Monday, January 31, 2005
Get Real
These are just some random observations and happy thoughts for a Monday....

I spent three nights this weekend at the hospital with my Mom (she's home now and doing better). Any time I am at a hospital it always gives me cause to ponder the simple frailty of life. This time was no different. I saw it in the faces of the family members coming to visit. I saw it each time I saw the other patients or heard them sigh or cough or moan. It amazed me every time a medical staff member spoke to a patient asking, How are you?" The answer was inevitably, "Fine." Really? Are you really fine? How often to we truly answer that question?

Come stai?
Comment ça va?
Wie geht es dir?
Ti kaneis?
Hur är det?

It doesn't matter what language it's in or whether it is formal or informal. We all seem to answer, "Fine" or "Fine, thanks" before returning the same useless question, "How 'bout yourself?" I was guilty of this myself prior to treatment. Since then I began to answer with meaning. Now you typically get a "Fabulous" or a "Great," because that is truly how I feel. Long gone are the tired and achy chemo days and the sore "don't lift anything" post surgery days. I do feel great and love the opportunity to answer that question!

It is the same when I ask the question; I truly want to know the answer. I want to connect on a personal level. How are you? Tell me how you really feel. If you are great I want to celebrate that with you. If you are less than "fine" I want to support and uplift you. Isn't that what it means to be part of community? "Fine" just separates us even further from one another. Isn't life too short to not be real with one another?

Who knew that cancer would make me an advocate for people to "Get Real." And perhaps not just an advocate, but someone with a mission. Believe it or not it has made me even more impatient (if that were possible). When someone says they are "fine" more than once in a week, my response has become, "That's too bad." I surely want to feel more than fine once in awhile! If cancer has taught me anything, it has taught me to embrace life with everything I have inside of me. Simply being fine is not an option any longer.

There are two people I have met who are also learning life lessons from breast cancer. One is Marci. She is now half way through her chemo and outside of being very tired, has not felt sickly from the chemo at all. She has been a strong warrior in this battle and I hope you all offer some good thoughts her way so she can keep her spirits high! Another person is Mary. She has just started her online journal. If you would like to offer her your support, visit her here. The network of breast cancer survivors is more like a sorority and, unfortunately, we always make room for more. As awareness grows, I know in my heart that breast cancer will be eradicated as a life threatening disease.

Speaking of growing, I have visit number two today in my "puberty" series. I'll let you know how the expansion goes this time around!

Well, don't just sit there. Go out and make it a more than fine day!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Somewhere in the Midfield
Sorry for my absence these days. I know I have so much to say about my journey of healing, but I am just not sure what it is. If I were a baseball player, I would find myself somewhere in the midfield -- not taking one of the bases and not committing to an outfield position. Just roaming through the midfield trying to find my position. I find myself experiencing "flashbacks" to different experiences during chemo and the various procedures and seeing them from a different perspective this time. Only this time I am not looking at it from a clinical perspective, but rather at my overall experience and I can't seem to put it to words. I just can't seem to find my position.

I have been listening over and over to Andrea Bocelli's album entitled "Andrea." There is one song in particular that brings me to tears over and over again (well there are several, but this one truly hit home). It is called "Go Where Love Goes." The entire song is beautiful, but this verse really stood out:
gather me in your arms
hold me close like Lazarus
to rise again like a bird
to fly again
in flower dreams
so love can feed your soul
love will make you whole

The words describe this strange sort of limbo place during chemo. It felt like I was being pushed so very close to the edge of life physically, but spiritually I knew I was being cradled and protected so I could fly again. I knew, and still believe, that love would make me whole. The amazing support I have received confirms this for me. When I look back at this time I recognize the darkness of the moment, yet I can also identify the beauty that has come from going through this experience. Hard as I try, it is not something I can put in words or describe for someone who has not gone through this.

Today I sent a thank you note to some very generous people in Hawaii who made a donation to the Susan G. Komen Foundation in my honor. I wrote in this note that while the journey has not been easy physically, emotionally, or spiritually, I can honestly say I am glad I have had this experience. I know that it has healed me in so many ways. For the first time I feel as though I am truly embracing life. While I say that and truly feel it, I still have conflicting feelings that make me frown a little when I put the words to paper. I know there are still emotions and memories from this journey that are still surfacing. But like the cancer itself, I am ready to face them head on.

