3 Weeks Post-Surgery: Mostly Good (Even the Cancer Part)

Three weeks ago, I went to the hospital for surgery. They removed half of my thyroid, because it had developed nodules (what they call thyroid tumors they suspect are benign) and had swollen up enough that it pressed against my trachea, and the nerve that controlled my vocal cords. I was having trouble breathing, at times, and my voice had started to go froggy. Of course, there was the year, going on two, before that of me starting to go downhill physically  – tired all of the time, gaining weight, struggling to stay on task or complete things on time – but after dealing with a doctor who insisted it was just me being a woman, getting older, I’d found one who was actually willing to do lab work and sort it out. I was diagnosed with anemia, and started medication for that. Aside from the pressure on my throat, I should have been on the mend.

I didn’t quite feel it, though. A little better… but still, something was wrong.

We agonized over the decision to cut out part of my thyroid. It’s a simple, safe, outpatient procedure, except that it’s still surgery, which is never guaranteed 100% safe. My SO and I talked it over, made plans for dealing with what would come next if I didn’t make it out okay, and decided (supported by my surgeon’s opinion) that it’s better to get the swollen part of my thyroid out now before it got bigger and did some real damage. I felt it, a literal lump in my throat, every time I swallowed. Every time I tried to exercise and had to breathe harder. When I laid down for sleep, and the lump shifted a little, pressing on a new spot I hadn’t yet learned to ignore.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that lies flat, for most people, and has the volume of a peanut on each side. My right side wasn’t visible from the outside, so you wouldn’t know unless you saw a sonogram that it was the size of a jawbreaker, and growing. Inside were two nodules; the bigger one had been biopsied three times since it was found three years ago, and declared benign, though I was told in 2013 that it was collapsing and would get smaller – we discovered in May that it had actually gotten larger.

The smaller one was labeled “suspicious” by the sonogram tech during this round of tests, but was .1 mm too small for a biopsy to be considered necessary, according to the current medical guidelines, so I was told not to worry. We’d wait, they said, and check on it again next year.

If I hadn’t opted to remove the larger side of my thyroid, that nodule would still be there. Continue reading

WILL WRITE MYTHOS FOR SCHOOL (Buy my new fiction, help me pay for college!)

Pre-order my new Mythos mini-collection through GoFundMe

Some of you know that the last few years, life has been extra difficult. I’ve had a bad landlord, a car crash, medical problems, lost my day job… with each new issue, I’ve struggled to keep my bills paid and care for my son, who has a severe speech disorder and special needs.

The overarching theme lately has been money: I don’t have enough of it. We’re officially living in poverty, my son and I, so when something happens, we can’t pay to fix it. I need a bigger income; I need to be more employable. Rather than continuing to need help over and over again, I went back to college in hope of finally getting my BA, and finding solid work.

tuition

Behold, my tuition bill!

Right now, I’m paying for it myself. I currently owe for one of my Spring classes (I paid for the rest) and one class this Summer. Together, that’s almost $1300. I’ve set the fundraiser for $1500 to cover the fees GoFundMe will charge, and to pay for one textbook this summer.

Paying for school is something I have to do on top of rent and food and basic utilities. It’s a cost above what I have to pay for my medical expenses. With thyroid surgery in two weeks, I don’t see any way to do it all. Plus, if I can’t pay for my classes by May 31, I won’t be able to register for Fall in time to get into classes only availble one time a year. My goal is to graduate with my AA in May 2017, before transferring for my BA, so this should be my one chance at Fall-only classes. I need to get into them.

As a reward, when I’ve met my goal, I’ll release an ebook of five Mythos fiction short stories to all of my backers, no matter how much you contribute. This will include two pieces previously published by Chaosium, that aren’t available anywhere else, and three new stories no one has laid eyes (or tentacles) on. I’m creating original interior art for the project, and the ebook package will include .epub, .mobi (for Kindle), and .PDF. There’s even reward levels if you want to get extra stuff back.

