Saturday, March 25, 2006
Walking With Purpose

You know my story. It is not unique. Every year 1.3 million Americans will hear, "You have cancer." It will likely be the most the devastating news they hear. It certainly was for me. In a split second I felt a range of emotions from shock to anger to denial to fear. Because I was surrounded by such supportive people and dedicated medical porfessionals, I found the strength to cast aside the fear and take up the fight.

In retrospect I know that I am lucky that I had breast cancer at a time when the statistics offer hope and, in some cases, as high as a 95% survival rate. Ten years ago, my story may have had a different ending. The reason things have changed is because many people decided to do something: they raised funds and awareness, they lobbied Congress for support, they committed to research and clinical trials. Simply, they cared enough to act. As someone who has directly benefited from this commitment, how can I not take up the cause?

I’m taking action against cancer by supporting the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life® on May 20th and 21st. Relay is an overnight event that unites our community in a common effort to support the American Cancer Society’s lifesaving mission to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. The Society works every day to prevent cancer and save lives by supporting groundbreaking research, affecting public policies that protect us from cancer, and educating people on how to prevent or detect cancer early. Together, we can accelerate the progress toward a cancer-free future.

Even after my battle with cancer, I still find it difficult to ask for help. But this isn't about me. This about winning a battle that, at the current rate, will strike nearly half of us in our lifetime. My generous and supportive co-workers are once again forming a team for this event. Last year we raised $7200. This year our goal is $10,000. My personal goal is to raise $1,000. I would appreciate and be honored by your support, either through making a donation (follow this link for online donations) or forwarding this message to someone you think may support our effort. Either way, you will make a real difference in the lives of people facing cancer – and in the lives of the people who love them.

Thanks for your support. My friends in the virtual world have been a wonderful source of support and encrouagement through this journey. I will walk and I will keep walking as long as it makes a difference.

Relay For Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Sunday, March 19, 2006
It Simply Must Change
Growing up in the LA area, it was not unusual to hear news stories about the "Crips and the Bloods," the most notorious gangs in LA. Like many (everyone outside of a gang, I suppose) , I found gang violence shocking, appalling, and the most senseless loss of life there could be. I would cry as I was going to bed thinking about kids living life as gang members. Over the last couple of years, I have begun to realize there is a much more senseless cause of loss of life in our world: cancer.

Unlike a gang banger, someone facing cancer likely didn't volunteer for it, didn't willingly follow in a family member's footsteps, didn't develop it as a result of some lack of values, or battle it for the sake of notoriety. In fact, it is just the opposite. No one signs up for cancer willingly. The majority of cancers are not hereditary. Cancer doesn't only impact those ethically challenged (quite the contrary it seems). No one is dumb enough to believe that fighting cancer will give them some territorial advantage.

Since finding myself drafted into the cancer world, I can testify to meeting people that are humble, courageous, strong, determined, generous, compassionate, and beautiful. This is the impression that remains even though I have felt, seen, and sensed the fear and pain this disease breeds in the Petri dishes of our psyche. It seems so completely senseless that we haven't done more, fought harder to eradicate the various forms of cancer. I think Cary said it best when he compared the the entire annual budget of the National Cancer Institute to a few weeks worth of defense spending in Iraq. Senseless. Completely senseless. I'm tired of crying at night, mourning the loss of my friends to cancer.

I'm not one to complain about anything without proposing a solution or some alternative. I wish I had a solution, but I don't. It isn't going to stop me from talking about this to as many people as I know. If it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil, then be prepared to hear some squeaking because I am done. I am angry. I am tired of such a senseless loss of life.

The American Cancer Society (whom I respect) is busily preparing for their Celebration on the Hill and while the event has merit I think they have it all wrong. Yes, I think it is important to celebrate how far we have come, but we use words like fight and battle when we talk about cancer. No one stopped in the middle of WWII to celebrate our accomplishments. If we are at war with this disease, then fight, dammit, or you won't be the last person standing. None of us will be standing.

