Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let it Flow

Any gentlemen reading my blog might want to skip this post -- especially if you're my brother-in-law, Andrew, who rolls his eyes whenever the conversation turns to female issues. Of all the things in the world one can dream of real or imaginary, I had a dream about menstruating. Yes, menstruating. Most women I know dread getting their period each month, but in my dream, I was excited - make that downright overjoyed - to finally have mine back!! I can think of plenty of women who'd consider me crazy to wish I had a period. But I do. I feel like I was robbed. If I hadn't had cancer the first time, maybe Stephanie would have a brother or sister. And now having cancer a second time, I'm pretty sure our family size is sealed. But clearly if I'm dreaming about dispensing eggs and having a womb that prepares for it, maybe it will come true.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Happy Lifeday

Today is my sister Jennifer's birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JEN! Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of being told I have breast cancer again. As promised when I started writing this blog, I'm still here to tell you about it. It's a good thing Doreen Gentzler isn't coming over for a before-and-after segment (you might recall she was on my doorstep when the "you have cancer" phone call came last year) because I don't look anything like that young, hip, sexy mama of yester-year that you see in her newscast video of me. Nothing can erase the wear-and-tear that the chemo put on my body over the past year, but like it or not, it's what God gave me, or should I say, saved of me, and that's what matters. So I raise another glass, baby. Life rolls on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The New Dollard Manor

It's been a month since we moved to our new digs in Clifton, VA, and I'm just now past the middle of a mess. We've been living with boxes strewn about, tons of laundry to wash and glassware and china to dust off (I wanted to make sure everything was clean before putting it away). There are continuous piles of trash, donations, and recyclables to be disposed of properly. Our pictures and mirrors are currently hung wherever a nail already existed (and believe me, the locations make no sense, so when you visit, keep in mind it's not my decorating strategy). The bathrooms all needed sanitizing, and the carpets are more stained than anything I've ever seen in my 20 years as a Realtor. We steam-cleaned them for now, but they need to be replaced. And did I mention the paint colors? You have to see it to believe it. Again, we're living with it for the time being, but repainting is at the top of the list of things to do alongside replacing the carpeting.

We haven't even begun to tackle the outside of the house. I'm amazed by the amount of debris and abandoned garden "chachka" (or tchotchke?) we keep finding all over the place. But a comprehensive walk through and clean-up of the property will have to wait until Spring now that the leaves are down.

Don't get me wrong! I'm not complaining...really. I'm just re-living out loud how enormous the task of moving turned out to be. It's been worth it. I love my new house. We feel right at home here with 6 bedrooms and 6 acres for a family of three. What in the world possessed us to buy such a property, you ask? Well, because (a) we have a large extended family that we want to accommodate; (b) we like to party (as everyone knows) and the house lends itself to that; (c) after two episodes of cancer, I deserve it; (d) it was a good deal; (e) I wanted room for my dog boarding and training business; and (f) Mike needed to experience what a commute is like so that he can relate to 90% of the people who live in Northern VA. Okay, granted we didn't move for the latter reason, but nonetheless, Mike has to drive a little further these days in order to enjoy the peacefulness and outdoor space that he wanted, which we now have. So far everything seems to be working out.

Stay tuned for our open house details. You may actually be invited.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Saddle Up for Breast Cancer

I've lost track of the weeks. It's easy to do when you have the rest of your life ahead of you, and thankfully, I do.

I recently attended the horseback "Ride for the Cure," a breast cancer fundraising event, in Middleburg, VA. Middleburg is located in one of the prettiest areas of Virginia. The beautiful Piedmont. Rolling hills, meadows, vineyards, and expensive horse farms. The town of Middleburg is a quaint, historic, pedestrian-friendly enclave of antique shops, galleries, pubs and fine dining establishments. It was a beautiful day, and to add to the scenery, the leaves were starting to glow in shades of yellow, orange and red.

