Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Well, I Almost Made It

I don't expect anyone to read this. Just keeping a record for my own piece of mind. And this seems the appropriate venue.

I came so close to ending 2013 without another copay. So very close. But alas... I didn't make it.

I started having the chest pains a few months ago. Nothing serious, just some tightening here and there. It almost always happened when I was worrying about something, so it was easy to write off as stress. About a month ago, though, it got worse. It went from tight and uncomfortable to legitimate pain. And, instead of intermittent, it became a constant ache. It also kind of radiated down my arm. When I started rubbing my chest like my uncle used to do before a bypass, I called the doctor.

Now, in my defense, I didn't call the doctor sooner because I was fairly certain I wasn't going to die from this one (and, as you can see, I was right). And I was sure I couldn't have a heart problem because I don't have a family history of heart problems... except for the family members with heart problems. And I was busy! New business, two kids, brown dog... lots on my plate. I simply didn't have time for a heart problem or the treatment. As we learned from Cancergate '12, treatments take a whole lot of time.

Also, I'm tired of sitting on these.
I was also pretty sure that the chest pains were reflux-related because someone hasn't been taking her reflux meds but had been on an orange juice kick. The arm pain made sense because I'd picked up some Christmas trees the day before and the weird arm positions that involved would almost certainly lead to a twinge or two.

Be that as it may, there were some things in my past (like recent radiation treatment) that made the chest pain a little too ominous. So, I took my happy self to the doctor. My doctor is pretty awesome. She's the first practitioner who has taken it in stride that "nothing presents normally" in me. Strep test negative? I definitely have strep. Biopsy negative? It's just kidding. Ankle bruised, clicking, and flopping around in the socket? Not broken, just a sprain. She gets it and it doesn't seem to phase her. Unfortunately, my symptoms were a little too textbook for her to write them off as I so desperately wanted her to. My EKG was "OK but not great". She gave me a choice: go to the hospital and be admitted overnight for observation or try to get in to see a cardiologist that same day. I, of course, chose the cardiologist because I had stuff to do that night.

I spent three or four hours at the cardiologist that day. Mostly waiting, but I did have a nice heart ultrasound which, you know, is a bonding experience with the ultrasound tech. When I finally got to see the cardiologist (who is completely awesome and worth the wait), he looked at my tests. He says I have mitral valve prolapse which sounds way cooler than it is but can account for the pain and dizziness. My mitral valve was a bit floppy, I'll admit, but I think it's just got pizzazz. Reduce caffeine, sleep and exercise more. I can do at least one of those. No beta blockers, though, because my blood pressure still runs pretty low. I had to come back, asap, for a stress test.

I talked them into giving me a few days to get things done before I came back. I would be much less stressed, I argued, if I could just get that week over with. No problem. I was scheduled to come back the next Monday but given strict instructions to call 911 immediately if my symptoms got worse. And for the love of Pete, lay off the OJ. But the next Monday, they called and pushed my test back a week. The scanner was broken. The next week, the same thing. Someone would come fix it, but my stress test was pushed back again, this time until after Christmas. I was to come in on the 30th. No problem. I spent the days before the stress test baking, Christmas shopping, and pretending I didn't have a cardiologist.

Yesterday was my stress test and it actually looked exactly like this except with less smiling and I was wearing a Superman shirt. Other than that, this picture is pretty darn accurate.

Actual poster of the test I had. I have no idea what it says.
Hey, did you know a stress test involves a radioactive scan? No? Neither did I.

Again? Really?
I am so damn sick of being in rooms with this on the door.
And if I never see another lead-lined box, it'll be too soon.
The sweet girl launches into her spiel about how safe the test is, even though it's radioactive and there's nothing to worry about. "I'm going to stop you right there. I already know this speech. Just... is this going to affect the radiation that's already in me?"


A quick detour to the scanner to see if the remnant radiation from the spring's I131 would affect the scanner's ability to read this radiation dose. Nope, no problem! Back to the room for an IV and some radioactive injections. I mean, what's one more, right? It's got to be cumulative. Just a little more and I'll be shooting webs. Right?

Injection, scan, treadmill, injection, scan, done.

The results were good. Nothing to worry about now, and I follow up in six weeks.

