Tuesday, January 30, 2018


December 6
I have a regularly scheduled followup appointment with my surgeon, Dr. DiLalla. Last year I requested screening MRIs in addition to the usual mammogram protocol, and she agreed. MRIs are more sensitive than mammograms and can pick up cancers that might be missed otherwise. At the end of this appointment we schedule the screening MRI for Monday, December 18.

Wait 9 days.

December 15
The nurse from Dr. DiLalla's office calls me and says that Cigna has denied my MRI as I am not considered high risk. In order to be considered high risk, you have to be BRCA positive or have a first degree relative with breast cancer. This means that because of my history of cancer, my mother and sister would have their MRIs paid without question - but not me, the actual breast cancer patient. This is the second year in a row they have made this decision. Dr. DiLalla can call to get it overturned, but she won't be in the office in time for me to keep my appointment or to reschedule it before the Christmas holiday. We reschedule for January.

Wait 26 days.

January 11
I go to Duke Raleigh's Radiology Center, parking in my old familiar parking deck and walking past the Cancer Center where I had chemo. My eyes are closed during the IV insertion when the tech says, "uh oh," and I open my eyes to discover a river of blood gushing from my arm. He gets it sealed off. I have to change into a new gown. I get the MRI.

Wait 5 days.

January 16
Dr. DiLalla calls me at work. She called me at work three years ago, too. She says, "We got your MRI results. Are you somewhere you can talk?" Are you fucking kidding me? I get up and shut my office door. They have seen two areas of enhancement in my left breast they would like to biopsy. My right breast, the cancer breast, is fine. This is a scenario I had not in my wildest dreams thought to worry about: an entirely new cancer in the other breast. She says, "I'm not overly concerned." The way she emphasizes overly is not comforting. They only do MRI-guided biopsies at big Duke, in Durham. Her office will call me to schedule.

January 17
After no one from Dr. DiLalla's office calls me to schedule, I call them and talk to four separate people before finding someone to help. The first available appointment is 7:15am on January 26.

Wait 2 days.

January 19
The MRI report becomes available in my online chart. I read it and google frantically for five to ten minutes before I notice the conclusion at the bottom. "Suspicious abnormality: low suspicion of malignancy." I feel an immediate, physical relief. I later google further, however, and see that this is a very specific term with specific guidelines. Around 10% of findings of this description are malignant. This is not helpful. The chances I would have gotten cancer in the first place at 38 years old are much lower than 10%. Every cancer patient knows statistics are useless.

Wait 7 days.

January 26
I drive to Durham before dawn. The main Duke Cancer Center is huge, like an airport. There is valet parking available because the lot is too far away for sick people to walk. I'm doing all right until I see all the wheelchairs lined up on the sidewalk in front of the door. I am so tired of being in this stupid club. I was so close to feeling free of it, but I realize I am not and will never be free. The IV insertion goes better this time. I brought my fuzzy socks to wear with the hospital gown, the ones I wore to chemo. The radiologist says, "If I were a betting man, I'd say these are not cancer." But he looks to be around 36 years old. What does he know? He also says, "And even if they are, they're small and slow-growing." Sure, sure. Cool.

It's absolutely freezing inside the MRI room. I lay face down on a table with my left breast hanging through a hole, which they then compress between plastic plates. For around an hour, they wheel me into the tube, take pictures, wheel me back out again, give me numbing shots in my breast and remove pieces of me with some kind of device that sounds exactly like a dentist's drill. They seal the wounds with glue. Also: I have to pay $6 to park.

That evening I find myself thinking, "It wasn't so bad," which means: I am already thinking like a cancer patient again. No normal person would consider this an okay way to spend the morning.

Wait 4 days.

January 30
4:35pm, my phone rings, a Durham number. It's the 36-year-old radiologist. "It's good news, both spots are completely benign. These are not things you ever need to worry about following up on. It's all good."


So. That's what I've been up to.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ireland, Day Fourteen: Dublin

Every single person I talked to who has been to Dublin said Dublin was not that great. Poor Dublin! I felt like we couldn't go to Ireland and not go at all, though. So we drove the 3 hours from Derry and dropped off the car at the airport and were freeeee! We got a cab to take us to our hotel in the city center. 

Dublin's hotels are wildly expensive, New York style. I found the Harding Hotel, which seemed to be in a good location and looked nice, but was suspiciously reasonably priced. I was a little worried about it, but it turned out to be great! 

It was in a busy but cute neighborhood right in the center of town.

Walking around, it's pretty easy to see why everyone said Dublin wasn't worth the time. Not because there's anything wrong with it, necessarily, but because it seems a bit generic, like any big city. Very Londony.

I had really wanted to see the Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library but the guidebooks made it sound like a miserable experience, packed with tourists at all times. We did walk over toward the college but the entire street was filled with people milling around outside tour buses for blocks and blocks, so we turned right around and got out of there.

We went to the National Museum of Archeology instead.

This was a good decision! They have a bunch of cool stuff! I put Ben in charge of taking the photographs for this excursion.

The Temple Bar area is the tourist hotspot neighborhood and was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel. It felt like Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Dublin Castle was also supposedly nearby but we had trouble finding it. Also, it kept raining and then not raining and at this point I was pretty much ready to come back to North Carolina and sit in the nice sunny heat.

We couldn't find the castle, it turns out, because it's been added to over various time periods and is very haphazard. The oldest part is the round tower.

We got takeout falafel for dinner to eat in our hotel room, which was right across the street from Christ Church Cathedral. The church bells kept ringing and ringing and ringing, and whoever was ringing them was not doing a very good job - off key, off rhythm - it was bad enough that I started googling to figure out what was going on. It turns out that on Friday nights they have PRACTICE SESSIONS for THREE HOURS where anyone can sign up to try their hand at ringing the church bells. Whose idea was this?? Right in the center of an urban area?!