The Middleburg Ride for the Cure was the first equestrian event of its kind, at least in these parts. There were a reported two hundred horses and riders, including my good friend Deidre and her horse Pippin. Our day started off when Deidre ceremoniously pinned a ribbon on me and we (me, Stephanie, Deidre and Pippin) shared a "survivors walk" tribute around one of the sand riding rings. I was wearing sandals so I took them off to walk barefoot. Apparently that was a first, too - which the announcer pointed out over the loudspeaker, trying to be funny. We also had our picture taken by local reporters. Oh well. So what if I wasn't dressed appropriately? It didn't bother me. It's not like I walked in horse manure or anything.

The horses were decked-out in pink ribbons, braided manes and tails, flowers, pink polo wraps and saddle blankets, and the riders sported pink baseball caps, hats, pins and ribbons, pink hairdo's and t-shirts printed with the names and pictures of women they were honoring. It was really something special to behold.

Stephanie and I went into town for a little lunch and window shopping while the actual ride took place. We (people without horses) weren't allowed to walk. Afterwards, we stood at the start/finish line of the route thanking and welcoming back the riders as they returned from the ride. We were a two-person cheering section. It was fun. Goofy, but fun.

Although Stephanie and I didn't stay, the event continued into the evening with a silent auction, dinner and entertainment. Next year we'll make sure we sign-up for the whole thing. I enjoyed myself so much that I think this will be my top choice when it comes to attendiing an annual "breast cancer" event. Who knows...maybe I'll have a horse to ride in the future. I'm pretty sure I could get used to an equestrian lifestyle. With or without my sandals.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Pink Surprise!

Whew! The last few weeks have passed with blistering speed! There's so much to tell you about. But first, I want to thank all of you who helped with and attended the "surprise!" party that was thrown for me in my sister Jennifer's backyard. (And yes, for those of you who are wondering, Jen is indeed the same sister who swore Old Red looked good on me during my first battle with breast cancer. So this ploy is just another example not to trust her.)

On the evening in question, Jennifer invited me over for dinner (or maybe I invited myself, I'm not sure). She said they were having happy hour at her house, which is nothing unusual. Her house is located in a good spot for the locals to descend on for such soirees.

To play-up her ruse, she called me wanting to know when I was going to show up. I was running late as is customary. She sounded annoyed, as is customary, and claimed she was going to start dinner without me because they were starving. Okay, no problem. Not wanting to arrive empty handed, I decided to make a quick stop at a nearby 7-11, which turned out to be a NOT-so-quick stop because a street that used to be 2-way was turned into a 1-way and I was detoured through a maze of other streets to get back to my original heading. So I finally arrived, unsuspectingly but even more late, to my destination and the waiting guests.

Jennifer was outside sitting on the front stoop. I assumed the kids were out back and she was sneaking a smoke. She watched me pull up and made fun of my parallel parking. Nothing unusual there. I was completely unaware of any mischief going on. I followed Jen in through the front door where I was greeted by my sister Joan, who was her perky self and all dolled-up in pink. Still nothing out of the ordinary to me. I thought it was a pleasant surprise to see her in town. I figured she had a day off from work and decided to visit. So I remained clueless about the monkey business taking place. I came into the kitchen and saw my friends Deidre and Kelly through the window. They aren't from around town. In a bewildered state I thought, "what are they doing here?" My brain couldn't process it so I walked out the back door in a zombie-like state. And "wow," there it was - a gathering of people boozing it up and hooting "surprise" and "congratulations!" I was stunned. The party-goers were all dressed in pink, there were pink ribbons everywhere, bouquets of pink flowers, and champagne. Lots of champagne! And I made it my mission to circulate among the guests and raise glass-after-glass until it was all gone. Needless to say, I had a fabulous time.