Seems the arm pain really was Christmas tree-related. The chest pain is better since I've cut way back on caffeine. The sleep and exercise... I'll work on it. For now, though, it's fine. And no more doctors in 2013!

365 Days Later

I wrote this post on November 27th. I didn't post it though because... I'm not sure why.

One year ago today, I was diagnosed with Stage II papillary thyroid cancer. Here's what I've learned since then:

1. Cancer is scary.
Even cancer's lame little brother*, thyroid cancer, is scary. When the doctor first told me I had a papillary carcinoma, I was relieved. I'd been having some weird symptoms for a while (years actually), but none of the tests ever showed anything wrong. I just thought I was nuts. When it came back cancer, at first, I was like, "Woo hoo! I'm not crazy!" (much).
It didn't take long, though, for me to get creeped out. There was this thing inside me. In my neck of all places. I couldn't see it, I couldn't feel it, but it was messing me up. And it could kill me. Statistically, it probably wouldn't. But it could.

That's a (HeLa-IV) cancer cell. Freaky, isn't it?
I didn't know what treatment course I would end up taking. I didn't know what the long term effects would be. I didn't know if the December Disney trip we'd planned and paid for would actually happen. It was a minefield of question marks.

2. Cancer is lonely. 
I've tried to articulate this one a few times, and it's hard to get across unless you've experienced it. You can have the best doctors in the world. You can have perfectly wonderful, supportive family. You can have a community that rallies and helps pick up the slack you drop during your treatment. But, at the end of the day, your fight with cancer is your fight. Nobody is in that body with you. It's you versus this thing that's trying to kill you, and it's lonely sometimes. Kind of like miscarriage. Nobody talks about that part.

3. Cancer is not easy.
Yes, everyone has heard that thyroid cancer is easy. It's the easy cancer. Diet cancer, cancer lite. Nobody dies of thyroid cancer (except the people who do). It's easy to treat. It's "curable". *And whenever you mention it, you have to acknowledge how "easy" it is to "beat". You know who says these things? People who don't have thyroid cancer. If you say these things, you should really stop talking. Probably altogether.

It is absolutely true that thyroid cancer has a high remission rate. Compared to other cancers, its treatment is more straightforward and predictable. No chemo, the radiation is different...  It's usually treatable. Absolutely.
Here comes the "but".
BUT! The side effects are forever. And they suck. It's not just taking a pill every day for the rest of your life and everything is normal. It's more like a permanent state of being just on the verge of homicidal PMS, crippling depression, or breathtaking mania... every minute of every day. Oh, those wacky mood swings, completely independent of whatever is going on. But that's ok, because you took your pill and your numbers are "fine". Think a sweater will keep you warm? Bahaha! That's cute. You're exothermic now! Except being in a warm place doesn't make you warm. Good luck figuring that out. But hey, at least you have the easy cancer. You just don't have much metabolism anymore.
Oh, and that pill? That "all you have to do is take a pill every day and you're fine" pill? It takes months, sometimes years, to titrate that dose. And while you and the doctor are trying to figure it out, you get the dosage rollercoaster. Dose too low? Meh, you didn't need to get out of bed, anyway. And everybody loves being compared to a walking corpse! Dose too high? What's a little heart failure? Come on! It's the easy cancer, after all.  (Hey, look! A sarcastic mood swing!)

For the love of all that is holy, don't call thyroid cancer the "good cancer". You'll, at best, sound like an idiot.

4. Cancer is forever
I actually didn't see this one coming. I thought, hey, I'll do the treatment, get it over with in a few weeks. and then go on like nothing ever happened. Even without the thyroid symptoms, cancer doesn't work that way.
First of all, the treatments take a while. It's weeks and months of scheduling appointments and treatments. Missing work and family stuff. And then, when it's finally over, it's not over! There are follow ups. And then follow ups to follow ups. Cancer's a jerk, and you have to keep checking to make sure it hasn't come back.

It could come back at any time. Of course, every ache and pain, every sickness, everything comes with a shadow of fear that it could be a symptom or a recurrence.

Every insurance form, every new doctor you see, you have to tell them you have a history of cancer. That's one heck of a pre-existing condition.

There is no cure for cancer. Everybody knows that, but most people don't appreciate what it actually means. I sure didn't.

