Thursday, March 31, 2005
Celebrating Cheryl
I just read a story about a young, vibrant woman named Cheryl who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 31. She battled fiercely and bravely for five years before breast cancer took her. Her story has definitely left a legacy and touched many. You can read more about her story here, California Hammonds.

Beginning at 12:01 A.M. PST April 1st, Greg Hammond, is hosting a Commentathon in memory of
the first anniversary of his wife's death from breast cancer. All you have to do is visit the site and leave a comment. Sponsors have committed to donating money for every comment made. The goal is $10,000 with every single dollar going to help low-income women receive mammograms. And if it is in your heart, you can also make a financial contribution.

Please take a moment and visit the site. Not only is Cheryl's story amazing, but Greg's love and dedication is equally amazing. He has turned what could be a mournful day into a celebration of her life by doing something very positive in the lives of many women who will benefit from this fundraiser.

Let's join him by celebrating our own lives and helping him make a difference. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
A Cup of Humor, Anyone?
It’s been awhile since we’ve had a laugh on this site. You know what that means, right? Yes, it is time for another top ten list! Each time I have experienced a significant change, I have developed a top ten list (see the top ten on baldness and top ten on mastectomy) to help me adjust to the change using humor. Sit back, enjoy a cup o’ joe (or a “cuppa” for my British friends – that includes you Lou Lou!) and have a laugh with me while I adjust to life with breasts about three cup sizes smaller.

- Top Ten Benefits of Smaller Breasts -

10. No need to buy clothes a size bigger to accommodate the girls.

9. Strapless and/or braless may actually be an option.

8. I’ll be able to cross my arms more comfortably.

7. Sexy lingerie won’t have to be special ordered.

6. Not so much “reverb” when jogging or walking at a fast clip.

5. It might improve my golf swing.

4. The force of gravity should reduce a proportionate amount to the reduction of the mass (huh? Okay….not so much sagging).

3. My parachute harness will be more comfortable (what!?!!).

2. The seat belt won’t get lost in the great divide.

1. And like we always say . . . size doesn’t matter, right?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Oncology Follow-Up
Today marked my first three-month follow-up appointment with my oncologist. The news couldn't be better. My blood work was all fine (including the tumor markers), my post-chemo side-effects were minimal, and my progress is good! All indications continue to point in the direction of post-menopausal. We will retest in three months for verification. Sometimes it takes a while for things to kick in again after treatment. If I am indeed post-menopausal, we will start aromatase inhibitors at that time. If I return to a pre-menopausal state, we will begin Tamoxifen at that time. Either way, there is one more stage in the treatment to continue to keep me cancer free.

- Still cancer free. . . always hopeful . . . forever grateful Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Monday, March 28, 2005
Springtime Joy!
No updates are usually good updates. It means I am out living passionately and enjoying life. Or it could be that I have bitten off more than I can chew and haven’t had a moment to spare. Or it is likely a combination of the two. The other option may be that I didn’t want to talk about breast cancer for the moment. Some days it seems like a monster larger than life and other days it seems like a puny bug that I have handily squished. No need to dwell on that. This is the Easter season – a time of rejoicing, new life, and salvation. What better time to be embracing all life has to offer?

It is tough not to hold myself back and keep an easy schedule. Since I can’t bank my time for future use, I have always been someone who grabs on to all I can hold. And yes, sometimes I pack my schedule a bit too tight and if one thing changes, it throws everything off. I know this isn’t the best approach, but the alternative is to have too much down time. As we all learned after last December’s surgery, I really really really dislike being bored (just ask my sister!). Someday I will learn balance. I just don’t think today is that day.

I have started teaching a new class and will have the pleasure of this class for the next nine weeks. Teaching a brand new class takes a lot of energy and time to research, develop, and create the course – especially for an adjunct professor. It is a good challenge, though, and one I have not had for a couple of years. I have been teaching the same course at least twice a year for six years now. It is definitely time for a new challenge. In addition to that, I have moved into a busy season at my office (my day job). I am back to 12 to 14 hour days on a regular basis. It is definitely my goal to match that with 12 to14 hour fun days on a regular basis too. Right? This might be the key to balance!

One of those long days was in the kitchen cooking up an Easter feast. Keeping up with tradition I made oodles of homemade ravioli. The cheese-filled pasta pillows are quite a treat. And just for the record, I am not taking requests. The sheer volume of work it takes to make them makes this strictly an annual treat. It is nice to know I have the arm strength and dexterity to make them. I do love the traditions and love cooking for my family. It also makes me appreciate all the years my mother labored in that kitchen regularly whipping up such creations. I don’t know how she did it with five kids under foot. But then again, my mother regularly worked miracles in running our household.

Today was another milestone day in my reconstruction. I had my last tissue expansion today (ouch!). I am officially at 610 cc’s (roughly 3 cups). While I am definitely glad to be through the expansion process, I am not sure 610 is enough for my frame. I keep trying to stay focused. Reconstruction is different from augmentation in that augmentation is an alternative to your natural breasts. Reconstruction is an alternative to no breasts. There is a difference and I keep trying to stay focused on that. I have some time to think about it. Since I am at capacity, I will now have a two-month break to let my body (and my eyes) adjust to the size of the expanders. Surgery will likely be mid-summer.

