Walter White’s dark deeds are far-reaching indeed, and have crept into my very home. On Sunday night, the chain of destruction he’s set off will unwittingly affect the lives of two unsuspecting felines, who are dressing up for our Breaking Bad finale party. Well, technically, I’m dressing them up. But if there’s one thing I learned from the show, it’s that sometimes the innocents must suffer to achieve your dreams.

That’s the lesson I was supposed to take away, right? Is it that, or something about the road to hell being paved with good intentions?

In addition to the finale party, I’m getting a jump on my Heisenberg-themed Halloween costume. Cancer hasn’t been fun, but it really has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me Halloween-wise. I might shave my head every October. As I mentioned before, I kind of don’t mind being bald, I was never that great at having hair anyway, and it’s made me even more of a Breaking Bad fan.

Cat lady alert: I already have a tie for cats I bought at Target years ago, so one cat can be Saul Goodman. The other cat is going to be La Tortuga—specifically the head of Danny Trejo’s character mounted on the tortoise. Trust me, it will be the most adorable re-creation of a disembodied head mounted on a tortoise ever.

This most likely will be a little upsetting for the cat, but think about how the Tortuga DEA informant felt once he saw that big knife. Or what about the panic attacks and mental trauma poor Hank suffered after this incident?

Since I’ve clearly tried to dress up my cats before, I’ve found that they don’t mind the tie, because it’s lightweight and around their necks, and they already wear collars. They don’t like to wear things on their heads, and it seems that they’ll wear this costume for at least a little bit. The clever cat knows that I will eventually set her free if she will sit still awhile for photos—struggling only prolongs the indignities. So she cooperates for a bit in hopes that the ordeal ends swiftly, and with liver treats.

Below are instructions to create your own Tortuga cat costume.



You will need:

  • Tape measure
  • Fabric pen
  • Green felt. I used an 8″ x 12″ piece, because that cost $3.10 at the local fancy knitting/yarn/craft store. A yard, by the way, is $76. Those are meth kingpin prices. I had stood up too fast while leaning over looking at the smaller pieces, and I’m prone to vertigo right after chemo, and the blood thinners aren’t helping with that. I was still a little dizzy when she told me this, and I thought I should pass out when she told me the price to demonstrate the reaction that price deserves. (Maybe she meant 76 cents?) But I’m not Skyler White. I can’t feign labor or physical trauma to get out of a sticky situation. So I just bought the little pieces, because I didn’t have time to go elsewhere.
  • You can use my turtle pattern that I made up, or you can draw a better tortoise of your own. Mine isn’t very precise—I just cut it out as I went along. Precision isn’t my thing. I’m no Gale Boetticher, with a fancy notebook (and karaoke skills).
  • Scissors
  • A tiny piece of white felt, for the eyes. Or you can buy googly eyes at a local craft store.
  • Tinier pieces of black or brown felt for the eyes.
  • White thread and dark thread if you’re sewing on the eyes, or glue if you’re using googly eyes.

1. Measure your cat’s neck with the tape measure for the neck hole. If your cat is trusting and purrs while this happens, you might feel a little guilty. But ask yourself: WWWWD? (What Would Walter White Do?) He would pause for a second, and then manipulate that trust; that’s what he would do. “Nothing’s going to happen, good buddy. This is all going to turn out well for you. For both of us, really. Well, okay, just for me.”

2. Use my pattern and pin it to your felt as a cutting pattern, adjusting for the size of your cat’s neck. You’ll want the neck hole to be big enough to slip on, but not too big. (Mine’s actually a bit too big.) But keep in mind, if your cat has any sense, it will try to run away from you and your turtle costume, so make sure it’s fairly easy to slip on. Or use your fabric pen to trace the pattern, or a better tortoise shape, before cutting.

