Probiotics!

At the beginning of the summer, new research revealed what all of us in the Shitty Sorority already knew: Cancer makes you fat. It was a relief to read it in peer-reviewed writing instead of hearing my oncologist tell me that I’m just “menopausal” or “can never, ever eat bread again” or I should “exercise more.” Doctors and CrossFitters and SoulCyclers will also go on and on and on about this “exercise” fad, but I’ve found most everything that elevates my resting heart rate is unpleasant and sweaty. And I’m a lady. Sadly, my go-to weight management plan that included an evening bottle of Prosecco and magical thinking wasn’t working. But I maintained great faith that persistent fatness could certainly be fixed by doing something from the couch.

All of us have at least one Facebook friend posting before-and-after midriff miracle work, and attributing it to the probiotics they are peddling. These earnest salespeople promise the shedding of pounds as their power pills button up leaky intestines and soothe fat-inspiring inflammation. During graduate school, I spent four years dissecting Peyer’s Patches from mouse guts and have a fundamental understanding of microbiology. So, I stopped mocking the pseudo-medical speak long enough to wonder if maybe all of those poisons and steroids I took during treatment repopulated my innards with an eviler blend of bacteria that never want me to wear skinny jeans. I went to the Organic Market to ask Chad which probiotic would allow me to squeeze back into my size 2s the quickest.

Chad was very helpful and steered me to the packets of pills that don’t require refrigeration or put a significant dent in my fancy shoe budget. There are as many probiotic formulations as there are vague symptoms to thwart. I decided on a daily dose to promote “digestive balance,” but it was nice of Chad to steer me away from the geriatric blends and to inquire about my vaginal health. Right there. Next to the frozen edamame and organic EVOO. I washed my first capsule down with a cold-pressed kale juice and Chinese character tattoos appeared at all of my pulse points. I’m your life coach now. Namaste.

With a profound sense of self worth and calm gratitude, I twirled out of the Organic Market and embarked on an entire month of poo improvement. I was sure I already felt amazing, and immediately began shopping for a toe ring. With a swig of cold water each morning, I came closer and closer to complete insufferability and the real chance of posting an ab selfie.

But it must be cold water, friends.

Attempting to swallow the vegan capsule with hot coffee leaves you with a mouth full of sticky pus and a sudden awareness of how sad and deluded one is to voluntarily purchase and ingest shit’s main ingredient in the pursuit of Chloe’s Revenge Body. And after my 30-day trial, I can tell you this: I’ve gained 5 pounds. I’ve also endured some rather alarming moments that a lady would never put in writing. Respectable cancer research reports an extra 11 pounds is my reward for three months of chemotherapy, but no suggestions about how to get rid of them. An extra 50 billion bacteria a day doesn’t seem to work for this girl, so it’s time for a different approach that can be initiated from the couch.

Sober September. Results to follow.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds, and also might be worth it.

Prosecco with berries might be the source of my 11 pounds… and also might be worth it.

Making Memories

My iPod is kaput. It’s (supposed to be) waterproof. I need it while swimming laps, so instead of being BORED OUT OF MY MIND, I can just tell myself I am freestyling for seven songs. I could endure any number of unpleasant activities for seven songs. Probably. If three of them were Rhianna. Oh na na… what’s my name. Or if even one was Justin Timberlake. Mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But today I pushed off from the wall in the lap lane without a single top 40 accompaniment to lessen the obvious torture of exercise. And 30 minutes of nothing but your own thoughts and breathing is an eternity, so I stop a bit short of that. And dammit if Barb and Arnie, my elderly swim noodle bobbing exercise pals don’t notice.

“Cut it a little short today!”

Yeah yeah yeah. I know, cancer-surviving Barb and Arnie, with your plastic visors, million grandchildren, lovely personalities, and sweet inquiries about my boys. BUT I CANNOT SWIM WITHOUT BEYONCE! So it’s only twenty minutes of back and forth and back and forth until I quit the pool to sit on the decking and swap Chinese restaurant recommendations with Barb and Arnie. Octagenarian Jews who snowbird in Florida know every dumpling dive like there is some Old Testament footnote that thou wilst be cashew chicken connoisseurs.

