Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reflections on 2008


New Year's Eve 2008. We are going to Portland to spend time with friends and to celebrate the New Year, and what a year it has been. There is definitely part of me that says "Good Riddance" to 2008 but really, I feel like before I look forward to 2009, I have to pay my respects to a truly life changing year. It brought many things-some good and some not so good.

Loss: We lost Larry's son to a blood clot and our friend Marty to cancer. We lost our carefree life. Turmoil: Larry and I were both laid off from our jobs at different times. My layoff was a notification and I will be employed at WaMu until the end of March. In the face of everything else that happened this year, not being sure of our financial security threw our lives into more turmoil. Devastation: Not only was I given the devastating news that I had been diagnosed with cancer but so were many friends: Michael, Marty, Ankie and Shana. Pain: Larry and I both had surgeries this year but ours was not isolated to physical pain. The mental pain of being diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease is significant. It is immense-this possibility of dying and leaving my children and family. It is immense for everyone who loves me as well. No matter how hard we all try to stay positive, the fact remains that people die from cancer and I do not want to be one of them. Fear: The fear of the unknown when being diagnosed is almost tangible. The fear that there was more cancer than we were aware of, fear that it would win, fear that the treatments would be unbearable. I could end my reflections of 2008 there and say that it was an extremely miserable year, but it wouldn't be a very true reflection. It was miserable at times....really miserable, but that wasn't all of it.

Joy: In direct opposition to the devastation came the joy of finding out that my cancer was contained in one breast. We also found joy in everyday things; time with friends, good food, special events, sunshine and lots of laughter. Gratitude: I'm an independent person. I don't often need help from other people but I can't say how grateful I am for the amazing support of family and friends. I will never understand how people can battle cancer on their own. There is simply no possible way I could have done it without the great people in my life. Strength: I have many people tell me that I am brave and courageous but I don't see it that way. It's not like I had a choice in the matter; I couldn't just roll over and die, I had to get up and fight. What I do see is that I have more strength than I thought. Not only do I have strength, but so do my husband and my children. They are really the brave and courageous ones. They did have a choice and they chose to get in the ring with me and thank God they did! Pride: I have been proud of my children since the day they were born, but I am so proud of my family and how they have handled this. They have handled it with grace, compassion, determination, humor and love. Isn't this what we want from our children and spouses? To know that they can handle the hard things as well as they can handle the easy things? Happiness: Does it seem odd to say that in the year that I have been diagnosed with breast cancer that I would find myself to be happy? I am. I am very happy with my life and have found a certain confidence in myself that I didn't have before. I have found a joy in expressing myself through writing-something I didn't know that I needed. Clarity: My priorities are defined in a much different way since my diagnosis. Friendships are important, family is important, my job is important and my health is important. My health! I have ignored it for many years and been lucky. Now I get to pay attention to it and be grateful to do so.

2008 was a terrible year in many ways and I wouldn't have wished it upon myself or my family. But now that it is done, I recognize it for what it was...life changing. It brought as many good things as it did bad things and I am grateful for the opportunity to recognize and appreciate both. I will not go so far as to say that I am grateful to have cancer. I'm not-I still hate it. But I am grateful for those positive things that it has brought into my life and those things that I have had the opportunity to view in a different light. I am grateful to have made it through so that I can lay 2008 to rest with the dignity that it deserves.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gathering of Family


Last night we hosted the rescheduled Holiday Open House that we have been hosting for several years. This group of people is a collection of family. Not everyone is related to each other, but they are all related to me in some way.

I am happy to say that despite more snow falling, everyone braved the roads to join us. I think everyone suffered from a bit of cabin fever over the past couple of weeks so there was lively conversation all around and as usual, plenty of food and wine.

For many of us, this is the only time that we get to see each other so there is much to catch up on. Everyone has had an eventful year and I think we are thankful to be able to connect with each other. I know there were some who were worried that I was taking this on and I hope that when they saw me, they were reassured that I am doing fine. Besides a lingering cold, VERY short hair and some odd, chemo related fingernail issues, I am doing well. I never considered not hosting what has become an annual event.

My girls received a Wii from Santa and have spent almost all of their time since then playing it. When the cousins came over, they joined them in playing the Wii games so we didn't see much of the kids. We were able to capture this picture of 7 cousins when we convinced them to sit down for a brief moment. My two daughters, my sister's three daughters and my cousin's two sons. I am thrilled that the kids enjoy each other's company as much as the adults enjoy theirs. Here's to family.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Stockings are Hung


It is Christmas Eve and everything is ready. The stockings are hung, the Christmas trees are done, the presents are wrapped. We have told the girls that they cannot get out of bed before 7:00am. We'll see how that works.

I have had a difficult time figuring out what to give to Larry for Christmas. It was no problem for me to find gifts for the girls, but have chosen and discarded several ideas for my husband. In part, it is because he is difficult to buy for. If he wants something, he buys it. He doesn't wait for birthdays or holidays. Mostly though, I can't possibly come up with anything that feels adequate. What do you buy someone who stands by you while battle cancer; a tie? A coffee mug? A flat screen?

As with other marriages, ours has had its ups and downs. It has not been a perfect marriage and has taken work. If you would have asked me 16 years ago when I met him if he would have been the best person standing by me should I ever have to go through a battle as serious as cancer, I'm not sure what I would have said.

But he was the best person. He didn't come in like a knight in shining armour and take over. He didn't talk to my doctors or try to make decisions for me. He didn't treat me like I wasn't able to make my own decisions. What he did was allow me to be strong and make my own decisions and he stood by each and every one. On those days that I ran out of strength (and they were many) he gave me his. He remained rock solid for the girls and for me. He did not waiver in his determination to keep our life as normal as possible. What he did was allow me to fight cancer in my own way but stood behind me the entire time in case I should falter.

He has told me many times that he wishes he could take the cancer for me and be the person who was sick. While I know this comes from a place of love, I wouldn't give it to him. I could never be the watcher. I am a terrible back seat driver and am too much of a control freak to not be in charge. I could not do what he has done. I think it takes more courage and strength to be the person who has to stand by someone than it is to be the person who takes the action.

What I have learned is that I love my husband without a doubt-and he loves me the same way. We are the right people for each other. He is someone that I am grateful to have in my life. I am proud of him and I am proud of us. We are a very powerful team. We are raising amazing children and in the face of something pretty devastating, we know how to stand by each other.

So does Larry have presents under the tree? Of course he does. But none of them will ever be adequate enough to thank him for what he has done for me this year. None of them will be good enough to explain to him how very much I love him and how glad I am that I married him.

May your Christmas bring you the kind of love that I have and may you feel blessed in whatever gifts come your way. I know what my gifts are and they don't come in a box.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Each year, we host a Holiday Open House for my family on the Sunday before Christmas. We have done it every year for several years, despite busy schedules, new babies and wind storms. This year I was determined to not let cancer put a halt to this tradition. Our open house was scheduled for today and we were ready to have everyone over. The house is clean, the lights are up on the house, the tree is up, the menu is planned. We were ready.

If I have learned anything this year since being diagnosed, you would think it would be that not everything goes the way I plan. I certainly didn't plan to spend the majority of 2008 fighting cancer and despite the fact that our Open House is always planned for December I didn't plan for snow. Mother Nature had different plans than I did and has blanketed the entire Northwest and brought all of us to a screeching halt.

I am disappointed that we had to cancel but feel good that everyone is safe and warm at home and not navigating icy streets. Once we made the decision to cancel, my day opened up suddenly in a way that I had not anticipated. We had NOTHING that we had to do! We were given a gift that I would not have expected-time. Today the girls played in the snow and sledded down a giant hill. I got to spend a leisurely afternoon wrapping presents. This is usually a chore that I squeeze into stolen moments late at night when I am tired and would rather be in bed. I don't usually get to enjoy the labor of love that it should be. Larry watched the entire Seahawks game in peace. I cooked dinner with my daughter and we ate it while watching a Christmas movie.

Once again I have learned that sometimes good things come from what I didn't have planned. Now don't get me wrong...we will reschedule the Open House for the day after Christmas. I'm flexible enough to take advantage of a change of plans but I'm also persistent and determined. Cancer may have brought some good things into my life, but it isn't going to stop me from keeping my original plan of having a long, healthy, happy life.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Power of Words


I love this time of year when I get to hear from all of the people that I love. Christmas cards come in the mail almost every day and I display them in my kitchen where I can see them every day.

