my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

I’m Perfect — At Not Being Perfect

My mom recalls with such clarity my elementary school teachers sharing with her how one itty-bitty mistake in my universe sent me into an I-must-start-over-again tailspin. Imperfect handwriting was not OK, coloring outside the lines was not good enough, and if my ponytails and braids were lopsided, I was inconsolable. Perfection is what I sought. Always.

Danny is nothing like me—when he showed me how he accidentally smeared the marker drawing on the cover of his fourth-grade writer’s journal, he said, “I’m just pretending that it’s water dripping down the front.” What a healthy response to a minor error. What did I see when I spotted the goof, which was topped with bubbled-up sticky laminating wrap? I saw imperfection. I wanted to re-do that project. And fast. But I didn’t. It wasn’t my problem to fix. It wasn’t a problem at all, in fact.

Perfectionism is not all bad. I suspect it’s the character trait that allows me to stick with exercise routines, clean diets, organized schedules, and healthy routines. It’s not all good, either, though, and honestly, I know deep down that it’s mostly detrimental to my well-being. I’ve long been aware of this, and through cancer-related therapy and anti-depressant treatment, I achieved some success curbing my pursuit of all-the-time greatness.

Then I became an editor.

What was I thinking?

Writer and editor Laura Hale Brockway says, “As an editor, the kick in the head is that no matter how hard I try—proofreading backward and forward, fact checking, checking sources, etc.—simple, preventable errors still occur.”

I know. I know. And it’s killing me.

I chose a career I love—one that kinda, sorta, pretty much requires perfection. Clients hire me to fix what they’ve missed. If I don’t catch their flubs, then I’m not really doing my job. Or so goes the story in my head.

What I must learn is that I am doing my job. And I’m good at it. I’ve been told by those who pay me to proofread that I’ve exceeded their expectations, I’ve helped them score good grades, I’ve taught them so much about the written word. Still, that missing comma or extra quotation mark, discovered long after I’ve delivered a project back to its owner, haunts me.

Perfect is an impossible goal. I am human, and humans make mistakes; therefore, I am set up to fail with every task I tackle. Sure, there may be times when I achieve 100%, but can I keep up that gig for all of time? Not a chance.

Brockway cites Joseph T. Hallinan, author of the book “Why We Make Mistakes,” who reports that humans have design flaws that set us up for mistakes. We are efficient, but also error prone. We are just wired that way, and the sooner I get over my hang-ups about getting everything right all the time, the smoother I will sail through life. Am I capable of such an undertaking? I’m really not sure.

According to the experts at the University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign’s Counseling Center, I should experiment with my standards for success. “Choose any activity and instead of aiming for 100 percent, try for 90 percent, 80 percent, or even 60 percent success,” they say. “This will help you to realize that the world does not end when you are not perfect.”

Yea, I realize the world will not come to a screeching halt just because I stumble when I intend to soar. My concern is that maybe editing is not what I should be doing in this world. The pressure to perform at such a high standard is just so consuming.

I don’t intend to make any big career moves at this very moment. I’m just soul searching, trying to find peace in my body so that I can enjoy more happy and less haunt.

And you do know that I’ve proofed this story about a zillion times in hopes of catching all of my blunders, right? Did I leave some behind? I’m sure I did. But I’m moving on. Really, I am.

I Wrote a Letter

That video “Parenthood” character Kristina made for her kids — I did that. Well, I wrote a letter; it was essentially a goodbye message written when I was sure I would not survive cancer. I wrote to John, too. My boys never received their letters. Thank goodness!

Give the Gift of Comfort

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.

Giving Comfort welcomes donations for comfort kits that are given to cancer patients in need (donate now!). You can also purchase kits for our own friends and family members (purchase now!). I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, “What do I get my friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer?” I usually point to books, candles, and comfy socks (these were my favorite goodies). I’m adding comfort kits to my list of suggestions. Starting now.

Today, It Happened (Well, 8 Years Ago Today)

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.

Healing My Body One Bite at a Time

My tummy is troubled. Not always. But when it’s all out of whack, I feel bloated, tight, pained, and uncomfortable. I’ve had so many tests, I can’t even name them all, and nothing (nothing!) has revealed itself as the problem. I have narrowed down my suspicions, though, and I keep coming back to the worry that something I’m eating is screwing up my insides. That’s why I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands and heal my body one bite at a time.

