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I love Christmas. Really, I do. I mean, I’ve strung white snowflake twinkly lights and red bows on the front of our house and fashioned a pretty festive tree in our living room. Santas, stockings, a light-up little holiday house and all sorts of seasonal trinkets are scattered here, there and everywhere. My gifts are bought (and wrapped) and I’m even planning to donate blankets to a homeless shelter this year. What I won’t be doing this fine December: Mailing out holiday cards. I know I’ve done it for something like eight years, and yes, it’s kind of a tradition and all, but I’m opting out this time around. For those of you who are crushed that you won’t be receiving a glossy update of Joey and Danny, I apologize, and I offer you this digital version of my 2009 guys. Want more? There’s plenty of family moments captured on this blog (and this one, too).
Go ahead, call me lame, cheap, bah humbug, whatever. Just don’t call me a party pooper, because I really do wish you the grandest holiday ever. I’m just not dumping a lot of cash into prints, envelopes and stamps (I’m unemployed, remember!) so that the majority of you can toss the greeting in the trash (come on, you know you do!). I’m also not wrangling my kiddos into the perfect pose (this one took one point and click) and spending hours prepping a mass mailing. I’m just not. And I’m totally OK with it — I don’t actually feel like a slacker at all, which is quite an accomplishment for a Type A girl.
If you’re not convinced this is the way to spread cheer, think about it this way: No clutter on your kitchen counter, and you can come back and look at this pic whenever you want. Well, that’s my take on it, anyway.
Oh, and how can you not like the sight of two patriotic boys who proudly sport their Marine shirts whenever they get the chance?
Employees at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon all sported pink gloves recently and danced their little hearts out for breast cancer awareness. Apparently, when this video gets 1 million hits, Medline will be making a huge contribution to the hospital, as well as offering free mammograms for the community. So, take a peek, then pass it on.
You might think I’d celebrate my 5-year cancerversary by going out to dinner. Nope. Buying myself something fun? No. Indulging in a massage or pedicure? Well, the pedicure I’ll probably do, because my sweet sister bought me a gift certificate for one, but mostly, I won’t be splurging on anything in the spirit of survival. Instead, I’m signing up for a 1/2 marathon. And I plan to run. the. whole. thing.
The final four on “The Biggest Loser” Tuesday night convinced me I could do it. They ran a full 26.2 miles, but I’m starting small. I really haven’t ever run more than five miles at one time, so I’m putting myself on a 10-week training schedule in order to work up to the feat. It all started today with a three-mile run. Saturday is four. There will be some rest drizzled in, some strength stuff, and then on Sunday, February 14, I’ll hopefully crank out 13.1 miles for Five Points of Life.
Here’s the scoop: Five Points of Life raises awareness for the five ways to share life with others through the donation of blood, apheresis, marrow, cord blood, organ and tissue. Then there’s the exercise component — setting a goal of running or walking a marathon is a great way to commit to a fitness plan that can make a permanent difference in someone’s health and life.
This is perfect for me, because (1) I am a recipient of blood donation — when chemo knocked me on my butt and landed me in the hospital, two units of someone’s blood perked me right up. (2) I’ve also donated. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it — I got all dizzy, had to be carted off on a red chair and was fed cookies and juice until I revived. But hey, someone got my blood, and maybe a life was saved. (3) I’m all about being fit, since I’m pretty sure it might be my key to living a long life, and I figure this training thing will keep me motivated to stay in shape.
OK, so this personal challenge might not be all roses and sunshine. Thirteen miles is, yes, a lot of miles. Training could take a lot of time (which I happen to have, thanks to my no-job scenario), it could be really tiring, I’m going to have to tweak my diet so I’m getting the proper fuel, and I’m not really looking forward to the strength training thing — I just don’t love it. Still, I’m inspired.
So, I’m signing up.
Before I chicken out.
I’ll be right back.
Done. I’m registered. I admit: It was hard to push that submit button (especially after realizing that it will likely take me hours to run this event), but it’s a done deal now.
I’m off and running.
Updates to follow.
