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Four years ago, I wrote these words:
The day before Thanksgiving, my phone rang at 10:00 AM. 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.
Stay tuned for another stroll down memory lane in a few days.
My friend, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just after me, who had surgery just like me, and chemotherapy just like me, and radiation just like me, and Herceptin just like me, has just learned that her cancer has returned. She is understandably angry and worried and convinced she will never see her young children graduate from high school. My gut tells me otherwise. I believe she’ll crush cancer once and for all with her double mastectomy and whatever treatment follows. She’s tough. And she knows it. She just needs to remember it. And then she’ll be fine.
All my love and happy wishes are with you, my survivor friend.
Four years ago, I wrote these words:
On November 16, 2004, 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. Four years ago, I 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 felt like a small 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.
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.
I was the youngest person waiting to get my mammogram, another sign that this lump was nothing serious. It’s 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. She said it could be.
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.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow.
My kid is a monster. I’m talking about the older one, although the younger one is no little peanut either. But Joey, my guy who will be 8 years old in January, this guy is just huge. As you may already know, he’s the whopper baby who came barreling out of my body the size of a two-month-old. He was 10 pounds, nine ounces, and he filled up his hospital nursery bassinet like no one’s business. And he’s been growing ever since. Now 83 pounds and taller by at least a whole head than most in his second-grade class, Joey wears my same shoe size and will undoubtedly tower over me before too long. I’m sure of it, especially in light of his recent growth spurt.
My boys got their teeth cleaned yesterday. Part of their visit always includes a check of weight and height, and our pediatric dentist has such fun reporting to me how Joey has grown in between his cleaning appointments. A year ago, she announced he’d grown three inches and gained three pounds in three months. Amazed, she was. I was too. Not nearly as amazed as I was this time, though. Yesterday’s report: Joey grew two inches and gained nine pounds in three months. Nine pounds. Holy monster kid. Little brother grew too—2.5 inches and six pounds over a six-month period—but my smaller guy looks generally like a five-year-old (which he is) and so I’m not as shocked by his upward climb. Still, he’s tall. Just not so tall.
Joey is so tall. And he’s not so sure he likes it. One day while grocery shopping, he said to me: “It’s not always great to be tall.” I asked him why it isn’t so great. His reply: “Because I can’t play in the mall playground.” Nope, he can’t. While most 7-year-old kids get to play in this public arena of chaos and germs, Joey is prohibited from entering, was even asked to leave once when we allowed him access. He’s taller than the height allowance, you see, so he must watch from afar. Which is OK, I told Joey, because mostly, being tall will be a good thing.
Joey’s pediatrician predicts he could be as tall as 6’6″. I know what you’re thinking: Get a ball in that kid’s hands. We hear it all the time and just as Joey thinks it’s not always so great to be tall, he thinks sports aren’t all that great either. He’s just a kid, after all, and he’s not sure he wants to be a basketball player, a football player, a swimmer (although he’s pretty darn good at anything he tries). There are a few things he is sure about. He’s sure he can ride a mean Ripstick (he can), he knows math is his best subject, and he’s convinced that if he gets a Wii for Christmas, he’ll rock that whole gaming system.
And here’s the one thing I’m sure of: My baby boy, that rock-heavy guy who was heaved onto my chest by a doctor who vacuumed him from my body, won’t stop growing. I know I can’t stop him but for goodness sake, does he have to do it so quickly? I mean, it’s likely I’ll be looking up at him by the fourth grade. And then before you know it, I’ll be cheering him on from the stands of some sports complex.
Or maybe not.
I am writing in honor of my mom, my most loyal reader, who can’t read what I’m writing today because she’s in the hospital.
It was unexpected, the pain in her belly on Thursday night. And it was unfair, how the ER staff made her wait four and a half hours before examining her. And it was lucky, that she had surgery when she did because had one more hour passed, the results could have been tragic.
My mom is recovering now, in a hospital room that is void of all things personal and warm, with a tube in her nose that makes talking and swallowing difficult, with an incision running up and down her midsection. All for a health scare no one saw coming, which has happily been fixed by the steady hands of a surgeon who deserves lots of praise for a job well done.
Today, I am writing in honor of my mom, who will hopefully be reading these very words before too long.
Are you warming up to this holiday season, which happens to be just around the corner? I am. Well, not so much Thanksgiving—I mean, it’s OK, but Christmas is what I like most. I like hanging twinkling lights on our front porch, decorating the tree I yank down from the attic every year, burning pumpkin-pie and candy-cane candles while a fire roars in the living room, reading little-boy letters to Santa, tearing open stacks of holiday cards, and on, and on, and on. I like the whole warm, fuzzy, package Christmas delivers each year—well, except for the shopping, money-spending part.