This year I had to take down other cards to put up my Christmas cards. Cards of love and support from friends and family as I have gone through this breast cancer journey. There is power in words. Some make me smile or laugh. Some make me cry. These are some of the words that I find in these cards that have helped me through....

We hope you are feeling better...To let you know you're thought of every day....Be well my friend....Rest, Relax, Recover....You are amazing...Keep your great positive attitude and you will be on to better things soon....If you need to lean awhile, we're here....We think you are beautiful on the inside and out....Our wishes go out to the universe to heal and comfort you....I have a million words and no words at all...You are very special to me....You are surrounded by love and support....We're with you every step....You are so dear to all of us.....It is a long process and you are on your way....In the tough times now and ahead, be sure in your family and friends.....You are spirited, you are strong...You are an amazing woman....Remember I am here to share the rainy times too....Hang in there....Pretend I am with you, because in my heart, I am....We are adding our strength to yours......Wishing you strength, peace and courage....I'm so proud of you....Be strong....Be the hero, that's you.....One day at a time....I'm here for you....Today is a better day....You're a fighter, a survivor and a believer.....I'll always be here for you....Hope every day is better....You are fabulous....Whatever it takes....I'll be rooting for you.....

Our thoughts are with you....My thoughts....You are in our thoughts....thinking of you...Good thoughts....Our prayers are with you....We pray....I am praying....Our prayers...We love you....I love you....Love you....Lovingly....Love....Love....Love.


And this quote which I thought said so much.

"In this world, there is no force equal to the strength of a woman determined to rise."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Traditions



Every family has their traditions and when you have children, you either pass them on or create your own. We have done both. When I was growing up, my dad painted a holiday scene on our windows each Christmas season. I remember watching him do it and waiting patiently for the finished product. Though he was a much more talented artist than I am, I have carried on this tradition in my own way. It is something he passed down to me and I am now passing it on to my girls. They are excited every year when they see the paint come out and know that our windows signify the beginning of the holiday season for us.

For the last several years we have hosted a holiday open house for my extended family the week before Christmas. We started this tradition out of necessity. It was becoming impossible for everyone to get together once they had their own families, step-families and in-laws. It has since become something that Larry and I look forward to and the girls look forward to. They start asking about the date of the Open House right after Halloween. Traditions are important to them and even things that we didn't know were traditions, they have decided are.

Tomorrow I go to see the Hereditary Genetics Counselor at Swedish. I will be tested for the BRCA1 and the BRCA2 gene-the only two genes known to predict a higher risk for breast cancer and I will ask that Larry be tested as well. I don't have other people with breast cancer in my family, but I do have other types of cancer that may or may not be related. Larry has breast cancer in his family as well as other types of cancer. Though I will be very surprised if I do carry the gene, I want to know one way or another where both of us stand. I'd like to make sure that I am passing on an appreciation for painted windows and not an increased risk.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Songs of Joy


Darci is in the choir at her elementary school and today they sang holiday songs for the senior citizens at our local community center. I spent most of the time watching the audience for their reaction to 125 kids singing for them. I have to applaud Debbie Folkerts the music teacher for her selections. I could see that all of the seniors were touched in some way by one or more of the songs.

They sang a fun reindeer song first to get the crowd going. Then a Hannukah song with Hava Nagila. I love the way the words in this song just slide over the notes. I saw several people singing along with this one and was so proud of the kids that they were able to represent beliefs that may or may not be their own. They also sang a Kwaanza song celebrating this African American holiday.

They sang a swinging holiday song that had many toes tapping. They finished with a couple of classics, Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. When they finished, all 125 of them went out into the audience to wish the seniors Happy Holidays. It was a joy to watch their reactions as they were completely engulfed in a sea of kids.

I had to think that this is what it is all about. These people have undoubtedly had ups and downs in their lives. I'm sure they have grieved and suffered and had joy and celebrations. In the end, it is the experiences that bring us joy that we remember. What I saw on each of their faces was joy and wonder-125 kids strong.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trials and Justice

Yesterday I went in to Swedish Hospital to talk to the research coordinator for the clinical trial that I asked to be in. This particular trial fits my situation perfectly. It is for early stage breast cancer patients who have completed chemo and radiation and are taking tamoxifen. I specifically asked to be in this trial because it adds bisphosphonates to the tamoxifen regime. Bisphosphonates are drugs generally used for bone loss, such as osteoporosis. They have been found to have a significant impact on distant recurrences of breast cancer to the bones. This trial measures the use of tamoxifen with bisphosphonates administered in different ways, via IV or taken in pill form.

I was really excited to be part of it since the benefits are significant. Unfortunately I was told that I was too far out from chemotherapy. The people who run the study set it up as part of the criteria that the participants were no more than 8 weeks out from chemo. I am 12 weeks out. I never thought I would be disappointed to be further away from chemo. I am extremely disappointed that I can't be part of it. I am going to do whatever I can to get my doctor to prescribe Zometa (the bisphosphonate) for me so that I can get the benefits associated with the study.

Since I am 12 weeks out from chemo, my body is recovering from being assaulted. I have my energy back and I feel really good. I feel healthy and whole. The injustice of it all though is that now that I am feeling healthy, I still look sick. Though my hair is growing and people continue to remind me that it is, I still look like "Cancer Girl" when I look in the mirror. My mutinous eyelashes and eyebrows decided to take a hike at about 8 weeks after my last chemo and though they are coming back, it just isn't fast enough. What kind of justice is it when the hair on my chin, under my arms and on my legs comes back with a vengeance but the hair on my head is growing back at a snails pace? Drat! I want to look as healthy on the outside as I feel on the inside. Every morning I look in the mirror and though I see someone who is healthy and happy and I am thankful for that, there is only one word that comes to mind when looking at my head....GROW!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

5 Reasons



Last May when I was diagnosed, my friend Mindy asked me if I would like to participate in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life. As it happened, it was the same week as my surgery so I couldn't participate. And to be honest, my head just wasn't in it. I was reeling from the news that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I couldn't really think past the fact that I could lose my life and that I was in for a fight.

I had friends who participated in the Susan G. Komen 3 day in September as well. It just so happened that the timing of the 3 day began on the day after my last round of chemo. Once again I couldn't participate and to be perfectly honest, I was pretty engrossed in my own battle. I wasn't ready to take on anyone else's.

Now that I can look in the rear view mirror a bit and distance myself from the shock of being diagnosed and the physical demands of going through therapy, I find myself wanting to do what I can to participate in the larger fight against cancer, not just my own.

There are many reasons for wanting to do this. Part of it is selfish. I want to find a cure for breast cancer so I don't have to go through it again. Part of it is more altruistic-I don't want ANYONE to have to be diagnosed with ANY kind of cancer.

I have just signed up for the Relay for Life on Mindy's team for 2009 and will plan to participate in the 3 day in September as well. My reasons? See the beautiful girls above? My two daughters and my three nieces. I never, ever, ever want them to hear those words that I heard. You have cancer.

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TRC/RelayForLife/RFLFY09GW?pg=peditor&fr_id=15243&px=8683152

Friday, December 5, 2008

‘Cancer isn’t going to win’


I have been writing in the blog for about 6 months now to keep friends and family updated. For me, this has had the feel of having a personal conversation with friends over coffee. Many people have encouraged me to expand my writing. With that in mind, I took a big breath and submitted a story to my local paper. I am happy to say that it was accepted and has been published. Here is the online link to the Maple Valley Reporter. I am out in the world now!


‘Cancer isn’t going to win’

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Next Chapter

If Chapter 1 was surgery, Chapter 2 was chemotherapy, Chapter 3 radiation, then Tamoxifen must be Chapter 4. Today I will start taking Tamoxifen. I will take it for a minimum of 5 years. Tamoxifen is a hormone blocker used specifically for people who are hormone receptor positive. I am hormone receptor positive for both Estrogen and Progesterone. Historically breast cancers were all treated the same way. Now with the advances that have been made in breast cancer research, doctors understand that not all cancers are the same. Because I'm female, I produce estrogen. Tamoxifen blocks the estrogen from attaching onto cancer cells which causes them to grow. Simple. Like anything else there are benefits and potential side effects. Most likely I will experience hot flashes. Who wouldn't want to have more of those? More serious is an increased risk for uterine cancer. I am counting on the fact that the benefits, which are significant in reducing the risk of recurrence, will outweigh the risks.

