Monday, June 11, 2007
Waiting . . .
Learning to live a normal life after a cancer diagnosis is challenging. There is such a desire to pick right up after the last chemo treatment and bolt back into a familiar routine. I had to learn to pace myself, allow myself time to heal physically, and adjust to a new routine. A routine that would include regular doctor appointments with a variety of doctors, adjusting to the side effects of a medication I still must take for 3.5 more years, and ongoing lymphedema and scar tissue issues. I’m not complaining. In fact, breast cancer has introduced me to people I would never have met otherwise, helped other relationships grow, and encouraged a somewhat more focused approach to life. In some ways it has made me fearless and in other ways fearful.

Enter fearful. Three weeks ago, after an extremely successful Relay for Life event, I awoke in the middle of the night with excruciating pain. I ended up in the ER and was admitted immediately. The pain in my lower left back was so bad that I who hates pain medication found myself cheering for the nurse who brought me favorite painkiller of choice. While awaiting CT scan results, I casually said to my sister, “What if they find something else?” This is not a thought I would have ever had before breast cancer. I would have been concerned about the pain, but never about what else might be lurking there.

I was feeling a little like Carnac the Magnificent when the doctor came in proclaimed, “You have stones everywhere, but more importantly you have a mass on your adrenal gland.” Who even knew where the adrenal gland was or what it does? Without even taking the time to register what he said, I started calling to schedule the follow up while I got dressed (after successfully passing the largest kidney stone – yikes!). By the time I got through to my primary care physician’s office, it had registered. I handed the phone to my sister who didn’t skip a beat making the appointment on my behalf while the tears silently rolled down my cheeks.

My oncologist tells me the chances are low it is a breast cancer metastasis. Somewhere in the back of my mind I flash back to several other doctors telling me that what I felt in my breast was not likely breast cancer because I was too young and it didn’t quite feel like cancer, not to mention the surgeon saying it didn’t look like breast cancer when he took it out. Rather than “wait and see” I am proactively having a slew of tests including a biopsy.

Truthfully, I am at peace with whatever this mass or nodule turns out to be at this point now that I am armed with information from a very skilled nephrologist. What I am not at peace with is knowing that this is my fate. Every bump, lump, mass, or nodule will always raise alarm, will always spark a round of tests and scans, and will always bring me to a place of uncertainty and fear. Some feel that it is good to get such thorough follow up and I agree on some level; however, once you have heard the urgency from some doctors and been prayed over and bear hugged by nurses who understand the odds of surviving multiple cancer diagnoses or metastases, you will understand the desire to run in the opposite direction . . . if just for a little while . . . .to absorb the reality on your terms and then move forward with the courage and grace you have had to learn from living through a cancer diagnosis.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Saturday, June 09, 2007
Relay for Life
If you have ever faced a major illness or some type of crisis in your life, then you know how amazing it is to feel the support of a community of people. I believe that love, support, nurturing, and compassion do a lot to help us heal in many ways. I am very blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life who helped me get through the worst parts of my cancer experience and yet continue to support me.

The annual Relay for Life in my community has become a special event for me for many reasons. I wanted to share a few reasons why I continue to Relay.

This year was the third year I had the chance to see my friend Shelby. She is 8 years old. She had a brain tumor 4 years ago. The first year I saw her, she was in a stroller. Last year she was in a wheelchair, but could walk if each of her parents held one of her hands. This year, she was able to make a complete lap on the track walking on her own. She is a beautiful girl with gorgeous brown eyes that sparkle brighter than the stars. Her determination and her parents' dedication to her ongoing therapy give me hope.

This year my friend, Jim, walked the survivor lap with me. Exactly one year ago the same day, he was having 1/3 of his lung removed. He just had his one-year "all clear" report. He stayed the entire 24 hours with the support of his family and friends. This was a celebration of life for Jim and his many supporters.

I watched my friend, Darlene, carefully write out the names of her family and friends in whose memory she would walk. She made a sticker for each one. Her back was covered by the time she was done. I am in awe of her passion and dedication, but she is tired. She is tired of adding names to her back year after year. If love could cure, she would have cured as all long ago.

I met a woman who came to our tent. She was there with friends, family, and her 27 year old daughter who is battling a rare form of uterine cancer. Fragile and scared, it was evident she came to this event and others like it in search of hope for her daughter. When someone told her I was a cancer survivor, her eyes lit up, she hugged me tightly and whispered, "God bless you, God bless you." If for no other reason, I know I survived breast cancer for this very moment. The moment that gave this mother a little strength and perhaps a glimmer of hope that her daughter, too, could survive.

I connected with a community of people who care so deeply about one another and about winning the fight against cancer. The conversations that were heard around the track were about compassion, care, commitment, and defeating cancer. It is an emotional roller coaster of a day, but well worth it. I know that every dollar raised will be put to good use through research, early detection programs, and patient care services.

Thank you to everyone who supports Relay events in your own communities and to those who supported my team (we raised $33,000!!! this year and $60,000 total in the three years we have participated). Because of your generosity, lives are being saved and changed. Because of your dedication, the hope for a cancer-free future goes on.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 chimed in

Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Friendly Illustrations
Whenever I find useful information or a good resource, I like to pass it along. My Breast Cancer Network has recently added illustrations. The topics are primarily related to reconstruction, but the comic strip style illustrations are friendly enough to share with children or other people who shy away from actual true photos or medical illustrations. One of my favorites is the piece on tissue expanders. It is the most accurate illustration I have seen so far.

My Breast Cancer Network has a lot of great resources and is a great place to connect with people. Stop by and take a look at all they have to offer.

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Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
0 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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