5. Cancer's not all bad.
One year ago today, my life was completely different. I had a different job doing different things. My days were filled with different people in a different place. I'd already decided to leave that life before my diagnosis (actually about a year and a half before the diagnosis), but changing careers was easier when I could say, "I got cancer and changed my perspective". It's easier for people to accept a life change following the C-Word rather than just because you're miserable. It's also easier to cowboy up and make a life change after you've faced the C-Word.
They say you find out who your friends are when you face something like cancer. They also say you find out who your friends are when you start a business. I've done both in the past year, and, for once, I think "they" are right. I lost some friends in this process. I gained some friends on this adventure.

Overall, I am in a much better place right now than I was a year ago. I'm healthier and happier. The people I spend my time around are a much happier group. I have so much to be thankful for, and I take time to reflect on and appreciate my life as much as possible. I'd be lying if I said cancer's wasn't at least partly responsible for that.

Still don't want to do it again, though.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Like Spiderman But Without Tobey Maguire

It occurs to me that I could blog about something other than cancer or bakery drama... but I don't need the catharsis from anything else.

Last week, I trekked out to UAB for a post-radiation remission check. I hate the drive to UAB because it takes forever and is usually accompanied by a sense of dread that just gets worse and worse as I approach the Birmingham city limit. I love the drive to UAB because it's alone time with music and antique stores along the way. Eh, you take the good, you take the bad, and then you open a bakery just like Mrs. Garrett did.

Now, as we recall from a previous episode of "Cancer Is A Huge Pain In The Ass", I did radiation back in April/May. The goal of the RAI was twofold: one, to kill any cancer that was left, and two: to make it easier for the doctor to check for cancer recurrence. I did the radiation, did the scan, did the tests and it looked like all was quiet.

 It is important to note that, despite my best efforts, this exposure to radiation did not give me super powers.

The goals of this recent visit to the big city were to make sure nothing is growing in my neck, make sure my levels are down, and to check out what's new at the antique malls along 280. Indeed, nothing is growing in my neck.
Thanks to these handy plastic thyroid models, I am now an expert in checking for thyroid disease... or I would be if I still had a thyroid.
And the Powder Box had this awesome spinning wheel a la Rumpelstiltskin for sale (but I didn't buy it because I have superior self control... and it wouldn't fit in the car).

Have you seen Once Upon a Time? So good.
As for the testing of cancer recurrence, here we are a week later and that test result isn't in yet. I know! Turns out, the thyroglobulin (who you will remember as the villain in the first Spiderman movie) test takes longer than the TSH or free T4.

Green Globulin
But that doesn't mean the wait has been dull. Heavens, no! Why, just last night, as we were enjoying a family dinner at a local greasy spoon, my phone rang. It was UAB calling to remind me about my radiology appointment on Wednesday.

Yeah, I didn't know anything about an appointment in radiology on Wednesday. In fact, the only reason I would need to visit radiology would be because the thyroglobulin came back high, and we need to look for tumors. But I hadn't heard any thyroglobulin numbers, so I didn't know if the cancer was back... if it was a miscommunication and they entered my lab orders six months early... if I'd heard the robo-call wrong over the din in the restaurant... It caused some stress. And, of course, the clinic's not open at 8 p.m., so I couldn't call and find out.

After much waiting and re-dialing, I finally found out the deal: the doctor did, in fact, order an ultrasound just in case the thyroglobulin came back high.

I can't believe how easy this image was to find. Thanks, Rowsdowr!
Since the results aren't back yet, we don't know if I need the ultrasound. But hey, snaps to the radiology department for being on top of things and hooking me right up with an appointment! Just... a little premature... and terrifying there for a few hours. But they were super nice on the phone, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in six months regardless.

The real results of the thyroglobulin (and the answer to whether or not I need an ultrasound this time) will be here in the next week or so. Hopefully sooner.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crazy Town

I knew things were going too well.

I mean, I found a great, affordable spot for the bakery. The whole family is happy and healthy. Everything was going great! Then the crazy train dropped into town.

It started with a snarky comment. It was the usual, "Why does the cake cost so much?" but it was coming from someone who does a service where she charges a LOT for her time. I mean... really? Your time is valuable, but mine isn't?
Irritating, but not important. Deleted!

