Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Get the 411
In the last few weeks I have had a number of people tell me about a friend, co-worker, or family member who is also surviving breast cancer. There are so many resources out there, especially on the Internet; however, like anything on the Internet, you have to do a little investigating and research to find valid sources. I have a list of resources I find valuable on the right column and I have added a few new ones as well. Some were recommended by my doctor and others I found through my own research. Please pass these along to anyone who might benefit! The most recent additions include:

Women With Cancer - Great resource with tons of valuable information relating to your diagnosis, lifestyle changes, beauty & skincare, and support. It includes tips on how to share the news, suggestions for charting your information, and so much more. A great site.

Treatment and Your Career -- This highlights one section of the same resource. It covers your legal rights in the workplace, tips on how to tell your employer about your diagnosis, disability, insurance information, and support groups. After reading this information, it once again made me realize how lucky I am to have such a supportive and caring employer.

Being Your Own Advocate -- This again is one more section of the same resource. I can't state enough how important this is for ANY of us dealing with ANY medical issue. Your care is your choice -- you have to request the level of care you expect to receive. Whether you are caring for your parent, your child, or yourself, you have to be informed.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
10 chimed in

Monday, August 30, 2004
I am happy to report that treatment #3 went very well. Nausea was kept to a minimum, rest was kept to a maximum, and I am truly ready to face a Monday at work. Thanks to the kind, compassionate nurse who took care of me this weekend, I just focused on resting and making it through. I only needed one dose of the mild anti-nausea medication compared to four doeses last cycle. I believe that all of you intervened on my behalf with your positive thoughts, prayers, and amazing support. In the spirit of the Olympics, I can only say "Efharisto!" Thank You!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Thursday, August 26, 2004
It's All Good
Something was negative today and it wasn't my attitude! The results of the gene test are in and I was negative for any mutation associated with the BRCA 1 or 2 genes. This is not only good news for me, it is also good news for my sisters! At least for now. There are 15 genes possibly associated with hereditary breast cancer; however these are the only two genes testable and supported by clear research. As new tests become available I will be contacted by Myriad Labs and/or Wilshire Oncology for further testing, whenever that may be. Good grief! That was a nail biter!

These results will not likely alter my plans that have already been made. There is strong research that supports the course of action I have laid out with my doctors. The final piece of the puzzle is the surgery and reconstruction at Loma Linda University Hospital and my consultation for that is on September 3rd. What these results help me with is further treatment. If I tested positive, it would cause me to consider the risks of ovarian cancer which increase ten times. Ovarian cancer is such a silent killer. By the time you have the symptoms it is often too late. I frankly did not want to force that decision at this stage in my life.

Speaking of lab work, once again I rebounded well from the prior treatment. All the blood counts were good so I was able to proceed as planned. The good news keep rolling in!

The other good thing was my distraction today. I had the pleasure of watching several episodes of season one of "Sex and the City." For someone with a short attention span, this was a fabulous idea. You rock, Billy! Thanks for the DVDs. I giggled my way through treatment and all the way home! It was the perfect diversion (and educational too, I might add).

Thank you to everyone for all of your good wishes, kind thoughts, and amazing prayers. Without a doubt I can physically feel it! I am so looking forward to getting through this round and then finishing this AC cocktail series in two weeks. After that, I have 4 treatments of Taxol. That drug will finish off the hair anywhere it is left (not a big task), but I hear it can be easier to take than the AC. How much more good news could I get in one day? If I won the lottery, I couldn't be any happier today.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
10 chimed in

Technical Difficulties
I can't even begin to fake being a techie. For some reason, I have experienced a couple of glitches here:

1. My side bar on the right suddenly decided to drop to the bottom. If you are looking for links or archived posts, please scroll all the way down for now. Eventually I will get this fixed.

2. I accidentally deleted both of Joanne's posts and one of Linda's. For some reason, duplicate posts appeared and when I tried to remove them I got error messages. Little did I know it actually went through. Sorry JoJo!

Hang in there with me! I'll get it all fixed in no time!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
The Wind Up and The Pitch. . .
You know how you feel before you need to go in for a root canal? You know it won't be fun or easy and you dread the time leading up to your appointment. Well, I am in that position now. I feel so great this week, but I know that come Thursday, it will be time for my next treatment and the weekend will be a drag. Don't mistunderstand me. I want to go to treatment. I want the bad cells to die and never return. I know the treatment will work. I just don't want to feel less good than I do right now. I k now, apparently I want things on my terms. Who doesn't?