And this is how mornings go here in the summer… and the occasional evening, too. I find myself chatting up the oldest person in the pool, bar, or grocery aisle. The cancer-ed part of me is charmed by longevity and experiences, because I occasionally and morbidly wonder if I might not get to see that later version in the mirror starin’ back at me… whoa. But mostly it’s because we can trade gardening tips and cluck disapprovingly at the maxi dress espadrille moms ignoring their bratty kids who encroach on the lap lane. Cluck cluck.

I do have some lovely summer mommy friends, though. I might have written that I like children about as much as exercise, so it’s rare for me to share a Chardonnay with someone whose spawn I can stomach. Also, I might be a terrible person. But my boys play tennis with a gaggle of tweens that off the courts are like a pile of ever-hungry puppies that remember to say please and thank you. Our house looks like this. Every day.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

Ours is the house with the yummy snacks.

We are in the sweet spot of parenting here and know it. In a few years, these boys will never choose to spend an entire night playing board games and video games and those made up games with the complicated scoring and occasional broken window… certainly not with moms upstairs. They’ll want to troll for cuties at the movie theater. In five years time, they’ll all be driving and dating and sneaky and smelly. The very idea that these kiddos once let us Twist and Shout with them during an impromptu dance party will be a remotely fond memory. We’ll miss them begging for brownies, sleepovers, and just five more minutes after spending untold hours together. But if we have Barb and Arnie luck, we’ll share these memories over our swim noodle bobbing routines in the lap lane.

Happy summer, friends. May all the bikes stop at your door.

5%… by Steve Safran

I still have cancer.

I expected to have a different lede to this story. This was going to be the “I’m cured” post. 95% of all men who undergo the treatment I’ve had for testicular cancer are cured at this point. I’m in the five percent– just not the five percent everyone yells about at Wall Street.

Things are going in the right direction. I started with three tumors, and they were The Three Bears of cancerous lumps. Baby Bear and Mama Bear are just about gone, and Papa Bear is half the bear he used to be. I will be cured. Just not today.

This was going to be The Month. I had my mindfulness-filled mind set on a cancer-cured week on Cape Cod, grilling grillables and drinking drinkables. My meditation space had me on the beach, looking back on the one-two punch of cancer and a pulmonary embolism that tried to make me into a mawkish-if-easy Facebook entry for all of you. (“If you remember Steve, please repost.”)

Instead, the best news I got this week is that the mall I live above is getting a Wegman’s. Now, they have a cheese selection that, while I don’t want to say is “to die for” given the topic at hand, is damn good. I’m not complaining. It’s just that, during chemo and my Special Vomit Time, I wasn’t focused on what would replace JC Penny.

What’s next? A four-week wait. The doc wants to give the Papa Bear lump a whole month before they run another test. I am the most impatient person I know. I hate waiting. Did you travel this summer? Did you get stuck on a plane? This is just like that only, instead of not being sure when your flight will leave, you don’t know if they’ll give you surgery when you land.

I still made it to Cape Cod, but Dad worked the grill. My drink of choice wasn’t a G&T, it was Gatorade. I’m not cured but, to quote Sondheim, my dears– I’m still here. Even if I am a five percenter.

Convalescing on the Cape with a 5 percenter view

Convalescing on the Cape with a 5 percenter view

The Goddess

She stretched her long legs on the towel and coated them with Johnson’s Baby Oil. Her sun-streaked hair went past her freckled shoulders and when she wasn’t wearing her glasses, Patty was the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club pool. She let my big sister and me tag along. Paige was thirteen, but I hardly remember a time when her figure and demeanor weren’t an all access pass to the older kids. But at age 11, I was little. I hung on every word Patty spoke—to Paige, and to Patty’s friends who were also exotically adult with their bikinis and bits to fill them. I wanted desperately to understand what they thought was so funny, learn the words to their favorite songs, and smoke those menthol cigarettes that filled them with a cool worldliness. I wanted to be both giggly and blasé about Boys. But I was still so little.

I was 11. Patty was… a Goddess.

