Wednesday, November 25, 2009


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:


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!