my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

This Room

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This is the room.

Five and a half years ago, I sat in this exam room, after being shuttled over from the hospital room in which I’d been living for five days with chemo complications. The radiation folks deemed it necessary to prep me for my next therapy, which takes a lot of planning and precision, so they borrowed me from the oncology floor, and put me here.

Then they transported me to a special table, where they taught me to recline against several different molded pillow-like things, tattooed me (little dots mark my radiation area), and schooled me on how to breathe with a special tube (to move my heart out of the way of radiation beams).

In this room, back in 2005, I was in a wheelchair, sick, bald, and feeling quite blah.

Today, I sat in this room again. Not sick, not bald, and feeling quite spunky. Today, I walked out of this room thinking about what my doctor had just told me:

“You are just fine.”

Ahhhh. I love this room.

Radiation-Ready

Radiation-ready!

Post-chemo, pre-radiation!

I know this pre-radiation photo is revealing, and I’m sorry if it offends you in any way. I am a pretty modest person overall, really (no bikinis for me!), but I don’t spare any details when it comes to breast cancer. I figure it can only help to be totally open and honest about the realities of a very frightening disease. I mean, if just one woman sees this pic and feels better prepared for her breast cancer journey, then I know baring my breasts was a wise move.

And so here they are, the boobies I saved with a lumpectomy, the boobies I’ll remove if cancer comes back, the boobies that will be evaluated during a follow-up tomorrow by the oncologist who five years ago delivered 30+ doses of external beam radiation to my left side over a six-week timeframe. As a result of this time-consuming and fatigue-causing treatment, I have a bunch of tiny blue tattoos, a possibly-affected heart, a weak rib cage, a fair amount of armpit numbness, and limited range of motion in my arm.

Yea, bummer.

But I also have my life, and so, I will bounce right in to see my doctor in the morning, thankful she scorched and burned me all those years ago, and hoping like mad that she finds nothing suspicious or scary lurking under that skin that was once marked up all pretty by black by red Sharpie pens.

Lisa Wins ‘You Are the Best Medicine’ Book

Lisa is the lucky winner in the “You Are the Best Medicine” book giveaway, and let me tell you — she is quite deserving! Here’s her “C” story:

Lisa and son

Lisa, 41 and fighting!

I turned 41 and knew I needed to set up my mammogram — 40 went by so fast, and I had not done it yet. (I’d had a diagnostic mammogram when I was 35 due to a milk discharge, and everything was OK.) So, I went for my mammogram and got called back in for additional views. I was not scared at all, I knew a lot of times people need extra views. So, I went back in and had those views taken, then an ultrasound, and then a biopsy. The doctor said “usually masses that look like this are not benign.” That’s when I knew I was in trouble.

Five days later, I was told I had breast cancer. Invasive ductal carcinoma, two spots, maybe three. The next day, I went to a surgeon, he told me no chemo and a lumpectomy — that is if my MRI didn’t find something different. Well, the MRI showed a shotgun effect in my left breast. There was cancer “splattered” all around my left medial breast. This means a mastectomy. Fortunately, no lymph node involvement could be seen.

The doctors could never feel the masses in my breast — even when the surgeon held the tissue in his hands, he could not feel a mass.

I had my mastectomy on August 31, 2010, and being the master of this game, my cancer tricks us all again, and there is lymph node involvement, three out of 33 lymph nodes are positive. Great, I just got a free ticket for chemo! I had my bone and CAT scan, and thank goodness, those both are negative.

I get to go in Tuesday for my port surgery. I am so scared about chemo — not the sickness, not the fatigue, but the hair loss, and I feel stupid for admitting that, but it’s what keeps me covered. My hair keeps me warm, it keeps me hidden, and now I am going to be totally open. I am also concerned that my son will have trouble with that. He has never seen me without my hair flowing down my back. But I will make it. I have to. There is no other way, because I will do anything to be able to see him grow and have children. So, chemo will start in a two to four weeks, and I will put on those boxing gloves once again because I will not let “C” win.

