Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Happiness and Angels



I can't believe that I didn't post on Christmas!  I guess everything just got busy and it went by the wayside.  The holidays have been great for our family.  We were able to spend great time with the girls, with my family and even with friends.  I finished all of my shopping and wrapping early so I even had some stress-free days when everyone else was running around like crazy people.

As always, I am grateful and happy to have good health for me and my family, but have been saddened by several events over the last couple of weeks.

First, I was upset to hear that a friend and former colleague has been diagnosed with breast and lung cancer.  Her family support position is not ideal and even though I know she is as tough as they come, I can't help but worry that she will at times feel alone in her journey.  I think about her every day, knowing that she has good medical care and lots of friends who care about her and hoping she will find the strength wherever she can. 

My sister gave birth to her first daughter on December 22nd of 2003.  She was born prematurely and lived only a few short hours making it into December 23rd by just a hair.  I was with her when she was born and stayed until her last breath.  Every December 22nd there are tears remembering her sweet little face and the injustice of her death.

This year my cousin Jeff went through something similar, losing their beautiful baby girl just days before she was due to be born.  On December 23rd, I received a package in the mail with a lovely photo tribute to their sweet baby girl.  Again, the injustice of a life not lived brings me to tears and the wrenching words of the grieving parents nearly caused a complete breakdown on my part.

My Great Uncle came to our holiday open house this year.  His first Christmas since my Great Aunt Mae passed away.  They were together for some 60+ years.  Though I was very happy to see my Uncle, seeing him tear up throughout the evening was heartwrenching.  Though she lived a long and happy life, it was not for her that I was sad this year, it was for those she left behind.

My holidays were happy, but with that happiness comes a bit of melancholy as well.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Cheer or no Cheer


It is the holiday season with families gathering all over the world to share food, drink, love and more. I love this time of year and love the cheer that goes along with it. However, since my diagnosis, I have been more cautious about the cheer that I partake in.

I gave up sugar and sugar substitutes and all forms of corn syrup immediately after I was diagnosed and have stuck with that. This makes some of the holiday gatherings more challenging, but doesn't really bother me to not partake in the cookies, candy and pies. (OK, in full disclosure, I do drool over the Starbucks counter looking at the Cranberry Bliss bars which are only available this time of year and I definitely take a second glance at my mother-in-law's homemade almond roca!)

I have never been much of a drinker, only drinking in social situations, but I have dropped that considerably since my diagnosis as well and probably have 1 drink a week. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy a margarita or a good glass of wine just as much as anyone else, it just isn't worth the increased risk of a recurrence for me.

Now there is a new study out connecting alcohol consumption with breast cancer recurrences. Studies are only studies and I know scientists can read whatever they would like into them, but this one says that with women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer that drinking can increase their chances of a recurrence significantly. Since I have been doing everything I can to decrease my chances of a recurrence, I think I will be finding more joy in family and friends and maybe a little less in a glass.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

T-4



As of today, I have been taking Tamoxifen for exactly one year. One down and 4 to go. I don't know why 5 is the magic number, but it is what my doctor has recommended. I do know that a higher percentage of recurences happen within the first 18-24 months of initial diagnosis, but after that, the risk kind of levels off.

For the most part, I don't have significant side effects from Tamoxifen aside from hot flashes and night sweats from being in chemo-induced menopause. I do sometimes have joint pain, especially in my ankles. But that's it really. Oh and I can't eat grapefruit as it interacts with the drug. A minor nuisance to give up grapefruit and grapefruit juice for 5 years.

It is hard to imagine that a tiny little white pill is responsible for such a big role in my body. Its role is to keep the estrogen from attaching onto any cell that might consider becoming a cancer cell. In theory, because I had chemo and radiation, I should have no cancer cells in my body so there should be nothing for any estrogen to attach onto.

I am glad to have yet another milestone under my belt.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sugarplums

The children were nestled all snug in their beds... Oh wait, wrong holiday! Well the children actually are all snug in their beds and the house is quiet. Tomorrow all the craziness of the holidays will begin in earnest and there will be family and food and festivities.

But I will take these few quiet moments to be thankful. I will be thankful for my wonderful husband, my fabulous family and friends and the little sugarplums who are asleep upstairs. But more than anything else, I am thankful to be here, healthy and happy and cancer-free.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Mammogram Guidelines



I understand that guidelines are just that; guidelines. But I am absolutely appalled at the new mammography guidelines. The new recommendations:

Most women in their 40s should not routinely get mammograms.

Women 50 to 74 should get a mammogram every other year until they turn 75, after which the risks and benefits are unknown. (The task force's previous guidelines had no upper limit and called for exams every year or two.)

The value of breast exams by doctors is unknown. And breast self-exams are of no value.


How do they reconcile these new guidelines with the fact that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women under 50 and the most common cancer to affect women? They say the benefits of mammography are smaller in younger women. I was 43 when I was diagnosed. Mine was not found via mammogram, I found it myself. It was over 2cm and it was classified as aggressive. By finding it early, it had not had the chance to spread to my lymph nodes and I get to be alive.

My concern with waiting until the age of 50 is that people will think that breast cancer isn't something to worry about until you turn 50. But the fact is, cancers found in younger women are more aggressive. If those women who are carrying around breast cancer without knowing it waited until they were 50, they then have to battle late stage cancer instead of early stage cancer.

These guidelines are based on the fact that most women are not at high risk for breast cancer. Well, thank goodness for that and it would certainly be a good point if most breast cancer patients were people who had a family history. But in truth, 70-80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have NO FAMILY HISTORY! Less than 10% of people diagnosed with cancer have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation that predisposes them to breast and/or ovarian cancer. That leaves a huge amount of women who have no reason to believe that they will get cancer, but will.

One of the reasons for the guidelines is that mammograms don't always find cancer and neither do self exams. OK, I'll agree with that. If there was a better tool to replace these two, then I would say definitely tell people to not have mammograms until they are 50 and go with the new tool. But there isn't a better tool, so why take away the one that we have, even if it is flawed?

I will continue to tell everyone I know to have mammograms every year starting at age 40 and earlier if you have family history. I know too many amazing women who have been diagnosed in their late 30's and early 40's to be able to hide under a rock and pretend that it doesn't happen. It does. Let's not give people the idea that if you don't worry about it until you are 50 years old, it won't happen to you.

The new guidelines say that the benefit to younger women is small. Well I'm one of those younger women, and my life is worth the benefit.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Days of Freedom

It is funny how certain dates stick with you and others don't. I knew today was November 13th and kept thinking that it was a significant day (other than being Friday the 13th) but couldn't think of why until I went back and looked at my calendar for last year.

November 13 2008 was my first day of freedom. November 12th marked my last day of radiation treatment and November 13th was the first day in over 8 months that I wasn't taking action against cancer or recovering from taking action. I didn't have any appointments, no doctors, no check-ups, no dressing rooms, no hospital gowns, no drugs, no needles, no lab work, no nurses, no techs, no pain.

I remember clearly going to a meeting at work that day and having my then boss tell everyone that I successfully completed all of my treatments for cancer and having everyone in the room be happy for me. They couldn't have been any happier than I was that I got to have my life back. I recall beaming and smiling at the recognition for having made it through this particular life challenge.

The radiation techs even gave me a certificate to commemorate the day:

CERTIFICATE OF MERIT AND APPRECIATION

Be it declared that Tracy Kudrna has completed the prescribed course of Radiation Therapy with the highest degree of courage, determination and good nature.

Radiation very likely saved my life. Though I was happy to be done, I am eternally grateful for the compassion and patience shown to me by the doctors, nurses and techs at the radiation center. They gave me back my freedom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Aging Gracefully?



I had the chance to go on a field trip for my niece today with my sister and the babies. I haven't been on a pre-school field trip for a long time so it was very fun to be around a bunch of excited 4 year olds. As we were walking out, my niece's teacher says to another little girl-"Go ahead and follow Ellie's grandma" meaning me. Ummm.....Grandma?? Ouch.