I was twenty–home from college with one of the boys I encouraged for probably too long– when Patty and John drove up to show Mom and Dad the new baby. Chelsea was still at the put-her-on-a mat-and-stare-at-her stage. And over a few bottles of celebratory wine, I got a glimpse into newly married life. Patty and John made it look ambitiously easy and fun somehow, with their combined smarts and steadfast love. The baby seemed like a drag, but even that they did well: Chelsea was plump and adorable and mostly happy on her little mat. Sitting on my parent’s breezy screened porch behind their plenty big house, Patty said she and John wanted all the same things. I stared at my older, wiser cousin and her handsome husband and perfect child and I knew Patty would have it—all of the good stuff.

It was close to seven years later when Paige called. John was gone. John– Patty’s forever boyfriend who became her forever husband– gone. One hundred thousand no’s. THEY HAVE THREE SMALL DAUGHTERS. Because everything felt sad and helpless and impossible, we got on planes. And when we got there, Patty made all of us feel better. To date I’ve never witnessed a eulogy so full of love and promise and hope and forgiveness. Patty who had every right to be a keening, catatonic widow instead hosted us in the plenty big home we always knew they’d have. John died happy, exploring every passion, achieving every goal; this is a life to celebrate, she taught us. Patty lost her best friend, partner, and husband and she instructed us to honor a life well lived over mourning a life too short. It was Chelsea who broke our hearts, toddling around saying how this uncle or that cousin was “just like her dad” and then growing up to be an aerospace engineer… very much like her dad.

Always the overachiever, Patty found true love twice. Over the years, I have used My Cousin Patty as an example of how Love surrounds us, how Love is always possible, how there are Second Chances for Love. But that isn’t fair. Were any of us very surprised that Patty would find true love twice? No. Not really.

Patty is a Goddess.

I’m 44 now. Once so young I could never dent her rarefied sphere, now we’re essentially the same age. Seventeen or seventy Patty will always be that gorgeous girl with the oiled legs who graduated early and married young and had it all and lost it all and then found and curated something beautiful all over again. Along the way she has brought two loving, awesome men into our family fold and created five incredible goddess spawn who mirror her intelligence, determination, stubbornness, luckiness, and beauty. Today, on Patty’s 50th birthday, I offer this outsider view of her charmed and cursed and blessed and difficult and gorgeous life. Patty has inspired, impressed, and encouraged me in ways she cannot know. Happy Birthday to the sexiest girl at the Elk’s Club… our Goddess… our Patty.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Patty, on her second wedding day.

Goddess Spawn

The Goddess Spawn… all five of them.

The Chemo Nausea Pizza Scale, by Steve Safran

How much pain are you in right now? On a scale from 1-10? Probably none, right? Now– and this is for the sake of science and also my amusement– put yourself in some pain. Any pain. Pinch yourself. Bend your finger back a little too much. Stub a toe. Now how would you rate your pain? A one or a two? What if someone stepped on your foot really hard? Bet that’s a four or five. Step on broken glass? A six.

What if you had a tumor in your back?

I don’t want to get all heavy here. I’m just trying to illustrate how relative pain is. Suddenly getting your foot stepped on is, at most, a two. That’s the problem with that smiley-to-full-agony face pain scale that’s ubiquitous in hospitals. They ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1-10 without any words that describe what a four, six or ten feel like. During my first admission to the hospital for what turned out to be testicular cancer, I was in the worst pain in my life. It was a full 10 on the Steve Scale of Experience. But… I didn’t have a compound fracture or gunshot wound. I imagine those are worse. They sure look worse. Are they two agony faces worse? I bet they’re four agony faces worse. But my pain was more than a four, right?

The numbers needed descriptors like:

  1. Isn’t this a lovely day? Sorry to bother you, but I need a Band-Aid.
  2. Eh… not so bad, but I thought this should be seen

and maybe

  1. This is worse than the time in preschool Kim threw a rock at my head, but not as bad as when she threw the second one because the first one didn’t bounce to her liking

and

  1. That’s not enough morphine and I question your training that you’re only giving me that dosage

I need a scale that is more relatable. During chemo, you have to keep eating. You need to eat so that your stomach stays full and you don’t get sicker. It’s pretty cruel. I’ve shed tears at the thought of having another meal. So with cancer treatment, pain isn’t really the problem. Cancer is a nausea experience. And so every day at the chemo lab, this question: “From 1-10, how nauseous are you today?”

