Cancer's a weird thing. For all the pain and distress it brings, I've found that it can bring equal amounts of opportunity, hope, and enlightenment for everyone affected. The avenue to health through cancer can be eye-openingly positive with the right kind of support. And my Yellow-Brick Road to this conclusion went directly through the front doors at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. As I've told so many people, "Santa Barbara is the place to have cancer, if you must, because of the Cancer Center."
The staff and doctors at CCSB took me in for treatment before I was qualified for any financial assistance, because I needed treatment "now, not whenever the state figures out that you qualify." The caring staff felt like a family by the end of my seven weeks of radiation. I was actually sad it was over, because I wouldn't get see them every day!
In addition to offering outstanding medical care, cutting-edge technology, and an ultra-caring staff; CCSB provides a vast array of classes, therapies, and counseling - all free of charge to patients through their CCSB Wellness Programs. I've been taking watercolor and yoga classes, receiving Healing Touch Therapy, and attending support groups at the CCSB Wellness Center for almost a year now. Their Wellness Programs perfectly complement the outstanding medical care provided by top-notch physicans with opportunities to heal mind and spirit while the physical body battles cancer. I can't say enough to express my gratitude for CCSB's emphasis on healing the Whole Person through Whole Wellness.
Through my activities at CCSB I'm learning new skills, keeping myself sane and happy, getting the help and support I need, and meeting lots of interesting new friends. There are a lot of amazing people with whom I may have never come into contact if it weren't for the common thread of cancer and the CCSB. I've met so many people through the CCSB's Wellness Programs: fellow cancer survivors and warriors, amazing staff, volunteers, teachers, and family members of my cancer peers.
One of my new friends is a fellow brain cancer survivor and watercolor student, Michael Orchowski. He is an inspiration: a bright, shining light to everyone he meets, and I'm super-lucky to get to spend time with him every Monday in art class.
Here's his remarkable story: Following brain cancer surgery, Michael embraced painting classes offered by the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. Losing strength and control on his right arm and hand, Michael learned to be left-handed. Inspired by his beloved Corgi dog, he began using his left hand to paint particular images and colors without making conscious decisions of what he was painting. Michael's cancer is no longer active thanks to the skills of surgeons and the wonderful medical and spiritual support of many medical staff, friends and family and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.
Michael donates most of his paintings to CCSB, and they've taken five of his doggie paintings and printed them on notecards to sell in 5-card assortment packs for $10 (All 5 cheerful images, shown above, right!). I've bought a pack, my parents have bought a pack, and I'm suggesting that if you like these cards, you do, too. Your purchase will help a tremendous organization continue to help people like me, when they need it the most. The cards will brighten the day of whoever receives them. Just like the smile of my friend Michael brightens everybody's day and lights up every room he enters.
Your $10 donation is tax-deductible and (much-needed) proceeds will be donated to the valuable Wellness Programs at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. To learn more, please email the Wellness Center Coordinator, or call (805) 898-2204. Please tell them that Lisa Tomlin sent you.
It's been over a year since the event that led to my diagnosis. Apparently this blogging thing is hard to keep up with when you're not all hopped up on steroids, so I haven't been keeping you all as up-to-date as well as I would like. Not to mention the fact that all of my excess energy has been channeled toward growing a brand-new head of hair! (Evidence in the picture!)
So - I've compiled a list of questions that I find myself answering. Frequently. I've added a NEW PAGE (a link in the menu above, as well) to this site for those questions, but here's a little teaser: What and when was your diagnosis? I was diagnosed with a type 2 astrocytoma in my right temporal lobe - brain cancer - April 27th, 2009. I'll never forget the date, because I had to make sure and write a blog post honoring my little brother on his 30th birthday (April 26th) before I went to the hospital for what seemed like a possible concussion. It's important to have priorities. How did you discover your brain tumor? I had a seizure while home alone April 24, 2009. I had been getting ready for bed, it was late, and I brushed my teeth and washed my face. Then suddenly, I found myself, 'coming to' at my desk, in front of my computer, which had been shut down already. "Huh - I thought I already went to bed," I thought, and went to bed. I had no history of fainting or seizures.
The next morning I had a headache. And a fat lip. And when I got up to pee, I noticed the bathroom rug was all wadded up in the middle of the bathroom floor. Something wasn't normal, but maybe I just tripped and fell in the night and hit my head and didn't remember. When Boyfriend returned home later that night, and I told him what happened. The headache persisted.
