Questions, Statements, and Numbers

For a variety of reasons, I would recommend that you not get cancer. One of those reasons is that it is expensive. Since my diagnosis at the beginning of October, I have paid about $8500 out of pocket (and I have good insurance). Every time I see a specialist, it costs $50. During AC chemo treatments, I would often get sick and have a low-grade fever and have to go to Urgent Care, and that’s expensive. There was an ER visit in PA, and that was expensive. My mammogram was expensive, and there were two large bills from my insurance company. Chemotherapy drugs are expensive. Without looking back at the bill, I think it cost my insurance company about $10,000 for chemo in about a two month span. A year ago I moved in with my folks so that I could pay off my credit cards and save for a down payment on a house. There has been no saving. My credit card debt is almost gone (it should have been gone by now, but Cancer is a money-sucking monster that feasts not only on your physical and mental well-being, but on your checking account as well). Yesterday evening, a realtor called me. I met her about a year ago when I went to an open house (for funsies–I love going to open houses and looking at display homes). I remember her telling me that she would contact me in a year (when I was planning on being ready to buy), and sure enough, one trip around the sun, and the phone rings. “Hello, Jenny, this is (I don’t remember her name); are you ready to start looking into home ownership?” And my response, “No, sorry, not at this time. I had to pay to have cancer, so I’m not in a financial position to consider buying right now.” And then she felt bad.

Questions:

  • Should I buy or rent?
  • If I buy, should it be a condo?
  • Is it better to invest in real estate or use my money to travel?

Statements:

  • I wish I was wealthier so that I could easily come up with a down-payment for a house.
  • I wish I could buy a house AND travel the world.
  • My intuition tells me that I value travel more than real estate.
  • I wonder if my intuition is being irresponsible.
  • Being wealthy is better than not being wealthy.
  • I prefer to spend money rather than save it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my next move. If I was patient, I would just stay at my folks’ house and continue to save money and chip away at my student loan debt. Digression–> I SO wish I could go back in time and tell my 22-year old self, “Jenny, do not go to a private university to get a teaching credential/Masters in teaching. Just go to UMSL. Also, DON’T take out loans for living expenses while you’re going to school for your teaching credential so that you can live with your best friend in a cute apartment and then not save any of the remaining money but instead spend it on God-knows-what.” Oh well, c’est la vie. It was a wonderful two years. 22-24 was my prime (and it really was a cute apartment).

Let’s talk about my “boobs.” They are hard, scarred, bulbous protrusions that are growing on a weekly basis. I’m basically reliving 1991-1994 on my chest in a matter of six weeks. The whole process is pretty fascinating. I go in once a week and Big Mac and Lil D (Dr. Maclin and Nurse Debbie) grab the Expansion Bucket, arrange a still life of tools on a tray and begin the quick process of injecting me with saline. They take a magnet to note exactly where the tap is under the skin, mark it with a blue marker, numb the spot using a spray, take a big ol’ needle filled with saline and gently puuuuuuuush, and then voila! Attach two little round band-aids (they look like nipples on the tops of my boobs), and I’m out. When I came out of surgery I was an A cup, and now I’m about a large B. Although my original intention was to go back to rockin’ them D’s, I’m going to expand to a C. *I should mention that Dr. Mac does not use letters to describe breast sizes; he uses numbers: 1, 2, 3, and 4. Essentially, A, B, C, and D. I will end this process at a 3 (1st is the worst, 2nd is the best, 3rd is the one with the hairy nips. My nipples will be created using skin near the mons pubis, so there’s a slight chance that a random pube may pop up on my nipple. But no worries, Dr. Mac says, it can be lasered off (??!!!??). Mac recommended size 3 because it can be pretty hard on the tissue to stretch to a 4, and plus, having smaller boobs makes you look smaller, and it’s easier to buy clothes. I’ll have to wait 3 months after my last expansion before I can get my implants. This gives the skin and muscle time to adjust. Therefore, implants will be installed in September, and Mac said I’ll need two weeks of recovery (so there goes my sick days for next year). Digression–> I’m currently on a six week medical leave, but I’m not being paid for 3 weeks of that since I used up all my sick days this year.

Statement:

  • If you’re going to get cancer and you don’t make a ton of money, you should either be married/committed to someone who can pick up the financial slack or have a solid enough relationship with your parents that you can live with them (rent free).

