my Breast Cancer blog

2004, age 34 — this is my story

Happy Pre-Cancer Halloween


Seven years ago, 3-year-old Joey was Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. Danny, 18 months old, was a Home Depot employee. Three weeks after this photo was snapped, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Almost Seven Years

Almost seven years ago, I found a lump in my left breast. It was cancer.

Almost seven years ago, my brother-in-law Jack put on a pink bracelet.

My cancer is gone, but the pink bracelet is not.

Thank you, Jack!

Attitude is Everything

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and she noticed she had only three hairs on her head. “Well,” she said. “I think I’ll braid my hair today.” So she did, and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror, and she saw that she had only two hairs on her head. “H-M-M,” she said. “I think I’ll part my hair down the middle today.” So she did, and she had a grand day.

The next day, she woke up, looked in the mirror, and she noticed that she had only one hair on her head. “Well,” she said. “Today I’m going to wear my hair in a pony tail.” So she did, and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day, she woke up, looked in the mirror, and she noticed that there wasn’t a single hair on her head. “Hooray!” she exclaimed. “I don’t have to fix my hair today!”

Attitude is everything.

The Huffington Post, Published

Never did I think creating this blog would lead to so many great writing opportunities. I really only intended to share my story with family and friends so they could keep up with my cancer-surviving progress. Somewhere along the line, though, my little spot on the Internet turned into so much more. See that yellow “My Work” box to the right? (Scroll down a little.) Pretty much everything there was a result of folks finding me here and asking me to write in other places. My most recent “other place” is The Huffington Post / AOL Living:

Breast Cancer — How I Learned to Cope With Hope

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve retold that same story, from different angles,” I told my writer uncle after he complimented me on this piece. He assured me it never gets old, only gets richer with time.

OK, then. I’ll keep writing.

Mammogram Done

It happens every year right around my birthday — the annual mammogram. It’s no big deal to me anymore, because I figure things are either going to turn out OK, or they’re not, in which case, I’ll know what to do, because I’ve done it before. So, I just submit to the routine, cross my fingers really hard, and accept all prayers that come my way (thanks, Katie Dain). And so far, ever since that day back in 2004 when cancer crossed my path, everything has been just peachy.
Today, things turned out OK.

My mammogram was normal.

Defeat Cancer Without a Cookie Cutter

Image: cancerbooksource.com

I have a new book, and it’s called “Defeat Cancer: 15 Doctors of Integrative and Naturopathic Medicine Tell You How.” I grabbed this Connie Strasheim paperback from my mailbox one day just as I was taking my boys to flag football practice. In the car went the book, and when I finally plopped down in my red football-mom chair, I cracked open this insightful resource, which kept me reading and wanting to alert anyone who would listen that cancer treatment can involve so much more than cutting, poisoning, and scorching.

I didn’t alert the masses that day, just my husband, who sat captive next to me in his own folding chair, but I intend to share some wisdom right now. So, keep reading, then pass it on.

I guess I should start by saying that I, myself, was cut, poisoned, and scorched. And if I had to do it all over again, I think I would follow a similar path, because ditching conventional treatment altogether just makes me nervous, and I’m afraid the result could be tragic. That’s not to say I don’t believe there’s a place for alternative methods of healing, and that’s why I like my book — it offers 15 different views on conquering cancer, some hard-core anti-traditional ideas, some not so drastic, all eye-opening. Consider these few points:

  • Cookie-cutter treatments do not work for most patients, but that’s kinda what we get in most cancer centers and hospitals. I know I did, and it’s partly why I fired one oncologist and hired another — the first one told me I needed X, Y, and Z, because that’s what the research said I needed. Doc No. 2 said I didn’t need all that she had prescribed. She was a statistics person — if the computer spit out a recommendation, she took it. He was an intuition person. He reviewed my options, shared his thoughts, and together, we picked what seemed most effective for me. It seems to be working, because I’m alive six years later, even after declining a scary drug I knew I didn’t want to take.
  • While conventional medicine has proven useful for treating some cancers, for most types, it doesn’t do so well. More than 250 billion dollars have been spent on cancer research over the past 60 years, and the cure rate hasn’t improved much since 1960. Clearly, something is not right here.
  • Even when traditional treatments are used, they are typically inadequate and lack a holistic approach. What about dietary modifications, for example? Why don’t docs talk much about eating for health and healing?
  • Cancer represents a failure of the immune system. Boosting this system through diet — because we are a far more toxic and nutritionally depleted country than every before — and immune support (oral and IV) can make a difference, maybe even provide a cure.