You can contribute because I’m a good person going through a hard time. You can contribute because you like my writing and want to see more of it. You can contribute because you haven’t had to roll a SAN check recently. No matter why you lend a hand, I appreciate you.

Thank you.

Carrie Cuinn

PS. If you’d rather contribute by PayPal, which doesn’t charge quite as much as GoFundMe, you can send money using this link . If you do, I’ll add it manually, so the total amount needed goes down.

#SFWAPro

Next up, surgery…

After a sonogram and two biopsies, we’ve confirmed that I have multiple thyroid nodules that have swollen one side of my thyroid to the size of a jawbreaker. It’s not visible from the outside; if it were a cosmetic issue, I could put it off, but my thyroid has grown inward, so it’s pressing against my vocal cords and throat. It doesn’t keep me from eating yet, but my voice has gotten a little froggy, I get sick more often lately, and when I’ve been sick, it’s taken longer to recover (I had bronchitis last fall for more than 8 weeks, for example.)

The biopsies showed that the largest one is benign (yay!) but growing, and there’s a smaller nodule that’s “suspicious”. Because of all that, I’ve scheduled surgery to remove that part of my thyroid.

This, plus finding out I’m anemic, explains a lot about my health and energy levels the last year or so. I’m taking supplements to correct the anemia now, and with the surgery, I should be in better shape. I hope. I have too much to do, and I’ve been struggling to manage it all. It’s a relief, in some ways, to know why: I’m not lazy, I’m not a failure, I’m not giving up. I have a documented medical reason for why I’m exhausted and uncomfortable and falling behind.

Still, sometimes I have to tell myself that over and over, and it doesn’t help. Excuses, excuses, what are you going to do about it? Next up, surgery, and then getting my life back on track, and moving forward.

I can’t accept anything less.

Medical Update, or, So That’s What Happens When Your Blood Doesn’t Get Oxygen

Tl;dr: I have severe iron-deficiency anemia that went undiagnosed for the last couple of years. I not only don’t have enough iron in my blood, I lack ferritin, the protein that allows your body to store iron. Because my body won’t reserve enough iron from meals, I have to take in new iron every single day, and will for as long as I live, if I want to keep, you know, living.

After losing my health insurance along with being laid off last year, I got new health insurance in 2016 (thanks, Obamacare!) and last week, got into a new doctor’s office. I knew, before I went, that I was going to want to talk about my health and the way I’d felt it was going downhill the last couple of years. I’d done a lot of hard work to get in shape, to eat healthier, and I was getting there. Two years ago I was only 40 pounds away from my goal, and expected to be there by the end of 2014. I was walking an average of 5 miles a day, doing cardio and yoga and lifting a little free weight at home, starting to buy clothes I really liked to wear. Then, it all sort of fell apart. I was exhausted, constantly, sometimes sleeping 10 hours and then still having to take a nap in the afternoon. I started to be short of breath. I stopped walking so much. My skin got dry; my nails became ridged and brittle, and my hair started to tangle easily, even when it was short, to the point that I kept it tied up or under a hat most of the time. The dark circles under my eyes got worse. I was struggling to do everyday things. I got dizzy when I stood up too fast, and sometimes my fingers tingled like they were asleep. My hands and feet were very cold, and I noticed I was turning the heat on more than before.

I’d also talked to my old doctor about the same symptoms and his response was literally, “You’re getting older, so you’re just going to have to get used to that.” That didn’t seem right to me so I insisted, in a followup appointment, that no, really, there’s something wrong. Old doctor then said I was probably pre-menopausal, at 41, with no family history of that. I said it didn’t seem likely, so he ran tests, and found that no, that wasn’t my problem. He told me then to sleep more (I was already sleeping too much). He said I was probably depressed. (No. I’ve seen a therapist when I’ve felt I needed it before, and I wasn’t afraid to do so again. That wasn’t the problem.) He said I needed to eat better and exercise more and, again, to just accept that I was slowing down because I was a woman, and I was getting older.

The last appointment with him was a year ago. Knowing I had a chance to get the new doctor to maybe pay attention to my concerns, the night before my appointment I sat down and wrote out my medical history, and every symptom I had now. I printed out my calorie intake, sleep, and exercise logs from my fitness tracker.

