Tuesday, May 30, 2006
What to Say When There is Nothing to Say
I haven’t felt like myself for a while now. At first I kept thinking it was because I had taken on too much and then there was the move and then the doggies joined me and then Relay and… and… but that is all part of life the way I live it. I have very full days and am involved in many things. It has always been this way, even through treatment. Now as I face my regular work duties and a new class beginning in a week, as well as family commitments and doggie duties, I wonder where I will get the energy to do everything and do it well. And maybe even have a little time left over for some fun or adventure.

Mentally, it feels like I am whining and being a baby because it could be so much worse right now. There is still no evidence of cancer, I am approaching my two year cancerversary, and life is generally good (especially with my adorable puppies to keep me company). There is this conflict between how I actually feel and how I think I should feel. Oddly, I feel simultaneously good and bad for finally releasing all of this.

I think it is time to re-evaluate how I tolerate tamoxifen. The fatigue, sleep disturbances, and the muscle cramps in the legs are impacting my quality of life and prohibiting a healthy lifestyle. I keep telling myself to wait until I have been on the drug for six months as that is the amount of time it takes most women to adjust to the side effects. Two more months like this seems like a tremendous challenge. I can handle the hot flashes, the discomfort, the headaches, and other assorted (and unmentionable) side effects. Not being able to take brisk, healthy walks everyday, not getting enough sleep, and the general fatigue makes me feel so unhealthy which leads to poor choices all around.

There is a big part of me that feels if I stop taking it I have failed at this portion of treatment and have not given myself every chance for a long and healthy life. Other drugs (Aromasin, Arimidex, et al) have not proven to be effective alternatives for premenopausal women (but they are great for post menopausal women). I have a call in to my doctor. It might be time to weigh the benefits of a healthier lifestyle vs. the benefits of tamoxifen.

If anyone out there has any personal experience with this topic, I’d love to hear from you.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
8 chimed in

Sunday, May 21, 2006
Success
I met a woman this weekend who has survived both colorectal cancer (stage III) and breast cancer (stage II). She has amazing energy and a sense of humor to match. I met a man who is battling his third occurence of cancer. Three seperate primary cancers, not metastases, and this third time does not appear to be a charm. I saw my little friend Shelby who, with a little assistance from her Dad, was walking laps on the track this year. She has had to relearn walking and talking and all of her motor skills after having a brain tumor that forced the removal of 25% of her cerebellum. I asked her to lead the flag salute from the stage at opening ceremonies. As she slowly spoke the national anthem, the respectful crowd slowed their pace to match her.

Relay for life is all about the people who join together as a community to take up the fight against cancer. And while, yes, this event is in many ways exhausting, it is also rather incredible. My sister, Joyce, assisted me in getting the survivor hospitality tent off to a good start. We welcomed the survivors and caregivers and joined them all for the opening laps. Due to a very generous donation, we provided stickers people could personalize and wear to show they were walking in honor or in memory of someone. For some, they chose to wear one sticker. For others, their shirts were covered.

The rest of the event was spent with my amazing team. There were more than 50 employees and family members from every department of my organization. Together we were the top fundraising team exceeding our goal by more than double and raising in excess of $20,000 from online and cash donations (and checks are still trickling in!). I have always said that I work with amazing people. This is just one more example of the calibur of people that have in many ways become like a second family to me. How often can you say that you spent the night with a Planning Commissioner and were served coffee by the City Manager the next morning? Does it get any better than that? (and no lawsuits . . . yet)

And moments before they announced the fundraising total at closing ceremonies, my cell phone rang. When I answered, I heard the voice of my friend Jim who had the lower lobe of his lung removed just four days earlier. He told me to get ready for next year because we will be walking together. I hope he knows we already are.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Friday, May 19, 2006
Wistful Anticipation
Saturday is quickly approaching and with it comes our highly anticipated Relay for Life event. I am excited and wistful and the mix of emotions continue to swirl in my mind. I am proud to report that our team of 50 has raised $11,450 (and still counting). The event committee is trying to tie up all the loose ends and it appears we will have a magnificent event that will raise lots of money to benefit cancer research and treatment. I have even solved the whole song choice issue for opening ceremonies. The high school band and a gymnastics demo team will lead the survivor/caretaker lap around the track. It is my hope this will lend a joyous and uplifting atmosphere. The excitement is building for a wonderful event and I know that this work is good work and the tiredness I will undoubtedly feel, will be one well deserved and hard earned.

It is also a time for me to connect with people who have been a significant part of this journey. I will see my first and perhaps favorite surgeon, my medical oncologist will be speaking, the oncology team will be adjacent to my team on the field, and I will be surrounded by friends and co-workers who stood by me through very rough days. It's all good, right? So why the range of emotions?