So, I guess today is officially my 5-year cancerversary. For most of the years, I’ve been calling November 24 the big day, because that’s when my diagnosis came screaming through the telephone.
But many people use the date the cancer was removed — December 3 for me.
It doesn’t really matter, I suppose. I mean, if we’re talking “surviving” cancer, I tend to think it starts the day one learns of the invasion. November 24. But December 3 works, too.
Maybe I’ll celebrate on both days. While I’m at it, I might just add the anniversary of my first chemo infusion, radiation session and Herceptin treatment. I’ll rejoice on the date I starting losing my hair, the day I spotted it growing back and that magical moment when my port was removed for good. Hey, I’ll just make life one big celebration — as it should be, right?
The party starts now.
On Thursday, December 2, I had a radioactive dye injected into my breast. The dye slowly collected in my main lymph node, the sentinel node. During surgery, this lymph node would be blue so the doctor could easily find it and biopsy it. The biopsy would give him clues about my other lymph nodes. For the rest of this day, I was very anxious about surgery. I didn’t know what kind of prognosis I would wake up to hear and whether or not I would still have my breast.
On November 29, I met with a surgeon at Shands who prepared me for my first step: surgery. He said he would remove the lump and would determine whether or not my lymph nodes were cancerous. He would check all the margins around my breast to see if any surrounding tissue was affected and would identify all the defining factors of my cancer. If he found extensive cancer, he would have to remove my breast. I had to sign a form stating that my surgery was to be a lumpectomy but could turn into a mastectomy. My surgery was scheduled for Friday of this same week.
Remember last season’s “American Idol” winner Kris Allen? Here’s his new song, “Live Like We’re Dying.” According to Austin360.com, Allen’s self-titled album, where this single lives, gets a D+. Says blogger Patrick Caldwell, it’s “precisely the sort of pop confectionery you’d expect from a carefully groomed would-be star, a generic outing that’s all soaring harmonies, inoffensive guitar and utter lack of soul.” About the single that kicks off the album, he says, “with cliche lyrics that — aside from, um, urging you to live like you’re dying — elect to go as broad as possible, lest any listener be alienated by an actual glimmer of personality.”
Call me sappy and cliche, but I, um, kinda like the song, even though the title is a little too much like this one.
Five years ago, on November 24, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And today, on another November 24, I learned that my recent MRI, showing some suspicious little nodules, is nothing to worry about. The news comes from my surgeon, who offered me a second opinion. The first opinion, by the way, was that I probably had nothing to worry about, but now it’s official:
“Your MRI is fine, the small spots represent fibrocystic disease, a benign condition.”
My phone rang at 10:00 a.m., and the doctor who did the biopsy said the pathology report was back already. He said that unfortunately, cancer cells were found. He said I would need a lumpectomy (surgery to remove the lump), radiation, and possibly chemotherapy. He told me to buy a book called Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. I got the book that day.
Somehow, I made it though the Thanksgiving weekend, with my thoughts jumping from the hope that this would turn out OK to the fear that I would not see my boys grow up. My mind wandered and worried about surgery and what treatments I would have. I wondered if I could have more kids and whether or not I would lose my hair. I cried and lost sleep and was hopeful, too.
I learned a lot from reading my new book. I learned that many women do go on to have kids after cancer, but I also learned that chemotherapy in young women could cause early menopause. I learned that I have an 85 percent survival rate, and also that I will get tiny little tattoos surrounding my breast to aid in the proper delivery of radiation. These permanent tattoos will also alert any future doctors that my breast has had radiation because I can never have it again in that same area. The book helped me feel positive about this journey, but it also helped me face reality.
Note: My survival rate turned out to be more like 93 percent for five years. And here I am — at five years.
On November 23, I had a biopsy. A large needle was placed in my breast and a piece of the lump was pulled out. The surgeon had a hard time getting a piece, however, because it moved around so much. He said this was a good sign, the movement. He sent the tissue to pathology and told me to call his office the next afternoon for the results.
Got a Thanksgiving TV tip for you, because, admit it — you know you’ll be curled up on the couch or stretched out on the recliner after your Turkey Day feast! Might as well grab the remote and tune into a special called “Kaleidoscope: A Celebration of Survivorship through Sport and Song.”
