Friday, April 15, 2011


After three days off of my treatment pills I was called into the cancer clinic on Monday to check my blood cell levels to see if my bone marrow had been able to make the required cells on its own. If it did, I would start back up. If it didn’t, they’d shoot me up with a marrow stimulator.

The technicians in the blood draw area here cannot access the port in my chest. To do that I have to go to another floor to get the needle put into it then come back down to have them draw from it. Partly out of laziness and partly out of the desire to make my time in the clinic as short as possible I’ve been opting to deal with a needle in the arm vs. all the steps and extra waiting it takes to get my port accessed. Short-term pain, longer gain. From this point on, I’ll probably make the extra effort to actually utilize this third nipple for what it’s supposed to do, which is keep me from becoming a pin cushion.

To no surprise, they’ve had to do a lot of fishing in my vein to get around the scar tissue built up there from the ABVD treatments. This hurts. Like hell. Needles never bothered me but these days – after almost two years of near-weekly blood draws – I’ve become more needle shy. It’s like when I bring Sammy to the vet for a check up. As soon as she sniffs the place her fur spikes on end, she glues her body to my leg and trembles against it knowing that the shot to her hip is coming.

I stuck out my right arm and promptly looked away and breathed deeply as I read the wall full of Christian poems and Bible passages. After reading the Xeroxed copy of “What Cancer Can’t Do” for the third time I realized something was up. The technician was doing a lot of tisking and a lot of arm tapping looking for a “good” vein. These signs are never promising. She tied the rubber tunicate and told me to pump my fist.

“Here we go, sistah … little stick,” she said, shifting her heavy weight on her little stool with wheels. It wasn’t the initial stick that hurt. I can take pain. It was when the fishing began and her breathing got heavier than mine. She was wiggling that little sucker around in there like she was unsuccessfully trying to thread a needle. The needle was in my vein but no blood was coming out. Her manager must have seen the sweat on both of our faces and came around the corner and immediately swooped in. She reached over the sausage link fingers of the tech wielding the needle and started going at it herself. Just as the stars came into my vision, a vile was transferred to the tube meaning that the blood was coursing and the fishing was over.

I wanted to cry and scream but I did nothing except listen to the techs in the break room laughing from deep in their bellyies and howling “Lawdy this” and “Lawdy that” in their Southern drawls as my tech struggled with the butterfly release and told me to put pressure on the square of white gauze she covered my access hole with.

I got back to the waiting room and greeted Craig with what was obviously a distraught face because he said: “Not good?”

I could only shake my head ‘no’ and pull my sunglasses over my eyes as I felt them welling hot with tears.

Before I could e-mail my trial nurse to tell her that I finished, I got an e-mail from her saying that she was so sorry but that the scheduler had forgotten to put in another test that was needed. In short, they needed another vile of blood and could I please go to the other lab.

Because I am on a clinical trial, for this particular research blood they could not use my port without doctor’s consent and I was so tired and so wounded that I just wanted to get it over with. Begrudgingly, I laid my other arm on the chair rest to be attacked. This particular technician apologized many times over seeing that I already had fresh gauze on my opposite arm. It was not a good start to the day. Ouchie.

The blood work revealed that my Neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) had in fact bounced back on their own. I was up and over the 1,000 cut-off level so could resume my pills. However, my platelets had further plummeted down to 37 (normal is 140-440). Again, they want to get as much of these drugs into me as possible so they’d rather I start back up and just expect that I’ll need a platelet transfusion at some point soon. I just need to watch for any signs of bleeding as if it starts, I won’t be able to clot.

Finally, I was out of there. I was pretty tired and very frustrated, but despite Craig’s urgings for me to go home and rest, I wanted to do some further Houston exploring. To Hermann Park it was. A few buses later, we were there. It was very hot and sunny and I was stupidly wearing jeans. I was dressed for the chilling cold of the air-conditioned cancer center environment, not the Texas elements. We also badly planned a feeding period. I have no appetite so it didn’t matter to me, but Craig was quickly running out of fuel.

Our assumption that the park would be a flurry of food options was dead wrong. After walking across much of the park, which is in fact a very beautiful green space, we discovered that the only place for lunch was inside the property’s Houston Zoo. But, we’d have to pay zoo admission to be able to get past the gates.

Craig was fading fast; It’s hard work trying to console a teary Karin. We made the decision that we were already there and we might as well check out the zoo. I’m actually not a big fan of zoos. I get sad looking at the animals in the cages and I just couldn’t shake my germaphobia. There were kids and wild animals everywhere.

We were already in the gates checking the schedule for the sea lion feeding demonstration when I said:

“Sorry; I can’t do it,” and burst into tears again knowing that the treatment effects had beat me for the day. My body had just completely given out. We knew there was a 30-minute guarantee so Craig bolted to the food stand to get some sandwiches for us while I hobbled out choking on my tears, hiding behind my sunglasses until I found a bench in the shade to wait under.