When you are told that you are going to have to have chemo and lose your hair, there is a certain amount of vanity that you have to let go of and deal with the fact that you are not going to look the same as you did before. But here's the thing...I wasn't thrilled to lose my hair at all, but once I did, I was actually pretty happy with my head and how I looked. I felt like all through chemo, besides looking a bit pale, I was looking OK.

Now that my hair is growing back and I am healthy, I have been under the illusion that I was looking pretty good. I am 44, I have decent skin with not very much wrinkling, dark brown hair-no gray, I am relatively fit. I don't wear mom jeans, I try to stay up on fashion. I mean really....grandma?? Not that there aren't 44 year old grandmas, there are, but hopefully none of them have children that are my sister's age.

My sister is 39 years old which means if this woman truly thought I was her mother, then she thought I was at least 59, 60? My own mother is a very young looking 65 and my grandmother is a very young looking 85. While they are both lovely and young looking, I'm not entirely sure I want to be thought of as the same age. And while my sister is beautiful and wonderful, I can't in all honesty say I would mistake her for someone who is 23 or 24 with a 44 year old mother.

Have I just been so happy to be healthy that I didn't realize that I look much older than I am? Did I really go from looking 43 before diagnosis to looking 59 after?? What a blow to the ego that is. Now what? I guess I need to start taking a hard look at how I appear to other people and what I am doing to stay healthy. Or maybe I just say this woman is not especially observant and clearly spends too much time around 3 and 4 year olds. Maybe I just shoot daggers at her until she realizes that not only am I only 44 years old, I am still young enough to take her out in the parking lot and teach her a lesson!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Broken Hearted


My cousin Jeff and his lovely wife Rachel lost their beautiful baby girl this week before they even had a chance to know her. It absolutely breaks my heart.

Rest in peace sweet girl.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

25 Things about Me


This "25 things about me" list has been around for awhile, but it is still fun to do. Here are my 25 random things.


1) Though I will listen to almost any music, I HATE country music. When I hear that twang, it makes my skin crawl.

2) I have never found a cheese I don't like and if I thought my digestive tract and my waistline would put up with it, I would become the world's first cheesatarian.

3) When I was 15 years old, I was "banned" from my best friend Shannon, for being a bad influence on her. I think there may have been some confusion about who was leading who down the wrong path. Almost 30 years later she is still my best friend.

4) I met my husband while working in Portland and after a series of conversations found out that he was likely a counselor at a camp I attended when I was in 5th grade---eeewww!

5) In 2000, I traveled to China with my grandmother and had the chance to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers in Xian. It remains one of the most amazing things I have ever had the privilege to see.

6) I have one of the longest college careers in history. I started college right out of high school, but due to jobs that required travel and a lack of funds, it ended up taking me 20 years to finish my undergraduate degree and another 3 to finish my graduate degree. 23 years of college has got to be some kind of record.

7) For my last class in my last quarter of graduate school I went to Italy for 3 weeks. My final grade depended in part on working with a restaurant to develop, eat and share a 6 course Italian dinner. Tough job-but someone had to do it!

8) I am distantly related to Ripley of Ripley's Believe it Or Not

9) I share a birthday with Albert Einstein. I like to think that I take after him in brains and not hair style.

10) I have only one good party trick. All of my fingers are double jointed and I can bend my fingers backward at a 90 degree angle to my hand. I never knew this was abnormal until I was an adult.

11) When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband wanted to find out the sex of the baby. I told him that he could find out if he liked, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I would never produce anything but girls. I have two daughters.

12) I also knew without a shadow of a doubt that my sister would only ever produce boys. She has 3 girls. Something went amiss with this theory.

13) I will eat popcorn as a meal at least once a week.

14) I love reality TV. I like anything that shows people chasing and reaching their dreams.

15) In her 20's, my sister jumped out of a plane. It made me wonder if we were really from the same gene pool. There is NOTHING that would make me jump out of a perfectly good plane, unless it was on fire.

16) One of the first songs that my children learned from me was the Oscar Meyer B-O-L-O-G-N-A song.

17) My first car was a green Vega. I plan to print out a picture of it and show it to my children when they start asking for their first car.

18) Both my mother and my sister have a green thumb. Mine is decidely black.

19) I worked for Nordstrom for 16 years and STILL miss my employee discount.

20) I am a Pisces-a sign that is supposed to be creative. I can barely draw a straight line.

21) I once cut my foot on coral while snorkeling in Hawaii and was convinced that I was going to be eaten by a shark while bleeding in the water.

22) I should have been born during the depression-I love a full pantry and freezer. I could feed 20 people at a moment's notice any day of the week.

23) My children are the greatest gift I have ever received.

24) Every animal I have ever had has had a people name, not an animal name...until my husband adopted and named a stray cat-her name is Zingo. My other animals? Lola and Mimi.

25) Last year I was diagnosed with cancer. At the time I was diagnosed, the 25 things about me would have all had to do with cancer. This year I am a survivor and out of 25 things, only one has to do with cancer-and it gets bottom billing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dropping in for a visit

When I was first diagnosed, I searched and searched for information. Beyond medical information, I really wanted to know what to expect, what it was like to have cancer. I started looking for breast cancer blogs and found that there are thousands of them. It is because of one that I found that I decided to start my own. It is a unique way to share information with people near and far.

I originally started my blog with the intention of keeping my friends and family informed. What I didn't expect was that people from all over the world would find my blog and find it helpful and informative.

Kara, aka Foob Babe, is one of those people who found my blog at some time doing her own research. She is a survivor as well and writes her own very informative blog about her own cancer journey.

She has started a separate blog, <Incredible Women
and has decided that in October she would like to feature different people with different viewpoints of breast cancer. I am thrilled and honored that she has asked me to be one of the people that she is featuring. I will be dropping in for a visit tomorrow (October 21, 2009). I hope you will drop in and visit Kara's website as well. Thank you Kara. You are an incredible woman.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Information Unleashed

In general, I think I do a pretty good job of staying informed about the latest in breast cancer research as well as in my own personal cancer journey. There is information that I have about my own diagnosis such as my prognosis, the survivability rate, etc that I don't particularly like, but I have them.

When I was first diagnosed, I chose to take an Oncotype test that is pretty darn reliable at indicating recurrence rates in breast cancer patients. It is a simple test and in some cases it is used to determine if people are a good candidate for chemotherapy. In my case, my pathology report came back saying that my diagnosis was a Grade 3 out of 3 which is aggressive so my doctor agreed to the test, but indicated that she would be VERY surprised if it came back with a low score.

The test results take several weeks and come by mail. I got my big white envelope in the mail and found that I couldn't open it. Though I knew that my cancer was aggressive and that there was no chance I was going to avoid chemotherapy, I found that I couldn't deal with an actual number saying I had x% chance of recurrence. I know roughly what my chances are of a recurrence, but didn't want to carry a number around in my head.

I gave the envelope to my oncologist, told her I didn't want to know what was in it, but wanted to know if we were on the right path as far as chemo, radiation etc. She said we were definitely on the right path and that the oncotype score did not change our treatment plan at all.

Yesterday I went in for a regular check up with my oncologist and asked her about having my ovaries removed. There are several reasons for this, mostly to keep the estrogen level in my body down, but also to decrease my chances of developing ovarian cancer. We talked about the pros and cons of having it done and I asked her if I should be doing it earlier than later. She answered that there was no need for me to do it right now, although with such a high oncotype score I should plan to do it at some point. Wait. Stop. "High Oncotype score?" I literally felt my head pop out of the sand.

She did not tell me my actual number so I still don't have to carry a number around in my head, but I do now have to carry that "High Oncotype score" in my head and try to figure out what to do with it. I like to tell myself that I am doing everything I can to keep my recurrence rate down, but that isn't entirely true. I am still not getting enough exercise and I am still carrying around some extra weight. These are two of the easiest things a woman can do to reduce her risk and I am still at an increased risk. I also now have to wonder if my treatment was aggressive enough. I had 4 rounds of chemo-the minimum amount that anyone has. While I certainly didn't want to do more, I thought it was enough. Now I don't know if I have done everything I could.