One out of every three women in the United States will develop some form of cancer in her lifetime — yikes! — and this program should very well open your eyes to the female fight against the disease.
Sponsored by sanofi-aventis, this heartwarming show will feature ice skating, music and celebrity cancer survivors. It all happens on November 26, 2009 on the Fox-TV network. Check your local listings for time (looks like it’s on at 4 p.m. in Florida).
For more information, please visit womens.cancerinformation.com. And if you want a cool and inspiring something to send to a friend, check out these free kaleidoscope e-cards you can craft all on your own. That’s mine pictured above.
This is my cousin Kelly. She was 5 years old here, and she died just three weeks before her 8th birthday. This month marks 30 years since her passing from leukemia, and that means had she survived her disease, she would have been almost 38 years old.
Nowadays, many kids survive cancer. According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, just 4 percent of children survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the blood) in 1962. Today, about 94 percent conquer the disease. That’s a pretty impressive improvement — I just wish Kelly, who was diagnosed at 14 months, could have benefited from the better statistic. But she didn’t, because she fought cancer in the 1970s. And that’s just plain crappy.
So, I write this post to honor Kelly who, sadly, didn’t get a fair shot at life. Those almost-eight years sure were cherished, though. Says her brave and strong mom of the time they spent together: “I am so grateful to have had those years with her. She will live in my heart forever.”
I honor you, too, Sandy, and all the moms and dads who have loved and lost (you know who you are). I’m not sure how you go on after such tragedies, but I admire you completely for so gracefully doing it.
I was hoping for an e-mail from my oncologist that went something like this:
“Your MRI results are back, and everything is great!”
But this is what I got:
“Your MRI report is attached; My take is that there are some low risk changes and that we should keep doing what we have been, the mammogram alternating with the MRI. Let me know if you want to talk.”
We talked. And my doctor said he thinks we are fine to just keep monitoring — even though the report said things like: There has been interval development of few small, less than 3 mm enhancing foci located more posteriorly within the right breast which demonstrate Type II enhancement curves. No space-occupying lesions are identified. No other concerning enhancing lesions are identified.
You see, tests like MRI are very sensitive, and they pick up all sorts of things. It’s all probably benign, it could be fibrous stuff, or hormonal stuff, who knows.
The “who knows” part is what scares me. Maybe it shouldn’t. The radiologists involved are apparently very cautious, and if they were worried, they would have recommended further action. Still, I’m going to have my surgeon and some others take a look at the report on Monday.
Some good news — everything on the left side is good, and that’s where the cancer was five years ago. It’s the right side that is causing trouble now.
More as the mystery unfolds.
I was the youngest person waiting to get my mammogram, another sign that this lump was nothing serious because it is not common for young women to have breast cancer. Mammograms are not even recommended for women under the age of 40. I am 34.
The mammogram films looked OK, and the technician told me the doctor would talk to me, but that she was not worried about anything. This was true, but she did an ultrasound anyway to look further at the lump. She determined it was not a cyst, which is fairly common, and nothing serious. It could be a fibroma (a common growth that can be removed or left in place without harm) or it could be cancer. She said she wanted me to have the lump removed. She wanted it out and in a jar, she said.
I asked her if it could be cancer, and she said it could be.
Quick this time around.
Answered some questions.
Filled out some forms.
Blue gown and underwear.
IV in arm.
Beeping and screeching.
Kelly Clarkson in my ears.
8 minutes on my back.
20 on my belly.
Boobs through holes in table.
Someone snapping pictures.
“Pretty,” she called the pics.
I was still and didn’t move.
The real answer comes tomorrow:
Everything is fine, or maybe it’s not.
Relaxing at home.
Not worried, really.
Either I’m fine, or I’m sick.
I know the drill.
5 years looming on horizon.
Will I make it free and clear?
I think so.
Will let you know.