I watched Craig at the ticket booth, arms raised in protest, and could tell that the 30-minute money-back guarantee was anything but a guarantee. Luckily, my husband is a whiz at wheeling and dealing and we didn’t feel guilty at all using the cancer card in this case. I saw him gesturing over to me, forehead rested on my hand, elbow rested on my knee with my jeans bottoms rolled up as high as they could fold as I was completely overheated. After a manager was called in, we got our money back.

I wanted to be back in the apartment so badly as I was so tired and was even more frustrated that we had to argue our way out of damn zoo entrance fees. Shit from the sky then rained on my pity party. I felt a splat on my forearm, looked down and saw some freshly digested berries, deep purple in color, the feces painted on the bench back like a crime scene. Obviously I cried and shook even harder behind my sunglasses. Craig walked up, food in hand, as I squirted Purell on my human litter box. This made us both laugh some (It was even funnier the next day when Craig got a bird poop right to the forehead. Many have told us that this is good luck.)

We found a shady tree to eat our wraps under and discovered some peace in the cool breeze by the pond. I was still in a funk: very sad and missing home, especially missing Sammy. Hot, tired, achey, and barfy.

Then seemingly out of nowhere came what I like to pretend was a Dodo bird. Whatever it was, it was a huge bird with gnarly red gizzard looking substances all over its face. It was limping just like I was and had found its own resting spot under a bush a few feet from us. We couldn’t help but laugh at this and I suddenly became more concerned about the welfare of this massive fowl than my own issues. Did it escape from the zoo? Was it hurt? Should we tell an official?

When it suddenly stood on its horned webbed feet and started hobbling right toward us at a good clip, my sympathy stopped and fear set in. All I could think was this thing was going to honk me in the ass and I’d bleed to death without my platelets.

Sometimes it takes a Dodo bird to get you off your ass and help you shift perspective. If it weren’t for that thing I don’t know if I would have ever been able to peel myself back up from the grass. Brave Craig headed right for it with the camera while I started running in the other direction in protest of his boldness.

I don’t think I spoke a word the whole train ride back to our place. I know I didn’t on the walk from the station to our apartment. I didn’t have the energy to speak and walk simultaneously and I didn’t want to wait for a cab. I wanted to be “home” and at the time it felt that my legs were the fastest mode to get there. When I run out of energy I also run out of patience and I rely on no one but myself. We got back to the apartment and I collapsed into the cold black leather of the living room sofa. Craig literally spoon fed me ice cream and forced me to drink threatening to call an ambulance unless I could tell him my birthday and my parents’ names.

I mustered: “June 29, 1982. Paul and Laura Dubreuil” in a faint voice whispered through dry lips before I fell into a deep, hard sleep.


A little Dave and Tim performing "Dodo" (ironically appropriate lyrics):

Dave Matthews "Dodo" lyrics

Once upon a time
When the world was just a pancake
Fears would arise
That if you went too far you’d fall

But with the passage of time
It all became more of a ball.
We’re as sure of that
As we all once were when the world was flat

So I wonder this
As life billows smoke inside my head
This little game where nothing is sure, oh
Why would you play by the rules?
Who did, you did, you
Who did, you did, you

When was she killed
The very last dodo bird
And was she aware
She was the very last one

So I wonder this
As life billows smoke inside my head
This little game where nothing is sure, oh
Why would you play by the rules?
Who did, you did, you
Who did, you did, you

You say who did, well you did, you
If all the things that you are saying love
Were true enough but still
What is all the worrying about
When you can work it out
When you can work it

Oh I wonder this
As life billows smoke inside my head
This little game where nothing is sure
Why would you play by the rules?
Who did, you did, you
Who did, you did, you
You say who did, well you did, it’s you


  1. Wow, lots of thoughts after reading this. I alternated between wincing at the vein-digging (been there) and laughing at the sausage- link fingers (I've had her!). I've never thought of the port as a third nipple, although in my case it's the only nipple since I lost the real ones to cancer and haven't yet been cleared to get facsimiles tattooed upon my newly constructed breasts.

    For all its benefits, Anderson can be a hassle bc of the sheer size of it and the rigid protocols under which it operates. Of course, those things also help make it the best place to be.

    Do you have an Rx numbing cream? Ask for Emla. Put it on your port site or in the crook of your arm an hour before getting poked, cover w gauze & tape or Press 'n Seal and you won't feel the sticks & digging. It's not much but it helps.

    The giant bird creature is a male duck, very common around here. They're used to being fed by people so aren't shy. Weird looking, though.

    So sorry it was such a rough day. I'd say you need to sit out by the pool with a good book and a good snack (whatever sounds good), and soak up the sun. It's supposed to be a great weekend, weather-wise. Our friends from Boston are in town toasting their winter-weary souls.

  2. Ohhhhh sorry you had a very trying day...but Momma Laura is on her way to make it all better!!!
    Thoughts & prayers are with you & Craig.
    Much Love - Karen Jacobs

  3. So sorry about your rough day. That duck is called a Muscovey duck and yes, they are very common here.