When I went in to the office, two things happened:

  1. New doctor saw right away that I hadn’t been sent in for a followup thyroid ultrasound, even though it was in my file that I needed to get them every year or two after the (benign) nodule we found in 2013.
  2. He looked over my info, heard my frustrations, and promised to run every test we needed until we figured out the problem.

He took my vitals, and told me what he wanted to look for. My resting heart rate was 93 beats per minute, unusually fast, especially for someone who always felt sluggish. My lungs sounded clear, so it was unlikely an obstruction was the cause of me feeling short of breath. He asked if I’d always been so pale. He ordered labs. I fasted overnight and went back in the next morning, where they took 6 vials of my blood, to test for iron, and thyroid function, but also cholesterol, and various vitamin deficiencies. He added the test for ferritin, which I hadn’t heard of before.

And he let me know that my thyroid felt swollen and lumpy, a sure sign that I’d developed another thyroid nodule. We scheduled a sonogram for this week. (I’m hopeful it’s benign, like the last one; some people just develop these non-cancerous thyroid tumors without it affecting much else. My thyroid hormone levels came back okay, which is another good sign that the nodule is just annoying, and not dangerous.) But…

It turns out that I’m anemic in a big way. Like, wow, it’s impressive that I’m as healthy as I am, considering. I have very low hemoglobin, Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin, Mean Corpuscular HGB Conc and very low serum ferritin scores. In addition to taking iron supplements, I’m also taking daily B12 to help with the absorption of iron. Unrelated, but my vitamin D levels were also so low that I was prescribed a mega dose to be taken once a week for 12 weeks, with a smaller daily dose thereafter. I live in the frozen north, so lots of folks around here have lower D levels than usual, but my doctor said, “If I tested everyone in town, 98% of them would have low D, and you’re at the bottom of that group.”

It’s going to take a while for everything to kick in, and we’re going to monitor it closely over the next few months to make certain my health improves. I’d always thought of anemia as you’re a little pale, go eat a steak and you’ll feel better. (This diagnosis might explain why eating a good cheeseburger really did make me feel great, for a few hours.) In my grandma’s time, people with serious chronic anemia used to develop pernicious anemia and then die, and I’m hoping to avoid that. These days, with medical care, it should be that I simply take a pill for what my body doesn’t have, and then I’ll be fine. I can do that.

But I’ll be damned if I let a doctor tell me I’m just a woman getting old, ever again.

Why I’m taking (another) Sociology class this semester

I’ve taken several classes in art history, humanities, psychology, sociology, and ethnic studies, but I managed to skip taking an actual SOC101 class. I’m doing that this semester, in a 10-week accelerated course I started last week. As part of the introductory assignment, I was asked:

Please write a few paragraphs describing what you think this class will be about.  What is sociology?  Why is it important to study sociology?

I thought you might be interested in my answer, so I copied it below for you:

Sociology is the study of the development and structure of a society, but is not limited to seeking to understand large-scale cultures or countries. Sociology can also be used to explore an organization, clique, or family, and the way those smaller units reflect and interact with the larger societies they are a part of. By applying scientific methods to these investigations, we can reduce the amount of bias inherent in the ones who gather and interpret that data. By comparing both information and methods – analyzing and critiquing past sociological studies – we can expand our understanding of societies as we evolve ourselves. This class should provide us with a basic understanding of these methods and a brief history of sociology as a study.

I’m interested in both views of the world: the macro and the micro. On a grand scale, I’m interested in the way that societies are formed, grow, and die, like a current moving through the ocean of time. I’m also interested in how to understand individual people by understanding their place in their societies, where the venn diagram of their interests and relationships overlap, and how a society exerts pressure on an individual to deviate from their own desires. No person, no group, exists in a vacuum, and by better understanding the influences we exist under, I can better project the future of those societies, whether in the real world, or in my own fiction.