Information is powerful. Sometimes too powerful.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

National Mammography Day


October gets the honor of celebrating Columbus Day and also Halloween. While my kids would argue that Halloween is the most important day of October (and maybe even the year), I would argue against that.

Tomorrow, October 16th is National Mammography day. Who knew? I certainly didn't. I obviously know the importance of mammograms but didn't have any idea that there was a day dedicated to a test. I did a bit of poking around and found out that President Clinton first proclaimed the third Friday in October of every year as National Mammography Day back in 1993.

So when should you have a mammogram? The standard answer is once every 12 months once you turn 40. However, if you have any breast cancer history in your family you should start getting annual mammograms when you are 10 years younger than your youngest relative at the time of diagnosis. I was diagnosed at 43, my daughters will need to start getting mammograms at 33 years old.

I think to say once a year is confusing. Once a year doesn't mean you can have a mammogram in January of 2008 and then December of 2009. It means every 12 months. I had just had one in December 2007 just 5 months before my diagnosis. While there was nothing found in that mammogram, all of my doctors looked back at all of my mammogram films to see if there was anything that was missed.

I had mine in September of 2009. I have another one scheduled in March of 2010 because I need to get them every 6 months.

Have you scheduled yours? If so, congratulations. If not, walk away from the computer, pick up the phone and do it now. I'll wait.

Did you do it? Good. Early detection saves lives. Don't forget it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

1st Order of Business


OK, I admit it, I am a little behind on filtering through the junk piles at home. With two kids, it just seems like the junk piles tend to multiply. Could they possibly bring home more paper and projects from school??

I hate to admit it, but just today I went through a pile of papers that came home with Darci in June on the last day of school. Most of it will be heaped into the recycle bin, but some things are special. Apparently at the beginning of the year, the kids were asked to write a letter to their new teacher telling them a little bit about themselves, what they wanted to accomplish during the year, goals etc. This is how the beginning of Darci's looks.

Dear Mr. L.

The first order of business is that my mom has been going through chemo all summer and now will be doing radiation. The next thing you should know is that I play soccer and have practices twice a week and games on Saturday.....


I don't know whether to laugh or cry! I think it definitely reflects that the most important thing going on in her life is what was happening to her mother at the time, but I love that it gets the same attention as the fact that she plays soccer.

I unfortunately know several kids in this general age group who have parents who have been or are currently fighting cancer. I don't know how they are all handling it, but I think there is a certain resiliency to kids that as parents we don't always give them credit for. I know when I was diagnosed, my first thoughts were about how it was going to affect my children, would I die and leave my children, how would my children deal with their mother losing their hair, etc, etc, etc.

As I always say, I am utterly amazed by my children. While I was absolutely consumed by the fact that I had cancer, I am glad to know that my daughter was taking it in stride along with the other stresses in her life. It was just a small blip on her radar. While I know that my girls are at an increased risk for breast cancer and that they will eventually have to deal with that knowledge, I think I am glad to know that maybe this will all just become a distant memory for them.

Kudos also to the teacher who wrote a note back to her that was very sweet. It said that he had gone through something similar with his mother and if she ever needed to talk about anything, he was there for her. I don't know if she took him up on it, but I'm glad that she was in a place both physically and mentally where she felt comfortable and supported.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Damn Boobs



October has been deemed Breast Cancer Awareness month. In a month that used to be all orange and black for Halloween, now everything is pink. Pink at the grocery store, at the gas station, on our soup cans, our kitchen gadgets, I even saw pink on the football uniforms of the Seattle Seahawks yesterday! It is all a little crazy sometimes to see so much pink, even for a breast cancer survivor such as myself. But it is still a good cause and there are lots of ways to help make a difference.

When I did the 3 day walk, I found that one of the walkers on my team had lost a good friend to breast cancer and had started a line of clothing in her honor. You can read Trisha's story about how the company and the company name came to be here The entire team honored her memory by wearing one of these shirts for the 2nd day of the walk. They definitely get a lot of attention and if you want to have a little fun with this pink month, these t-shirts and hats are a good way to do it. Trisha donates a percentage of her proceeds to breast cancer research so the money all goes to a good cause. Go check out Damn Boobs for yourself! I have a DamnBoobs tanktop and I know she has men's shirts as well. If you don't see what you are looking for on her website, drop her an email and ask if she has. I'll bet she can find you exactly what you are looking for so you can be in the Pink!

Friday, October 2, 2009

What Cancer Looks Like



I spent this last weekend in Las Vegas with an amazing group of breast cancer survivors. Besides my friend Kristina, I had never met any of these women before. I found them on an online forum for breast cancer survivors; www.breastcancer.org

I didn't know what to expect but was surprised and thrilled to learn that these women were just like me. They have families and children and jobs, and they have cancer. We had so much fun together, laughing and dancing and being together celebrating the fact that we are all survivors.

From these people I learned some new words to describe cancer and its survivors:

Young, strong, hopeful, amazing, courageous, attitude, faith, beautiful, genuine, knowledgable, realistic, incredible.

Take a look at this photo. Breast cancer is not just your mother's disease. I think if you look hard enough, you will find reflections of yourself in the faces of these amazing women. The youngest member of this group is 31 years old, the oldest 50. We all face recurrence concerns, survivability concerns, subsequent health concerns, but each and every one of these women has taken their health care by the horns and is doing everything in their power to keep cancer at bay.

I am thrilled and honored to have been part of this group and look forward to doing it again for years and years to come.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Dance



Today I went in for a mammogram. This is the second mammogram that I have had since I finished treatment almost exactly one year ago. It is the first mammogram since I had my reduction and lift in June. I was a little bit nervous that after my most recent surgery there would be too much scar tissue to get an accurate reading. I was also somewhat concerned that it would be uncomfortable as I still have some tenderness where my surgical scars are.

Not only were the images easier to read (less tissue), they were all clean and clear! Nothing even remotely suspicious in my films!!

I was also happy to be told that most of my tissue is fatty tissue (sometimes fat is good) which is easier to read on film and is an indication that my estrogen levels are decreasing (good for me when my diagnosis was estrogen receptor positive-I want as little estrogen in my body as possible).

I have been doing a happy dance all day long! I will go back in 6 months and every 6 months for the next 3 years. I don't like having my breasts squashed down anymore than anyone else, but I would go in every month if I had to just to make sure everything looked clean and clear.

Ahhh, big sigh of relief!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reflections on a Walk



Well I did it. I completed this year's Susan G. Komen 3 Day walk. I have not had any type of shoes on except for flip flops since Sunday and have taken advantage of a quiet house to put my feet up and recuperate.

The organization provides cheering locations so that friends and family can come and cheer the walkers on. On Day 2 my wonderful husband and children waited 4 hours just so they could cheer me on. I started to cry as soon as I saw them running to me. After the initial hugging and hello's, my youngest daughter asked me if I was going to do it again next year. A bit like asking someone who is in labor if they are going to have more children, but here are my thoughts on that question:

Cons of the walk:

-9 long months of fund-raising
-9 long months of training
-3 full days away from my family
-1 very large time commitment
-Sunburned cheeks
-Sore muscles
-Several (and I do mean several) trips to the medical tent
-Loss of one toenail
-Blisters
-Blisters
-Blisters

While the first day was full of emotion and uplifting spirit, by the second day I was seriously wondering who had come up with this cruel and unusual punishment. Several blisters decided to make an appearance and each and every step of the 21.6 miles that were included in the second day were painful. My good humor and positive attitude were diminishing quickly. When I saw a sign that said "No Whining" I had to quit talking because I couldn't think of anything else to say.

