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


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


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.