Tomorrow is my first three-month check up with the oncologist. I’ll be sure to post my results. I’m looking forward to a good appointment with plans for on-going treatment and analysis.

I love that Easter brings us all renewal and hope. . . .what more do we need? Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Monday, March 21, 2005
This was a weekend of stolen moments. In fact, this was perhaps the most “normal” I have felt since my diagnosis. Each day began with a visit with friends, new and old. Friday I met a woman for lunch. She was a complete stranger, yet we know each other on a much deeper level. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and is getting ready to start chemo this week. I know the fear that is hidden in her eyes and masked with a courageous smile. It was great to get to know her. She has a wonderful support network and a wonderful attitude. It sounds like a winning combination for this journey.

As I walked away from our time together, the rain was gently falling. Rather than pull out my umbrella, I let the soft drops fall gently on my cheeks. It was nature’s caress reminding me that one gift I take away from this journey is feeling. I flashed back to my old life BBC (Before Breast Cancer) and remember the hurried pace with which I went through life, hardly taking time to feel the experience. I spent the time “doing” not “being.” While I haven’t been able to stop the “doing” I have been given the gift of being in the moment and feeling, embracing, and loving. It is a powerful realization, one of many, that comes to me in flashes as the time since treatment continues to unwind with gathering speed.

I spent the rest of the weekend catching up with old friends over long coffee breaks and good visits. My sister and I went on a drive and had such a beautiful view of green hills and blue skies with huge white puffy clouds. It was a postcard day in Southern California and it was refreshing to feel the warmth of the sun replace the raindrops on my face. This weekend showed every indication that Spring has indeed arrived both in the air and in my heart. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Thursday, March 17, 2005
Luck O' the Irish
Some cultures are just darn lucky. According to an Irish healthcare site, 1 in 12 women in Ireland are at risk of breast cancer before age 75. Sheesh. Here in America, the land o' plenty, that statistic is 1 in 8. I wonder why it makes a difference. Is it genetic? environmental? diet? lifestyle?. . . . maybe it's the whiskey? Hmmm.....let's all ponder that over a green beer. Enjoy the day. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Sunday, March 13, 2005
If Not Now, When?
It is surprising how much this last expansion affected me this past week. It was such a busy week and at every movement I was slowed down by the unbelievable tightness, primarily around the scar tissue just below my incisions. The worst part was that it hurt when I laughed. How unfair is that? If nothing else, I have relied on my ability to laugh at myself or in the face of cancer to get through this whole situation. I can say that on this day, one week after my doctor's appointment, while it still is tight, it is not near as painful. This is something for which I gladly give thanks.

I still have so many thoughts that come in and out of my mind in relation to my cancer experience (bear with me, this could be a wild ride!). Although, days go by where I don't actually think about cancer. Those days are rare, but at least they are beginning to happen. Something may spark the thought, like when I got a phone call from the bone marrow registry that I was identified as a match for someone. When they asked if my medical history had changed, I had to tell them I had breast cancer. That effectively removed me from the list of donors permanently and dwindled the hope for someone out there needing a bone marrow match. I was crushed. It was the first time I was truly angry that I had cancer. I just prayed that there were more matches for this person.

It made me start thinking about how simple it is to do something for another person that can have a lasting impact on his/her life. Not just in this example, but in so many ways. We have become a society that rarely even stops to smile at someone. Our days start with breakfast "from a bag" while we wait impatiently for a barrista to whip up some high sugar-caffeine-but perhaps-fat-free coffee concoction (with whipped topping though), then back out into traffic forcing everyone to wait for you to speed off to work. And that is just the first part of the day. There are many other ways we are inconsiderate throughout the day. People don't stop to make eye contact, let alone greet one another or hold the door open. When did this happen? Or more importantly, why did this happen? If you could do something that didn't take too much effort on your part, but it meant a great deal to someone else, why wouldn't you? I mean this in the simplest of ways to the more complicated ways.
  • If someone is trying to merge into your lane on the highway and it appears they are in a great rush, why not let them? It won't make that much difference in your travel time, but it may to theirs. Next time it might be you.
  • If you see someone who looks frightened or sad, rather than turn away or keep your distance, why not smile or say hello? Think of the last time you were upset and a stranger smiled or asked if you were okay. Didn't it make a difference even if only for a moment?
  • If you see someone trying to cross the street, why not stop and safely let them pass? How long could it take? How late could it make you to wherever you are going?
  • If there has been a terrible accident or disaster and local hospitals are calling for blood donations and you have no medical restrictions in giving blood, why not take the time to donate? You never know when it will be your husband or sister or best friend who will end up receiving it.
  • If you are doing your grocery shopping and see a great bargain on some staple grocery item, why not pick up an extra for a food bank? I know, just one can or pouch of tuna seems like it won't make a difference, but what if 10 shoppers at every grocery store in the nation did it each day?
  • If you see a piece of trash that fell to the side of the road, why not pick it up? Everyone thinks a street sweeper or someone else will get it. If each driver picked up one piece of trash everyday, imagine how much different our world would look.
  • If someone was suffering from cancer and their only hope of recovery was a bone marrow transplant, wouldn't you want to help if you could physically/medically? If you had the means, the ability, the compassion, wouldn't you?