So "THANK YOU," thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made it to the party and for all of your gifts and well wishes, and especially to my sisters who put it all together. It was such a wonderful "welcome back" to my layperson's life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Week 41: my PET scan results are in......TREATMENT WAS A SUCCESS! I should be good for another 5 years, depending on where you get your statistics and whether or not you believe them. For the most part, they say I have anywhere from about a 52% to 64% chance of survival. Personally, I plan to be in the 100% range. That means I can keep on smoking, drinking, spitting, swearing and speeding.  So step aside world... I'm back.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

PET Scan Coming Right Up

Week 40: I'm due for my PET scan tomorrow afternoon. I have nothing to fear or so I keep telling myself. I trust my positrons are all emitting normally by now. However, I'm not looking forward to the pain and cramping from having my "bad arm" raised over my head motionless for so long. I cringe just thinking about it.    I think I'm becoming a wuss.

By this time tomorrow, I'll be a radioactive. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's a Small World After All

Week 39: We're back from our getaway to sunny - make that scattered showers - Florida. Disney World was fun, but remind me not to have a medical emergency if I'm ever there again.

The day was hot and working its way to muggy when the skies finally opened-up. We had been through the entire park, watched the parade, and just finished a late lunch when we made our way over to the only ride we hadn't been on (a race track with little corvette cars). We were literally next-in-line to get into a car and speed away when the park crew suddenly closed the ride and marched us off of the platform due to lightning that was quickly followed by a downpour. Unlike the rest of the cattle being driven out, we detoured from the exit line and took refuge on some covered bleachers, saving ourselves from getting soaked.

We noticed there was a young person (we weren't sure if it was a male or female, but let's assume male) lying on the ground, face down and not moving, at the bottom of some steps leading out of the ride. A woman working at the ride was crouched by his side trying to protect him from all of the foot traffic. Within a few minutes everyone in line cleared out, and then a couple of other workers showed-up to hold umbrellas over the young man who still was not moving. It must have been at least another ten minutes or more before any medical help arrived, and even then there were no flashing lights and no emergency vehicle, not even a golf cart, to hasten this injured person's treatment. They put a brace around his neck, rolled him on a board, and lifted him onto a stretcher to transport him to the pouring rain with umbrella people in tow.

I was appalled by how long it took Disney to respond, especially since they seemed to have such a well-oiled operation in other respects, right down to the obnoxious gift shops you were forced to go through at the end of 70% of the rides. One of the few rides that didn't have a commercial ending was the "It's a Small World" theme ride. There was so much to see on the ride that we went on it twice. The song was still fresh in my mind when we witnessed the above-mentioned accident scene and as everyone waited anxiously for help to arrive:

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hopes and a world of fears
There's so much that we share that its time we're aware
It's a small world after all...chorus

There is just one moon and one golden sun
And a smile means friendship for everyone
Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all...chorus

I felt so bad for this poor kid whose fun-filled day could very well have ended, heaven forbid, with a paralyzing injury, and for his mother (presumably) who could only stand by and wait helplessly while her child was suffering. The theme song in my head rang true about the world, our connection to eachother, and our human condition. We've all been in similar situations. We know the joy that comes from smiling and having a good time, as well as the pain from our own or a loved one's injury or misfortune. I'm blessed to have great family and friends standing by for me.

We spent another 20 minutes or so waiting for a break in the rain. And the song in my head had gone from profound to annoying by then (you know the kind; like one of those jingles that just won't go away). The rain didn't let up nor did the clouds show any signs of thinning out, so we decided it was time to get a little wet and work our way home. Fortunately the lightning had stopped and the shuttle boats were running, so we hopped-on one and made it back to our hotel pretty quickly. We lucked-out on dicovering that the boats were the way to go. Less people and it was only a 10-15 minute ride compared to the buses that were crowded and took twice as long to go from point A to point B. (Remember to keep that in mind if you ever visit the Magic Kingdom.)

We were pretty much worn out from the day, so once back at our hotel room, we hung out watching tv for a bit and went to bed early. Apparently I've taken up snoring. I was woken-up and chastised by two annoyed roommates all night long.