Like everyone else at WaMu, I was given notice today on my job status. As expected, I will be laid off, but will be working through the end of March. This is the best possible solution for me. I get the opportunity to be part of the change from WaMu to JP Morgan Chase doing work that I enjoy. The risk is that I may miss out on an opportunity outside of WaMu that may not be available in April that is available now. I hope in this case as well, that the benefits will outweigh the risks. I am ready to take on the next chapter.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Defense


I had the pleasure of having lunch today with several friends from my Nordstrom days. Despite the fact that we have not worked together in 8 or 10 years we still try to keep in touch and get together at least once per year. It was great to see all of them and get updates on what is important in their lives these days. They asked me what has changed in my life since my diagnosis and I told them there are several things. My perspective for one. My utter amazement at my friends and family for another, and the way I view my "job" of keeping cancer at bay.

I have done most of the heavy lifting that I can medically now and feel like it is my job to construct the best defense possible against a recurrence since I am now at a greater risk than someone who has not had cancer.

To be sure, there are people who are overweight, smoke their lives away, drink like fish and spend all of their waking hours at McDonalds who never get cancer in their lifetime. There are also people who eat organically, carry very little extra weight, exercise like fiends who are diagnosed with cancer. Look at Lance Armstrong for instance-a healthier specimen would be difficult to find. There are people who carry the breast cancer gene who are never diagnosed and people like me who don't have a history but are diagnosed anyway.

There are no sure fire ways of preventing cancer. But there are ways to decrease your risk. I have spent a lot of time researching, talking to doctors, nutritionists, naturopaths and anyone else I can think of to help me decide on the defense that is right for me. So for Inga, Fabi, Helen and Michelle', here is my plan of attack. It is what is right for me and it is constantly evolving. It is not necessarily what is right for anyone else. Everyone has to do what works for them....

Supplements:
Multi-vitamin
Calcium supplement with Vitamin D
Fish Oil
Vitamin C

Diet:
No processed sugar or sugar substitutes
No corn syrup of any kind
Limited trans-fats
1 cup of green tea 5-6 times per week
Limited red meat
Limited alcohol
Lots of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors
Limited flax and soy (this is because I am estrogen positive-in general, these things are very healthy)
Lots of whole grains and fiber
Water, water and more water

Habits:
Exercise 4 1/2-5 hours each week
Try to limit stress
READ LABELS!-I try to choose things with as few ingredients as possible. I also try to not choose items that have ingredients that I wouldn't eat on their own. Would you put Yellow #9 on a plate and eat it by itself??
Buy organic produce whenever possible
Get 10-15 minutes of sunshine a couple times per week
Reduce my body fat (this is a work in progress!)
Listen to my body and talk to my doctor with any questions
Get regular mammograms
Be mindful of my environment-plastics, pesticides etc.

Will this guarantee that my cancer won't return? Nope. If there was a guarantee, I would be the first in line to get one. Lifestyle changes (diet and exercise) can reduce my risk of a recurrence by up to 50% which is more than I got from chemo and radiation. Is it worth it for me to skip the candy bar? You bet.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful

Last night we returned from Hawaii. The timing of this vacation couldn't have been better. I have been battling cancer for a full 6 months. It has been a very difficult and challenging six months not only for me but for those who care about me as well. It is emotionally and physically draining. I was so thankful to be somewhere with my family where I had no appointments, no drugs, no schedule. We rested and relaxed and played and played some more.

Today I will go to my mother's house for Thanksgiving where my sister and her family will be as well as my grandmother. Besides my husband and my children, these are the people who have been most intimately involved in this battle. I am incredibly grateful to have each of them in my corner. From my grandmother who despite having no real experience on a computer is now a faithful reader of my blog, to my mother who had to watch her oldest daughter shave her head and couldn't do it for her. From my stepfather who was the first person to get on the phone to start making phone calls after I was diagnosed to try to find me a doctor to my niece Ellie who has accepted her Auntie's bald head with humor and glee asking me constantly if she can feel my "noggin". From my brother-in-law who doesn't bat an eye when I ask him to go to KFC for me or rescue my husband and children from a flat tire to my sister who has done and been everything. Even my little nieces Rachael and Jillian who could care less if their Auntie is sick and bald as long as she is willing to change their diaper or be thrown up on (Which she is ALWAYS willing to do!)

My list of things to be thankful for wouldn't be complete if I didn't include the incredible care I have received at Swedish and at Valley Medical. Say what you will about healthcare in this country, but I could not be happier with my doctors, nurses and techs and even my insurance provider. I realize fully that not everyone has access to the care that I have and I am thankful for what I have experienced.

I am thankful for my health. I think everyone will think this today and maybe even say it out loud, but I don't know if everyone will truly grasp what it feels like to go through a day not worrying about your health. I tried once to explain to a friend what it is like to spend every minute of every day thinking about your health and I don't think I did a good job of conveying what a gift it is to have other thoughts during the day...to think of your good health only in passing. Today I will be thankful for my health and that of my friends and family and I will be grateful to God that today on this day designed for thanks giving, I am here, I am healthy and I don't have to spend every minute wondering if tomorrow I won't be.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Aloha

Hawaii is the right place to come to recover. There is nothing better than a tropical breeze, floating in salt water and waking up to sunshine every day. We are having a really great time in Hawaii. We have not had a plan for any day but have just gone with whatever strikes our fancy for the day.

So far we have snorkeled and swam and relaxed. We thoroughly explored the north side of the island and are now on the south side of the island for the duration of our trip. Today is a rainy day here but we have had so much fun spending time with our kids that we haven't even noticed. Our kids have re-discovered the joy of board games and we have laughed ourselves silly playing Scrabble.

I am so grateful to have this time with my family. I enjoy my kids and my husband. We have fun together. I had nearly forgotten how to do so.

Aloha for now...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

R&R

Call it Rest and Relaxation, or Recuperating and Recovery. We are headed off to sunny Hawaii and I can't think when I have ever looked forward more to a vacation. It has been my focal point since May, knowing that as soon as I was finished with treatment, I would get this special time with my family. We will play on the beach and walk around my favorite island and snorkel and rest. We will sleep in and nap when we need to and do nothing at all if that is what feels right.

The girls are excited to go somewhere they have never been and Larry is excited to be able to rest. Sleep has not been his friend since his shoulder surgery and it is beginning to catch up with him. My family needs the rest as much as I do. It is hard to be the patient but it is equally hard to be the caretakers. I know that they have worried and lost sleep and cried and struggled the entire way through, though they have been strong and caring and loving.

When you get married and you say those vows "through sickness and health", I don't know that you can ever truly understand what that means. I think Larry and I now understand that and are thankful that we chose each other as life partners. The girls never signed up for this. Their life was very carefree and their biggest worries were what to wear to school. They have risen to the challenge beautifully. I could not be more proud of my family. So we will stand on the beach and celebrate all of us; our strength as individuals and as a family. Aloha!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Done!


1 Surgery, 4 rounds of chemo, 33 doses of radiation, 77 hospital/doctor visits, 100's of thousands of dollars in medical bills-one lump. Done!

Down to the Wire

I cannot believe I have made it this far. Tomorrow is my last day of radiation. My last day! I never thought I would say this, but I will actually miss the people that I have seen every day for the last 6 and 1/2 weeks. I have had the same 3 or 4 techs every day and they are wonderful. They could spend the 10-15 minutes that I am in there just working and ignoring the patient, but they don't. They talk to me every day, remember things that we have discussed and ask questions about my life.

At Valley, they have valet parking for the radiation patients. Every day the same 2 valets wave me in, take my keys and take care of my car. They know me now too. Most of the time they just let me park myself! They know not to send my car very far because I will only be 10-15 minutes. Collectively they have made an experience that could have been really miserable, something that wasn't that bad.

I will miss them, but I will not miss having an appointment every day. I will not miss being reminded every morning that I am STILL fighting cancer. I will not miss driving the extra 25 minutes every day and having to ride a different bus because there is no room at the park and ride at that time. I will not miss the red peeling skin under my arm.

I had heard that people who don't have to do chemo think that radiation is tough to do and people who do chemo think that radiation is easy in comparison. Radiation is not easy. It causes skin redness and itchiness, sometimes blisters and a low-grade fatigue all of the time. That being said, radiation was a walk in the park as compared to chemo. It is a completely different type of fatigue. I still function very normally with the possible exception that I go to bed a little earlier and feel tired by late afternoon. The only other thing for me is that I have Restless Leg Syndrome and have had it since I was young without knowing what it was. It is something that makes you feel like your skin is crawling and you must move your legs to get it to stop. I generally feel this when I am tired so having a low-grade fatigue all the time means for me that my legs are going crazy almost all the time.