Then came the call from the health inspector. Actually, it was an e-mail last night that said, "Call me ASAP". So I called him ASAP. It seems someone (he told me who- I'll not share their identity here because enough people already hate her) turned me in for selling cakes out of an un-inspected bakery. Ummm... what? It seems she saw my ad in the birthday guide edition of Auburn-Opelika Parent Magazine and decided to ignore the "Grand Opening on August 17th" part. Sigh.

So, I did the most logical thing I could do: I asked the health inspector to meet me at the shop first thing in the morning "to check it out and tell me how I'm doing so far at getting the place up to code". And he did. This morning, he came to the shop while I was finishing a meeting with the pest control people and walked straight into the kitchen. No food, no ingredients, no cakes there. In fact, one of the ovens is on the floor, waiting to be installed and the counter is piled with paint and spackle cans.


But I'm really glad he contacted me. Partly because that other person was WRONG (and should be made to wash her hair in hot dog water) and partly because I've been wanting some more input on what else is left to get the place up to snuff. And it was really nice to have someone who saw the place "before" tell me how well I'm doing so far. Especially someone whose opinion really matters, you know?

Rounding out the hit parade of insanity is the knock on the door that happened right after I hung up the phone from inviting the health inspector to the bakery. It was our super-nice neighbor. We like him a lot because he moved into the house previously occupied by a convicted child molester... so he's a huge improvement. Anyway, it seems our not-so-nice neighbor is getting released from jail today and nice neighbor was giving us a heads-up. Because not-so-nice neighbor likes to try to run people over. Not figuratively. That's why he was in jail this time- he almost hit a baby carriage when he was trying to sideswipe nice neighbor last fall.


So there's that layer of crazy.

There's a break coming, though. I can see it!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Per Square Foot Perspective

Bakery Captain's Log: Stardate 91035.38

First of all, I don't know why Doss thought I wouldn't enjoy the new Star Trek movie. I mean, popcorn and Zachary Quinto. What else is there?

This is the part of the bakery process where I find the perfect location. PERFECT. Location. PERFECT.

Only here's the thing: there is no perfect location. They're all too small or too expensive or too remote or too expensive or they cost too much. I've looked at just about every available retail location in town, and I've ended up right back where I started with the first place I looked into. It's not perfect, but it's just about a perfect fit for what I want my little bakery to be.

But it's scary, and I've been looking for some validation on this decision. There are a million things that can go wrong. I could, for example, take the kids and dog for a walk, trip on a hole at the park, and sprain my ankle. *Cough*Monday*Cough*. And there are business hazards, too. My biggest fear is, of course, that the business doesn't make any money. Thus, I'm searching high and low for the location with the best value for the rent.

I think I've found it. Well, I'd already found it, but then I second guessed myself and now I'm back to it.

I also found a HUGE source of validation on this location today. That validation was in, of all places, downtown Atlanta! Huh. Who'd have thought?

I took the kids to the children's museum (again! That membership has more than paid for itself this year) today. And what do you know? Right there, next door to the children's museum, sharing a wall with the downtown Mecca of kids and their parents' checkbooks was an empty commercial space. It was advertised as a location for "food or retail" at 1920 square feet. Of course, I was curious. Of course, I called.

Now, the inside was pretty stripped out. The build out on that place would be comparable to most of the build outs around our town- basically, starting from scratch. So that part didn't bother me. I was just sure, though, that the rent would be hilarious. I mean, downtown Atlanta, across the street from the World of Coke, sharing a space with Imagine It, right there at Centennial Olympic Park and the aquarium and everything... my guess was $10K per month. And that would be reasonable for all the business that location could bring and the prices you could charge in that neighborhood.

It wasn't $10K.

Now, you may recall the part of this bakery adventure where the City of Auburn flat refused to grant a grease trap variance so that I could open in that great location. The grease trap installation of the trap they require was cost prohibitive and the final nail in the coffin of my willingness to navigate the unfriendly waters of opening a business in Auburn.

When the realtor for the Atlanta location mentioned a grease trap, I felt my hackles rise and my stomach sink. He said the city (of course, it's Atlanta) requires a grease trap. Then he said...

I swear, I'm not making this up...

He said they would help with the grease trap and vent hood installation.

What the what?

The big, BIG city realtor and owner are more accommodating than those in the "friendly" small town? They would eat some of the costs of my build out? Couldn't be. This rent must be huge. $12K?

