Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Christmas Spirit

"Spirit" really does have a few meanings, doesn't it? There's spirit as in Christmas spirit meaning a feeling or demeanor.

There the liquor kind of spirits which I hear some people enjoy.

And, of course, there are the best kind of spirits, those imprints of departed souls left to walk the earth for all eternity.
As for me, I am not generally possessed of much Christmas spirit. I remember liking Christmas as a kid, but it was still the holiday of car sickness and familial tension. As an adult, it has evolved into the holiday of carsickness, scheduling impossibilities, and tight budgets. 

Now, that's not to say that I don't appreciate the true meaning of Christmas. I love celebrating the nativity story and my favorite childhood Christmas memories are the Christmas Eve services at church where the candle light gets passed throughout the packed sanctuary. Remember that part? Pure good.

What I don't remember is last Christmas. At all. I was so sick with a busted gall bladder that I've spent the past year finding things and saying, "What is this? I need one of these," and then Doss will say, "You got that for Christmas last year" and then I get all excited. But my kids had to spend last Christmas with a mother who couldn't do much and who went to the Emergency Room (again) on Christmas Eve. I owe them a good holiday this year.

But that elusive Christmas spirit. I just don't have it. 

Maybe if we lived in Austria, I could get more into the whole Christmas celebration. I mean, what's not to like about St. Nicholas coming to the door bearing gifts for the good little children... and his trusty sidekick, the Krampus? 

I can totally get behind a giant, hairy, horned devil-beast roaming the town with rusty chains and seeking the naughty children that he will beat with his birch branches. 

Remember when Santa used to only bring gifts to the good boys and girls? Kids used to behave because they knew, if they didn't, it was coal and switches. Now, looking at Christmas from the other side, as an adult, I don't see a lot of those contingencies in play anymore. Every kid gets what they ask for because we don't want to hurt their feelings. Then they might actually be accountable for their actions... we can't have that! "Oh, I know he's been kicked out of school and is failing all of his classes because he refuses to do any of his schoolwork, but he took out the trash once last month so he deserves an iphone."

Bah, humbug.

I'll keep searching for that elusive Christmas Spirit. It helps that the girl got up at 3am, throwing up. That made it feel more like Christmas.
Obviously, she's much better now.

Maybe I'll bake something Christmassy (not like the strawberry muffins I baked this morning in the ghost/jack o'lantern pan).

And if you see a Krampus, PLEASE send him my way?

Only 313 more days until Halloween.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One more... just one more...

Tomorrow is the last day of school before that sprawling seven day Christmas break. We've all been white-knuckling it through the mind-boggling winter weirdness that happens with a school full of kids who are newly too old to believe in Santa Claus. I'd write about what happens, but a) you wouldn't believe me and 2) FERPA Claus would get me.

One more day and I'll officially be halfway through my last year of teaching.

Even with the crazy train pulled thoroughly into town, the idea of this being my last year is bittersweet. There are some parts of teaching that I love and I will miss with my whole heart. My kids... my school babies... are like watching grass grow. On any given day, they are obnoxious, rude, and difficult. They elevate poor decision making to an art. But if you look at them over time, you can see real progress there. Every day they get the tiniest bit better. It doesn't look like much each day, but when you see them a year or two later, their growth and maturity is stunning.

My coworkers are a special kind of awesome. I try to imagine not sharing a building with my three amigos next year and I can't quite grasp it. These people see my fervent need to have a Christmas jack o'lantern and still speak to me. Not only that, but I kinda think I'm not the only one there who thinks Santa should really have Claws. There are good people teaching the kids all over my school. Not just good teachers, but good people. They are underrated and underappreciated in this world as teachers have always been. I have been privileged to be among them for the last seven years.

That was entirely too serious.

Let's talk Xombie Apocalypse.

Since the world is going to end (again) tomorrow, I hope everyone has gone to Kroger to stock up on bread and milk. Don't worry about batteries or toilet paper... those things will just sort themselves out.

Remember that xombies hate fire are are easily distracted. And the old saying about how you don't have to be faster than the xombies, you just have to be faster than one of your friends will be especially relevant in the coming days. As much as I love my coworkers, I will not hesitate to kick out your knee cap if it looks like the xombies are gaining on us. Sorry.

