Saturday, March 26, 2022

The State of Rain

Hey all! Thought I'd write a check-in post for all those asking how I'm doing. I'm still alive! Still fighting cancer! Still trying to live my day to day life like it's my normal day to day life.

Except it's not really normal. I have chemo every Thursday morning. This past Thursday was my halfway point, and I have six more weeks to go. Halfway there! It still seems like an insurmountable amount of time, but soon those six weeks will be behind me, just like the past six are. Gotta keep my eye on the prize.

Up until last week, it was actually pretty doable. I have been doing the DigniCap, and tolerating it well. It's only really uncomfortable for the first 20 minutes when it's "pre-cooling," but then it's not so bad. I'm noticing more hair coming out now than I had seen the first five weeks, but it's not huge clumps. If it stays at this level, I should still have most of my hair by the end of chemo. In the meantime, I have to treat my hair like it's spun glass. Only wash it once a week, brush it once a day, no hair products, and no styling. Can't remember what it's like not to have my hair in a bun on top of my head.

I also hadn't had any nausea or vomiting from the chemo, my appetite has been fine, and I haven't lost any weight, which is a good thing. It's probably partly why my blood counts have been great week after week. The only issue is what I will just refer to as constant stomach...drama. A neverending war between two kinds of poop. I'll leave it at that.

But with this last infusion, something changed. I started to feel a little queasy when I was getting my pre-meds, and by the end of my Taxol infusion, I was vomiting profusely. The Zofran they gave me did nothing to help. My doc found it very unusual to be fine for so many weeks and then suddenly have this kind of reaction, so I am hoping it was an anomaly. She's also going to try a different anti-nausea med next week, and I really hope that does the trick, because I want to get back to my chemo days actually being one of the better days of my week!

I'm still feeling a little unsteady two days later. I hate not feeling as close to normal as possible, because it means I can't go out and do the normal things I allow myself to do these days, like long walks, or grocery shopping...which, let's face it, is about all I can do. I'm still avoiding any kind of crowds, or things like indoor dining because I don't want to catch ANYTHING, let alone Covid. So my social circle is very small, and every day is not very different from the last.

I'm still working full time, from home, aside from the hours I am at chemo. So far, I've only taken one sick day. I have no way of knowing if I'll be able to continue that for the next six weeks, but I hope so, because, for one, I need the money, but for another, work is a good distraction from my illness.

I'm also doing as much self care as I can. My hospital offers six free massage therapy sessions which I've been taking advantage of, and that's definitely helped with the overall tension this whole experience can elicit. And I've been getting acupuncture, which I think has helped a bit with my night sweats, and even if it hasn't, it's at least a calming experience for the time I'm there. 

So, that's basically my life right now. Lots of needles or various kinds; nurses and therapists getting all up in my business; work; and the occasional foray outside of my home. I can't wait until my normal life actually feels closer to normal, although I realize it may never feel really normal ever again. Once chemo is over, I am looking at a month of radiation treatment, nine more monthly Herceptin infusions, and then years of hormone therapy.

But! I am planning on going to Palm Springs with the gals again in July, so I have that to look forward to. And once my immune system is back up to snuff, and my doctor says it's OK, I can't wait to get back to the cocktailing, dining, and socializing I've been missing for THREE YEARS. Y'all better be ready for me! I got some living to do!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving, You Have Cancer

I found out I might have cancer as I was leaving a theater after a screening of Joel Coen's The Tragedy of Macbeth. This was only the second time I had been in a movie theater since March of 2020. (The first was the day before, at a screening of another black and white Oscar contender, Belfast.) I was checking my email on my phone, and results of the mammogram I had the week before were available to view.

I had no hesitancy opening the results. I had been having mammograms every year since I turned 40, and had never had anything suspicious show up. I was expecting the usual report that always sounded vaguely insulting, that my breasts were "almost entirely fatty," and "unremarkable," and they had found nothing requiring further imaging.

Instead, I read this: 

There is a new mass measuring 4 millimeters with indistinct margins in the middle region of the right breast lower outer quadrant at 7 o'clock.

I immediately went cold. I read the words again and again. I had to stop and catch my breath. My mind instantly went to the darkest places. I was supposed to meet a friend for lunch, as this was the beginning of my Thanksgiving break, a week free from work that I had planned to fill with lots of fun. But I knew I would not be good company, and cancelled. And when I got home, I of course consulted Dr. Google, and found out the words "indistinct margins" are a not a good sign. This wasn't likely to be a benign cyst.