Pros of the Walk

-Being part of the opening and closing ceremonies
-Meeting other survivors
-Seeing the amazing dedication of the walkers
-Being part of a truly inspiring team
-Walking with my sister who means the world to me
-Walking with my friend Matt, one of the finest people on the planet
-Being pampered and spoiled by the entire 3 day crew from the people helping us cross streets to the angels disguised as medical volunteers in the medical tents
-Looking out into the crowd during opening and closing ceremonies and seeing the smiles and the tears of my teammates, friends and family
-Seeing the incredible community support in the way of stickers, water, cheers, food (and more food)
-Feeling supported in every way
-Raising over 8200.00 personally
-Raising over 137,000.00 as a team
-Raising over 5.5 million as a community

I had a couple of defining moments throughout the walk that I wasn't expecting.

1. On day 2 when my feet were well past cooperating and it was 86 degrees and I didn't know if I could take another step, a stranger stepped off of the sidelines and asked if he could throw away my garbage-a cup that I was carrying. I teared up because someone who didn't know anything about me was willing to do something as menial as throw my garbage out for me so that I could continue putting one foot in front of another.

2. At the end of day 2 when we had 2 miles left to go, I realized that I just couldn't do it. I thought that I wanted to complete the entire 60 miles without having to take one of the many shuttle vans that were available. I took the van for the last 2 miles and realized that I didn't feel an ounce of guilt about it. There is nothing heroic in torturing myself. I realized that my success was not defined by the ability to walk 60 miles, nor was it defined by doing it in the fastest time possible. It was defined by the fact that I raised money for a cause that is immensely important to me.

3. On day 3 I saw a small pink sign stuck in the grass of someone's yard that gave me the reason why it was all worth it. It said this:

My Grandma thanks you for walking
Stage 4
Still Fighting

So will I do it again? My feet will pipe up with a resounding "NO!" but my head and heart will supercede my feet and say yes. There is still work to be done. People are still being diagnosed with cancer every day. 1 in 8 women. That is just too many. I will sign up for 2010 and do it all again-hopefully without blisters.

Thank you to my Grandma, my cousin Dale, friends Mary Kay, Annie, Jill, Paul, Tara, Robert, Marcia, Terry, Tristi, Shannon, Mike, Bailey, Kylie, Connor, Taryn, Jim, Heidi, Grace (and Coco), my husband and my daughters for coming out to cheer us on. Can I count on you again next year??

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2 more days


Well it is almost here. The Seattle Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk is almost here. I looked back at my donations and realized that I registered for this walk in January. I have spent 9 months working to raise money for breast cancer research. 9 months is a long time to spend on something. It is the amount of time it takes to produce a baby! It is also the amount of time that I spent treating my own cancer...surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

I have been asked to be a flag-bearer in the opening and closing ceremonies in the Survivor Circle. I have been given the COURAGE flag to carry. It is an incredible honor to be asked to participate and I am thrilled to have the Courage flag. There are many characteristics needed to battle cancer; faith, strength, hope, patience, and courage.

3 days will be difficult, but if it can prevent someone else from spending 9 months or longer fighting cancer, then it will be worth it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Catch a Cure for Cancer


"When cancer is discovered at an early stage, nearly every patient is cured while the opposite is true for cancer detected at a late stage. The Hutch will lead the way in early detection. We have a terrific group of very talented scientists who are international leaders in research on early cancer detection."
- Lee Hartwell, Ph.D., President & Director,
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

This morning I went to a local radio station to be interviewed. My story will be part of a radiothon on September 16th that the Moyer Foundation puts on to raise funds for the early detection of cancer.

While I was honored to be asked to do it and to participate, the most poignant part of the interview was having my girls there with me. They were asked to be part of the interview as well and I couldn't have been prouder of their poise and maturity.

When I found out that the interview would take place with all 3 of us in the same room, I was worried. Not worried that the girls couldn't handle themselves, but worried that I couldn't. Though I can speak to my own cancer story without getting overly emotional, it is a completely different story to listen to my children tell it from their perspective. It makes me sad that they had to go through this cancer experience at such a young age and in such close proximity. It also makes me proud that they handled themselves throughout the entire diagnosis, surgeries and treatment with such grace and understanding.

I am blessed to have such wonderful children and I am glad to be able to share them with the world so that they can tell their story. If anything can make people understand how difficult cancer is, it is hearing it from the perspective of a child.

I am happy to say I did not cry in the interview. At least not on the outside.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Medium



Medium: def: A middle state or condition, about halfway in between extremes.

I am not a large framed person. I have relatively small bones but am pretty average in size. I am 5'6 and though am carrying 15-20 extra pounds of weight that I would like to get rid of, am relatively well proportioned for my size.

I have spent the majority of my adult life shopping for clothes in the Large or Extra Large section of the clothing racks. Not because I am necessarily a large or extra large person, but because my chest was significantly larger than the rest of my body.

Maybe this wouldn't have bothered me if I had always considered myself a large person, but that is not the case. I was always the smallest person in my class when I was in school-you know, the one who always had to be at the end of the line in pictures to make the picture look right? I was the smallest person all the way through high school and even after that into adulthood.

Somehow when I turned into an adult, my chest not only caught up with me, but surpassed the rest of my body. Having breast cancer is not the way that I planned to change my bust size at all. However, that is exactly what happened. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, had a lumpectomy and ended up being non-symmetrical. I chose to have a breast reduction on both sides after I completed all of my treatment.

I recently had to order a t-shirt for the 3 day walk and tried on the sizes to see what t-shirt size I should order. The size I ordered? Medium. Perfect!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Worry?

"We either make ourselves happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same"

My sister is doing the 3 day walk with me in September. Though she is looking forward to it, she is very worried. She was concerned that she wouldn't be able to raise 2300.00-she has. Now she is concerned that she won't be able to complete the walk. She told me recently that she is having those pre-wedding type dreams where you arrive completely unprepared.

We had someone who has walked in the event before tell us that it was the best 3 days of her life and the worst 3 days of her life. My sister is concerned not about it being the best 3 days, but about it being the worst.

Physically and mentally I think it will be a difficult 3 days. I think it will be difficult to see the amount of people affected by breast cancer and I think it will be difficult to walk 20 miles for 3 days in a row. Will it be the worst 3 days of my life? Not a chance.

The worst 3 days of my life have been the day my dad died, the day my sister delivered and lost her first baby and the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Physically the worst 3 days of my life have been the day I gave birth to my first daughter, the day after I had a titanium plate and 9 screws placed in my wrist and day 4 after my first round of chemo.

The first oncologist that I spoke to after being diagnosed told me that many women find they become stronger people after being diagnosed with cancer. My instinct at the time was to tell him to shove it where the sun doesn't shine, but maybe he was right. It hasn't occurred to me once to be worried about the 3 day. I wasn't worried about the fundraising (I am currently at 7400.00) and although I knew I needed to train to physically be able to walk 20 miles for 3 days in a row, it has never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to do it. I guess I am a stronger person than I thought I was.

My sister has had some extremely difficult days as well, both physically and emotionally. I have faith in me and I have faith in her as well. It will be a hard 3days but we can do it, I know it without any doubt. It will be 3 of our best days, not our worst.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summertime


We are having a heatwave in Seattle. It never gets above about 80 degrees here but for the past several days we have been in the high 90's, even hitting 100. We just aren't used to it here so we all complain that it is too hot and that it doesn't cool down at night. Our animals are listless and no one will even consider cooking. The plants are all drooping and the grass is turning brown.

All that being said, this summer has been fantastic. I can't help but comare it to last summer. I did my first chemo on July 9 and continued to do it every three weeks until September. I don't think it was this hot last summer, but I really don't remember because I spent a good majority of the summer sleeping on the couch or in bed. I also spent most of the summer wishing I could do more with my family. It's not that they weren't around-they were and they were very supportive, but all plans had to go through the chemo filter; was it a chemo week? Was I going to feel good enough to do anything? I was also working full time with intermittent leaves of absence for each round of chemo. Last summer, I just wanted my life back.