I left out the part where I’m basically a squeaky fangirl whenever it comes to learning new things, and how much I love the way studying sociology feels like discovering new pieces in the puzzle of the human experience. I’m a sucker for cleverness and insight, not just labeling a new find but truly exploring it, seeing it from all sides, and beginning, a little, to understand its importance.

10 Easy Resolutions We Can All Do in 2016

  1. Read more of everything.
    • Books are great, read those. But there are also newspapers and online news sites, short fiction, poetry, magazines, graffiti in bathroom stalls, motivational sayings at the bottoms of posters featuring kittens dangling precariously. Anything you enjoy reading, you should read more of. Anything that seems informative, you should read more of. Then, you should seek out the opposite information and read that, too, so you can decide for yourself which side you think is correct. Probably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It tends to be. But the more you read, the better informed you are, and the better chance that you’ll be able to sort these things out for yourself.
  2. Go for more walks.
    • Move purposely, out in the world, alone with your own thoughts. Look around the scenery. Stand up straight as you walk. Don’t hurry. Don’t dawdle.
  3. Sleep whenever you can.
    • If you’re not being productive, if you’re tired, if you feel frustrated by your aging body’s desire to do less than your brain deems necessary at any given moment – go to bed. Rest. Nap. Sleep for many glorious hours. Whatever your body needs, do it. You’ll feel better, snap less, get more done, and generally be healthier.
  4. Replace every instance of “ferret” with: “they’re weasels, man, not pets; they’re fucking weasels“.
  5. Cook more often.
    • I don’t mean heating food according to the package directions. Make something from scratch. Taste all of the ingredients. Roll them around on your tongue. Know the individual flavors of everything going into your food. Use ingredients you adore. Love your food.
  6. Every once in a while, refrain from saying something. You don’t always need to. You can listen, instead.
  7. Pick one thing you are unhappy about, and fix it.
    • It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be. That’s up to you. Just find one thing that’s making your life worse, a thing or a person or a way of being that you’re trying to ignore, and find a solution. Get rid of it. Have it repaired. Break up with it. Move away from it. Rearrange it. Ship it off to where it actually belongs. Whatever you need to do, stop putting it off, and get it done.
  8. Laugh every chance you get.
  9. Give something away. Preferably to someone who needs it, or someone that you would love to have the thing, or – if that fails – to a charity which could use the thing. You really don’t need all of those things.
  10. Take a day off. Listen to some music. Take a walk. Kiss someone you fancy. Eat a nice lunch. Maybe have a nap. Whatever you want, as long as you don’t do anything important at all.

Reflection, 2015

Looking back over 2015, and really, over the last several years, it’s immediately obvious that I have had a lot of struggles. My life now is vastly different from where it was 10 years ago. I’ve left California – where I was born and raised and never intended to leave – to drive across the county, trying out Philadelphia and New Jersey before ending up in a little city in Central New York. I adore it here, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

I went from starting community college at 31, with a new baby, to the last semester of my BA in a History of Art degree at an Ivy League university – only to run out of loans, leave school, struggle to find work, and end up back in community college pursuing a (much more marketable) degree in business. I started freelancing as an editor, and found, one by one, all the ways that freelancing can be a disaster, all the ways I can screw up.

I screwed up as a writer, too, missing opportunities and losing the time and focus I am desperate to put into my writing, spent on dealing with everything else.

I’ve been unemployed – I am, at the moment, uncertain how I’m going to pay the rent next week. I’ve been scared about whether I can provide for my son so much more than I ever thought possible.

My son was diagnosed with a severe speech disorder and autism and ADHD, and we were given a laundry list of all the things he’d never be able to do wit his life. I have spent most of his life being worried and frustrated, struggling to communicate with him, to teach him, to be his advocate; I’ve spent countless hours fighting the state, the school systems, doctors, teachers – anyone who wanted to give up on my son – and educating myself in the process. I’ve done it mostly alone, without any family or good friends close by.

I know I’ve made mistakes, made bad choices, broke down, and been lost. But my child has grown up, found his voice, and exceeds even my expectations, every day. He’s well on his way to becoming a man who can graduate school, go to college, live on his own, and make a life for himself. Not now, not for years and maybe not in the way you’d usually think, but someday.

