Time flies … when it’s not dragging on and on

Time flies … when it’s not dragging on and on

My last post was more than five weeks ago, so I’ve got some updates for those of you following along.

Let’s start with the good news: Bob and I met with my oncologist in late March and she confirmed that I will NOT need chemotherapy this time around. YAY! Instead, I’ll take a prescription pill daily that we hope will keep my hormone-dependent cancer from finding its way back.

As far as my docs are concerned, I’ve achieved “no evidence of disease” status and don’t need additional treatment. That’s great, if a little bit nerve-wracking, to be honest, since active treatment feels like I’m doing something to fight this stupid disease. So I guess I’ll have to fight it in other ways.

Now for the not-as-good news: I still have one surgical drain, and it is still flowing. So much for the 7-10 days I was led to believe the drains would be in place. (The other drain, which consistently produced more fluid than the one that remains, was removed three-plus weeks ago after I accidentally pulled out part of the tubing.) As long as the remaining one is productive, it has to stay in. Sigh.

I’d hoped to be drain-less before I returned to work, but I finally can move freely enough to drive, so I am easing back into the office this week. I am so fortunate to have an incredible group of people who have been covering for me during my absence, but I’m eager to get back to carrying my weight.

One disappointing bit of news is that I almost certainly will need to have another surgery in the next 6-12 months. When I decided not to have reconstruction with my mastectomy, I foolishly thought that would be my only trip to the OR. But apparently it’s common to need more surgery to remove extra tissue. If you know a good plastic surgeon, let me know since apparently I’m going to be in the market for one in the near future.

Last week, I took my recovery on the road, tagging along on a spring break trip to the Rocky Mountains with friends. That turned out to be an overly ambitious decision, unfortunately, but at least I got to see some beautiful scenery and spend time with wonderful people.

Today I walked through the five senior rentals HAND is building in Tipton — exciting stuff that sent me straight home for a nap. LOL.

I guess my surgeon wasn’t kidding when she said it can take up to a year to really recover from surgery. Especially when you’re old like me. My recovery has definitely been more difficult than I expected, and I still have bodily fluids flowing into an increasingly disgusting bulb. So I’ll give myself some grace and stop pushing to return to “normal” on any particular schedule.

(And while we’re on the topic of schedules, please know that I haven’t forgotten thank-you notes. They are in the works, if long overdue. <3)

Recovering from ‘major’ outpatient surgery

Recovering from ‘major’ outpatient surgery

You guys.

As those who know me best can attest, I’m not speechless very often.

But I’ve been at a loss for words for most of the past couple weeks, as I’ve been showered with love (and way too many gifts) after sharing my recent breast cancer diagnosis.

THANK YOU.

Seriously. I’m not sure I deserve you all, but I’m definitely glad I have you in my corner.

Surgery was last Friday, and a lot has changed in the decade-plus since my first trip to the operating room to fight cancer. I had pre-admission testing (even though it was outpatient surgery) and pre-surgery homework that included doing breathing exercises, using special soap, and drinking a protein shake that promised to boost my immune system prior to my ‘major’ outpatient surgery.

I was apprehensive, as you might expect, but everything has gone well so far. We left for the hospital shortly before 7 a.m. and were home with my prescriptions well before 6 p.m. I alternated muscle relaxers and pain pills until yesterday, when I stepped down to Tylenol.

The biggest difference with this surgery was that I came home with two surgical drains — tubes coming out of small holes in my chest that allow various fluids to escape. The drainage gathers in bulbs that my husband Bob and I empty and measure twice a day. When the flow slows eventually, I’ll go in to have the drains removed. (I had to watch a video that showed a drain being removed, and I am not looking forward to it one little bit.)

Today I got the surgical pathology report, which my surgeon said was great news. The only cancer detected was the tumor we already knew about. And although it looks like the cancer had begun to find a path to travel, it hadn’t hit the road yet. Now it won’t.

My recovery has been a bit more active than I anticipated, since my doctors want me to keep moving to prevent pneumonia and keep the drains flowing. So my mom and I have been making daily outings; we’ve been to Holland Park, Noblesville’s Square, IKEA, and Hamilton Town Center so far. Nothing like a little retail therapy to make you feel better!

#strong

Well, that didn’t work

Well, that didn’t work

Twelve years ago, I had just finished chemotherapy and was preparing for radiation to treat Stage III breast cancer. Now I’m 12 days away from surgery to remove a tumor discovered during my annual mammogram in November.

