Eight Birthdays After Cancer

I remember prom like it was yesterday (I think my date probably remembers, too, considering the display of my way-too-big boobs in that white strapless dress), and now, somehow, today is birthday No. 42. Gosh, the time has just disappeared. So have the big boobs, which were reduced in 1996. Funny things, those boobs. They tried to kill me. That was back in 2004. Now, it’s 2012. Eight birthdays since cancer. I love that.

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Tummy Troubles Linked to Chemotherapy

About a year ago, I went to see my OB/GYN for bloating, cramping, and pelvic pressure. I was sure I had ovarian cancer. I didn’t. My doctor sent me to a internist. She tested me for celiac disease. Nope, not that, either, although I did follow a gluten-free diet for a couple of months thinking maybe it would help. It did not. There were other tests I could have taken — one would track an egg moving through my body — but my tummy troubles subsided, and so did my pursuit of an answer.

Eventually, the discomfort came back, then it went away, and this has been the pattern for quite some time now. If I eat healthy, my stomach sometimes hurts. If I eat junky, my stomach sometimes hurts. Often, the pain is so great it makes me want to cry, and at night, I curl up in the fetal position and will myself to sleep. I usually feel better in the morning. To try to cure myself, I’ve played with what I eat and how I eat. I’ve found some recipes that soothe my system — my favorite is a brown rice cake with peanut better and sliced red grapes on top — and I’ve eliminated a few items I believe were twisting up my insides (lettuce). Still, although I can go weeks without symptoms, they always sneak up and cause me at least a day’s worth of sick. This is why I contacted the internist again. She referred me to a GI specialist. I saw her today.

My new doctor believes the culprit might be chemo drugs, which could have mucked up my system. Antigen was the word the doc threw around, and she has ordered a bunch of blood tests, plus a surgical procedure to take a biopsy of some of my intestines and stomach. I will also submit to another test, which will hopefully explain some issues that might be related to my big ‘ol babies (10 pounds, 9 ounces and 10 pounds, 2 ounces). They probably did a number on my pelvic health, my GI friend said, so this test will help investigate further.

I went to the doctor today hoping she wouldn’t just throw meds my way in an attempt to mask what’s going on. She didn’t. For that, I am grateful. She wants to locate the cause of my complaints — I like that. I also went to the doctor today in no way suspecting cancer treatment might come up the guilty party. I’m not surprised, though, because cancer never really goes away. It might not be threatening my life right now, but its presence is always with me.

Beating cancer is half the battle. Living with its aftermath is the other half.

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Dr. Susan Love Diagnosed With Leukemia

I’ve been following Dr. Susan Love‘s wisdom ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her book was the first I’d consulted in search of answers to scary questions, like,  “What are my chances of living long enough to see my little boys grow up?” and “Can I have more babies after breast cancer?” and “Why did I get this crappy disease, anyway?” She told me that I had a pretty good chance of surviving, that many women do go on to have kids after breast cancer, and that given all the details of my personal history, I was likely just a random victim of cancer. Now, the woman who taught me so much has been diagnosed with leukemia. She tells her followers she will receive treatment over the next few months, and she fully expects to rise above this challenge. The business of understanding breast cancer will go on at the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, she declares, and she welcomes well wishes from anyone who wants to send some her way.

Be well, Dr. Susan Love!

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my Breast Cancer blog — A Redesign

I like to change things up now and then, and I love, love, love simplicity. That’s why I’ve launched a little redesign of this blog. It’s pretty plain, I know, but I kinda like that. I don’t like clutter and scatter. Minimal makes me happy, and if you could see my kitchen counters, you’d know what I mean (they are pretty bare).

I’m also a fan of how readers can easily scroll headlines in this new format without viewing a post in its entirely. Just read a small snippet of a story, then click on your desired title to roll out the whole story. Or course, you can also search topics under My Categories on the right-hand side of the screen.

Crisp and clean is my goal when I write, edit, and create, and I think this site delivers — do you?

