Saturday, November 29, 2008


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....

Calcium supplement with Vitamin D
Fish Oil
Vitamin C

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

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


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 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


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


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


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 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


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.