And now, here’s where I weigh in with a few thoughts:

First, the hair. I know. I know. I know. It’s almost worse (OK, it is worse) than the disease. Please don’t feel stupid, Lisa, for fearing the bald. We all worry. It’s totally normal, and completely expected!

Second, thank you, Julie Clark, for writing this book, and for making it possible for Lisa to win a copy. I know it will warm her heart and help her son cope.

Third, best wishes to you, Lisa, as you begin this horrible and wonderful journey. You’ll find the wonderful along the way. It just takes time!

Ovarian Cancer Marble Pendant: Giveaway

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www.outofthebluedelivered.com

It’s almost October, and yes, that means Breast Cancer Awareness Month is just about here.

But we’re not talking breast cancer right now.

Nope, we’re paying some attention to another cancer, because guess what? September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and the word needs to get out that 21,880 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, and 13,850 will die from it.

Serious stuff!

But here’s something happy:

My friend Dawn at Out of the Blue Delivered has generously offered to give away an Ovarian Cancer Support Marble Pendant to one lucky reader. She’s nice like that, and she happens to be my favorite champion of the cancer cause.

It’s nothing but simple to enter to win:

  • Shop around at Out of the Blue Delivered.
  • Then, leave a comment revealing your favorite item!
  • Leave your comment no later than 5PM ET on Tuesday, September 21, 2010.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing via random.org.
  • One winner will receive one book, valued at $20.00.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

‘You Are the Best Medicine’ Book Giveaway

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harpercollinschildrens.com

You probably know Julie Aigner Clark best as the mom who launched the wildly-popular Baby Einstein empire. I know her voice was ever-present in my house during those early years with baby Joey. He was not a very happy and content boy, but Baby Mozart and Baby Bach helped infuse our crankiest days with a little joy. We liked Baby Santa’s Music Box, too, and even though Joey is now 9 years old, and his brother is 7, that Christmas DVD is still in our media cabinet. Yea, a good Spring Fall clean is in order.

Julie has accomplished more than just engaging little ones, though. She has partnered with John Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted” to create The Safe Side (all about kid safety), and there’s also Memory Lane (for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia). And now, what might be my very favorite is her new book, “You Are the Best Medicine.”

Julie (a two-time breast cancer survivor) wrote the book, Jana Christy illustrated it, and WOW, what a treasure for parents with cancer who want to explain the disease to their young kids in the most delicate and gentle manner.

In her book, Julie draws parallels between navigating cancer and growing up:

For a while I will have to take medicine that makes me feel bad, and this medicine will make all my hair fall out. I will look different. But I will laugh when I remember your own sweet little baby head, how round and bald it was, and how warm it was on my lips when I kissed it every day.

I like Julie’s overall message — that children can help parents feel better, just like mom and dad do for them; that cancer can be a tough; that life can return to normal; that love and kindness really are the best medicine.

I also like that 100% of the proceeds from the sale of her book go to breast cancer research, and oh, best of all, I hope to soon talk with Julie herself. Just as soon as I do, I’ll publish my interview here. If you’ve got a question you’d like me ask her, please leave it in comments!

So, do you think you want to read Julie’s book? Well, then, I recommend you get yourself a copy. But first, throw your name in the hat and try to win one for free. Right here. Right now. All you need to do:

  • Leave a comment and share why you want this book in your hands!
  • Leave your comment no later than 5PM ET on Tuesday, September 14, 2010.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, and the District of Columbia, who are 18 and older.
  • One winner will be selected in a random drawing. using random.org.
  • One winner will receive one book, valued at $16.99.
  • Winners will be notified by email, so make sure to check next week to find out if you’ve won!

Best wishes!

See, Breast Cancer Does Bear Gifts

Breast cancer gave me a gift today. It arrived in my mailbox, and I think it’s pretty cool. Yes, I’m silly like that, thinking gifts can flow from something very frightening and life-threatening. Some day, I’ll write all about the upside of cancer. For now, I just want to share my nifty keychain!

Gift by breast cancer

Gift by breast cancer

Breast Cancer Prevention Through Healthy Living

Healthy is yummy!