It wasn't $12K.

To put the Atlanta shop's rent in perspective, one location in Auburn was going to be $2000/month for about 1500 square feet. One location in Opelika was $1700/month for 1400 square feet in a pretty rough location. A more desirable location in Opelika was $2450/month for 1500 square feet. A pretty good location in Opelika was about $2000/month but it was HUGE- about 3000 square feet. Now, those prices include the fees you pay to contribute to the upkeep of the shopping center (CAM or HOA  or whatever they call it, depending on where you are). Are you with me?

Yeah. Including the extra taxes and HOA fees, I'd be paying $2900/month for the 1940 square feet in downtown Atlanta. Next door to the children's museum. Across the street from the World of Coke. Literally attached to an apartment building full of cake eating families.

Less than $3000/month. And the super nice realtor said the price was negotiable. Negotiable. That's practically a guarantee of profit.

If I can get that much sweeeeeeet shop location in Atlanta for $12/square foot (before the extras), I can afford to be discerning in picking a shop location in Opelika, right?

And so, today's adventure in the big city was a beautiful answer to my prayers seeking validation and reassurance. I like numbers and math. Today's numbers make me much for confident of the path I'm currently on.

Perspective. I has it.

I feel so much better now.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Other Graduation

This part was supposed to go into that Brady Bunch post, but it was just getting too long.

I graduated, too.

Yesterday, I graduated from middle school again. I've quit my teaching job so that I can go into the bakery business. It feels like a graduation. Remember when you graduated from high school and/or college and it was all exciting and scary? You knew what you were going to do, but it was so different from what you'd been doing that the unknowns made you kind of nervous? You just didn't know what it was going to be like. This feels just like that.

I used my special education certification to be a middle school In-School Suspension and Alternative School teacher for seven years. Oh, the stories I could tell... and probably will one day. And oh, the things I learned. I learned a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be. I learned a whole lot about parenting and the kind of people I want my kids to be.

I learned patience.
I learned forgiveness.
I learned to let it go.
I learned how to say no.
I learned to keep a straight face (almost).
I learned how to listen.
I learned what to listen to and what to ignore.
I learned that I can't fix everything that needs fixing.
I learned how to ask for help.
I learned that it's OK to be different.
I learned that it's OK to let people be wrong.

Most importantly, I learned that people matter. Everyone has a story, and every story is important. Maybe not interesting, but important. People matter and deserve to be celebrated. I think that it is this notion, more than anything else, that led me into the cake decorating profession. People matter. I want to make cakes for people that they use to celebrate what's important to them. I want to use this next part of my life to be a part of someone's joy rather than their embarrassment and guilt.

Remember that time I walked into a classroom to borrow something from another teacher and a kid burst into tears at the sight of me? Yeah, kids don't generally do that when you're there with a cake.

It's a terrible waste of the withering glare that I carefully honed over the last seven years, I'll admit.

It's time to move on. But holy cow, I'm going to miss my coworkers.

Thanks for the adventures, you guys.

Don't Fight the Tide, Come Along For the Ride

That's not a Bama reference, for the record. It's from this:

You should watch the video because I shouldn't be the only one with that groovy tune stuck in her head.

Let's face it... they were no Partridge Family. Behold, the origins of autotune!

What was I-? Oh, yes. Might be time to get the TSH checked again. SQUIRREL!

<real post>
It's graduation season!

I've made a couple of graduation cakes- I hope to make a LOT more this time next year.

There is so much gear in my cake room that I literally forgot I had a  Cricut Cake until I was trying to figure out how to do this cake. It is time to move all this stuff into a shop, right?

Both of the monsters graduated from their respective schools.

Bug's graduation was in her school cafeteria.

There was a lovely reception spread and the teachers called the kids' names and gave out awards. Bug won her class art award. The ceremony was short and sweet. And, Bug's amazing teacher made each kid a scrapbook with pictures of them doing things throughout their entire pre-K year. They're full of pictures, poems, handprints, and stories. And they're all hand-made. Those things must have taken hours and hours, and I absolutely treasure it.

This is the same teacher who came to Bug's ballet recital and birthday party. I've known teachers who have invested their lives into their students before, but they're rare. It's phenomenal seeing it happen from the parent perspective. We were very lucky this year and will miss Mrs. Grouby terribly.

