Lumps and boobies


My friend, the one who had the lump, then had it removed, then waited three days to learn about the lump, now knows something about her lump: It’s not cancer. Eighty to 85% of breast lumps aren’t, especially in women younger than 40, so my friend’s outcome is not too surprising. What is surprising is when a young woman does develop breast cancer, since her chances of turning up a malignant tumor are only 15 to 20%. Yet young women, like me, do get this disease and so it’s wise to pay attention to anything suspicious found in breast tissue. My friend paid attention to her something-suspicious, which is no longer suspicious, which makes me so relieved.

If you are a young woman, like me and like my friend, you must examine your breast tissue every month. And a doctor must examine your breasts regularly. And when you turn 40, you must get a mammogram every year (ask about ultrasound and MRI if you have any family history). And when you feel something not so right, you must pursue it. It might be nothing. But it could be something. And the earlier you hop on it, the better you’ll survive.

For more on the breast self-exam and how to locate your breasts’ neighborhoods—yes, neighborhoodsclick here. More inspiration on the boobie front can be found here, at feelyourboobies.com.

For more on clinical breast exams—the exam your doctor ought to be doing—click here.

For more on mammograms—yes, they are uncomfortable but they hurt a whole lot less than breast cancer does—click here.

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Dr. Fitness, The Fat Guy, and me

I’ve listened to this a few times, determined it’s not so bad—I didn’t say anything embarrassing and didn’t utter as many “uumms” as I thought I’d might—and so now, I am sharing it with you.

See that icon on the right-hand rail, up top? The one right underneath Family Circle and That’s Fit, the one that reads Dr. Fitness and The Fat Guy? Click on it and you’ll hear my radio interview with healthy living guys Dr. Adam Shafran and Lee Kantor. They ask me about breast cancer, and I answer their questions. All in all, it’s pretty OK. See what you think.

You can also click here to listen.

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Pretty good day

Did a radio show yesterday with Dr. Fitness and The Fat Guy, two guys in Atlanta who strive to make healthy living fun for everyone. We talked breast cancer—I told them how I found my lump, how I coped through treatment, how I started this blog, how I lost my hair. Check me out here. Don’t expect me to belt out any songs on this radio clip. That’s what Danny imagined I’d be doing when I told him the other day about my upcoming appearance.

“When are we going to hear your song?” 5-year-old Danny asked this morning on the way to school, just after I’d turned on some tunes.

“My song?” I asked.

“When are you going to sing on the radio?” he responded with impatience. Sensing my cluelessness, he declared: “You said you were going to be on the radio.”

“Oh, I was on the radio,” I explained. “But I just answered questions.”

“That’s all you did?” chimed in Joey. “About what?”

“About breast cancer,” I told both boys. “I talked about how Joey shaved my head and told me not to cry because it was only a haircut and I wouldn’t die.” I could see Joey smiling as I peeked at him through the mirror.

“You were right,” I told Joey. “It was just a haircut. My hair grew back, and I didn’t die.”

“And you look pretty,” Joey said. “And I like you’re hair better now.”

I told Joey he made my day.

“I thought your day was made by my goodness,” he said.

I asked for clarification.

“I thought your day was already made because I’m being so good,” said my 7-year-old guy.

OK, I get it. You see, Joey gets quite a lot of coaching in the mornings to stay on track and get out the door for school. This morning, he did well. So yes, he had essentially already made my day. And then he made it better.

Today, Joey was good. And he told me I’m pretty. And I don’t think I could have asked for anything more at 7:15 AM on a Friday morning.

A pretty good day, it is.

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Not knowing

I have a friend. She had a lump. Then she had surgery. And now it’s gone. She doesn’t know whether the lump is benign or malignant. She’ll find out on Monday. I feel like I’m in her shoes. Except it’s four years ago. And the lump is mine. And I’m waiting to hear if it’s cancer.

The waiting is the hardest part. The finding out it’s cancer is pretty hard too. But the waiting is killer. Knowing means planning and plotting and strategizing. Or what I hope for my friend: Celebrating that it’s not in fact cancer. Not knowing means uncertainty, anxiety, an unsettled heart and head.

Three more days. Then she’ll know. And everything will be alright, no matter what she knows. Because, she’ll know.

