In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I honor those who courageously rise and bravely fight cancer — women who are diagnosed with a deadly disease and are put through the rigors of grueling, poisonous, and far-reaching treatment plans that sometimes do not work. Some days, I am bummed I am one of these women, but for most of my moments, I am proud to be part of a group of badass warriors, whose strength inspires me stay strong, focused, and hell-bent on surviving this stupid disease.
Who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and 122 pounds? My just-turned-12-year-old child. He is 1 inch shorter and 12 pounds lighter than me. If he follows the same fast track he’s been on since birth, he should be about 6 feet 5 (give or take an inch) as a full-grown dude. That sorta scares me. It also kinda thrills me that I get to see this kid almost pass me by because when he was 3, and I had breast cancer, I wasn’t sure I’d see it happen.
I know you’re probably consumed with holiday gift buying right now — I know my head is still whirling from all the madness surrounding Black Friday (no, I didn’t shop on that day) and Cyber Monday (I did order a pair of discounted running shoes) — but if you can take just a teeny tiny moment (3.5 minutes, actually) to watch this video, I think you’ll discover the true meaning of giving.
It wouldn’t be a proper day before Thanksgiving without mentioning that 8 years ago at almost this exact time, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember where I was standing when the phone call came in (in the kitchen, leaning on the counter), what I was wearing (a white, long-sleeve shirt and shorts), what I was doing prior to the dreaded announcement (managing the chaos of my little boys and a baby girl whose mom was busy at work), whom I called immediately after the devastation (John, who was at work, then my mom, who came rushing to my house), and the numbness turned terror that consumed my entire holiday weekend. Man, that was horrible. And while I can’t say that the days that followed got a whole lot better — cancer delivers some pretty crappy moments — life did turn around, and while I was not very thankful on that pre-Turkey-day 2004, I am way grateful on this 2012 Wednesday for the mere fact that I am alive and that these baby boys (ages 3 and 18 months in the photo) are now 11 and 9.
Yesterday, I had my first colonoscopy. The test was ordered to rule out malignancy as a cause of my recent tummy troubles. My GI doc was pretty sure cancer was not a culprit, but she wanted to cover all the bases given my history. And now I know — no colon cancer.
Something else I know — the test itself is a breeze; the prep, which includes near starvation for more than a day and the guzzling of a thick, laxative-type drink that can induce vomiting (in my case, anyway), is not so fun.
The good news, besides the no-cancer result, is that I won’t have another colonoscopy for 10 years (whew!). The bad news is that I still don’t know what’s wrong with my insides. My self-diagnosis, in the absence of answers from all my tests is either (a) something food-related, (b) something chemo-drug-related, (c) something scar-tissue-related due to past abdominal surgery, or (d) something pelvic-floor-related due to problems that have already been diagnosed.
Nothing like narrowing down the problem, right?
Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.
Wrap your head around this:
“According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 1.3 million new cases of breast cancer and 450,000 deaths worldwide annually. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. The majority of cases are sporadic, meaning there is not a family history of breast cancer, as opposed to genetic, where genes predispose a person to the disease. Men can also develop breast cancer, but it accounts for less than 1 percent of breast cancer cases.”
National Cancer Institute. (2012). Study reveals genomic similarities between breast and ovarian cancers [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/newsfromnci/2012/TCGAbreast
Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, the estimated new cases of breast cancer in the United States in 2012 is 226,870 for women and 2,190 for men. The estimated number of breast cancer deaths in the United States in 2012 is 39,510 for women and 410 for men.
Will the story unfold in an accurate manner? So far, in my opinion, the mammogram scene was pretty right-on (“slip in a little closer,” “slight pressure,” “deep breath,” “don’t move”), and the post-doctor-visit numbness Kristina exhibits is just how I remember it. There was no middle between mammogram and diagnosis, though, and for me, an ultrasound, a needle biopsy, and a whole lot of waiting followed the initial screening. I know, we’re talking TV here, and stories must develop rapidly; plus, who knows, maybe this is how it happens for some women.