The following morning the headache was worse. We talked about going to the ER to see if I had a concussion, but I didn't have insurance and we were broke. I'd had a head injury before - I knew they'd want to do a scan - cha-ching! So I decided to take a nap. After I laid down, the left side of my body began to tingle, my ears began to ring and I detected a horrible taste in my mouth. (I now refer to these feelings as my 'conscious seizures'.) I was scared, so I called for Boyfriend, and described what was happening. It was very uncomfortable, something was definitely wrong with me. It was time to go.
Boyfriend called his boss about getting his payment for work early so that we could go to the ER. His boss said, "You just take her, and I'll take care of it."
So we went. As soon as we got to the ER, and the words "hit my head" escaped my mouth, I was put in a neck brace and strapped to a gurney. Here we go, I thought. I had a CT scan and was brought back to a waiting room with Boyfriend. I had another 'pins and needles' episode, telling Boyfriend, "It's happening again, I'm having that feeling again!" He called the nurse and she gave me an anti-seizure drug. She explained to me that what I was feeling was a mini-seizure, that I'd probably had a grand mal seizure at home two days ago and hit my head.
Then the doctor came in. "We looked at your scan. I'm so sorry, but you have a very large tumor in the right side of your brain. That is probably what is causing the seizures. But you need to go to the other hospital for observation and to have an MRI."
Boyfriend was holding my hand, so I squeezed it, looked at him and the tears started. "I'm so sorry," was all I could think to say.
His face was already even with mine, his eyes locked on my teary ones, "We'll get through this, don't worry."
One wipe with the back of my hand, and the tears were gone. Of course we will.
Yesterday was my last day of radiation treatment! And what a day it was. Just pure joy, thankfulness, another undescribable, words-just-can't-touch-it-kind-of-day. But of course, I will haplessly attempt it...
I picked up celebratory cupcakes at Crushcakes Cupcakery (they were fabulously accomodating, again!) for all of my my now dear friends at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County Clinic and Pharmacy, and other doctors. As I went to my final treatment, last day appointments and picked up my new assortment of medicine for the steroid taper-down (WOO HOO!) that will occur over the next month, I found myself sad to say goodbye, but hoping the next time I see them is at the grocery store, in a restaurant, or the theatre. Where I will run up and give them hugs, and they'll wonder who is this girl, all healthy, and with hair?
So what's next for Girlbert? Well, there's certainly no going back to normal, since there never really was a normal to begin with.
But I tried as best I could to allow myself to do as much of NOTHING as I could muster today. Boyfriend, too. But with all the activity, the schedule of having to be SOMEWHERE, six days a week, often changing multiple times a day, with a moment's notice, there's certainly a lot of catching up to be done. Medi-Cal denial still waiting in the wings. Social Security paperwork and requirements to tidy up. Charity applications to fill out. And the regular stuff of figuring out how to cook, clean, and work to pay rent and bills.
My next MRI and doctor follow-up appointments aren't for over a month - after the holidays. My doctors tell me that although the chemo and radiation have stopped, changes will continue to occur over the next month, and so a picture and any discussion aren't necessary until then. So more wait and see. But time to rest and enjoy the holidays, which is a tremendous blessing!
And finally, some more attention for my horse. I might even read a book or a magazine. Or take a picture of a bird. Let the real healing begin.
My dad writes of this 1978 photo, "...both you and your dad had hair."
How cute are we?
I'm certainly not missing my hair or saddened by the loss of it, thanks to a number of factors:
The first being that I find it quite exhilarating that I can get in and out of the shower, dressed and be out the door in 15 minutes. That's crazy, even considering the fact I've always prided myself on being a pretty low-maintenance horse girl, comfortable popping a ball cap over a pony-tail most days. Even when I wanted to get a bit gussied up, I was a 45-minute-max, shower-to-door-girl. No all-day, multiple-hour beauty routine for me. But 15 minutes? With a shower? Wild!
The second, of course is that Boyfriend continues to be fascinated by my baldness, loves to shave the left side of my head to help me keep it even, and tells me how cute and sexy I am, ummm, pretty much every opportunity he gets. Feels good. And I continue to feel like I won the Boyfriend lottery... How is it that a girl could be so lucky? Sigh.