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Giveaway: Now this is one smooth deal

n18624175908_572416_9142.jpgFirst, let me tell you that Smoothie King is offering a freebie for all of you, whether you enter this giveaway or not. On September 18, during the hours of 7:30 and 10:30 AM, the king of all smoothies will give away one 20 oz. coffee smoothie to each customer who wants one. Check out SmoothieKing.com to find your nearest location. Click here for more information on the freebie event.

OK, now back to all things cancer.

Smoothie King supports the cancer crusade, even offers a smoothie tailored to chemotherapy patients struggling to eat healthfully and maintain weight throughout treatment. The Hulk, this smoothie is called and if you are so inclined, in the spirit of breast cancer awareness, you can get it in strawberry pink. Perfect.

There are so many other flavors at Smoothie King and if you win this giveaway, you can spend your winnings on a creation, well several creations, of your choice.

So, Smoothie King is offering one $25 gift card to the winner of this giveaway. Just check out this website, pick your favorite smoothie, and share in a comment what you declare as tops. One week from today, on Wednesday, September 17, a name will be chosen randomly, and then announced here, and then my Smoothie King friend Leah will send her gift to the winner.

Smooth deal, eh?

Thank you, Leah and Smoothie King.

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Kim, you win

Congratulations, Kim—you are the lucky winner of my very first giveaway. Yay for you. One of Danielle’s clever, crafty, and charitable breast cancer picture frames will soon arrive at your Cincinnati palace where you’ll get to display a favorite photo for all to see. I say you make it one of me, just because you love me so, but hey, use it as you will and enjoy.

Come back soon, my faithful readers, because before you know it, another giveaway will begin. It’ll be a smooth one, I promise.

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No excuses

I once left my cell phone in the refrigerator. And my car keys in a bathroom cabinet. Sometimes while talking, I lose my train of thought—my brain just goes blank and I stop in silence, on occasion never recalling where I was headed with my words. I call it chemo brain, an often-misunderstood condition characterized by mental fogginess, a result of toxic drugs that sail through the veins of cancer patients.  John calls it normal. We all do wacky things with our cell phones now and then, he says. He just went on a wild search for his the other day before realizing it was strapped to his side.  Chemo brain? He doesn’t think so. He might be right. In my case, at least.

Two recent studies suggest that chemotherapy is not the cause of memory and concentration problems in breast cancer patients, like me.  The stress of diagnosis, not the drugs, is to blame for my forgetfulness, say researchers, who found that most women with breast cancer had slight issues with attention and learning skills before chemotherapy. Chemotherapy resulted in only a minor slowing in thinking speed—just 10% developed cognitive issues during the treatment.

Perhaps this is all true and my excuse for all things forgetful has just flown out the window. That’s OK. I’m fine with being a little cloudy without medical reason. What’s important though, is this: Breast cancer patients could be making decisions about whether or not to have chemotherapy based on stories they’ve heard about chemo brain.  And that’s scary. These studies will hopefully convince folks that it’s likely diagnosis alone that messes with the brain, not the life-saving drugs that help us survive.

The message here: If your doctor says you need chemotherapy, get it. Worry later about your cell phone, your car keys, your memory lapses. Think of it this way: You should be so lucky to have a scattered head some day down the line. It will mean you’re alive.

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Hang on, it gets better

A young boy, 12 years old I think, and his mom were on a local radio station yesterday, sharing their story for a hospital telethon intended to raise funds for sick kids. The mom of this boy shared a memory about her son, who was not predicted to live beyond age two. She recalled how her boy had once observed a sick child in a very upset state about his medical condition. Later that day, this boy said to his mom: “He should just hang on, because it gets better.”

What great advice. Typically, it does get better. Not always, I know, but mostly when we’re down and out, life does improve. We’ve just got to hang on.

This is one bit of wisdom I plan to remember, kind of like Joey’s “It could be worse,” and another quote I wrote about back in 2005: “We can’t control the waves, but we can learn to surf.”

Photo courtesy of sknaB-nolA on flickr

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Healthy boobs & other cancer facts

ss_101261622.jpgSee that left breast? Once home to a tumor the size of a frozen green pea and marked in preparation for radiation here in this photo (taken April 2005), my boob—and its buddy on the right side—are apparently healthy and well. My radiation oncologist—and her very cute and very nice med student from Tennessee—told me so today. Yay for that.