For almost one week, I have eaten a Paleolithic (Paleo) diet  — basically, I am mimicking the eating habits of our long-ago ancestors who ate only what they could hunt and gather. My diet, therefore, consists of animal protein (but no red meat for me), vegetables, fruits, and naturally-occurring, high-quality fats (like some, but not all, nuts). The purpose of eating primal is to decrease inflammation inside the body and to achieve a higher level of physical and mental health. Buying grass-fed meats and organic foods is the best way to accomplish this way of life, and while I am not totally there just yet, I’m doing my very best to follow the rules. The proof is in my gas bill — I have trekked to grocery stores and markets every day this week chasing down products that fit the bill — and in the new items that now line the shelves of my fridge and pantry. Paleo Bread is today’s score.

The bread I am accustomed to eating is not on the Paleo list. But this way-expensive, gluten-free, grain-free, yeast-free, dairy-free, soy-free, starch-free option, made by Julian Bakery and available at my local D’lites Emporium, is approved. It’s made with coconut (there’s an almond option, too) and is low in calories, low in carbs, high in protein, and high in fiber. It’s also not quite as tasty as real bread — the kind I once slathered with honey butter at the Outback and dipped in oils at Macaroni Grill. I did yummy up my new purchase with a bit of almond butter and sliced red grapes, and I think I’ll be fine with this mini treat, even though the bread slices are really small and really thin, and they don’t toast very well.

I am not sure whether I’ll be a loyal fan of this bread. (To its credit, it is very filling.) Honestly, I’m not certain where this Paleo journey will lead me. All I know is that I am taking this quest one day — and one bite — at a time.

Colonoscopy — Normal

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 — Day 31 (October Wrap-Up)

Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

Every October, I receive emails from marketing people trying to push their pink products. “Please help us promote our pink this and our pink that, and we’ll give you a pink this and a pink that as a token of thanks,” say the folks who promise to give a percentage of proceeds to the breast cancer cause. Maybe they do donate money to research; maybe they don’t. I have no way of telling, really, but I do know that the percentage is usually not enough to make a huge difference, and it’s always capped at some strategic amount. Plus, I’m almost certain the companies stand to make a pretty profit for their pink projects. Sometimes, they even peddle pink items that are not all that healthy for women trying to prevent or beat breast cancer (think alcohol and fried chicken).

This year, I declined all pink offers, and I devoted each October day to something breast-cancer real and breast-cancer raw. I shared sobering statisticsfantastic cancer findings, transcripts of interviews with my growing boys who don’t even remember my disease (here and here), photos of lost hair, and graphic images of scars and surgery.

My intention over the past month was to offer you an honest peek into the world of breast cancer. I want you to see that breast cancer can be crazy scary, but it can also be enlightening and happy. My ultimate goal was to pass on just one nugget of information that may help you or someone you know or love who will one day fight breast cancer. I could have given you a link to a discount on a cute pink bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, but I think what I gave you — a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of hope — is even better. I hope you agree.

Raw October — Day 30 (‘Parenthood’ Poll)

Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

If you’ve been tuning into “Parenthood” lately, you know that a breast cancer storyline is weaving its way through the Braverman family dynamics. The TV journey stems from personal experience — show creator Jason Katims’ wife is a breast cancer survivor — and so, it would seem, the topic should be portrayed pretty realistically. What do you think — is the “Parenthood” storyline rockin’, floppin’, or is it a so-so representation of a real-life experience. Cast your vote in the poll below, then share your thoughts in the comments.

Raw October — Day 29 (This Never Gets Old) (VIDEO)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

the power of songThis never gets old, and it never ceases to make me cry. This man sang to me during one of my chemo treatments — he sang to every patient in the infusion room on this January 2005 day.

You know how I mentioned in yesterday’s post how my mom and Jordan sat with me during each session? This is one of those times.

Click on the image to start the video. See if it makes you cry.

Raw October — Day 28 (My Survivor Reminder)

Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

My niece Jordan is my survivor reminder — she was born in October 2004; I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2004. Every time she turns another year older, I tack on another year of survival. She just turned 8 — that means I am about to celebrate 8.

Jordan’s age is not the only cancer connection she and I share. We also have memories (well, I do; she doesn’t) of infusion-room bonding. Jordan was 6 weeks old when I started chemo, and she sat with my mom and me every time toxic drugs dripped through my veins. My recollections of sickness and despair are tempered by the vision of that sweet, new baby in my mom’s arms — the baby who now has beautiful long hair; perfect freckles; a mean volleyball serve; and a huge hug to share whenever she sees me.

Thanks for being my survivor reminder, Jordan. I love you!

