Monday, February 20, 2006
Citius Altius Fortius
I can't recall when it first began. In many ways it has always been part of my life, but the first time I can remember the eager anticipation and knowing that I was witnessing something very special was in the summer of 1972. We often spent summer evenings in the front yard under the shade of the chestnut tree, giving the house a chance to cool a bit with the evening breeze. We would sit for a couple of hours chatting with my aunt and cousins who would walk down the street from their house to ours nightly throughout the summer for this evening ritual.

Not in 1972. For two weeks, my eyes were glued to the television. Although I was not quite eight years old, I remember the excitement of the opening day. I didn't quite understand all the ceremony and symbolism, but understood them to foretell a most magical and rare event. I can still recall the feel of the carpet under my feet as I curled my toes gripping my imaginary balance beam as a young Russian girl named Olga Korbut contorted her body above it. I remember seeing the afternoon sun reflect on television screen as a young American swimmer named Mark Spitz displayed his collection of seven medals around his neck. I remember the disappointment as the events came to a close and the flame was extinguished. I spent the rest of that summer turning cartwheels and somersaults in the front yard wondering what it would be like to be an Olympian.

My enthusiasm for the Olympics has only grown over the years. I wait with anticipation counting down the days until the opening ceremony, tracking the journey of the Olympic torch, and learning about the aspirations of a select group of individuals who come together as a team to represent the United States of America. I remember vividly the excitement of the Olympic torch coming through my own home town on its final leg of the journey to Los Angeles in 1984. My cousin and I went early to save a spot for the entire family. Admittedly, we were among the first to begin lining the street and enjoyed watching the morning traffic buzz by before the street was blocked for the relay. It was over before we knew it, but the excitement only built as the games began. That Olympic torch lit a passion in me that has yet to be extinguished.

I'm far from a world class athlete. The most competitive I've been in sports came while playing on a couple of school teams in my younger days. My passion for the Olympics has not always been about sports. I enjoy the stories of the athletes and their journeys to the games as much if not more than seeing the sporting events and victories. I like learning about skating on the outside edge, or the aerodynamics of a jump, or how many bobsled tracks there are in the United States. I am drawn to the Olympic dream and the spirit of the games. I believe that the Olympic motto of "Citius. Altius. Fortius." or "Swifter. Higher. Stronger." pertains to more than a race or a routine or a relay. The Olympic movement is "a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind" (www.olympic.org). For me, the Olympics has been about finding your inner strength, focusing all of your will and might on a single goal, and becoming the victor for having had the courage to face the experience.

We all face our own personal Olympics in our own ways. We all face things in our life that challenge body, will, and mind. For some, the Olympics may become a metaphor for their career, or getting through college, passing the bar exam, or some other personal quest. For others still, perhaps battling cancer is like pursuing a gold medal. You put up with the struggle, pain, and uncertainty in the quest to stand victorious on a platform, hands held high having achieved a personal best in defeating cancer. While no one hands you a medal, and Katie Couric doesn't rush to interview you the following morning, the victory feels as sweet as any gold medal could ever feel.

There is some tiny fraction of me that can relate to that imagery, yet every other part of my being selfishly feels that if cancer were my Olympics, then I got robbed. I want to decide the sport, select the trainer, choose the sponsors, and move forward in my quest rather than have it thrust upon me. And while I may have been a good little patient, followed orders well, and survived treatment and its ever-surfacing side-effects, it was not my skill that got me to the podium, rather, my luck. Nonetheless, that Olympic spirit, that incredible passion that the Italians have captured so brilliantly during these games, gave me a different gift.

Thank you, Torino, for helping me feel that passion again. Thank you for welcoming the world into your home and showing us the brave faces of those pursuing their dream and those who pick themselves up from a fall and try again. Thank you for allowing me to feel that it is okay to dream about the future and to dream simply for more. Citius. Altius. Fortius.

Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
4 chimed in

Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Happy Valentine's Day
Love blooms everyday.