There is so much more packed into the pages of this book, and I can’t possibly do it service here in this post, which is probably getting a little long, right? Might I recommend you grab yourself a copy, and see for yourself how complex the world of cancer treatment really is. Then, alert the masses, or, well, maybe just whoever sits next to you at your kids’ next sporting event.

No Cancer, Another Birthday

You know that Ricky Martin commercial, where the singer belts out a peppy happy birthday tune and states his wish for less cancer and more birthdays? Well, Ricky will be pleased to know that tomorrow — more than six years after cancer — I get another birthday! And while the big 41 won’t take effect until I wake up in the morning, the grand celebration took place tonight. It was a family affair, and there was a whopper basket of goodies.

And a delicious mom-cooked gluten-free dinner (sorry, forgot to snap a shot of my taco salad), plus beautiful cookie bars, which were not gluten-free, but everyone else loved them, and all I wanted was fresh fruit, which I got!

And things really knocked up a notch when my oldest child, who had banned all swimming this summer decided to take the plunge, because it was evening and he didn’t need sunscreen.

And then there was his silly cousin and her fancy pool hair, which looks something like a toupee, and a lot like Princess Leia when she parts it down the middle, which she did right after this pose.

And have I mentioned that I got a rockin’ camera for my birthday, which happens to be responsible for all these pretty pics? Yep.

I love my camera.

I love my family.

I love my birthday.

The Breast Cancer Kid

Joey hung out with me at my cancer follow-up yesterday. The guy was by my side when he was 3 years old and I was diagnosed, and now, at 10, he’s still sticking around!

New Tune — Bangs Be Gone

It seems sorta silly of me to complain about my hair, because I have hair, and having hair is a whole lot better than not having hair. I should just suck it up and be OK with the fact that I got bangs back in January, but as much as I thought I would like them (I did actually feel a fondness for them for a few days), the truth is that I really and truly prefer hair of all one length. So, I found some inner strength for the grow-out process, I purchased a few clips+headbands+other stuff, and for a while now, I’ve been blending and securing the shorter hair into the longer hair. It’s not my ideal look, but it’s holding me over, until the day comes when I can let it all flow. And on that day, I will vow — one more time — to never. ever. again. get bangs.

Oh, and the blond — yea, I’m not sure how that happened. Who knew the blond I lost, which was replaced with the darkest of dark curls, would, over time, head back to blond — and almost straight (flat iron takes care of the remaining wave, which really isn’t all that much anymore).

Toxic Risk: Cancer and Environmental Toxins

Reader Krista wrote today’s thought-provoking post. She raises the concern that toxic junk surrounds us, and that it might just be causing our cancers. Aware of the recent cell phone/cancer conversation? That’s the sorta stuff Krista is talking about. Read on, and you’ll see. (And thank you, Krista, for sharing your words!)

In many cases, some people believe the bridge between environmental toxins and health issues like cancer to be somewhat overstated. Unfortunately, this could not be more false. In everyday life, there are nearly 100,000 different chemicals being used all over the world. Of that 100,000, only a few hundred have actually been tested for their ability to cause cancer. In just the small amount of testing of those few hundred, there have been numerous ties to cancer-causing chemicals.

The effect of chemicals and toxic materials on cancer cases can also be tied to the high amount of cases in elderly people. As people age, the body’s ability to metabolize and remove chemicals is reduced. These chemicals can stay around in an older body and cause more problems and health risks. Even though awareness should always be high for environmental toxins, the elderly should have an extra eye on the dangers.

In 2010, the President’s Cancer Panel (an advisory group on cancer) called for more research on environmentally related cancer and toxins. They claimed that while there is some evidence of long-term effects, without research, the true burden of environmentally related cancer will be extremely underestimated.

The panel pointed towards some ways to cut down on the risk of these toxins in the near future. This includes filtering tap water and not using plastic plates, as well as eating food without pesticides or fertilizers and processed meat. They claimed that cutting down cell phone use, reducing radiation exposure, and checking home radon levels as other important recommendations to reduce these health risks.