Oh, yeah. And, Bug managed to test to mastery on all the kindergarden standards by the end of pre-K. Sheesh.

Then, a quick stop at the doctor for this sinus infection and I was off to meet the family at Boo's graduation.

Boo's graduation was in the rec center next to his school. It was hotter and much more crowded than Bug's ceremony. There was no reception after, and many parents were talking on their cell phones throughout the program. Not cool.

Boo wore a medal around his neck that said "Honor Roll". He got all S's on all his academics (and conduct) all year. 

 See the picture on the board behind them? Boo's teacher made a movie of her class and their adventures this year. She gave each kid a copy It's adorable. Boo's watched it at least a dozen times so far.

But the best thing Boo's teacher sent home was the writing journal. She took that kid right there, the kid who couldn't hold a pencil correctly, the kid who was scared to learn to read, and she made him a writer. He writes all the time. All. The. Time. I now understand that it's because Ms. Mark built in her class the habit of writing. When Boo sees something that might be worth writing down, he does it. You can see that habit develop in the writing journal.

There's a page for every day. The early pages are mostly random marks and drawings. Near the scribbles, in neat teacher handwriting, the intent of the message is translated.

As the year progresses, the letters become more easily recognized, words form, spelling happens, and punctuation starts. It's amazing. The May entries are multi-sentence paragraphs about life as a kindergartener.

He also reads now. This teacher gave our son a love of books- mostly Junie B. Jones. He's always enjoyed being read to, but now he can read to himself.

Next year, the kids will be back together at the same school. They were separated this year because the pre-K program is only run out of two locations in our school system.

For now, though, we're looking at a summer of adventure and baking. It's going to be a good one!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Back to the Real World

I'm home!
This is what I found when I came home.
This morning, I left mom's bright and early so that I could wade through the morning rush hour traffic and drive from the east side of Atlanta to the west side of Birmingham. Oy, people need to pay attention to each other. But, at least I'm off the low iodine diet so I had my friend, Mr. Starbucks, in the car to make the drive more bearable. And the car has been completely scrubbed out with 409, so it was pretty darn pleasant to drive. Plus, it was full of gas I got for cheap using my Kroger card:
Sad that this counts for cheap, isn't it?
This time, I parked in the 6th Ave parking deck. This is the third UAB parking deck I've used, and it's my new favorite. Free patient parking for nuclear medicine AND reserved patient parking places right next to the entrance? Yes, please.

No other spaces on either side of this reserved space. I felt so important.
So I used my keen navigational skills and years of airport experience to find my way to nuclear medicine.
At least there's no moving sidewalk to contend with.
Another day, another bracelet.

And then, in to the scan.

This was my third experience in the old radioactive thyroid scanner-majig. This is the same machine they use to test thyroid function, so it's pretty familiar. I've done thyroid scans in the machines at Eastside Medical, at East Alabama, an now at UAB. They should give commemorative pins or something for collectors. And, just like the machines at Eastside an EAMC, the machine at UAB lulled me to sleep. Three for three, sleeping through thyroid scans.

The scans were fine. I have some thyroid tissue in my neck that's currently dying from the radiation- that's the cause of that neck pain. I also have some uptake in my carotid, but we're not going to worry about that. Overall, RAI was a success. Hooray!

My scans. The black spots are radioactive- the big black splotch is the residual thyroid tissue in my neck.
I'm still radioactive, but I can go back to work tomorrow.

The international symbol for "Hug me!"
I think it's something like sixteen more days of school, and then I'm a professional baker! Exciting! My letter of resignation is written and ready to print. My ICES convention registration is finished. I'm going to start my LLC and permit paperwork next week. Holy smokes! Oh! And I have these super cute cake and cake pop stands to show off at my first demo next weekend:

Using suckers to demonstrate the cake pop stands because making cake pops is a pain in the thyroid.
The new phone will be here tomorrow- I chose to sacrifice my cell phone so that I could stay in contact with people and take pictures. Now, it's radioactive and it has to go. But it's ok- I was due for an upgrade, and the texter is messing up on this phone anyway.