Yesterday was the perfect definition of having my life back. It was so hot in the house that by 10:00am we were all sweating. The girls and I decided to pack a cooler and head to the lake. Our neighborhood sits on this lake and we have a private park and beach access so there is no need to fight a crowd. We packed a lunch, took a big air mattress and some sunscreen and headed out to float. We played on the beach for awhile with my sister and her 3 daughters, then lathered ourselves in sunscreen and jumped on the air mattress. We floated the lake for several hours, jumping in occasionally to cool off.

When Larry came home, he joined us at the lake. We had a chance to catch up with some neighbors who were also there and to cool off. We came home and barbecued some burgers and sat outside to eat. It was too hot to go back in the house so we stayed outside playing cards with the girls until we could no longer see the cards. I love my life-heatwave or no heatwave, and I am extremely grateful to have it back.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Raising the Roof and Raising Funds


Last night our 3 day team had a fundraising event. There were survivor type games, a silent auction, a casino, horseshoe tournament and raffles. This was no quiet, meek crowd-this party was hopping all day and night! The party was at our team captain's house and while there was plenty of drinking, horseplay and general rowdiness, none of us forgot for one second why we were there. We were there to raise money to fight breast cancer.

Fundraising comes in all shapes and colors. Some people send personalized letters, some do bake sales and car washes and some throw a party. We threw a party and it was a heck of a good one. Our little party out in the middle of nowhere raised over$15,000.00! As a team we are now at a little over $112,000.00 with 52 members going strong.

With dedication and support like what I witnessed last night, breast cancer doesn't stand a chance. It is going to have a brief, miserable life.

Thank you to everyone who donated or contributed in any way to last night's fundraiser. I can't wait until the day when we throw a party not to raise money but to celebrate the demise of breast cancer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Good Hands



Albert B. Einstein Jr



The original Einstein

Today I went in for a 3 month checkup with my oncologist. Though I have always been happy with the care that I have received at Swedish Hospital, I really did not want to be there today. I just didn't. I am enjoying being part of the land of the healthy. I didn't want to be sitting there with people who are bald and sick and waiting to go through chemo. That isn't where my head is at these days. I didn't want to have my blood drawn or get on a scale, I didn't want to be poked and prodded and I wasn't excited about having my second Zometa infusion. I wanted to be at home enjoying the warm weather.

My oncologist is not only a fabulous doctor (one of the top 3 in Seattle) she is also very similar to me. She is my age, she has two children and she is a breast cancer survivor. I was lamenting to her about not wanting to come in today. She laughed and said that she has learned to not take it personally that people really don't look forward to seeing her. She also said that in her own cancer journey, she really doesn't want to go see her oncologist either.

The appointment went well and she doesn't want to see me for another 3 months. The zometa infusion was also uneventful. I can expect to not feel well tomorrow, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that this is not the case.

I had to have my doctor sign a medical waiver for me to be able to walk in this year's 3 day walk. Per the 3 day guidelines it has to be on official letterhead. My doctor gave me her blessing to walk and wrote it out on her letterhead, which I did not look through until after my Zometa infusion. The official letterhead has a list of all of the doctors that are in the cancer institute. At the very top? Executive Director-Albert B. Einstein Jr. It made me laugh. Albert Einstein and I share a birthday so I have always had a connection to him. I guess if Albert Einstein can spend his time at Swedish Hospital, I can do it too. I am in good hands.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Isn't it strange how as you get older, your memory sometimes isn't as clear as it used to be? If you asked me what I had for lunch yesterday, I probably couldn't tell you. I don't remember it because it wasn't particularly significant. Why is it then that when I woke up this morning the first thing I thought about is that it is July 9th and last year this was the first day of chemo?

I really don't spend all of my time thinking about cancer anymore. I used to, but now I think about other things and getting on with my life. But today I remembered the feelings that were there on July 9th of last year. Dread, fear, anxiety, denial. I kept thinking that someone would tell me during that day that it was all a mistake and I really didn't have cancer and I really didn't need to do chemo.

I kissed my children goodbye without tears but when the babysitter walked me out to the door I started to cry. I'm not sure why-she is a 17 year old girl who definitely had no concept of what I was going to endure that day. She is a family friend though and maybe the tears were because I wanted to be the one that stayed there with my girls. I didn't want to have to have a babysitter to go do something that I was dreading.

Today Larry and I are leaving to go away for the weekend with 5 other couples. We have been doing this trip for 14 years with the same group of people. It is a weekend where we laugh our heads off for 4 days and I am very much looking forward to it. Some of the best memories of my life are from these trips. Maybe I will have a toast tonight to surviving through chemo. Maybe I will toast to having such great friends. Maybe I will toast to having memories-both good and bad.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Clean as a Whistle


It has been nearly a month since my surgery. I am feeling pretty good although still have a good amount of swelling and a part of a scar that is not cooperating as much as my doctor would like. Overall though, I would call my surgery a success. I am a much more comfortable size and am back to being symmetrical.

Since I have been diagnosed with cancer before, anytime I have any type of surgery on my breasts, the tissue must go to pathology to be tested. I knew that this was the case and it has definitely caused me just a tiny bit of concern. While I have been physically healing, I continued to have this little nagging thought in the back of my mind that the pathology reports might come back with news that I didn't want to hear.

I hadn't heard anything from my oncologist who received the report so I just kept telling myself that no news must be good news, but I finally called and asked to have an official report. Her nurse called me yesterday to tell me that my pathology report came back clean as a whistle. No sign of cancer in any of the breast tissue that was removed.

Both Larry and I nearly cried when we heard. I didn't realize how much it was weighing on both of us that there was still an unknown. I have an MRI and a mammogram later this month as part of my preventative maintenance plan. For the first and probably only time, I will go into them calmly and without worry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Through Her Eyes


It is the last week of school for my children which means they have been bringing home all of the "valuable junk" that they have in thier lockers and their desks. While most of it is truly junk, I found a collection of poems that Cailey wrote for an assignment. One of them brought me to tears.

The phone rings loudly
My mom answers it quickly
My mom has Cancer


Cailey was the only person at home with me when I got that call from my doctor telling me that I had cancer. I cried so hard that I couldn't talk to her to tell her what was wrong. She immediately went into action and grabbed the phone and asked me who she should call. In the end, she called my sister as my husband was on a bike ride without his phone. It was Cailey that had to sit with me during the initial shock.

I have worried about how my having been diagnosed with cancer would affect my kids and for the most part I think they are pretty grounded and well-adjusted.

What I didn't realize though is that the moment when I received that phone call is so vividly imprinted in her head. Just one moment, that is all it took.

I hope to imprint many happy memories over the top of that one. As always, I am humbled by the compassion, love and inner beauty of my children.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shower


I am fully aware that I chose to have this most recent surgery and that many people are in a position of requiring surgery instead of electing to do so. I know all of that and I also know that there is a certain amount of recovery time needed for any type of surgery. I also know that I am lucky to have only minor pain and some swelling to contend with.

What I do still have to contend with though is stitches and surgical dressing which means I do not get to shower until they are gone! There is a certain appeal to not showering for one day and lounging around in your pajamas and I did that for a day or two. But besides taking shallow/sponge baths and having my kids wash my hair for me, I have not taken a shower for over a week. It is starting to drive me crazy.

This is a good lesson for me-note to self: Never agree to sign up for the Survivor Reality Show where you can't shower for a month.

Overall, I am happy with the surgery and the results. I have a slight concern about the amount of fluid I still have on my right side but the rest seems like normal swelling to me. I am glad to be done with surgeries for quite awhile.

I am happy, but can a girl just take a shower already??

Saturday, June 13, 2009

3 Day Expo

Today I have been asked to sit on a panel to discuss fundraising ideas for the 3 Day event. The expo is at Shoreline Community College. I am honored to be asked. I have raised 6850.00 so far and still have until September to continue to raise money. I hope to be able to take advantage of everything the expo has to offer and if I can offer up an idea or two to others in their fundraising efforts-even better.