I'm lucky. I know I am. Some people have much more intense side effects that I have had. My radiation doctor and the techs tell me all the time that my skin is amazing and resilient. God might have given me cancer, but He also gave me very good health, strength beyond what I thought I had and resiliency. He also gave me love and support from many different directions. We did it! All of us!

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Skin

I had the chance to go to another seminar at the Gilda's Club in Seattle. It is part of a series on Cancer and the environment. This particular seminar had to do with household products and cosmetics. As if there aren't enough things to worry about that cause cancer, now there is what goes on my face. It all gets to be a little overwhelming sometimes.

It is a bit like being in a haunted house where things just keep jumping out at you from every corner. I certainly believe that our environment has something to do with cancer. It just makes sense that as a developed country we have many uses for chemicals. We are a nation of convenience and image so our cosmetics and lotions and potions are very important to us.

I was stunned to find out how many things are suspected or known carcinogens in things that I use every day; cleaners, shampoo, makeup, nail polish etc. I think there are two ways that one can deal with this information. One is to PANIC! Shut the doors and live in a bubble (but not a plastic one!)Tell the world to go away, live off the land and grow your own food. I can't choose this one. I enjoy being out in the world and I refuse to be afraid of everything that I touch or buy. I think the other way to deal with this information is to be informed and try to make good choices.

There are plenty of choices that are easy and probably don't carry the same risks. For instance, we clean our floors with vinegar instead of using a chemical cleaner. For me, this is a pretty easy substitution. There are also more options available for purchase. At the seminar they told us about a website that can help you compare some of your daily household products. It is http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com. You can enter in anything you like; lipstick, detergent, your favorite lotion and it will tell you what type of things might be in the ingredients that are potentially harmful. The other thing that it tells you is that some percentage of products are better choices. For instance, the lipstick that I use says that 62% of products are better choices. I could definitely use this information to panic when I find out what is in my lipstick, or I can look at some of the other options and see if there is something that I might be comfortable with changing to.

Maybe the lipstick is what caused my cancer, but I am more inclined to think that it is a combination of many, many things. I can't change everything in my life, but I can try to make the best choices that work for me and my family and hope that I pick the right combination.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Skin

I am nearly finished with radiation and finally my skin has revolted. I made it through 5 solid weeks of radiation without any negative side effects. Over the last couple of days my skin has turned a very angry red under my arm and hurts when it is stretched in any way. I was hoping that I could make it through the entire 33 days but I actually made it through about 24. I only have one more day of whole breast radiation and then begin a series of 5 boosts. The 5 boosts are concentrated doses of radiation at the incision site. The good thing about the boosts is that they will not focus on my underarm at all which is where I am having the most amount of redness and pain.

On the day after the election, there are many discussions about skin and skin color. A black man will be the president of the United States. What I was struck by last night when listening to McCain's concession speech and Obama's acceptance speech is that they are both very comfortable in their skin. I thought both speakers showed grace, courage and strength on an evening in which history was being made.

I can't possibly compare myself to two extremely competent individuals, but I will say over the course of treatment and being diagnosed with cancer, I have found that I am more comfortable in my own skin than I was before. I have spent plenty of time worrying about my looks, or my weight or whatever it was I thought was wrong with me. I have found that with scars, a bald head, a lopsided chest, thinning eyebrows and eyelashes I am very proud to be me. I realize that many people go through all of this thinking they are imperfect. I don't think I am perfect, but I am confident. Hair doesn't make the person. Neither do clothes or a perfect body. Certainly not skin.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heaven in a 6oz jar

Since my diagnosis, I have tried hard to change what goes into my body. I figure that this is my time to start making my body work for me and not against me. I would love to say that this is an easy change, but it really isn't. I try to make the right choices whenever possible. I have given up sugar, sugar substitutes and high fructose corn syrup. For the most part, I have not missed sugar really, but there are some things that I do miss.

Breakfast has gotten harder for me. Before my diagnosis, I generally ate cereal or a piece of toast with some fruit for breakfast. I still eat fruit every morning but now try to have some kind of protein as well. But to be honest, I really miss having a piece of toast with jam.

I live in Maple Valley and while it is a truly great place to live, we don't have as much selection as other, more metropolitan cities. We don't have a Trader Joe's or a PCC so I have tried to make my grocery selections at my regular neighborhood store. Most of the time this works, but in the case of finding a good sugar free jam, I have not been able to find something I love.

I happened to be in Issaquah yesterday evening and decided to stop at PCC. Not only did I find sugar free jam, I found several sugar free jams. This morning I had a piece of whole-grain toast with Organic, sugar free peanut butter and organic, sugar-free 100% fruit jam. It was absolute heaven. I could have scooped that jam out of the jar and ate it with a spoon!

Thank goodness consumers are starting to demand more options and stores and manufacturers are starting to listen. Maybe I am a little bit behind the curve on finding these great food options, but now when I find something that I like and my family likes, I do a little happy dance to celebrate that we can make healthy choices and enjoy it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Time Passage

As of yesterday I have only 11 days left of my radiation treatment. I have completed a full 22 days. It is the opposite of chemo in terms of time. My summer was the longest of my life. Time seemed to drag on and on in between treatments. It was like those dreams where you just can't move fast enough. Radiation is different. 22 sessions have flown by. I am now 2/3 of the way done and I don't know how it went by.

I made it through an entire four weeks before I started to see some effects. Just over the past 2 days I have started to see some redness on my skin and am starting to feel tired. My radiation oncologist told me it would be different from chemo fatigue and he is correct. Chemo fatigue is a lack of energy type of fatigue. Radiation is just plain tired, like you didn't get enough sleep at night. By late afternoon I am feeling like I could take a nap. It isn't horrible, just feels like I need a cup of coffee and should go to bed early. So I listened to my body and went to bed early 2 days in a row.

When I was first diagnosed I talked a lot with my friend Kristina who was almost exactly a year out from her round of treatments. At the time a year seemed like an eternity and I couldn't visualize being where she is. I just didn't know how I was going to get through chemo and radiation and the fear and emotions of being diagnosed.

I have been at it now for almost 6 months. I was diagnosed on May 7th and have been doing surgery, chemo, radiation, appointments, blood draws and waiting, waiting, waiting ever since. I can see me being where Kristina was. I can imagine being a year past diagnosis. I can see my life returning to normal. I know that watching my children grow, I will find that time is going too fast again and I will want it to slow down, but right now, I am glad to have radiation zooming by.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Chasing Dreams

My kids always ask me what I wanted to be when I was younger. I tell them two things. I wanted to be an astronaut so I could be the first woman on the moon and I wanted to be a mother. Obviously the first part didn't work out very well as I have not been to the moon, but the other part has worked out quite well since I have two really great children and I very much enjoy being their mother.

Cailey is in middle school this year and last year was nominated by her music teacher to be in the honor choir at the middle school. Cailey has loved singing since she could talk and has always said she wants to be a singer. She has a beautiful voice and can be heard singing at any time during the day-in the shower, in her bedroom, in the car. On Thursday we had the chance to see the first concert at the middle school that included the honor choir. There are only a handful of them and many of them, Cailey included, have auditioned to be in the All-State choir. I hope she makes it. She is talented and passionate and it is what she wants most. We were incredibly proud to be watching her up on the stage doing exactly what she loves.

I have heard sad news over the last 2 weeks about 3 women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Two of them are people that I know through other friends and one is someone who I don't know, but have friends who know her. I have told all of the friends to have these women contact me if they need any kind of support or help. I hope to be able to help them through their journey just as people have helped me through mine. All three of these women have young children. Fighting cancer is a very difficult path, but I know that all three of these women will do it. They will do it for the same reason that I do. Because we want to watch our children chase their dreams. They show us how to do it and remind us that dreams are worth having. They will do it so they can chase their own dreams as well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pink?

Monday's are doctor days during radiation. Every day during treatment I see radiation techs and nurses, but only on Monday do I see the doctor. Yesterday I had a chance to see the doctor. In general this is a discussion about any potential side effects that I might be having.

I am halfway done with radiation as of today. I have completed 16 out of 33 treatments and so far have been really lucky to have no real side effects. My skin is still in tact and is not showing any signs of redness.

When the doctor came in, he asked me how everything was going and I told him that I was not having any skin issues at all. He was pleased that I wasn't having any problems but assured me that soon I would start to see some signs of pink. As predicted, chemo has sent me into menopause and I have hot flashes on a regular basis. As soon as the doctor started to examine me I had a hot flash, turning all of my skin a healthy shade of pink. "See, your skin is starting to turn pink" says my doctor.