3. Cut out two tiny circles of white felt for your tortoise eyes. Or, if you’re using googly eyes, just glue them on.

4. Cut out two tinier circles of black or brown felt for your tortoise eyes.

5. Sew the white felt circles on to the turtle face with the white thread.

6. Sew the dark felt on top of the white circles to complete the eyes.

7. Capture your cat, slip the tortoise over its head and take plenty of photos.


For a more rigid tortoise:


After my tortoise was complete, I noticed it was a bit droopy. For a tortoise with more shape, you’ll also need:

  • A second piece of felt. I used brown felt that I already had since I don’t have millions stashed in trash bins in the desert and couldn’t afford more green felt.
  • Chenille sticks or pipe cleaners.
  • Green thread. Ideally, you would have the right shade of green thread. I didn’t. But what has Breaking Bad taught us? When life takes away your pseudoephedrine, steal some methylamine. So I just used a different shade of green thread.

In step 2, pin the two pieces of felt together and cut them at the same time.

After step 6, you’ll sew the chenille sticks into the edges of the tortoise, between the two pieces of felt. Then you capture the cat.

ADDENDUM: Someone pointed out that for maximum accuracy, the tortoise shell should say “HOLA DEA.” You can add this with puffy paint or a paint pen, or you can embroider the message onto the shell.


turtle closeup

Though I have the potential Saul costume, a friend had been lobbying for Todd as a cat costume. Since I’d spent most of my evening making cat costumes, I thought, “Why not devote my entire evening to making Breaking Bad-inspired petwear?” So I made a Vamonos Pest nametag.

cat todd

Today, I will don my porkpie hat and watch the finale, though I will shave my head again before Halloween. In fact, the show provides a lot of costume ideas for a variety of medical conditions. When I spotted a girl in a wheelchair with a painful-looking broken leg contraption at a show recently, I thought that she could go to parties as Hector Salamanca. Crutches? Flynn/Walt Jr.  Off crutches, but still limping? Hank.

Meth empires cause a lot of fights, so if you’ve been injured in a brawl—obviously, “you better call Saul”—and then you can go as beat-up Jesse, Walt or Saul. (Alas, my blood thinners rule out brawling, so this doesn’t apply to me.) Pregnant? First few seasons Skyler. Klepto? Steal things from your host’s home in character as Marie.

And of course, if chemo made your hair fall out, be Walt or Heisenberg.  And make your cats your victims, er, accomplices.


I just called and left a long, rambling message for my oncologist’s office, saying that I think maybe I don’t need blood thinners after all. I had not been looking forward to a daily injection that I was told “might burn” if administered too fast. But I was prepared for that. And my squeamish boyfriend was going to heroically put his squeamishness aside to poke me in the abdomen with a needle for a few weeks.

But then there was the sticker shock of a $785 copay. Ouch. That hurt almost as much as the bump on my arm that mysteriously appeared last Tuesday.

I’ve mentioned before that since late July, my left arm has been hurting and pretty much just taking it easy while my right arm has been taking the brunt of the chemo. I even accused my left arm of faking it to get out of chemo.

But then the bump appeared, angry, red and burning. One night, I had a dream that I cut my arm and it hurt, and I woke up to my arm hurting for real. It would feel better in the morning, then it got progressively worse throughout the day.

On Friday, during my pre-chemo visit, I mentioned it to the doctor, who wanted to take an ultrasound for a better look at what was going on. The ultrasound technician looked at my shoulder and then worked her way down my arm. I could see the ultrasound, but it doesn’t look like anything to me. It’s just gray and black, like I’m dead inside. In fact, that would be my diagnosis to everybody if I gave ultrasounds: “Sorry, you’re probably dead inside, because it’s just gray and black with some white streaks of marbled fat or marshmallow swirl.”

The technician did find something in the screen, because then she called in the doctor and they agreed that my vein wasn’t compressing and told me that I had some superficial clots in the troublesome arm.  (Just telling my boyfriend this part grossed him out, just to impart an idea of how squeamish his is and how brave he’s going to be to give me shots that I’m too squeamish to give myself.) The bump, apparently, was the biggest clot.

The good news is that these aren’t the kinds of clots that go to your lungs or brain—those are deep-vein clots, which often require six months of shots. These superficial clots can hopefully be taken care of in a few weeks. The doctors are puzzled that it’s happening now, especially in this arm that’s been taking it relatively easy.

