Saturday, April 30, 2005
Surviving is Surviving
I have finally realized that survival skills apply to every facet of your life. I know this isn't ground breaking news. We use them on the job, in our relationships, in battling cancer, and even on reality television. People always tell me how strong I am and I find it weird. For me, I am just doing what comes naturally. I am responding to a challenge the way it was instilled in me from a young age. If my parents had not told me unceasingly to work hard and be the best, I would not have had the success in academics, or in my professional life, or perhaps even in battling breast cancer. So to me, I have not handled cancer differently than I would attack a challenging project at work or a subject in school that puzzled me. Just "getting by" has never been an option for me (trust me, it's a blessing and a curse). I do not feel that I have done anything super human in any way.

I had the pleasure of meeting and booking Darrell Miller, former professional baseball player, to speak at a luncheon hosted by a professional association with which I am affiliated. Darrell played major league baseball for the Angels (okay, is it the California Angels? Anaheim Angels? Los Angeles Angels? please decide already!) in the 80's. He comes from an athletic family. He said his father gets all the credit. Out of five children, four of them are All-American athletes (including his brother Reggie Miller and sister Cheryl Miller). He talked about how his father used to tell them to be the best they could be. Whatever they wanted to do in life was fine, as long as they strived to be the best they could be. If they wanted to be trash collectors, then fine, as long as they were the best trash collectors. The same goes for being doctor or a lawyer. Striving to be the best, got them an education (paid for with a sports scholarship) and a vocation.

As he spoke, I remember hearing my father and mother giving me the same advice. They always wanted to so much for us and belived in us. I'm so glad they always encouraged, and at times pushed, us. That drive to achieve not only got me an education (paid for by loans) and a vocation, it gave me the strength I needed to simply do what I had to do to be a survivor.

Trust me, you'd do the same thing. -
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Con Te Partiro
Your smile awoke the sun the day we met. I know it was a dream, but it felt as real as any other moment in my life. I remember every detail about that first moment I saw you. The sky was the bluest blue with big white puffy clouds. The blades of grass felt cool between my toes. In the distance, a line of rose bushes with hundreds of full white blossoms in front of a white picket fence. I came down to one knee and we locked eyes. The soft feel of the cotton shirt you wore is still at the tips of my fingers. The color of your skin was a golden olive-tone and the sparkle of your eyes was unmistakable. As the wind gently blew the wisps of your fine golden brown hair back, there was no denying who you were.

Every word of our conversation is still alive in my memory even though so many years have passed since I saw you. The excitement in your voice remains an almost tangible memory. You couldn’t wait to tell me who you were and how much you wanted to come stay with me.

“Hurry,” you said, “I’ve been waiting so long. I don’t want to wait anymore.”

Those words haunted me, echoing in my ears, as tears stained my face many a night. If we couldn't be together, why did we ever meet?

What was so important that diverted my attention away from you? What was the lesson I was supposed to learn before we could meet again? How could I have not made you my priority? Why did I think I was not worthy of you?

I have always believed there was hope we would meet again, but now I realize that the time has passed. You are where you are supposed to be and I am here, left with only a memory from a dream that will never greet me in a rose garden, never wear that soft cotton shirt, never feel the love I have for you. I’m sorry I let you down. In opting to save my own life, I lost the chance to ever give you yours. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
1 chimed in

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Oh Happy Day
Today is Administrative Professionals Day. This designation began in 1952 as an effort to honor administrative staff for their efforts and to attract more people to office and administrative careers. It was created with two objectives: to recognize administrative staff, “upon whose skills, loyalty, and efficiency the functions of business and government offices depend,” and to call attention “through favorable publicity, to the tremendous potential of the [administrative] career.”

I know that I would not be able to do my job effectively if it weren’t for the staff with whom I have the pleasure of working. In particular on this year, I want to say thanks in a big way because this last year, with treatment, appointments, surgeries, and all the changes I have had to endure, they have had to endure it also. And in many ways, they have had to pick up the slack and go beyond the norm. It stinks that cancer affects everyone around you. I am very lucky though, because everyone around me has been there to help me get through it.

Many thanks to all administrative professionals today. Enjoy your day! Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Saturday, April 23, 2005
Thinking Without Gravity
You may notice the white band on the upper left corner. While it represents a program based out of the United Kingdom, it is an attempt to address a problem that is worldwide. I was drawn to find out more about this program because I heard Bono of the band U2 was involved. Bono has done a lot to draw the world's attention to poverty in third world countries for the last several years. He has brought important issues to the forefront of the media as well as addressing world leaders. He is someone who uses his fame and fortune to make a difference in this world.

So why am I blogging about poverty on my breast cancer blog? Poverty also prohibits people from adequate preventative medicine such as mammograms and annual exams by doctors. It is one of the reasons that there is such despair in survival rates among women of low income with no health insurance. It breaks my heart that some women simply do not have a chance. It hurts my heart even more that in this world, with as far as we have come, poverty kills a child every three minutes.