Sigh....OK, I'm turning pink, but not because of radiation. If only he understood that my skin turns pink a dozen times a day and several times at night. Chemo induced menopause so far is causing me more discomfort than the radiation and turning me all kinds of lovely shades of pink.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

3, 6 and 7


I had the chance to go to a lecture at the Gilda's Club in Seattle last night. The topic was "Cancer and your Environment". This particular lecture had to do with food; eating it, storing it and cooking it. I learned a lot of very good information, but one of the most disturbing things I got out of the lecture was this series of numbers; 3, 6, 7. With all the discussion of the many things in our environment that are either known or suspected to cause cancer, these were the most bothersome. These are the three plastics that have the most known or suspected carcinogens in them.

Everyone uses plastic every day. It is convenient and we Americans are nothing if not addicted to convenience. Not all plastics are created equally and though none are good for the environment, some are considered okay for people and some are not so okay.

On the bottom of every plastic container, bottle etc is a number and apparently 3, 6 and 7 are the ones to avoid if possible. When I left the lecture and got in my car, I went to take a drink out of the water bottle that I have carried around for the last year and a half. It is special to me as it is from Seattle University and I like to have something from my alma mater. I thought to glance at the bottom of it before I took a drink. Number 7. Unbelievable. I have been carrying it around filling it with water at every opportunity and using it at work and everywhere else for over a year.

Is that plastic bottle the reason why I got breast cancer? Probably not. To be fair, it is probably a whole collection of little things that I have done or not done, been exposed to or not, a little bad luck and maybe some genetic mutations to boot. I doubt that there is one reason why people get cancer and I am no different. That being said, I am still going to throw out that water bottle. If I can eliminate one potential thing that might cause a recurrence then I am going to do it. I am also going to go through all of our plastic ware that my family uses and get rid of anything that says 3, 6 or 7. Why take the chance?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Duckling

I am now almost 5 weeks out from my last chemotherapy. I am feeling much more like a normal person. My energy is back, I don't have any aches or pains and my taste buds have returned.

Even better, my hair is starting to come in! It is darker on the sides and in the back and white and very fine on the top. There isn't a lot of it yet, but it is definitely starting to come in. We are going to Hawaii in November so I am hoping to have enough hair by then that I can go without a wig, a hat or a scarf most of the time. I don't know if that will be the case as it is pretty sparse right now, but I certainly hope so. As my kids like to say, I now can feel the wind in my hair.

I tried to have Larry take a picture of my tiny sprouting hairs, but unfortunately they don't show up because they are so light. So until I have enough that I can show it in a picture, just imagine a little duckling, all shiny and new, ready to face the world, with hair standing straight up on top of my head, all white and fuzzy. But imagine the duckling with a smile because at this point, I don't care what the hair looks like as long as it is hair.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sunshine Vitamin


In Washington state, we have one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in the country. We also happen to have one of the highest incidence of Multiple Sclerosis in the country. Some studies speculate that both of these could be attributed to a lack of vitamin D. Vitamin D is of course the Sunshine Vitamin. It is something that our bodies manufacture from exposure to sunlight.

According to one Canadian study, "Women who have a vitamin D deficiency when they are diagnosed with breast cancer were 94% more likely to have their cancer metastasize and 73% more likely to die within 10 years". "Ten years after their diagnosis, 83% of those who had adequate vitamin D levels were still alive, compared to 79% of those with insufficient levels and 69% of those classified as deficient. None of the patients were given vitamin D supplements."

I recently met with a naturopath at Swedish Medical Center to find out what I should be eating and doing to help decrease my chances of a recurrence of breast cancer. One of the things she told me is that I should have my Vitamin D levels checked to see if I am deficient in Vitamin D.

Yesterday I talked to the nurse at my oncologist's office to ask her to request this test for me for the next time I came in. To my surprise, she told me that I was tested for this on the day of my first chemo (July 9). She looked up my results and found that my Vitamin D levels are well within normal range. Even bordering on optimal! She asked me how much Vitamin D I had been taking and I was happy to tell her that though I take a multi-vitamin and a calcium supplement, I do not take a separate Vitamin D supplement. She told me I was only the second person that she could remember who had normal ranges of Vitamin D without taking it as a supplement.

I am thrilled to hear this as having normal levels at diagnosis seems to have a positive impact on avoiding recurrences in the future. Since I have lived in gray Seattle all my life, I checked to see how much sunshine is needed to manufacture enough Vitamin D and it is pretty minimal; about 15 minutes a day a couple of times per week. I know what you are going to say-what about skin cancer? I'm not minimizing the risk of skin cancer, but I think 15 minutes a couple of times a week is worth the risk if it can help prevent other types of cancer. At least for me it is so I will be making sure I get my sunshine a couple of times a week. For all of the things you can do to help prevent breast cancer, this one is pretty darn easy. Besides, when it is sunny in Seattle-it is glorious!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Doing Nothing

Ever since the day I was diagnosed, I have felt like I have had to do whatever I could to fight the cancer in my body. It is something that I think about constantly. Between appointments, research, diet and exercise, I feel like the battle is constant. Even the days of chemo, though miserable, were serving a purpose. They were providing insurance against a recurrence and every day I had to tell myself that I was doing something to fight it even if I couldn't get out of bed.

This weekend was the first weekend that I felt like I had a reasonable semblance of normal energy. Maybe not 100%, but pretty close. Since it was the first weekend that I was feeling good, we could have been ambitious and tackled any number of projects that we have around the house. But we didn't. We did nothing.

Actually we did a lot of nothing. We went for a long walk with the girls and the dog. We went through some winter clothes and got rid of some. We made dinner. We watched both girls play soccer. I caught up on my stack of magazines.

I am grateful to have the energy and the time to choose to do nothing. To have a weekend when I don't feel like I must be doing something to fight cancer. There are lots of things I could have done, but didn't. It was a perfect weekend.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

2 down-31 to go

I started radiation on Monday. The first of 33 sessions, 1 per day for six and a half weeks. It is deceptively easy. The whole session takes about 5 minutes. It takes longer to park and undress and redress than it does to actually go through the treatment.

I have not yet experienced any of the side effects though I understand it can take a couple of weeks for them to show up. In comparison to chemo, it should be easier. The two biggest side effects are fatigue and skin issues-something like a sunburn.

It all sounds comparatively easy. However radiation is serious. You can only have radiation once in your lifetime. Because my lump was on the left side, I have the potential to have permanent damage to my heart, my lungs or my ribs. Hopefully this won't be the case but it is a risk. After these treatments, I will have had my maximum lifetime radiation. You know when you have an xray and they put that nice heavy metal apron on to protect you from the radiation? I don't get the metal apron. I get the full effect of something that I have had to be protected against my entire life.

So why do it? It improves my chances of survival by about 7-10%. That may sound like a small amount and some people choose not to do radiation, but for me 7-10 percent is enough to make it worth it. I think I would worry about it constantly if I didn't do radiation. I want to make sure I have done everything I can to improve my chances of survival and reduce my chances of a recurrence. So I will go every day for 6 and a half weeks and I will try every day to remember why I am doing it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Odds

If you have been following the news, you are aware that WaMu was purchased by JP Morgan Chase this week. As an employee of WaMu, this impacts me directly. I chose to work at WaMu for several reasons. I am from Seattle and always want to work for a Seattle based company. I like working for larger companies rather than smaller companies because I like the stability of a large company. When I started at WaMu they were a successful, well-respected company. I always want to be proud of where I work so this was important as well. It wasn't a random choice. I never in a million years thought that I would be part of the biggest bank failure in history.

As of right now I don't know if I will lose my job, but since I work in the corporate offices and JP Morgan Chase's offices are in NY, I find it unlikely that they will retain two corporate presences. I think it is only a matter of time. When I watched the employees at Enron and WorldCom and Lehman brothers, I felt for them, but I still thought it would never happen to me. But here I am. My WaMu stock is worthless, my job is in jeopardy and I will most likely be one of those people you see on the news carrying their belongings out the door in a box.

I never thought I would have cancer either. In an abstract way, I knew that there was a chance, but I thought the odds were with me, not against me. I did not have the typical risk factors, but against the odds, here I am; 43 and diagnosed with breast cancer. I never thought it would happen to me.