In addition to snoring, I'm also experiencing chronic pain in my arm for some unknown reason; my eyelashes finished falling out and don't appear to be growing back any time soon; I'm still covered in bruises; my surgery site (from removing the medi-port) isn't healing; my vision is messed up; I'm still tired, and hot flashes are wreaking havoc 24/7. Other than that, I'm doing great. My oncologist told me it'll be about three months before I start getting back to normal. I seem to recall it was more like 5 years. Just in time to have this recurrence. But I shouldn't be complaining. I wasn't taken away on a stretcher and I can move my legs.

Speaking of a recurrence, this September will be the second year in a row that my brother-in-law is walking 26 miles in support of finding a cure for breast cancer (thank you, Michael). Please visit his Avon Foundation webpage for more information:

Michael Blevins - Walk for the Cure

I'd also ask that you say a special prayer for Michael's sister, Cari. Like me, she's had a recurrence of breast cancer; but unlike me, she is having a very difficult struggle. Please keep her in your thoughts. Thank you.

As for me, next on the radar is a PET scan. I'll let you know when it's scheduled.


Friday, August 21, 2009

A Fair Question

Week 38: I took Stephanie to the Water Mine pool at Lake Fairfax in Reston last week. If you've never been there, I highly recommend it. What a great place to have fun and cool off. While there, I was asked by a little preschooler, "are you a man or a woman?" I presume it was my still mildly-bald head that prompted her question. I give her credit for asking. She was confused; she wanted clarification. Simple.  Now if only some of life's other mysteries were so easy to answer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Over at Last

Weeks 36-38? You may have noticed my absence lately. I continued my saga in silence these last few weeks. I haven't been in the mood for writing because writing means I have to admit I'm scared. Chemo is over and I know I'm supposed to be happy about that, and I am, but unfortunately my spirit is tempered by a sense of fear. Not having chemo means I don't have a security blanket anymore. As much as I dislike the effects of chemotherapy, I felt protected by it. Feeling sick meant I had the upper hand in this fight. I'm afraid the treatment will "wear off" and I'll be vulnerable again. The routine check-ups and tests will inevitably become less frequent and then eventually I'll be on my own again, like a normal person. That worries me. It turned out that my first cancer was a fierce opponent with enough strength in reserve obviously to rise up and challenge me a second time. So even if I withstand the battles, can I win the war? I never really thought about cancer in the first place; nor did I ever think about it coming back. But my body betrayed me both times. How can I trust that it won't let me down again? I'm imprisoned by the dread of another recurrence. Yes, I'm happy that chemo is over, but I need to learn how to cope for the long run.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'm Published

Week 34: I don't know if I ever mentioned this, but I'm published! Well sort of. The Dr Susan Love Research Foundation posted a link to my blog on their website. It's a little hard to navigate to, but if you want to see it, go to the webpage, click on Community & Connection in the left margin, then click on Personal Stories at the top of the section, and then click on Recurrence in the subheadings. Aside from the link to my fascinating and compelling blog that everyone wants to read, the Love website is a really great source of information about women's health -- so be sure to surf while you're there. (Is "surf" still part of the internet lingo or am I dating myself?)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Say NO to Obama

