Sunday, February 27, 2005
Race for the Cure
Today was one of those postcard perfect days in Southern California. The sky was bright blue with puffy white clouds. The air was crisp and the sun’s rays made all the colors of the landscape come to life. What a better way to spend the day than walking around the Rose Bowl with nine amazing people (plus another 10,000 or so who followed us).

When we first arrived at the LA County Komen Race for the Cure, I was surprised at how emotional I felt. There were so many people all there because they care about eradicating breast cancer as a life threatening disease. There were also so many survivors there. It was overwhelming to see how many people have been touched by breast cancer.

I stopped at the survivor booth because I wanted to be sure to pick up an “In Celebration” sign to wear on my back. I wanted to walk in celebration of Marcia who just completed chemo last Thursday. When I saw my sister and my friend Sonya pick up signs and begin to write my name I began to cry.

When our team was all assembled, I was amazed when I looked at each my friends who had come there to walk, do something positive, and celebrate this day. I am hoping to post a couple of photos as soon as they are developed. These are the same people who saw me through the worst times of treatment and the people I know will be there in the future. I appreciate each one of them for their support and kindness and the blessing they have been in my life.

I don’t think I could adequately sum up the day without mentioning the t-shirts that my nephew, Mark, and his girlfriend, Kristin, were wearing. On Saturday night, while visiting with Grandma, they hand painted matching t-shirts to wear to the race. These t-shirts were bright pink with “Two Hands” painted in white and purple with iridescent sequins applied on top. Not only were they adorable, but it also taught me two things. First, my nephew is extremely confident in his sexuality (this was also demonstrated when he added the floral bandana on his head). Secondly, Kristin is very committed to be willing to walk hand in hand with him. But seriously, they both have a passion for life that it is contagious. I am so glad they were able to join us. I loved the shirts!

Our final fundraising total was $1200. Special thanks to everyone who contributed so generously to this event. For our first year, I think we were a pretty amazing team.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
11 chimed in

Wednesday, February 23, 2005
This Sunday is the Race for the Cure and “Team Two Hands” to date has raised a whopping $695 (both online and in checks received)! Special thanks to Sonya and Joyce for their outstanding fundraising efforts. Contributions are still welcome! (Click here for the online donation page)

The funds raised by this event help to fund mammograms and other early detection methods as well as breast cancer research. With “early detection as the best protection,” you certainly give the gift of life through your donation. Thanks for your support and generosity.

I am honored to walk with the ten people who represent “Team Two Hands.”
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Bearing Fruit
The house where I grew up was not only home to a joyous family, but also an abundant garden lots of fruit trees. There were lemons, figs, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarine, and other varieties. We always had plenty of fresh fruit in the summertime and plenty canned for the winter. I loved watching the tiny buds appear and then pretty pink or white blossoms open up. I always wanted to cut a few branches with blossoms and bring them in and put them in a vase, but I knew that would effect the amount of fruit the tree would produce. I never wanted to disrupt the process of the tree coming to life. The leaves would then sprout and then eventually the fruit would appear. Each year this process unfolded and in many ways it was magical.

One year, one of the apricot trees had a small harvest. It was disappointing because this tree always gave so much sweet, juicy fruit that ended up in cobblers and jams and canned for winter treats. Each year thereafter, the fruit began to decline until we were lucky to get just a dozen small apricots that were no longer as sweet as in previous years. I kept wondering if we were doing something wrong. How could this tree be saved? It couldn't be lack of water or pruning. Could it be pollution or some other factor? Could it be beyond its fruit bearing years? Was that even possible for trees? Didn't they last for hundred of years? I was even more puzzled. I had no idea that trees had a finite time for producing fruit.

Eventually this tree became diseased, parasites made a home in it, and the tree began to fade away. We cut it down and removed the stump. The sweetness of the fruit was only a memory. What started as a magical unfolding of life ended as a peaceful conclusion to the cycle. The tree, no longer productive, simply withered. It's lifespan peaked in the abundance of the harvest, but its decline began when it no longer produced fruit.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Time Will Tell
My day to day life goes on, normal on the outside for the most part, and sometimes confused on the inside. Outside of the reconstruction process, the part of this journey that is at the forefront of my mind these days is hormone levels. I knew going into chemotherapy that my chances were 50/50 of going into premature menopause. I also knew that the younger you are going into chemotherapy, the greater your chances were of surviving with your hormone functions intact. I knew I was strong physically, emotionally, mentally, and truly believed I would be fine.

At my first follow-up appointment with my oncologist in December, it seemed that my hormone levels were rather low indicating a perimenopausal or menopausal state. At the time I didn’t feel that this was an accurate diagnosis because hypothyroidism often has similar symptoms and my thyroid condition was not stable. We decided to check the levels again in three months (next month).

Most women, when they get this news at the normal age range, are fine with menopause. It often explains erratic symptoms for which there is an end in sight. For me it has somehow taken me back a step or two. Early menopause has certain risks such as osteoporosis. It also closes the door to other avenues for me. Even though it is not completely clear whether I am in menopause or not, I have noticed some symptoms that may be connected. But then again, it can still be related to the hypothyroid situation as well.