I went to my OB/GYN on November 18. My doctor felt the lump but was confident it was nothing to worry about. It moved around easily, there was no discharge from my nipple, I did not feel any pain: all signs that it was benign. But it’s routine to get a mammogram for any mass so I got one the next day.
While I find it pretty odd that the task force of 16 declaring women don’t need mammograms starting at age 40 anymore does not include any oncologists — what? — I won’t spend too much time arguing about this topic. I just don’t have the tools to determine whether or not this is a good recommendation. I mean, I tend to think not, but I see the point that over-testing does lead to false positives, anxiety and unnecessary biopsies. A mammogram did not find my cancer, after all — I did. Which brings me to the point I am going to argue.
This same panel says women should stop conducting breast self-exams, and they should no longer be taught how to perform them. Seems they are not all that effective in turning up cancerous tumors, and there is no difference in mortality rates between women who perform them and women who do not. Uh, not so fast — there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be dead right now had I not been examining myself in the shower five years ago yesterday.
OK, so I’m just one woman, but isn’t that enough? And what exactly is wrong with doing the exam? Maybe it’s ineffective and doesn’t work — but is it hurting anything to do it, just in case? Why tell women to stop? Why not just tell them to not rely heavily on the outcome?
Here’s what I’m saying: Keep feeling your boobies! When you come across something that feels funny, go to your doctor and let that person determine whether you should worry or not.
Just be safe.
This isn’t always true, because I was not overweight prior to my breast cancer diagnosis (which means something else caused my unfortunate turn of events), but carrying around extra fat on your body is definitely linked to an increased risk for developing the disease. My friend, nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden says so — “Researchers estimate that extra body fat causes 33,000 breast cancer cases a year,” he says, and guess what? Probably 21,000 cases of endometrial cancer and more than 13,000 of colorectal cancer are caused by too much weight. Scary stuff, isn’t it?
There’s good news: You can reduce your risk by losing as little as 10 percent of your current body weight. (Well, if you are overweight, that is. No need if you’re currently maintaining a healthy number on the scale.) Here’s a bunch of tools to get you started. Oh, yea, and if you’re in the market for breast cancer treatment, be prepared to pack on some pounds. It happens (I was in the 10-pound club myself) — who knows why (the drugs, maybe) — but you might very well need to shed some skin after the fact. So these tools may come in handy down the road, even if you don’t need them now.
I felt a lump in my left breast while taking a shower. I have always been aware of what my breasts feel like. I have a lot of dense tissue — so dense that the surgeon who performed my breast reduction (in 1996) had trouble separating the tissue to take some out and leave some in. My breasts always seem lumpy to me, and I never knew if I’d be able to tell the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. I once had a mammogram because of something I felt. It all turned out fine. It was just the dense tissue. All of my annual GYN visits have revealed nothing abnormal. But I’ve always been aware and curious, which is why I found something in the shower. I knew it was not normal. It was hard, and it felt like a small, frozen green pea. It moved around, and for the first few days, I had a hard time locating it. Once I became obsessed with it, I could find it immediately.
There’s nothing better than a little help when you’re enduring the rigors of chemo — a friend driving you to appointments, a meal delivered to your door, a buddy watching your kids while you rest and rebound from those icky infusions. What about someone cleaning your house? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Sure would — and it’s entirely possible!
Cleaning for a Reason is newly-formed nonprofit offering free professional house cleaning and maid services to improve the lives of women undergoing treatment for cancer — any type of cancer.
Here’s how it works: If you currently use a professional house-cleaning service, please call and ask if they’re involved with the Cleaning for a Reason foundation. If not, ask them to sign up right here. If that’s a no-go or you don’t use a service but want to take advantage of this program, head on over here and search by state and city to find a participating service. A quick search of my area turned up two, and you can bet I’ll be sharing this info. with anyone in Gainesville who is headed for chemo.
To get the ball rolling, you’ll also need to sign up as a patient on the Cleaning for a Reason website. And if you’re not sure if this service is right for you, check out the testimonials from those who have received cleanings and those who have cleaned. I can’t speak firsthand about the program myself, but it seems clear that it’s a really big help. So, give it at try — or at the very least, help me spread the word.