For someone who couldn't seem to find the words at the beginning of this entry, I find myself at the end of a long entry still wondering if I have truly expressed what I am feeling. I may still be in the midfield, but I am definitely grateful for still being in the game.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Pump You Up
Sheepishly approaching the counter, the Soup Nazi sensed my fear. Confidently I said, "I'll take two today." He filled my order and shouted, "Next!"

No longer turned away from the soup counter, I was able to see the doctor so he could "pump me up." I received a full 120 cc in each side today. Next appointment is in ten days. So far, so good. In fact, I think the phrase, "I'm as happy as a little girl," fits me appropriately today!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Anger and Other Emotions
I have read stories, research and many other articles about anger and the cancer diagnosis. I can honestly say that I never experienced anger about my journey. Frustration every now and then, but not anger. Not until recently.

Last week my oldest sister got the results of a biopsy on her breast. I had complete faith that it would turn out benign and we were all quite jubilant when that was indeed the result. But then I had this wave of anger pass through me. I was angry that she had to go through that process and face that fear. I was angry that the possibility existed for it to strike again so closely. I was angry that my mother had to worry about one more thing with her daughters (even though that is a mother's job). Then a co-worker had to have something biopsied and again I was angry that someone else was going through this. What is it about our environment, lifestyle, genetics that is making cancer so much more prevalent?

Then on second thought, I don't think cancer is more prevalent. In the water industry we often discuss the evolving and endless list of constituents in the water for which we must test. As technology has evolved we have the ability to detect the various constituents (chemicals, minerals, etc.) at a much lower concentration and the ability to test for more of them. It is the same thing with cancer. I believe medicine has advanced to the point where many things can be detected sooner. Also, I think that as a society we talk about this more freely than in older generations. Really, what woman would talk this much about her breasts (clinically speaking)? Or let the world know she had a bilateral mastectomy? The awareness level is so much higher making hope that much brighter. I guess I shouldn't be angry that we are that much more aware of the risks presented by cancer and that we are testing sooner and more frequently.

I do know that the further I travel on this journey and, in a sense, the further away I get from the treatment, I have noticed different feelings surfacing and escaping. I will continue to explore the feelings and share my journey. As much as I think my journey is ending, I am realizing that it is just beginning.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Saturday, January 15, 2005
I Came Here to Dance
Returning to my old routine has been anything but routine. I seemed to have hit the ground running and not looked back. Sometimes I wonder if I'm running from the last six months.

Joyfully I can say I have been busy living! I have had interesting work awaiting me, I have started back to teaching again, and I have been reconnecting with friends. I have been enjoying all things non-cancer. I keep wondering what to blog about that is related to breast cancer because it doesn't seem to define my life these days.

The joy of living, the joy of being a survivor, the joy of regaining my non-routine is all part of the process. Pardon me while I digress a bit from the overly educational breast cancer and reconstruction talk and talk about living.

Since returning from surgery I have adopted a new mantra: is this worth the energy? So I occasionally ask myself throughout the day, "Is what I am doing worth this energy?" If I can't answer "Yes" or "Maybe," then I simply stop what I am doing and move on to something worth my energy. This is not part of some energy conservation plot. In fact, I have no desire to conserve my energy. Heck, you can't take it with you! I just want to be sure that what I am doing deserves the energy it is consuming. I no longer have the desire to waste my energy on things that simply aren't important.

Defining what is important used to be difficult. Cancer has a way of fixing that very quickly. I have come to realize that I used to place importance on things that weren't so important. I've also come to realize that I have not put energy into things that needed energy (like keeping myself better organized). So I keep with my resolution to a year of no excuses. Today there is no excuse not to go out and enjoy this absolutely glorious day of sun, clear skies, and cool breezes. So let's not sit this one out. I came here to dance.

PS All links are just photo links. I do not know anything about the sites I linked to, but I did like the photo and/or its symbolism for what I was writing. Enjoy.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Don't Let it Get Away
We have a reprieve from the rain!

"It's a beautiful day . . . don't let it get away . . ."

"Beautiful Day"
lyrics by Bono, music by U2

Written by Joyce
5 chimed in

Tuesday, January 11, 2005
No Soup For You!
Well, not exactly soup. I wasn't denied soup by the Soup Nazi, but I was temporarily denied reconstruction from the Boob Nazi.

