1. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your fight?
Good question. It could be having a reason to go hat shopping or having an excuse to spend days watching movies. In all seriousness, the most enjoyable aspect is having an opportunity to spread awareness on this topic. There is a lot of information out there now (just look at how much I am able to link to my blog entries!), but sometimes watching someone or reading their journey with this disease makes it more real. I'm so glad that celebrities are coming forward and sharing their experiences as well. We can't hide from breast cancer, but if we face it head on we can win the battle.
2. What do you want to do when this is all done with (Which I think will be in about a year right?)?
The majority of this will be done in six months, with the hardest part done this December. I want to live life enjoying every moment. I want to take from this experience the lessons intended for me and move forward with a passionate embrace of life. I'm not sure exactly how I will define that yet. I'm sure it will involve a vacation and a lot of fun as well as continuing to spread awareness and supporting those who going through breast cancer treatment.
3. Will this experience change your teaching style?
I am certain this experience already has and will continue to change my approach to everything.
4. What movie/book/political ad/documentary/book or cd on tape/magazine/stone tablet/text book/romance novel/silent movie/papyrus/etc. will you be reading/viewing during your last treatment?
I haven't decided yet! I've thought about just bringing my journal for this last treatment. I'd really like to capture the moment and the journal might be my best bet. Although, the movies do really help pass the time (I was thinking about a classic laugh like Moonstruck). I'll have to let you know on Thursday.
Speaking of Thursday, have I mentioned that it is my last chemo treatment? I wasn't sure if I had mentioned that yet or not. You read that right. My LAST chemo treatment. Woohoo!
Prior to 1992, no national quality standards for personnel or equipment existed and the quality of mammograms varied widely. MQSA established federal safety and quality assurance standards for mammography facilities, personnel (including doctors who interpret mammograms), equipment and operating procedures. Extending this Act ensures that ongoing quality standards will continue to remain in place and not be jeopardized. Read the entire story here.
More than 25,000 Komen supporters signed petitions and sent letters to Congress. This is one more exciting way that the Komen Foundation has made such a significant difference in battle against breast cancer. The Komen Foundation is committed to fighting to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by funding research grants and supporting education, screening and treatment projects in communities around the world. Just think, this organization started as a promise between two sisters. And I know, first hand, the power that sisters have to make a difference in this world.
"When we are not paying attention to our lives, we are merely reacting to the tasks required of us."I saw this quote on another blog and it really spoke to me today. Living with cancer is such a balancing act of both paying attention to our lives and what is important to us, while reacting to the tasks required of us. This weekend proved to exemplify this like none other.
This journey is amazing and the clarity it provides helps focus the details of one’s life. Decisions are easier to make, values are sharpened to a razor fine point, and true joy is found in unexpected places. Though it begs the question, “Why does it take something as dramatic as cancer to experience this?” I believe it forces us to pay attention to our lives and pay attention to living – not getting, gathering, achieving, or winning. It puts who we are front and center and it makes weeding out the nonessential and frivolous all too easy. This is the blessing of the journey.
Ah but there is a time and place for everything. During treatment, we spend time reacting to the tasks required of us: the pain, discomfort, aches, side-effects, medications, and the basic needs. It seems I have learned lessons in both living and reacting this weekend. On Sunday I had a bad reaction to the pain medication that helps me get through the chemo side-effects. Not only did this mean I had to react to that situation, but I was also without a pain remedy. The only way to get through it was to watch the clock knowing this too would pass.
Somehow, reacting to this situation, made me appreciate the living so much more. It is as if chemo makes you descend a little further into hell each time before being lifted out by God’s saving grace. While it is a sample of hell with its agony and distress, it does make life a little sweeter for having this experience, makes me appreciate the goodness that surrounds me, and helps me to recognize that each day is truly a gift.
