Monday, November 29, 2004
Anna's Day
I could not let this day pass without wishing my mother a very happy birthday. My mother is a great teacher. During the course of my life she has taught me so much about life and taught me to appreciate so many things. Let’s see, if I made a list it would include:

-Faith in God is the first priority
-Family is definitely next
-A love for Frank Sinatra and Big Band music
-Loyalty and Dedication
-Perseverance and Determination
-How to make home made pasta (and other traditions!)
-Selflessness and Humility
-Acceptance and Appreciation
-How to say the Rosary
-To be a good friend
-To love generously and unconditionally
-To enjoy laughter often (except on Fridays!)

This list would go on forever! The wisdom my mother has passed along to my sisters and me is endless! I am most thankful for the example she has set as a strong woman who has been a nurturer, protector, and confidant. She has taught me by example what it means to be courageous and brave. When someone points out how similar I am to my mother, the only thing I can say is, “Thank you.”

Happy Birthday, Mom! I’d whistle a tune for you, but you never taught me how to whistle!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Step by Step
What a weekend! It started with a lovely holiday dinner with my family (including the Godason!) and the weekend kept getting better from there. I had the chance to spend time with friends and do a little Christmas shopping. I also had the chance to bond with my sister while making some new curtains as a birthday gift for our mother. We celebrated my mom’s 82nd birthday as a family on Sunday (the big day is actually tomorrow). My sister, Joyce, did such a good job sewing those curtains and Mom loved them. It wasn’t until I commented to Joyce about the dark shading on my head (microscopic new hair growth!) that I realized I am still in the middle of this breast cancer battle. It was such a “normal” weekend with no consideration of chemo side effects needed or being too fatigued or feeling the slightest bit icky. For just a few days, I was able to forget all about it. That is certainly something to add to my list of things for which I am thankful!

This is the big week. I am having surgery later this week. This is the beginning of the final stage of treatment. There will be several steps over the next several months; however, this is the biggest procedure in the process. You can read all the previously posted details about this here. I am looking forward to moving on and having more normal days ahead of me. Once I come out of surgery, Joyce will post my status on this site for anyone who is interested. This is a big step in the process and I do have mixed feelings about everything; however, I do know that I am moving in the right direction and that this is the right procedure for me.

Each day I am blessed with tremendous support. Just today I received an email from a co-worker that said, “I'm still wearing my yellow band for you. My kids keep asking when I'm going to take it off and I tell them the same thing each time, ‘When my friend gets cured.’” I have no doubt that I can make it through both the physical and the emotional impacts of this surgery with all of the encouragement, hope, prayers, and blessings that surround me. If there is one thing that has been reaffirmed through this process, it is that I am indeed truly blessed.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Giving Thanks
When I think of Thanksgiving, my first thoughts are family, a great meal, the Macy’s parade, and lots of football (though it isn’t my favorite sport, it is just inescapable that day). My first thoughts also include a feeling of gratitude for so many blessings, but somehow my first thoughts are not about the first Thanksgiving celebration. It’s hard not to think about Pilgrims and Indians with their images everywhere, but in many ways, Thanksgiving has become a much more personal holiday; a day when we are mindful of the things for which we are thankful. What a wonderful gift they have given us.

It is hard for me not become overwhelmed with emotion as I think about everything for which I give thanks. I have been truly blessed by a loving God with so many wonderful people surrounding me and carrying me through this journey.

I am thankful for an amazingly supportive family who has gone above and beyond to be there for me. From providing care, to sending cards, to posting encouraging messages, to making me laugh. My family, near and far, immediate and extended, is incredible.

I am thankful for wonderful medical attention. Everyone from the surgeon, the oncologist, the nurses, to the RNPs, has been more than I ever expected.

I am grateful for the wonderful advice and insight I have received from my cousins Pat and Cindy who have also walked this journey. Their wisdom has been a lifesaver. I have tried to live up to their examples of courage and strength.

I am so appreciative of my supportive work environment. I have always felt lucky to work for this organization and have been proud of my affiliation; however, I never anticipated the overwhelming outpouring of support and consideration. Everyone has been great, compassionate, sympathetic, supportive, and most of all, they make me laugh and laugh with me.

I don’t think I could have a better circle of friends. So many people have been on this rollercoaster with me holding my hand, offering support, wearing bracelets, celebrating the milestones with me, and so much more. I am indeed truly blessed.

I am also thankful for the extended group of supporters I have met here electronically. It is an an unexpected joy to receive support and kind wishes from people I have never met before. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to wish me well and follow my progress. It has given me a lift when I most needed it.

I am most thankful for the gift of life. I love each day, I enjoy the struggles and joys each day brings, and I hope that all I do reflects my passion for life.

