Friday, September 30, 2005
All in My Head or All in My Chest?
I have never met anyone who claims to enjoy surgery. It's quite the opposite. I am one who gets terribly sick from the anesthesia and dreads the thought of going under, no matter how much I look forward to the end result. Last December 2nd, exactly one month after finishing chemo, I had my bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction (don't let the "immediate" fool you). I did not dread the surgery. It was a milestone I desperately wanted to reach. I counted down the days with joy as I knew this was the only way to know that I was indeed free from localized breast cancer. Since it didn't show up on mammograms, I didn't have clean margins from the lumpectomy, and I had fibrocystic breasts, I feared my breasts and wanted them gone. December 2nd was a happy day for me (until I woke up, but that's another story).

Ever since that surgery I have both anticipated and dreaded the thought of finishing my "immediate" reconstruction. Yes, I want these hard, uncomfortable, ill-fitting tissue expanders out. No, I am not enticed at the thought of groggily coming out of anesthesia in a puddle of my own "nausea." Maybe the months of dread of the latter, or the months of lack of sleep due to the former, contributed to a somewhat challenged immune system, and a post-nasal drip cough turned into perhaps the worst cough and bronchial spasming lungs I have ever experienced. After the 14th day of continually worsening symptoms, I decided to go to the doctor just to be on the safe side. Two breathing treatments, two inhalers, a megadose of antibiotics, and a return appointment for daily breathing treatments later, I felt as though oxygen might actually be entering my lungs once more. Viral? Psychosomatic? Who knows for sure.

I'm stocked up on vitamins and ready for the next countdown: First week of Novemberish. Apparently, "Frank" 'n "Stein" will still be with me for Halloween. How appropriate.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Monday, September 26, 2005
Two Thoughts for You Today
The strongest of all warriors are these two: Time and Patience.
- Leo Tolstoy


Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10
Written by Joyce
0 chimed in

Sunday, September 25, 2005
*Sniffle* *Cough* *Cough*
If you felt a chill wind blow past you, felt the earth shift just a bit, or heard loud wailing sobs echoing in the distance, that was me. Or, should I say, that was the sound of disappointment.

As each day passed this week, I kept telling myself I was one day closer to moving on. Even though my sinuses had an endless supply of drainage and that tickle in my throat continued to to grow, I kept telling myself I was strong-willed and that I would be healthy in time for surgery.

*Cough* *Cough*

I am neither healthy nor strong enough. The wait continues.

*Cough* *Sniffle*

At first I thought June. Possible July. Maybe August? Ah yes, September. The month that always feels like a new year is beginning. The perfect time.

*Cough*

I'll be lucky if October is the month.

Isn't it funny how I went through four months and eight rounds of chemo willing myself to stay healthy enough so I could have surgery last December and all the stars aligned and the plan succeeded. I let my guard down once and had lunch with a coughing friend, talked to co-workers who weren't feeling well, forgot my vitamin C three days in a row, and this is what happens.

And yes, I do feel guilty for having a pity party over reconstruction delays. There are people who have nothing after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There are people who are struggling to see another day due to the ravages of cancer. There are people who don't have insurance and can't even get treatment, let alone reconstruction. And I'm feeling sorry for myself?

Well, yes, I am that pathetically self-centered. These tissue expanders annoy me and keep me from sleeping in my normally comfortable positions. More than that, the sculpting that is needed is making me insane. Breasts should not have corners. I just wanted to be done.

Okay, I think I'm done whining. Wait . . . oops . . . I think I feel . . . oh . . . nope. . . no I'm not. I''ll just leave now and save you from my sad self.

*Cough*

*Sniffle*

*Cough* *Cough*

Hope your day is better.

*Sniffle*
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Knock on Wood
It's like thunder and lightening
The way you love me is frightening
You better knock, knock on wood

--Lyrics from "Knock on Wood"

This is the song my sister must be singing this morning. So what does the strong, independent (and partially hearing impaired) woman do at 1:00 a.m. when she is awakened by the loudest thunder and the brightest lightening show ever in her life? Yeah, um, she calls her sister and says, "Sorry to call so late, but, um, do you have thunder and lightening at your house too?" I'm knocking on wood that I can still stay with her after surgery next week. I'm such a baby.