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A Little Piece of My Cancer Story

I was interviewed recently by a writer at Healthmonitor for the new Guide to Chemotherapy. It’s the kind of mini-magazine you’ll find in a doctor’s office, so be on the lookout because you just might spot the glossy guide while you’re waiting, waiting, waiting to see your medical people. The 36-page publication (which is free, and you can grab one for home) is filled with so much wisdom — chemo questions are answered, side effects are addressed, nutrition is covered, date nights are encouraged, and there are two pages devoted to a piece of my story. The article, called “Circle of support, chain of love,” is about my blogging (and my wig sharing), and if you wish to read just a bit of my almost-eight-year-long journey, this is your chance. Just click, navigate to pages 22 and 23, then read.

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I’m Just Editing

I know I’m not around here much anymore. I apologize if you keep coming back hoping to find new content and inspiration. It’s just that I’ve been working, and, now, I spend much of my time over at Just Edits — my new-since-March one-stop edit shop, “where you hire me to clean up your copy, and I teach you tips and tricks sure to make you look super smart.” Please bookmark me at justedits.org, and stop in anytime — you won’t find much in the way of breast cancer material, but I will tell you exactly how to use periods with closing quotation marks and how to properly place apostrophes for last names that end in sCome “Like” me at Facebook, too.

Breast cancer — important stuff, yes, and I promise to come back when I’ve got meaningful stuff to say. Proper grammar — pretty important, too, I think, and that’s why I’m making a career out of correcting the written and spoken mistakes of the world. Well, some of them, anyway.

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The Hair Hits the Road

It’s been on my head.

It’s been to Melbourne, Florida — twice.

It’s been to Akron, Ohio.

And off it goes now to Vienna, Virginia, where newly diagnosed Michelle will wear this wig once chemo takes full effect. Michelle, just now recovering from a mastectomy, is a married, working mom of two little boys, ages 1 and 4.

Michelle found me via this blog and reached out to ask some questions — several of which were about hair. She liked the look of my “underhair” — cotton on top, human hair around the sides, meant to be worn with hats — and she was thinking of getting such a cover-up for herself. No sense in that. I have a perfectly good one crumpled up in a box in my closet, I told her, and I pleaded that she let me send it to her. She accepted, so I shampooed, conditioned, dried, flat ironed, and topped with a bucket hat. Next, I’ll box it up and mail it off. She should have it in a few days, just in time to bring her some comfort before her own blond hair is gone.

Gosh, this hair tells such a story — I ordered it because I’d tried on a few traditional wigs, and the way they framed my face screamed, “She’s wearing a WIG!” Desperate to look like my own normal in the midst of cancer chaos, I loved the thought of a ballcap on top of hair that looked real. A hundred bucks (plus) later, I had in my hands a perfect solution — the not-scratchy, cottony-soft, blond-like-my-own-hair fix that was so believable a neighbor once commented on how great it was that I had not lost my hair. I attribute the facade to the human hair, the perfect shade of color, cut to just the right length, and looking fresh and clean and bouncy thanks to the recommended Frizz-Ease products.

This wig, which ironically looks nothing like my hair now (chemo can change the color and texture of hair), brought me peace when my world was crumbling.

I think it will do the same for Michelle.

And for whoever is in line next to her.

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Run Amuck With the Duck for Lung Cancer

This post is not about breast cancer.

It’s about lung cancer — a disease with a survival rate of 15.5%.

In case you haven’t heard, that just is not acceptable.

Good news is that you can help change such a sobering statistic, and all you need to do is register for Run Amuck with the Duck and either walk or run a 5K.

It all happens in Gainesville, Fla. on March 31, 2012, and in the event you are not local (I realize many of you are not), then perhaps you can make a donation (even small contributions make a difference) to help fund a cure for a disease that is affecting Dianne Caridi, a young woman here in town. She and two other survivors are the girls sponsoring the event, and I know they would appreciate any support you can offer.

So, please think about (1) registering for Run Amuck with the Duck, (2) donating to Run Amuck with the Duck, and/or (3) spreading the word about Run Amuck with the Duck (feel free to tweak and republish this post).

Thank you!

UPDATE, 2/3/12: Dianne Caridi lost her battle with lung cancer.

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Mastectomy Trend May Be Misguided

I asked my breast surgeon today for his thoughts on mastectomy for someone in my boat:

  • early-stage breast cancer.
  • no spread to lymph nodes or anywhere else.
  • lumpectomy + chemo + radiation + Herceptin.
  • seven years survival.

