Thursday, November 24, 2005
Giving Thanks

I awoke to a glorious fall day today with the sun shining and the air crisp. I couldn't help but notice the beautiful fall leaves really starting to turn now in Southern California. While I might get a glimpse of one of my favorite guys in Herald Square being led through New York City, today I plan to spend as much time as possible soaking in the beauty all around me.

I just couldn't pass up the chance for the obligatory Thanksgiving post. It seems the nostalgia and promise of Christmas gets the best of me and I can't help but start off the holiday season thinking of all the joy in my life. Getting through surgery last week, and surviving the embarrassment of of seeing my surgeon on Monday after my drug induced confessions the prior week, have boosted my spirits this year. I can't help but think back to last year and while I was overjoyed at completing all my chemo, I was also facing surgery and a long recovery. Emotionally, this year has not been great. The rollercoaster seems to have had more turns, dips, and corkscrews than I paid to ride. But I am here. I am healthy. And I have great new boobs. What more could I ask?

In all seriousness, I could not be more filled with gratitude this year. My heart bursts with joy and hope for the future. My life and all that is in it is blessed. This I know for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving to my wonderful, supportive family, my sister-caretaker-nurse-friend-chauffeur-laugh partner Joyce, my amazing friends (especially ones that MAKE me play hooky), and all you internets who have been so very supportive and understanding. Life is in the journey and you all make the journey a wonderful experience. Feast on life today and all it has to offer us.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Sunday, November 20, 2005
We Can Rebuild Her
When Jamie Sommers was critically injured in a parachuting accident, the government stepped in and surgically replaced her legs, one arm, and an ear with new bionic ones thus making her the bionic woman. Granted she had to spend the rest of her life (or until the series ended) investigating fembots and terrorists for the Office of Scientific Investigations (OSI), but these new parts gave her cool benefits such as running over 65 miles per hour, being able to hear conversations taking place miles away, and the ability to lift and/or crush nearly anything. One might think that, since I currently work for the government, when a destroyed body part needs replacing, I might luck out and get ones capable of superhuman powers. Obviously since I am already committed to government work, I would put them to use only to benefit the government, right? I could surely solve any national debt issues with the tips from showing off the bionic pasty-spinning abilities. If only it were still the Clinton years. When war isn't on a president's mind, he has much more time for contemplating the benefits of bionic parts. But I digress . . .

This has been a long haul. Nearly a year ago I had a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. This means that tissue expanders were inserted under the muscle and slowly inflated over time to create a new breast pocket. Unfortunately I was badly disfigured from the original surgery. While we had great hopes much of it would resolve itself over time (one other reason for going slowly with the reconstruction), that was not the case. In order to have a better cosmetic effect, I opted for some invasive procedures last week. The end result is a much more "normal" appearance behind the twelve-inch scars on the sides of each of my breasts extending past my arm pits. Additionally, beginning at the newly created cleavage, each breast has about a four-inch incision. Even though there is plenty of healing that needs to take place, I am hopeful that the reconstructed breasts, while not exactly bionic, will be acceptable. The best news is that the implants feel nothing like the expanders. I do believe that once these incisions heal, I can look forward to normal sleeping positions and patterns.

The healing process has been good so far. Waking up from surgery without feeling intense nausea started things off right(even if the new anesthesia cocktail did elicit pillow talk confessions). Unfortunately I was so hopped up on steroids that I was not able to sleep much for two days. I made good use of my time and crocheted an entire throw-size blanket during those two days. Then the drugs wore off and I has wiped out for the next two days. My energy is returning faster than my mobility, but that too is returning.

The number one question on everyone's lips so far has been, "How big are they?" They are the same size they were before surgery, just more nicely shaped and not so hard. The whole point of the expanders is to expand the tissue to the desired size and then swap them out. It may not be my "desired" size, but they are at the intended size. These will never look like Pam Anderson or any other augmented pin-up. Actually, I'm kind of glad.

The second question seems to be, "Can I see them?" To answer this simply, no. Be careful what you ask for; healing isn't always pretty . More importantly, this arrangement of tissue and implants is now my breasts. You are actually asking to see my breasts. Is this a question you would normally ask? At least have the decency to buy me a drink first.

Sadly, not everyone has the means for reconstruction, either financially or due to other medical constraints. I realize that I am indeed lucky that my HMO is picking up the tab. Just a word to any woman thinking ahead to reconstruction. First, there are many ways to be reconstructed and only you and your doctor can determine which route is best for you. I was very apprehensive going into this second surgery. The first one was very uncomfortable and the expansion process, while not difficult, was uncomfortable. I wasn't sure that it was all going to be worth it. From the way it feels now, and the relative ease of this second process, I think that it was totally worth it. Don't let the fear stop you from reconstruction. If you are comfortable with your body without it, I admire you and wish I were you. But if going without reconstruction is going to stop you from enjoying one moment of life, then what are you waiting for?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Thursday, November 17, 2005
Did I say that?
I was drifting in a haze when I felt his cold fingers against my exposed shoulder. Slowly I half opened my eyes and I saw him there in his scrubs looking over me and smiling. Struggling to get my words out, I softly said, "I love you, doctor" and then closed my eyes.