Here are excerpts from my favorite conversation in weeks:

Formerly Cranky Plastic Surgeon (FCPS): Ah, there's the new patient (said with playful sarcasm).
Me: You are almost done with me.
FPCS: No, I don't want to be done with you. I enjoy our visits.
Me: Then in the future we could have coffee or something other than to cut me open (said with equally playful sarcasm).

FCPS: I'm not used to seeing you so dressed up.
Me: You aren't used to seeing me dressed. This is the first time I've seen you that I've kept my clothes on.

Um, have I mentioned that the formerly cranky plastic surgeon is a devoted and respectable Seventh Day Adventist? Yeah, they don't drink coffee (well, caffein, but why bother with decaf?) and the whole reference to keeping my clothes on -- ugh! I. am. such. a. dork!

But at least he likes me or finds me memorable. Hopefully this means he will try extra hard to make the "new girls" fabulous. By the way, they arrive in a week!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

The Passion in Compassion
Congratualtions go out to my oncologist who was named to the reported in the local newspaper, only 4% of doctors are in this database. The determination is made by asking doctors, "If you or a loved one needed a doctor in your specialty, to whom would you refer them?"

At my first consultation, I asked her why this was her passion. She explained to me that she was driven in this field because there is so much hope. On this same theme, the newspaper quotes her as saying, "My father always said to find your passion and make that your work." I think it is clear that she did just that.

Just reading her words reminds me of that first appointment with her when I left feeling empowered. Her words in this article gave me a feeling of deja vu. Unlike some doctors, I believe she knows how to engage her patients and encourage them to actively be part of the process.

"When the patient has choices, they are part of the solution and can engage in the fight. Cancer is not fair and it's not just. It's a terrible thing. We can't cure everybody but what we can do is give excellent medical care today and make tomorrow better by bringing new treatments. "

Congratulations on a well deserved honor.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Friday, September 16, 2005
"The Words Get in the Way"
How do I even begin to write this post when I have just quoted Gloria Estefan? Even though she isn't exactly on my hit parade, those lyrics have been true for me. The words have simply gotten in the way.

I have started new posts various times and, no, Blogger didn't lose them, I tossed them. I started to write about how freaked out I was when I found an "area of density" in my right arm pit when showering last Sunday, but I was too freaked out to see the words in print.

Lucky for me, I was able to see my primary care physician on Monday(shock!). I started to right about that too, but it once again became a rant about how crappy her office is run and I'm done with that topic. I have already decided to change doctors once I have surgery in ten days.

I was also going to write about how cool and collected I remained between Sunday and getting the results of the ultrasound early Wednesday morning. Perhaps the better word is numb. Or better yet, denial. But then I was sick of that "I've had cancer and now every ache and pain scares me that it might be a recurrence" topic too.

I also began a sickeningly honest account of how difficult it is to write when I am not able to end on a positive note. It isn't that I am not a positive person normally. I am. I just need to learn how to express all my feelings at some point. Not necessarily here to everyone in the computer, or with any one person, but to myself. To thine own self be true and all that jazz.

Oh yeah, I also started to write about how much I cried when I got the message that the ultrasound was clear, normal, no sign of anything. I knew it wasn't cancer. I knew it wasn't a recurrence. I was crying at the thought of always feeling like it might be every time something doesn't feel "normal." And then the fear of letting my guard down prematurely. Besides, I'm not sure what normal is anymore. There was a normal before cancer, a normal during treatment, and a new normal that I can't seem to decipher quite yet.

Something I find most puzzling that I would truly love to dedicate an entire post to is why do my eyelashes completely fall out and regrow? They get all long and flirty, then they thin dramatically and then the regrowth takes over and I have short stubby eyelashes until they regrow . . . and then thin . . . and . . .It has become a vicious cycle. It is the oddest thing.

And to end on a positive note, my chemo-induced aversion to salmon is gone! This is big news because as a non-dairy vegetarian, I need my protein. Gone are the "ick, yuck, no, I can't eat it, please take it away" moments. I have had salmon three times in two weeks and loved every ounce of its oily (with omega 3's) pink flesh. But here is where this might take a turn for worse . . . I really love it with barbecue sauce. Who does that?