I have been struggling with the aches and pains today in my joints and bones. The tingling and numbness in my toes and feet seems stronger this time as well. Like I have said before, I know that my pain will be manageable in just a couple of days. There are far too many people in this world who have to live with pain on a daily basis with no relief in sight. I truly realize how blessed I am.
At least my blood counts remained steady and I was able to sit in the "cool" chair (under the air vent) during treatment. It really helped when the hot flashes started to hit! And the greatest part is knowing that I only have to do this one more time. Just think, in two weeks I will be done with chemo!
In addition to the great community service this group performs (see the first link above), they have also pledged interest in joining the Race for the Cure next February in Pasadena!
Thank you, Soroptomists!
A few weeks ago I promised I would share information about my upcoming surgery and reconstruction. So many factors had to be considered in making a final decision including age, type of cancer, stage, quality of life, family history and other risk factors. I have now consulted with four physicians who all agreed this was the best and most reasonable procedure for me. I also did a ton of research and then even some soul searching. Each person going through breast cancer needs to determine the best course of action for herself. If you are faced with this same dilemma, please talk to several doctors from different hospitals and gather as much information as possible so you can make an informed decision that you can live with for the rest of your life.
The first week of December I have been scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction at Loma Linda University Medical Center. The mastectomies will be done by a surgical oncologist. In conjunction with this process, a plastic surgeon will begin the two-stage breast reconstruction process by inserting tissue expanders under the chest muscles. The second stage will follow in about six months and will include replacing the expanders with the permanent implants. Additionally, nipple reconstruction will be completed in about one year.
Does anyone else have a distorted understanding of breast augmentation from reality TV? I had a very simplistic idea that I would go in with my own set in tact and leave with the implants in one surgical procedure. First I have the two doctors working in tandem for the first surgery. Then I will have about four office visits where the doctor will add fluid to fill the expanders to the desired size. Once they are filled, then I will have surgery to remove the expanders and replace them with the implants. Once all residual swelling is gone (in about six months), I will have the nipple reconstruction completed (the "cherry on the sundae" as I like to call it). It is a long process and I will be glad when it is over and I can put this all behind me. In the meantime, it is just one step at a time.
Before any of this happens, I still have two more treatments. Where has the time gone? Feel free to keep the happy thoughts and prayers flowing and send over any spare Motrin you might have around the house! Just think, after this week, only one more left! Your support, prayers, good thoughts, and compassion have carried me through this. Remember, this is still breast cancer awareness month. Armed with your knowledge of breast cancer and the importance of early detection, go out and make a difference in the world.
Many years ago in Italy during World War II, a beautiful young woman named Josephine fell in love with an American soldier. When the war was over he sent for her to be his bride. Following her heart, Josephine bravely boarded a boat and came to America. Her love for her husband never wavered and together they proudly raised three children. I had the privilege of growing up just five houses down the street and knowing her as my Aunt Josephine.
There are four things I believe describe Aunt Josephine. First was her love for her family. She protected and loved her children unconditionally and the love for her husband was without question. Second was her unshakable faith and her devotion to the Blessed Mother. I cannot remember seeing her at mass without her rosary in hand and her head bowed in prayer. She once brought me a rosary from the Vatican blessed by the Pope and as a child I couldn’t wait to go to mass so I could say my rosary with her and my mother. Life in America was not perfect and no matter how hard the struggles, and some were immense, her faith was steadfast, her prayers louder, and her dedication stronger.
The third thing was her love for all things Italian: the country, the heritage, the food, the music, the art, the jewelry, the people, the language, everything. And if she could, she would have brought the entire country back home piece by piece in her suitcase, which at times felt like she had. She inspired me to love my heritage and love the country. And finally, her passion and exuberance for life was contagious. She found joy in the simplest of things. Whether it be watching a flower blossom from just a cutting, eating the first fruit off the tree, walking in the waves at the ocean, or sharing something she cooked from scratch, everything brought her joy as though she were experiencing it for the first time. I have never met anyone else who could find such joy and also bring such joy to life.