I have designed a system I feel is more precise than the smile-to-agony face sliding scale of misery. It’s the Chemo Nausea Pizza Chart. In essence, “Given the way you feel right now, how opposed would you be to eating some pizza?”

Why pizza? It’s pretty universally loved. And there’s precedent. You eat pizza when you’re drunk, so we’ve established you’ll have it when you don’t feel great. Also, it’s mostly bread, which is pretty easy to digest. You can make it through a slice if you really have to. Here’s the scale:

THE CHEMO NAUSEA PIZZA SCALE

From 1-10 How Opposed to Eating Pizza Are You Right Now?

  1. Pizza? Fantastic. I love this hospital. Another Yelp star for you!
  2. Sure, why not?
  3. Seems like an odd question, but I’ll have a couple of slices.
  4. Yes, but it better be really good.
  5. Well, I know I’m supposed to keep eating. Make it the thin crust stuff with a side of IV anti-nausea drugs going.
  6. Sure, if by “Pizza” you mean “Saltines.”
  7. You have some nerve asking that. Have you ever been nauseated? Force it on me if you must.
  8. Is your degree honorary?
  9. Awesome idea! Why don’t we get a make your own sundae bar and a moon bounce in here, too?
  10. No, and I will never eat again.

painfaces0-6

From the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half  http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/02/boyfriend-doesnt-have-ebola-probably.html

Cartoon credit to the always awesome Hyperbole and a Half 

Oh, the indignity! (An update from Steve Safran)

I smell awful. There’s a sickly, syrupy-sweet smell I give off during these intense weeks of chemo that, perhaps, might be nice coming from a pancake kitchen. But coming off my skin, and combined with its other scents, the smell is terrible. My bodily emanations are mini-violations of the Geneva Convention. Three sets of sheets aren’t enough changes a week to keep up with my ability to insult the very loom that created them.

Or maybe I don’t smell awful at all, and it’s just that my nose has been so wrecked by chemo that I can’t tell the difference anymore. Who brought that wonderful, fresh spring bouquet in here? Get it out!

Smell, taste, sensitivity to sound and light– it’s all different now. I’m two cycles deep in the course of treatment for testicular cancer, diagnosed in May. The hope is that three cycles will cure me, but four cycles is a real possibility. A cycle is three weeks: Week One is chemo Monday through Friday. Weeks Two and Three are chemo just on Monday. So if you can follow that, please call me and tell me which days I have chemo. I’m a writer, not an air-traffic controller.

Last week was the worst. I was scheduled for just two hours. Instead, I got the deluxe package stay at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, spending four of the five weekdays there. The room was spacious and parking was ample, but the pancakes brought my Yelp review down by a full star.

Staying in the hospital means visitors. The downside to having hospital visitors is that you are poorly dressed for the occasion. You aren’t “business casual” so much as “hospital humiliated.” Much has been made of the indignity of the “Johnny” that cruelly ties in the back, except that it doesn’t. People, come on— Velcro! However, you don’t have to worry about doing your hair as it has abandoned you, and since your only method of cleaning your body now comes in the form of a giant baby wipe, you don’t need any time in the shower.

Everything about chemo turns your intestines into the Keystone pipeline project. It’s part of Big Pharma’s plan to sell laxatives, stool softeners, and other meds to let loose the dogs of war. And you will smell like said dogs once these things let everything loose. So there you are, visitors in the room, dressed like an extra from “The Walking Dead,” and suddenly the Senekot, well, works. I won’t go on, except to say I cranked the TV on my way to the bathroom.

About the smell, little could be done.

Just me and my hospital pals, heading to the nurse’s station…

I get it.