I was always raised to be compassionate and giving, but I think being a breast cancer survivor has melted my heart in some ways. We all need to do what we can to make a difference in the world. I think no matter what we do -- raise awareness, pray, donate money, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. -- we all need to make a contribution to the wellness of this world. We all need to be kinder, more loving, more compassionate, less busy, and more giving. Whether we make poverty history or encourage women to get mammograms, one by one we will make a difference . . . you, me, and Bono too. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Dark Cloud Overhead
I should have known. There is no escaping it. It was plain as the nose on my face. I never seem to realize what is happening until I pass the crest of the wave. There I sat, after a 12.5 hour day, trying to relax for moment, flipping channels looking for a mindless escape. Something made me stop and watch as Tyra stared down the last two girls hoping to go on to the next round. One cried in relief as her name was called, promising to do better and work harder. The other cried in disappointment now facing the door home. I cried in unison, feeling so sad for both, even though I have not seen either of them before.

Wait. Back up. I cried watching America’s Next Top Model? What?!?! Someone give me drugs now! Doctor, if you are reading this, my hormones are seriously off balance. This cannot be normal.

I continued to flip through the channels desperate for something to make me smile. Somehow, I found myself in tears again as Anwar was sent packing from American Idol. Though talented, he wasn’t one of my favorites. Then why was I crying? Why the heck was I so weepy over something so inconsequential in comparison to the other things going on in the world?

Who can go through life this way? Hormone changes, premature menopause, post-cancer trauma, whatever you call it. It must be fixed.

Again, doctor, if you are reading this, please call the pharmacy now. I’m on my way.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Sunday, April 17, 2005
Culture Revisited
Back on St. Patrick's Day I came across an article which stated that womeni n Ireland had a slightly lower rate of breast cancer than women in the U.S. (1:12 vs. 1:8). The Komen Foundation has astounding statistics on this topic:

  • While the overall breast cancer mortality rate has steadily declined over the past decade, the mortality rate for minority women in the U.S. has not declined at the same pace. Consider this: Despite a lower incidence rate, African American women have a 32 percent higher death rate then Caucasian women.
  • Among women of Hispanic origin, breast cancer is more frequently diagnosed at a later stage, when fewer treatment options are available.
  • Only 48.5 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women 50 years and older in the U.S. have had a mammogram or clinical breast exam within the last two years, the lowest rate of screening among all racial/ethnic groups.

There could be many contributing factors to these statistics; however, there is somthing that each of us can do to help change these disparities. The Komen Foundation has made this very easy for us too. Simply follow this link to contact your member of Congress. Congress can help by providing greater resources to important programs that address the needs of Americans who are disproportionately impacted by cancer. Two such programs are the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which promotes minority health, with the goal of reducing, and ultimately eliminating, health disparities, and the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides screening and outreach to women with little or no health insurance.

Every woman deserves a fighting chance, no matter her race or culture. Spread -hope- today.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Light Reading
Two articles of note recently appeared on the BBC web site:

Cure for Cancers in Five Years

The first article describes gene-modified t-cell therapy that could potentially replace invasive treatments like chemotherapy. It "makes the body naturally seek out and kill tumours by boosting the infection-fighting t-cells." Apparently there have been excellent results with lung and brain tumors.

When Will We Beat Cancer?

The second article is eally all about hope -- hope for the present and future relative to cancer treatment. It outlines the amazing progress in treatment and survival.

- Hope- There is always hope.

Let your light of hope change the world today. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Lessons from a Hat
I had given thought to how my family would react. I even thought about how my co-workers would react, but frankly everyone has been so supportive all along that the level of vulnerability felt minimal. The most shocking reactions came on two different occasions at the same location.

“Oh my god! Did you cut your hair?” came the perky, way too friendly, high-pitched-I’ve-had-too-much-coffee-already-voice, from the diminutive smiling barista at Starbucks. “It’s looks cute! How fun!”

I hadn’t been prepared for that question. Did I cut my hair? Well no, but if I say no, won’t I have to share way too much information with the overfriendly staff at my early morning haunt? Granted they see me several times a week (perhaps more frequently than my own mother), but they don’t know me. They do, however, know what I like to drink and start steaming the soymilk before I even order.

“Wow! Talk about a completely different look!”
“It looks good! I almost didn’t recognize you,” the alternate Starbucks shift chimed in unison on my second freedom-from-hat visit.

“Thanks,” I said shyly, shrinking from the attention in a crowded coffee bar, and hoping my next visit would be more subdued (and silently hoping they would still remember to start the soy at the sight of the short locks rather than the Burberry topper to which they had become accustomed).

I am not one to seek the spotlight. I would rather something I accomplished, the product, get the attention rather than having the attention for myself. It was easier when I could "hide" behind my hair or, recently, under my hat. My trusted companion, the Burberry bucket hat, has come to symbolize not just my days of battling cancer, it now reminds me of how genuinely compassionate and nonjudgmental people can truly be. This has taught me to always find that place in the heart of people I meet where there is no judgment, no meanness, no harsh words. Truly, love does exist in the heart of all people.