BUT - I have become OBSESSED with other people's hair. I find myself staring at peoples' hair, wondering, Should I try something like THAT? After years of KNOWING my own hair, and what I think works for me, my face, my hair type, color...suddenly there are SOOOOOOO many options. And it would have NEVER crossed my mind to cut my hair short previously. NEVER. I'm going to be forced to try some short styles as it grows out.
What about highlights? And why not some fun with colors, too? Blonde? Red? Things I would have never entertained previously because the committment would be too permanent on longer hair. People have also told me it may very well come back different - curly, thicker, finer, straighter. I can't wait to see what I have to work with!
So in light of the fact that Monday is my LAST DAY OF RADIATION, I'm open to suggestions. Because it's going to start growing back soon, and a girl has to think about these things!
Enough with the green wig, right? Did she do it? Did Girlbert shave her head?
And nearly a week ago, at that. But then I went and got all sick with a broken immune system, and have been useless to edit video and write anything to do it justice. And you have to do something like shaving your head JUSTICE, am I right?
Because it's not everyday that somebody shaves her head BALD. Even Britney only did that once.
Extra special thanks and so much gratitude to the entire staff of the Hans Wolf Salon and Spa in Santa Barbara. Ryan is the man responsible for the Extreme Girlbert Makeover a couple of months ago, and he did the head-shaving honors, joyfully declaring, "I've always wanted to shave a woman's head!" So glad to be of service. And Colleen Elizabeth fixed up my eyebrows so that my face would be up to the challenge of pulling off BALD.
I finally get a good, clear view of my biopsy scar. Kinda Franken-like, just in time for Halloween, I guess.
And then my brother shaved his head, declaring, "I can't let you be the only bald Tomlin!" We've never looked so alike - obviously! Boyfriend, of course, shaves his head anyway, so I kinda feel like the hot, bald chick now. It helps that he tells me that every five minutes, of course...
My life is a fairy-tale.
If only I could click my ruby-slippered heels together and have each of my favorite bald men on either arm...
Despite all my best efforts to stay unexposed and rested up, the chemo and radiation have supressed my immune system enough that I have a pretty good chest cold. No worries (or temperature, which can be a biggie for a person in my condition), though, I seem to be clearing it out, and should be over it in no time at all. Longer than the average person, obviously, but I'm on the up and up.
But my docs want me wearing a mask on my face in public, (the better to cover the steroid fat-face and acne, I say!), hand sanitizer in my back pocket, and be really cautious. As in, do you really need to go into CostCo today? Probably not...
But we did have some health and banking-related errands to do yesterday, so I got to get out of the car and go into some places. And you wouldn't believe the looks! One of my favorite stops was to the bank for a deposit, and walking in wearing my hat, sunglasses and mask - you should have seen all the teller's faces! They asked, "Can I help you?" through some very intense looks and gritted teeth...fun! "Just need to make a deposit," I said, taking my sunglasses OFF (sheesh) and digging through my purse. They remained ready to push that button.
I did notice that every other person I came across did a double take, but I'd have done the same (and probably have), in the past, never thinking there are people out there with compromised immune systems that have to be really careful during cold and flu season, not to mention this swine flu thing.
But here's the cake: Toward the end of our afternoon errands (we'd already deposited Mom at the airport, so SAD to see her go - such a good time with her!), we decided to pull over at a coffeehouse on State Street and let me run in and get a couple of cups of hot tea, Boyfriend staying in the car. So I pulled my mask on, hopped out and opened the coffeehouse door to THE. DIRTIEST. LOOK. EVER. The dirty look was shot by a customer who'd turned from the counter to watch me step inside. I smiled through my mask, he was probably unable to see it. He turned away, finished paying, the woman he was with standing off to my other side, waiting for their order. Then he turned back to me.
"ARE YOU CONTAGIOUS?"
With what, the swine flu? Like I'm just walking around with the swine flu? 'Cause I heard they all can't get out of bed, or are in the hospital.
"Actually, I'm a cancer patient, and the chemo and radiation is suppressing my immune system, so I'm wearing this (pointing to my mask) to prevent myself from being exposed to anyone else who might be carrying something." Like yourself, sir.
"Humph," he frowned and walked past me.
My eyes followed, and the woman he was with looked ABSOLUTELY. MORTIFIED.
I turned back to the counter, and all the teenage coffee shop workers behind the counter were significantly wide-eyed with disbelief at what they had just witnessed. In unison, "What can we get you started?"
"A cup of chamomile, and a cup of jasmine tea, please."