There is a lot going through my mind with this right now and as I learn more, I am certain I will share more. I have thyroid tests in the next couple of weeks and oncology follow up in the next month. I look forward to more definite answers so I can stop fretting and just address it and move on. The interesting part of this journey is that during treatment everything is so focused on being positive and strong to fight the battle -- very single-minded with clear direction. After treatment there are so many questions and there is no clear direction.

Is the cancer gone? What are the chances of recurrence? Will the tingling in my feet go away? Will the black marks on my toenails go away? Was there any permanent nerve damage? Will these new breasts ever feel normal? How long before my hair grows back? Will these scars ever fade? Even though things appear normal, how long before it feels normal?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Pumped Up
I wish I were pumped up with energy, but alas, I am pumped up in the clinical sense. I got to spend a lovely Valentine's afternoon with my plastic surgeon. Yesterday was expansion number three. At this point, I am about halfway on the expansion. It continues to get a little tougher with each expansion. The first one was a breeze. The second one was a bit uncomfortable. The third one is tight. My muscles and tissues are pressed out as far as I can possibly imagine today.

The expansion boobies (for lack of a better term) continue to appear a little high and too far apart, but I am assured that this is perfectly fine, not to worry, the final product will look and feel much more normal ( I wonder how many times he has to say this? Of course, this is at least the second time I have evoked this response). My friend, Lynne, suggested I bring a photo next time of how I would like the finished product to look. You know, like when you go to a hair salon with a photo of a new haircut. Hmmm...on second thought, my hair never turns out the same either!

The most uncomfortable part is sleeping. I tend to be a side sleeper and after a few minutes on my side, the level of discomfort tends to waken me. If I am a little crabby from lack of sleep, now you understand. It will get better shortly. This is not a complaint. Temporarily uncomfortable expanding breasts are better than cancer filled breasts any day. It is really that simple.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Monday, February 14, 2005
Everyday is a Day of Love
Main Entry: [1]love
1 : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties
2 : warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
3 : the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration
4 : unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another
© 2001 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

There are varying opinions as to the origin of Valentine's Day. Some experts state that it originated from St. Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity. He died on February 14, 269 A.D., the same day that had been devoted to love lotteries. Legend also says that St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it "From Your Valentine." Other aspects of the story say that Saint Valentine served as a priest at the temple during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Claudius then had Valentine jailed for defying him. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor St. Valentine. Gradually, February 14 became the date for exchanging love messages . . . (more history on Valentine's Day).

No matter the origin of this day, today is a day that has come to symbolize love. Let's all make this day rise above the commercial aspect. It isn't about cardboard red hearts filled with chocolates. It truly comes down to the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another. Life is too short to wait for a special day to show your love (remember, this is the year of no regrets!). Start with today and then make every day Valentine's Day. Be demonstrative. Hug those you love. Send a quick email expressing your love. Better yet, write it by hand. Pray for those you love. Be love to one another.

And heck, when all else fails, as Stephen Sills says, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Friday, February 11, 2005
After They've Seen 'Paree'. . . .
I remember when I was so very excited to come back to work. I was pretty proud to return so quickly. It was almost as if I had something to prove. I needed to show my strength, validate the hope there is in fighting cancer, and show the world that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. In fact, I even like to refer to it as a "life sentence." I have learned so much about life and living from cancer that rather than killing me, it has taught me how to live.

Of course we also use the term, life sentence, to represent a jail sentence. A punishment that confines a person, permanently revokes her freedom, and forces her to live in place where there is no hope. While I absolutely do not believe that I did something so terrible that I was punished with cancer (sheesh! Who could believe in a God like that?), I fully understand both definitions of the term.

In some ways the "dark" side of that definition has been creeping in from time to time. Cancer is somewhat of a life sentence. How do you know that next headache, or that next liver problem, or that next ache is not cancer spreading? It will always be with me. Life seemed simpler before cancer. Then on the other hand, in many ways it seems simpler now. Cancer has a way of showing you what's important and what is not. It makes things pretty black and white.

I admit it has been hard to shuffle papers from one side of my desk to the other these days. As a career bureaucrat, I do have some rather unexciting work laced in between the more exciting or creative projects and responsibilities. While I honestly do believe that the work I do contributes to the quality of life for the community, I have had a difficult time getting things done. I would rather be out there championing my cause, fighting for more research, holding someone's hand while she faces her first chemo, convincing politicians to spend more on early detection, comforting a child who is afraid for his sick mommy . . . . and yet I have returned to my routine. Yes, that thing I longed for over the last six or seven months. I mean, how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree? (most impact when said in a French accent)

Breast cancer is no trip to Paris, but the obvious answer to that question is a paycheck. My job is my security and that is important to me. I don't dislike my job in anyway, but I feel I have a calling to do more. I didn't want breast cancer to define me. I won't be driving a pink car handing out pink ribbons to everyone I meet. Frankly, that would draw more attention to me than the cause. I decided to incorporate things in my life that raise awareness, champion the cause, and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. This is where the Race for the Cure fits in. And the Relay for Life in May. And the volunteer time with the various organizations that support people living with breast cancer. My hope is that the good work outweighs the daily blahs and keeps me moving forward.