It is easy to justify and rationalize why we don't do something for others or show more compassion in this world. A kind act doesn't need to be justified or rationalized. We ar so busy we don't take time for one another. What we don't realize, is that we make life more difficult by isolating ourselves from one another. We think that, someday, when we have more time . . . . Kindness, generosity, compassion, respect, love. . . . if not now, when?

Go out and make it a great day . . . for you and someone else.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 chimed in

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
- Today is certainly a brighter day. The tissue expanders are certainly still tight, but the back pain and the pain shooting down my arms are gone. I'm more mobile today. This is a good thing. An interesting note about the expanders. They don't really expand into a breast shape. It is hard to estimate what size I am right now at 480 cc's. It just looks like really buff pectoral muscles. Water, or saline solution, takes the path of least resistance. That path doesn't seem to be breast shape. This process is very interesting.

- I read an alarming statistic yesterday from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, "Worldwide, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women aged 15 to 64. Every 27 seconds, somewhere in the world, someone's mother or sister is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 77 seconds, a life is lost to the disease." We have come so far, yet we have so far to go.

- It is pink and white m&m time again. When you see the special 8 ounce bags of pink and white m&m's, remember that 50 cents from each bag is donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I have seen them at a couple of stores including Target.

Hope it's a great day for you. Go out and make a difference today. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Tuesday, March 08, 2005
When to Say When
Somewhere along the line I have been programmed to think that being strong is noble and it may involve suffering. I can still hear Sr. Annunciata in the 4th grade telling me to “offer it up” when I complained of not feeling so well. You see, I could offer up my suffering for the poor “pagan baby” or the leper in the leper colony and somehow this pagan or leper would suffer less. Her reasoning involved a long lecture on how Jesus offered up his suffering for me and my sins, why couldn’t I try to do that for someone else?

Apparently, I am not the Messiah. I pray to God there are no lepers or pagan babies (I have a feeling these are not politically correct terms any longer) whose suffering will not be lessened as a result me taking the less noble road, i.e. painkillers. In my noble desire to be strong, I failed to inform the doctor that the amount of fluid being injected into my expanders was too much (without being too hard on myself, I really didn’t know it was too much until I left). All that talk of being his star patient and such a good trooper through this process just built me up a little too much (quite literally and figuratively). Did I think I would get a star for zipping through the expansion process at any cost? I would say that the pain I was feeling last night was somewhat similar to the first day after surgery for the bilateral mastectomy. It has calmed down a bit today, but each movement comes with pain, though somewhat dulled by the painkillers. I do think I learned a painful lesson. At least it will get better in a day or two.

On another note, my coworker, Linda, passed along this article to me and it really hit home. It says so much of what I have tried to convey in some of past postings on this site. I hope you have a chance to follow the link to this article titled, “Showing Off a Little (Inner) Cleavage.” It is written by Geralyn Lucas and appeared in the March 14th issue of Newsweek. It is worth reading.

Go out and make it a great day. And just remember, if you stub your toe or bump your head, could you offer up your suffering for me?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Thursday, March 03, 2005
To Brighter Days
The last thing I did last night was say a prayer for brighter, sunnier days . . . and, true to God's form of answering prayers and inspiring hope, here is what I was singing when I woke up this morning (honestly!) :

Here Comes The Sun (George Harrison)
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

And I say it's all right

Little darlin' it's been a long cold lonely winter
Little darlin' it feels like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right

Little darlin' the smiles returning to their faces
Little darlin' it seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Little darlin' I feel the ice is slowly meltin'
Little darlin' it seems like years since it's been clear

Here come the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it's all right
Here come the sun, here comes the sun
It's all right, it's all right
©1980 Southern Music/Northern Songs

Hopefully you will be humming this song with me today, or someday soon.
Written by Joyce
2 chimed in

Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Mostly Sunny with Scattered Showers
Take one part hot flash, one part dark cloud, and you will certainly get some outbursts of rain. Well, rain in the form of tears. No one ever warned me that the hormonal recovery would, at times, seem worse than the physical recovery. At least when I had physical symptoms, I knew what to do to work around it and still have a somewhat normal existence. During chemo if it made me queasy to be around certain smells, then I wasn’t around certain smells. After surgery if it hurt when I lifted my arm above my head, then I didn’t lift my arm above my head. But if everything feels okay (or even better) and functioning normally, when the dark cloud rolls in (often times accompanied by a hot flash), it knocks me off my feet emotionally. Somehow, that seems to make everything come to a halt.

The good news is that when things are good, then I really do feel really good. I have good mobility in my arms, I’m sleeping better, and I’m getting ready for tissue expansion number four on Monday. Things are truly progressing nicely, with the exception of few weather delays. Y
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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    "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12