I was married, and now I’m not. The idea of caring for a child with a disability was the last straw for a man who already didn’t want to make a better life for us, only for himself. We were left without a father for my son, without a partner for me, without child support. We haven’t seen or heard from him in years, and I don’t expect he’ll ever see us again. It was his choice, but in choosing him (and every other bad relationship in my life), it was my failure too.

Over the years, I’ve realized how much I didn’t know. I was horrible with finances, and life-long poverty had never given me a chance to learn. I was never taught how to do well in school, how to be organized and on time, and I had to teach myself while going to college and raising a child. This last semester, going back to college (without the childcare and support I had before) made me relearn it again.

I had a undiagnosed eating disorder for most of my adult life. Over the last few years, I’ve figured that out, sought treatment, sorted myself out, and begun the long process toward a healthier life. But all the years of dieting and fighting with food and “succeeding” only to gain it back… All that time,  I spent disappointed in myself.

I didn’t know how to make a healthy relationship work either. That may have been the biggest failure of my life. So much drama, hurt, wasted time, wasted money, wasted opportunities.

And then, randomly, I found the person I was looking for. The last five years has been hard on us both, as we taught and challenged and supported each other while we both figured out what love and family and a real, solid, partnership was. I don’t know I’ve ever put so much into another relationship, another adult human being, in my entire life, and along the way,  I’ve discovered who I really want to be. And a person who inspires me to be my very best.

Today I am dwelling in my failures. I have made grand efforts, and I have failed. I admit that. I have to.

But I am so loved. I have a family now that I never believed possible. Not easy (never easy) but worth it, and the foundation for the best possible future. I’m writing again. I have a plan for a better life. I fought for that, and that I won.

The rest is a temporary state of learning from my mistakes before back I get up, and try again. I regret every mistake, every failure, every time I hurt someone else or let myself down,  every wasted moment. But I don’t regret where I’ve ended up, or the beautiful life in front of me. I just need to make it happen.

Do not ask me to perform sexual acts on you (it’s still harassment)

To begin with, I think it’s clear to most people that emailing random strangers to offer them money (or anything else) in exchange for sexual favors is a very bad idea. It is just as bad as sending unsolicited nude photos. It is just as bad as contacting people to threaten, insult, or otherwise make them feel unsafe, for any reason. In fact, all of those things fall under the category of “do not do this for any fucking reason, okay?”

It’s safe to say that I’ve gotten my fair share of the last type of emails and comments. Though I don’t seek to antagonize anyone, there are issues for which I will stand up and make my opinion clear. Doing so has occasionally gotten me the unwanted attention of trolls, sexists, white supremacists, and other folks whose desperately-insecure need to control everyone around them is bigger than their IQs. That isn’t my fault, since I’ve never gone out of my way to contact anyone and force my opinion on them. I’ve never searched our anyone’s email address and sent them threatening messages. I’ve never done anything which might cause someone to fear for their life, to contact the police, or removed themselves from the Internet or other public spaces out of fear of me.

But others have done so to me. I’ve kept the smaller, occasional stuff to myself, and shared only when the burden of it got to be too large for me to handle. I think that’s how most folks deal with harassment. We hear about it when there’s a surge in attacks against them, but there are little aggressions they carry alone. It gets tiring to talk about this stuff, after a while.

The last few weeks, I’ve gotten harassment of the other sort. Someone I don’t know and have never interacted with has been sending unsolicited emails describing his* sexual fantasies and asking that I join him. He’s offered money, dinner; he’s been polite, then apologized for contacting me, then emailed again, describing his kink in greater detail (classic obsessive behavior). He isn’t sending these to my private email accounts – he’s sending them to my professional, editing email account. He’s sending them to my work space.

I haven’t, not once, responded. He hasn’t stopped.