As a public servant, my first instinct is to get the message across to legislators. Seriously, I have seen lobbyists effectively accomplish the passage of the most absurd legislation. Why is it we can save rodents from extinction, but we can't save ourselves from cancer? Why is the same cancer research budget as the previous year good enough? If we can find unbudgeted money for national defense, why can't we find money for human defense against cancer? Where the hell are our priorities? Sigmund Freud believed that all of our actions derived from one of two motivations: life instincts and death instincts. If we aren't preserving life, then we as a culture must be motivated by death instincts. A paradigm shift is long overdue. We have to change the perspective.

If you have never contacted your congress member, this is the time to introduce yourself and tell him or her what is most important to you. You better believe oil companies, tobacco companies, and other private industry folks are doing it all for the sake of their bottom line. What is our bottom line? Isn't it determined by the quality of our lives? Isn't that directly threatened by the half (yes, that is correct) of our population that will be affected by cancer?

This is my suggestion. It doesn't solve the immediate problem, but it gets us moving in a direction we need to face. Each year on your birthday, send a letter to your congress member. In fact, if you send me your birth date, I will send you a reminder email. It doesn't have to be a long letter. Tell him or her what is important to you. Let it be known you want more money for cancer research. Tell him or her you want this senseless loss of life to end. Unless we demand it, it won't happen. Actually, each year, send an additional letter on the birthday of someone you know who has lost the cancer war. If your life is like mine, sadly, you will in no time be on a first-name basis with your congress member.

Please, don't wait for Komen or ACS, or any other organization with a cancer lobbying effort in place. Your personal letter will make the difference. Let your voice be heard.

Sadly, I'm far from being off my soapbox.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Go Show Some Love. . .
The one thing I can always count on is the support of the cancer blogging community (though we are all defined by so much than that). Please, please, please go show some love and support to Amanda over at cancer. it's not just an astrological sign anymore. Her husband, Eric, passed away on March 17th after battling acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Amanda has been a fearless caregiver, Eric's champion, and a strong voice for young adults battling cancer. They both went through many ups and downs on this journey, including believing until a week ago that Eric had reached the six-month-mark of remission on his second battle with leukemia. I fear in many ways, and understandably so, Amanda's spirit is crushed. Please, take a moment and offer your support and compassion.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?
Today I came home for lunch. There were fire and police vehicles up and down my street. It turns out someone had committed suicide. I felt so badly that someone who lived so close to me was in distress and there was nothing I could do to help.

She was 42 and diagnosed with cancer.

I don't know her story. I know that hearing about this, seeing her son being comforted by friends, reminded me of how awful this disease is and how it can kill us emotionally and spiritually before it ever gets us physically.

If I knew her and her situation, I would have been there to offer my support. I feel awful that she felt so alone and so desperate. Although I don't know the details of her situation, it breaks my heart that she was in it at all.

It couldn't help but hit close to home. I realized that if my diagnosis, my support system had been different, that could have been me. It also made realize how very lucky I am that I have come so far in such a short time. That, yes, there is great hope for a full life for me. That a rash and lymphadema are meaningless in the big picture. That I need to live and rejoice in each moment. That life, for me, is worth living and I am truly blessed.

Rest in peace, neighbor.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Monday, March 13, 2006
Transitions (or, Aftercare Blows)
When cancer strikes, suddenly your focus shifts from plans for the future to simply getting through the present. Prior to my diagnosis, I was enjoying my career, beginning to develop my consulting services, and planning on purchasing a home. Throughout treatment, I focused on checking items off the list: each chemo infusion, surgery, and each agonizingly long step in the reconstruction process. With only minor reconstruction details left, much of the journey is behind me and with each day I become more comfortable thinking about the future.

This in itself is a big step in healing. Letting go of the day to day survival mode and thinking about my life in terms of the moment AND the future, can be a challenge. It is difficult to let go of the "fight" and know that it is okay to not be doing anything actively to fight cancer. With each three-month check up I cautiously begin to believe there is indeed no evidence of disease.