When people ask me, “Where did you learn to be strong?” Or “How do you find blessings when you are faced with something that seems so terrible?” Or when they say, “I don’t know if I could be so brave.” To me the answer is simple. I can introduce them to each of the strong women in my life who have been role models and I can tell them a story about a beautiful young woman named Josephine who fell in love with an American soldier.
Rest peacefully, Aunt Josephine. Ti Voglio Bene.
- E-card birthday greetings
- Sharing turkey sandwhiches with friends
- Long distance phone calls
- Cherry cider slushees from Tucson (something icy from the desert!)
- Cobalt blue glass from Prague
- Birthday banners
- Quick service at the DMV (who could have predicted this one would be here?)
- Visits from friends
- Birthday wishes on a kazoo (or sung by a hamster)
- Pretty brooches
- A custom Claddagh ring creatively created
- Inspirational quotes
- 800 mg Motrin
- Aromatherapy bath salts
- Daily hugs (even the ones that last too long)
- Soy Lattes (always a classic!)
- Jasmine tea
- Laughter, laughter, laughter!
And at the end of the day, I'm thankful for a sister who massaged the pain out of my legs until I could fall asleep. Thank you to everyone for allowing me to forget about breast cancer for just a little while and feel just normal. Celebrate life, indeed.
When I awoke this morning I couldn't help but feel older. The aches and pains, the stiffness in the joints, the dry skin, the hair loss . . . getting older is rough! Oh wait, that was from the chemo! It wasn't a case of "40 and fabulous?" but more like a case of "40 and fabulous!!!" (emphasis on the exclamation!). I know those side effects will go away and I will be stronger for having gone through this.
So even on my birthday when I woke up feeling sore, achy, and old; and when the morning news seemed dark and fraught with all that is wrong in this world, I still see so many blessings surround me:
- I am blessed by the kindness of strangers who smile, hold the door, or who hug me when my chemo session is over.
- I understand more than ever the value of family and the amazing bonds we all embrace whole heartedly.
- I am grateful for my extended family separated by geography, but not separated at heart.
- I realize that I need more than my ten fingers and ten toes to count all of my amazing friends who are supporting me so generously through this journey.
- I am grateful for each card, email, phone call, or message of encouragement. Hope lives in each of these messages.
- I am grateful for each sunrise and the fact that I have now experienced 14,600 of them.
- And I am most grateful for the grace of God through which I have gained strength, determination, courage, and hope.
Yes, celebrate life indeed.
I wish I had introduced myself and learned her name - her story touched me deeply and, once again, reminded me of all I have for which to be thankful. There are many faces in the chemo room – I scan the room each time I visit, wondering what each person is thinking or feeling, and praying silently that they have hope in their hearts. Is someone cheering them through this? Have they been fortunate enough to have the blessings of faith, love, and the unconditional support of a family who would walk through fire for them? God, I hope so.
On that particular day, though, I was reminded of another blessing: health insurance. As I sat there I could not help but overhear the nurse explain how they were trying to find a way to help this patient since they knew she could not afford Neulasta, the shot that helps your body make more white blood cells to help protect against chemotherapy-related complications like infection. At this point I was overwhelmed with emotion, and with tears streaming down my face I kissed Jeannette on the cheek and told her I’d be back to pick her up later . . . being concerned about my tears was the last thing Jeannette needed.
This beautiful woman, already struggling with another disease and now facing a different challenge with cancer, did not have the insurance or personal funds to cover the approximate $2,500 cost for this much-needed medication. That day my eyes were opened to a new world – a world I have never experienced, and a world I struggle to understand. So, from that moment forward, I added health insurance to my long list of blessings. First, I thank God that Jeannette’s employer provides excellent coverage, coverage that has resulted in top-notch care. Secondly, on those days when I wonder, as many people do, if the grass might be greener elsewhere, I remind myself of the excellent insurance and other benefits I have from my employer. I thank that lovely women for this lesson, and I will continue to hold her in my heart, trusting that she will receive the treatment she needs. Indeed, I have found yet another reason to be grateful. Won’t you join me?