I was able to book a second mammogram two days later, the day before Thanksgiving. Everyone at the breast center was very kind, and tried to be as reassuring as possible. They assured me it was very small, and there was no way I could have felt it during my self exams, so it wasn't something I had "missed." The second mammogram results led to an ultrasound, and that led to the recommendation that I get a biopsy, which they were able to do that day.

It's nothing if not disconcerting to watch a giant needle poking around in your breast, which, through the magic of an ultrasound, you can, as it's also what the doctor is watching as he directs the...specimen grabber?...into the tumor. When it snips off a bit a tissue, it sounds like a staple gun. He also leaves a tiny bit of titanium inside the breast, so the area of the tumor can be more easily found if new images or surgery are needed.

At this point, the doctor seemed pretty sure it was not a benign tumor, but couldn't tell me much about what to expect as far as treatment was concerned until I got the results of the biopsy, which, because of the holiday, would be the following week.

So, I went into Thanksgiving pretty sure I had cancer, but absolutely no idea what that actually meant.

 
Things happened fast after that, and the timeline is a little blurry in my mind. A few days or a week after the biopsy I got a call from a nurse at the breast health center. Results were in. Invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 1a. The cancer was also hormone positive, but I would need to wait at least another week to learn final results on whether it was also HER2 positive. Regardless of those results,  I would need surgery, and was quickly scheduled to meet with a surgeon.
 
The surgeon confirmed the tumor was very small, about 6mm, but I was still given the choice between lumpectomy or mastectomy. I asked why, if it was small enough to be removed via lumpectomy, anyone would opt for a mastectomy instead. She said there are many reasons for that. For instance, some women prefer the peace of mind of not worrying about a cancer ever coming back in that breast. But ultimately, percentage wise, the longterm outcomes for my type of cancer are the same with either lumpectomy or mastectomy.

I opted for lumpectomy, and decided to schedule the surgery for January, primarily for insurance reasons (I have shitty insurance and I had not met my high deductible for 2021, and it was going to reset for 2022, so would rather the majority of my costs come in 2022; it's confusing, I know. Insurance fucking sucks. Single payer NOW!), but also because I wanted to get through Christmas without having to deal with any surgery and recovery. 

The results of the HER2 tests would determine what my post surgery treatment plan would be. If it was negative, I would be looking at radiation treatment, followed by hormone therapy for up to 10 years. If it was positive, I'd be looking at all of that, plus chemotherapy. So of course I was hoping it would be negative for HER2.


But of course it was positive.

I found that out December 10th. I had been reluctant to reach out to women I know who've also had breast cancer until I knew what I would be facing, treatment wise, so I would know what kinds of questions to ask, but also because it didn't seem fair to ask women who've had to go through chemo questions if I wasn't going to have to go through that too, if that makes any sense. But the minute I found out the cancer was HER2 positive, I wanted to talk to all of them. And they were all super supportive, informative, and kind. Cancer can feel very lonely, but knowing women who have gone through similar has made dealing with it a little easier.

I waited until after Christmas to tell more people about my cancer. I wanted to get through the holidays not having to talk much about it, and also didn't want to bum people out during Christmas. Cancer is a huge bummer! It's also kind of exhausting to talk about. You want to let people you care about know what you're going through, because you need all the support you can get. But it is also emotionally draining to explain it to people over and over. (Which is one reason I am writing this all down to share!) But I also don't want people to be afraid to talk to me about The Cancer. It's a big part of my life now!

OK brace yourselves because this part is a little gross. I had surgery on January 4th. I was nervous going in, because the last time I had to go under general anesthesia - the kind that requires a breathing tube, the whole works - I got really, really sick coming out of it. I told my surgeon this. I told my anesthesiologist this. Despite that, I wasn't given any anti-nausea drugs before the surgery. I'm not sure if any were given during the surgery. I do know what they gave me after the surgery didn't do shit, and I was vomiting for hours. Any time I had to move, I got nauseous. Wheeling me out of the recovery area and into a room, puke. Going to the bathroom, puke. Putting on my clothes, puke. And the added bonus was there was nothing to puke except bile which had turned blue because of the dye they injected into my breast before the surgery.

Once I got home, the puking stopped. Thankfully. But I still felt dizzy and queasy the rest of the week. I had the surgery on a Tuesday, and I didn't feel better until the following Monday. And I still get kind of dizzy just thinking about it all!

The surgery removed the tumor and some surrounding tissue, along with a lymph node, so I had two incisions. There was not a lot of pain afterwards and I didn't need more than Tylenol to control it. I'm happy about that because even though the doctor did give me the good stuff for pain, the good stuff usually makes me nauseous, and I didn't need any more of that in my life! I still have to wear a bra all the time now, even when sleeping, because it's really only painful when my boob is swingin' free. (Showering is probably the most painful thing to do right now, so I avoid it. Which means you should probably avoid me right now.)