I won’t be too picky about the beginnings of this storyline. I’ll just watch, take it all in, then determine just how real it is.
So, will you tune in to watch the “Parenthood” portrayal of cancer?
Leslie won the LympheDIVAs giveaway sleeve. Here, she shows off her new fashion (and function) statement and shares her breast cancer story.
I have been so fortunate and blessed in my cancer journey. My doctor received the “normal findings” of my annual mammogram, which was done in mid-May, with the notation that my tissue was dense. He called and said he would like for me to have an ultrasound done as an additional precaution. Early in June, I had the ultrasound and a small spot (4mm) showed up in my left breast. The radiologist recommended that although it was probably just a cyst, I should go ahead and have a core biopsy. This was done a week later, and 10 days postbiopsy, my doctor called to sadly inform me that I had stage 1 cancer. I was catching a plane to celebrate my father-in-law’s 95th birthday within a couple of hours after that call, so my husband and I decided that we would keep the news to ourselves for the long weekend while my doctor set up an appointment with one of our local surgeons for the following week. I must admit that I have felt from the beginning a sense of peace about this whole experience. I have never doubted that my Lord has been with me at all times, and I rest in His saving grace.
When I returned from our trip, I met with the local surgeon and told him that because my mom was a survivor of cancer in both breasts, I wanted to go ahead and have a double mastectomy. He agreed and was to process the schedule with the reconstruction plastic surgeon. In the meantime, I made an appointment for a second consultation with MD Anderson in Orlando. I met with both the oncologist and then the surgeon, and both physicians felt that I was being extremely aggressive in my decision for a double mastectomy based on the results of the biopsy and felt a lumpectomy was the appropriate course of treatment with radiation. But they would do whatever I decided. After researching the statistics and talking to my family, I decided to go with the breast conservation and had a lumpectomy done on August 2. Ironically, the lab reports that came back from that surgery, which included the sentinel lymph node, indicated that ALL the cancer had been removed by the initial core biopsy done in June, and there was no finding of any cancer in the site or at the lymph node!
I am now undergoing 16 days of radiation and will meet again with the oncologist to discuss hormone therapy. Through all of this, I have had minimal pain or discomfort and the only inconvenience is driving 50 miles to and from Orlando for my doctor visits and radiation treatments—no complaints on my end! So many wonderful people have been such a support to me—what a blessing. I have met numerous courageous women dealing with their cancer, been encouraged by an unbelievable number of breast cancer survivors, and have become an advocate for educating and encouraging women in my daily walk to be sure to get their annual mammograms, and if the findings are dense tissue, to seek additional screening such as the ultrasound. Had I waited another year for my next mammogram, who knows how large the tumor would have grown or how far it could have spread. Thanks to my doctor’s foresight, my cancer was caught so early that my prognosis is excellent.
During this journey, I had the pleasure of getting together with one of our business clients. My husband had told her what was going on and she told us all about her cousin Jacki Donaldson and her exceptional cancer journey. As it turned out, I was given a LympheDIVAs sleeve that my friend had won in a contest. When my girlfriend (who is an OT and is trained in lymphedema therapy) was measuring me for the LympheDivas sleeve, I showed her the design I had picked out. She wondered why I was going with the lacy look that will stand out instead of a neutral skin tone color. I told her I want people to notice and hopefully ask about it so I can promote LympheDIVAs and give the elevator version of my experience and how important it is for women to be informed and know about dense breast tissue.
Thank you for detailing your story, Leslie; I hope you get to tell it over and over again because it will make a difference.
Says the artist about his iPad sketch, “Relevancy” is about how words are taken for granted until something urgent happens.
For me, cancer was just a word — until it crashed into my world. Now, the word has relevance in everything I do.
What word have you taken for granted that now has relevance?
I remember prom like it was yesterday (I think my date probably remembers, too, considering the display of my way-too-big boobs in that white strapless dress), and now, somehow, today is birthday No. 42. Gosh, the time has just disappeared. So have the big boobs, which were reduced in 1996. Funny things, those boobs. They tried to kill me. That was back in 2004. Now, it’s 2012. Eight birthdays since cancer. I love that.