Well, I do believe in the power of prayer. While I try to find my happy place before Thursday, I'm asking for everybody to say just a quick little prayer for me that the side effects will be only what I can handle. While you are at it, maybe you could add a prayer for everyone suffering from cancer on this day. Oh, and maybe say thanks for something for which you are grateful today. Yeah, that ought to do it. Make it a great one!

8/25/04 Update: I'm not one to place a lot of emphasis on horoscopes, but I happened to seen mine today.

The Moon in Capricorn is forming an earthy Grand Trine with the Sun, Mercury, Mars and the North Node -- the point of the future of your soul. This laundry list of planets means two things. You know how many things are working in your favor now -- and, as unfashionable as it is, you are ready to jump in and do the work required to get things rolling once again.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
21 chimed in

Sunday, August 22, 2004
Top 10 Benefits of a Shiny Pate
10. An extra 45 minutes of sleep in the morning

9. Less time in the shower = water conservation

8. No time consuming trips to the salon means more free time

7. No expensive hair products means more money for really good coffee

6. I could wear a different color hair everyday and not damage my own hair

5. No more bad hair days (only bad hat days)

4. No worries of hat hair when I take my hat off

3. It is easier to spot the familial resemblances to my father

2. No one has to guess which of the Stooges I am trying to impersonate

1. When it grows back I’ll actually know my natural hair color
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Saturday, August 21, 2004
Wake up Sleepy Jean(a)
There is something special in the sunrise. Watching the world wake as the veil of darkness lifts is astounding. It is as if you can see the leaves unfurling from sleep and the flowers turning to the sun to soak in the warmth of the gentle morning rays. Since I have been going through treatment I have found this time of day to be the most peaceful, most rejuvenating moments I experience each day. On the days when I feel good, I rise early and I, too, go out to unfurl my leaves and soak in the gentle rays.

This has been quite a week. I think I have experienced more emotions and feelings this week than in any week since beginning this journey. And oddly enough, the one thing I thought I was most prepared for was the one thing that brought me to my knees. I think I have found an understanding for some significant pieces of this breast cancer puzzle.

Breast cancer and its treatment have an impact on the feminine aspects of a woman, though it doesn’t attack her womanhood. What is an outwardly physical sign that I am a woman? Is it my breasts? My softly curled flowing locks of hair? Is it my soft skin and nicely shaped fingernails? If my breasts are damaged, my hair erased, my nails and skin dry and flaking, am I still a woman? Of course, but do I feel feminine and prepared to face the world? As the Italians would say, do I possess “La Bella Figura” – the certain image of putting my best foot forward?

It has taken me a few days to redefine what putting my best foot forward means to me. When I am blessed by the morning’s first rays of light, everything seems to fall into perspective. When I can begin the day by thanking God for the gift of life today, there is nothing the day can give me that won’t be a blessing, even if it is a lesson I need to learn. If today I can joyfully say, “I feel good,” what is more important? While the physical changes are significant, they are nothing compared to the spiritual and emotional changes taking place. And though I may not be grateful for the physical changes that have taken place (and those to come), I am eternally grateful for everything else.

Thank you to each and every one of my family members, friends, co-workers, and extended family of supporters for walking with me on this journey. You bless me in so many countless ways and give me the strength to take each new step.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Friday, August 20, 2004
Sticking Up for Breast Cancer
My sister Joanne passed this along to me and I thought I'd post it here. Here is an easy way to help out with breast cancer research.

3M is making the World's Largest Pink Ribbon:

The World's Largest Pink Ribbon will stand over 70 feet tall and consist of over 75,000 pink Post-it® Super Sticky Notes. By entering your name, city and state on the website, you will not only be supporting City of Hope through the 3M contributions noted below, but also be represented by one of the more than 75,000 Post-it® Super Sticky Notes making up the World's Largest Pink Ribbon. This giant ribbon will be unveiled in New York's Times Square during the first week of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2004.

3M, the maker of Post-it® Super Sticky Notes, will donate $1 to City of Hope Cancer Center for each of the first 75,000 people who sign up to show that they are "sticking up for breast cancer."