Three months after getting implants, I can get my nips. This is a long surgery since they’re taking my skin, creating nipples, then making minute little stitches to attach them (no Franken-nips). It’s like arts and crafts time for Buffalo Bill. Luckily, this surgery will fall in December, so the two weeks recovery time will happen over Winter break (all I want for Christmas are my two pink nips). At some point, I’ll have the nips tattooed, but I’m not sure when this will happen.

*******

Here’s my current crazy idea (but unlike most of them, it’s not expensive, so it’s feasible). Firstly, my friend Julie and I follow The Alison Show on Instagram. It’s this woman (Alison) who throws parties for a living, and she has these incredible dance parties that women pay to attend. Alison is the uninhibited-type who likes dancing (with vigor and purpose), and so Julie introduced me to her on IG because I remind her of Alison (or Alison reminds her of me. My first exposure to T.A.S. was when Julie tagged me in a video of Alison’s where she is pregnant and enthusiastically dancing to Salt n’ Peppa’s “Push It” wearing a custom-made pink kimono. Julie wrote, “Is this you?”). The other day Julie texted me and was all, “Jenny, you need to do what Alison does!” and it got me thinking. I’ve contemplated having a ‘I’m Done with Chemo and the Worst of It’ party, and I’ve also thought of ways that I can give back to those who are battling breast cancer (this disease is too common). If I have an all-girl dance party where I charge a minimal admission fee (all proceeds go to breast cancer research), would you come? I would open it to the public, promote it, and it would be three hours of non-stop booty-shakin’. I would try to get donations and make it as fabulous as possible, but it may just be my 15-year old iPod and Bose speaker with some Costco Cookies. Either way, it would be a helluva good time and contribute to a good cause.

Please feel free to share your two-cents on the buy vs. rent dilemma.

Band Names: Hard and Scarred, Expansion Bucket

 

Hormones

Uncle George Update–>He’s keeping his leg! He’ll require surgeries and rehab, but he will be OK. Thank you for your prayers.

Jenny Update–> All the hair is coming back! Lashes, brows, head hair (even though my noggin is mainly white/grey). However, all the hair is coming back. I had to shave my legs last Friday, and I shaved my pits today. If I wanted to wear a bathing suit right now, there would have to be extra mid-section maintenance. Shaving hasn’t been part of my personal hygiene routine since November, but once those 6-7 weeks after my last chemo passed, and the last of the toxins left my system, my body said (in hyperactive speed), “What? I can produce hair now? OMG! I’ll grow leg hair, and then I’ll give you some pubes, and then I’ll get the hair to grow back in your armpits, and I’ll get that fine fuzz growing all over ya! And then…” And I want to tell my brain, “Shhhh, juuuust chill. Take a deep breath.” My natural blood pressure is high; without medication, my blood sugar levels are capricious; I sprout hair like weeds, so when I personify my brain, it is hyperactive, eager, and driven, although easily distracted. Therefore, although its intentions are good,  it becomes over-heated and misguided. My body is starting to resume its normal level of (medically regulated) chaos.

I went to see my oncologist last week (she’s so warm and genuine that I actually get a little excited to go to the hospital and see her). She was so pleased with my response to all of my treatments (chemo and surgery) that, although it’s standard protocol to keep a cancer patient’s port in for at least a year after chemo ends, she told me I could have mine removed. Therefore, it’s scheduled to come out next week (on Friday the 13th). It’s a quick procedure done under light sedation, but a heavy reminder of what I’ve been able to put behind me. Dr. K and I then discussed the next step in my treatment process: Tamoxifen. I’ll take this pill for 10 years, and its purpose is to suppress my body’s production of estrogen since I have a hormone-fed tumor. My tumor craves estrogen like I crave french fries. Unfortunately, while I take Tamoxifen, I really need to stay away from french fries. Dr. K said that the two most common side effects of T-fen are weight gain and hot flashes. I’m basically going to turn into this. She said that taking the pill doesn’t automatically cause you to gain weight, you just have to be more health-conscious. Problem is, I’m an eater. Part of my identity is my appetite; if you ask anybody with whom I’ve ever worked or socialized, he or she would say, “Oh yeah, Jenny. Funny girl. Likes to eat. Dates weird dudes.” But I need to chill out on the food. Seriously. Part of what it takes to prevent a recurrence is to maintain a healthy weight and nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods. Plus, I’m hypertensive and insulin-resistant; the effects of these health issues can be lessened through diet and exercise. I know what I need to do to lose weight and be healthier. I’m not one of those people who eats a pack of Skittles and drinks a diet Coke for breakfast and thinks, “It’s cool; I’m living a fat-free lifestyle.” I’ve always said that I don’t need a diet plan; I need hypnosis. I could earn a Ph.D. in nutrition, but you put a cupcake right in front of me, and within 60 seconds my stomach acids will be attacking it (while I lick the wrapper). Probably once a week for the past ten years I’ve told myself, “OK, let’s get healthy. You can do it,” and I’m so motivated to do it, and then that feeling passes with the whiff of a baked good. I’m pretty sure that at some point in my life I said, “The only thing that could motivate me to lose weight is if I was faced with a serious illness and I had to eat better in order to get better.” Turns out I was wrong (I ate like a horse during my Taxol treatments). BUT, now that I have started T-fen, I really, really need to embrace a healthy lifestyle, and I’ve behaved myself (nutritionally, at least) since I saw Dr. K. on April 27.