See you at the aftermath!


p.s. Get it? Aftermath? Because there's math at a school and this is my last year of teaching math, so the after math is coming... see what I did there? I pulled it back around. And that, children, is how you form a relevant conclusion.

Monday, December 17, 2012

10 days later...

I used to LOVE teaching statistics, but for the life of me, I can not wrap my brain around the improbabilities of the last few weeks.

What are the chances of FIVE different tests missing the cancer that was in my thyroid?
What are the chances of BOTH cars breaking within 24 hours of each other, both with busted ignition switches?
What are the chances of me randomly signing up for cancer insurance that took effect six weeks before my diagnosis?
What are the chances of me happening to have the right colors (and only those colors) of fondant for tonight's cake when I haven't ordered supplies in forever?

Apparently, p(all that) = 1.

Anyway, 10 days into the new regime and here's what I've learned:

I take the synthroid at 6am- right when the alarm goes off- so that I can have coffee or breakfast at 7. That's working.

I take the calcium at noon: six hours after the synthroid. If I try to skip the calcium, I get shaky and weak. If I wait too long, I get shaky. If I take it too early, I get tired. I don't know why this is, but the noon thing is working so far.

The incision is healing like a boss. No pain, no infection, and no more itching! No worries. The swelling is down but still quite visible.

I go to the endocrinologist in January to see about the radioactive iodine treatment.

My voice is still limited. It feels normal, but sometimes I go to talk and nothing comes out. I still can't yell (at all) or inflect my voice like asking a question. But I can talk, eat, and breathe, so I can't complain.

And I got to go to Honey Boo Boo's house. So there's that.
Here's me in Honey Boo Boo's back yard:

See? p.s. I love Momma. She's so nice in real life.

Friday, December 7, 2012

On the 12th Day of Cancer, My Doctor Gave to Me...

... remission!

Seriously, twelve days and the Cancerpocalypse is over. The whole thing was blessedly quick. Here's the full timeline:
July 26: Dr. P notices the nodules have grown
August 1: ultrasound (normal) and blood work (normal)
August 14-15: radioactive iodine reuptake scan (normal)
August 23: biopsy (normal)
September 11: meet with Dr. B, decide to have right lobe of thyroid removed before any of the growths turn into something bad
November 19: right lobe and isthmus removed
November 26: routine post-op appointment... oops, it's cancer after all <sad trombone>
November 30: left lobe and surrounding lymph nodes removed
December 7: post-op appointment... cancer free!

There are a few loose ends to tie up. The cancer was contained in one lobe (hooray!) but was still somewhat... plus-sized festively plump big (boo!). I'm in a weird gray area for recommendations as to whether I should have the I131 (radiation pill) treatment to help prevent thyroid cancer from recurring.  I'll start seeing Dr. S, the endocrinologist, who will help me make the final decision on that.

Honestly? While the I131 treatment makes it a little less likely that the thyroid cancer will come back, I don't want to do it. There's a small chance that the I131 will increase the chance of me getting a different cancer in the future. More importantly, there's a chance it will affect my sense of taste. I think it'll be hard enough opening a bakery without everything I make tasting like burnt metal to me, ya know? I can't blame Dr. B for passing this one on to the endocrinologist. I actually change my mind about what I should do every few hours.

I also still have to get my synthetic thyroid meds leveled out. It's... weird. I get tired but not in a normal way. I get tired from the inside out. And the weird inability-to-regulate-my-body-temperature thing that plagued me since the summer keeps popping back up. In related but awesome news, none of the other symptoms have shown back up since the rest of the thyroid was removed.

I'm recovering like a boss. A little swelling but nothing to worry about, it should go down in a few weeks. I can't yell or inflect my voice much, but that'll come back in a few months. Meanwhile, Dr. B was surprised by how clear my voice is already (*gold star*). I avoided hypocalcemia (I'd like to thank House for teaching me what that means) so I can scale way back on the number of pills I take a day. Way back. To like one. AND! I keep the streak alive: my SIXTH consecutive surgery without a post-op infection. SIX! That's how many months that infection kept my first c-section from closing. True story.

