (Shoots a withering glance to the producers): Who let you on this show?

In the end, I’d probably be so far behind the other contestants that I wouldn’t be allowed to participate in Final Jeopardy, but who cares? I’d get to say “jug of urine” on daytime TV. And allow me to take a detour here: Does anyone else get annoyed by the way Alex Trebek pronounces “foreign” words with an accent? I’m talking about the way he always insists upon pronouncing “Mexico” “Meh-hee-co”.

Of course, my trip back to the doctor’s office was uneventful. I did score brownie points with the doctor for thinking to enclose the jug in a plastic Hy-Vee bag before I returned it.

I had this test for the second time at the Mayo Clinic. This time, I had to wait in a long line in front of a desk staffed by people who hand out jugs all day and tell the patients how to, ah, fill them up. I wondered if any of them dreamed of this career as children. Worse, what did they tell their own children when they had to speak at the elementary school career day? Did they try to come up with a fancier name for their job?

CHILD #1: My dad is a fireman.
CHILD #2: My dad is a policeman.
CHILD #3: My dad is a Waste Product Containment Technician.
CHILDREN #1 and #2: Oooooooh!

At least this jug came with its own nondescript plastic drawstring bag. An untrained observer would simply think I’d picked up a little something from the gift shop. Everyone who worked at the clinic, however, seemed to know exactly what was in the bag. When I arrived for my bone-marrow biopsy, a nurse showed me to a small locker.

“Here’s where you can store your coat and your urine,” she said casually, as though she were saying, “Your coat and your hat” or “Your coat and your mittens.”

The following day, I placed my filled jug on a special cart, where it was whisked away by people who, I then realized, have even worse jobs than the jug-hander-outers. Do you think the jug-hander-outers bully the jug-picker-uppers? Do they TP their cars and snap them with towels in the Mayo Clinic locker room?

After all of my jug-hauling adventures, it turns out that I'm not doing too badly, urine-wise. The tests found small amounts of abnormal protein, which is never a good thing, but I don't have enough for the doctors to get too concerned. That's good news for my kidneys. I’m not sure if I will have to repeat this test someday, but if I do, I will once again be on the lookout for the police. If they try to pull me over, the jug and I will hightail it to Meh-hee-co.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Crawl the Line

World's Cutest Baby has a younger cousin (World's Cutest Baby II), and my sister has taken to copying CDs from the local library, making new covers for them, and adding the words "for babies" to the titles to make them seem more kid-friendly. Yesterday's mail brought World's Cutest Baby her very own copies of "Johnny Cash For Babies" and "Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass For Babies."

It worked for Mozart, so why not?