Friday, February 21, 2014


Yesterday I had my long-anticipated meeting with my Prevention Doc. I've only seen her once — post-biopsy, to discuss my options — and while I liked her fine, I found her the teensiest bit pushy. She clearly thought I should go on Tamoxifen, when to me the decision wasn't quite so clear-cut.

But yesterday I totally fell in love with her. She listened to my passionate symptom recital ("I'm FAT! I'm SLUGGISH! I NEVER have a satisfying poo! I HATE that I even have to think terms like 'satisfying poo'! I'm gassy, ALL THE TIME! NO ONE should stand next to me at zumba! I'm GROSS!!!!!"), laughing and laughing, and after she finished taking notes she said, "But look what it's done for your sense of humor!"

(Yes, I clearly needed a tune-up there.)

I said, "If I actually had breast cancer and Tamoxifen was the treatment, it'd be a no-brainer — clearly I should take it. But instead I have a maybe chance of breast cancer and a treatment that will maybe prevent it. I feel like I'm sacrificing five years of relative youth for a big handful of maybe."

She said, "Yes. You have assessed this perfectly."

Well, that is a nice thing to hear from a doctor!

She added, "And if you decide that the side effects, which seem to be considerable, are interfering too much with your quality of life, it would be a completely reasonable decision to stop taking Tam."

(She calls my drug "Tam," which I like very much — friendlier and less clinical than "T-fen" but also less gag-inducing than "Tami." "Tam" is like a visiting foreign exchange student — her ways may seem mysterious and odd, but she means well. Tam!)

Of course, as much I'm complaining, I'm not an idiot; it hasn't even been a full two months yet, and I know from my IUD experience that my body takes a looooooong time to make peace with foreign invaders. (Which is . . . a good thing? I think so.) We agreed to give it six more months, and I'll see her again in August. But not on my birthday, much as I do like her. Please God, let me have something more fun to do on my birthday than see my Prevention Doc.

But here's another thing: My Grandma Claire, whom I love love loved, had breast cancer when she was in her 70s; she had a mastectomy and radiation. And then, because she was stubborn and didn't like to exercise, she didn't do her physical therapy, and for the rest of her life her left arm was basically useless. The radiation damaged her heart, so she had circulation problems after that, wasn't getting enough oxygen in her brain, and was supposed to use an oxygen tank — which she refused to do because she was stubborn and vain. When you don't get enough oxygen in your brain, you become a moron. My stylish feisty awesome grandma spent the last few years of her life confused and incontinent — because she found her treatment plan "annoying."

So I'm sitting in the doctor's waiting room yesterday, rehearsing my big "Tamoxifen Is SO ANNOYING" speech, and suddenly there was Grandma's voice in my head, clear as day.

I don't know whether I believe in ghosts but I've had at least four visits from Grandma, counting yesterday. The first was soon after she died; I saw her walking toward me on a bridge. Eventually she morphed into a tiny Korean woman — and no, Grandma was not Korean, though she was indeed tiny — but before that, it was absolutely Grandma. And this was the moment I realized that I was consciously waiting for her to come back — now that we had this funeral nonsense all over with, she could come home. Apparently this is a common mindset among people who are grieving a loss; Joan Didion writes beautifully about it in The Year of Magical Thinking.

The second time, she physically appeared on my couch as I was putting away Christmas ornaments and began nagging me to be more careful, these things have been in the family for years. "Grandma,' I snapped, "for God's sake, I'm almost forty, I'm a mom, I know what I'm doing." I called my mother later and said, "Listen, if you're worried about how your mom is doing in Heaven, let me assure you — she hasn't changed a bit."

The third time, I heard her voice in my ear when Mom and I were in Monaco; Mom wanted to shop, I wanted to sit on a bench and read. Suddenly here's Grandma yelling in my ear, "Go shop with your mother! See Monaco!" I said, "Grandma, will you for God"s sake start resting in peace already????" (I realize I'm making her sound like an old shrew, but this is just how we talked to each other. We really were great friends, I assure you! Man, I miss her.)

And then yesterday, there she was in the waiting room with me, making me remember her breast cancer story. She died way sooner than she needed to, and it was not a good death at all. Mom and I have so many regrets (which, some friends have suggested, is why I still see and hear her sometimes — I haven't fully made peace with her passing, even though she's been gone more than a decade now). I thought about how she resisted her treatment because it was "annoying," and I heard her say, "Pay attention."

So there was my revelation a la Grandma: Stick with the best treatment known to medical science, cowboy up, muscle through it. The Chardonnay women, we can definitely wail dramatically with the best of them, but then we put our heads down and get to work. Grandma, Mom, me — three generations of do-ers.

I'm going to start carrying a picture of Grandma in my wallet. I like the idea of having her next to me on this journey — this fat, sluggish, poo-conscious journey. She'll love it.

In other news, it's been quite the week — my brakes stopped working with my kids in the car, which was all kinds of fun, and Mimosa now has to wear glasses all the time like the rest of us, which has led to some "emotion" on her part, and Martini now seems to own three winter coats, none of which work exactly right, and we did find the new-to-us doughnut place . . . 20 minutes after it closed . . . and I still haven't seen 12 Years a Slave — how can it be that the Oscars are next week?? But we've been having fun.

Off to have some more!

— Lady C

p.s. My weight is still down-ish from stomach flu and not having my full appetite back, but I assume this is all temporary. I haven't been to zumba because my knee still flares up and I'm afraid to exercise until I've talked to my doctor. I've been sitting here patiently blogging while I waited for her call-in hours at 9:30 . . . and guess what? She's not in today.

How else can I interpret this? The universe doesn't want me to exercise!!

C'est la vie.


  1. I love this blog more than I love a satisfying poo. And you know how I feel about a satisfying poo. See how Tam (she means well, Tam - HA!!) has made you talk about the thing which heretofore was unmentionable? Her ways are mysterious. Also, 12 Years a Slave, well I will give you a recap similar to my LOTR "There's a ring. Everyone wants it." Ready? "Solomon is not a slave. Then he is a slave. Then 12 years later he is not a slave anymore." You're welcome.

    1. Your kind and evocative words, they mean the world to me. Also, ew.

      Can't wait to hear all about your trip to my native heath! This is the one time in the world that I actually *want* to see someone else's vacation photos.

      Thanks for swell recap! But I think you forgot "Turns out, slavery = bad." Seriously, Amy Poehler says the movie's a revelation.

  2. i am so happy you have decided to continue with the tam. my mother has had breast cancer twice. the first time before the arrival of tam. when the cancer came back she was successfully treated and then put on tam. she stayed on tam for 2 years but she was very unhappy about the weight gain that it caused. against her doctors advice she stopped taking it. this past summer she was diagnosed with bone cancer. she has a mass on her breast bone near the spot of her previous cancers. she is presently taking chemo. she is doing well and responding because she is as you may have guessed from my blog "tough as a nut and cunning as a wagon full of monkeys"
    she says "well i guess i learned my lesson" for my mother to admit any error is unheard of.
    stay on the pills. be well. live long so we have time to be confidents. xxxx

    1. I love this story -- so validating. Thank you my friend!! You and I will be rocking on the virtual porch together well into our 90s, never fear.