Seven days away from my husband and kids was AWFUL!
Sleeping as late as I wanted was pretty good.
The low iodine diet is of the devil.
The food at mom's house makes up for it.
Eight days off of work was the spring break I never had.
Going back in tomorrow is going to be TOUGH. (But Doss made me biscotti, so the day can't be a total downer. You hear that, day? YOU CAN'T BE A TOTAL DOWNER!)

RAI by the numbers:
Trips to UAB this week: 4
hours admitted to the hospital: 23
miles in the car: 1,216
hours in the scanner: 1.5
copay: $200 (I wonder if cancer insurance will work for this treatment, too?)
nights at mom's: 6
cake stands made for the demo: 12
kids' teeth lost while I was gone: 1
days the girl stayed home from school, sick, while I was gone: 2
number of final exams the kids "helped" Doss give to night classes: 2
when I want to see another piece of hard candy: never

And that's most of a part of some of the story of my first RAI treatment.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Four days after the dose, and I'm still in quarantine at my mom's. I still can't shoot webs, but I have some pain in my neck. Not sure why... it's where the right side of my thyroid used to be. Anybody got any ideas?

As of yesterday, I was able to go out and do things, as long as I wasn't in any one place for more than a few minutes. Happily, my brother rescued me by inviting me to Grayson Day. It's outdoors! And arts and craftsy! Score!

So we wandered the booths for a while and it was wonderful. We found our mom a Mother's Day gift (two weeks, people, get on it!) and met some very nice people. Good times, but I wish I'd gotten a foot long corn dog. Not that I like corn dogs all that much, but for the novelty of getting a foot long corn dog.

Today was rainy, so I spent most of the day down here in the basement. It wasn't a total waste, though, because I finally got started on the cake stands I need to make for the Georgia ICES demo next week. Check them out:

Pretty, right? I made three like this.

This is a close up of the tiki-statue leg of this luau cake stand. The plate part is bright green and fabulously tacky.
Perfect for hibiscus cupcakes.
I love this one. Pink, swirly stained glass with pretty beads going all around it? Yes, please.

But this has to be my favorite, and it's not even finished yet. If I am lucky enough for the Georgia Tech band to ever order another cake from me, I'll be ready with the stand. 

The last piece of cake should be served off "The Horse".
I have more to do tomorrow, but these were fun. 

Only three more days until I get to see my husband and kids again!

*About this quarantine thing*

I forget that not everybody has received the radiation guidelines from UAB four hundred times. So, FYI:

Radioactive Iodine (RAI) is processed and secreted through body fluids (saliva, urine, sweat, etc.). Hence all the drinking at the hospital. Because it comes out in sweat, all of my skin is radioactive. That's why I have to be away from my kids and that's why everything at the hospital was covered in plastic. Everything I touch gets contaminated.

Everything the Mandi touches...
So, to try and keep everyone else safe, I stay down here in my hidey hole as much as possible. I wore socks 24/7 for the first three days I was here so my footprints wouldn't be as bad. I also wore latex gloves whenever I had to go upstairs for any reason.

The couch down here is covered: I have a plastic bag on this cushion and the whole couch is covered with a furniture cover. 

The remote is covered in plastic, too.
My bed has a plastic cover on the mattress and the kids' mattresses have been completely moved out for this week. I will throw away the cover and pillow when I head back home. I'll also throw away my shoes and get a new phone (but this was overdue anyway).

My laundry gets washed completely separately and goes through the wash twice. Then I run the washer empty (but with some chelating cleaner like 409 in there) before anyone else can put their clothes in there. I use paper plates and disposable cutlery. I have a separate trash can for all the food trash stuff and anything else I touch, and nobody else can empty it. 

I have to flush twice and everything in the bathroom gets rinsed frequently and wiped down daily. I'll scrub it all with 409 before I leave. The toothbrush, hairbrush, shampoo, loofah, and everything else I've used will be thrown away.

Everything that went to the hospital with me will be put away for at least four weeks, so packing was an adventure. 

My daily pills were individually bagged so that I can take them without contaminating the pill bottle. I'll throw away this bottle of eye drops.  

The car is going to be interesting. It was a 3+ hour drive form UAB to mom's so I know that the car is wicked radioactive. I'll wipe down as much as I can and try to keep the kids out of there as much as possible until June.

Does that help?