My grandmother is going with me to the expo. I am thrilled that she wants to see what the hoopla is all about!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Surgery went quite well. I ended up staying one night in the hospital for no real reason except so my surgeon could change my dressings in the morning. I am definitely swollen and have many colorful bruises, but have been off of pain medication since Sunday and feeling not bad. No surgeries are fun, and this one is no exception. Because tissue was taken out, I have to be wrapped to keep the swelling down. Mostly this makes me feel like a human sausage, but that is what I signed up for. I go in tomorrow for my post op appointment so will have a chance to actually see the results.

I am on the mend and I thank everyone for their good wishes.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Under the knife

The weather has been so incredibly beautiful and I have been able to spend time working in our yard. It is nice to be feeling back to normal so I have the energy to do so.

It is that part that makes me a little anxious about tomorrow's surgery. I have been feeling really great for several months now as far as my energy, strength etc and I hate to give that up again. But I will do it anyway.

Tomorrow I will go back in to Swedish for some reconstructive surgery. Because I had a lumpectomy and the amount of tissue they removed was pretty large, I am not very symmetrical currently. I have three choices to deal with this; 1)live with it, 2)get an implant on the left side to match the right side, 3)Reduce the size of the right one to match the left one. I have chosen option 3. I have been large breasted since high school and previous to all of this breast cancer mess had thought seriously about doing a breast reduction. I will have a reduction on both sides so that I am symmetrical and smaller.

There are definitely risks to this surgery as the left side has been radiated and radiated skin and tissue sometimes have a difficult time healing. Radiated tissue also develops into scar tissue so most of what is there currently is scar tissue which could make the actual procedure more difficult for the surgeon.

I am not at all looking forward to having to face recovery from more surgery, but I'm hoping this will be my last one for quite awhile. I am however looking forward to having a cup size that is closer to the beginning of the alphabet and having two breasts that are the same size and shape.

Because I have had cancer, all tissue removed will go to pathology. This of course scares the daylights out of me to think that they might find something that I am currently unaware of, but I think it will also be good to make sure there truly is no cancer left. I will keep my fingers crossed that they will find just plain, boring tissue.

My friend Michael went under the knife this week for oral cancer and my friend Ankie will go under the knife one more time on June 11th for breast cancer. Cancer is definitely keeping the surgeons busy! I am thankful that my surgery is elective and that I can say this will be the last one. I look forward to the day that the three of us can celebrate our victories.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ups and Downs



Last night I was asked to walk a Survivor's Lap in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life of Kent. It is the survivors that start the relay for the participants. I was honored to be able to walk with all the other purple-shirt wearing survivors. The survivors come in all shapes and sizes. There are grandparents, teenagers and everything in between. There was even a beautiful little 2 year old girl who was diagnosed at 11 weeks of age.

I am glad that I was able to participate. It was uplifting to see all of the survivors and to know that people really can win the battle. It was also wonderful to see all of the teams who have invested so much time and effort into fundraising and who are willing to camp in the middle of a football field in order to show the degree to which they support cancer research.

When I was first diagnosed in May of last year, I had two friends who had been diagnosed before me. Marty Hauer and Michael Cranstoun. We were all diagnosed with different types of cancer, at different stages and with different treatment plans, but somehow I still had this mental image of the 3 of us in the fight against cancer together. Unfortunately, Marty lost his fight and passed away in June. He was a true hero and left a beautiful wife and two wonderful children behind. Last night at the Relay event, I saw his wife and daughter. It is only the second time that I have seen them since he passed away. Though I was thrilled to see them, I was extremely saddened by the fact that cancer took away one of the truly great people in the world.

I also saw Michael and his family there. His church has been extremely supportive of his journey and had a team of walkers at the event. Michael has a type of oral cancer that was completely unexpected. He does not have a family history of the disease and is not and has never been a tobacco user. He finished chemo and radiation just before I started last year and has been supportive and a good friend to me ever since.

I was happy to see Michael, his lovely wife and two great children there walking and helping to find a cure for cancer. I was saddened however to learn that what Michael suspected was a recurrence was confirmed. Not surprisingly, he has a range of emotions to go along with this diagnosis. I have a range of emotions for him as well; anger, fear, disbelief, but also hope, gratitude that he has such an amazing support system with his friends, family and church and maybe just a tiny bit of something close to relief. Not relief that his cancer has returned, but relief that someone finally diagnosed it correctly. It is never good to get a cancer diagnosis. But there is something to be said for knowing which dragon you must slay so you can properly prepare for the fight.

As darkness came last night, the participants lit luminarias that completely surrounded the field. Though it was a beautiful tribute to those who have lost their battle, those who have won their battle and those who continue to fight their battle, it was heartbreaking to have a visual reminder of how many people have had their lives in the balance because of cancer.

In the stands, the luminarias spelled out two words: HOPE and CURE. In memory of Marty, for Michael, for me and everyone else who is battling or has battled cancer, I will continue to hope for a cure. Maybe next year we can add another word....NOW.

I have included a link to Michael's blog to the left. I'm praying for you Michael.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 28th Again



May 28th 2008. My husband drove me to the hospital. My parents were there when we arrived. It was their 25th wedding anniversary and instead of being out celebrating, they were at the hospital with me. There were two opposing emotions going on that day for me....fear and relief. I have never been so scared in my life as I was when I found out I had cancer. There was exactly 21 days between my diagnosis and my surgery to remove the tumor. They were by far, the worst 21 days of my life. The fear for me during those three weeks was something that was so heavy and real, I could feel it as a physical weight. It stopped me from being able to breathe and I had to constantly remind myself to do so. I had to be reminded to eat because I didn't recognize hunger anymore. I spent every minute of every day worrying about leaving my children and family behind. Cancer kills people-this was all I could think about.

When I found a surgeon that came highly recommended to me, I called his receptionist and literally coerced her into putting me on his surgery schedule even before I met him. I wanted it done as soon as possible. I did not want to give it a chance to move or spread. I wanted it gone. Luckily for me, this great surgeon met me and allowed me to keep the surgery date that I had already put my name on. That date was May 28th.

I was scared, but I was so relieved to be able to take some kind of action to keep it from killing me. I knew that I would have to recover from surgery, and I knew that I would then have to do chemo and then radiation and that none of it would be enjoyable. But I couldn't do any of that without taking that first scary step.

On May 28th I had a lumpectomy and had 4 lymph nodes removed. 4 cancer-free lymph nodes. That night I stayed in the hospital-a place not known for allowing a good night's sleep, but sleep I did. I knew that I had a tough road ahead, but I also knew that I had taken action and I was on my way.

Today I found myself at Swedish Hospital again. I had a pre-op appointment with my plastic surgeon, the one who will even me out and give me back some of what was taken from me. I told her that today was my 1 year anniversary from my lumpectomy and that it was strange to be back at the very same hospital. She is a breast cancer survivor as well. She said that many people tell her that the day of their surgery was the worst day of their lives and she tells them they are wrong, it was actually one of the best days of their lives. She's right. May 28th 2008 was the day my life was saved. May 28th 2009 is the 365th day that I am thankful for it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lazy Days

When it is sunny in Seattle, there is nothing better. The sun has been shining for the last several days and we have been enjoying the long weekend. We have worked in the yard, barbecued wth friends, done a little shopping (gotta hit the holiday sales) and broken out the summer clothes. It has been a very carefree weekend.

Last year at this time, I had just taken my sister into emergency with kidney stones (she was 9 months pregnant with twins) and we were all worried about her health and the babies' health. I was also anxiously awaiting my lumpectomy. I remember not being able to enjoy the weekends at all leading up to my surgery because it felt like the only possible thing that could be happening on those days was that the cancer in my breast was growing by leaps and bounds. I could literally hear a tick, tick, tick in my head. A time bomb-that's what I was carrying around.

Last memorial day weekend was a soccer tournament for my daughter. I remember only one thing about that weekend and that was that my best friend Shannon drove from Portland and met me at the soccer fields so her daughter could spend a couple of days with us. I remember not knowing how to talk to her (a problem we have NEVER had) because there was so much to say and we were in a very public place. I knew that whatever words I said to her or she said to me were going to cause me to break down and cry which I didn't want to do on a day that should belong to my kids. Sadly, I do not remember one single thing about the soccer games-not who won, not who lost, not even if it was a good tournament----nothing.