By the numbers:
years nodules were dormant before they decided to get ugly: 11
cm of main nodule: 3.5
cm of actual cancer inside the main nodule: 1.8
type of cancer: stage I papillary carcinoma, T2N0M0- official final answer (I still say it's T1bN0M0)
number of times my kids heard the word "cancer": 0
surgeries: 2
nights in the hospital: 2
Sprite Zeros in the hospital: 8
cranberry juices in the hospital: 9
dozens of cupcakes taken to nurses: 4
days of work missed: 6.5
days in which I experienced actual pain: 2
prescription pain pills taken: 3
hospital food eaten: none

And... scene.

Next up on the hit list: the boy's adenoids!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The future perfect tense

Today, I was in a situation where I was asked by someone what was going on with my neck, and I didn't know what to say.

a. I have thyroid cancer.

b. I had thyroid cancer.

c. I was garroted by a rabid panda.

I don't know. I had cancer. I may still have cancer. I won't know until tomorrow morning. And so I didn't know how to answer the question. After careful deliberation, I think I've found the answer: the future perfect tense.

d. I will have had cancer.

I wish I could preen and brag that I remember the future perfect tense from my rapt attention to grammar in school. Unfortunately, I only remember learning the future perfect tense from an old episode of Murphy Brown.

The whole not knowing thing is wearing on me. I understand that I am crazy lucky that thyroid cancer is super treatable. But not knowing if the cancer is gone... if I'll have to do the radiation thing... what the future side effects will be... when these side effects will wane... if my kids have inherited a predisposition for thyroid cancer... there are a lot of questions swirling around in my head right now. Add to that the fact that (apparently) I've been taking my synthetic thyroid pill wrong which leaves me exhausted and moody on top of my body trying to process the anesthesia from two surgeries in two weeks...

So when someone told me today that I should wear turtlenecks because my neck incisions look gross... and others laughed...  at first it felt like this:

Then my moodiness swung to feeling like:

Before long, I was here:

And now, I'm just:

Because after all:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My words are not as tasty as my cakes...

...or the fudge pecan brownies I just baked. But here I am, eating my words.

Remember when I said that the recovery from this surgery was easier than the recovery from the first? And how I was feeling great and nothing hurt? Apparently, those words enraged my body and the pain hit me today like a hammer-filled bag made of broken glass and scorpions.

That might be a slight overstatement. But I did take a Motrin this morning.

I finally hit that part of recovery that the doctor warned me about. It hurts to swallow and it's pretty hard to do at times. It took me half a dozen attempts to get down a bite of chicken nugget today. It's not just slightly uncomfortable anymore... it hurts. I'm also having some acid reflux issues that feel like painful, cold heartburn in the middle of my chest. And, I'm tired.

Like a boss, I timed my return to work with today's onslaught of post-operative malady. I had plans of returning to school with smiles and light-hearted banter. Instead, I found myself feeling wrung-out by mid-morning. Turns out, teaching is slightly more physically demanding than laying in my bed, watching Judge Judy.

But take heart! The 2nd first day back at work had a happy ending. Lookit my new favorite thing, Rutherford B. Hayes:

I'm named after the 19th president!

Doesn't he make you feel all tropical and lush?

Rutherford B. Hayes currently resides in cubicle A as my new favorite student.

I plan on asking him for answers when the real kids are struggling and letting him get everything right. It's also extremely convenient because the Smartboard projector makes it counterproductive to have a real kid sit in that cubicle. So now the space is not wasted. Then, when I'm outside of my restriction period and am allowed to carry heavy things, I'll bring him home to join Ulysses S. Grant.

Ulysses S. Grant will undoubtedly find the whole thing bewildering.

If you're wondering (and you probably are) where James K. Polk could be, have no fear. James K. Polk has been here for a while. I'll share a picture of him after I repaint him. It's not like I just started naming things after presidents with middle initials all willy nilly. That wouldn't make any sense. I'm going in order... and I can not wait to find Chester A. Arthur.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

That's what you get for offering...

Ever since the C word entered the building, we have received a deluge of help from our family and friends. We've been spoiled with dinners, offers of help, prayers, kind words and thoughts... I'm never going to get caught up on the thank-you notes.