About a year ago, I went to see my OB/GYN for bloating, cramping, and pelvic pressure. I was sure I had ovarian cancer. I didn’t. My doctor sent me to a internist. She tested me for celiac disease. Nope, not that, either, although I did follow a gluten-free diet for a couple of months thinking maybe it would help. It did not. There were other tests I could have taken — one would track an egg moving through my body — but my tummy troubles subsided, and so did my pursuit of an answer.
Eventually, the discomfort came back, then it went away, and this has been the pattern for quite some time now. If I eat healthy, my stomach sometimes hurts. If I eat junky, my stomach sometimes hurts. Often, the pain is so great it makes me want to cry, and at night, I curl up in the fetal position and will myself to sleep. I usually feel better in the morning. To try to cure myself, I’ve played with what I eat and how I eat. I’ve found some recipes that soothe my system — my favorite is a brown rice cake with peanut better and sliced red grapes on top — and I’ve eliminated a few items I believe were twisting up my insides (lettuce). Still, although I can go weeks without symptoms, they always sneak up and cause me at least a day’s worth of sick. This is why I contacted the internist again. She referred me to a GI specialist. I saw her today.
My new doctor believes the culprit might be chemo drugs, which could have mucked up my system. Antigen was the word the doc threw around, and she has ordered a bunch of blood tests, plus a surgical procedure to take a biopsy of some of my intestines and stomach. I will also submit to another test, which will hopefully explain some issues that might be related to my big ‘ol babies (10 pounds, 9 ounces and 10 pounds, 2 ounces). They probably did a number on my pelvic health, my GI friend said, so this test will help investigate further.
I went to the doctor today hoping she wouldn’t just throw meds my way in an attempt to mask what’s going on. She didn’t. For that, I am grateful. She wants to locate the cause of my complaints — I like that. I also went to the doctor today in no way suspecting cancer treatment might come up the guilty party. I’m not surprised, though, because cancer never really goes away. It might not be threatening my life right now, but its presence is always with me.
Beating cancer is half the battle. Living with its aftermath is the other half.
I’ve been following Dr. Susan Love‘s wisdom ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her book was the first I’d consulted in search of answers to scary questions, like, ”What are my chances of living long enough to see my little boys grow up?” and ”Can I have more babies after breast cancer?” and “Why did I get this crappy disease, anyway?” She told me that I had a pretty good chance of surviving, that many women do go on to have kids after breast cancer, and that given all the details of my personal history, I was likely just a random victim of cancer. Now, the woman who taught me so much has been diagnosed with leukemia. She tells her followers she will receive treatment over the next few months, and she fully expects to rise above this challenge. The business of understanding breast cancer will go on at the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, she declares, and she welcomes well wishes from anyone who wants to send some her way.
Be well, Dr. Susan Love!
“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts’ bone-marrow disease was likely caused by the breast cancer treatments she received several years ago. Now, she will have chemo to prep for a bone-marrow transplant. See, surviving cancer is not all that simple.
By: David Haas
Whether you have just been diagnosed with cancer, are undergoing treatments, or are in remission, the benefits of keeping fit cannot be understated. Exercise keeps the body healthy and functioning at its highest capacity, and for bodies fighting a rigorous chronic disease like cancer, exercise can make a tremendous positive difference.
When my doctor first told me I had mesothelioma, I felt like there was nothing I could do, but he encouraged me to get off my sofa and start exercising, even for a short time daily, so I could make a positive change. Conventionally, healthcare professionals have encouraged cancer patients and survivors to ‘take it easy,’ but Ciaran Devane, chief executive officer (CEO) of Macmillan Cancer Support, stated in an article posted by CBS News that patients would be shocked to know the benefits of physical activity on their recovery and long-term health.