A week later I got the pathology results from the surgeon: no evidence of cancer within the tissue surrounding the tumor, and no evidence of cancer in the lymph node. Clean margins and clean nodes. Huzzah! Finally, some good news! That meant there would be no need for further surgery, which is something I really, really didn't want to deal with again.

Those results did not change what my post surgery treatment would require, but I wouldn't know exactly what the timing of that would be, or what type of chemo I would need until I met with an oncologist, which I did on January 19th.

I liked her a lot. She was very kind, didn't rush through the appointment at all, was patient with my many questions, and even laughed at my dumb attempts at levity. I am getting a second opinion, just because that seems the smart thing to do, but unless the second oncologist says he has a secret miracle drug that will cure me instantly, I am sticking with the first oncologist.

Her recommended treatment plan is to start with Taxol + Herceptin for 12 weeks. The Taxol will be given weekly, and it will be combination of Taxol + Herceptin once a month. After the 12 weeks, it will be monthly Herceptin for nine months. I will also likely need a month of radiation after the chemo, and then many years of hormone centered medication to suppress estrogen and progesterone since my cancer feeds on hormones.

There is no good chemo. All chemo is terrible. It is literally poisoning your body in the hopes it will help you live longer. But from what the doctor said, what I've read, and what I've heard from people who have gone through rounds of it, Taxol is one of the less brutal kinds of chemo. I'm still probably going to lose my hair. It's still going to make me feel terrible. But I am hoping it will not be so debilitating that I will have to stop working completely or live a life of abject misery for three months. 

When I first got the diagnosis, I had a difficult time dealing with it. I couldn't talk about it without crying, and I had a hard time concentrating on anything but the worst case scenarios. I felt like I was in a constant state of panic, and it was exhausting for weeks. But eventually, I felt calmer. Talking to friends who've gone through it helped. Therapy sessions helped. And getting past each hurdle helped.

Of course I am still scared. I'm terrified about the possible side effects of treatment. I am terrified of dying! My biggest fear is dying. If someone tells me they are not afraid of dying, I just don't understand that. Are they not afraid of anything? Because aren't most fears based in a fear of dying? Afraid of heights? Then you're afraid of FALLING AND DYING. Afraid of flying? Then you're afraid of CRASHING AND DYING. I don't understand!!

But that is neither here nor there, because I am not going to die. I need to believe that. I need to believe I will get through this horrible, horrible year, and come out of it ready to live many more years that are, hopefully, not as horrible. I didn't think 2020 and 2021 could get much worse, but here's 2022 knocking on the door saying, "Hold my beer!"

But somehow going through two terrible years feels like good practice for the year ahead. Social distancing, avoiding crowds, masks, sanitizing my hands constantly, that's all stuff a cancer patient in treatment should do, and it's all old hat to me now. In some ways, it's a good time to get cancer (it's never a good time to get cancer) because people around me are all used to these things too, and won't look askance if I continue to wear a mask whenever I leave my home.

I know it's going to suck. But I have supportive family and friends who I know will help me when I need it. I've lived a pretty great life so far, and if one terrible year of beating cancer is the worst thing to happen in it, I'll consider myself damn lucky.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Happy Halloween!

And thus ends another Halloween Countdown, and it's been a blast. I can't believe I made it through 31 horror movies and only hit a few duds. And this was so much fun that I am already plotting out next year's list - it's already halfway full.

Today I decided to lounge around in my skeleton onesie watching movies I have seen before, and bingeing the British TV comedy Ghosts. (Recommended! It's on HBO Max.) I just wish I had some candy to really binge on.

I want to thank Dex and Michelle for hosting the Halloween Countdown again this year; it's been fun popping around the other blogs that have been participating. And I also want to thank everyone who's dropped by. I truly appreciate it. I definitely hope it all happens again next year, which will be my fifteenth! Yikes!

Finally, here's a complete list of the films I watched, with links to their entries. Have a great rest of your Halloween, and a safe and happy rest of 2021!