Not only have I quoted Gloria Estefan, I have admitted to eating salmon with barbecue sauce. Wow. Cancer has changed me.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
11 chimed in

Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Strength

"Strength comes from having a clear set of beliefs that you're willing to fight for every day. If your causes are part of who you are, if they give you purpose, you never stop fighting."

John Edwards, former U.S. senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee
Written by Joyce
2 chimed in

Monday, September 12, 2005
Wild Kingdom

I spent some time this weekend in Lake Arrowhead. It is such a beautiful place with that cool, crisp air you only feel in the mountains. The sun felt glorious as it gently warmed my face. I enjoyed the chance to simply be out of my regular surroundings and feel life from a different perspective. If you stop for just a minute you can see, ever so subtly, the seasons are about to change. Of course, here in Southern California we have to look a little closer to notice the transition. I can feel life changing.

On the road up the mountain I saw a squirrel dart across the road. Of course seeing wildlife (as wild as a squirrel may be) is exciting when you dwell in suburbia. Seeing wildlife in Los Angeles typically amounts to a Malte Poo that has escaped a Louis Vuitton bag, so this was quite a treat, momentarily. Out of nowhere a big hawk swooped down and nearly grasped the squirrel in its sharp claws. The hawk ascended to the sky, claws empty; the squirrel darted, unscathed, under the brush. I braced my hand against the door and stared agape as I watched Wild Kingdom play out live in front of my eyes.

And as quickly as it happened, the tears rushed to my eyes as I released the air I was holding in my lungs. The moment of enjoying nature turned instantly and in my mind flashed images of me scampering across the road, trying to simply get to the other side, with cancer swooping out of nowhere with a ravenous appetite. Luckily I too darted into safety.


I know a time will come when I won’t view life from cancer goggles. A time when a weekend in the mountains will simply be a weekend in a beautiful setting where the air is clear and the sun is glorious. A time when my sister and I giggle like schoolgirls on their first sleepover. A time spent relaxing and growing in the safety of the brush. I know I can’t live my life searching for that place of safety, because that place does not exist in my reality. I only hope that there will truly be times when I can get away from it all and pretend I’m in the safety of the brush for just a little while. Unfortunately, for now, every time I emerge from the brush, I can’t help but look over my shoulder and wonder if the hawk is circling.


P.S. Fifteen days to new boobies!
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Tuesday, September 06, 2005
I Could Not Have Said It Better
"I have faith. Faith in our wondrous capacity for hope and good, love and trust, healing and forgiveness. Faith in the blessing of our infinite ability to wonder, question, pray, feel, think, and learn. I have faith. Faith in the infinite possibilities of the human spirit."

James Brown
Co-Host of FOX NFL Sunday
The Way I see it #58
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
2 chimed in

Sunday, September 04, 2005
We Interrupt This Cancer Blog . . .
Monday is Labor Day in the United States. Other than a long holiday weekend, what are we celebrating? According to the US Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was intended as a "workingmen's holiday." It is "a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Somehow I find the celebration of this holiday in stark contrast to the situation in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While we are a mighty industrialized nation, it is hardly conscionable to celebrate the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country in the face of the nation's poorest becoming more destitute as they try to scrape together their future with the prospect of a 25% unemployment rate at best.

We must all labor for a future where the poor, huddled masses aren't left in the streets to die without water because they couldn't afford to leave a hurricane zone. We must labor for a future where disaster rescue efforts are not clouded with political posturing that impedes the ability to save lives. We all must labor for a present where the race card is not even in the deck and, therefore, has no consideration to even be played. And most importantly, we must labor for a present where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness holds promise for everyone, even in the worst of times.

On this day of celebration of the achievements of the American worker, perhaps we can labor for something positive in the present to help build our future. Don't just open your wallet, but open your heart. Donate to your local chapter of a relief agency. Donate household items, clothing, your time, your skills to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, or any of the agencies helping the recovery efforts. Perhaps if we free up services locally, more can be focused where it is most needed right now. Don't complain about the recovery effort; remember it next time there is an election and make a point with your vote. In some way, let's all be part of the solution. That is certainly worth the labor.
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