I always learn something when I go for cancer follow-ups, which amazes me really. Leaving my appointments every six months, I never fail to think: How did I not know that? I mean, I've been in the cancer system for nearly four years and I still don't have a full understanding of breast cancer, its crazy way of operating, its implications for all the years I have ahead of me. Here, a few tidbits I picked up today.

Fact:
Breast cancer that doesn't spread to the lymph nodes can still spread to other organs through the blood. I knew this. What I didn't know is that my cancer (it didn't spread to nodes) is often as treatable as someone's whose cancer has spread to lymph nodes. In fact, 25% of women with node positive cancer will survive without any systemic therapy. Surgery and radiation alone do the trick. This is very hopeful for these women. This is very scary for me—it means just because my nodes were clean, I'm not necessarily safe.

Fact: Chemotherapy is most effective at killing a minimal spread of cancer. Say my cancer did spread through my bloodstream. Chances are it was minimal since I caught my disease early, and my harsh chemo treatments probably worked. That may be why I am A-OK right this very minute.

Fact: I only had four lymph nodes removed during my lumpectomy—all for biopsy purposes. I thought this puts me at low risk for developing lymphedema (swelling in the arm and hand area). But maybe not. Apparently, it can still happen and my risk may not be as low as I'd imagined.

Fact: It would be a very good idea for my sister to have a baseline MRI. She already gets a mammogram and ultrasound every six months due to her increased breast cancer risk, but she's been told she doesn't need an MRI. My doctor believes she should have one—just one, for comparison sake should she need another in the future.

Clearly, I'm still a student of breast cancer. Haven't graduated and received my degree yet. Don't think I ever will.

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Family Circle famous, online

picture-3.pngIf you haven’t found me yet in Family Circle, because: (1) you haven’t made it to the grocery store or (2) your grocery store is slow to stock their October issues or (3) you just don’t want to shell out $1.99 and don’t have time to flip through pages while standing in line or (4) some other legitimate reason, then I’ve got just the thing for you:

My story is online.

Just click here and you’ll land at the first of 15 clickable pages. Keep on clicking and you’ll get the whole deal, complete with photos that might just look better than they do in the actual magazine. Bald head, it’s there. Boobs, there. Little boys, grown into bigger boys, there too.

Take a peek. See what you think. Or don’t. It’s up to you.

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Giveaway: These picture frames are the breast

il_430xn34386931.jpgI just love people who work to further the breast cancer cause—people like Danielle over at Onkie Bazoobie, who creates these fabulous breast cancer awareness photo frames and donates 100% of her proceeds to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Danielle is one generous gal—she’s even offered to give away one frame to a lucky reader right here on this blog. Are you reading? OK, then, you are an official reader, which means you get to enter this giveaway.

Here’s all you need to do: Click HERE to visit Danielle’s shop, check out her frames, then return to this post and name your favorite one by leaving a comment. You have one week to make this happen. The giveaway will run from today, Tuesday, September 2, through next Tuesday, September 9 at 5:00 PM.

Easy stuff, right? Now make sure you leave your email address so I can be in touch if you are the winner. And be advised: Only one entry per person.

See you back here in one week, when I’ll announce the winner. If it’s you, Danielle will ship the prize right to your doorstep. Isn’t she so nice?

Thanks, Danielle.

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It could be worse

jt-aug-2008-034.JPGJoey's new mantra: It could be worse. He uses it to excuse his questionable behavior—like when he was playing at the dinner table recently, waving his arms all around like we tell him not to do, and he knocked over his cup of milk. "It could be worse," he announced after locking eyes with my frustrated gaze. Not exactly my preferred response—"I'm sorry, mom, I know I shouldn't have been horsing around and it won't happen again" would have been my pick—but hey, the kid is seven. How much can I expect, really? Besides, he's right. It could be worse.

Sometimes Joey is wise beyond his years. The kid always gives me something to think about. Once Joey told his dad about the grandfather he never knew (he died before Joey was even born): "Don't worry that your dad can't see you anymore. He's in the sky now and the clouds are his eyes." He told me three years ago that cancer is "medicine and love." Pretty good way to sum it up—I got lots of medicine and lots of love. I'm not sure in hindsight that I'd describe it much differently.