One year later I am preparing to walk in the Seattle 3 day event and training every day. I am looking forward to my twin nieces first birthday (they were born on May 27-both small and premature, but perfectly healthy), my sister is fully recovered and I am preparing for another surgery. This one will be for reconstruction, mostly just making myself symetrical again and doing a little polishing up. While I was looking forward to last year's surgery, it was for a completely different reason. I wanted that cancer out of my body as quickly as possible. This time I am looking forward to the surgery for purely cosmetic reasons.

I am not taking for granted for one minute that I have the luxury of enjoying these lazy May days. I thank God I am able to do so and hope to enjoy many, many, many more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

PodCast Now Available

The Podcast from the radio interview for the 3 Day walk is available now by following the link. It is quite a large file so will take some time to download. The interview itself was about a half an hour.

I feel so high-tech!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Turn on the Radio


When I registered to do the Seattle 3 Day Walk I had the option of being an ambassador for the event. I checked the box and never thought anything else of it. This week, I got an email asking me if I would like to do a radio interview promoting the 3 day event.

I have never done a radio interview or any other type of public media interview, but what the heck....I have been putting my whole life out in the blogosphere for people to follow, it can't be that much different, right?

There is a group of radio stations here in Seattle that does an hour of Public Relations type content every week and for this week they wanted to focus on the Seattle 3 Day event.

I did the interview with another survivor who is also walking in the 3 day. It was good to have both of us there because we both have a different perspective. She has a family history of breast cancer, I do not. She was 29 when she was diagnosed, I was 43. She does not have children, I do. She has done the walk before, I have not.

Gary Shipe was the nice man who interviewed us and helped us to feel comfortable. He taped a full half an hour and filled the discussion with not only questions about the 3 day, but questions about the Susan G. Komen organization and our own cancer exeriences.

In the end, we not only were able to promote the walk and encourage participation in it, we were also able to talk about Breast cancer and why people should care about this cause. All of us who are walkers will be taking donations to raise money through September.

The show will air on May 17th 2009 at the following times:

KKNW 1150am at 5:00am
KIXI 880am at 5:30am
KWJZ 98.9FM at 6:00am
KQMV 925.5fm at 6:30am

There will be a podcast available once it airs and I will connect a link at that time.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

1 Year Cancerversary



One year ago, on May 7th 2008 I heard these words, "You have cancer". To be honest, I don't remember a single word of the conversation besides those three. I had waited all day to hear the results of my biopsy and the later it got, the more convinced I became that it was bad news. I was right. That day and the day after and for many, many days after that, I heard that word in my head probably one thousand times. Cancer, cancer, cancer, you have cancer. I still hear it in my head every day, but it has slowed down to maybe 100 times per day instead of 1000. I'm sure it will be something that I think about every day for the rest of my life.

I'm not entirely sure when I am allowed to say that I am 1 year out. Is it the day I was diagnosed? The day of my surgery? The last day of chemo? Of Radiation? Is it a year from the first time I had a post treatment mammogram and was given the all clear?

I don't know the proper etiquette for cancer celebrations, but I will just toss etiquette to the wind and say Yippee! I am 1 year out from being diagnosed with Breast Cancer! Yay me! It feels good to be able to celebrate that milestone. In fact, I think I will just continue celebrating milestones when they come along. I think I will celebrate my 1 year cancerversary again on my surgery date, my last day of chemo date and anything else that feels like it deserves a celebration.

There are many who don't have the opportunity to celebrate one year, or five years or 10 years. I am grateful that I get to celebrate and grateful that I can be hopeful about a bright, shiny future with many, many celebrations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bad Chi



"Qi(Chi) is believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. These meridians and the energy flow are accessible through more than 350 acupuncture points. Illness results from an imbalance of the forces. By inserting needles into these points in various combinations, acupuncture practitioners believe that your energy flow will rebalance."

Well apparently my Chi is messed up. I went to an acupuncturist during chemo to help with the bone and joint pain that I was having. I had never even entertained the idea of doing acupuncture, but was in enough pain after my first chemo that I was willing to try just about anything. To my surprise, it worked! The bone pain for rounds 2,3 and 4 was significantly lower than the first round.

Having had a successful experience with that pain, I decided to try acupunture for the relief of night sweats and hot flashes which has been fairly well documented as having a high success rate. I went once in November but it was right before we went on vacation and I didn't go back because I was feeling pretty good. Since I am still having night sweats and hot flashes (don't you just love menopause??) I decided that I would try it again.

I went in today to the same highly recommended Chinese woman doctor to see if she could help me out with these problems. She remembered me, asked me several questions about chemo, radiation, my general health etc and then asked to look at my tongue. She looked at the underside of my tongue and declared my Chi is definitely out of balance.

She ushered me into a nice quiet, warm room with a comfortable massage type table. I laid on my stomach and she started to feel her way around my back. To my surprise, she found some very sore spots that I didn't even know I had! Blocked Chi apparently...

She told me that she was going to do "cupping" therapy on me to help release the toxins, alleviate inflammation in my body and rebalance my chi. After chemo and radiation, a daily dose of Tamoxifen, I imagine my body is chock full of toxins so I didn't argue.

I now have some very colorful purple circles on my back and neck and a couple on my legs as well. I don't know for sure that it is going to help with the night sweats and hot flashes, but I'm willing to give it a try. I will go back next week to see if my "Chi" has improved any. I am lucky that my oncologist is fully supportive of acupuncture as a compliment to the traditional medicine and treatment that I have participated in.

"We treat whole body" this acupuncturist tells me. Let's go for it, I say. My whole body has been under attack for just under a year. If the calvary comes in a diminutive Chinese package with needles and glass cups, then bring on the calvary.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lucky 13



Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. Since I started writing this blog, I have never had trouble coming up with what to say to express my feelings, but somehow trying to find the right words to express how I feel about my marriage is proving difficult. Not because the feelings are difficult, but because the words seem rather trite. I could write about how we met, or the day we were married. I could write about the ups and downs that go with any marriage or the lessons we have learned over the last 13 years. I could write about how incredibly fabulous my husband has been through the entire cancer journey or how he loved me through baldness, scars, chemo, surgery and plenty of tears. I could certainly write about how much I love him.

But maybe the best way is this picture. I had to go back 3 years to find a picture of Larry and I. This particular picture was a picture of us at my birthday in 2006. Larry is rarely in our family pictures because he is always the one taking the pictures. He is always the one being proud of me or of the girls. He is the one being supportive. He is the one who takes hundreds of soccer pictures. He is the one who let me cry in his lap after every single chemo. He is the only one I spoke to of being afraid to die and leave my children. He is the one who does all the little things like making sure we have batteries in the house and oil in the car. He is the one who is proud to go to work every day because it allows him to support his family. He is the one who stands with all of us through everything.

He is the one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Blink



As far as eyelashes go, we are pretty blessed in our family. I have long eyelashes as does my husband so both of my children have great, long, dark eyelashes. When I was going through chemo I lost my hair, but was able to keep my eyelashes and eyebrows throughout the entire process.

To my surprise and disappointment both my eyelashes and eyebrows took an abrupt leave of absence about 8 weeks after finishing my last round of chemo. Adding insult to injury, this happened right when we were leaving for Hawaii so just as I was starting to feel "normal", I looked like cancer girl-bald and lashless.

The good thing about losing eyelashes is that they start to grow back almost immediately. Since I have dark eyelashes, you could see them within a week which was great, but I missed my long eyelashes.

Unlike the hair on your head, eyelashes apparently go in cycles which is why we normally lose one or two each day and not the whole lot. Chemo resets this cycle meaning that they all fall out at the same time. My understanding is that it takes awhile to reset this cycle so that each lash is on a different cycle. Unfortunately what this means is that eyelashes continue to fall out long after chemo. Mine fell out the first time and then I had another round of serious thinning but not complete loss.