How cool is this? To sign up, visit the 3M web site. There is no cost to you.

Also available at the 3M web site is a breast exam reminder program.

Download the FREE Post-it® Software Notes program. Based upon the exam schedule determined with your doctor and the information you enter, you'll receive a regular reminder that will stay on your desktop and let you know when to perform a self-breast examination or schedule your clinical medical exam or mammogram.

My applause to 3M for excellent corporate citizenship!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Good Grief, Charlie Brown
As Linus once said, "...of all the Charlie Browns, you are the Charlie Browniest." I have loved Charlie Brown since I was a child. He is the eternal optimist and sees only the good in people. Otherwise, why would he continue to play football with Lucy? Why would he stay with Linus in the pumpkin patch when no one else would? Why would he not join another baseball team? Why on earth would he continue to fly that godforsaken kite?

Because he is Charlie Brown! He is going to keep trying, keep believing, and keep putting himself out there.

Yes, today I once again found my inspiriation in Charlie Brown. In conversations this week I kept referring to my big round Charlie Brown head and how it has made wig and hat shopping/wearing difficult. As comical as it may seem, when I started drawing the comparison between myself and Charlie Brown, it actually got me out of my two-day slump. All I have to do is keep trying, keep believeing, and keep putting myself out there.

Like Charlie, I'll find the deeper meaning in life's experiences. Unlike Charlie, I'll never play football with Lucy!

oh, and . . . my baseball team will win!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Monday, August 16, 2004
A New Day
Today is a new day with new experiences. I tell myself this everyday. Most days it fills me with excitement and some days it fills me with apprehension. Today it is a mix of both.

Treatment number two was a little tougher. A little more nausea, a little more fatigue, a little more achiness in my arms and legs. I did survive it and managed to be a little bit active this weekend and for this I am thankful. As I gather up my belongings from my sister's house and get ready for work, I can't help but wonder how the day at work will go. Will I have enough energy? Will the nausea return? Can I really walk through the door with this wig on? Is the work I will be doing making a valuable contribution?

I guess the only way to find out is to greet the day with a smile and go forth knowing that every day is a blessing.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
12 chimed in

Sunday, August 15, 2004
One Month
One month ago I started this site. I wanted to share my experience with the hope of increasing awareness about breast cancer. When I started researching breast cancer, I found one statistic particularly alarming: only 10% of the women who should get annual mammograms actually get them. I wonder what the statistics are about monthly self breast exams? Here is one way to find out. For a month you've been reading my site. In this last month, did you do your monthly self exam? Or did you make sure that the woman in your life did hers?

Here is the run down on self exams, clinical exams, and mamograms:

1. Every woman should begin performing monthly self breast exams (BSE) no later than age 20. Two great resources to help you effectively perform your monthly BSE are the Susan G. Komen Foundation (this has video and audio instructions) and The BSE Five Step Instructions from breastcancer.org.

2. Every woman should have a clinical breast exam annually at the time of her annual check up. This is simply an exam performed by your doctor. Having a trained, fresh set of hands performing the exam could pick up things you might miss.

3. Annual mammograms should be done beginning at age 40. If you are in a higher risk group, discuss this with your doctor. I got my baseline mammogram (initial mammogram) at age 35 due to the risk factors present in my family. While it didn't prevent me from getting breast cancer, the awareness certainly helped me to catch it early.

Well, what are you waiting for?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Friday, August 13, 2004
Mary or Rhoda?
There are times when I have felt like the Mary and times when I have felt like the Rhoda in The Mary Tyler Moore Show of life. Generally, I think I relate more to Mary; however, the tables have turned since my sister buzzed my head last night (let's just add this to the list of things that Joyce has been so gracious to do for me). With this scarf I am wearing, I definitely feel like Rhoda!

Yes, it was time. My hair was rapidly falling out and was so fragile. It seemed the kinder thing to do was to just buzz it off and take control of the situation. I was trying to hold on as long as I could, but when I pulled my headphones off during chemo and a bunch of hair was attached to each side, I just decided enough was enough.

There are so many great resources out there for people in chemo. Not only is there a great selection of wigs, there are hats with hair, strips of hair and strips of bangs you can attach to scarves and hats, hats that fit the head a little better to give complete coverage, and so much more. I have made my collection of accesories and while none of them are as nice as having your own hair, they certainly help you save time when getting ready. I can get ready in 15 mintues now! Including shower and dressing change. Pretty amazing!