Most of my social media feeds are full of kindness. Really, y’all are a sweet bunch of voting, do-gooding, funny, and freethinking protectors of the planet and champions of the less privileged. Some get gussied up for countless events requiring large donations to noble causes; others give your time to help an elderly neighbor, staff the local food pantry, create art, and redesign all of our public spaces to be accessible and fun for everyone. A disturbing number of you have a near pathological savior complex for condemned animals and strays. And my how progressive we’ve all become! Two years ago I attended my first gay wedding with a boatload of Republicans shedding happy tears of love and support. Locally, my affluent town has voted to pay higher taxes to fund programs to bolster our vulnerable citizens. And 97% of you didn’t balk–even cheered– when our most iconic Olympic athlete transformed from the man we grew up with into the woman she was all along.

Most of you.

Some of you “will still call him Bruce,” or feel squeamish, or will compare him to a delusional white girl whose tangled web of lies included an impressive, unearned portrayal of a black woman. Indeed, there are few medical, scientific experts who study and treat these exceptional people who are at odds with the gender of their bodies. And unless you are a member of a thriving gay community, or live in New York or LA, or are Anne, you probably don’t have a single transgendered friend in your social media feeds. But armed with only un-peer-reviewed studies, a Wikipedia base of knowledge, and with no first hand experience, I think the only dissenting opinion anyone should launch onto social media regarding Caitlyn is this:

“I don’t get it.”

Of course, mainstream media wants you on board. The liberal masses don’t want your bystander nonchalance; they want full-throttle endorsement! And I suppose those who “will still call him Bruce” cannot stomach the cheers and accolades and awards for this flagrant display against God’s creation or nature or decency. The world has gone loony tunes! It’s OK. Take a beat. Remember our own parents’ opinions about homosexuals in a pre Will and Grace world? Well, regarding the transgendered, we’re still a few must-see-TV moments away. And no one will fault you for not understanding this brave new future of women-becoming-men and vice versa. But fabricating arguments in denial of something scary and true for thousands is unkind. Tying those opinions to religion makes Jesus facepalm.

Because I spent a regrettable amount of time murdering rats with a guillotine in order to study their still fresh brains, I have a small and gruesome credibility to dissuade you from comparing Caitlyn Jenner to Rachel Dolezal. Though it pains my heart to read these articles, my arguments derive quite literally from the noggin. Some of you might be able to dredge up this long forgotten fact about human development: we’re all designed to be girls. The human default setting is Lady. If people had a browser that popped up automatically, it would be called Chyx. Without the effects of boy hormones (androgens) on our brains and bodies at key moments, we’re all going to need training bras and develop a complicated relationship with our bangs.

Testicular feminization syndrome is a remarkable example of the strength of our ontologic destiny– where chromosomally male fetuses whose receptors cannot respond to dude hormones can develop into completely physical girls. Luckily for some of them, their teeny growing brains are bathing in the same girly milieu, and so develop into women, too. They are able to lead less complicated lives as their brains and bodies respond to hormones in harmony. But for others, this:

Another case is instructive. An [XY] individual who is now living as a woman had been assigned as a girl at birth but was switched by a physician to live as a boy at the age of 3 months when testes were discovered. At the age of 13, her physician recommended that “he” have a mastectomy for his breast development. The surgery was performed and this individual continued to live as a boy although she had felt from early childhood that she would be more comfortable living as a girl. At the age of 22, she felt that she could not continue to live as a man and switched to living as a woman when she learned that she could obtain breast implants to regain what had been removed.1

For the transgendered, this sort of mismatch happens. Somehow the endocrine soup around the brain doesn’t gel with how the body is shaping up. It’s not a choice or a delusion; it’s biology. It’s also devastating, confusing, scary, and rare. For those who want more scientific proof than my watered-down biology lecture, I can point you to any number of rat labs with guillotines. There are also peer-reviewed research studies revealing structural differences in the transgendered human brain.

But despite more credible, kinder arguments, some of you will “still call him Bruce.” Otherwise thoughtful, smart people will keep citing the one doctor who doesn’t approve of gender reassignment surgery, or will make false comparisons to body dysmorphic syndrome, or worse, liken Caitlyn to a white girl using an enviable twist-out to be something she can never be. Caitlyn is a woman because her brain was always female. Rachel was never black because, well… she was never black.