The actual types of cancer are not to be taken lightly, and one of the most vulnerable places can be inside or around the house. Houses have been key spots for exposure to radon, asbestos, and as a result, mesothelioma. Radon can rise up from the ground, while asbestos material is a common fiber found in many older insulation and homes. These risks are not to be disregarded as there is no mesothelioma cure, making asbestos exposure highly dangerous.

Some may come away from these reports and believe that they overstate or scare people about cancer. It’s not intended to do that, but it simply shows the importance of being aware and taking steps to help prevent any of these risks in the future. Emphasis on the panel’s recommendations will not only have a positive effect in cutting down environmental cancer risk, but also in improving health in general.

Power of Words — 5 Bloggers Who Move Me

Thanks to Trop50 for sponsoring my writing about fabulous bloggers. This year Trop50 is granting 50 Fabulous Wishes. Click here to enter for a chance to win $1,000 to celebrate a friend with a refreshing attitude about looking and feeling fabulous!

Fabulous bloggers, according to my definition, are folks whose well-written words and pretty photos inspire me to do better, be better, feel better. They are almost always women, and moms, and they work really hard at empowering others. They don’t pretend to be perfect (they sometimes eat donuts, skip workouts, raise voices, and let the laundry pile high). They strive for balance in their crazy days. They make me laugh. And the really, really good ones give away lots of free stuff. There are five fab bloggers in my world. Here they are:

in HIS grace is a newbie to me, a blog I just recently stumbled upon, by way of a friend. WOW is what I have to say about Chrissie Grace, a way-clever, stay-at-home mother of four, plus artist, author, and poet. Chrissie chronicles her everyday life and amazing projects with few words and many photos (I love that!). Bonus: she links to her etsy shop, so all the rockin’ projects featured on her blog can be located and purchased with just a few clicks. One of my faves is this print:

Click on image!

Because she does pretty things with food, is tech/social media-savvy, and homeschools her kids (anyone who can do that for longer than half a day is, in my book, a hero), Christine and her ColorMePink blog rank right up there with the best of the best. I mean, the blog is pink, for one, and her presentation is slick, and there’s just such a wide variety of good stuff, I keep going back. And to think I might have never found this wonder woman had I not met her hubby, the money man at a Honda dealership, the day I bought a minivan. We talked blogging, he passed me her business card, and the rest is hisherstory.

MizFit keeps me coming back, too. Recently named People’s Choice winner of the Fila Toning Real Women model casting call, this muscle momma is a rock star. She takes healthy eating and purposeful exercising and makes them seem so achievable.  She is smart, witty, beautiful, and she knows her subject well (before and after photos prove it). No surprise she has a dedicated following. Not just on her blog, though — the girl tears things up on Facebook and Twitter, too! She is a force, for sure!

Then there’s fitness guru Fitz, who first met me in her home gym, where she brought me back from the brink. Still in treatment for breast cancer, she took my weak, dizzy, bloated, blah self and morphed it into something strong and healthy. She convinced me I could run, when I swore I could not, and then she joined me for a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K months later. Last year, I ran a half marathon, and yea, I think she had something do with major feat! OK, so back to the whole blog thing: Fitz has a blog, where she offers tips for optimal living, glimpses into the lives of fit celebs, and there’s never a shortage of giveaways (I just happened to win one — ChopKeeper cutting boards are all mine!)

Click on image!

Finally, my last fave: One in a Million, because I have a thing for the power of words, and this blog is full of words that make me smile. That’s the point, says blogger Sara Louise, who calls her little spot on the Internet, “a place to come when you really need to smile.” (Sara crafts her blog for herself and her mom, who has a rare cancer that can’t be cured.) *Be warned: the F-word sometimes appears on this site, but only in the most inspirational of ways, of course.

Don’t forget to enter the 50 Fabulous Wishes contest for a chance to win $1,000 to celebrate a friend with a refreshing attitude about looking and feeling fabulous. I was selected for this Tropicana Trop50 sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do. I received compensation to use and facilitate my post.

Relay for Life, an Honor

My lovely neighbor friends honored me at a local Relay for Life event last night, and then, the crew posted this pic on my Facebook page.

