Monday, October 30, 2006

The End of Normal

Today is the one-year anniversary of My Last Day as a Normal Person. On a tiny scale, it's sort of like how everyone feels about September 10, 2001. You know: On September 10, you were out at the mall or lying around watching TV or whatever, and everything was fine, and then the next day the world started falling down, and from then on you went to the mall "so the terrorists wouldn't win."

October 31, 2005, I got up, dressed my five-month-old as Princess Leia from Star Wars (OK, maybe the term "Normal Person" is relative), and went to a Halloween party put on by a stay-at-home moms' group that I belong to. When Princess Leia and I got home, the light was flashing on the answering machine. It was a nurse from my doctor's office calling about my test results.

Aw, I thought, it's my low iron again. I've had slightly low iron off and on for years, but I've never really worried about it. As soon as I get a roast-beef sandwich in me, it goes right back up. I figured I'd call back and get another lecture about eating more red meat and leafy greens. Instead, the nurse told me that my protein level was too high. I'd never heard of this.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means you have too much protein," said the nurse.

This nurse, by far, would turn out to be the least helpful medical professional I'd encounter through this whole thing.

She told me I needed to go to a "specialist" to get this protein thing sorted out, although she never mentioned several key details, such as, "He's an oncologist" or "He works at the Cancer Center." I didn't know anything about doctors, so I didn't think to ask. I wrote down the name of the doctor and the appointment date, thinking this was all very bizarre. Why couldn't my regular doctor just tell me what was wrong? As soon as I got off the phone, I went straight to the Internet and Googled "high protein." All I could find was a rare disease called multiple myeloma, but the Internet claimed that it only affected people over age 70 -- mostly men -- and came with a whole host of nasty symptoms, including bone pain, infections, and kidney failure. Most people who had it had just three years to live. I sure didn't have that.

A couple of days later, I got a letter in the mail from the Kansas City Cancer Center.

The letter confirmed my appointment and then explained that I would need to go to such-and-such building for my first appointment, but then I'd be going to another-such building for my chemotherapy appointments. I called Helpful Nurse back in a panic.

"Oh, we're not sending you there because we think you have cancer," she lied. "It's because he's also a blood expert."

"Well, I guess I needed to check," I said, "because just I got a letter telling me which building to go to for my chemotherapy."

"Oh, yeah," said Helpful Nurse, "they did change the chemotherapy building."

Let's take a brief time out for a side note here: Back when I was in college in South Dakota, I had a great linguistics professor who never failed to crack me up. She was from New York. One day, she told this story: "The first time I came to South Dakota, I called my husband and said, 'We're not moving here.' He said, 'Why not?' I said, 'BECAUSE THERE IS A JOHN DEERE TRACTOR AT THE AIRPORT!' He said, 'So?'" (Dramatic pause) "We later divorced because of his inability to understand metaphor."

My point, and I do have one, is all I could think of after that phone call was, "Wow. Helpful Nurse has the inability to understand metaphor."

I guess there are worse things than having cancer.

Anyway, I wouldn't get my official diagnosis until late November, but October 31 is when it all began. The End of Normal.

Friday, October 27, 2006

L. Frank Baum is spinning in his grave

Thanks to my friend Barb for alerting me to this photo, which is one of the most disturbing things I've seen in a while. Remember that I change diapers all day, so I've seen a lot of disturbing things.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Infamous Blood Test

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Infamous* Blood Test that started this whole stupid cancer mess. It was just a routine part of my annual physical. "Oh," I thought, "they're just going to check for cholesterol and stuff. Oprah always says you should know your cholesterol level."

Come to think of it, I never did ask what my cholesterol level was, what with them finding the cancer instead. I'll just assume my cholesterol is fine. Don't tell Oprah.

This means that these evil cancer cells have been lurking in my blood for at least one year now, probably a lot longer, and ... I'm still fine. I'd never know there was anything wrong with me if it weren't for that one test. In the past year, I've felt completely healthy. In the past year, I've had two colds and a touch of WCB's recent stomach flu -- hardly cause for me to run off to the doctor to be tested for cancer. And since the cancer hasn't required any sort of treatment in the past year, either, is there a point in knowing about it?

It's funny. But not ha-ha funny.

*Doesn't the word "infamous" remind you of The Three Amigos? "El Guapo isn't just famous -- he's INfamous!"

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Republicans call; WCB throws up

Wow: I haven't blogged in a whole week. I think that's a new record for me. I haven't been doing much except dodging phone calls from every political candidate in the state of Missouri. Just as I typed these few sentences, the phone rang again. We even got a couple of messages from the Republican party. What? Neither Jay nor I have ever voted Republican, or even thought kind thoughts about a Republican candidate in our entire lives. Why are they calling here? If they vant to suck my blood, they are more than welcome to it. Mmm ... cancer-filled treat.

Where was I?

Oh, right. I haven't been doing much that is blog-worthy. Yesterday, poor, poor WCB had her first bout with stomach flu. I had my first bout of having to clean up after someone with the stomach flu. Did you know that vomit can fly? For a while, I wasn't sure if I should call the pediatrician or a priest. If anyone knows how to get baby throwup out of a board-book edition of Go, Dog, Go, please e-mail me. Fortunately, everyone is doing much better now.

See? I told you it wasn't blog-worthy. You really need to take these warnings more seriously.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

It's even in prime time

Anyone see House last night? The patient was a little old man (played by Joel Grey from Cabaret) who was dying of some mysterious horrible disease. House wanted to find out what the disease was; the little old man just wanted House to inject him with morphine and kill him. House made a deal: If he didn't figure out what was wrong within 24 hours, then he'd go ahead and kill the little old man. So the expert medical team stayed up all night long -- so long that the makeup department had to put dark circles under their eyes and muss their hair -- until they came up with a diagnosis.