I am not endorsing any one company or product line, but a great place to start is www.headcovers.com and www.chemosavvy.com. Other lines to check out include www.hiphat.com and www.wigs.com.

The interesting part of this is that while I am smiling and enjoying my freedom from hairstyling, this was the first outward physical change (besides the catheter and hidden scars from surgery) that alerts the world that I am going through chemotherapy. Obviously, putting my life on the Internet doesn't help to classify me as a private person, but I am not one to put my vulnerabilities out there. This was a tough hurdle, but along with it came the many angels to help me get over it.

Now, I wonder if Hempel's Department Store still needs a window dresser . . .
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Wednesday, August 11, 2004
I met a woman today. I had seen her months ago, but she looked different. I thought at first it was her very short hair, but I couldn’t remember what her hair looked like before. She shared so much with me. I told her how I had my first clump of hair fall out today and she smiled at me kindly as tears welled up in her eyes. I told her how laughter makes me feel better and is the “fuel” for my journey. Again, she smiled at me and told me how much she laughs with her family too. I told her how great I feel right now and she understood how important that was. She understood everything all too well.

In two weeks she celebrates one year as a breast cancer survivor. We talked about how no one comes through this journey the same as when it started. I looked at her as tears welled in my eyes because I already understand that. She hugged me tightly and I felt stronger for having talked with her. As I said good-bye I realized why she looked so different today. She had a special twinkle in her eye, and a smile on her face, and a joy in her heart that only a survivor truly feels. She was filled with that deeper appreciation of life and all it has to offer. Her beauty was incomparable.

Thank you for your inspiration today. Thank you for the gift of understanding that you gave me today. Thank you for being a survivor.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Completing the Circle
As my sister, Joyce, always says, “There is a lesson in everything.” Joyce is always right (I will never live this statement down). Who knew I would learn so many powerful lessons in such a short time on this journey? I don’t know exactly when it started, but for longer than I can even remember, I have been someone who didn’t rely on others for assistance whenever possible. I never thought of this as a bad thing. I thought it made me stronger, self-sufficient, and independent. I never hesitate to help someone else or support a worthy cause as often as possible. Afterall, isn't it better to give than to receive? Until now, I never realized those values were in conflict.

I have always believed that a generous spirit and helping others was part of me trying to “be all I can be” in a spiritual and ethical sense. It is a natural response from a grateful heart. The lesson I have learned is that there is balance to this as well. The natural balance to this is receiving, which conflicts with my independent streak. This has been more than a crash course for me. Everything from receiving flowers, books, gifts, cards, sharing idle conversation just to make me laugh, daily hugs, taking me to doctor appointments, helping me with my dressing changes and flushing my catheter, helping shower me after surgery . . . the support I have received from so many people has been amazing. I’ve never once had to ask for any help. It has all been given generously without hesitation.

Yesterday my coworkers surprised me with a gift. I was humbled, inspired, and truly surprised. I had been talking with a couple of co-workers about borrowing a portable DVD player for chemo days. Treatment days are long days. This first series takes about 3 hours per treatment and the second series takes just over 4 hours per treatment. Being able to watch a movie during treatment seemed ideal. Everyone chipped in and gave me my very own portable DVD player and gift cards for movie rentals. I was speechless (yes – that is saying a lot!). Chemo is going to be so much easier to handle with this great diversion. I have always known how fortunate I am to work with this group of people. Any of us could go to work for a larger organization at a larger salary, but there is a reason we stay here. The supportive environment, camaraderie, and truly authentic leadership make this is a great place to work and grow.

The lesson for me is that in allowing others to help me, to be able to accept their gifts of support and compassion, gives me energy to concentrate on the more important things. It gives me the energy to smile and laugh and heal. It gives me the peace of mind to rest and rejuvenate. It gives me the comfort of knowing so many people are going through this with me. Giving, then, is only half the gift. Receiving completes the circle. Thank you to everyone not only for your gifts, but also for teaching me and inspiring me. You are making this so much easier for me in so many wonderful ways.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
9 chimed in

Monday, August 09, 2004
A+ for Effort
This morning Joyce and I had a visit from the home health nurse. She came to make sure I was comfortable cleaning and flushing the catheter. This is required to be done once per week. For the weeks I have treatment, the chemo nurses do this for me. On the off weeks, I, or someone who loves me, gets to do it. On her last visit, the nurse demonstrated the process. This week I had to do it myself. The cleaning and bandaging is no big deal since I do the daily dressing changes anyway; however, it is kind of freaky to inject the saline solution and feel the coolness going straight into my chest. When I was done with the whole process, the nurse voluntarily offered me an "A+" for my efforts. For those of you who know me well, you know how tragic anything less could have been!