Of course getting through the day is also a challenge as it seems new issues continue to pop up that are a result of the chemo. The most significant one is this awful persistent itchy rash that was once contained to the top of my feet but has traveled upwards to mid-calf. I have researched and researched and talked to my oncologist, but nothing definitive has surfaced. My primary care physician is puzzled as well, but at least willing to entertain the results of my personal medical research. I am once again on steroids (a topical cream) to get the inflammation down and keep the itching at bay. It keeps the symptoms under control for now, but the problem still exists. Of course, the steroids cause hyper pigmentation so it is beginning to look like I am wearing tan socks, but what's a little physical disfigurement when you have 30 inches of incision scars.

Lymphadema has become a real issue for me. The best part is how my insurance provider responds. I have been fitted for a compression sleeve; however, my insurance has not given the final approval so three weeks later I am still waiting. I was also referred for physical therapy. Scheduling the appointment was a challenge and took three attempts. The last time they called me back to let me know they would bring in a lymphadema specialist just for me, but I would need an evening appointment. I called to confirm a few hours before the appointment and everything was scheduled just fine. I got there and was informed that they could not negotiate a cost-effective rate with the specialist, but they have someone on staff who knows how to use the equipment. I left. My doctor has put in a request for me to be treated elsewhere, but the approval has not come in yet . . . four weeks later. Something's gotta give.

These may seem trivial in comparison to going through chemo and everything else, but it is these lingering issues that impact my lifestyle and ability to move forward with my life. I am constantly juggling issues that don't get an immediate response from the doctor or insurance provider. I have to fight for everything whereas during chemo, I only need pick up the phone and anything I needed I was granted quickly. Now I have issues that the oncologist doesn't cover and the primary care physician is unprepared to address. Aftercare blows. I feel unqualified to be the one managing my care, but this, sadly, is the American healthcare system.

In the meantime, my gracious landlord who has only once raised the rent on my townhome since I moved in nearly eleven years ago, has decided it is time to move his ailing father in and me out. I had put off the house hunt upon my diagnosis; however, the convenience of living near my office and ridiculously low rent have made it comfortable to stay. Sometimes you just need that extra push to get into the housing market. In fact, I made the purchase the very next day after receiving the notice (Was I actually evicted? What regular rent-paying adult actually gets evicted?). I am officially in escrow on a home I love. It has wonderful light, great use of space, and wonderful features. The best part is that it is right around the corner (literally a few doors down) from my sister where I spent my time recuperating from treatment and surgery. I do not think it is coincidence that the place where I spent time recuperating will be part of my ongoing healing and a fresh start. It really is time to move on.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Thursday, March 02, 2006
Blog Round Up
Since I haven't had a lot to say lately, I thought I would send you in the direction where your visit would mean a lot. Carolyn is just beginning the breast cancer fight. Drop by Brave as A Tiger, Strong as an Ox and give her some love. She is starting chemo on Monday.

Also, when I was first diagnosed, many people came to me asking what they could do for me. I didn't know what I could do for me, let alone know what to ask of others. I recently read an article at titled Ten Things You Can do for a Friend with Breast Cancer. It is a great list of suggestions, many of which are a gift of time and not money.

Speaking of friends with cancer, hop on over and give Minerva and Jenny a shout for completing chemo. No matter what kind of chemo, or what kind of cancer, the experience is challenging to say the least and successfully completing it is quite an accomplishment.

Speaking of accomplishments, Glori has good news. She is in partial remission and on her way to complete remission of her lung cancer. Congratulations!

I don't know if you have noticed the "Fight Cancer" button on the sidebar (scroll down a bit). It is part ofthe American Cancer Society's effort to raise awareness about cancer. Click it and check out their resources. If you'd like, there is room for you to join us. When you think about it, we all fight cancer every day.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 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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