It could be worse. I keep thinking about this and realizing Joey is right on with this perspective.

Back to cancer.

I found a lump—early. It could have been worse. It could have spread. It could have been larger.

I had a lumpectomy. It could have been worse. I could have had a mastectomy.

I had chemo, and it made me sick. It could have been worse. My cancer could have been so bad chemo wouldn't have worked.

I was hospitalized twice during treatment. It could have been worse. I could have been hospitalized three, four, five times.

I had radiation, and my skin burned slightly. It could have been worse. My skin could have been left sizzled and scorched. I could have been in pain. I wasn't.

I had more drug therapy. It could have been worse. I could have been a non-candidate for the treatment (Herceptin), which could be the very thing saving my life.

I went to counseling for more than one year and took an anti-depressant too. It could have been worse. I could have denied these forms of help and could be battling depression and anxiety at this very moment. I'm not. I'm happy.

I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. I hope you get how this applies to your life too. Try this next time you’re down in the dumps: Tell yourself: It could be worse. See if it makes a difference. It does for me.

And Joey too.

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Family Circle famous

Joey checked the mail today and pulled out a large white envelope addressed to me, with the return address: Family Circle. It was just the package I’ve been waiting for and there it was, packed neatly with two glossy October issues of the magazine containing my very own personal breast cancer story. With Halloween pumpkins on the cover and a Breast Health Handbook spanning 21 inside pages, this publication brings to life one festive holiday and one serious disease. I’m honored to be included in the disease part, which is what I told Joey when I showed him the story that features photos of our whole family.

“Isn’t it so neat that I have a story in that magazine?” I asked my new second-grader as he flipped through the pages, noting each photo featuring his sweet little face.

“You’d be more famous if you were on TV,” he said.

“I know,” I told him. “But I’m still proud of myself.”

“I’m proud of myself,” he declared.

For a second, I thought he was going to tell me he was proud of me too. Nope, it was all about him. As it should be for a 7-year-old, I guess.

In a few days, that October issue of Family Circle will be on newsstands everywhere. Start checking around September 2, maybe before. I’m on page 101. I know it’s not TV, but I still feel a bit famous all the same.

Photo courtesy of blog.luon.com

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In charge

One in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer—one in eight, that’s staggering. Just imagine you and seven friends having lunch together. One of you will get the disease. Better make sure the lunch you order is good for you—think fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean meats, little dairy, no alcohol, and moderate amounts of fat, sugar, and calories.

While there is definitely a chance that family history, genetics, environment, and bad luck play a part in the development of breast cancer, research tells us we are also in charge of our cancer destinies—case in point: A healthy lunch (and breakfast, dinner, and snacks) helps fuel good cells and stall bad ones. Here, five methods for fine-tuning your lifestyle in the spirit of breast cancer prevention.

Maintain a healthy weight
. Gaining weight at any age and stage of life boosts a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, says the National Cancer Institute. Haven’t reached menopause yet? Still, you should get your weight in check so you’re ready for this time of life, because as many as 20% of cancer deaths are due to being overweight or obese.

Hormone Replacement Therapy. It slightly increases a woman’s breast cancer risk, according to the large Women’s Health Initiative. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the smallest effective HRT dose for the shortest period of time.

Exercise
. Women who exercise more than six hours a week cut their risk of invasive breast cancer by 23 percent. It’s never to late to start. So lace up your athletic shoes today.

Alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol spike breast cancer risk. Taking folic acid in addition to consuming alcohol helps, but cutting down on drinking is your best bet. An equivalent of one glass of wine per day is all you should drink. Less is better, if you can manage it.

Vitamin D. Pay attention to vitamin-D-rich foods—more here—and soak up the sunshine for 15 minutes each day. If you think you might be deficient, a supplement with at least 1,000 IU of the vitamin is recommended.

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You should know: Asbestos causes cancer

More and more, it’s becoming clear that lifestyle and environmental factors play a role in the development of cancer. That’s why I’m doing my best to eat right, exercise right, and stress less—research says these practices can keep me healthy and just might prevent breast cancer from paying me a return visit.