I have another, more personal reaction to those who champion a fierce attachment to The Body the Lord Gave Us. Mine is no longer whole, but I am no less womanly for having amputated my breasts. Also, I’m alive. Like Caitlyn, I removed the parts that were endangering me, forcing me to be something I didn’t choose at all: a person with cancer. When your queasy disapproval of corrective surgery fetishizes a holy beauty of our native bodies, elevating the importance of our God-given bits and pieces over everything, how do you suppose your breast-cancered sisters feel? Well, this one stands with Caitlyn.

I get it.

Hello, Caitlyn

Hello, Caitlyn

1. Gottlieb B, Pinsky L, Beitel LK, Trifiro M. Androgen insensitivity. Am J Med Genet 1999; 89(4):210-7

It Was an Honor and a Privilege to Write This

In the next two weeks, we’re going to six graduation ceremonies and parties. During a dozen years on Bernie’s arm attending black tie dinners honoring future surgeons, I have listened to 192 speeches. I counted. The amount of time these residents donate to difficult training– and what they sacrifice to do it–allows them the honor and privilege of saying whatever the hell they want up at the podium. But that doesn’t mean I might not poke fun of them. Just a little. Congratulations, graduates.

Graduation season is upon us, friends. And it’s all an honor and a privilege! It would have been impossible without your support on the road less traveled. It’s also a lot like swimming with sharks, but Mark Twain probably said something about it best. As a kid I dissected woodland creatures and took apart the toaster! Everyone or no one in my family is a doctor, but most of us have inspiring, dead relatives. I’m from far away (NOT a Red Sox fan, hahahahaha!) or from right here (Whoo hoo! Go, Sawx!) and when I started training something embarrassing or horrible happened. And then incredible and wonderful things happened. And it was all an honor and a privilege to have worked with you, the best people I have ever known, though the sum total of our future friendships will be Facebook “likes.”

The rotation where I was finally treated with a modicum of respect, performed with reasonable proficiency, or the one with the least amount of call inspired me get a job doing that. Or, I’m really excited about my cardiothoracic surgery fellowship and the next paragraph is testimony to the man-crushable cowboy heroes of the operating room. I bet none of us will miss these horrible winters, huh? Hahahahahahaha!

Props to my current/future husband/wife/partner. We made it, honey, but we’re still broke. After a near decade of training there’s only, like, a few more years on the futon. I might get a little teary thanking you–maybe I’ll grab the baby for this part– as inspiration to the junior residents, and to prove I’m not always a condescending, work-dumping asshole. Look guys, they can’t stop the clock!

Michael Ellis DeBakey–or maybe Twain again– said something apt to this moment. I’ll never forget my training here at the World’s Best Hospital with the most Talented Surgeons in the Universe, unless my fellowship institution is a trade up and then you’ll only see me in their caps and sweatshirts. But I can’t wait to reconnect with you again as collaborators on research projects in this exciting field. Until I go into private practice… then please “like” my Facebook page.

As the person who wrote all of my recommendations always says, “blah blah hard work blah blah fun!” Thanks to grandma-on-oxygen or cousin-from-Hawaii for making the trip… and for this awesome chicken-or-fish dinner. It’s all been an honor and a privilege!

Is anyone validating the parking?

It’s your moment… tell us a great story.

Steve Gets Cancer… by Steve Safran

Britt’s blog gave me cancer. OK, maybe it didn’t– the science is still out on the matter. But the facts are this: I am now being treated for Stage 2C Testicular Cancer. I’m not acutely familiar with the shades of the term “irony,” but surely this is somewhere in the vicinity.

Testicular cancer is “a young man’s disease,” and for this, I am repeatedly told, I should be grateful. It is nearly 100% curable. “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one to get,” an oncologist told me. That’s fine and all, but that’s like saying “If you had to be sat on by an elephant, you picked a nice, small elephant. Look – he balances a ball on his trunk!”

There is one question everyone wants the answer to when surgeons are removing your testicle, so I will answer it right now:

They do not replace your testicle with an artificial one.