After the ultrasound, I went back to the doctor, who prescribed Enoxaparin, while the nurse called around to check on the cheapest and best option. So while I would have a $40 copay, today I found out it’s $785 because of my new insurance deductable. My prescription deductible is $1,250, so it’s going to catch up with me at some point. I might as well get a big chunk of this inevitable cost out of the way quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid. (Something, incidentally, they don’t do at the hospital.)

But, still in sticker shock, I found myself leaving a confused, halting message. Maybe I don’t need blood thinners? When the doctor had suggested my blood needed thinning, truthfully, I was hoping she would suggest a more organic method. Like cocktails. Would this troublesome vein be cleared up with, say, a week’s worth of happy hours? I didn’t ask though, especially since she’d so patiently entertained and answered my boyfriend’s query about administering IVs in places outside of the arm, like junkies in movies.

Before I go on the blood thinners, I have to take care of some orders of business. I’m going to re-shave my now-fuzzy head, because I don’t want to get my scalp nicked while I’m prone to bleeding. (Also, once my hair grows in a bit, it looks thin.) I also have an appointment with the dentist tomorrow so before the blood thinners turn a routine exam into a horror movie.

Incidentally, my left arm, ever the contrarian, has now stopped hurting.

Since mid-July, my left arm has experienced some vein hardening and has generally been taking it easy while my right arm is used for chemo. With two cycles (four treatments) left, my oncologist brought up the possibility of a chemotherapy port, a surgically implanted device that stays in place under the skin for about a year. We also discussed a PICC line, inserted in the upper arm and removable right after treatment wraps up,

Now that I have only one more treatment to go (knock on wood), I think my veins are going to hold out! There’s always a lot of fretting about my tiny veins, but so far, the nurses always manage to always get the IV.

I know it’s good to be knowledgeable about your treatment and be and advocate of yourself, but most of my questions are just kind of silly, born of curiosity. Mainly, why can’t the guy with the cool phlebotomy glasses administer IVs when veins are hard to find? They’re these magic glasses that allow the wearer somehow to see inside your arm, beyond the superficial tiny veins at the top. He told me I had a big fat vein in the crook of my arm, right behind those tiny ones. But I assume there’s some good reason, and as long as the little veins are holding up, I’m too lazy to ask.

However, on Friday, my boyfriend finally asked a question that had been plaguing him for weeks. “Why do you have to use only the arms for IVs?” he asked. He followed this with, “Junkies shoot up in their eyeballs and in between their toes, so I just wondered.”

Now I know that he wasn’t suggesting they administer chemo through my eyeballs or in between my toes, and I’ve also wondered why the arms are preferred for IVs. I probably wouldn’t have posed my question quite that way, pitting medical expertise against viewings of Trainspotting, The Wire and The Panic in Needle Park.

My doctor very patiently addressed the question, though, and in case you were wondering, it’s just not a good idea, for a variety of reasons. It’s unsanitary, for one. Plus, the veins in other areas, like your legs, just aren’t quite as available as you think. The feet are usually far away from where you want the medicine to go. In other places on your body, the IVs might slip out, and with caustic chemo drugs, you really don’t want that.

Sometimes, she said, when it’s an emergency life-or-death situation, they’ll put an IV in the neck. But she succinctly summed up her talk on IVs in places other than the arm with, “We just wouldn’t do that.”

I’ve been bald for several weeks now, and I still love it. I’ve put a big glob of shampoo on my hairless head in the shower only twice so far.

Reactions to my new look have been mostly positive. People tell me I can pull the bald thing off. I have big facial features, and it balances out the baldness somehow. They’re strong enough to stand on their own, without a hair frame. Babies seem to like me, and I think it’s for this reason. If someone increased my facial proportions just ever so slightly, I’d look like a cartoon. I’ve never had my caricature done. I’m convinced it would look just like a regular drawing.

I recently thought back to a conversation I had in high school with a friend about my nose. I hated my nose. It’s not exactly that it’s so big, it’s just kind of weird. It’s not like other noses. I mean, I wanted to be weird when I was 15, but weird in a cool way so that counterculture peers would accept me and people who might make fun of me would leave me alone. I don’t think any 15-year-old girl wants to be known for her unique nose.