I share everything he’s sent with another person, so there’s record of the messages and escalation, and another human I know in real life to share what I’m dealing with. But other than that, I’ve been too uncomfortable to even go into my email. (If I owe you emails, I’m so sorry. I’m not ignoring you, I promise.) This person is reading my blog and Twitter; he’s mentioned going back through several month’s worth. He’s asked me to meet him in person, so he has a good sense of where I live, and has made it clear he can get to me.

All because he thinks I seem approachable.

And the truth is, I want my fans to appreciate my work. I love to hear what people think of my writing. As a freelancer, I’m always open to new work, and have to be accessible to clients. As a person who needs support to get through college and keep writing, I know I have to share a little more of my life then maybe other people do, in order to give something back to everyone who’s helping me. I am an introvert who rarely talks about her child, boyfriend, or personal life online because I want as much privacy as possible, but I accept that I have to let the world in more than I’d like.

I accept all of this. THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN INSERT YOURSELF INTO MY LIFE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, OR TAKE SOMETHING AWAY FROM ME. That’s what harassment does. All forms of it. Even the most politely worded requests for something you weren’t permitted to have invade the other person’s space, comfort zone.

This person who’s emailed me… I didn’t publicly share their contact info and particulars of their admittedly-unusual kink because I don’t want to get into a conversation about what’s too weird, as if more vanilla forms of solicitation are somehow okay. (They’re not.) It isn’t the kink that’s the issue. And I’m hoping this person will realize what they did wrong, never contact me again. I’ve already spent so much more time on them than I should have been forced to give up.

And in time – time I couldn’t afford to lose and potential work I couldn’t afford to miss – I’ll get over being afraid to check my email. I’ll get back to work. I’ll move on from what this person took from me.

It won’t be today.

* They identified themselves as “a guy” so that’s what I’m going with.

The Poverty/Special Needs Conundrum

I originally shared this on Facebook, but I realized there are people I only know online, who’ve supported my work or contributed to my GoFundMe campaign, who might want to understand this too.

I want to work. I believe that having a stable, fiscally awesome dayjob will help me to write, by giving me security, rather than get in the way. It isn’t following my dreams that keeps me from wanting to be in an office full time. It’s actually how much money I can make right now that’s the problem.

I can’t work outside of school hours without specially-trained care for my son. The state will provide this, as long as I don’t make too much money. (I know how lucky this makes me; most states don’t offer as much support.) “Too much” is about what I make from an average admin position. “Too much” just barely pays the rent in this town.

So, I work, and then lose my childcare, so I can’t work. Thus I’ve only worked about 9 months at a time, my last couple of jobs, and I have to go through a ton of paperwork each time.

In order to work, I need to make more, enough to cover expenses plus childcare – but to get those positions, I need a degree in business. Okay, so, I’ll go back to college for that… But while I’m in college, I’m not working, not paying my bills.

In the long run, college will provide for me and my son. Right now, because I was barely holding on and now there’s a delay in my unemployment benefits*, my rent check just bounced. I have no way to get the money I need in the next few days. I could quit college and go back to work, but that only helps for a few months, and I’m right back here again. So… I have to stay in school. I don’t have another choice.

It’s not always obvious, the things that keep people in poverty and debt. It isn’t always easy to fix. But at least now you know a little more about me.

If you can and want to help me, here’s what would help the most:

You can donate to me via PayPal by sending it to carrie@cuinnedits.com

You can contribute to my GoFundMe campaign

You can hire me for editing work! I’ll also do ghostwriting, content creation, eBook creation, formatting, anything, just ask. Check out my editing site at http://cuinnedits.com.

Thank you.

* I get a small unemployment payment on weeks I don’t do any freelance work, at least until the end of 2015. The last three weeks, my payments haven’t gone through. I spoke to unemployment; my worker didn’t properly remove the hold after a mandatory meeting – which I attended -even though I’ve contacted her twice since and she’s insisted it was done. Meanwhile, she swore I’d have the money already, which is why I sent the rent check. I emailed her again today. The main office also put in a request to take off the hold, but it will be end of the week before it’s done, so mid next week before I find out if I’ll even get the money I’ve been due for three weeks now.