Yeah, it’s back.

My initial response to the news was predictably profane. Hearing you have cancer once is unreal. Hearing it a second time is surreal.

Still, I’m optimistic. We caught it early. The tumor is small and doesn’t appear to have spread. I have a wonderful medical team and the best family and friends around.

A lot of things have changed in 12 years (including most of my doctors), not the least of which is COVID-19. I’m scheduled for surgery Feb. 18 – more than three months after that suspicious mammogram. When I was diagnosed in 2009, it was less than a month from squeeze to surgery.

Anyway, I haven’t told many people not because it’s a secret, but because I wanted to wait until I knew what happens next. Now I know: bilateral mastectomy and about 4-6 weeks of recovery. We’ll know more about any additional treatment after the docs get a look at the tumor. I LOVE my oncologist (as does literally everyone who sees her name on my medical chart), and I trust her implicitly.

Last time around, I shared my story (in what was probably way too much detail) on Caring Bridge. This time, I’ll be updating this long-neglected blog with my medical musings. Feel free to follow along.

Here’s to You, Lisa

My friend Lisa

I meant to call my friend Lisa in December, when I saw on Facebook that she was recovering from a hospital visit. But life distracted me, as it often does, and the months flew by. She was on my mind just last week, when I drove by the low-rent motel on Indianapolis’ east side where we stayed as young reporters eager to squeeze an extra night out of a journalism conference in the big city. Good times. Then last night I learned I’d waited too long.

Lisa died yesterday after a brief battle with cancer. She was just 49.

Her obituary, written by a colleague at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was a beautiful tribute to a woman who made a difference both professionally and personally. Lisa was a giver, and I wish I would have done more to thank her for the many blessings she brought to my life.

Lisa was the kind of friend you could work with every day, kick back with every night, and never get tired of being around. She was the kind of friend you could go years without seeing and instantly pick up where you left off. She was the kind of friend you’re lucky to find.

We met at The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, where she was a community news reporter and I was a lowly intern. Her move to the education beat opened up a spot for me when I graduated a couple years later. Ours was a young, energetic newsroom that worked and played hard. We genuinely enjoyed spending time together after deadline.

One of my most vividly hazy memories of Lisa is a “wine tasting” she hosted in her apartment near McMillan Park. She and her brother had a bet on who would get married first, and he lost. He paid up with a few bottles of expensive wine, which she graciously shared with her friends.

Lisa prepared a nice spread of cheese, crackers, grapes and other appropriate nibbles and set out to educate us on the finer points of fine wine. Sadly, all I remember is that high-end wine is quite tasty. (And something about wine having legs. But I might have been a tad tipsy by that point.)

Wine 101 may not have stuck, but Lisa does deserve credit for nudging this Indiana girl out of her culinary comfort zone. She introduced me to the world beyond hamburgers and sweet corn: Japanese, Korean, Moroccan, Thai and much more. Whenever I visited Vegas, I could count on Lisa to liberate me from the tourist traps and introduce me to something new. Dim sum. Fondue. Boozy milkshakes. Tapas. (Pro tip: make sure to enunciate when mentioning you went to a tapas place in Vegas.)

We also bonded over a mutual love for college basketball–and we managed to maintain our friendship despite our lifelong affection for arch-rival teams Indiana and Kentucky. We drove to Indianapolis more than once to watch her Wildcats take on my Hoosiers. If memory serves, she was even along for the ride during the infamous Hyundai Timing Belt Incident of 1995. For that alone, she deserved a medal.

Lisa was my gambling instructor too, introducing me to Kentucky horse racing and Las Vegas odds-makers. I doubt she spent much time feeding slot machines on her own, but she was always willing to join her friends and family when they did. The first time I visited Lisa with a mutual friend (also named Lisa, oddly enough), she won a couple hundred dollars while showing us how to play video keno and used the money to buy us tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show. That’s Lisa.

The last thing Lisa taught me was to cherish every minute I have with the people who matter to me. Because any minute could be the last.

Rest in peace, dear Lisa. You are missed already.

Are Job-Alert Algorithms Trying to Tell Me Something?

It’s been almost a month since I was laid off, and it has been an adventure.

Although I still feel like a teenager pretending to be an adult, in today’s job market I’m practically a senior citizen. Experience, it seems, is not necessarily a good thing.