Given my love for Christmas and all the joy that it brings, I am just loving this new blog called Holidash. It’s related to the blog I write for—That’s Fit—and it’s all about the holidays. Holidash is a fun, clever, witty, makes-you-want-more kind of site, and I find myself drawn to it whenever I perch myself in front of my computer. It’s making me want to untangle my white sparkly lights right now—is it too soon for that?
Anyway, check out Holidash for yourself, and see if it awakens your festive spirit. Here’s some temptation— a few crafty little posts sure to make you smile.
How to look hot for the holidays
How not to get fired at the office Christmas party
Bizarre Christmas album covers
Happy Holidash, one and all!
Yay for Kim, Susy, Zee, Forsythia, and Joseph—all winners in my latest Smoothie King gift card giveaway. Each lucky gal and guy will receive five gift cards, each one good for one free 20 oz. smoothie.
Thanks, Leah, for continuing to shower my friends with smoothies. I appreciate it, and I know they do too.
By Jennifer Chown, of Maximum Capacity
Health care professionals and researchers are finally beginning to accept the reality of cancer-related “brain fog,” though cancer patients themselves have been talking about it for years.
Once affected by cancer, no matter how successful the treatment, some still struggle with changes in themselves that neither medications nor therapy seem to overcome. These are the cognitive changes, or changes in the way we think. This cognitive disruption affects as many as 75% of cancer patients and can happen not only after treatment but also as soon as the cancer is first diagnosed or first appears. Those affected describe a loss in mental sharpness that is both frustrating and life-changing. The symptoms of “brain fog” (often called “chemo brain”) include changes in memory, trouble finding and using the right word, poorer attention and concentration, trouble doing more than one thing at a time, and changes in mood or general feelings of psychological well-being. Each of these symptoms, either alone or in combination, can have a huge impact on how a person functions from day to day.
Scientists are just beginning to unravel why “brain fog” happens. One culprit may be the chemotherapy itself. Some studies have shown that patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy are at greater risk for cognitive problems after treatment than patients receiving low-dose chemotherapy. This may be why the term “chemo brain” was first coined by cancer patients. However, other studies have shown that some patients experience “brain fog” symptoms even before any form of chemotherapy treatment has been given or after other forms of treatment such as radiation. This suggests that the cancer itself or other factors (such as anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, fatigue, genetic factors, different treatment, etc.) may also play a role. What this also suggests is that unless there is more concrete evidence that one specific factor is to blame (for example chemotherapy), people should not be so afraid of brain fog that they let it affect their choice of cancer treatment.
Although the exact cause or combination of causes which lead to “brain fog” is not yet fully understood, the good news is that there are ways to compensate. The term “cognitive enhancement” refers to a method of improving the way you think. In cognitive enhancement programs (either in small groups or on a one-on-one basis) you learn about the issues affecting your thinking and then work to become more self-aware of the mistakes being made. Then, using new techniques and old techniques (techniques you may have been using all along) you can work to get back to better thinking. Successful cognitive enhancement has resulted in even minor treatment effects having an enormous positive impact on the lives of those affected.
How does a person with “brain fog” begin to make changes? First, by acknowledging the problem. These cognitive changes are not just your imagination! Second, by realizing that just as the physical symptoms of cancer and treatment can vary from person to person, so can the cognitive (or thinking) changes. While one person may think a little more slowly, another may remember a little less, and others might get a little muddled when they do more than one thing at a time. So how do you know if your cognitive changes are normal or not? Keep a log of your slip-ups. When you review your log, ask yourself, is this normal or to be expected given my diagnosis and treatment? How is this different from how I was acting before the cancer? Make a conscious effort to reduce your blunders and monitor any changes over time. Ask yourself if your mistakes are happening more often and whether they are bigger mistakes than you used to make (for example, are you forgetting where you parked, or whether you took the car to the store at all?). Compare notes with others and openly talk about your changes and concerns with peers, family members and your health professional. Look for local cognitive enhancement programs that you can take. There are many different causes for cognitive change.
Don’t let cancer get the best of your thinking. Play a proactive role in your cognition. Stay mentally and physically active. Learn and practice strategies and techniques for cognitive enhancement. Talk about the changes, don’t hide them. Take the “fog” out of the cancer experience and help yourself think more clearly.
Jennifer Chown is the Programs Manager for Maximum Capacity: Strategies for Cognitive Enhancement, a company devoted to helping people improve the way they think. www.maximumcapacity.org
We hope you had a Happy Halloween. We sure did. We trick-or-treated, scored lots of candy, and are busy dishing it out with healthy-food bribes. Eat a pear, get some candy. Knock back a nutritious dinner, get some candy. Opt for yogurt instead of cookies, get some candy. Soon the bribes will come to an end, because soon, the candy will be gone. We’re at the bottom of the orange candy bowl already. How are your candy bowls doing?