Weeks 33-34: I want to share a very real example of what will occur with small businesses everywhere if Obama gets his way with socialist medicine. And by that I mean "free for all" health insurance, not health care reform. I'm all for reform. My husband has co-owned and run a lawn maintenance/landscape business for over 20 years. Last week, their employee health insurance company sent them a bill for this year's policy. The cost is $40,000 higher than from the previous year. Yes, you read it right: FORTY THOUSAND dollars higher, in one year. Why? Because the insurance company had to pay for my cancer.
Basically the insurance provider passed its loss on to the policy holder. If this is what we can expect in the future, small companies will no longer be able to afford/be willing to provide insurance for their employees and we'll all end-up in the Obama health care line. Why would a business owner want to pick-up the tab when there's something else available for free at the expense of taxpayers and future generations, and on the backs of those individuals who make more income? Don't let it happen. Demand that our lawmakers get a handle on the lack of efficiency, fraud, redundancy, and waste within our Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Welfare systems first. Cut-off ALL the fat. Eliminate the B.S. special interest proffers. That's right, how about if we clean-up our existing messes first? Let's systematically "re-form" the parts that are broken, not throw out the whole thing and start over. That's insane. I know, I's hard to fathom coming from such a timid soul like me, but believe it or not, I have a lot more to say about where I think this country is headed. So stay tuned if you're interested in hearing me sound-off.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Update de Jour

Weeks 32-33:   Hey, all! I've been away for awhile. Many of you have been asking about my progress. Sorry I've been such a slacker. I've been busy with Cycle 5 chemo treatments, then being sick, getting lab work done, going on a mini-vacation to see my nephew in Atlanta for the 4th of July, and taking care of dogs. ...Remember if you need any dog training, boarding or walking, give me a call! I have one more set of 3 infusions/3 weeks to go! Hopefully, I'll finish on time at the end of July. It's hard to believe I've been undergoing this for five months. Time flies, even when you're not having fun. Some of my nails are dying and coming off. This far down the line I didn't think I'd have any new side effects, but surprises seem to lurk around every corner. The good news is my hair is growing back. The bad news is, it's more gray. I'm at the stage where I look like a quasi-fuzzy baby bird. I'm a dead ringer for an ostrich except that I have blue eyes and big ears (click here to see my resemblance).

I have this coming week off. Since I'm feeling better, I'm going to go out and see what kind of trouble I can get into.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Treatment Continues

Week 31: Last week was great except for when I was told I have to resume chemo this week (today, in fact). I was hoping I'd be spared from more treatment. You'll recall that while I had a week off from the chemo tower, I had to go in for a visit with my oncologist to discuss my progress. Stephanie was out of school early that day, so she came with me to the appointment. After delivering the news of my having two more cycles of chemo (2 cycles equals 6 more infusions over the next 8 weeks), he entertained us with a couple of cool card tricks. The best one was when Stephanie drew a card randomly, took a pen and wrote her name on it, then placed it back in the deck. The doc shuffled a few times and then told her that the first card would be hers. He turned the top card over and said incredulously, "oh no, that's not it!!"   "Okay, I think I made a mistake. It's the one on the bottom." He flipped the deck over and, "wow, what's going on? That's not it either!!" At this point Stephanie thought she had him beat. He went through the entire deck one card at a time looking for her card. When he was out of cards, he said to her "oh my gosh! I remember what happened to it." Then he removed his shoe and inside was a folded-up card. He took it out, unfolded it, and there it was, Stephanie's card. We were both very impressed. That was one of the best card tricks I've seen. And it was a good way to distract us from why we were there. At the end of the week, we went to Kings Dominion and the beach as planned. Unfortunately, I don't have time to provide details about these excursions at the moment, but if I'm inspired later, I'll fill you in. Gotta run. Nurse Nam and the rest of the infusion center staff await me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Day, Another Victory

Week 30:   Yea, baby! Another one bites the dust. Finished my Day 15 toxins today. Cycle 4 is history. The infusion seemed to take forever because I was restless. I have to take "anti-allergic reaction" medicine and it wires me out. But now I'm toxins next week! My chemo appointment will be replaced by a visit to the onco to check in and see how things are going. Rumor is, it'll be judgment day in terms of whether or not I need to continue with more treatment. We'll see how well it's working and go from there. I know it seems odd - even contradictory - to say this, but somehow despite the outward signs of the pounding my body is taking, I feel "strong" on the inside. I feel like my organs are handling the poison pretty well. As long as all of my parts are cleansed, I'll be happy. We shall see.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Purple Puff-n-Stuffed

Week 29: This week I'm battered but not beaten, so I soldier on. I was feeling pretty good until I had my Day 8 of Cycle 4 chemo last week. Imagine that. Now suffice it to say that besides feeling sick in general, I'm as bloated as a submarine sandwich, and I'm so bruised I look like I was flogged with a stick of nails and a bicycle chain. My body needs a break, but I'll have to get through this cycle first.

