Giving away some breast cancer awareness

My new blogger friend Christine over at Color Me Pink is offering this beautiful breast cancer necklace for one lucky reader. Yep, it’s another giveaway, and you could be the one who scores this made-by-Christine treasure. Here’s what you must do to enter to win:

Head on over to Color Me Pink, browse around a bit and tell me in a comment one thing you learned from your trip to Christine’s blog. I’m giving you one week from today to make this happen. On Wednesday, December 10 at 5 PM, I’ll randomly draw a name. Then, Christine will mail off this pretty prize, which happens to feature a chunky pink faceted pendant, with sterling awareness ribbon and sterling star charm. Strung on a sterling fine chain with lobster claw clasp. Valued at: $25.00.

Consider this your chance to pick up a free holiday gift, for you or for someone you know. Now, get on over to my favorite new pink site and tell me something that captivated you.

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A blue minivan and a pink blog

We bought a lovely, brand new 2008 Honda Odyssey minivan today. Who knew when we took our beater 2001 Odyssey in for service last week that we’d never drive it again, that we’d become the proud owners of a shiny, new, navy blue thing. We certainly had no idea our transmission was shot and required a major and expensive fix. But it did. And we didn’t want to sink loads of funds into an 8-year-old jalopy. So we bit the bullet and re-entered the world or car payments after a two-year reprieve. But that’s not the point of my story. The point is this: We met a lovely business manager man, who shared with us that his lovely wife authors her very own lovely blog. Armed with her business card and two wild little boys primed for wearing out their automatic window buttons, I headed home in my fancy van and paid this lovely wife a visit. You should visit her too.

Color Me Pink is stocked with all kinds of goodies, like recipes for clever meal creations (I am so not clever in the kitchen and am impressed with anyone who can throw together a fancy, healthy meal: Check out this one for Super Easy Tuna Packet with Veggies and Rice) and thoughts on Thanksgiving and musings on vegetarian kids. Need some direction for locating great sites around the Internet? This is your place. All Around the Internet posts will steer you toward great finds. There’s also a Homeschooling component to this blogger’s world. And a jewelry shop too (look at this perfect breast cancer necklace).

All of this I found during my very first visit to this lovely blog. I can’t wait to go back. Join me, and see what you can find.

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Thanksgiving weekend – survived it, plus three more

Four years ago, I wrote these words:

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 can cause early menopause. I learned that I have an 85% 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.

And here’s how reality has panned out: I had a lumpectomy to remove the 1.1 cm tumor lodged firmly in my left breast. My cancer had not spread to lymph nodes, my margins were clear, but my disease was an aggressive one that deserved harsh treatment. I received four doses of chemotherapy (given once every two weeks), then six weeks of radiation (given every week day), then one year’s worth of the targeted drug Herceptin (given one time every three weeks). I did lose my hair. I never did have any more kids (not because I can’t, just because I decided I don’t want more). My survival rate is even better than I thought four years ago—it’s in the 90% range, really. And I am busy watching my little boys grow up.

This Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for my life. I can’t predict the future and therefore have no way to tell if cancer’s coming back my way, but I plan to plug along as if it’s not. And I’ll celebrate when each November rolls around because this month, more than any other, is a sign—a sign that I’ve survived one more year. And that’s quite a gift.

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Remembering Danny

I wrote this story about a year ago for a local parenting magazine. It’s all about Danny, my now 5-year-old. He is nothing like I describe him in the words that follow—well, except for the whining. Amazing how time changes little people so profoundly. I miss this Danny. And I love the one who sits next to me playing computer games at this very moment.

I never realized until my husband took Joey away for the weekend just how much Danny talks. We spent two whole days together, my 4-year-old and me, and except for the hours when Danny was asleep, we experienced not one minute of silence.

Danny talks while playing, while eating, while splashing in the tub, and while riding in the car. He talks himself to sleep, begins talking the instant his eyes open in the morning and when his brother isn’t home to engage with him, talks at my bedside until I emerge from my slumber. And while much of his verbal discourse is of the story-telling nature, he’s got quite a knack for asking questions—which requires my full presence, my undivided attention, and all sorts of meaningful responses.

“How old are you? What’s your name? What did you look like when you were a baby? How old were you when you were a baby? Are you bigger than Daddy? Is Daddy bigger than you? Are you going the speed limit?”

Boy, can that kid talk.

Danny has just a few jobs at his young age—he’s expected to dress himself, brush his teeth, practice good manners, share, recognize his letters, and minimize his propensity for whining. His biggest job, however, is to talk. It’s his best chance at understanding the world around him. Danny’s incessant questions lead to spirited information gathering and when I’m not too exhausted by his constant chattering, I realize how fun it is to inform someone who so enthusiastically wishes to be informed.

It all came down to me that weekend Danny and I spent together. I was on a solo mission, responsible for the accurate dispensing of facts and figures. What I told Danny may have helped shape his perspective on life. What a job. What an honor.

Danny wasn’t the only one rattling of questions during our one-on-one session. I asked my fair share too—I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bond with my youngest guy.

“What did you look like when you were a baby?” I asked Danny. “Like a baby,” he replied. “Tell me more,” I said. “My hair was blond,” he told me. “My eyes were green. I liked to play in the bath. I always liked to play with my toys. I loved my mommy, and I loved to talk.”

Yes, Danny likes to talk. And because I suspect the day will come when I won’t be able to lure more than a few words out of him, I’m going to soak up every syllable that flows from his sweet mouth. I’m going to savor every sound he makes with his raspy little voice, and I’m going to never forget that at this moment in time, I am Danny’s most trusted source of knowledge. I may never again appear so important in his eyes—which, incidentally, are blue—but for now, I’m his go-to girl. And there’s no way I’m letting go of this title.

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The day before Thanksgiving

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.

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My friend, with cancer again

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.

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4 years ago, I found a lump

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.

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The kid never stops growing

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.

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For my mom

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.

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Happy Holidash

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!

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Got Brain Fog? Then read this

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

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Boo from my boys

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?

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Dig out your reading glasses, Elizabeth

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.

Click here for a closer look at the reading glasses pictured above.

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Big news today

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.

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Giveaway: Gobs of Smoothie King gift cards

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.

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Holy Money!

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.

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Click if you can

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.

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You gotta be a pit-bull

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?

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