Reader Elizabeth won writer Tina’s book — If I just Breathe — and I think she will definitely benefit from this inspiring story of one young woman’s journey with breast cancer. Elizabeth is waging her own war on breast cancer, you see, and really, there is nothing better than learning from others whose battles are won. Here is what Elizabeth writes, word for word, about her own story.
I am 44 years old and dx with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer) . Just like Tina it is a rare thing to be dx at a young age with breast cancer. Well I am still young not as young as Tina was when she was dx. I am dx with a rare aggressive form of cancer. One that is not talked about much. Doctors, nurses in the professional field are not aware of this form of BC. They treat IBC as something different. They do other things second guess. Then it gets to the point with women who are dx with IBC have to say no there must be more. Then they decide to do something about. My doctor treated me for a month for something else. Finally he did arrange for me to see a breast surgeon and scheduled mammogram and ultrasounds. When I went to get the mammogram and ultrasounds done it showed nothing, which is common with IBC. When I did she the breast surgeon, she did a biopsy that day of my appt. it came back as IBC, Stage IIIB, my tumor they removed from surgery was 12.5cm. I am still going through treatment. I believe this book would give me a lot of insight and information that will be helpful in being a advocate to others that are having to face IBC. I have enjoyed Tina’s blog. I wish her the best in her knew book. I am sure that it will encourage others. Look forward to reading it however I get it.
You got it, Elizabeth. And it’s on its way.
Big national news today: We have a new President and can now get on with living our lives under a new leadership. Big personal news too: I am still cancer-free and can now get on with living out my fifth year, post-diagnosis. Exciting stuff, all of it.
Monday morning, I had a follow-up with my oncologist. Everything looked good. Everything felt good. My blood is in tip-top shape. My breasts are free of lumps. No lymph nodes are protruding from anywhere on my body. No symptoms are presenting themselves. Perfect.
On Monday evening, I had my annual MRI. And just this morning, I got word from my favorite doctor that everything looked good. “Your MRI is unchanged with nothing concerning,” were his exact words. I love those words.
For me, today is off to a great start. Hopefully, a great start is underway for America too.
I love Smoothie King, and my friend Leah for offering so many goodies for giveaways.
I’ve got gobs of gift cards in my hands, each one good for one free 20 oz. smoothie, valued at about $5 each. I’m bundling them together in packages of five and will award five readers with one of these packages. That’s $25 worth of smooth stuff you’ll get if you win. So here’s what you’ve got to do: Leave a comment and tell me why you love smoothies. That’s it. Do it by 5 PM on Monday, November 10 and your name might just be one of the five I draw randomly from my fancy hat.
Oh, Leah wants me to tell you about a new item on the Smoothie King menu: The Berry Stimulating Maté. It’s got blackberry, strawberry, blueberry, Guayaki organic yerba maté, turbinado (save on calories and carbs and make your smoothie skinny by leaving this ingredient out) and nonfat milk. Yerba maté (pronounced YER-ba MA-tay) boasts a host of health attributes. It aids in weight control and digestion, increases metabolism, induces mental clarity, sustains energy, and lessens the effects of allergies and diabetes. Can’t beat that.
Ready. Set. Go, leave a comment now. Wait: First you might want to see if there’s a Smoothie King near you. Sadly, there isn’t one here in Gainesville. Click here to find a location near you.
I’m usually not a money worrier. But I admit, this whole recent economic scare has me pinching pennies like never before. Which is why when someone from my MRI center called me today and told me how much I’ll owe on Monday when I go for my annual boob test, I felt my stomach sink into my toes.
Before I get the pleasure of plunging my naked breasts into cut-outs on a very chilly table, I will have the honor of forking over more than $300. It’s only 20% of the total cost of the procedure—whew, that’s good—but Geez, what a lot of money. It’s a lot every time I get the test but this year, I’m actually paying close attention to our credit card purchases, so it hit me hard. For a second, I even hesitated and thought to myself, Do I really need the MRI?
Of course, I need the MRI. I’m not about to duck out of the medical loop now that I know it so well, and it’s doing such a bang-up job of keeping me well. Three-hundred dollars. Oh well. I’m considering myself worth it, even though I won’t be worth as much because of it.
Something about this seems iffy—I mean, can funding mammograms for women in need really be as easy as clicking on a website? The Breast Cancer Site claims it is this simple, and I’ve received a bunch of chain-like emails over the years pointing me to this very site. I’ve always clicked, because what’s the harm, I figure. Either it works and someone, somewhere gets a free mammogram or it doesn’t work and then, oh well.
Want to register your own click? Head on over here for the 6th Annual Pink Ribbon Challenge. And if things are as they seem, at the end of the month nearly 500 women will get the gift of a mammogram. Can’t beat that.