The job-search process itself sure has changed since I mailed my first resume and cover letter to a prospective employer. Now all of the “paperwork” is handled online, a high-tech solution so efficient that an applicant can receive a computer-generated rejection letter in a matter of hours. (My personal record: 61 hours and 42 minutes from application to “no thanks.”)

Experts say as many as 80 percent of positions are filled without ever being posted—a mind-boggling testament to the power of networking if I’ve ever heard one. My full schedule of coffee (and sometimes cocktail) meetings haven’t produced one of those “invisible” jobs yet, but I have leaned on friends for help with the ones I’ve seen advertised.

That already has resulted in some real head-scratchers: I didn’t make the initial cut for one position, for example, because the hiring manager decided I would be bored by the work. Um, isn’t that my decision? A quick look at my resume should prove I’m a serial monogamist, not a job-hopper. And I applied for that particular gig when I still had a steady paycheck, so I think it’s safe to assume I actually wanted it.

Now I have to apply for three jobs a week to qualify for unemployment benefits. I’ve been lucky enough to find openings that match my interests and abilities so far, but I can’t help wondering if the technology helping to power my search is trying to nudge me toward a new career.

While the job listings delivered daily to my inbox have produced several solid leads, the vast majority of the presumably algorithm-driven “recommendations” have nothing at all to do with writing, editing, or marketing communications.

Need a patient, outdoorsy nanny? Not it. Seeking a part-time carwash attendant?  I don’t even clean my own car. Hiring a retail store manager? Let’s talk employee discount.

Maybe I’m being short sighted or narrow minded or big headed, but I’m holding out for a position that will allow me to use the skills I’ve worked so hard to develop—and that will give me the chance to find new ones to nurture.

First times may hurt, but they’re needed

There’s a first time for everything.

I left a 20-plus-year journalism career last year to explore life in the “real world,” accepting my first non-newsroom job since working the McDonald’s drive-through window in high school. Last week, my new employer broke the news that my next paycheck would be my last. He called it a layoff, blaming anemic sales, but it still felt like a failure.

I’d never been asked to leave a job before, and it stung.

First times can be painful, but what I’ve realized in the past week is that they’re also necessary. Without some important firsts, none of us would be walking or talking, falling in love or following our dreams.

We learn from our firsts, whether it’s how fast to take corners on a bicycle or who to trust with your heart.

The lessons to be gleaned from my first “involuntary separation” remain to be seen, but my unfortunate unemployment does open the door to another, potentially positive first:

For once, I can shrug off the veil of secrecy surrounding job searches when you already have a paying gig.

It also gives me the gift of time, which I plan to use figuring out what I want to be when I grow up—and how to get there.

Kid-tested indoor adventures

My favorite 7-year-olds and I spent a recent Saturday exploring a few Hamilton County venues in search of some indoor fun—ways to avoid going stir crazy when the Indiana weather isn’t being hospitable.

indoor-elec
The Boy works on a doorbell at Conner Prairie in Fishers.

The verdict:

  • 1 lesson learned
  • 2 aspiring aviators
  • 3 happy campers

 

I shared all the details in a blog post for the good folks at Visit Hamilton County. Check it out, and let me know what you think. ⊗

 

Mother Nature can be a real bi&ch

Anyone who has lived in Indiana at least four seasons knows how unpredictable the weather can be. A May snowstorm is entirely within the realm of possibility, as is a 60-degree Christmas Day. To save my sanity, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about temperatures or precipitation.

That said, I sat up and took notice last summer. Here’s what got my attention:

FW tree

Rain and wind did this. Crazy.

A high school classmate of mine posted this photo on Facebook in late June. Once uprooted, the mature tree fell onto her Fort Wayne house. Luckily, no one was injured, and the damage has been repaired. Still, I couldn’t stop staring at the photo. Did a tornado touch down in Heather’s front yard? If not, how on Earth did that happen?

Believe it or not, the destruction was the result of days of soaking rain followed by strong wind. Not even build-an-ark rain or hide-in-the-basement wind. Just rain and wind.

A few miles up the road at my parents’ house, several of the pine trees planted in 2001 acquired a distinct lean at the same time. And my stepdad’s front-yard pine — his pride and joy when decked out with lights in December — snapped in half. Crazy stuff.

So now I pay a little more attention to the weather, and I have great respect for the power that Mother Nature wields. Even if she can be a bitch sometimes.