Our trip home the next morning was uneventful, from Dublin through Boston back to Raleigh, all in economy class like regular people. SIGH. Another one in the books.

Ireland, Day Thirteen: Inishowen Peninsula

For our last day of road trip exploring, we decided to drive around the Inishowen Peninsula up to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland. I have a coworker who is from this area and highly recommended it. We also considered Giant's Causeway, an hour in the other direction, but ultimately decided it would doubtless be very crowded and we didn't feel like dealing with a lot of people. This turned out to be the right decision.

The drive to Malin Head was beautiful and the area is very isolated. The very tip top of County Donegal.

Here they have another of the EIRE signs from World War II.

The wind was back. It was SO WINDY. Always with the wind. I also had woken up with a cold. So we walked out to the point and back, but didn't do much more exploring.

It was so windy here that the seafoam in this cove was blowing in little globs up the beach.

The last walking trail!

And here it comes, the rain. We booked it out of there to as not to get stuck out on the beach when it hit.

I was honestly shocked we made it the entire trip without crashing this car into anything. Trusty little horrible car!

We stopped at a famous seafood restaurant for a late lunch. The crab claws were like half the size of a human fist.

My coworker had recommended this restaurant, and it was also mentioned in the Lonely Planet book. We were there at 2pm and the restaurant was virtually deserted.

We ended up staying for quite a while after we ate to talk to the bartender - he is from the area and told us a lot what it was like to grow up there during the tensions of the 80s and 90s, the precarious peace they have going on now, and their fears for the near-term future as a result of Brexit. With Britain leaving the EU, they are going to have to do something about the invisible border with Ireland, when everybody involved would prefer to leave things as they are.

When we arrived back at the hotel I became extremely shivery and feverish and nauseated and stayed that way, more or less, for most of the night. It wasn't great. Ben had to go out and find me some acetaminophen because Advil wasn't cutting it. I was okay-ish by the following day; the nausea and high fever never came back, anyway, although I had cold symptoms for the next week or so. I don't know if this was coincidental food poisoning or what, but I'm three for three on being sick during our most recent vacations. I hope this isn't the beginning of a tradition.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ireland, Day Twelve: Donegal to Derry

We ate breakfast in a little tea room in Donegal Town that reminded me somehow of Harry Potter.

And then we set out for Glenveagh National Park, about an hour away. This was private land until the 1960s, when the owner of the McIlhenny Hot Sauce fortune (?) gave it to the Irish government.

It rained on us four or five separate times in the hours we were here. As elsewhere, we could always see it coming from a distance, which can be both a positive and a negative.

We stood and watched as a rainbow appeared from nothing and crossed the mountain.

There is a castle, built by someone rich who used to live here, and you can take a bus to it from the visitors center if you like. We walked, though. It took about an hour. Everywhere we went, the landscape was different than the day before. Glenveagh seemed more barren and wild than elsewhere.

Benjamin was losing enthusiasm about being rained on all the time.

We walked around the gardens & grounds of the castle but did not go inside.

I wanted to see what was in this thing but that man stood there smoking for too long and eventually I gave up.

We took an additional trail behind the castle up to the viewpoint. Looking at the map, you could go around the long way or take the "shorter steep route." Short and steep wins the race!

There were these creepy stairs to nowhere across the valley.

It started to rain again on the way down. Ben was demonstrating here how we could crouch down under that ledge like in the Lord of the Rings when they hid from the Black Riders. Mostly, though, we huddled together under the trees for ten minutes, which turns out to be a very effective to stay relatively dry. The great thing about Ireland is that 90% of the time, the rain seems to stop within ten minutes.

Following lunch in the visitors center, we drove on to Derry, another hour or so.

Derry is in Northern Ireland, which belongs to the UK. There is no noticeable border; the only indication that you're in a different country is that the speed limit signs are suddenly in miles per hour, as opposed to kilometers. However, Derry felt quite different from anyplace we had been so far. It was a center of The Troubles in the 80s and 90s, and you can definitely still feel it today. They are still arguing over whether to call the city Londonderry or Derry - we saw highway signs with the "London" part blacked out.

We stayed within the city walls at the Bishops Gate Hotel, which was extremely nice. When we got there we put on our Aran Islands sweaters for a picture.

Then we went out to see the town. You can walk all around on top of Derry's standing city walls, dating from medieval times.

There were very few people around - mostly teenagers in school uniforms - and although it was around 5:00pm on a Wednesday, all the shops were starting to close. This was particularly strange after having spent time for the past two weeks in places with pubs open late and people wandering around at all hours.


This church was built in the 1500s but looks brand new compared with a lot of things we'd seen recently.

Some of the old guard towers on the walls still survive. These were built relatively recently, because the guards complained about having to stand out in the rain all the time. I feel you, dudes.

In general the city felt very quiet, but not necessarily in an ominous way. Right here in this neighborhood, people were killing each other less than thirty years ago.

We went into a hippie sort of store that sold used books, records, jewelry, all sorts of stuff. It's hard not to buy foreign versions of books when I see them! I want it. But books are not a super practical thing to buy when you have to fly with them back across the ocean.

By 6:00, the city was virtually deserted. So strange.

We walked to the river and saw yet another amazing rainbow.

The Peace Bridge connects the Irish Catholic old city with the British Protestant neighborhoods on the opposing bank.

There aren't many restaurants inside the walls, either. We found one a few minutes' walk away that was pretty good. Then, naturally, it was raining when we left. We sat on a bench under the awning and waited the few minutes for it to stop.

Then we went back to our lovely hotel room and watched season 9 of Peep Show on Netflix, which is not available in the US.