I can't help but think of the people who won't be here this year. I wonder about the three-year old girl I met last year and whether I will see her again. I still find myself wistfully remembering Jessica and the power of her words and life. I wonder how my friend Jim is doing with recovery from yesterday's surgery that removed the lower lobe of his lung. I understand that I will always be challenged by loss as long as I am involved in the ever expanding world of cancer. I also know that I will be blessed with grace by the people I meet, the stories I hear, and friends I make.

So I neatly place my friends in the warmest corner of my heart and I concentrate on the victories and look forward to seeing people like my little friend Shelby who has survived a brain tumor and all the other hundreds of survivors I will see who are thriving and creating community and doing something positive to fight this dreaded beast.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Supporting Survivors

Today is LIVESTRONG Day. While I respect the athletic and personal accomplishments of Lance Armstrong, I believe the greatest contribution to society that he may possibly make is the work that is being done by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The purpose of LIVESTRONG Day is to raise awareness about the health policy issues facing cancer survivors. Few of us will ever be champion cyclists, but nearly half of us in the United States will face cancer in our lifetimes. The medical approach to cancer has been to eliminate it whenever possible, often at costs that impair the quality of life for survivors. The foundation is bringing people together to help each other manage the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment.

The most important lessons I have learned and the most important information I have gathered have not been from doctors and medical journals. Rather, the priceless information has been from people who have been there, had to make the same decisions, felt the side effects, experienced the fear, and watched the clock on sleepless nights. Luckily, I stumbled upon my friends in the computer that have provided wisdom, compassion, and insight. I have also found groups like the Young Survival Coalition (with great discussion boards) and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (with good information and tools) that bring people together to support one another.

Most recently, I have become involved with Breast Cancer Connections. It is part of the Healthcentral Network. The reason I became involved with this site is because of the approach. It provides resources to help you “Find, Manage, Connect”: Find answers and resources about breast cancer; Manage care, take action, and achieve goals; and Connect with a community where you can find support, get advice, and voice your opinion. It brings together the best and most useful features in one central location.

My first article to appear on the site is about adjusting to reconstruction. I welcome feedback and suggestions for the types of articles that might interest you. Most importantly, I welcome you to be part of the community. It is one more opportunity online to experience the healing and strength that comes from engaging others who have survived cancer.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Saturday, May 13, 2006
Farewell Jessica
My heart aches after reading the farewell from Cancer, Baby. Her real name was Jessica and she was one of the most prolific writers of the blogging generation. She wrote with an intensity that was both beautifully and painfully honest. I related all too well to her desire to have children and the pain of having cancer and its treatment steal that opportunity. She taught me how to be honest about how I felt about having had cancer and not to feel badly about not giving in to the cheerful survivor rhetoric.

It is strange how attached one can become to the many friends in the computer, but those of us who shared exchanges via blog or email with Jessica will agree that she was certainly very special. If you have yet to read her blog, I would hope that you could take some time to read the archives. She captures the raw wounds of this disease like no other.

I will miss you, Jessica. My prayers are with you and your family.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
3 chimed in

Monday, May 08, 2006
The Little Guy Who Stole My Heart
Meet Romeo. We rescued each other last week. I couldn't separate him from his momma, so I was lucky enough to get her too. Her name, appropriately, is Lady (after Lady Montague). This is the best shot I have of her, though Romeo does steal the shot.


When I first brought them home from the shelter, they didn't even want to come out of the kennel, so I took the top off until they felt safe enough to come out. Now it is hard to separate us.
I read an interview with actress Fran Drescher. She said that after surviving cancer, she couldn't live alone and needed the comfort of a pet. Somehow, when you are worried about others, you worry less about yourself. After this weekend, I would have to agree.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
11 chimed in

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Objects in Rear View Mirror May be Closer Than They Appear
Sunday night I broke my own personal rule to never watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I was flipping through the channels mindlessly and was caught by the mention of breast cancer. It appears the three children in the family lost both their parents with fourteen months. Their father died unexpectedly followed by their mother’s loss to breast cancer. They are living with their grandparents who needed a home that could accommodate the kids. They had local builders contribute money, they had a walk to raise money for breast cancer, and of course, there was plenty of their trademark emotional manipulation. It isn't that I am cold-hearted; rather, quite the oppsite. I'm such a sap that I have a hard time watching these shows without getting emotionally drained.

Normally I would have turned off the television, but I was drawn in, hugging my pillow, with tears quietly falling down my face. It seems that no matter how far away cancer seems in the rear view mirror, it really is right under the surface. Or perhaps it was my week to feel sorry for myself (which truly does not happen often). You know, labs, three-month check-up, blah, blah, blah. The tests come up so quickly. Luckily, after the next one, I will graduate to the six-month check-up schedule.

The good news is that everything still looks good. Outside of needing some quinine to address the leg cramps brought on by the Tamoxifen, I am doing just fine. I wanted to avoid adding another prescription (especially one that is primarily used for malaria). I tried to drink tonic water (containing quinine) every day, but it just doesn’t taste the same without the gin.

It appears I am holding steady with no sign of cancer. What more could I ask?
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
7 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