This post was written as part of the Think Kit blogging project. The prompt (from yesterday):

In Your Eyes: Share a photo or paint us a picture with words. Show us something from your year through your eyes. Did you see something that took your breath away? Or maybe you just couldn’t look away?

My name is Andrea, and I’m a technoholic

Today’s #ThinkKit16 writing prompt prompted a personal epiphany. I am addicted to technology. The assignment:

Get analog. No screens, no technology – what did you do with your hands this year?

Sadly, the answer is “not much.” Ever since getting my first iPhone, I have been hopelessly in love with the convenience of having a personal computer in my pocket. It’s a source of entertainment during down time (however did we endure elevator rides and fast-food lines before this marvelous innovation?!) and can provide instant answers to important questions like how to celebrate Festivus.

Remember those dinner-table debates over who played in last year’s Final Four or when the Indiana State Fair begins? Ancient history, thanks to Google.

tech overload
When it comes to tech, I’m a master multi-tasker.

At this very moment, there are four laptops, two desktop computers, four iPads, two iPhones, four video game systems, and at least eight functioning televisions in my two-person house. (“Only” five of the TVs are actually in use; the others are awaiting a trip to the recycling center.) After spending the bulk of my workday in front of a computer screen, I come home to more technology than some third-world countries. It’s a problem.

That said, I did take action to reduce my screen time in 2015. Before making the leap from journalism to the “real world” in February, I spent most of my waking hours staring at my laptop or iPhone (usually with a TV on in the background). News doesn’t follow an 8-5 schedule, and I didn’t want to miss something important. It took a while to get used to not keeping my laptop fired up at all times, but now I often go days without logging on.

It may be a small step, but at least now I’m headed in the right direction. And although I gave up making resolutions years ago, I will make an effort to spend less time tied to technology this year.

That means less TV and off-duty computer time, because I refuse to give up my pocket PC. Without my iPhone, I wouldn’t have been able to document so much of what I saw and did “offline” last year – the beautiful sunrise I noticed while pumping gas on my way to work, a peaceful boat ride with my family in Florida, a sunny afternoon with friends at a baseball game in Louisville, partying with the “pope” at Sausagefest.

sunrise
Sunrise over Fishers, November 2015

pope
2015 Sausagefest

And of course it’s invaluable for capturing aww-inspiring photos of our fur babies being adorable!lucy bath

Lucy is very helpful when it comes to hygiene.

What’s your take on technology? Is it as much a part of your everyday existence as mine? How can I break the tech habit?

What’s my story? Great question

Writing a personal blog is a little like having children — if you wait for the perfect time to get started, it may never happen. So I’m blogging every day this month as part of Think Kit 2016 to get me going (on writing, not parenthood; that ship has sailed).

Today’s prompt:

Pretend you’re writing your autobiography. Give us your first line, a first chapter, or even just an image. What’s the story of you?

I’ve considered myself a writer since I entered my first elementary school Young Authors contest, and I was lucky enough to spend a couple decades telling stories as a newspaper reporter. But when it comes to the story of me, I’m stumped. Sincerely.

I feel like Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot’s running mate in the 1992 presidential election: “Who am I? Why am I here?” Is it an identity crisis? A complete lack of self-awareness? Heck if I know, but I probably should figure it out.

The basics

My Twitter bio is just two words: Recovering journalist. That’s what I did, sure, and it describes my professional status, but is it who I am? I’m also a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and a friend (with varying degrees of success). Do those relationships define me?

It’s not like I haven’t had occasion to reflect on my life before now. On my 33rd birthday, I was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm that took two surgeries to fix. At 39, my first mammogram detected stage III breast cancer.

What I know

I’m a survivor. I’m a good friend. I work (too) hard. I nap too much. I love playing games. I hate housework. My cats are my kids. My husband drives me crazy, but I’d be lost without him. I listen to country music. I have watched every episode of Friends and Big Bang Theory at least 27 million times. I never exaggerate. I always wear my seat belt. I don’t do scary movies. I have an amazing family who I don’t see enough of. I know it’s OK to end a sentence with a preposition. I don’t wear makeup — never have, never will. My happy place is a deserted beach. I never say no to dessert (and it shows). I like cliches. I love losing myself in a great book. I hate sad endings. Laughter really is the best medicine.

Stream-of-consciousness much?

Alrighty, then. That seems like a good place to pause for now. If I’m this clueless about my story after almost 46 years, I’m not going to find my story in one night. But I’m looking forward to the journey