“Definitely not,” he told me.  “You’ve come too far, and you are doing so well.”

Plus, I am constantly monitored, and, at this point, my chance of developing a life-threatening breast cancer is slim.

There’s just no need for a such a drastic and major surgery, he said. The resident on service with him agreed.

I told my doc that it seems a trend that woman are removing their breasts after diagnosis rather than saving them when conservation is a real option.

“It is a trend,” he said, sharing that he spends lots of hours in lots of meeting discussing why women are moving in this direction.

If not medically necessary, mastectomy is just not something he supports. He even advises women who do need mastectomy for cancer in one breast to not remove the other one. Why? Because lopping off a healthy breast does not up the odds of survival.

Never did I actually want to cut off my breasts — I just wondered if it was a wise move for someone like me. The majority of readers who responded to my November poll Mastectomy — Do It? Or Too Drastic? chose “Do It.”

But my surgeon picks “Too Drasic,” and so I’m gonna roll with his wisdom.

For now.

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Surviving Cancer Not So Simple

When the cancer doc says, “you’re cured, go home,” it’s not the end of the story.

In about a year, roughly eight years out from my year-long, every-three-week Herception treatment that targeted the over-expression of a certain protein in my tumor, doctors will start monitoring my heart. Why? Because the same drug that may be saving my life right this very minute, also has the power to compromise heart function after about 3,000 days.

(oh, and the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin that I received via dose-dense infusion on four separate occasions can also cause heart damage.) (dose dense means given every two weeks instead of three.)

(oh, and the radiation that zapped the breast right over my heart every day for 30+ days can also cause heart damage.)

I choose not to think too much about these potential side effects.

Still.

My point:

Surviving cancer is not so simple.

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Fight Cancer With Fitness (GUEST POST)

By: David Haas

Whether you have just been diagnosed with cancer, are undergoing treatments, or are in remission, the benefits of keeping fit cannot be understated. Exercise keeps the body healthy and functioning at its highest capacity, and for bodies fighting a rigorous chronic disease like cancer, exercise can make a tremendous positive difference.

When my doctor first told me I had mesothelioma, I felt like there was nothing I could do, but he encouraged me to get off my sofa and start exercising, even for a short time daily, so I could make a positive change. Conventionally, healthcare professionals have encouraged cancer patients and survivors to ‘take it easy,’ but Ciaran Devane, chief executive officer (CEO) of Macmillan Cancer Support, stated in an article posted by CBS News that patients would be shocked to know the benefits of physical activity on their recovery and long-term health.

Decreased Risk of Recurrence

Studies indicate that for those who have beat cancer, exercise can help keep the disease from coming back. In a recent article posted by webMD, Kerry Courneya, professor from Canada and research chair at the Physical Activity and Cancer organization in Edmonton, Canada, stated that not only did exercise reduce the risk of recurrence, but it also ensured a longer survival after diagnosis.

Elevated Energy Levels

Exercise is known to reduce fatigue and increase overall energy levels. It also increases stamina. Cancer treatment can be rigorous, and exercise helps build the muscle and stamina needed to better withstand its effects on the body.

Improved Quality of Life

Exercise reduces the risk of other chronic illnesses, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, while decreasing the risk of other health issues, like osteoporosis and depression. It also enhances mood by releasing serotonin, a ‘feel-good’ chemical in the brain, and produces an overall positive feeling of well-being.

Even a little effort at fitness can go a long way while living with or beyond cancer. It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous. Small choices like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, gardening instead of watching television, or walking the dog instead of playing a computer game make a tremendous overall positive impact on living.

Thank you, David, for this reminder that exercise is powerful medicine!

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Thankful

Thankful for Thanksgiving-like weather (yea, the 80s went away!).

A mom who *always* makes the turkey + everything else (my only job is eating!).

Kids who seem to still like me (Danny held my hand at dinner last night).

A husband whose compliments are oh-so-kind (he thinks I hold our family together; I think I’ve got him fooled!).

A sister who would do anything for me (wonder if she would run that half marathon in my place).

Nieces who let me braid their hair (not because they like it, but because I do!).

And so much more.

Like friends and family and love and support and food and home and health and …

You’re getting bored, I know.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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