Multiple myeloma.

Of course, you knew this couldn't be the real diagnosis, because it was only 7:20, and House never pins down the true diagnosis until at least 7:45, often later. Turns out that around 7:45 they figured out that poor Joel Grey had amyloidosis, which is a condition related to myeloma, where the protein builds up in the organs. He died at the end of the episode, possibly because the dark-circle-eyed beautiful woman doctor injected him with morphine after all.

I'll tell you that I did have a brief moment of triumph when I saw how relieved House was when he thought it was "only" myeloma. "There are treatments," he told the little old man. "You're not terminal." House should know, I thought. He is a SUPER GENIUS. Plus, he's totally faking an American accent, and you can't even tell.

I like it when fictional characters help me feel better about my life.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Et tu, Foo Foo?

Before WCB was born, someone gave us a little storybook version of "This Little Piggy." I noticed that several lines had been changed to make the rhyme more pleasant. Instead of

This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none

it now reads

This little piggy had cookies (as not to offend vegetarians)
This little piggy had fun (as not to offend non-vegetarians)

I always read it the "right" way in protest. Cookies, my eye. This morning, I discovered that's not the only rhyme that's been sanitized for our protection. WCB and I attended a baby music class and witnessed the most bizarre interpretation of "Little Bunny Foo Foo" I've ever heard.

For those of you who didn't attend Brownie camp in the early '80s, "Little Bunny Foo Foo" goes like this:

Little Bunny Foo Foo hopping through the forest
Scoopin' up the field mice, and boppin' 'em on the head
Down came the good fairy, and she said,
"Little Bunny Foo Foo, I don't want to see you
Scoopin' up the field mice and boppin' 'em on the head
I'll give you three chances, and then I'll turn you into a goon."

The song repeats with good-for-nothing Bunny Foo Foo wasting his three chances, until -- poof! -- the good fairy turns him into a goon. The song ends with a delicious pun: "The moral of the story is ... hare today, goon tomorrow!" Needless to say, this was one of my favorite songs EVER.

Today's version, however, eliminated the good fairy and had Bunny Foo Foo's parents very un-poetically putting him in time out and telling him to think about the bad choice that he made to hit the field mouse. Bunny Foo Foo then realizes that hitting is wrong and that he should use words instead. He apologizes to the field mouse who then forgives him and the two play happily together.

I'm not making this up. I can't make this stuff up.

"Hare today, carefully considering the consequences of my actions and coming to the realization that violence -- in all its forms -- is wrong and detrimental to my relationships with mice" just doesn't have the same ring.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Therapy dropout ... no graduation day for you ...

We think we might be done with the baby physical therapy. Today's session was 45 minutes of WCB crying, trying to climb over us in terror, doing her famous Ray Bolger impression whenever we tried to get her to walk, and yelling, "No! No!" at the therapist.

"Really," I shouted over the WCB screams, "she can walk with a push toy."

"Oh, I believe you," came the voice of therapist from somewhere behind the wall. He'd ducked down behind a ledge so WCB would act more natural. She could still sense he was there. It's like how dogs and bees can smell fear. WCB can smell physical therapists.

So, he left it up to us to decide if we'd come back again. We kept our appointments open for now, but I'm pretty sure we're going to be done with the therapy. Sure, maybe she'll have to crawl across the stage to get her Harvard diploma, but after today, we're willing to pay that price.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Scary story

I guess it is a good time of year for scary stories, but I only like it when I am pretend scared.

Here is an absolutely horrifying story from today's Kansas City Star about the Kansas City Blood and Marrow Transplant Program. Supposedly everything is fine now, but in 1998 and 1999, an abnormally high number of patients were dying after their stem cell transplants. It was discovered that the stem cells were frozen improperly, sometimes left to sit at room temperature, and patients were receiving transplants of dead cells. Yeah, nice.

The story claims the doctors realized the mortality rate was unusually high, yet they continued to admit new patients to the program and failed to tell them about all of the deaths. It all came out in the open when a lab tech finally blew the whistle. Now a bunch of patients' families are suing, including the family of a woman who had myeloma and died from her transplant. Not only did she get a faulty transplant, the woman's daughter says that doctors at the transplant program told her the transplant could cure the myeloma. Um. No. There is no cure for myeloma.

Anyway, when I first saw the article, I nearly had a heart attack. I was a patient at this transplant program in November and December last year. A doctor there is the one who initially diagnosed me; then in early December he said he wanted to start me on thalidomide in preparation for a transplant. That's when I hightailed it to Mayo. Again, the article says everything is OK now -- there are new doctors, new procedures, fewer deaths -- but you just never know.

Scary, scary, scary.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

That Elmo fella is all right

Alternate title: I've been watching way, way, WAY too much PBS.

Over the summer I came back to watching Sesame Street on an almost daily basis, after a 25-year-ish hiatus. And I was hugely mistrusting of Elmo. Elmo is a "new" muppet to me. I grew up with the originals: Bert. Ernie. Guy Smiley. A Snuffy who was invisible to everyone but Big Bird. But now, I have to admit, Elmo has grown on me. Maybe I need to get out more, but I find him clever and I laugh at his jokes. Then, today, a two-daddy family was featured on "Elmo's World." OK, maybe "featured" is too strong a word, but the video montage about different types of families contained a fleeting glimpse of an unmistakably two-daddy family. Way to go, Elmo. Stand up for what is right!

Now if he'd only quit emotionally abusing poor Mr. Noodle.