When I offered my thanks, the middle-schooler responsible for this kind gesture, said:

“You’re Welcome!! They said we could do a luminaria if we knew someone and I thought of you!”

Thank you, Alyssa.

You made my day!

 

Gamma Camera Better Than Mammogram?

If you are at all concerned about your breast health, you really need to watch this video. It will take just 20 minutes of your time, but it will leave you thinking for a lot longer than that. So — watch, and think, then share your thoughts in the comments.

Peace, Please

I think if I had just one wish, it would be for peace, so that I could be completely at ease about my health, my body, my kids, my job, my decisions, my mistakes, my — everything.

Image: eszter, Flickr

 

Quaker Squares, Kid-Tested Thumbs Up

If you’re like me, you probably want to eat healthier, and you might want to make it as simple as possible, and probably, you want some good stats to back your decision. Something like: the soluble fiber in oatmeal helps reduce cholesterol + 96% of your minimum whole-grain needs + no trans fat + just 200 calories with a 1/2 cup of skim milk. Well, I’ve got something for you: Quaker Oatmeal Squares, with a hint of brown sugar. (I don’t actually have them for you, just a recommendation.)

Thanks to Quaker (and Clever Girls Collective, too), this pretty little package arrived today. Younger son Danny (he’s 7) tore right into a box, stating he likes his cereal “naked” — no milk necessary (which, incidentally, saves you 40 calories). First bite had him declaring, “Oh, I like the ones with sugar better.” He didn’t give up, though, and he went in for more. “Nevermind,” he told me. “They are good!” I agree, per the few I tasted. The rest, I’m saving for breakfast tomorrow. Planning for a banana on top.

Billions Raised, Zero Cured

This, you have got to read: Let’s get real

Because the facts within are sobering. Like these:

  • 1.5 million = women diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide this year
  • 500,000 = women will have recurrences (most will be counted as “cured” because the recurrence is more than 5 years after their initial diagnosis and research only tracks women for 5 years — of these second-timers, 1 in 3 will die of the disease)
  • $1 billion = annual amount invested in breast cancer research in the US
  • 830 = resolutions and bills with the words “breast cancer” introduced in the US Congress since 1991
  • 91 = number of breast cancer drugs under evaluatation by the FDA
  • 0 = number of women cured

There are more stats, just as mind blowing.

Read them.

And what about those photos?

WOW, I’m a Mom

iVillage published a snippet of a story I wrote.

It looks like this:

Click on the image to land at iVillage (I'm slide No. 7)

And here’s the whole story:

I first felt like a real mom after pushing a 10 pound, 9 ounce baby boy from my body, and I was reminded of my motherhood when baby boy No. 2 arrived, weighing slightly less, yet still more than 10 pounds. “WOW-I’m-a-mom” thoughts continued with every feeding, sleepless night, and overwhelming moment of love and tenderness. But nothing registered a bigger “WOW” than finding out I had cancer, and realizing that mothering two growing boys had more implications than I’d ever thought possible.

Joey (the biggest boy) was almost 4 years old when a doctor revealed the mass I found in my left breast was malignant, and Danny (the smaller and younger of the two) was 18 months old. My first reaction after the dreaded phone call (“unfortunately, cancer cells were found”) was, “OMG, what if I die and leave these guys without a mom?” Nothing scared me more, and every time I looked at my precious bundles, my gut twisted and turned. Maybe I wouldn’t die, but how would I care for kids while puking and pouting about my bad luck. Cancer would probably be easier without kids, I decided in the beginning, and then I quickly changed my mind — my kids were the key to my fight, they would save me.

And they did — save me. Their innocent, simple, and honest approach to life kept me peaceful (most of the time). “It’s only a haircut,” declared Joey while helping shave my head after hair started tumbling from my scalp. And Danny, too young to have a clue about my cancer crusade, helped me keep life as normal as possible. Playgroups, preschool, and family vacations (in the midst of chemo, radiation, and two hospital stays) were not uncommon, and I never did vomit or become as depressed as I’d predicted. Now, don’t get me wrong — cancer did suck. But so did birthing monster-sized children. The point is that life got better. The pain of having babies faded, and those beauties who tore through my body made it clear that the pain of cancer would become blurry, too.

And blurry, it is. It’s been six years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Joey is 10, Danny is almost 8 — and “WOW, I’m (still) a mom!”