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt, Flickr

Thanks to Louise Baker for offering to write a guest post, and for doing such a good job of pulling together some of the best tips for preventing breast cancer through healthy living. Check out what she has to say, then get busy taking her advice!

Pay mind to your diet
More and more, oncologists are realizing that a healthy diet may be one of the best protective measures you can take to prevent cancer, including breast cancer.

Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
As a general rule, the more natural the food, the better it is to eat. Fruits and vegetables have antioxidant qualities, which fight cancer. Berries are one of the most antioxidant-rich foods. Choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to get an array of vitamins and minerals. Farmers markets sell fresh fruits and vegetables that are not laden with pesticides the way they are at grocery stores. Whole grains refer to foods with minimal processing and almost always have more fiber than refined carbohydrates.

Avoid refined carbohydrates!
Refined carbohydrates tend to cause much steeper surges of insulin than whole grains. Insulin has a drastic effect on the release of other hormones in the body, such as the insulin-like growth factor and possibly even estrogen. These two hormones have been strongly linked to cases of breast cancer.

Be conscious of the different types of fat
Not all fat is created equal. Omega-3 fatty acids may have a role in preventing breast cancer when eaten in a 1:2 ratio with omega-6 fatty acids. While getting the proper ratio may seem like a simple feat, it is not. Fast food and other commonly eaten American foods have a much higher amount of omega-6 (anything made with vegetable oil is packed with omega-6 fatty acids).

Exercise, exercise, exercise!
Exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer in several ways. A study done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle gathered that women who exercise have a 22% reduced rate of breast cancer.

Lower stress levels
The mind-body connection concerning illnesses has long been researched. Findings consistently support that stress causes lowered immunity and is linked to a vast quantity of ailments, including cancer. Exercise is key to stress reduction and mental health.

Maintain a healthy weight
While changes in diet may be the best method for weight loss, exercise is the most important part of weight maintenance. According to a study performed by the National Cancer Institute, gaining weight (especially after menopause) increases the risk of breast cancer.

Avoid Certain Drugs

The following drugs have been extensively linked to breast cancer:

  • Estrogen: This refers to pharmaceutical estrogen, such as the estrogen found in birth control pills.
  • Alcohol: Numerous studies show that more than one drink per day can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The risk increases with each additional drink.
  • Tobacco: Carcinogens in cigarettes are well-noted for their cancer causing properties.

Louise Baker ranks online degrees for Zen College Life. She most recently wrote about the best colleges online.

I Fell Down

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Photo: jamieanne, Flickr

After cancer, I made some big changes in my life. It all started because I wanted to lose the 10 pounds treatment had forced upon me, and because I wanted to rid my body of the toxins that had been suffocating it for a year and half.

The changes (no alcohol, no sweets, no red meat, no really fatty foods, lots of fruits and veggies, lots of exercise), well, they worked. I lost 15 pounds, got in shape, scored a great resting heart rate and super cholesterol levels, and I became healthier than ever.

Yes, it was tough at times to refuse the brownies and pass on birthday cake, but I became so happy in my skin that the few seconds it would take to stuff down a sweet treat just didn’t seem worth it anymore.

My willpower lasted for three years.

Three. Whole. Years.

And then something horrible happened.

Halloween 2009 arrived.

And I fell down.

One little bite of one little Tootsie Roll from my kids’ stash, and that was it. The sugary flood gates opened, and I just couldn’t get them closed. For nearly 10 months.

If there’s something I’ve learned about my relationship with sweets over the years, it’s this: One cookie isn’t enough. One slice of pie won’t do it. One mini Halloween treat — you get the idea, right?

So, what started with one indulgence back in October led to a feast in November, a baking frenzy in December, a free-for-all in January and February (I was training for a 1/2 marathon, and I became ravenous), and, well, there are no excuses for March, April, May, June, or July. I just ate the sweets I wanted, when I wanted, and while I really didn’t like that my scale had jumped 5 pounds and my middle felt uncomfortably soft, I couldn’t find the drive to get back on track.

Until a few weeks ago, when the tides turned.