I once asked a breast cancer husband how he helped his wife—who happens to be a friend of mine—survive her disease. I offered him this statement:
Surviving breast cancer can be a long haul. Be prepared for . . .
This was his response:
Battle. This is nothing short of the fight for your lives. Of course you need to be compassionate, caring, and all those other important things your wife will need, but you need to turn into the meanest, most determined, pushy, and unyielding SOB, all very politely of course, so your wife will feel there is no one doing more to help than you. Example: I have called Dr.’s offices every hour until I was able to get my wife the appt. she needs. Or, calling again and again until instead of voice mail, I get a real nurse to get a script my wife may need. You gotta be a pit-bull, see what I mean?
Dr. Susan Love told Robin Roberts yesterday on Good Morning America that she’s trying to recruit 1,000,000 women for the Army of Women, a group of women who on a volunteer basis will be part of research efforts aimed at determining what causes breast cancer. All women are invited to participate. Just sign up here. When you do, you’ll get an e-mail about opportunities for being involved.
Love reports that about 200,000 women have signed up so far. She’s got a long way to go to hit that one-million mark. Just like we have a way to go to find that elusive cause of breast cancer. Help if you can. And thank you.
Breast cancer normally affects older women, and there is really very little information about how the disease affects women under 40 (that’s why I wrote about the Young Survival Coalition in this post). But here’s the deal: Breast cancer is a devastating blow to any woman. And as new author and young breast cancer survivor Tina Koral says, “young women often face a myriad of unique challenges, including higher mortality, threatened fertility, isolation, and a lack of informational resources targeted to our age group.”
That’s why Tina wrote a book, so that she can share her story with other young women with breast cancer who need hope, and for young women who do not have breast cancer, but need to know what to look for. And that why she’s sending me a book—so I can help spread the word. And why she’s giving one away here too—so you can help spread the word.
Want to win a free copy of Tina’s book, If I Just Breathe? Take a peek at the excerpt below and leave a comment no later than 5 PM on Monday, November 3, 2008 telling me why you’d love to have this book in your hands. Then I’ll work my random-drawing magic and will announce the lucky winner in a post.
In the meantime, check out Tina’s website here. This is where you can order her book.
“The photographs from my wedding day show a joyful young couple, visibly excited to start a new life together. The promise of a happy home full of children shone in our eyes. The thrill of that day, of marrying my childhood love in a city filled with romance, will stay with me forever. What I did not know at the time was that along with something old, new, borrowed and blue, I carried a seven centimeter, rapidly growing mass of malignant cells in my breast. I was twenty-nine years old.”
Exerpt from If I Just Breathe
Somewhere, I heard that Pink Ribbon Day is October 27. I’ve done some searching and determined that Monday is in fact Pink Ribbon Day—in Australia. Not sure about here in the United States, but I say we declare it Pink Ribbon Day everywhere.
Tomorrow is Pink Ribbon Day then. Which means you need to do something with a pink ribbon. Tie one in your hair. Pin one on your shirt. Paint one on your face. Dangle one from your rearview mirror. You could also buy a pink ribbon product—read this post first, though, and see how you feel about pink product pursuits. Or host a pink ribbon party. Well, there isn’t much time for that now, is there? I mean, the big day is tomorrow. Come on.
I don’t know. Do whatever you like on this day. Just try to to raise a bit of awareness about breast cancer and its implications. Consider these statistics as you brainstorm: 12,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia last year. In 2008, an estimated 182,460 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States. Ouch. In Canada this year, about 22,400 women will be diagnosed. Every year, more than 45,500 women in the UK are told they have the disease. Gosh, I could go and on. But I think my point is clear. Breast cancer is everywhere.
Let’s get the word out.
Sport a pink ribbon.
I’m almost not young enough to take advantage of this organization. I’ve got two years left. I’m 38 and age 40 is the cut-off. Well, I don’t know if the folks at the Young Survival Coalition are that strict, but the group is intended for women younger than 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
A few years ago, while questioning chemotherapy and what treatment was right for me, I visited the YSC a few times. The bulletin boards were my favorite. I didn’t ever write or respond to anyone. I just visited from afar, soaking up the chit-chat of others and using it for my own decision-making purposes. It helped, to learn about Taxol and who got it, who didn’t. I didn’t want it, you see, and I searched feverishly for other women who didn’t get it, trying desperately to justify that it was not right for me. It turns out it wasn’t right for me—Amen to that—and my argument against the drug came partially from this group of fierce women fighting for their lives.
Breast cancer is not all that common among young women, and you may find that resources and information for the under-40 set are limited. Until you find the YSC, that is. They’ve got it all. Besides the bulletin board, the YSC features programs, events, even retreats. And there are all sorts of FAQs and hot cancer topics on the website. Check it out. You’ll discover that while you may be young, you are definitely not alone.