Alligator
The Beyond
Blood Diner
The Boy Behind the Door
The Broken
C.H.U.D.
A Classic Horror Story
Daniel Isn’t Real
The Dark and the Wicked
Death of a Vlogger
The Deeper You Dig
Deerskin
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark
Eyes of a Stranger
Family Plot
The Funeral Home
The Fury
Halloween Kills
The House That Dripped Blood
Isle of the Dead
The Keep
Kindred
Malignant
Mandibles
The Manor
Mother of Tears
Night of the Creeps
Spider Baby
Theatre of Blood
Tucker & Dale Vs Evil
The Vigil



Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 31: Halloween Kills (2021)

Anyone who's followed this countdown for the 14 years I've done it knows by now that the original Halloween is my favorite Halloween movie, and I re-watch it every year. So I figured, what better way to end this year's countdown than with the latest sequel in that neverending franchise?

Mind you, just because I love the first Halloween movie does not mean I love all the films. In fact, I've limited my viewing of the sequels/reboots to those that Jamie Lee Curtis has appeared in (well, those and Halloween III: Season of the Witch). And I acknowledge those have been hit and miss. Halloween II is pretty disappointing, but it does have a nostalgia factor going for it at this point.

And in many ways, Halloween Kills owes much to Halloween II. Both relegate Jamie Lee Curtis to a hospital for the majority of the film, and both bring more townspeople into the mix than the previous film had, although in Halloween Kills, it's a lot more townspeople. Like, angry mob levels of townspeople. (Also, do not try to convince me that little Tommy Doyle grew up to look like Anthony Michael Hall, especially when he's standing next to the real Lindsay Wallace, Kyle Richards.)

Both films also amp up the gore and body counts, and both films share the fact that they are disappointing follow-ups. 2018's Halloween wasn't perfect, but it had Jamie Lee Curtis giving a strong performance at the center of it, and chose to take its themes seriously, focusing on how surviving a mass murderer could probably fuck you up for life, and how that trauma may affect that survivor's family for generations.

I supposed Halloween Kills thinks its addressing some equally heady topics, like mass hysteria, and mob mentality, and how that very rarely results in any good. But it also sidelines Jamie Lee Curtis, and spends most of its running time showing murder after murder after murder. Director David Gordon Green intends to make these sequels a trilogy, but at this point I'm really hoping he follows the original trilogy's trend and makes a third Halloween that's actually a story about a druid worshiping media mogul who wants to melt screen-addicted kids' heads on Halloween night.

Halloween Kills is streaming on Peacock, albeit the paid version of the service. But at $4.99 a month you can sign up, watch the movie, cancel, and still spend less than going to see it in a theater.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 30: Mandibles (2021)

I'll concede right off the bat that Mandibles is not really a horror movie, but it does feature a giant fly and that's close enough to monster territory to warrant inclusion in this countdown. In fact, I'd say of all the movies I've featured this year, this one comes closest to being appropriate for all ages.

Two very dumb criminals discover a giant fly in the trunk of a stolen car, and immediately ponder of the money-making possibilities. Perhaps you're thinking, but of course! Charging people to see this gigantic fly is a surefire way to make money. But no, what they want to do is train it. To steal money from banks. Like a drone that doesn't need batteries. What follows is a comedy of errors, mistaken identities, and bonding. I loved every second of its brief 77 minutes.

I had heard about Mandibles when it was released earlier this year, but I wasn't until I watched Deerskin for this countdown that I realized they were both directed by Quentin Dupieux, and now he may be my favorite French director?? I mean, this moment in the Tweet below has endeared me to this his work forever.


So, no, not technically a horror movie, it's more of a straight out comedy, but it's definitely one of the best movies I've watched for this countdown, and I highly recommend you seek it out. It's available to rent via most VOD platforms. I rented it via Amazon Prime.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 29: Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

I really have no idea why it took me ten years to finally watch Tucker & Dale vs Evil, but maybe it's better that I didn't see it when it came out. I feel like separating my viewing by years from the somewhat similar Cabin in the Woods was a good thing, as I probably would have judged Tucker & Dale too harshly in comparison. (For the record, I loved Cabin in the Woods the first few times I saw it, but I rewatched it recently and....I do not think it aged well!)

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are perfect as the misunderstood rednecks, Tucker and Dale, a couple of guys who just want to refurbish their vacation cabin in the woods in peace, but instead have to deal with some college kids who can't stop dying on their property. The above gif is from my favorite gag in the film, and while there are plenty of outrageously gory slapstick scenes in the movie, I think the funniest moments are the exchanges between Tucker and Dale, and Dale and Allison. Now, where's Tucker & Dale vs Evil Pt II?!

I watched Tucker & Dale vs Evil on Amazon Prime via a free trial of Cinemax.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 28: Death of a Vlogger (2019)

Death of a Vlogger is combination found footage horror movie and mockumentary about a Scottish vlogger who records what may or may not be some kind of haunting in his flat, and the resulting viral fame and backlash that ensues.