Decreased Risk of Recurrence
Studies indicate that for those who have beat cancer, exercise can help keep the disease from coming back. In a recent article posted by webMD, Kerry Courneya, professor from Canada and research chair at the Physical Activity and Cancer organization in Edmonton, Canada, stated that not only did exercise reduce the risk of recurrence, but it also ensured a longer survival after diagnosis.
Elevated Energy Levels
Exercise is known to reduce fatigue and increase overall energy levels. It also increases stamina. Cancer treatment can be rigorous, and exercise helps build the muscle and stamina needed to better withstand its effects on the body.
Improved Quality of Life
Exercise reduces the risk of other chronic illnesses, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while decreasing the risk of other health issues, like osteoporosis and depression. It also enhances mood by releasing serotonin, a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain, and produces an overall positive feeling of well-being.
Even a little effort at fitness can go a long way while living with or beyond cancer. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous. Small choices like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening instead of watching television, or walking the dog instead of playing a computer game make a tremendous overall positive impact on living.
Thank you, David, for this reminder that exercise is powerful medicine!
.Seven years ago yesterday.
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.
.Seven years ago today.
The next day, November 24 and the day before Thanksgiving, 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.
Today, I met with a breast surgeon to review what’s happened over the past almost-week. To recap:
- there was the annual MRI.
- then the MRI report featuring the awful words “malignancy considered.”
- then three days of pure worry (and lots of well wishes and prayers).
- then an ultrasound that prompted docs to utter the happy word, “benign.”
- then another couple of days of pondering it all.
- then this afternoon’s consultation with the guy who operates on women with breast cancer.
First of all, who knew the gowns had gotten so lovely in the past seven years. Wow, check out my beautiful blue poncho-style paper cover-up, complete with hanging-open sides that are just perfect for peering in at boobs and muffin tops. It didn’t really matter, though, how substantial that pretty paper is because in a matter of minutes, I was on the exam table, boobs fully naked and prime for examination. And here’s what I learned about the troublesome twosome:
They feel fine. No lumps, bumps, masses, or tumors. No thickening or dimpling or other changes in the skin. Maybe a little nipple redness (we’ll monitor that). No swollen lymph nodes. No infection. No inflammation. No apparent cause for concern.
The game plan: The surgeon will review my MRI and ultrasound Monday morning at a weekly “breast conference,” where all sorts of doctors converge and weigh in on cases. While he’s at the meeting, I’ll be getting a re-do MRI, and he says if it looks better than the first, we’ll sum up that I am A-OK, and I will check back with him in January. If it looks the same as the first, we’ll call it a mystery and continue digging by way of MRI-guided biopsy. No matter what, I’ll watch the nipple (not, like, every two minutes, though, the surgeon said), and I’ll report any continued or worsening redness.
I learned so much from the surgeon today, like if I ever get cancer in my right breast, it won’t be a spread of the cancer I had in the left breast, because cancer doesn’t spread from one breast to the other. It would be another new cancer, and the chances of that happening are something like .5% per year.
I also learned that MRI catches more than 95 percent of invasive breast cancers (there are others, but these are the types that present as lumps). Awesome, right? Of course it is, but the bummer side to the story is that MRI picks up everything else, too. And what the heck does one do about that? Chase it all down, that’s what, just like I’m doing right now, to see if the iffy stuff turned up by that loud and annoying tube is cancer-related in any way, shape, or form. No fun, I admit, but it’s a necessary evil — unless of course, the boobs go away, which is totally an option, and thanks so much to everyone for sharing opinions on whether or not I should just chop the breasts right off (well, the surgeon would do it, not me). Still thinking on that one, but I’ll keep you posted.
Today was a good day. No pure worry, but still plenty of well wishes and prayers, and news that is more hopeful than not.
Oh, and to make the day even better, the skin biopsy I had last week came back normal. I didn’t see that coming at all, but what a treat!
Docs have talked, and the call at this time is “benign.” No need for biopsy right now. Follow-up MRI at end of month, and, if it shows concerns, we’ll take it from there. <sigh>.