I’d be wise to avoid contact with asbestos for the rest of my days too, because according to The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center, the stuff is deadly.

Asbestos is a hazardous material, used in the insulation of homes and buildings until the 1980s and still existing in countless products and homes across the country. Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is not a banned material, and a frightening number of manufacturers still use it—a CSI: Fingerprint Investigation Kit toy purchased at Toys “R” Us was recalled earlier this year for exceeding dangerous levels of asbestos. Sadly, there is a 15-60 year latency period from exposure to diagnoses, which means it takes more than a decade before we can realize the effects of such products on our health.

What can you do? Take proper precautions when performing DIY renovations on older homes, for one. And check the materials used in the products that you buy, especially cosmetics and toys.

Here’s why you should pay attention to asbestos: The inhalation of its fibers can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—a terminal cancer only proven to be caused by asbestos exposure. For more about mesothelioma, hop on over here.

Enter The Asbestos and Mesothelioma Center—created to promote education and awareness for those suffering from asbestos-related illnesses. Check out their website here. It features more than 2,000 articles covering the latest news on asbestos-related cancers, as well as breakthrough medical procedures, alternative healing methods, and medical directories that can benefit individuals affected by all forms of cancer. Need free services and counseling? This is your place. Want information about products that may contain asbestos and safety information for properly discovering and removing asbestos in your home? Also your place.

Yes, what we do in our lives and how we do it can affect our risk for developing cancer. Smoking might do it. Lugging around a heavy body might do it. And buying contaminated toys might do it. That’s why I’m doing my best to avoid all risk. I hope you are too.

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100%

There is no 100% when it comes to cancer. There just isn’t. No doctor will ever tell you 100%: you won’t get cancer, or 100%: cancer won’t come back, or 100%: surgery and chemotherapy and radiation will save a life. This is why actress Christina Applegate’s recent comment about her breast cancer battle bothers me.

“I’m clear,” Applegate, 36, told Good Morning America the other day. “Absolutely 100 percent clear and clean. They got everything out so I’m definitely not going to die from breast cancer.”

Now, I’m all for hope. Gosh, I I’d love to say I’m definitely not going to die from breast cancer. But I just can’t say that with complete conviction. No one can. Applegate’s own mom has had breast cancer—twice. And the actress herself has tested positive for the genetic mutation BRCA-1, a big risk factor for breast cancer diagnosis and recurrence—and for ovarian cancer too. There is simply no lifetime guarantee on breast cancer survival.

I know it’s only been a few weeks since Applegate had her double mastectomy and perhaps the girl is just elated that she caught her cancer early and feels in her gut it will not return. I understand—my instinct tells me mine won’t come back either. But to broadcast to the masses, most of who may know nothing about breast cancer and its implications, that beating the disease is as simple as removing breasts and moving on, seems a little simplistic. When explaining why she opted for a prophylactic mastectomy when her cancer was early stage and had not spread, Applegate said: “I didn’t want to go back to the doctors every four months for testing and squishing and everything. I just wanted to kind of be rid of this whole thing for me.”

OK, so she won’t need mammograms anymore—there’s nothing to squish and squash anymore—but breast tissue remains. And cancer cells sometimes get away—my friend Amy had both breasts removed and then discovered cancer in her lungs and brain. She died 15 months after her initial diagnosis.

My bottom line is this: There is no 100% when it comes to cancer. I wish there was. But there just isn’t.

Photo courtesy of tanakawho on flickr

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20 years

post.gifTwenty years it's been since I graduated from high school. A lot has happened in that time—6.5 years of college, 13 years of marriage, 6 homes in 2 states, 2 babies, a handful of jobs, and 1 dance with breast cancer. I got to talk all about it this past weekend, with a crowd of classmates of mine who turned out for two nights of reunion reminiscing in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

First, let me say this: My old hometown looked nice—quaint, quiet, sunny, a little updated, and full of character with its older houses and touch of history. Not like Florida—my favorite if I were pressed to pick between the two locations—but appealing all the same. I felt nostalgic while there. I guess I should. I was born and raised there and didn't leave until I was 22 years old.