What??? What kind of drugs did they give me? Good lord. Did I really say that to him?

I awoke later and looked around. He was no where to be found. My very competent nurse came and checked on me. He adjusted a few things and and started disconnecting me a bit. Then the surgeon came back in with his chief resident (a witness this time?) to let me know that everything worked out great and I should be pleased with the outcome. Honestly, I had no doubts. I knew he would do a good job. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN I LOVE HIM. Ugh, and I have to go back and see him on Monday. Yikes! What else did I say?

Thank you to everyone for your emails, messages, and phone calls. Your support, as always, has meant the world to me.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
9 chimed in

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Sisterly Love
In the wee hours of the morning, I was dreaming I heard a voice in my room. As I attempted to wake up, quite foggy from a terrible headcold, I actually heard the voice again. "Joyce. Joyce! Wake-up. You need to take more medicine." Turns out it wasn't a dream - it was Jeannette, just 4 hours after coming home from surgery, taking care of me. That, dear friends, is what I call love.

Thanks to all of you for the good thoughts and wishes for Jeannette. Her reconstruction surgery went very well yesterday - long gone are the uncomfortably hard expanders! Also, with a little behind-the-ear drug patch, she was able to avoid the horrible post-surgery nausea - thank God! My beautiful sister is an amazing woman who sets an example for us all as she faces her challenges head on, checks them off the list and then prepares herself for the next one. I am in awe of her strength and determination, and blessed to have these days with her.

Written by Joyce
1 chimed in

Tuesday, November 15, 2005
The day has arrived. I have avoided talking about this so that I could avoid the build-up in case I was delayed once again. In just two weeks it will be a year that the tissue expanders were put in place. Today they will be replaced with permanent, more user friendly implants. I will also have my scars revised so that my breasts no longer have corners and the excess skin on the sides will be removed. This is a good day indeed.

Even though I will still have two more minor in-office procedures when these scars heal (details, details), this feels like the end of a long haul on the journey. While it has only been about a year and half since this all began, in reality it feels like an eternity. Welcome to the next phase . . .
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 chimed in

Sunday, November 13, 2005
Real Cancer, Real Lives #6
Welcome to Issue #6 of Real Cancer, Real Lives. My name is Jeannette and I am your host this week. Real Cancer, Real Lives is a blogging “Carnival” dedicated to increasing the awareness of all forms of cancer by showcasing how real people live with, battle, and ultimately come to terms with this life-changing disease.

For those of you who don't know my story, I was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 1, 2004. After eight round of chemo and a bilateral mastectomy, I am happy to say there is no evidence of cancer in my body. I am still going through the reconstruction process and this week I will be having my final surgery (finally!). While this process seems to have a beginning and end, anyone who has experienced cancer knows this is not the case. Once cancer has entered your life, it nevers leaves. We are constantly on the look out for signs of metastasis and many of us deal with side effects of treatment for a very long time. However, with the support of family and friends, real and virtual, and the support of our medical teams, we find a way to carry on. Come see for yourself:

Patient Blogs

Aeryn, a past host of Real Cancer, Real Lives, shares about the anxiety of having a CT exam and waiting for the results. I think we can all agree that the waiting is the hardest part at times. And we seem to do a lot of it!

Jenny at Jenny's Belly (and also a past host of Real Cancer, Real Lives) writes about the gift cancer gave her for her birthday: a trip the ER. Gee, maybe we can make gift suggestions for next year, Jenny. I hope you have had the chance to have tea on the cape.

Jerry at Cancer Sucks! shares some research he found on Cyber Knife treatments for cancer. It seems we are at a pivitol time in cancer research and so much is developing and changing. This can only be good news for us, right?

From my blog, Two Hands, I share an entry that talks about coping with the questions that loom heavy when treatment ends. It seems the one thing you can count on after chemo is questions. Questions that fill your mind nearly every moment of the day. It is a big adjustment.

Caregiver Blogs

Being a caregiver is an awesome responsibility. Amanda at Cancer. It's Not Just an Astrological Sign Anymore. shares her feelings about facing her husband's cancer. Amanda and her husband were only dating and just 16 and 17 respectively when he first faced leukemia. This year at age 25, he is facing it once again. Amanda's words are quite touching and help us understand the experience from the caregiver's perspective.

Medical Blogs

Josh at Multiple Mentality writes about the development of a cervical cancer vaccine and how it is perceived in the US.

At the Genetics and Public Health Blog you can read about how a gene signature may predict ovarian cancer survival.

Cary at Cancer News Watch writes about an immunotherapy prostate cancer vaccine that may cut the rate of progression in half.

I'm also including this post from The Cheerful Oncologist. For those of us that deal with oncologists, we know how wonderful (or not) they can be. But can you imagine being an oncologist and the range of feelings and emotions you must feel, yet somehow supress in order to do your job? When I first met my oncologist, I thought she was crazy to be in this field for any length of time. Read this entry. It will remind you what a noble profession these doctors chose.

Real Cancer, Real Lives needs you!