To all my friends whose lives have been touched by cancer --

I hope that no matter how ill you may feel, how sad or depressed cancer treatment or its aftermath may leave you, I hope you feel loved today. Love surrounds you when you discover it within you.

When you love life, each day is Valentine's Day.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Thursday, February 02, 2006
Adjuvent Therapy and Physical Therapy, but no Psycho Therapy
Why is it that the prospect of a couple of lab tests and a visit with a very nice and supportive doctor can make me want to run and hide? For some reason being roughly one year away from treatment seemed like a perfect opportunity for hidden cells to emerge and grow. Perhaps a seed of doubt had been planted in the back of my mind at the previous appointment when my tumor markers were slightly elevated, even though they were still within the normal range. Perhaps it is just normal at this point in the process to be apprehensive about lab results. Apprehensive? Who am I kidding? I had to reschedule my appointment because I chose to avoid the lab. For some reason it spooked me this time, but the scolding I received from the doctor's office pushed me into the lab. Unfortunately, or in this case fortunately, guilt will always work with me.

All that worry was for naught. My most recent three-month check-up brought good news. Everything is stable and there remains no sign of cancer. A couple of new issues emerged. First of all, my hormones rebounded and I am not postmenopausal. This is a good sign for me, except it means in starting my adjuvant therapy, the drug of choice is tamoxifen.

Tamoxifen has been proven to reduce the chance of recurrence in women with estrogen sensitive breast cancer. This medication is recommended for five years (no benefit has been shown in women who have taken the drug for longer periods). The side effects are fabulous, often mimicking menopausal symptoms (how lucky am I that I will likely experience menopause three times in my life?), as well as headaches, insomnia, and a whole host of issues involving the lady parts. In addition, there is a slightly increased risk of blood clots and uterine cancer. On the bright side, it may reduce my cholesterol and provide general cardio benefits. I am experimenting with taking it at night right now, hoping that most of the side effects will pass while I (don’t) sleep. So far, we are getting along okay. Or perhaps I can’t really remember, since I am so drowsy from lack of sleep.

I am also experiencing mild lymphedema in my arm so I will also be off to physical therapy and then fitted for a compression sleeve to be used when flying. It doesn’t seem too bad at this point, but since I will need to fly to meetings in northern California on a regular basis, we decided to get the sleeve and use it as a preventative measure. Better to be safe than sorry, right? I hate the image of landing in Sacramento and driving to the State Capitol with my arm bulging through my blouse or jacket akin to the Incredible Hulk. Oh wait, it won’t turn green too, will it? Yikes!

I realize with these issues I really don’t have anything to complain about. While sitting in the waiting room, I overheard conversations between patients anticipating chemo appointments. One gentleman, a triathlete, was talking about his treatment causing the skin on his feet and hands to dry and crack so badly that all he can do is use superglue to seal the cracks. His fingers are so numb he can no longer use them. His pain seemed tremendous. I watched a young woman similar to my age come into the office for what appeared to be the first time. As she heard the same conversation, she visibly appeared to shrink back further and further into the corner. I wanted to reach out and hug her. I wanted to tell her that she would get through it and she didn't need to be so afraid. But I could not do it. While it would be nice to say that, it really is a crapshoot in the long run, isn't it? Who am I to know what her outcome may be? I made eye contact and smiled knowingly, hoping she understood my silent support.

It was as if it were my first appointment all over again when fear entered me as soon as I entered the office. I kept looking around and listening to people and feeling that I didn't fit in any longer. It seems so far away in the past and not truly a part of my present. But then this lies in direct conflict to the swirl of cancer reminders and feelings in my head every moment of every day. Perhaps emotionally, as well as physically, I am at some sort of crossroad. A place where the future is no longer considered in weeks and measured by time between doctor visits. Rather, a place where the future is stretching out before me and measured by aspirations, even though cancer is still clearly within sight.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
5 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