Treatment day was tedious on Thursday. My doctor's appointment went well. She did note that I had a very bizarre combination of symptoms this last time around, but seem to be doing quite well. My lab work was delayed from the lab and I had to wait three hours for the results before we could start chemo. And of course this treatment takes 3.5 hours to administer so it was a very long day. And those that know me know just how well I sit still for long periods of time doing nothing. I came close to pulling my hair out, but then I realized I had no hair!
They had asked me if I wanted to reschedule, but I couldn't. After the last treatment I really had to psyche myself up for this treatment. When I started this process, I promised myself I would do everything right: get plenty of rest, eat healthy, take my vitamins, keep every doctor's appointment, keep away from crowds/germs, and do everything they told me to do so I could stay on track with my treatment. It never occurred to me that I could be delayed by someone else's error. What was I thinking? Before I got too discouraged the results came in and we could proceed (my blood counts were the same as the last time).
Joyce was nice enough to come back at noon and bring me a big iced passion tea and sit with me for a bit. Since I was feeling the drowsiness from the Benedryl, I decided to go with it and steal a nap. I used my DVD player to play some meditational CD's that a friend sent me and it really helped me to relax. And of the course the time I was sleeping was not time spent tapping my fingers getting antsy. It also put me in a very peaceful mood. I awoke just as the hot flash started to hit and with about 1.5 hours to go and managed to make it through relatively unscathed. The treatment didn't seem as bad as last time. In fact, I'm still doing okay with just minor aches and fatigue so far, but it is early in the weekend.
I just can't stop thinking about the woman I was talking to when I first went in to wait in the chemo room. She is on the same treatment I am taking, except she is one treatment behind me. She is 64 years old and speaks of her three grown children and grandchildren with great pride. She had never been sick with a major illness ever in her life and was hoping to make it to her January birthday with the same record. She told me she took the news real hard because she has no family history and has done everything right: healthy diet, clean lifestyle, regular check ups, yearly mammograms, etc. She said when they went in for the lumpectomy, they found a second tumor right next to the one detected on the mammogram and she had a couple of positive lymphnodes which put her at Stage II. As she spoke she kept saying that she just wanted to grow to see her children grown and see her grandchildren. Since she feels she has accomplished this goal, she can finish her life peacefully.
I wanted to scream at her. She has no idea what a good prognosis she has. Her survival rate is still at the least around the 80% rage (if my calculations are correct). I wanted to yell at her for giving up and giving in. I have been fighting my cancer since I found the lump and I wanted her to do the same thing. She is a beautiful and healthy woman who may live to see her grandchildren grow to adulthood if she doesn't give up. I shared with her my research and told her not to give up, but there was something I saw in her eyes. It was as though she didn't believe me or was scared to believe me. I left there carrying her in my heart and in my prayers. I ask you all to do the same.
This October marks the 20th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a time to reflect on the progress we’ve made in the war on breast cancer and a reminder of just how far we still have to go. Right now, with the elections fast approaching, we have a special opportunity to put breast cancer on the national agenda. The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is asking supporters to send a letter to the presidential candidates, asking them where they stand on breast cancer issues.
The Komen Foundation has made it very simple for you to send a letter to the presidential candidates in less than two minutes. Follow this link and simply fill in your information. It is really that simple. If for some reason my link doesn't work for you, you can also copy and paste this Internet address http://komenpolicy.org/campaign/NBCCEDP2?source=200409_sig_listings.
Over the past twenty years, we have made great strides in advancing breast cancer research, education, screening, and treatment. Let's mark the 20th anniversary of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by renewing our commitment and asking presidential candidates to do the same.