So now I have been shown in no uncertain terms that no matter what the odds are, someone is always on the wrong side of them. Now I have to find a way to turn this around. The odds are against me winning the lottery or being famous or finding a cure for cancer. Twice this year I have lost against the odds. Maybe it is time for me to use that to my advantage and find out what I can do to win against the odds. It is more for me to think about while I try to figure out what my lesson is supposed to be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

10 Things I Don't Hate About Cancer

There are many, many, many things to hate about cancer and believe me, I do hate cancer but for every cloud there must be a silver lining and I have found a few.

#10-No need for an eyebrow wax
I am not sure why this is, but the area where I generally have my brows waxed is as clean as a whistle! My eyebrows currently have the exact shape and arch that they have after I have had them waxed at zero cost.

#9-No underarm nicks from shaving
This hair was probably the first to go and I don't miss it at all! There is something nice about a smooth underarm-EVERY DAY!

#8-Smooth legs all summer long
The hair on my legs also went quickly and I have had to shave my legs exactly one time this summer. I might not have appreciated this as much if I had to have chemo in the winter, but this was definitely a bonus.

#7-Short Showers
With no hair to wash and nothing to shave, there is only so much one can do in the shower-alone!

#6-Appreciation for the sense of taste
There are very few foods that I don't like and I am willing to try most anything. Having my taste buds disappear with each round of chemo essentially making everything taste like sawdust or mud makes me appreciate the fact that prior to chemo I had pretty accommodating taste buds. I can't wait to welcome them back.

#5-Sleeping with my children
When my girls were young I used to be able to nap with them occasionally and thought it was one of the greatest things in the world. Now that they are 10 and 11 I don't ever have this opportunity. Since I have spent so much time during chemo sleeping or napping, I have had the chance to sleep with both of my girls at some point. I even got to catch a nap with my niece the other day. There are few things more personally rewarding than snuggling up with the warm, soft body of a child.

#4-Letting my husband take care of me
Soon after Larry and I met, I remember him telling me that I wasn't an easy person to take care of because I am too independent. I'm not used to allowing people to take care of me, but happened to marry someone who thrives on taking care of people. Being hit by the chemo truck gave us both the opportunity to let him take care of me.

#3-Understanding I have choices
Getting a Cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and debilitating. It seems that everything is happening TO you. I realized that I have choices. I can choose my attitude, my outlook, my treatments. I can also choose to have my body work against me or work for me. I intend to make it work for me.

#2-Friends near and far
I knew I had friends, I really did. I just didn't know how caring and supportive they would be or to what lengths they would go to support me. I gained friends as well. I even received support from people that I would have guessed didn't even know that I existed.

#1-Having my health
Most people probably wouldn't say they were healthy when diagnosed with cancer, but besides that little fact, I am actually pretty healthy! Being healthy has helped me to bounce back from each chemo and withstand potential infections. I don't have any allergies or other illnesses. I can't imagine having to tackle cancer with high blood pressure or kidney disease or severe allergies or a compromised immune system. Now I know I have done everything in my power to insure my health and I am going to do everything humanly possible to hang onto it. I am worth it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chemo 4 of 4 done!

Yippee! I finished my last chemo yesterday and I am so glad! I still have to get through this week and I can't say that I recovered very well from round 3 so we'll see how it goes. I am also pretty anemic which is not helping much. My oncologist recommends that I up my iron for at least the next 3 months to get those counts up.

I had quite a crowd with me yesterday, my mom bought me to my appointment and brought both of my girls. They have been curious about the whole process and I decided that if they wanted to watch drugs drip into me it would probably help rather hurt. I think they found that it was boring and not that scary so it was probably a good thing.

Also my friend Mary Kay came to sit and visit which was nice. She brought pictures of her recent trip to France which was good and distracting and made me want to go back!

My friend Angie came at the end and drove me home. Who knew it took so many people to get me through?

I got my tattoos for radiation this week and will start radiation on September 29th. I will do 33 times, every day for 6.5 weeks. I am doing my radiation at Valley since it is closer to the house. I understand that each appt is only about 15 minutes so I will spend more time driving there and walking into the office than I will actually at the appointment.

I am glad to be nearing the end of the treatment journey so I can get on with my life.

Speaking of getting on with life, I want to wish Annie, Lisa, Trude and Pam good luck with the 3 day that starts tomorrow. I hope you know how much you are doing for Breast cancer and I appreciate everything you are doing for the cause and for me. Keep putting one foot in front of another and keep your head high. You are doing important work!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Statistics and Fundraising

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you find that information is everywhere. While information is powerful, sometimes it is overwhelming. Take these statistics for example:

1 out of every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
1 out of every 5 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime.
1 out of every 2 men will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in their lifetime.
1 out of every 3 women will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in their lifetime.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.

Daunting isn't it?

Luckily there are many who are trying to change these statistics. I know 3 of them personally. Annie Searle-a coworker at WaMu, Lisa Mocquet-a third grade teacher at my daughter's elementary school and Trude Haines-a fellow soccer mom. This is what I want you to know about the three of them. None of them have had breast cancer but all of them are willing to walk 60 miles in the Susan G. Komen 3 day taking place September 12-14. Between the three of them they have raised about $25,000.00 that will go directly to breast cancer research-and that is just this year. Both Annie and Trude have done this event before and raised money each year. Can you believe they walked 60 miles in 3 days and want to do it again??

I applaud each of them for their efforts and have included links on the left side of my breast cancer blog to their fundraising pages. If you have not yet donated to this great cause, there is still time and I know that any of the three of them would be very grateful for the additional donations. Being a direct recipient of the research that is done, I am also grateful.

My dad died of pancreatic cancer 19 years ago so not only have I been personally affected by cancer, I have lost a parent to it. When my dad died, I started giving money to the American Cancer Society each month out of my paycheck. Their focus is broader than Susan G. Komen as they have programs to help anyone diagnosed with any type of cancer. I have included their link here as well if you are interested in donating there.

Finally, if you turn on the television tonight to any network channel, you will find a show called Stand Up To Cancer. It is a one time fundraising event taking place tonight only.

If you want to do something super easy, I have included the link to Click to Give. This is a site that gives away free mammograms just by clicking on the website.

I support all of these efforts for the simple reason that I want cancer to go away. Not just mine, not just breast cancer, all cancers. I have lost a parent and a friend to cancer. I have personally given up quite a bit to cancer. I'm not willing to give up anything else-certainly not my life. I don't want anyone else to give anything up either.

Find yourself in these statistics. Everyone is affected by cancer.

Friday, August 29, 2008

September

I love September. It is one of my favorite months. Not only does it usually end up being one of the nicest months of weather in Seattle, we get just a tiny hint of fall with some of the leaves starting to change and the weather getting just a little crisp in the morning and evenings.

September is also the time when I get to fill up my calendar. I get all of the dates for school functions, girl scouts, soccer games and practice, choir concerts and school breaks. Since I am definitely a planner, this type of fullness in my calendar makes me feel secure and happy.

The coming of September is just what I needed to feel like I am getting my life back. I spent the afternoon putting all of the school, soccer and girl scout dates on my calendar. It is what I do every September and it feels good to have this one be no different than any other despite being in treatment for cancer. I like organizing my family's days. It makes me feel needed and part of something larger than myself.

Larry has been out of town for work all week long and it has just been the girls and I. He has done such a great job of taking care of us that we all stood around with a blank look on our face the first day that he was gone. But then, even though I wasn't feeling well and Cailey wasn't feeling well, we picked ourselves up by our boot straps and took care of each other. We had to make sure all of us were fed and clean, got ourselves to appointments and we even had to do laundry and take out the garbage! Who knew that was what it was going to take to get that precious glimpse of getting my life back? Just a tiny slice of normal. My kids needed me and I needed them and we did it!

We can't wait for Larry to come home but it is nice to know that slowly but surely, I am getting my life back.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I Want My Life Back!

That's just all there is to it. I want my life back. I am tired of cancer being the center of my whole life. I am tired of not being able to take care of my family, I am tired of not being able to go out and have fun. I have spent the last 48 hours in bed feeling miserable. Not only have I been feeling miserable, but now Cailey has strep throat and not only can I not take care of her, I can't even go near her.

The thing I have wanted most in my whole life is to be a mother. I have the greatest children on the planet. They are sweet and brave and smart and beautiful and compassionate and understanding. And I can't go near them right now. I have not once said that it isn't fair that I have cancer. I have not once said, "Why me?". I don't know why it is me and life is definitely not fair, but I want to take care of my children. I want their needs to be important right now. I don't want everything they are going through to take a back seat to something as greedy and evil as cancer. I WANT MY LIFE BACK!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

75%

Yesterday was chemo round 3 and as usual, I feel just slightly hung-over this morning, but so far so good. I had two good friends join me yesterday, Angie and Inga. It is a great excuse to be able to see friends that I don't get to see very often. It makes what would be a very boring day into a nice afternoon visit

I am now 75% done with chemo! I have high hopes that this round will be similar to the second round and pretty easy to get through. I am trying to do everything exactly the same as last time in the hopes that a ritual is exactly what I need. I am going to see the acupuncturist this afternoon and am hoping for the same results.