It's an amazing and generous thing to behold... but I feel like a poser. Thyroid cancer is like real cancer's lame little brother. It has the same last name, but just about anybody can beat it up. I mean, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I'm tired (who isn't?) and my burps feel a little weird after all the neck surgery. That's all I got.

It seems like a shame, though, to not properly exploit  graciously accept the offers of help we have received. What kind of friend would I be if I didn't allow those close to me to go out of their way on my behalf? So here's what you can do to help (and I have cancer so you have to do it):

December 14th is the 3rd annual Wear Star Wars/ Share Star Wars Day. I want everybody I know to try to participate. Wait. Not try. Do or do not.

It's very simple. On Friday, December 14th, wear something Star Wars or anything else you're geeky for. Dr. Who, Star Trek, Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Horrible, Auburn, Gummi Bears... whatever charges your phaser.

*Editor's note* By "wear something Star Wars", I don't mean full on, 501st cosplay. It just means maybe you wear a geeky t-shirt or lapel pin. A fabulous accessory or perhaps a hat. Though you would totally get bonus points for wearing full Storm Trooper armor.

Then, buy a geeky toy (may I recommend the new line of Star Wars Angry Birds games?) and donate it to the toy drive of your choice. Or get it to me and I'll drive it to a donation site for you. But here's the catch: you have to put a sticky note on the toy specifying that it can go to a boy or a girl. Otherwise, all the Star Wars and other sci fi stuff will be automatically sorted to the "Boy" pile. And that's a shame.

By now, you may be wondering where this whole thing comes from. It was all over the news a few years ago, but you may not have noticed or you may have forgotten. Here, in words far better than I could use, is the original story of Star Wars Katie. You know that I will get all kinds of supportive for blonde haired, glasses-wearing, adopted girls named Katie. After Katie's mom posted that blog post, the geek world went off. I've never seen anything like it. Calls, messages, and gifts poured in to Katie, all bearing the message, "It's OK for girls to like Star Wars." The geek community rallied to protect one of our own... and it was beautiful. From that, Katie's mom started the Wear Star Wars/ Share Star Wars tradition so that something positive could continue from that experience. Now, I'm inviting you to join in... even if you don't know who Wil Wheaton is.

p.s. This movement can go both ways. It would be equally as awesome to donate a "girl" toy with a sticky note specifying that it can go to a boy or a girl. Apparently, some people figure this out earlier in life than others.

And spread the word, would ya?

Monday, December 3, 2012

PSA: Check Your Neck

I've gotten a few messages from people who want to know more about my symptoms and diagnosis. I'm not a doctor and I'm not an expert. I know that thyroid nodules are super common in women and are very rarely cancer. I'm just special, I guess. So y'all stop freaking out.

Here is a great place to start looking for information if you're really interested:

Now, the symptoms that brought me to the thyroid cancer diagnosis are my own. By that, I mean that the things that were strange to me might be normal to you. And my normal might (might?) be strange to you. I had some pretty weird symptoms... the strangest was probably the inability to regulate my body temperature. I would be in my freezing, meat locker classroom and be completely comfortable in a sleeveless shirt. No goosebumps, no shivering. All the kids were hunched in their seats wearing jackets and I was completely toasty without sleeves. And then, that same night, I would be in a tub full of the hottest water I could run. My skin would turn bright red and feel tight from the hot water- but I would still feel freezing.

There were other things, of course. But they're only meaningful in that those symptoms were deviations from my norm. Something felt wrong. When my doctor noticed that the old thyroid nodules felt bigger, we got them checked out. I was sure it was cancer (or Graves' Disease). I was absolutely certain (and hopeful) that they would run tests and come back with a name for what was messing with me. But one test after another came back clear. Blood work, ultrasound, radioactive thyroid reuptake, needle biopsy: all negative. And one after another, those results blew my mind. I started wondering if there was something really mentally wrong with me (beyond my usual irreverent quirkiness). The needle biopsy was the worst. The doctor had already ruled out Graves', so I was ready for the cancer diagnosis. When that test came back negative, I think I was more mad than anything. If it wasn't cancer, then what was it?