Anyway, my friend’s wise words that day put me at peace with my nose. She said that my nose fit in with all my other facial features and that if I had a smaller nose, I’d look strange. I realized she was right. I wish I could say from that day forward, I shed all my insecurities and had some epiphany about what makes you unique can make you beautiful, but that didn’t really happen then. No longer hating my nose was an important step forward, though, in a still-ongoing journey of self-acceptance.

Now that I’m bald, this is probably not even the “weirdest” I’ve ever looked. Maybe it’s the most subversive look I’ve had, but not on purpose.

In my mid-teens to early 20s, I was goth. When I lived in Columbus and walked by this sports bar with a giant patio on The Ohio State University campus, I would habitually cringe and wait for insults to fly my way from drunk guys, but in later years, I remembered I wasn’t goth anymore so I wasn’t such an easy target. (Still, really drunk guys will yell for lots of reasons, so groups of them in situations where they can yell at me, safe behind some kind of patio fence, still make me nervous.)

In my 20s, I wore all sorts of crazy outfits. I wasn’t exactly Lady Gaga, but I love fun clothes. Even recently, when I worked in an office (often by myself), I would still sometimes have themes to my weeks: polka dots, black-and-white, cats, gingham.

Now that crisp fall weather has arrived, however, my head has been getting cold. I have my Kangol hat, a purple floppy hat from a friend, a purple cap knitted by another friend and my Heisenberg fedora, of course. And I have plenty of hoodies.

Unless I’m going to an office or a business thing, I don’t usually wear my wig. It’s partially out of the same laziness I’ve always shown toward my hair situation. My wig doesn’t look very realistic either, particularly because I keep fiddling with it—shifting it, touching the back to make sure it’s not puffing out, snapping at its band.

In those situations, I wear the wig for other people. I don’t want to be too distracting by being “the bald lady.” Or the “bald cancer lady” at the office. When I wear my wig, I feel a little bit less like myself, though.

In fact, I went to dinner in my neighborhood the other night after a long day at work and just left my wig on. I didn’t notice until we were almost done eating that there was a bald woman at the table of three next to us, as if we were seated in an invisible bald woman/wig area. I felt like kind of a phony wearing my wig then—I wanted to rip it off and say, “Hey, nice ‘do!”

I think we might be leading parallel, hairless lives, because I think I saw the same person at a concert on Friday. She can pull off being bald and wearing glasses, though. I’m not a huge fan of wearing my glasses, but I mind much less now. Still, I think I look a little like the Beacon’s Closet baby mascot. Oddly, I don’t mind wearing my glasses with my wig. They work together.

As long as I’m talking about wigs and glasses, an aside: Does anyone remember a TV commercial for Focus contact lenses that showed a man and a man in drag out to dinner? (It aired in 1996, so it’s OK if you don’t.) Suddenly the man in drag says, “I have to tell you something!” and he wipes off his lipstick, pulls off his wig and confesses, “I have astigmatism.” Then his date tells him about soft lenses for astigmatism. Not only did I find out I could have disposable lenses, but I loved it for some reason so much that I’ve remembered it for 17 years. So I think about this commercial when I think about pulling off my wig in a public place.

I don’t get many stares. I did get an oddly dirty look on the train that day that left me wondering if I looked like a skinhead. I don’t think so. Dirty looks on the train can be about anything.

I caught someone’s jaw drop once, but she appeared to be from out of town, because she was seated outside having dinner with a bunch of people wearing nametag stickers. She quickly composed herself, but she just didn’t have that looking-without-looking thing that New Yorkers have down, the dead-eyed subway stare—the skill of looking very intently at nothing at all.

Perhaps she wasn’t from out of town, and, like me, she wears all her emotions on her face. Maybe the look wasn’t about me. But for a moment, our eyes met, both of us confused for a second.  My look said,”Huh? Is it because you didn’t expect a bald lady when you looked up from your falafel? Or is it because I look like someone who would steal your falafel from your plate as I walked by?” I was casting an envious glance at her meal, and perhaps it was a protective feeling that made her look up at that moment. Maybe she was opening her mouth to say, “Hey, lady! Get your own food!” But she saw that I was bald and either thought I was too bad to mess with or knew that I was going through chemo and decided to be nice.