It has been an interesting week for care taking around here. Darci ended up with Strep throat while she was in Denver so she needed a little extra care when she came home (she is completely back at 100% now). Cailey got braces on Monday and a headgear so she has been needing some extra care this week with a very sore mouth and a limited amount of food that she can eat. I think she thought it would be great to eat ice cream and jello all day, but it is not proving to be as fun as she thought.

And now in a day or so it will be my turn. I should probably feel ok until about Saturday and then once again will rely on my family to take care of me. I have realized that somewhere along the line we have raised very compassionate children. They take care of each other and are willing to take care of me as well. They get it-they understand that it isn't fun and it isn't my first choice of how to spend my weekend, but that it is necessary.

So we will all take care of each other and we will all make it through

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

God's humor

God certainly has a strange sense of humor. I have had so many people tell me that they wish they could do more and that they don't always know how to help. I have told everyone to not worry because I appreciate what they can do and everyone has different gifts to share.

I sent my children to Denver to stay with friends this week, a trip that the girls have been looking forward to all summer. I got a call from them yesterday telling me that Darci is sick. She tends to be sick to her stomach any time she has a fever and sure enough, this is what happened. She was sick twice yesterday and now has a fever, a cough and a sore throat. I can hear her trying not to cry when I talk to her and I know she doesn't like being sick away from home.

I have never had either one of my kids away from me when they are sick. I feel so helpless! I can talk to her and tell her it will be OK and to rest and drink fluids, blah, blah, blah. But I can't hold her and I can't make her feel better. I hate it! I have complete faith that my friends will take care of her and give her lots of love, but I am her mother and it hurts me to not be able to take care of her myself. I am helpless and I don't like it one bit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

For You...

I get cards many times a week from people. Today I received one from someone who I love very, very much. As with any emotional exchange between her and I, it was heartfelt and genuine and I cried when I read it. This is a person who has a lot going on in her life right now and I know has a certain amount of guilt about not being able to be there for me more throughout this journey. So this post is in her honor, but is for every single person who has helped me in ways big or small over the last months. I have great friends and family. You have all done more for me than I ever dreamed possible.

You have sent 1 card, you have sent a thousand cards. You have called once or a thousand times. You have sent emails and left notes. You have brought food, drink, flowers and gifts. You have raised money and donated money, not only to me, but to the Breast Cancer cause. You have listened to me talk and talked to me when I didn't have any more words. You have talked to me about everything and nothing. You have let me tell you about my life and have told me about yours in return so that I can remember that life is much more than cancer.

You have taken my children for an hour or a day or more. You have let them be sad if they want to be or let them be children with no worries. You have made plans and changed plans. You have waited with me patiently and impatiently. You have given me one hug or a thousand, one kiss or a thousand. You have let me cry. You have not let me cry. You have cried with me or without me.

You have watched me change my appearance and looked at me as if it hadn't. You have treated me like I was as fragile as a butterfly wing and as strong as iron. You have reminded me that I am both. You have felt sorrow and anger and fear on my behalf. You have felt pride and elation and joy and relief with me and for me. You have never lost hope. You have spoken my name to someone you care about. You have told someone to take care of themselves or you have made a choice in your own life to make sure you aren't where I am at.

You have lost sleep. You have enjoyed a moment with your family with extra sweetness. You have thought about me once or once an hour. You remembered dates and milestones that I thought were only important to me. You have taken the very special and personal relationship that you have with God and used that relationship to pray for me. You prayed for strength or clarity or health or nothing. Maybe you didn't even use words, but you used that precious relationship for me and you made me understand that I was worth it.

You have reached out to someone in my family or one of my friends. You have spoken to or emailed someone that you have nothing in common with but one thing-me. You have driven or walked out of your way just to say hello and that you are thinking of me.

How can any of these things carry less weight than the others? They don't. Everyone has a gift that they have chosen to share with me. I am grateful for every single one of them, small and large, a single incidence or a hundred. If I haven't told you before, or if I forget to tell you tomorrow, if I can't get to the phone or talk to you in person-Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, Thank you.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Someday

Monday,day 6 after chemo number 2. Now I believe I can do two more. This time has been drastically better than last time. I did not take one pain pill. Not one. I took Advil throughout the day yesterday for various shooting aches and pains, but nothing constant. I still have a general drain of energy and I didn't have a lot of activity today-in fact spent most of the day sitting down in my living room. But here is the difference, last time by day 6 I didn't have enough energy to walk upstairs by myself and couldn't be upright for more than about 30 minutes at a time. I also felt like I had been hit by a truck, many times over. This time I got hit by a bike maybe-a big bike, but not a truck.

I am generally a planner and having cancer has made me think against my nature in much smaller chunks of time. I focus on the next appointment, the next treatment and no further. I couldn't focus on any amount of time longer than that because I didn't know what it would look like.

Yesterday I spent quite a bit of time on the couch watching movies. One was based in New York, a city that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! I had a conversation with Larry last night telling him that I want to take the girls to New York some day to go to restaurants that we have seen on TV, skate in Rockefeller Center, play in Central Park and enjoy one of the greatest cities on earth. Larry did what he always does when I have these ideas....yes, yes, that is a great idea, of course we should do it.

I'm glad he reacted the same way because it means his expectations of me haven't changed, but I realized that mine had. I quit thinking about the future and this was the first time since May that I have had the confidence to throw out a discussion about the future in an abstract way. I have the same right to expect a "someday" as anyone else. I now have the confidence that I will have the opportunity to have those somedays, lots and lots of somedays.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Two down

I am at day 4 after my second chemo treatment. While knocking on wood, I will say that so far this one seems to be a little bit easier than the last one. I am still feeling OK-no pain to speak of really and my taste buds are still at least partially in tact. I don't have a lot of energy, but that is really my biggest complaint at this point.

The girls ran in a Kid's 1K this morning in Snoqualmie. Snoqualmie is definitely a small town and this event reflected that. We probably walked at least a mile before we found the beginning of the kids walk. They ended up doing great although I think it was a little harder than they thought it would be. They have never done an organized run before so really had no idea of what they were getting into.

We told them how proud we were of them and assured them that it would be easier next time. I guess that is our lesson to learn. It is always harder when you don't know what to expect and the best way to improve is to learn from your experiences. If all else fails, just believe that you can do it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Good Times and Bad

Tomorrow I go in for chemo round 2. I am not looking forward to it, but again am prepared as possible. I have spoken to my oncologist, a dietician and have an appointment for acupuncture to try to prevent some of the pain. I have written down all of the drugs that I need to take and bought some of the foods that have been recommended to me. I don't know what else I can do.
The most important thing that I have though is support. My family is ready too. They are prepared to play the next week and a half by ear and let me feel bad or good or whatever happens. They are a gift and I love them.

I am including pictures here from head shaving day because I think they tell the story of the support that I have from my family. When I am feeling miserable and nothing that anyone says can make me feel better, I will remember these pictures and know that they are with me no matter what. And I will remember that in the midst of a time that has been very difficult, nothing can change the fact that I am blessed and that they are the reason why I will do whatever I have to do.

In the beginning....
Emotional for all....
Strong Girls.....
Tough Day.......
Family Acceptance.....

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Larry ran in the Torchlight Run on Saturday. The girls and I went to cheer him on and to watch the parade. We haven't been to this parade for a couple of years and I had forgotten how many people come out to participate and watch this great Seattle event. We were proud of Larry and the girls were excited to be able to cheer for him as he ran by.

Because Larry was a runner, the girls and I ended up sitting by ourselves amongst the crowd for a couple of hours. We had chairs, food blankets etc to get us through the evening. We found a nice open corner and camped out for the duration.

This was really my first time in a very public place since I have shaved my head. I wear scarves every day when I am out and about and go bare headed when I am at home so sometimes forget that I am bald.

