A Great Gator and a Shining Star

Last week, Joey was crowned Greatest Gator in his second-grade class. One child gets this honor each week, a boy or girl who practices good behavior all week, works hard, and generally goes with the flow of all things school-related. Joey was this boy on September 19 and for the whole week following, he was the man. We made a photo collage he took to school and displayed for all to see. He wrote a page in the Greatest Gator journal, about how happy he was to have emerged victorious. He completed a special questionnaire, won the gift of a pencil and pencil gripper—pencil grippers are, like, all the rage in second grade—and was lucky enough to have a stuffed alligator sit on his desk for five whole days. Now, Joey’s reign is complete—his pal Lauryn is the new Greatest Gator.

Things are still exciting here in our household, though, because yesterday, Danny came home wearing a Shining Star construction paper hat. Second grade has Greatest Gators. Kindergarten has Shining Stars. And this week, Danny is it. He too was awarded a pencil—with a heart-shaped eraser, no gripper—and he brought home his own borrowed journal (he dictated and I wrote all about his family and what he likes to do). He gets to take in photos on Monday, which will be displayed for his week-long tenure, and he’s borrowing two books we’ll read at home and then return. He’s a proud boy. Yesterday, after I scolded him for doing something disruptive, he asked if I was still happy he’s a shining star. You bet I am.

I’m happy my guys are off to a good start this school year. I’m thankful they model their good behavior at school and save their bad choices for home. I’m proud, simply proud to be the momma of a Great Gator and a Shining Star.

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Thankful for slow

Here’s how my typical day flows: Wake up at 6:15 AM and do everything it takes to get two little boys ready for school and out the door. Drive two little boys to school, walk them to their kindergarten and second-grade classrooms, depart school. Exercise. Shower. Dress. Eat big fruit salad. Write—for hours. Eat lunch. Head back to school, get boys, return home. Unpack backpacks and lunch boxes, manage homework and fights, sneak in more writing work, pack lunches, prep dinner, fold laundry, and whatever else comes my way—Wednesdays are library days, grocery stops are frequent, sometimes a movie, maybe a play date, a game of Sorry or Stratego here and there, a round of role playing with Danny (he’s loves to play toy store: He sells his toys; I buy them). We like to go outside too—and I suspect our outdoor adventures will ramp up a bit with this great cooler weather we’re having in Florida.

I am thankful for my schedule. Mornings are for me. They’re quiet—no they’re silent, and I love that. Afternoons are crazier, but it’s a nice balance. Overall, my schedule is slow. It’s not rushed. It’s not hectic. It’s not stressful. After yesterday, I realize how fortunate I am.

My yesterday started with at 5:15 AM workout because I knew a busy day faced me, and I just can’t miss my workout—it’s a mental health thing. Then I chaperoned Joey’s school field trip at Camp Crystal, where we hiked and marveled at nature, enjoyed a hayride, visited a museum, and ate lunch. Then we drove back, got Joey some more lunch—he didn’t touch the one provided at camp—and picked up Danny from school. Then home, where I changed into running gear, dumped the boys into John’s capable hands (he happened to be home from work yesterday, thank goodness) and all but raced out the door to meet a photographer at the University of Florida for a photo shoot—I’m going to be featured on the front page of UF’s website beginning October 1 (check out ufl.edu and you’ll see me as one of three spotlight people in the top banner). Photos took one hour, and then I met Tracy for a run on campus. Three miles and 30 minutes later, I was headed home. Arrival time: 5:15 PM—a whole 12 hours after I first starting doing lunges and squats in my garage. The night continued with the usual—showers, brush teeth, read book, lights out.

Pooped, I was, by the end of yesterday. So tired, I couldn’t even stop on the way home from campus to put gas in my car, a mistake I realized this morning while racing to do my school drop-off after waking much too late and starting the day off in a rush.

I didn’t like yesterday. I mean, I liked the individual events of the day, I just didn’t like the rush of it all, which makes me so thankful for today.





Just how I like it.

Photo courtesy of antkris on flickr

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Crush cancer with these 5

Want cancer? Not me. Once is enough.

If you’re with me, you ought to practice a few steps for cleaning up your diet.

Take a peek at this post I wrote for That’s Fit and see if you can wrap your head around these five tips—all believed to help prevent cancer and a whole host of other health issues.

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To have hair

It was a shot in the dark when I asked my two little boys last night on they way home from our dinner out: “Who wants to do mommy’s hair when we get home?” Who knew both boys would shoot a hand in the air, like they eagerly wanted to answer a teacher’s question at school, and simultaneously repeat, “Me,” “Me,” “Me,” Me,” until I happily informed them they both could do my hair.

I love to have my hair done. And since I’m not sure my growing boys will want to play beauty shop for much longer, I’m capitalizing on this game while I can. I’m all-willing to let them do as they please, too. Spray bottles full of water? Sure. Yanking and pulling as they fumble a rubber band around clumps of my hair? Yep. A delayed bedtime so they can turn my hair into a tangle of knots? Of course.

“Mommy, your hair is so long,” Joey told me as his bedtime hour slipped away and he soaked my hair with blasts of water—it’s easier to brush this way, he tells me. “I remember when it was, like, one inch long,” he continued.

“Yeah, me too,” I told him, realizing I like this hair playtime for many reasons. One, it’s relaxing. Two, it gives me time with my boys. Three, it gives them time with me. Four: It means I have hair.

Gosh, is it nice to have hair—to have someone tear a brush through it and twist it into all sorts of unrecognizable styles, to pull it back into a ponytail, to have the pleasure of complaining about what this crappy Florida humidity does to my chemotherapy-acquired waves, to have an appointment on Thursday to get it cut because it’s too long.

Yes, my hair is long. Too long even.

Gosh, is it nice to have hair.

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A Yummm–eee announcement

“The Lo-Carb Banana wins out for me! Yummm–eee!” wrote reader Elizabeth M. when asked to leave a comment describing her favorite Smoothie King treat as part of the recent Smoothie King giveaway.

Smoothie King: Get that Lo-Carb Banana smoothie ready, because Elizabeth’s name was picked in a random drawing and now she’s got $25 to spend on all sorts of Yummm–eee stuff.

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

And thanks to Leah and her Smoothie King partners for offering such a generous donation.

Stay tuned for more smooth deals—another Smoothie King giveaway is coming soon.

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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.

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.

. 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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