While going through chemo it is important to avoid crowds and germs. I have cutback on my social life a bit and am paying attention to this warning. The last thing I want is to get sick or get an infection and have this take me off schedule for treatment. So bored this weekend, I cleaned out my entire garage, had my tree trimmed, and my garden and patio cleaned out. Who knew that breast cancer would force me to be domestically productive? Really, isn't there a stylish, yet germ-free, shopping mall I could be visiting? A hip, yet sterile, cultural event I could frequent? A Southern California aseptic attraction I could enjoy? Gee, I sure hope I feel good after treatment number two this week so I can clean my closets and repaper my pantry shelves!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Saturday, August 07, 2004
Chemo Revisited
I have had so many people ask me questions about chemotherapy that I thought I would take a minute to revisit it and provide a better description of the actual process.

Chemotherapy can be given as a pill, a shot, or an IV. The particular cocktail I received is given through an IV connected to the groshong catheter on my chest. Using the catheter saves the wear and tear and my veins. Anyone who has been through this without a catheter can attest to that. The drugs are very hard on the small veins and can cause damage, bruising, or even collapse of the veins on your arms.

The first thing the nurse did was connect an IV bag of anti-nausea medication. Once that was all gone, she gave me two shots through the catheter: one anti-nausea medication and one medication to relax me. After that, she connected an IV bag of the first chemo drug. This was the largest IV bag and took about one hour. After that, she connected a bag of the second chemo drug. When that was gone she connected a saline flush bag. When that was gone, I was done! Whew! To recap, that was four IV bags and two shots. Total medicating time was about three hours.

The side effects have been minimal this first treatment. I experienced a brief period with some mild nausea. My taste buds have been off a bit, but seemed to be back to normal about a week after treatment. I have had mild issues with fatigue, leg pain, dry eyes, dry skin, brittle nails, and lip sores. My hair has also become very brittle and I imagine it won’t be long before it starts to fall out. But even with all those mild nuisances, I can function normally, work, visit with family and friends, and lead a pretty normal life. I really can’t complain. I’m not trying to tempt fate here. I realize the chances are pretty high that the side effects will increase with each treatment. I just take it one day at a time.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Toothless Lion
As the week progresses I find my laughter louder, my smile broader, and my fatigue lessened. I do feel good and love that I have my normal life right now. The medical industry has made such strides with chemotherapy and cancer treatment and I am so very thankful. I remember a time when if a person was diagnosed with cancer, he or she would disappear for awhile during treatment and likely you wouldn't see him again. Or if you did see him, he was a shadow of his former self. So much has changed. We live with cancer these days. We Live Strong as survivors.

I just heard that a woman I know received the "all clear" after treatment. What a joy to hear she is cancer free. Everyone needs inspiration. This doesn't just inspire me in my battle, it should inspire everyone! She has looked at the face of cancer and said, "Ha! Not me!" It takes strength, a daily commitment, and a world of support around her. I had no doubt she could do it and I feel such joy for her.

What I have learned is that with early detection cancer is like a toothless lion. It looks scary as hell, but it won't devour me.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Monday, August 02, 2004
In Praise of Normalcy
I know I only took one day off from work for the chemo; however, four days of “nothing” are difficult for me. You know I have watched too much television when I begin to wonder if the game show “Lingo” is still in development and recruiting contestants or if these are just reruns on the Game Show Network. Today, after a brief visit from the home health nurse, I came to work with joy and excitement. How often does anyone say that on a Monday? I am delighted to work today. I am delighted to be alive today. I am delighted that this first round of chemo was not so hard on me.

All those times I searched for the excitement outside of the routine and was frustrated with boredom, I missed the key point. I was breathing the air, feeling the sun on my face, and had choices of how I could spend my energy. Abraham Lincoln was right when he said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." I am happy today. I am most grateful for this day.

What are you grateful for today?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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