After many, many years of trying new styling products, new shampoos, new colors, and new styles, I have truly finally learned that it is indeed only hair. It doesn’t change me, only how some other people perceive me. While I have glammed up the girlie accessories and have been tempted to wear an “I really do like boys” button, this lesson has been important. People can be loving and accepting even if they don't know the entire situation. And people that do know the entire situation can be even more loving and accepting than one would ever imagine.

Thank you to everyone who has made yet one more physical transition on this journey easy for me. Once again I know that I am truly blessed. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Friday, April 08, 2005
You're Gonna Make it After All
"Your energy affects others so choose to be a beacon of light. Project goodness, happiness, and peace outward through your home, neighborhood, country, and, finally the world. The effects are felt for thousands of miles."

My sister, Joyce, sent this to me today. It was part of an article titled, "Steps in the Right Direction: 8 Steps to Make a Difference in the World." After reading this I realized something important.

I've been keeping my light under my hat so to speak. Today is the day that ends.

A few days ago I posted my mini-poll regarding how to wear my post-chemo hair. The results were pretty even with the vast majority voting to "spike it out and be free" and "enjoy the freedom -- it's only hair." I loved all the comments I received and I loved that more than 40 people even cared to vote. One comment I received went straight from the screen to my heart. Greg wrote, "Enjoy whichever way suits you best, as the re-affirmation of your life, your body's will to survive."

Early on in my journey I wrote about the physical challenges that come with breast cancer and its treatment. I felt as though I was being stripped of everything feminine, beginning with my hair. Physically, I have been stripped of many things. For a time I cried silently as I watched what seemed to be parts of me dying from the treatment. Slowly finding that edge of life and clinging on in the hope that the cancer was being killed off too.

Just as slowly my rebirth began without my realization of what was happening. My energy returned first. Next came the eyebrows and eye lashes. Slowly my finger nails strengthened and began to grow. A dark crown of gentle curls emerged shyly. It was as if an artist was repainting me bit by bit. Somehow this growth has been a sign of life or, as Greg put it so elequently, "a re-affirmation of life." My body does have a will to survive and I want the world to know. It is time to stop hiding behind the hat for it was a sign of the cancer and my hair regrowth is a sign of new life. The artist is far from done, but the picture is filling in and coming into focus.




Cue the music.
Action!
Cue Actress: Hat toss; exhuberant smile.
Freeze frame.
End credits.
That's a rap.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 chimed in

Sunday, April 03, 2005
What's Your Opinion?
These past few days I have gone from irreverent humor to a reverent homage. The pendulum is about to swing again. Please forgive me.

First, let me say, I know. I know there are major changes going on in the world. I know that we are at war on foreign soil. I know there are people still trying to pick up their lives after natural disasters. Sometimes our world is as big as we make it. Mine has just shrunk and for this moment it is all about me.

I’m at the point where I am nearly, but not quite, comfortable without my hat/wig. I have always had longer hair and this is a huge adjustment for me, but slowly I am getting there. I’m just not sure what to do with it. It has grown back much darker brown. Well, at least I think it has. Last year I went from auburn to brown with chunky blonde highlights (yes, mood hair) so it is hard for me to know exactly what color it was before. Also, this hair has yet to see the light of day. It has also grown back with a little curl to it. This is a big change since I have always struggled trying to get some volume in my fine, straight hair. But I digress. . .

I have created a mini-poll in the side bar on the right. Unfortunately, I am once again having technical difficulties and my entire right side bar has dropped to the bottom of the page. While I struggle to fix that problem, please scroll down to the bottom of the page and take my poll. That’s right, decide my fate. When the time comes to toss my hat in the air a la Mary Richards, how should I wear my hair?

While you ponder this and other great mysteries of the universe today, make it a great day . . . make a difference in the world . . . enjoy the peace the day brings. Y
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Saturday, April 02, 2005
Courage
So many images have flashed through my mind in the last few days. A symbol of courage, hope, faith, dedication, and love is no longer of this earth. Sometimes I wonder if he ever truly was of this earth. He was a man like no other.

I have images of a vibrant man ascending to the Papacy . . . Images of him kicking a soccer ball . . . Images of him blessing the faithful . . . Images of the pure joy on his face each time he embraced a child . . . Images of a frail man who just days before he passed took time to give one final blessing from his window. . .

He had more power than heads of state and more love in his heart than anyone can ever fathom. He taught us all about the sanctity of life. He never strayed from his teachings; never compromised his words. He was a leader like no other.

In his last years when people frequently commented that he was too old and should step down, he kept going. He had a mission to bring the Word of God to the world. And even in his dying breath he continued to be that light of Christ burning brightly in the world. And in continuing to serve us until his last moments he taught us yet again that life is sacred – ALL life is sacred: the elderly, the frail, the disabled.

We all have a mission in this world. May we have the courage to live our lives with the same passion, fearless dedication, conviction, and love as Pope John Paul II.

Rest in Peace, Holy Father. May the Angels greet you with the same joy with which you graced the world.
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