I have come to realize that breast cancer has not defined my life, but it has defined life for me. There is a big difference.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Many thanks to my friends across the miles who graciously jumped at the chance to donate to the upcoming 5K event . . . as I told each and every one of you, your support is very precious to me. We are closer to our $500.00 goal, thanks to you. If anyone wishes to donate, there is still plenty of time (please see Jeannette's post, below, for the link to the donation page).

We realize there are people who would like to but are unable to walk. Whether you are battling weakness from chemotherapy, or just recovering from surgery, please know we will carry you with us, and walk in your honor.

Thanks again, friends.
Written by Joyce
0 chimed in

Sunday, February 06, 2005
Odds & Ends
Still Plenty of Time....

I know I didn't give much notice on the Race for the Cure 5K in Pasadena this month. A giant thank you to those that did register. I look forward to walking with each of you! If anyone is still interested, the online registration has closed, but I can hand carry your registration when I go to collect the team registration packet on Saturday, February 12th. Just email me if you are still interested.

For those interested in "Sleeping in for the Cure," (you know, the heart is willing, but the body is weak), the online donation page will be available until race day. I set a modest team goal to raise $500 and we are 35% of the way there. Thanks again for your support. I'll let you know how it all turns out!

New Resources....

I have two new links for resources. Both of these resources fill a unique niche in the battle against breast cancer. The first new resource is The Young Survival Coalition. This site specifically focuses on women under 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It has great message boards and inspirational personal stories as well as great information regarding research.

The second resource is Men Against Breast Cancer. This site provides targeted support services to educate and empower men to be effective caregivers when a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer. This nonprofit was founded and developed by men and is a great resource for any couple facing breast cancer.

I hope this is the beginning of a blessed week for all of us!

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Run. Walk. Get Inspired.
I decided long ago to set goals for myself as part of my recovery and to encourage a healthy lifestyle. One of my goals is just around the corner. I will be walking in the 2005 LA County Komen Race for the Cure 5k in Pasadena on February 27th. I thought I would publicly invite anyone to join me for the walk or to make a donation online. We all have causes we support. This is mine. Join me if you feel moved, but no pressure.

If you would like to join my walking team, either email me or post a message here and I will get you the information right away. Decide quickly because teams need to register by Friday, February 4th. Donations will be taken up to the date of the event. This link will take you to an online donation page. If you prefer not to donate online, let me know and I will send you an address for a check.

Here is some background information to let you know how the money will be spent. The goal of the Los Angeles County Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is to prevent the working poor and medically under served from falling through economic cracks while pursuing screening, diagnostic testing or treatment for breast cancer. That right there is enough for me to get up and walk. I remember seeing people scheduling treatment around when they could afford it or having to wait longer between treatments until their blood counts came up because they couldn't afford the shots to maintain strong blood counts. I even cried as one woman silently walked out when she realized she could not afford the copay for the chemotherapy. Everyone deserves the same hope I had. Survivorship should not be determined based on financial status. In the LA County Komen affiliate, 75% of the funds they raise are used right here for free mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and treatment. The remainder is sent back to the Susan G. Komen headquarters and used for research. I think I can walk for less than an hour so someone can have a little hope.

And just as a reminder, here are some fast facts courtesy of LA County Komen:
  • When breast cancer is confined to the breast area, the five year survival rate is over 95%.
  • Breast cancer is the leading cancer site among American women and is second only to lung cancer in cancer deaths
  • In 2004, and estimated 215,990 women and 1,450 men were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and approximately 40,110 women and and 470 men died of breast cancer.

Run. Walk. Get Inspired. It's worth the effort.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Fascinating, Really
This expansion process is really quite interesting. There is so much involved in the process, however, it just seems to be business as usual for the medical staff. The plastic surgeon is just fabulous. He remembers the minor personal details from visit to visit even though he has done a gazillion things, seen many people, and perhaps even flown half way around the world between my visits. I have tremendous respect for him. Here is the process we follow during visits for filling the expanders.

After I lie back on the table, he uses a device akin to a small stud finder to locate the valves on the tissue expanders. The valves have a small piece of metal behind them so I think this is the tracking device he is locating. The valves are approximately in the 2:00 position (if my breasts were a clock). After he marks the spot with an "x," he inserts a needle and starts to add the saline solution. At first the fluid feels a little cool going in, but that is about all I feel. About halfway through I begin to feel a little full, for lack of a better description. As he continues, I begin to feel a little tightness. It really isn't all that bad. As the evening progresses, I feel a little more tender especially along the sides. This continues for about a day or so.

This round was another 120 cc. I definitely feel more tight and the growth I believe is obvious this time. The expanders are not expanding exactly in the place the final implants will be located. This is very normal; however, as the expansion continues it might look a little strange to me. I'm not so sure it will be noticeable to everyone else. All in all, so far so good (better than fine, I might add). At this point I would definitely recommend this type of two-stage reconstruction.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 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