Yesterday was supposed to be the beginning of puberty -- the first expansion of the tissue expanders inserted during surgery. No such luck. The doctor didn't like the way the incision from the catheter removal (back in mid-November) was healing. It seems the disolvable stitches weren't disolving and the stitches were just aggravating the wound. He wanted to make sure there was no sign of infection anywhere in the area that would be aggravated by the procedure. He removed the stitches and now it's a topical antibiotic ointment twice a day until January 19th. In reality, that is just 8 days away. I guess puberty can wait . . . . . sigh.

P.S. I appreciate that the doctor is so conservative. I'm sure it will be worth it in the end. And really, I don't often call him names. I think he is a great doctor and very thorough.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Monday, January 10, 2005
Know Fear
I'll let you in on a little secret: lately, I have been selecting and updating the mood-o-meter. So, this morning as Jeannette left for work, I asked her how she was feeling. "I'm fine - why?" Since there just isn't a cute enough picture for "fine" in the mood library, I quickly replied, "Aren't you feeling a little curious today?" Silence fell over the house -- in fact, if it weren't for the hard, pounding rain against the windows, we could have heard dust falling on the coffee table. "Curious? Why?" More silence. Finally, from downstairs I hear, "Oh yeah, my appointment!"

Today marks the first of many appointments in the process of Jeannette's reconstruction. Guess what? It has almost become routine. Whereas last year was filled with concern, worry, and wonder, lately this entire process has become much like a Saturday errand list -- fairly easy to accomplish, as long as one remains organized. With our list, we are taking it one step at a time, one day at a time -- without fear or apprehension. We wish the same for all of you.
Written by Joyce
2 chimed in

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Humor Me
I was very surprised to find out that women who have undergone mastectomies have certain rights granted under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998. The US Department of Labor has provided a great summary on their web site. However, the "benefits" they list may be different from those I list below.

Like I’ve said before, me having a bilateral mastectomy is like Don King getting a hair cut – people will notice the change. In the spirit of finding the bright side of things, I present this top ten list. I do offer the following disclaimer: I apologize if this is offensive to anyone or seems insensitive to someone having a difficult time with this surgery. When I posted a top ten list after my hair loss, it helped me laugh in face of adversity. This is no different. So bear with my warped sense of humor and have a chuckle with me today.

10. Finally, the chance to choose fashion over function

9. Busty as I Wanna Be (this time I get to choose!)

8. A new reason to go clothes shopping

7. No more cave man-like posture

6. No more cold looks from flat-chested women

5. No more spots on the tops of my t-shirts

4. The top buttons of blouses actually stay closed

3. No concerns when chilly

2. Two words: Shoulder Relief

1. The men in my life actually notice I have hazel eyes
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 chimed in

Monday, January 03, 2005
A Return to Normalcy
I never thought I would be so excited to return to my normal life. I went to work today leaving from my sister's house but not with the tiredness of recovering from a chemo weekend (luckily that is so far behind me). I am refreshed and rejuvenated and ready for this new year. And tonight I will return to my own house and and my normal routine.

As much as I am joyful, I am also a bit melancholy. My sister, Joyce, opened not only her home but her heart to me. I have never laughed so much as I did while recovering at her house. She made this time so easy for me. And on top of that, she helped me clean and reorganize my house so that I could truly get off to a fresh start. I am not sure she realizes what a gift she gave me.

As for my healing, I am feeling great. The swelling has reduced tremendously. I still have swollen areas, but this is to be expected. I don't have the shooting pains or aches and feel only the slightest restriction of movement. Driving felt fine, even in the rainy commute. In just one week, I will have the first expansion. Or as I like to say, puberty begins on January 10th.

I join fellow blogger, Dana, in making this a year of no excuses. There is no excuse to not take care of myself... there is no excuse for not embracing my relationships and spending more time with friends and family... no excuse not to vacation and relax... no excuse for over-extending and over-committing myself.... no excuse for allowing fear to hold me back from anything... There are simply no excuses that will justify me not living a full, joyous life that expresses my gratitude to God for this gift of life.

No excuses. This survivor is going to enjoy life and live it passionately in 2005. Won't you join me?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
9 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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