If my blood work comes back okay when I go in for testing tomorrow, I'll have my 12th infusion this week and get a day off next week! That should work well since it'll be Stephanie's last week of school. Then it's off to Kings Dominion for a day of thrills and spills, and hopefully no vomit, followed by a trip to the beach. Everyone else will be staying for a week or more, but I'll have to come home early for my next injection. It's a little disappointing to have to cut it short. I don't think I've spent a full week at the beach since I was about twelve. At least I'll get a few days of R & R before hitting the needle again.

I'll let you know how things go.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I Did My Homework, Now Let's Party

Week 28: Had chemo today (Thurs). Day 1 of Cycle 4. I'm officially over the half-way hump with only 8 infusions and 10 weeks to go! Unfortunately, it took me this long to realize that the drugs I'm being given are dangerous. This is serious business. The nurse was going over the standard questions they ask me every time I go in for treatment when I noticed the warning on her laptop screen that read: HIGH ALERT. HIGHLY TOXIC. Beneath it was my Taxotere dosage listed at 60mg. Alarmed by this, I went home and double checked what I read previously about Taxotere -and then some. I realized that when I did my initial research about chemo, I only checked what the drugs were, how they worked, and what the side effects were. I never checked dosages. The high end of the dosing proposed by the manufacturer is 100mg per infusion followed by three weeks off, and that's when it's the only drug being administered. In comparison, I'm being given 60mg for three weeks with only one week off (plus I'm receiving platinum-based Carboplatin). That's down right scary and I have to question why my treatment is so aggressive. I suspected from the beginning that, although my onco doesn't have a crystal ball and therefore wouldn't admit it, he probably thinks there's a good chance a have cancer cells floating around my body that could metasize elsewhere. While I remain positive, I admit that I have a nagging sense that that's what my future holds. Having cancer a third time would be a harsh reality to face, and it only underscores the concept that one really should try to live life to the fullest. In fact, whatever your lot in life, there are a few things we should all keep in mind. My mother-in-law recently shared this in an email and I think it's befitting of our time here on on earth. Granted, I modified a few words to suit my tastes. Some of you may have read or heard something similar:           "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body; but rather, to skid in sideways with a margarita in one hand - chocolate in the other - body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO," what a ride!" Lipservice doesn't count. Get out there! If I can be the lone adult taking beginner springboard diving lessons with a bunch of 6 and 7 year kids (while sporting a bald head that's still sunburned and peeling from my day in the sun on Mother's Day a week prior), I can do anything. And so can you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Week 27: Just wanted to wish all of the moms out there a very special, "Happy Mother's Day." I woke to Stephanie bringing me a pint of strawberries on a tray for "breakfast in bed." It was very sweet and unexpected, especially for a 7-year old, and she did it all on her own. Too bad when she attempted to clean up, the leftover tops fell all over the bed and stained the sheets. I made fun of it and chuckled so she wouldn't feel bad. Spent the rest of my day relaxing and drinking champagne with my mother and sisters and clan. I also roasted in the sun. I do believe this is as burned as I've ever been. I guess the strength of the sun was deceiving given the mild temperature. So I learned my lesson early in the season. From now on, no more hanging out without sunscreen. I'm on my "week off" from chemo now and looking forward to some renewed vigor. Just in time for the springboard diving lessons I'm taking with Stephanie.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Six Months and Counting

Week 26: I can't believe six months have passed since I first watched the news segment about self breast exams and then found what I thought was a lump in my "good" breast. As we all know, it turned out to be nothing. Instead, I had a recurrence of cancer in my other breast that, ironically, would've gone undetected for who knows how long had it not been for the false alarm. Yep; a half a year has gone by and I've been living and breathing cancer on a daily basis. If it wasn't part of my identify before, it certainly is now. There's no denying cancer is my life. The sad part is that I'm not even half-way through my chemo. It will be at least another three months of treatment, and that's provided my body keeps pace and allows me to stay on track. Never mind that it'll be years before I get back to "normal" again. Just when I thought I was on the brink of being back in working order, this comes along.