I go for a full body scan on Wednesday and we'll see what lights up. Hopefully, just the salivary glands, kidneys, and bladder will show up on the scan. That's what's supposed to be radioactive now. I expect something in the neck to glow because of this pain- and that's ok. Some remnant thyroid is to be expected. What we DON'T want is anything like the lymph nodes, ovaries, or anything else to light up because that'll mean the thyroid cancer spread. That's not a good prize. But I'm sure it'll be fine.

Then, when everything is clear, I get to do this whole thing over again every 5-10 years. Overall, it's not as bad as I expected, so that's ok.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Radiation Adventures

Thanks to the Thyrogen protocol, I was able to do the RAI therapy without going off my synthetic thyroid hormone for a month (and therefore missing a month of life by being too hypothyroid to get out of bed).
The 2nd $2K shot... I call this one "Lefty"

I got to UAB early on Wednesday morning and tried to navigate my way to admitting.

Concourse A? Like the airport?

The admitting waiting room

Then they got an escort to take me to my room on the ninth floor. Not that kind of escort. UAB is so big that they have a whole team of people who just help you find your way from one place to another. 

I'd read that everything would be covered in plastic, but that didn't prepare me to see everything covered in plastic. 
The entire floor was covered.

The phone and phone cords

The rolling table thingy

But look! They provided all sorts of goodies.

The call button thingy and its cord

The chair

The door knob

EVERYTHING was covered in plastic

The door pulls

The shower? The shower has to be covered? 
And this super-cool trash can inspires all sorts of confidence.
UAB is different from EAMC. It's much bigger, obviously, but there are other differences. Meals are very different. At EAMC, they give you a menu card and you circle what you want. Then, they bring it at meal time. At UAB, they call it room service:

You order whatever you want and they bring it when you order it. It's still hospital food, but the concept is great:

I took this picture of the hallway before they dosed me so that I could remember what it looked like outside the door:
What up, 9 North! 
This wing is apparently a long-term care wing. The people who aren't radioactive seem to stay for a while. They have a laundry room and a communal kitchen for patients and guests. I met one guy who was there for his sixth quadruple bypass. He was about my age, and he knew he wasn't going home. That was tough. We chatted through the door before they brought in the radioactive pill:

My homey little room
The nurses and techs were allowed to be in my room for no more than twenty minutes per day. Yeesh. This is the instruction sheet on the door for what they had to do to enter or leave my room:

Then they brought in the pill. It was in a little test tube, and the test tube was sealed inside this big, lead container:

They unsealed it, and I had to swallow it as quickly as possible so we were all exposed to the pill as little as possible. Then we all watched to see if I would throw it up: 
This is the closest any doctor or nurse would get to me in the room unless they had to take a blood pressure or something.

I didn't throw it up. 

Then the dude with the geiger counter came to check my levels and establish how radioactive I was right after the dose. 
Radiation level: pretty darn high
He said, "I'mma tell you what your husband already know. You hot."

The best part of RAI is that the doctors tell you to keep candy in your mouth as much as possible. It's like eating popsicles after getting your tonsils out. After fourteen days on the low iodine diet, I was not about to argue with those orders.

The point of the candy is to keep the radioiodine from damaging the salivary glands. Iodine is absorbed by the thyroid and the salivary glands. We want the thyroid to soak up the radioiodine (and die), but we don't want the salivary glands to collect it. Then, I'd lose my sense of taste which is not good for an aspiring baker. So we use candy to keep the saliva production up.

All the radioiodine that isn't absorbed by the thyroid has to be processed out. In order to be released from the hospital, I had to get my geiger reading way down. That meant drinking:

Boom! I cleared my geigers on the first try! For posterity, in the 21 hours between getting dosed and clearing my geigers, I drank:
144 oz water
9 cans of soda
1 cup of coffee
1 glass of tea
1 cup of grape juice
2 cups of cranberry juice
I took three showers
And I slept 12 hours.

This was my room:

Now I'm at my mom's, living in the (perfectly lovely, finished) basement apartment. I'm drinking water, taking showers, and sucking candy to try to clear as much radiation as possible for when I go home next week. This is the hardest part. I feel fine. I can't see, taste, or feel anything different from normal. But I have to be away from my husband and kids for a week. I miss them.

I go back for the full body scan next Wednesday. Then I can go home. Meanwhile, it's tv and computer for me. It's like spring break all over again.