Second: WOW, was it fun to see so many old faces. By old, I mean I haven't seen the faces in a long time—ever since my last reunion 10 years ago—although I guess we are actually pretty old too. Amazingly, some people looked just like they did in 1988 when we made our collective final exit from the doors of Cuyahoga Falls High School. Some friends showed they'd aged a bit. Some looked as young as ever. Some were unrecognizable, identified only by the name tags they wore. Some were bigger. Some were smaller. Some were balder. Some were drunker. Overall, seeing the folks I spent four years with—longer if we went to Lincoln Elementary and Roberts Middle School together—was as I'd imagined. It was exciting, strange, a definite blast.

Third: The food. Rockne's (love that Firestone Salad) and Swenson's (no burger this time but the grilled chicken sandwich was plenty yummy) are tops.

Fourth: I had no idea how many people have been reading this blog. Unless you leave a comment, you see, I have no idea you've visited. Several people commented at the reunion, though—Laura, Shelly, Kirk, Gary, Chris, and maybe others who didn't tell me. In a word: Thanks. Thanks for reading, for your support, for your kind and encouraging words. Keep checking in. I promise more updates and only hope they are never as eventful as they were when I first started writing here almost four years ago.

And finally: Kim—you rock, my friend.

Twenty years. Amazing.

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Beds

img_1758.JPGCancer takes away control. I hate that, because I like to have control—not necessarily over people but over my surroundings, my space, my schedule. I like a neat house, a manageable calendar, a semi-clear view of what's ahead. Losing control makes me nervous. Image my anxiety, then, when I had to wait weeks to learn about my breast cancer pathology—the stuff that determines a treatment plan. Consider how wacky I was waiting for my hair to come tumbling out of my head. Think about my mental anguish over the foggy head I developed after my fourth and final dose of chemotherapy—talk about literally losing control—or my two unexpected five-day stays in the hospital. Cancer was out of my control.

I hate that.

But losing control taught me something. It taught me to chill—a little bit—which is why the state of my kids' beds is not driving me completely bonkers.

My boys, ages 7 and 5, are making their own beds now. I figured it was time to charge them with something more than playing, eating, sleeping, watching TV, and occasionally dragging a trash can from the street to the side of our house. So I told my guys one morning to make their beds. I gave them a simple how-to on the whole process, and I set them free. Now they make their beds every morning, often before I even ask for compliance. I love it. I love the initiative they take, the pride they feel for their accomplishments, the fact that it's one less chore for me. What I don't love: The end result—the lumpy, bumpy comforters that are not nearly as smooth as I'd make them, the crooked pillows, the stuffed animals thrown on top of it all. They do far from a perfect job. Gosh, how I wanted at first to control it all, run in their rooms once they finished to straighten and fix it all. But I didn’t, and I don't, because it's their work, it's age-appropriate, and it's something I no longer need to do. They'll become more skilled with time—and maybe with a refresher course taught by me—but for now, they are doing a beautiful job.

Yes, my boys are in control. I'm not. And that's OK.

Chill.

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Two more

savethetatas.pngIn a day—yesterday—I learned of two more women diagnosed with breast cancer. First was former Married with Children and current Samantha Who? actress Christina Applegate. A young woman, just 36 years old, and already cancer has descended upon her, like it did me when I was 34. The second, a friend of my mom's friend, who happens to be surviving breast cancer herself—it's been one year since she had a mastectomy following a diagnosis of Paget's disease. One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer nowadays. I guess it's no surprise then that I'm notified of cases like these so often.

Both women mentioned above are apparently doing fine. Applegate's spokesperson says she caught her cancer early and is expected to make a full recovery. My mom's friend's friend just had surgery and will begin treatment soon. I wish them both the best as they embark on their journeys.

Photo courtesy of savethetatas.com.

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Off and running

img_0543.JPGI ran a 5K on my treadmill yesterday. Ran another one this morning. Now I know I can tackle this physical feat come October 4 when I participate in my fourth Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. What I don’t know is if I can raise as much money this time. Last year, I gathered nearly $4,000 from family and friends.

Two months before the big run and I’m off to a good start: $275 has come rolling in already.

To honor the kind and generous folks who contribute to my breast cancer cause, I will do what I did last year: I will write each and every donor’s name on my body. To reserve your very own spot, click here and donate and if you can. Make it big. Make it small. Every dollar counts.

I thank you.

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