I’m not sure how, or why, but just as hard as I fell, I got back up, and now, I seem to have my footing again. I can’t promise I’ll keep it, but for the moment, the sweets are off limits. I’m tightening up the reigns on my favorite crackers and nuts and carb-y snacks, too, and I’ve never let go of my commitment to no alcohol, no red meat, lots of fruits and veggies, and regular exercise, which means the scale is back on track, my middle is firming up, and I’m feeling a whole lot better about the skin I’m in.

Finally.

It’s been said that falling down is not what matters most. It’s the getting back up again that counts.

I agree.

Still, I hope I don’t fall again, because, really, it’s not all that fun.

Wish Upon a Wedding

Photo: wishuponawedding.org

Photo: wishuponawedding.org

Wish Upon a Wedding has been making dreams come true since January 2010, and if you or someone you know would like a wedding or vow renewal despite a terminal illness and serious life-altering circumstances, this nonprofit wish-granting organization might be able to help.

Wish Upon a Wedding offers folks (regardless of sexual orientation) a chance to enjoy a very special day, free of stress, while surrounded by family and friends.

There are more than a dozen chapters serving wish applicants who want to get married within 300 miles of one of the chapter locations, so take a moment and check out this rockin’ place!

Then submit your wish.

You can also become a Wish Granter, and you can volunteer in all sorts of other ways, too, like donating airline miles and wedding products, and of course, money, since that’s kinda what makes the world go ’round, you know?

Tina Takes On Cancer

Happy family, fighting cancer

Happy family, fighting cancer

She has two little girls, a really great boyfriend, a job she loves, and a bunch of loving friends and family.

She also has breast cancer.

Tina is just 33 years old, and she is embarking on the fight of her life.

It all started just two weeks ago, and already, she’s navigating the maze of mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, MRI, meetings with surgeons, and more. She’s asking lots of questions, shopping for wigs, and figuring out the madness that, sadly, so many women must encounter. The good news: she’s doing it all with a spunky attitude, and a whole lot of support.

Ah, support — it’s what makes her most emotional, she told me.

I understand.

The love and concern that pours out of people is nothing short of overwhelming. In part, I think it’s what helps us survive such a dreaded disease. Writes Tina on her Facebook page:

Just wanted to thank all my friends and family for showing your support with all the pink ribbons and encouraging words. I have such an amazing support system.

The pink ribbons? Her friends are using them as their Facebook profile pictures, and so Tina’s page is like a quilt of pink, nuzzling her and keeping her secure on her journey.

My prediction: Tina is going to be just fine. Even better if we all send our well wishes her way!

Coping with Cancer Magazine

If you find yourself in a cancer doc’s office anytime soon, see if you can find the latest copy of Coping with Cancer magazine (the July/August 2010 issue). Then turn to page 28, and you’ll find me staring back at you!

Thanks to this very blog, I was given the opportunity to write for Coping. My story is called, “Blogging Cancer: How and why to start blogging.” I wish I could lead you to an online version, but there isn’t one, so you’ll have to read it the old-fashioned way.

Update: 7/30/10

Wait, the webmaster of Coping magazine just left a comment that reads:

Actually, your article is scheduled to be posted on the website homepage on August 23 under our featured stories.  The week of August 30 it will be the leading story on Wellness/Emotional Support landing page.

Stay tuned!!

Yay!

Pray for Emily

Emily's Cancer Blog :: Pray for EmilyShe is only 16.

And she’s fighting leukemia.

If prayer is a part of your life, please say one for Emily.

This morning I had the realization that I am pumping poison into my own body.
Poison that can cause hair loss, sickness, joint pain, kidney problems, blood clots, bruising, chest pain, mouth sores, eye problems and much more.

All of this is in order to save my life.
My precious little life.

I’m just a kid who has not even begun to experience all that there is.
I’m waiting.
Waiting to explore, experience and live. LIFE. My life.

Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it. It’s not. It’s my reality. Mine and thousands of people like me. Which is the saddest thing.

That’s why this blog is so amazing to me.
Knowing that I have hundreds of people fighting with me, every step of the way is just incredible.

So lets keep on fighting!