It reminded me, for different reasons, of two movies I featured in last year's countdown, Host, and Lake Mungo, though thematically, I imagine it's closer to Lake Mungo, as it includes your usual documentary talking heads trope, as well a back and forth narrative around what's real and what's fake. 

I won't say what side Vlogger ultimately falls on, but some of its scares did make me jump, while others made me moan, "Oh man. Another Asian 'ghost' with hair covering her face? Isn't there some Scottish ghost cliche they could have used instead?" Ultimately what's most interesting about the film is not the supernatural horrors, but the real life horrors surrounding internet fame and public shaming that befall the hero.

I watched Death of a Vlogger free on Tubi, unedited, but with commercial interruptions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 27: Spider Baby (1967)

Like several movies in this countdown this was one I thought I had seen, but turns out I hadn't.

I was pretty sure I had seen Spider Baby or The Maddest Story Ever Told back in the 1990's when it had a rediscovery partially fueled by Quentin Tarantino's fondness for the movie. I definitely knew the theme song by Lon Chaney Jr., but maybe I was just getting the movie confused in my head with this moment from Father Ted?

 (Just kidding. I just wanted an excuse to post that clip.)

But when I started to watch Spider Baby during a recent episode of Creature Features, I didn't recognize anything past the opening credits, and believe me, the movie is definitely memorable. It's like if Freaks and The Old Dark House had a baby...a SPIDER baby.

(By the way, that episode of Creature Features is worth watching for the interview with Beverly Washburn, who plays Elizabeth in Spider Baby, but don't watch the movie via that episode; big chunks of the film are edited out for time.) 

Anyway yeah, Spider Baby is the best kind of nuts, with Lon Chaney Jr. giving a truly heartfelt performance, Carol Ohmart inexplicably spending the second half of the movie wandering around in lingerie, and Sid Haig dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy. But the standout is really Quinn Redeker, as the hopelessly optimistic Uncle Peter. (Did you know Redecker eventually went on to win an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay for The Deer Hunter? That and other fun facts can be had at the official Spider Baby website.)

Spider Baby is one of those movie that can be streamed in multiple places, most for free, including YouTube (see below). Prints vary in quality, so choose wisely. And if you can, try and find a DVD copy, which includes commentary, and making of shorts.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 26: The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

I feel like a lot of modern horror movies are tackling the topic of aging, both the horrors of aging itself, and how hard it can be to face the aging of the ones you love. Two such films have appeared in this countdown over the past two years: The Manor, and Relic, and today brings another, The Dark and the Wicked.

Two siblings (Marin Ireland Michael Abbott Jr.) return to the desolate Texas farm they grew up on to say their goodbyes to their dying father. Their mother, who has never been religious but who is now singing hymns and getting visits from a priest (who is played by Xander Berkeley, so you know something's not right from the start) had been caring for their father, but seems to be going off the rails. And then things start to get really weird.

The dark farmhouse setting certainly sets the primary mood for the majority of the film's scares, although its most shocking scene happens in a brightly lit suburban kitchen. That scene, and some subtler moments that take advantage of shadows and things just out of frame, left an impression, along with the strong performances from the entire cast. Just wish the whole thing ended stronger...

The Dark and the Wicked is currently streaming on Shudder.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Musty TV's Maniacal Movie Countdown - Day 25: The Keep (1983)

I was sure I had seen The Keep back in the 1980's because I was a pretty big Michael Mann fan (and I was a Michael Mann fan because, duh, 1980's, but mainly because of his show Crime Story).

But turns out, nope, I had NOT seen it, because if I had, I would have surely remembered how batshit crazy it is. I'm not going to even attempt to summarize the plot here, so I'll just say it involves World War II Nazis, a "keep" housing an ancient monster known as Radu Molasar, and Scott Glenn as a Greek (!), all accompanied by a totally anachronistic (though still pretty awesome) score by Tangerine Dream. And Scott Glenn isn't the only crazy casting. There's also Gabriel Byrne as a Nazi, and Ian McKellan as a Jewish historian.

The special effects in it are some of the worst I've ever seen in a big studio production, and I guess that's partly explained by the film's troubled production. It should also be noted that a good print of the movie is pretty hard to find. It's not on DVD -- and certainly not on Blu-ray -- and the streaming version I watched on Amazon Prime, and paid $2.99 for, is TERRIBLE. It looks like a second generation VHS recording of a LaserDisc print, which it probably is.

As terrible as The Keep is, I'd still love to be able to see a pristine print of it with a remastered soundtrack, because while it's terrible, it's also all kinds of audacious, and if I could actually see more of the movie, I think it might even win me over.