The other day was a beautiful sunny day in Seattle so I put my sunglasses on. As I was driving I noticed that every time I would blink, my eyelashes hit the lenses of the glasses. I promptly ripped my sunglasses off so I could take a good look at those eyelashes. 7 full months after my last chemo, my eyelashes are finally back to their original length. I think I will wear my sunglasses every day, just so I can realize that having your eyelashes brush against the lenses is a good problem to have.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Too Young

I just read about a 10 year old girl who has just been diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 10 years old!! I thought I was too young at 43. Having a 10 year old daughter myself as well as an 11 year old, I just cannot imagine how these parents are feeling. It is completely unfair. Enough is enough already! 10 is just too young, 20 is too young, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 is too young. As I have said many times before, it is time for Breast Cancer to go away.

I will be praying for this little girl (Hannah is her name)and her family and hoping that all of the great research that has been done for breast cancer can help this family as well. They are in the LA area and I hope that they will find brilliant doctors who can help heal her physically and mentally.

10 years old is just too young!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Circles



Yesterday I had the chance to do several thing and it turned out to be a great day. In the morning I had an appointment with my oncologist. Just a regular check up appointment. I realized that when I was diagnosed, the first oncologist that I talked to had told me I was in for about a year of treatment and recovery. I was diagnosed in May 2008. Yesterday my oncologist told me there was nothing to report. I looked completely healthy, my blood levels are back to normal and she doesn't want to see me for another 3 months. I felt like I had come full circle-I was healthy last April and I am healthy this April.

I left my doctor appointment to go walk around Green Lake with Annie. Annie is a colleague from WaMu that I met via the 3 Day walk. Soon after I was diagnosed, I found her on the Susan G. Komen 3 Day website as one of Washington's top fundraisers for 2008. I approached her to thank her for the work that she was doing and a friendship bloomed from there. I was lucky enough to work for Annie for the last 6 months at WaMu so have had the chance to see her in varying lights-all of which she excels at. Yesterday instead of encouraging her about walking and having her encourage me about pushing through treatment, we got to help each other train for the 3 day and enjoy a beautiful day in the process.

Finally I had the opportunity to meet with several women that I have "met" through the message boards at BreastCancer.org. I have been prowling these message boards for almost a year, finding answers to questions, finding more questions, and finding many brave women. I started a thread for people in Seattle because I knew there must be more than just me here so about 6 of us finally got together to meet in the real world.

I was a little worried about this meeting. How much fun can it be to have a bunch of women talk about how sick they are and how cancer is miserable? I thought it might be somewhat depressing but it wasn't in the least. We are all different, with different diagnosis, different lives, different treatments and we certainly talked about those things. But then we started finding out other things and closing other circles. Two of us found we are from the same town. Some of us have the same doctors, we are all close to the same age. Two of us are walking in the Susan G. Komen 3 day. I even found that one of these women has been following this blog by way of my friend Annie for some time now and has even commented on my blog before. Of all the exchanging of information and realizing our differences and similarities, what did we do the most of? We laughed. Not because we have cancer, but because we are still able to enjoy ourselves despite the hell we have been through or are going through.

To my new Crazy, Sexy, Cancer in Seattle circle of friends; Robin, Susan, Carol, Gina and Kristina-Thanks for the laughs.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter


Today our Easter was rather quiet. My parents are out of town (we missed you!) and we had brunch with my sister and her kids. We made a fabulous stuffed french toast and all of the girls were near explosion level with strawberries and whipped cream.

I am thankful for simple things today. The laughter of my kids as they searched for eggs, the whipped cream smiles of my daughters and my nieces, the smell of sausage and syrup, the ability to smile and be happy knowing that my whole family is healthy and happy, my husband cooking on the griddle (he is the king of breakfasts in our house) and just a little champagne to celebrate.

Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Happy Birthday


Today is my dad's birthday. He would have been 68 years old. Unfortunately not only did he not get to see the 60's, he never even got to see the 50's. He died of pancreatic cancer at 48. His death was the only cancer death I had ever known until recently. It is his experience that shaped some of my own actions with my cancer diagnosis.

My dad was "follicly challenged" and didn't have a lot of hair to begin with, but I remember watching him pull it out by the handfuls after beginning chemo. It was for this reason that I decided to shave my head instead of waiting for my hair to fall out. I didn't think I could emotionally handle the devastation of seeing my hair come out in my hands or on my pillow. Even though shaving my head was extremely difficult, it was the right decision for me. It gave me a certain amount of control of a situation that I would have rather not been in.

Pancreatic cancer can sometimes be related to ovarian and/or breast cancer. It can also be somewhat related to lifestyle and my dad was not a very healthy specimen. My dad's brother passed away of brain cancer last year and his son (my cousin) currently has throat cancer. This was enough cancer risk in my family for me to decide to be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations which I thankfully do not have.

My dad died on my mother's birthday when I was 24 years old. I had seen him the day before his death and knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was not going to make it. It was a devastating blow to me and my first experience with mortality. It was his death that made me realize that people really, truly die and don't live forever. That same year, his mother (my grandmother) died as well cementing that realization for me.

It is unfortunate that many of the things that I remember about my dad have to do with his death and the impact that it had on me. There are plenty of other things I remember as well; making him the biggest sandwich I could fathom, his ability to paint a holiday scene on our windows, the way he smelled, the tattoo on his forearm, his all-consuming love of his children, his belly laugh, his absolute refusal to drink coffee, the proprietary way he felt about Mt. Rainier. I wish, wish, wish he would have been alive to see his grandchildren. I think he would have been so proud that he would have nearly burst.

There are so many moments that he missed so here is one for him. The first day of school for both girls when we moved to our new house. Happy birthday dad....from two of your 5 beautiful grandaughters. We love you.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Name that Pain

My back hurts. Also my right foot has a pain in it. I have felt shooting pains in both breasts. I am certain that I have had random pains in my life before and not worried that it was cancer. I just don't remember what that felt like. It is a constant battle to tell myself that these are normal aches and pains that people get from overdoing it, or straining a muscle or being tired. I have a very good imagination and unfortunately every time I have an ache or a pain of any kind, my first thought is that it is cancer. When do I get to go back to not worrying about all of these things? When do I get to accept the fact that it might just be something as simple as a pulled muscle?

I keep remembering that great scene from Kindergarten Cop with Arnold Schwartzenegger when he has a headache and the kid tells him "it's probably a tumor". Arnold's response---"it's not a tumor!"

I will try to put Arnold's voice in my head every day and every time I feel an ache or a pain. "It's not a tumor!" If Arnold says it, it must be true.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Cheering Section


I was a very shy child and the athletic ability in my family went to my sister. I did not play in any type of organized sport growing up so I have never had been the object of a cheering section.

Last night was the auction/fundraiser for our 3 Day walk. It was a great night and I had a really great time. Part of the event was a slideshow of pictures from the 44 people who make up the Valley Girls and Guys team. Since I was not on the team last year, I did not have a picture of myself participating in the walk. Instead I submitted one of my favorite pictures of Head Shaving Day that shows my family's hands on my newly shorn head. I had not seen the slide show so I didn't know what to expect.

All together there were 17 friends and family sitting at my table and the table behind me. When that picture of me came up on the slide show under the heading of "those who are fighting", I heard all of them cheer for me. For me! I have never heard such a thing in my life. It was my first cheering section and it was for something that I didn't know warranted it...fighting cancer. I was humbled and surprised by the reaction.

The fundraiser brought in an astounding $30,000.00 that benefits the Susan G. Komen organization. That is $30,000.00 closer to finding a cure. Thank you to Tina for making the whole thing happen and for getting through my story without crying! I am extremely thankful to all those who contributed and came to join us for a very fun night. Thank you to Trena, Pam, Jeff, Pam, Keith, Jim, Trude, Kari, Chad, Cathy, Mary, Steve, Holly, Dawn, Mike and my wonderful husband. Thank you for your amazing generosity and thank you for being my very first cheering section. You have given me a memory that will stay with me forever.