Raw October — Day 27 (Reconstruction Options Compared)

Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

Thank you to the folks at Miami Breast Center for the following infographic, which details and compares several breast reconstruction options. I am not in the reconstruction loop at all, so I was not aware of the BRAVA + AFT method (see third column) — if you are in the know and have thoughts on this topic, please share.

Raw October — Day 26 (What Cancer Means)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

Cancer, by Joey

Joey is loving his sixth-grade technology class — so much so that he’s been coming home, hopping on the computer, and practicing his new skills. I recently asked him to put his know-how to work on an image representing what cancer means to him. I love what he created with SMART Notebook.

I also asked fourth-grader Danny to render me an image. He complied, crafting me this beauty using iPad Sketch:

Cancer, by Danny

Raw October — Day 25 (Cancer Talk Coming Up)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

On January 4, 2013, I will talk about cancer — not that I don’t spout out about it all the time as it is, but I will officially discuss the disease that is now 8 years behind me when I join my favorite oncologist at Shands Hospital for an interview session with prospective med students. My doc will highlight how the school/hospital operates from a patient-centered perspective, I will share my patient story, and the students will get to ask me questions. In all, I will give about 2 hours of my time. I know I will enjoy every minute of it.

Raw October — Day 24 (Recurrence Will Not Happen)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

What a difference a year can make. Last November, I nearly lost my mind after a bogus MRI revealed a possible malignancy. Yesterday, I learned that I pretty much have a zero chance of breast cancer recurrence.

My doctor says she knows this because of my type of disease — my tumor was ER/PR negative and HER2 positive, which happens to be aggressive, but only for the first 5 years. After 5 years (I’m at almost 8 years), there’s pretty much no risk of recurrence either locally or to distant organs. That’s not to say another cancer won’t ever pop up, but the one I had should not ever, ever, ever return. I will not, therefore, be a woman who says 20 years down the road that her cancer came back.

I should find great peace and comfort in this news, said my doctor. I do, I assured her. I really, really, really do, and while I kept my composure in her office as this gift of information swirled in my brain, tears fill eyes as I adjust to my newfound relief.

More good news — no more annual MRI. It’s not the standard of care for someone with my risk, and that makes it just not necessary. No more annual blood draw, either. It’s also not the standard of care, and the results tell my doctor nothing about my cancer-related health. My future line-up, then, is one annual follow-up with this doctor (she’s my medical oncologist), one annual follow-up with my radiation oncologist, and one annual mammogram.

Sounds good to me.

All of it.

Raw October — Day 23 (How it All Started)

Raw October: raising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) was started in 1985 by the American Cancer Society with funds from a chemical company and a drug company for the purpose of filling an information gap and empowering women to take charge of their breast health. The Breast Cancer Consortium details the almost 30-year evolution of NBCAM and highlights a few of the criticisms that surround the awareness campaign. Here’s the rundown — RIGHT HERE.

Now, vote in the poll below and share your thoughts on NBCAM — is it a worthy cause or a whole bunch of pink nothing? Take your pick, then share a comment to explain your position.

Raw October — Day 22 (Body Check Journal)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

A friend of mine with a chronically ill child dreamed up the Body Check Journal™, she’s been working tirelessly to bring her vision to life, and now, her creation has launched. Congrats, Dawn!

According to the Body Check crew, this journal “is a simple, easy-to-use communication tool that helps you easily track subtle changes in your child’s body. Armed with consistently tracked data, you are powerfully positioned to work in partnership with medical professionals to indentify and address atypical health issues. The sooner you can understand what is truly happening in your child’s body, the sooner you can address concerns and restore you child to optimal wellness.”

Awesome, huh? And guess what? In January, an adult version of the journal will be available, and that means tracking your own health from breast cancer diagnosis through survival will be so much easier.

Take a tour of the Body Check Journal™ website, which includes a shop, a blog, testimonials, how-to tips, and a space to share your story. See if this tracking tool is up your alley. I’m betting it can only make life easier.

Raw October — Day 21 (Hair By Chemotherapy)

Raw Octoberraising breast cancer awareness — one fact, figure, feeling, and photograph at a time.

Warning: Chemotherapy can change the color and texture of your hair; meaning, the hair you lose will likely not be the same hair you get back. The proof is in the photo — I lost my straight, blond locks and gained a dark, curly mop.

The hair transformation is not always a forever thing, though, because my dark is not so dark anymore, and my curls are not so curly anymore. With each passing day (there have been about 2,920 of them), I look more and more like my old self.