I welcome any good suggestions for ways to disguise spinach (pronounced "spinage" if you want to annoy my sister) and other leafy greens in a non-dairy, vegetarian meal (although I can always substitute a soy product for meat in a recipe). Any creative cooks out there? (Note to nephews: Notice I said creative cooks, not kooks).
Other than the lethargy, I am feeling pretty strong today. I seem to be rebounding just in time for treatment number 6 this week. Don't forget, breast cancer awareness month is moving along here for the month of October. Remember, women aren't the only ones who can get breast cancer. It is estimated that 1,450 men will be diagnosed and 470 men will die of breast cancer during 2004 (source: Komen Foundation). Let's all go out and make a difference today in the fight against breast cancer.
10. It's OK if they want to sleep on the couch, or even on the floor - don't feel this makes you a bad host. Just be grateful they can sleep.
9. Be sure your air conditioner is in top shape, and put an extra blanket on your bed, even in the heat of summer. The hot flashes can take over at any moment!
8. Don't worry about being a good cook - toast is a big hit. However, this isn't the time to try out your new curry recipe - beware the chemo-enhanced olfactory sense!
7. Throw out all of the old condiments in your refrigerator - you will need all the room you can to stock up on fluids. San Pelligrino is a favorite here.
6. Watch the mood-o-meter. Growing up in a house with 4 sisters was great preparation for this one!
5. Don't be surprised when the chemo nurses act so nonchalantly about all this stuff, as if it were a dental office. They are both tough and gentle people - to them, all of this is normal. For those of us who never stepped into this world before, it is shocking at first . . . and then all you see and feel is hope from these lovely people.
4. Take a massage lesson or two. This one is a must to handle those sudden aches and pains -- your friends will appreciate this skill later!
3. Lotion, lotion, lotion. The dry skin from chemo just drinks it up. Don't go crazy with the scented stuff, though.
2. If suddenly they develop a love for old Match Game reruns, don't worry. Actually, sit down and watch together - they are hysterical!
1. Be grateful for the special time together - although I'd give anything for Jeannette not to have to travel this journey, there is no other place I would be but right by her side.
October takes on an even more important presence in my life this year. October is breast cancer awareness month. Breast cancer effects so many people (and those who love them). More than 215,990 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Unfortunately, an estimated 40,110 will die from breast cancer this year (source: Komen Foundation). By raising awareness, supporting research efforts, and taking personal responsibility for early detection (either for ourselves or those whom we love), we can make significant strides in finding a cure for this disease. It is amazing how far we have come with treating breast cancer. Between 1990 and 2000, the mortality rate for breast cancer decreased by 2.3 percent each year. The survival rate is now 87 percent five years after diagnosis. And with early diagnosis (like mine) the survival rate can jump to 95 percent!
For those faithful blog readers, you've had the opportunity to read a lot of the research I have collected in the past few months. How much do you really know? Why not test your knowledge? Follow this link to How Much Do You Know About Breast Cancer? It is a quick ten question quiz sponsored by the makers of Taxol, my current chemo drug. Don't worry, taking the quiz will not give you hot flashes, night sweats, or aches in your muscles and joints (lucky you). (update: link takes you to an iVillage quiz)
So many corporations have joined the fight for the cure. All month long, you can buy many specially marked products ranging from jewelry to coffee to M&M's and a donation will be made in support of breast cancer awareness. You can make a difference without even doing anything out of the norm. How much easier can it be? But you can also make quite a significant difference if you schedule your mammogram, conduct a breast self exam, or make sure the women in your life take care of their exams.
Armed with your knowledge of breast cancer, go out and make a difference today.
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.
E-mail me here
A link to information about my diagnosis, treatment plans, gene testing, chemo, surgery information, reconstruction, and recurrence.
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A New Year
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The Giving Tree
Faith or Fear?
Is That a Heart on Your Banana or .......
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month Comes to A Close....
Stand By Her
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