Happy Thanksgiving indeed!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Not the "C" Word
There seems to be more and more "pre-stubble" visible on my head. As a woman with Italian ancestry, I swear I have never been this excited about hair growth before. Maybe it is too late to take an Anne Geddes style photo for my Christmas cards after all. Shucks. I'll have to come up with a plan B (but that's a nice visual for all of you who know me!).

Even though there has been a chill in the air at night, we have had gorgeous, beautiful days with a snow-capped mountain backdrop. Fall weather is only slightly surpassed by the wonderful spring weather we have here. I love the crisp air, the clear skies, and knowing the holidays with all the family festivites are just around the corner. I am looking forward to getting up early on Thanksgiving morning, making a nice hot cup of tea, and enjoying the Macy's parade . . . well, okay, and maybe a little football later in the day.

I declare the rest of this week as live in the moment days where no one is allowed to think about or talk about anything else but the joy of the moment. Therefore, no one use the "c" word in my presence and no one talks about next week's surgery. I'm not avoiding it or reality. I'm just on a break. Time to laugh, have fun, and lighten up for the holidays.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Sunday, November 21, 2004
Between the brief rain, the wind, and the chilly air, we are definitely experiencing the fall season in California. At least for now. If I didn't know better, I would certainly think it was spring because I definitely see some new growth . . . on my head! Well, maybe. What I see are thousands of little tiny pin sized bumps where a hair follicle is doing its best to break through. Perhaps we will call this pre-stubble. I guess my days of not having to shave my legs are numbered. Before I know it I will be back to the whole morning routine that causes me to rise 30 minutes earlier. Of course, I'd give up the sleep in a heartbeat. As much as I've grown accustomed to the hats, I have missed my hair.

I have missed the way it felt to have my hair brush softly against my neck. I have missed the way it was lightly scented from the shampoo. I have missed brushing it out of my eyes. I have missed twisting it up and securing it with a clip. I have missed being able to change the entire look of an outfit by changing my hair style. I have missed how my hair made me feel feminine.

It is interesting to think about this. There is nothing feminine about battling cancer. This is no time to fight like a girl. Yet breast cancer attacks all that is feminine in a woman. Whether it is the cosmetic changes such as losing the hair or eyebrows and eyelashes, the brittle nails broken at the quick, the changes in skin pigmentation, and dry skin or perhaps the physical changes such as the potential for early menopause or infertility, discussing whether or not to have a hysterectomy, and of course, having the mastectomies. It is an ugly battle and there is no room for anything but putting up your dukes like a prize fighter.

Perhaps it is similar to losing a sense. It is said that when a person loses a sense, the others become stronger. So if the physical feminine traits are challenged, do the others become stronger. Has the nurturing side of me emerged at a stronger level? Has the gentle, caring side taken over? Have I become more patient and accepting? I can't answer this just yet. Maybe it is just a season in my life. And as seasons change, I change.

Posted by Jeannette (from Joyce's computer)
Written by Joyce
3 chimed in

Saturday, November 20, 2004
On this Day . . .
Throughout history, November 20th has been a significant day. For example, in 1789 New Jersey became the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights, in 1945 the Nuremberg trials began in Germany, in 1947 Queen Elizabeth II got married, and in 1962 President John F. Kennedy ended the Cuban missile crisis by agreeing to lift the American blockade of Cuba. Who knew this was such an important day?

Something even more significant happened on this day and I have been celebrating it all my life. Today is my sister's birthday. If there was ever a person who deserved a truly special day it is Joyce. Joyce cares so profoundly, gives so generously, and loves unconditionally. Ask anyone in my family and they will all say the same thing. Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, she has opened her home to me anytime I needed some TLC (physically or emotionally), she has taken me to doctor appointments (she insists on it), she has given me my shots when needed, she shaved my head when my hair started falling out, she has delivered Starbucks to my office on days I've needed a boost and smoothies when the chemo made me too sick to eat. . . the list is truly endless. Nothing was ever too much to ask. I've always known how lucky I am to have her as my sister; but as someone going through cancer treatment, I am amazingly lucky to have her as my support system. I wish that especially on this day that she is showered with the same joyful love and generosity that she gives so freely to others.

Happy Birthday, Joyce! The world rejoiced the day you were born and we all give thanks for the beauty you constantly add to it. You do make this world a better place.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
10 chimed in

Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Bye Bye G-Thing
I have never been a fan of general anesthesia. When I had the first procedure, the lumpectomy, I opted for local anesthesia and was awake the whole time. I am now a firm believer that being asleep during medical procedures is a good thing.