Back are the days of being tired, sick, and weak. Think of having a hangover every day. Back are the whacked-out hormones, the miserable hot flashes and the cold sweats at night. My thermostat can't regulate itself. Back are the injections of Neupogen and the headaches and bruising that come from them. The nose bleeds continue to plague me although thankfully they seem to be on the decline. My hair has proven itself tenacious but more recently, my eye lashes have started falling out. (It's remarkable how much your eyes water naturally. You only notice when you don't have anything to hold it in.) My oncologist also put me on a prescription for Vitamin D. That's a new one. At least all these side effects keep things interesting. I can't wait to see what's next. On a lighter note, the infusion center was moved to a brand new suite in the hospital. Beautiful space. Everything is clean and new and improved. Even the IV carts are ergonomic. It's on the top floor of the office pavilion. Rather than brag that we're in the ivory tower, I believe I'll just dub it "the chemo tower." Those of us who walk through it's hallowed halls are fortunate. I say fortunate because we're reminded that we shouldn't take life for granted. It's a blessing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When Will it Stop?

Week 25: Please help me stop crying. Mostly about Stephanie and how much I detest myself for the irreversible harm I'm doing to her. I wrote an email to Mrs Brewer, our school principal, this morning asking her to give S. a hug for me. The message went like this: "Hi Mrs Brewer. I have a big favor to ask you. This morning was one of those bad days. I'm home with tears streaming down my face because I lost my temper with Stephanie when we were getting ready for school. I was sick and she was, unfairly, the target of my lack of patience. She doesn't deserve to be burdened with my illness and I know I'm damaging her when I lash out. I want nothing else than for her to enjoy this glorious day and experience care-free fun like every child should. I told her I loved her and apologized to her when I dropped her off this morning, but I regret that I didn't get out of the car and embrace her to reinforce it. So that's the favor I need. Can you call her aside sometime today and tell her that I asked you to say, "your mommy asked me to remind you how much she loves you," and give her a big squeeze and a kiss for me? Kids are resilient they say, and maybe (hopefully) she won't think twice about my grief this morning, but it sure would make me feel better if she had a hug. None of this is her fault.

I'm working later and won't see her tonight so if you could help me, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you, Ann

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cindy Lou is Back in Action

Week 24: Yee-hah!!! Went to see my doctor, got a check-up and lab screening, and convinced him to let me keep going with chemo. I had my "Day 15" 2nd-cycle infusion during what would have been my week off because they wouldn't let me take it the week before. Rather than take my week off and delay starting the next "Day 1" 3rd-cycle, I begged the doctor to let me have chemo this week so that I can stay on schedule. Yippee! I'm scheduled for an infusion tomorrow, Fri Apr 24. The nurses think I'm nuts to be so excited about having chemo.

The only issue now is that my doctor wants to send me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. My nose has been bleeding daily for weeks now. It stuffs up my sinuses and then I can't breathe freely at night, which in turn gives me a headache. To me, it's more of a nuisance than anything else but he wants me to try getting it fixed.