If you would like to submit a post for inclusion in Real Cancer, Real Lives, please do so via the Carnival Submit Form. When submitting your blog entry, be sure that Real Cancer, Real Lives is selected in the menu space provided. If you are interested in hosting the carnival, you can check available dates at the Real Cancer, Real Lives main page and just drop Cary at Cancer NewsWatch an email to let him know which date you'd like.

I would like to thank Cary at Cancer News Watch for inviting me to host this edition of Real Cancer, Real Lives. For those of you that have not stumbled upon their blogs, Cary's wife Lori has been facing ongoing cancer treatment for more than three years now. They both do a lot for the cancer community and I hope you get the chance to read their stories and show them some of that support right back.

Also, if you are interested in sharing your experience with cancer, I invite you to check out Traveling Hope. It is a new project I have launched and you can read more about it in the post below or over at the Traveling Hope site. I hope you enjoyed this sixth edition of Real Cancer, Real Lives.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
6 chimed in

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
A Community Journal Project

I have been focusing my attention and energy on launching a new project. A couple of months ago, I shared an exchange with Shelly at The Accidental Runner. The words we exchanged touched me and I kept thinking, too bad these words will be hidden in the archives. The exchange I shared with Shelly was not unlike previous exchanges with Cancer Baby, Rae, Louise, and so many others (there are, unfortunately, entirely too many of us). While I know that the Internet has vast reaches, I know that there is a definite group this does not reach. I have been trying to find a way to take some of our (we folks who blog about our cancer experiences) our shared experiences and make it more permanent and reach a broader group as well.

I have read some amazing, honest, real, touching, inspiring, and heartbreaking words posted by the people I include as "Cancer Connections" at the sidebar on the left. I wanted to find a way to make those words travel on something more than the Internet. I wanted to capture it the old fashioned way - pen to paper. This new project does just that and more.

The new project is called Traveling Hope. Traveling Hope is a wandering journal project wherein bound journals are circulated to people who have been touched by cancer (patients, survivors, caretakers, family members, medical providers, etc.). As the journals are filled and returned, they will become part of a traveling exhibit to bring awareness to cancer. Additionally, it is my hope to compile the entries and have one bound journal published and distributed free of charge to cancer patients (I'm close to landing a sponsor too!).

If you are reading this, have experienced cancer yourself or through someone you love, I hope you will consider participating in this project. Visit the Traveling Hope site for more information on how to participate. Our shared experiences will light the way for others.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
There comes a time in every person’s life when memories and relics of our youth provide comfort. I remember as a child when the “oldies” radio station exclusively played the music of the 50’s; and, with time, the repertoire expanded to include the music of the Beatles and other 1960’s classics. Of course, today, the oldies or classics are from my youth and I love the opportunity to once again revel in the readily available Madonna, Culture Club, and B52’s tunes I loved in my formative years. Of course, just as I look back and cringe at the height of my bangs and bigness of hair, I also find comfort in the memories of the simple joys of listening to my favorite album (yes, they were still vinyl). I also take comfort in knowing that my musical palette has matured and broadened immensely.

My nostalgia fix is very similar to my mother’s enjoyment of watching The Lawrence Welk Show reruns on public access television every weekend. For each generation there is a time when the pop culture nostalgia once again becomes a marketable commodity. At what point in our lives does that happen? When does a song go from being just old to becoming a golden oldie? When does a dance go from being outdated to retro? When does something go from being routine to being tradition?

I gave a lot of thought to this as I spent time at my mother’s house this weekend. I found myself cooking traditional comfort meals, anticipating the brightly colored suits of the Lawrence Welk band members, looking forward to Mass and breakfast with the ladies on Sunday morning, and looking forward to the upcoming holiday traditions. Somehow when I spend this much time in the family home, it feels as though I never left. I remember when I first left home and enjoyed the first feelings of independence in my own apartment and embracing this change, wanting to do things differently for myself and looking forward to a bright, unknown future. Not that I thought I was doing things better, just different. My way. Slowly over the years I have returned to my roots and the feeling of nostalgia is now embraced rather than the idea of change.

After my pensive nostalgic weekend, I’ve come to realize that the days of carrying my Charlie Brown lunch pail to school, the days of listening to early 80’s pop music with my big curly perms, the days of coming home after a shift at the restaurant to find a friend sitting with my mom icing Italian Christmas cookies, and the pre-Starbucks days of using home brewed espresso to stay awake and study for mid-terms, harkens back to a simpler time when life was filled with simple joys and even simpler problems. Embracing nostalgia, then, must happen when that simple life becomes more complex to a point where the nostalgia then brings a sort of comfort that eases the burdens of complexity. Maybe the nostalgia switch is thrown when the old days look good in comparison to the present.

A trip down memory lane is good for the soul. Ah yes, the good old days when cancer didn’t hang in the air, trips to doctor’s appointments weren’t the main radio listening periods, and useless pop culture facts in my head weren’t replaced with a medical vocabulary and treatment reference library. I’m not all that surprised that nostalgia has become my new favorite old sweatshirt. It instantly makes me comfortable and cozy, even if it is only for a little while. Now, where is my Journey CD?
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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