I did say I couldn't wait to never use the word again so I don't plan to use it here. Let's just say that my g-thing is now gone (sorry, Mary Lou). I am so glad that I had the catheter to administer the chemo. It did it's job, it made chemo sessions easier, and as a result it may have made my life easier. In fact I actually got used to having a tube coming out of my chest. It seems the catheter even got attached to me...literally. I have just one word regarding the removal: ouch! I'll spare you the details, but holy cow! Ouch!

I always like to find the bright side though. Besides the catheter removal signifying that chemo is truly over, this appointment was with my favorite surgeon. The next procedures will be done with other surgeons at a different facility. It was great to see him again even if it was the last appointment I will have with him. I have every confidence in his abilities and am so comfortable with him. He asked that I keep in touch and let him know how things turn out with the surgery and pathology from that procedure. I think that it is amazing that he even cares to know what happens since he isn't doing the procedure and is no longer my care provider. How often does that happen? I have been blessed all along this journey with amazing care providers. He is definitely at the top of that list.

Bye bye, G. I can't say I'll miss you, but with this scar I will never forget you!

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Making Room For Less
I've been quiet for a few days. I have had so many thoughts and emotions going through my head. I was having a bit of separation anxiety from chemotherapy. It wasn't quite strong enough to make me re-enlist for more treatment. Not by a long shot! It was just that sense of actively doing something to fight the cancer. I resolved this by realizing that I am getting myself stronger for surgery and that in and of itself is active duty in the cancer battle.

I spent the weekend making room for less. I know it sounds funny, but it makes perfect sense to me. I used to have this mindset that if every shelf in my closets and cupboards were full, then I had too much. I would gather up the things I did not need and donate them where they could be put to good use. I am trying to resurrect this mindset. Over the weekend I made two trips to the Goodwill donations center. Between those two trips I brought in seven large bags of clothes, a wicker hamper full of miscellaneous houseware items and another large bag of houseware items. It was such a good feeling to get room in my closets again and to know that my donations would be useful for someone else. Room by room, closet by closet, I am making room for less. Who needs that many clothing items? Who needs full closets? Who can possibly have enough things on hand to be prepared for every need? In the space I am finding peace of mind and a peaceful spirit. With less, I am finding more than enough.

I've learned so much about myself on this breast cancer journey. Could a less complicated Jeannette be emerging? God knows a more complicated version is simply not possible! I do know that a stronger and more joyful person is emerging. What more could I ask?

Today I wish you less. Not less of everything or less of the things you truly need. I wish you less of the things that clutter your mind, your heart, and your space. I wish you less of the things that burden you. I wish you less pain, heartache, and sadness. I wish you less control and more surrender. I don't wish for these things to be completely gone, because there is a lesson to learn in all things. I hope today you enrich your life with less.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Thursday, November 11, 2004
What's Next?
Today is Veterans Day, Yasser Arafat has passed away, and President Bush is about to make his annual remarks at Arlington National cemetery. The world keeps turning around me and I am still focused on my battle with breast cancer. Our worlds seem to be as big or small as we choose to make them. While it is difficult to know what is next on the global agenda, I certainly know what lies ahead on mine.

I've basked in the glow of having my last treatment for a week now. I've had celebratory lunches with friends, my co-workers wore pink to celebrate this milestone, and mostly I've just tried to rest. My nights have been a little sleepless, but it is tough to determine whether that is from the thoughts racing through my mind or the now diminishing aches in my legs. I kept forgetting that even as I celebrated my last chemo, I still had chemo and would need to endure all its side-effects. Slowly, but surely, my energy is returning.

Next week my groshong catheter comes out. I cannot wait to never use the word "groshong" again. After I got over the initial infections at the catheter site on my chest, it has been relatively worry free. Outside of protecting it in the shower and the daily dressing changes (this is what we determined to be the best routine to keep the infections down - and it worked!), it has hardly been a bother. But without it, I will be able to soak in a bath, relax in a hot tub, and not worry about the tube popping out of my sweater. The amazing thing is that this catheter tube goes straight into my main artery and was inserted while I was under anesthesia. It is removed in a quick procedure at the pre-op center with no drugs. Wow...I guess we just wind up the hose and cap off the hose bib. I'm having flashbacks to this game my mom used to play with us where she would squeeze our wrist and get all the blood out of our hand and then motion as though she were pulling something from palm of the hand when she let go of the wrist. It was a weird sensation as the blood flowed back into the hand, but it seemed like she was pulling out the inside of my hand. I know it must sound odd (I may not have described that too well) to those who never did this, but I know my sisters can relate. Tune in next week to see if my doctor plays the same game my mother taught me.

Whether you have a holiday today or not, make it a great day!