It is true that all my symptoms could have had other causes. I'm not 25 anymore... things are bound to start falling apart these days. I've been pregnant three times and had two children (this will always be my least favorite math problem). I've had that whole gall bladder sickness and then the elective breast reduction just a few weeks after- both of these surgeries in the last year. That's bound to mess with my hormones, right? Not to mention, I'm the poster child for weird medical situations. If I had a nickel for every time a doctor has told me, "I've never seen that before. I'm sure it's fine,"...

It would have been easy for me or my doctors to write off my symptoms as just the aging process of a whackadoo. I am very, very fortunate that we didn't all write it off at the same time. At least one of us was always pushing for one more check. I got lucky. We found the cause of my symptoms.

It's worth noticing that I'm still recognizing what some of my symptoms were. I didn't realize how lethargic or how scatterbrained I'd become. Now that the whole broken thyroid is out and I'm on the synthetic thyroid supplement, I'm realizing how off I really was. Not that it was all bad... some of those harebrained schemes were pretty fun...

All that to say... thyroid cancer detection can be a little tricky. Check your neck. Get your doctor to check your neck. It takes all of four seconds. And listen to your gut. If you think something needs to be checked out, check it out.

A Little R&R...

In the zoo world, R&R stands for regurgitation and reingestion. That's an abnormal behavior you see in captive great apes, particularly gorillas where they... well, like the name says. I used to have to collect data on R&R. Ah, the glamorous world of animal behavior.

I'm trying to tell myself that I'm not a slacker for taking today and tomorrow off of work. Overall, I feel fine, and it's like I'm playing hooky. Like a snow day without snow. I keep reminding myself that my body is processing all the meds and anesthesia that I've had over the last two weeks- hence the random nap attacks that knock me out from time to time. And my neck has open drains in it this time... the draining should slow down by Wednesday, but it would be awkward to try to teach with the wound as open as it is today. And, there are the red spots from my tape allergy.

I look tired.

I'm trying to get out of the house as much as I can. I went shopping yesterday for Advent calendars and eggs. Again, the glamour!

Status (so I don't forget in case I need to know later): still not taking any pain meds. That leaves me with 10 pills a day (antibiotics, calcium, and synthetic thyroid). Doss got me this pill-minder to help me keep up with what I'm taking and when.

I think this is romantic.
No pain, but it is uncomfortable to yawn. Swallowing is also uncomfortable- there's a permanent lump in my throat like after you cry really hard. Not really permanent though- the good doctor promises it'll fade away soon.

I'll find out Friday morning if the cancer had spread to the left lobe or lymph nodes. Until then, it seems my biggest worry is the cold sore threatening to appear under my nose and my compulsive picking of the Dermabond on my neck. And really, if those are my biggest concerns, I'm a lucky, lucky girl... who needs to paint her nails.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thyroid surgery, take two!

Hands down, the worst part of this surgery is the fact that I had to cancel a really big cake order for this weekend. In fact, right at this moment, that function is happening without cakes made by me. And that is just beyond unfortunate.

The cancer part sucks, too.

On the bright side, this surgery was way easier than last week's. I'm not sure why that is. It was supposed to be way rougher on me. Operating on a neck that had not yet healed was supposed to be really painful and miserable. But nope. For whatever reason, this one hurts much less than last week's. No nausea from anesthesia like last week, and I was much more energetic after this one- awake earlier, hungrier, more likely to roam the hallways of the hospital in the wee hours. I've taken no pain meds since a few hours after the surgery. And my nurse even let me leave the floor and wander the gift shop this morning. I've got my voice back (almost) already and it doesn't hurt to swallow like I thought it would. 

The incision looks about the same: 

I still love that shower curtain.

probably because he just cut along the dotted line. 

And I did manage to make a little cake yesterday before I went to the hospital:

War Cake Eagle!
only because it was small and quick and easy. And because I didn't hear back from the orderer when I tried to cancel it, so I panicked and went ahead and made it early so the baby wouldn't be stuck without a birthday cake.

I also threw down some lemon cupcakes for my nurses. As you might expect, I was asked for way more business cards after the lemon cupcakes than I was last week after the chocolate-peanut butter. 

Final count for this one:
Sprite Zeros: only 2
cranberry juices: 9 (yep)
packs of graham crackers: 3
packs of Captains Wafers: 5

Good times. But sheesh, this HAS TO be the last surgery of 2012, right?