I have been getting treatment for this since the beginning of May, and this is the first public notice I’ve given. This is a little strange for someone who can’t wait to post whatever ailment he has that day. On this one, however, I decided to go the old-fashioned route. I didn’t take to social media. I called my friends. It’s intimate when something attacks you from inside, and I needed to talk or, at the very least, privately email them. (So, maybe not so old-fashioned.)

Word gets out, anyway, and that’s fine. It’s not a secret. I have tons of great support. I’ve even given Britt permission to enlist her prayer warriors. That’s a first for this Atheist Jew, whose usual reaction to “We will pray for you” is “Please, don’t.” It’s not because I found religion, but because I realize that the faithful truly believe they are helping. I am not going to ask my friends not to do that which they believe helps. I am not going to ask my friends not to turn to that which comforts them when someone they love is sick.

Two weeks into treatment, I was struck with a pulmonary embolism. This is a blood clot that finds its tiny, sticky way into your lungs. The key sign you have an embolism is that you feel as though someone chose to put up a skyscraper on your chest and neglected to get a permit from you. That morning I took a shower and ran out of breath. That afternoon, I was back in the hospital.

As a result, I now get to stick myself with a needle twice a day with blood thinners. This is the fifth drug I have started taking since chemo began to ward off the side effects of cancer and chemo. My medicine cabinet looks like a Jenga tower.

I have many more dates with needles and chemicals. What you’re reading is a cutdown of a much longer rambling at least six times as long. For now, I’m out of breath. Britt’s blog is exhausting.

Me and Stevie:  Cancer-card-carrying pals.

Me and Stevie: Cancer-card-carrying pals.

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

How many calories does hating spin class burn?

These are thoughts I have while pedaling pedaling pedaling nowhere. When I’m not at the gym, I am unfailingly nice. I’m a benefit-of-the-doubt, go-ahead-of-me-in-line, let-me-hold-that-for-you kind of gal. But at the gym, my interior dialogue spews from a judge-y, pack-a-day smoker.

“WE COULD ALL JUST STOP AND GO HOME!” I scream/think at all of the already skinny people.

But recently, after sprinting upstairs to fetch a forgotten phone, I clutched my chest in gasping exhaustion and thought maybe I need more than the occasional cardio of reacting to spiders in the car. So I went back to the gym for a barre class.

I used to love the barre class with its slow movements and focus on stretchy leg stuff and balancing. I had forgotten that it’s essentially an hour-long squat, and I spent most of the time tamping down the bile that threatened to hurl out of my shaky legged body.

“AM I THE ONLY ONE ABOUT TO THROW UP?” I scream/think at all of the already toned women.

The next morning, I headed back to the gym for more torture disguised as healthy activity and signed up for cycling to music. Since I could control the resistance on the bike, I could control how terrible it would be, right? I entered the room, adjusted all of the settings, and started pedaling. Slowly. The fit little instructor suggested we “set an intention” for class which, for me, is always the same:

“…don’t throw up, don’t throw up, don’t throw up…”

The tempo of the music got faster. Apparently, one is supposed to keep up with it. I’m sure the songs varied over the 45 minutes of dyspnea, but all of it felt like pedaling breathlessly and pointlessly to Cotton Eyed Joe. At minute 32, The Who entered the playlist and the effect of nervous, might-puke adrenaline coupled to a classic rock soundtrack gave it the panicky date-rapey vibe of a kegger. Somehow, my cycle-mates were still “getting out of the saddle” and pretending to pedal up invisible hills fueled by their great attitudes and second winds and other whoo-hoo-ness I’ll never, ever know.

The biggest insult of the gym is tackling the giant staircase that descends to the nirvana of the exit door. Clutching the railing with two hands as my unsure, wobbly legs navigate 37 steps to freedom, I remember that I’m paying oodles of dollars for the humiliation of it all. So tomorrow, I’ll swim laps.

See you at the gym, friends. I’m the one scream/thinking the hardest.

The only turns on my resistance knob are fake ones...

How many calories does fake-turning the resistance knob burn?