Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Remember Me? AKA Screw Cancer

Hey folks, it’s Travis.  I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, so I wanted to explain what’s been going on.  It’s finally gotten to a point where I’ve been able to stop and reflect on things.  I’m hoping to get some more posts going soon as I miss writing these things, probably more than you miss reading them, but hey, who knows?  Anyway, here’s the deal:

Six months ago, my lovely and talented girlfriend got news that would change the trajectory of our lives. She had felt a lump in her breast when she had decided to do a self-examination, and when she was going to her scheduled mammogram, she was given a biopsy. It turned out that it was indeed breast cancer, and not a particularly nice strain. She has the BRCA-1 gene (like Angelina Jolie) and this was triple negative breast cancer, which is nasty and harder to treat. Anyway, even with as shocking and harsh a diagnosis this was, my lady stayed strong, even stoic, through the initial doctor’s visit. This was perhaps because she is a researcher by profession and nature, and had looked up her symptoms and treatments and therefore had an idea of what the doctor was going to tell her. I don’t doubt that she had moments of fear and anger and all the other emotions that one would expect with this news, but she had gone through them without my having witnessed them (or being obtuse to them). What broke her, and me, was in the initial visit with the breast surgeon, when he went through her upcoming schedule of appointments. It wasn’t the fact that there was an appointment with the oncologist, it was because the appointment was the next day after a concert we had tickets for, that I had gotten her for Christmas, and that she was afraid that we wouldn’t be able to get back home in time for that appointment so we would have to cancel going to the concert. The brave facade fell then and obviously it was about more than not being able to see The Magnetic Fields at the City Winery Hudson Valley, but everything she was facing. After a few minutes, she was able to compose herself again when I assured her we could in fact make it back in time, we’d just have to get up a little earlier, and the nurses managed to give us a little more wiggle room by pushing the appointment back a half hour. (We did, in fact, just barely make it back in town in time for the appointment, coming directly from the highway to the oncologist.)

At that point things became a whirlwind of different doctor appointments, with the chemo treatments becoming the centerpiece. On a few occasions, her blood numbers were low enough that the doctors couldn’t go ahead with the treatments for that week. She had to rest and then even one week needed a blood transfusion, which her oncologist later told us was something she hadn’t had to do for someone in just the first phase of chemotherapy. Not only were low blood numbers affecting the treatment, but too high sugar numbers played in, as she was diagnosed with diabetes early in the course of chemo. It’s very confusing for the different doctors to all chime in with vastly different diets that should be followed in order to keep healthy. Add in her previous history of cardiomyopathy and an O2 level that likes to bounce and confound everyone, and she had quite the summer in and out of doctor offices and emergency rooms.

At a chemo treatment with fellow patient/friend Snoopy

Finally it was decided that since she did poorly with the initial round of chemo, she would be better off going straight to surgery and reconstruction, rather than the planned second run of chemotherapy, which would have been with a drug referred to as the Red Devil. Because of the BRCA gene, she decided it would be best to go ahead with a double mastectomy to hopefully ward off future occurrences of cancer. Before the surgery, they found that the lump had shrunk from a ball about 20mm in diameter to a flat disc about 4mm long that the doctor had trouble finding even with an ultrasound wand. On August 11, she was wheeled off into surgery. While she had been very scared throughout the lead up to the surgery, I was less scared and more warily optimistic. Her doctors seemed mostly very competent and well-spoken of, and while I was nervous in a general sense, I was calm overall. Or maybe I just tried to project that to my lady to try to keep her fears to a minimum.

After a long wait in the room set aside for family, I was told by the different doctors that things had gone fine and I would be able to see her soon. Of course we didn’t know that this would be the first hospital bed of many for the next month. After staying longer in the hospital initially because she was waiting for a certain medical device, we went back to the ER within a day because she was worried about the swelling in her foot. They didn’t fix that, but they did worry a lot about her O2 level. Finally she was well enough to be out of the hospital, and managed to be ok for about a week, adjusting to life again and getting in all her doctor appointments, but then came Labor Day Weekend, when pain on one side of her chest led to several more trips to the ER, as well as a mysterious fever that came and went within a day, and some disturbing symptoms where I couldn’t understand what she was saying. It was decided that the expanders that she had had put in in order to have breast reconstruction done needed to come out, and she wouldn’t be able to move forward with reconstruction. So exactly four weeks later, with very little information from the doctors, she went into surgery again to have the expanders removed. This surgery came so fast that I didn’t even have time to get nervous about it, although I should have been.

Now, we’re about ten days past the second surgery. She’s managing pain more and beginning to heal again, but it’s a long process and she’s got to stop and tell herself she’s still in the early stages of healing. It’s almost anticlimactic to say it, but the first surgery did get all of the cancer and she is considered to be in remission. But there’s still more immunotherapy to get through.

Looking lovely not too long after shaving her head. It’s nice and fuzzy now.

It’s expensive too. Most of you are aware of how awful the US health care system is, and even with decent insurance, there are plenty of bills and bills and bills. We’ve been lucky and had some wonderful cancer awareness groups help out some, but there’s still plenty more to deal with.

I mentioned she was a researcher by nature and profession, and that is to say, she is a lecturer at the local state university, in the Writing Initiative. She is so beloved by students that one of her students started a GoFundMe for her in the spring, and my girlfriend, stand-up person that she is, contacted the ethics people about this, and they said that it was ok that a student created it because her “diagnosis overrides any presumption of an intent to influence, so your students may set up the GoFundMe.”

She is also incredibly artistic and talented in so many ways. Every day is a delight to be with her and get her unique take on the universe. For example, she has created several t-shirts using literary figures mashed up with food, such as Edgar Allan Taco and William Shakes-pear.  You can get the whole Breakfast at Tiffany’s bunch at the bottom of the Edgar Allan Taco page.  Here’s some dude with the Edgar Allan Taco neon green tee.

She is also an accomplished poet, having been published in many different venues, including the American Poetry Review, and this illness has had another side effect of preventing her from promoting her first book, How to Play House. That link will get you to Amazon and I get the Affiliate kickback, if I did it right (it’s been so long!).  If you’re interested in a signed copy, email me at atomicjunkshoptravis@outlook.com since I’ve got an in with the author!

And since we’re dropping ways to give money, I will add that my PayPal is atomicjunkshoptravis@outlook.com (I think) while our CashApp tags are $AJSTravis and $drkatlady

Anyway, it’s a delight for me to get to spend my life with this amazing woman, and I’m so glad that the surgeries have done what they’re supposed to so that I can continue to have wonderful adventures with my sweet love.


  1. Gavin

    I wish only the best to the good doctor.

    I have several friends who have fought this battle, and I know the challenges that are rarely mentioned (ever try putting on a bra after surgery? Alone?). So I wish you both patience and strength.

    Another thing that is often not mentioned, is that chemo can bring on early menopause. To those that find that defeating, I bring you Exhibit A, my friend who survived breast cancer, did the early menopause, but then was able to have her son without any scientific intervention, and she is now teaching him to drive (a frightening concept in its own right, perhaps). The moral? There is hope. There is a future. There will be times that is hard to picture, but it is there.

    She is lucky to have you in her corner.

    I’ll leave it there. Gotta get on that GoFundMe…

  2. Oh man, that’s a lot to deal with. Take good care, as it sounds like you are in fact doing.

    My best friend is going through the same thing right now. She and I were talking about that just a couple hours ago. The whole thing is so messed up, and I’m sorry that your girlfriend has to deal with that. All the best to you both.

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