I was shocked and surprised therefore when I was approached by several people. First, in our little corner on the street we were quickly joined by other people. A very nice woman sat next to me with her husband and two teenage daughters. She asked me if I enjoyed being bald in the summer. When I told her I had only been bald for a week, she told me that she was bald 4 years ago when she was going through treatment for breast cancer. She was very gracious and friendly and asked me several questions about my doctors, treatment etc. Her girls were slightly older than mine when she was diagnosed, but it was still helpful to talk to someone who has gone through what I am going through with daughters involved. The best part though was just talking to her about the parade, the weather etc. She was the reminder that I needed that breast cancer patients survive and thrive with very normal, happy lives.

At the beginning of the parade, there were 3 people walking through the crowds taking donations for the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk. They walked past me and just like normal, they looked and looked again. The difference though is that one of them, a man, turned around and came back. He handed me a pink Strength bracelet, smiled, waved and walked away.

As the parade progressed, we started to get crowded in. I soon found a young mom standing over my shoulder with her two young children, trying to see through the crowd. She eventually put her hand on my shoulder and asked if she could intrude by asking about my bald head. When I told her it was breast cancer, she teared up immediately. She said that her younger sister was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma almost 5 years ago and was now 28 and doing great. She talked to me about the horror and pain their family went through watching her sister go through treatment and fight her own battle. She told me that she would keep me in her prayers and was confident that I would beat my cancer, just like her sister has. She kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my shoulders and wiped away tears.

I have been very blessed to be the recipient of the kindness of my family and friends, but this is the first time since my diagnosis that I have been witness to the true kindness of strangers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Normal

Yesterday I went back to work. I wore a pretty scarf that I bought and with just a few nerves, rode the bus and walked into my office. As it happens, I work on a floor that doesn't have a lot of people on it, so this wasn't nearly as hard as it could have been. I found that the people who know me acknowledged the loss of my hair and then moved on just like everything was back to normal. I felt normal too. Just like my normal self on the inside-just slightly different on the outside.

Strangers though do not see me as normal. It is interesting to observe the behaviors of people who do not know me but see me in a public place. Almost everyone looks, looks again and then quickly looks away. I can think of a few reasons why this might be so. First thought-a bald woman. Second thought-a woman with cancer. Third thought-don't stare, it's impolite. Or, Third thought-don't stare, poor girl. Or Third thought-don't stare, Thank God it's not me. Or Third thought-don't stare, she's not normal. Or Third thought-don't stare, I could "catch" it. Whatever their thoughts, they don't see me as normal, I can see it in their eyes, just before they look away.

Here is normal for me these days. I get up, feeling pretty good, take a walk in the morning and then a quick shower (and I do mean quick now!) I do some laundry, pay some bills, put away some clothes and eat breakfast. I worry about my kids and what their plans are for the day, kiss my husband goodbye, fight traffic to the bus stop, get on the bus with all the other commuters and go to work. All very normal. Oh, I also happen to be bald. Oh, and diagnosed with breast cancer.

Normal for me is that cancer is a part of my life. In some ways a very large part, but in some ways a very small part. It is not the only thing in my life. It is just one of the many varied parts, just like someone else might have a mole on their leg or an accent or arthritis. It isn't me, but it is part of me.

Who wants to be normal anyway? I'm better than normal. I am turning into a survivor.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Head Shaving Day




I knew that chemo was going to take my hair from me and decided to shave it off before it started falling out. I made an appointment and invited friends to come with me so I wouldn't back out. I had a plan of how to do it and thought that I could make it through without any trauma.

Things are never easy with cancer and this was no different. I spent all day trying to come up with something that I could put in my head that would make it ok for me to shave a perfectly healthy head of hair, some mantra or inspiration. I found nothing that brought me comfort or peace. Michael, the person who was going to be shaving my head had told me that this would be difficult for him as his father also has cancer. In the end, I decided the only thing that was going to get me through was that if Michael could have the strength to shave it for me, I must have the strength to have it done. We were in it together.

He is the right person for me to have chosen for this job. He handled the whole thing with grace and compassion and strength. He allowed me to handle it in a calmer way. He sat me down, my family and friends around me and calmly told me what he was going to do. My husband and my children put their hands in mine, Michael tipped my head forward, asked me if I was ready and began.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and cried as he shaved my hair for me. I was aware of only a couple of things throughout the entire process. I was aware of my family's hands in mine. I was aware of the noise of the clippers and Michael's hand on my head and tears falling down and landing on my hand. It was a much longer process than I had anticipated. Finally, he moved my head backward, shaved off the last of my hair and turned off the clippers. I opened my eyes and cried.

But in that instant, a funny thing happened. I opened my eyes and expected to see a stranger but I didn't. I saw me. It was me looking back from the mirror. I started to relax.

There was a couple of small snafu's with my wig. Michael explained that when it was thinned out, too much was taken out. We also found when he put it on my head without hair, it was way too big for my head. He blow dried and styled my hair but opted not to cut it since it appears I need to take it back and resolve the problems with it.

Though the wig looked beautiful, I realized the longer I had it on, the more I didn't feel like myself. When he was done styling, I removed the wig and put it back in the box. I was more comfortable with my bald head. I took a breath, let my friends and family rub my head and accepted it as it is-beautiful.

I thanked Michael and all of the fabulous friends and family who were kind enough to accompany me on this part of my journey and walked out the door-very bald but comfortable in my skin and ok. Not just ok, but really, truly OK.

I hope you like our new family portrait.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Metamorphosis

Yesterday I felt like just a shell and today I turned back into a real person! Today was the first time that I got out of bed willingly without having to judge if I had the energy to make it into the next room. I took a shower and didn't have to lay down afterwards. I ate 3 full meals today. These are my new measurements for a good day.

I had two appointments today. The first one was to have my white blood cell counts checked. I was concerned because yesterday I had two unexplained nosebleeds. I am happy to report that my counts came back spectacular. My doctor was very pleased and said that I must have good bone marrow :). I'm not sure what that means, but I was happy that something in my body was finally working correctly as it seems that it had turned on me over the last week.

The second appointment was to pick up my wig. This is the human hair wig that I bought with the very generous donations from my very generous friends and family. I am really happy with it. The texture is good, the cap is great, the color is close to perfect and I am having it styled by the same person who provided me with the cut I have now. I have asked him to give it a slightly edgier style than I have currently. He is the person who will be shaving my head on Saturday so I am excited to see the finished product.

I came home and picked up my kids, visited with my sister, saw my beautiful nieces and had a very normal evening without having to lay down to make it through. I am transformed, not into a butterfly, but just into me-regular, normal me. Thank God.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Strength

Day 8 after my first chemo treatment. Still feeling like a wet noodle and can't be upright for more than a few minutes at a time but at least feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I had an idea of what chemo would be like but I was wrong.

I really thought I was a strong person and I thought that I could power through anything that I put my mind to, but now I know that strength really has nothing to do with it. It is an oversimplification to say that you can just decide you are going to beat cancer. It is hard-really hard. Harder than anything I have ever done and harder than anything that I ever plan to do again. I have to redefine my definition of strength because the one that I had is not enough.

I am grateful for my husband and children who have taken care of me non-stop. I haven't been able to do more than get up and go to the bathroom so they have been everything to me. I can't imagine going through this alone and my thoughts go out to those that have to do so. I am also grateful that every day I get a phone call, email or card from someone or a comment on my breast cancer blog. Even if I am not in a position to respond, please know that your love, thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me and help me get through the bad days.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chemo sucks!

The thing with chemo is that it just messes with me enough to make everything difficult. I am not queasy exactly, but kind of shaky, like I am hungry all the time. I am also achy, like I have the flu. Just enough that advil doesn't quite handle it, but not quite enough to go for anything stronger. I am willing to eat, but unfortunately everything tastes like rubber or cardboard. I am trying hard to be strong, but have spent most of the last two days on the couch, achy, shaky and weepy. I don't know if that is part of the chemo or just part of the whole experience catching up with me, but I seem to be crying a lot.

I hate cancer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chemo Day 2

So far not so bad. I woke up a little shaky this morning but other than that, no real problems. The girls and I ran errands, took Darci into the doctor to see if her toe was broken, got some shots for Cailey and just hung out.

I know that the next few days could be worse, but that's OK. I will take advantage of the days that I feel good and be happy that I can spend them with my family. I will go in next Thursday to have my white blood cell counts checked. Besides having side effects that can be just plain annoying, this is actually the most dangerous one. My counts should go down significantly between day 7 and 10. I will be using lots of Purell and will be asking anyone who comes to see me or wants to hug me to do the same. I will also ask that if you have a sniffle or sore throat or anything else that you wait a few days to come and see me.

Thank you for all the phone calls and messages. I'm going to make it...I know it.

Now I can say that I a 25% done with chemo. You gotta like some accomplishment!