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Sunday, November 07, 2004
The Grand Finale
It seemed as though I had a million questions in my head, but nothing to ask when I had my regular check up before chemo. My red blood counts had improved (from 11.1 to 11.6) and everything was progressing on schedule. After today I could move on to the next steps. The questions kept swirling through my head. Did we get it all? Did this chemo regimen work? Is surgery really necessary? How do I know for sure that we got it all? Will I be strong enough for surgery? What’s next? Will I always feel like I am fighting a beast or will I feel normal again?

The truth is there are no guarantees. I have to move forward in blind faith. Did I have a guarantee before? We all move forward in blind faith every day hoping that we will live long, full, rewarding lives. Some of us do and some do not. The only way to live is to do just that – LIVE. We all define that word so differently and I am certain that I now define it much differently than I did six months ago.

I had a range of emotions in the chemo room. I was a little misty-eyed as I talked to the nurse as she was connecting the IV. Anita has always been so reassuring and today was no different. With a smile she told me how great I did with the treatments and how strongly I came through them. In a way it seemed as though I was letting go of people that I have come to rely on and trust. How can you slay the dragon without someone constantly sharpening your sword and making sure you are armed?

But there was also great joy in knowing this was my final treatment. I put the recliner back, put my feet up, relaxed and watched Moonstruck. This was a great choice. I felt as though I had my family there with me. Even the nurses kept asking me what I was watching that was making me giggle so much. By the time the movie was over a kind gentleman had sat down next to me. I recognized him from previous weeks. He shared with me that he has lung cancer due to asbestos exposure. His name is Richard. He is 78 years old. He knows the best this treatment will do is contain his cancer.

He went on to share with me that he has no regrets. He has lived his life with passion and if this is his time, well then, this is his time and he has had a full life. He spoke of his beautiful wife he met while he was in the Navy stationed in Japan. He said the first time he saw her he knew she was the one for him. Her beauty took his breath away. More than that, her heart was pure and good. They had a tough time both in Japan and later here in the States with discrimination, but their love kept them together and made them stronger. It seemed as though her love was the best part of his life.

Richard surprised us all with a video from his last cruise where he won a karaoke contest. Let me tell you, the competition was stiff. I would have placed this more at an American Idol audition than on a cruise ship. Appropriately, Richard sang “My Way” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” He sang with such passion and enthusiasm that everyone in the chemo room burst out in spontaneous applause several times during his performance. The man in the video was so strong and energetic; yet the man next to me was frail. Oh but his fervor and zest for living were clearly the same. His story, like so many others over the past 16 weeks, truly blessed me.

On my first day in chemo I wanted to run from there and hide, afraid that this was now part of my life. Along the way, I met so many people with amazing stories. They taught me not about cancer, side effects, fear, or death. They taught me about courage, strength, passion, love, and being alive. And on my last day of chemo I also wanted to run from there. I wanted to feel the wind on my face, the warmth of the sun, and the embrace of the people who have supported me. I wanted to praise God in gratitude for getting me to this point on my journey. I wanted to run because I felt alive!

I am a survivor.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Thursday, November 04, 2004
Pretty in Purple
I delivered my beautifully accessorized sister to her last chemo this morning. Despite the gorgeous new purple hat and scarf, nothing could be more beautiful than the joy I saw in her face.

My job today is to tell everyone battling this disease - those who have been diagnosed, and those who love and support them - that we can have joy-filled days, and nights full of laughter . . . . . we can have nights of peaceful sleep, and we can have days of endless dreaming of the future. Never, ever let cancer put out your light of hope.

Today, someone you know may have trouble lighting their light . . . I call upon you to uplift and inspire them. I know Jeannette inspired me today.
Written by Joyce
8 chimed in

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Where in the World is . . . . ?
A few months ago when I started this blog I never thought I would ever reach 10,000 hits. About 4,000 hits are unique visitors and the rest are repeat visitors. It amazes me! The only thing that comes to mind is where the heck are all of you coming from?

I've added a new feature to the blog. Check out the "Guest Map" feature in the right column. Rather than sign a guest book, you can plot your location on the map and leave a message too. It will be interesting to see how far and wide we can take our message of breast cancer awareness and the importance of early detection from this little ol' blog. It will likely get crowded here in sunny and glorious Southern California, but it's okay. Just keep crowding them all in there like we do with the general population. And if you go on vacation or travel and check the blog from that location, feel free to plot your destination on the map there too. I apologize in advance for any pop-ups, but this is a free service and someone needs to fund it.

Join me in my countdown to Thursday, we are getting closer by the minute to my last chemo treatment! Make it a great day today!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 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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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12