Dr. K recommended that I stay away from looking at all of the potential side-effects of T-fen because it may cause unmerited anxiety. I’ve heard people refer to it as “Tamoxifuck,” so if you know people who have had unpleasant experiences with this drug, please don’t tell me about it. I compare it to taking Accutane. I took this wonder-drug in 9th grade and never had acne again, but I know it had serious side effects for some people. All it did to harm me was cause dry skin. There is also the question of whether or not I’ll ever have a period again. All of this sprouting-hair-and-wondering-when-I’ll-get-my-period is so middle school-esque (sans the feelings of angst and misery associated with this awful stage in one’s life). I started my period in 6th grade. I was 11, but for some reason I didn’t think it was appropriate to get your period at 11 (and this is not due to a lack of education on menstruation or puberty in general; I just had my own opinions on the subject); I thought I was too young, so I figured I’d wait until I was 12 to tell my mom. I’ve never had regular periods in my life, so I didn’t have another one until four months later at the end of the school year. 6th graders went to Camp Wyman in late May, and I was just miserable there. On the last day of camp, a particularly rough day of thinking that everyone hated me and that life was terrible, I came home, sat down on the pot, looked at my underwear, and saw blood (much more than what had shed the first time). It’s one of the most memorable visions in my head. I was wearing a shirt from Benetton–black with a neon design–denim cut-offs, and blue Keds. I remember looking at that blood and thinking, “Wow, that explains so much.” I knew I had to tell my mom. Later that evening, when my parents were watching television in the den, I told my mom, “Mom, when you hear me blow on my recorder (that broke-ass plastic version of a flute that everyone gets in 5th grade), come into my room.” Being that I was a strange, hormonal nightmare during the 91-92 school year, I’m sure such an odd statement didn’t phase my mom. I went into my room, took some deep breaths, and then blew on the recorder. She didn’t come in. Once more, I blew on the recorder, but again, she was a no-show. Therefore, I Napoleon Dynamite-sighed, and, frustrated, walked down the hall AGAIN to the den. “MOM, I told you that when I blow on the recorder, I NEED you to come to my room.” She hadn’t heard the signal, and I think at that point she just walked back to my room with me, and I told her. I don’t remember her specific reaction, but I went to bed right after that, and just a few minutes later, my dad came to the doorway of my bedroom. “Hey, Jen,” he said, but I didn’t respond, feigning sleep. I was too embarrassed, and I’m sure he realized that, so he just spoke from the doorway, something to the effect of: “I just want you to know that I’m so proud of you and the woman you’ve become, and I love you.” And every time I think of this story, it makes me cry happy tears reflecting on how much I love my dad. And then more tears when I think of how he wore his pink breast cancer awareness bracelet every day after my mastectomy.

Hormones, man. Hormones. Powerful stuff.

–>Digression (but slightly connected to the middle school phase of my life). I binge-watched Silicon Valley this past week and literally LOL’ed by myself multiple times during each episode. In order to deal with the empty feeling that comes with the end of a show-binge, I usually stalk the actors’ and writers’ bios and look for interviews on YouTube. I have always been a fan of Mike Judge (writer of Silicon Valley, but also Office SpaceKing of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, etc.) (Did you know that he has a degree in Physics?), but when I went online this evening and actually watched him give interviews and do all of his voices, I developed a hardcore, middle school-type crush on him. You have to watch this clip of him on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Wait until the end (Zach Galifinakis is on, too, and his reaction is great). I. Am. In. Love.

Band Name: Heavy Menstrual (all-female metal band)

Their Hit Song: “You Know Too Much About Me”