If I was worried I’d be the weirdo on the train, I quickly remembered that you have to do a lot to draw attention to yourself. On my way to a housewarming party, a man painted silver got on a few stops later. (What do people painted in silver do? Pretend to be statues? Robots?) But no one looked at him either, except for me.

I think my head sparked a discussion between two teenagers, but it wasn’t really about me. They were trying to come up with the name of the bald singer and one of them finally remembered it was Sinead O’Connor.

On a train ride home, someone stole my thunder by throwing up. I didn’t even notice, until someone warned me to watch out for my shoes, as the motion of the train caused some vomit to roll toward our area. Then, before switching train cars, the stranger and I reminisced about other times we’d seen people vomit on the train. (This was the third time for her in two years and the fourth time for me in five years, though once I was only visiting and it was New Year’s Eve so I’m not sure that incident counts. I have never thrown up on the train, but I’ve fallen asleep on a stranger, who was not at all happy about it. That’s why this is not the City of Brotherly Love, but the City That Never Sleeps, especially not on the shoulder of a public transit stranger.)

When I shaved my head, I had kind of hoped maybe I would get seats on the train. Not necessarily people standing up to offer, but at least I’d get dibs as long as no pregnant women were around. A few years ago at Upright Citizen’s Brigade, I saw comedian Pam Murphy’s one-woman show, “The C Word,” and she has a really funny, true bit where she plays two parts: the cancer patient on the train who hopes for the offer of a seat, and a seated passenger, wondering if she should give up her space.

I realize I fall into a gray area, along with pregnant women who aren’t fully showing yet. I mean, what if she’s not pregnant? In these cases, I sometimes just get up and pretend like my stop is coming up to ease my conscience. I’m also terrible at noticing pregnant women and have stared at someone’s belly for a full minute before I realize I should stand up. I saw one non-showing woman reading a pregnancy book on the train to let people know that yes, she would like to sit.

But I know all bald women don’t necessarily have cancer. And most of the time I’m fine, and I don’t even need to sit. I just like to sit.

I really just need a seat once every two weeks, right after chemo, when I’m tired and in a Benadryl haze. That day was today. I happened to get a seat on the first bus, but today everyone was in a mood. The bus stopped to pick people up and it wasn’t an official stop, so the bus driver wouldn’t let someone off. At least four people who weren’t affected by this were angry. It was just one of those days when everyone’s in a contagious bad mood and no one could break it.

I certainly couldn’t. I was just trying to stay awake and yearning to get home. I should say that today of all days, I guess I looked more like a cancer patient than ever, because I was also wearing a cancer center sweatshirt and my hand was bandaged where they had put the IV in. I was short a hospital gown and a sign, but what can you do?

The next bus was crowded. There was a group of naysayers that you sometimes find at the front of buses and by train doors who loudly assert that there’s no room. Sometimes they’re right, but often, they’re not. I tried to go past them, but got caught in a crush, and someone was yelling at my boyfriend because he was too close to her. “Let’s just leave!” I said, defeated and medicated. We finally got to the space that was behind the group, the space that they told us wasn’t there.

I was still tired and a little cranky that I had to hold on the strap with my numb, bandaged chemo hand, but my other arm hurts from blood clots (that’s another blog). Mostly I was sad—I didn’t want a seat. I just wanted people to be nicer to me, even if it’s because I’m sick.

And people are often nicer, or nice in general. It’s not always the way you think it will be. Good things happen, even on public transit. A stranger will warn you of a stream of bodily fluids heading toward your velvet flats. A comedian I recently saw said a bus driver stopped the bus and wouldn’t move again until someone gave up a seat for a really old woman. (The story was way funnier than that; I’m paraphrasing.)

Some people go beyond nice: someone I ran into this week had gone to the beach the day before and had risked his life to save a stranger who walked into the ocean and tried to commit suicide. He said that hardly anyone was there on a weekday, and he was initially annoyed that a guy had set up his beach towel pretty close to his own, but it turned out to be fortuitous, because this man also helped to save the woman. So things that might seem unfortunate sometimes turn out to be lucky. (Sometimes they’re just irritating. I don’t think the person I fell asleep on gained any good fortune from it.)

I know I’m lucky to have such good support and so many kind words from everyone. I realize it’s selfish in a way to hope to temporarily work my way into the train hierarchy of people who get seats first.

I was just looking for perks, something few and far between when it comes to cancer. Being bald, however, has quite a few benefits. Fast showers. A blank canvas on which to put temporary Cleveland Browns tattoos for football season. My impending Walter White Halloween costume. For now, I can content myself with these perks.


Forget Christmas and even Thanksgiving, despite the latter’s delicious stuffing (quite possibly one of my favorite foods in the world). Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day are my favorite holidays. I love summer days when I’m expected to do nothing but enjoy myself. No pressure to buy gifts, no snowy commutes over long distances.

My love of summer holidays started when I was about 10, and I created my own little rock garden in our yard. Since then, I treasured these gifts of a day off from work or school. Often, I don’t even have plans, but just let the day dictate what I’m going to do.

Today is a gloomy, gray and rainy—the perfect day to stay in and catch up on the blog. I’ve had a flurry of good news lately.

More freelance work. I may have some more steady freelance work! I can’t tell you how much having some more work and something steady to do has done to lighten my stress levels. Gone is the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that nagged me every second of the day to hustle, to look for work to do something and to never take it easy. I felt as if I were spinning my wheels. I’ve been exhausted and depressed, and I’m so happy to have some productive things to do for a change.

Possible (probable?) health insurance. According to United Healthcare, I’ve been approved for insurance for September. I’ll believe it when I receive my new ID number in the mail. I realize this sounds cynical but had I not called to check up on Anthem, who told me I was all set to receive COBRA, I would not have had insurance in August.

Care packages and kind thoughts. I received three care packages in the mail this week, full of yoga goodies, biscuit mix (and jam) and clothes and accessories—plus a gift card. But what means more than anything are the thoughtful notes and cards. And I’ve received emails from others who have been through cancer or grappled with insurance woes, offering their own stories and an ear to listen. I have a great support system in place.

Veins are holding up. I have two more treatments to go, but the veins in my arms are hardening. My oncologist and I discussed a PIIC line over a port for the last treatments, but it seems as if my veins may hold up for the rest of treatment. I just need two more!

I have a Halloween costume. Heisenberg, of course. I want to order blue rock candy for my meth, but I’m afraid I’ll eat it all before the end of October.

The meh news? My last PET scan haunts me. The doctors like to see the cancer gone or mostly gone after eight treatments. While it’s going away, it’s not going away very fast anymore. So instead of the end of treatment at the end of September, I could be looking at more treatment. Either more ABVD, the stronger escalated BEACOPP, radiation or just waiting to see if it comes back stronger. I’m told not to worry, and I know worrying won’t help.

I have a rash again on my chest, where it all started. But I try not to think about what this all might mean: I might not be very close to being finished with cancer after all. Either way, I can’t even get another PET scan or see the doctor until my new insurance number arrives.

But even if I have more treatment ahead of me, I know at least I will get better. My prognosis is good. Sure, I miss working out. I miss not having to avoid people who might possibly have the slightest bit of illness. I miss ordering salad instead of fries. I miss not having cancer.

I actually don’t miss my hair. I don’t like wearing a wig. I do it more to make others comfortable, but usually I let my bald head  go uncovered if I’m not in direct sun. Except for yesterday, when I wore my skull scarf to match my skull shirt, and I looked a little like a summery, deranged pirate as I took in two Pacino films at the Museum of the Moving Image. I wanted to punctuate my pirate themed day with a tropical drink at the cheesy palm tree bar, but that will have to wait.

Only a few things are on hold, not my entire life. Until I feel whole again, I have plenty to be thankful for, as the summer winds to a close.