I think my first bout with cancer must have helped build-up a resistance to losing my hair. It's still falling out, but it's been very gradual. My mini-mohawk has thinned out; only few wisps left. I think when I go to teach dog training tonight, I'll have one of the groomers put a little bow in it.  If a Shih-Tzu can have one, why can't I? So what if I look like Cindy Lou Who? We can all use a good laugh.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Turned Away

Week 24: I'm really bummed out. They turned me down last week for chemo because my white cell blood count was too low. I have to delay my next infusion for a few days, go back for follow-up lab work, and start injecting myself with Neupogen for the rest of my treatment. Dang it. I thought I'd slip past having those nasty shots this time around.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My Nurse and My Mohawk

Week 23: This week I discovered another downside to getting treatment at the hospital instead of at my oncologist's office. My infusion took 5 hours instead of the usual 3-1/2. Way too long to sit still. Apparently they do all types of infusions at the same department, not just chemotherapy infusions. When I arrived for my appointment, I was told that they had to give an emergency blood transfusion to another patient, who happened to be in my seat. So I had to wait about a 1/2 hour before another chair was freed-up. That's how my day started. It was hit-or-miss after that in terms of my nurse focusing her attention on moi. My nurse is named Nam, and she's a petite, spunky woman with a wonderful Chinese accent who works her derriere off. Nam was very busy that day, and she was training another nurse on top of that, so there were times when me and my drip sat idle. It took another 30 minutes for a bag of fluids I needed in addition to the chemicals because my lab work indicated I was dehydrated. I didn't have the guts to tell Nam it was because I drank two Coronas the night before. What was I doing drinking Coronas, you ask? Well, primarily because I gave up Heinekens for Lent. But also because I went to my sister Jennifer's house to celebrate getting my head shaved. I'm now sporting what I call a "modified mohawk," compliments of my sister Elizabeth, the electric shaver guru. Before she was finished clipping the top off, my sisters dared me to leave it that way, so I did. Better to dance with cancer than despair over it, right? I might as well have a little fun. I look like a mix of Alfalfa from the Little Rascals -- and a Goth girl. I'm thinking about wearing a dog collar with spikes on it just to see how people react. Upon inspection of my head, my feisty 2-1/2 year old niece observed that a few locks of hair still remained. She promptly voiced her displeasure about it by scorning her mommy that she missed a spot. My 4-1/2 year old nephew didn't like the style much either. And as for my daughter Stephanie, well, let's just say that the days of Mom embarrassing her are just beginning.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Next Round, New Location

Week 22: While I was blissfully comfortable in my oncologist's office, I nonetheless decided to switch to Reston Hospital for my weekly infusions. For some unknown and quite possibly idiotic reason, my insurance company charges me a $30 co-pay for each visit for treatment in my doctor's office, but there's no charge if I receive it at the hospital. Go figure. Added up over the remaining 15 treatments, not counting the miscellaneous check-ups and lab work required with the chemo visits, I'll save myself $600 by going across the street, literally, to the hospital. There are some negatives with this choice, like not having a private room and not having the chemicals ready to go in order to save time (they don't order meds from the hospital pharmacy until I arrive and then we have to wait for the stuff to be brought up), but the plus side is there's free valet parking and a cafeteria! Even better, the nurse ordered a lunch tray for a lady next to me. I thought it was a great idea, so I might order room service next time I'm there, too. The thing is, I'm afraid if my insurance company doesn't cover it, then with my luck, I'll be paying that $600 co-pay savings back for the cost of lunch. I can just see my "out-of-network" bill: Ginger ale - $45; Turkey sandwich - $200; Mustard pack - $5, Oatmeal cookie - $80; Plastic fork, knife and napkin pack - $20; Misc. supplies and equipment (aka "lunch tray" for you layman) - $120 ...and so forth With respect to treatment itself, the side effects seem to be hitting me faster and lingering longer, the sickness is harder to keep at bay, and some new symptoms are appearing, like nose bleeds and ringing in my ears. I've also decided I really resent the metallic or otherwise distorted taste of food the chemo causes. Eating is one way I try to quash the nausea and make myself feel better, only to find that nothing seems to work and it all tastes bad. Oh, one other turns out I spoke about a half-week too soon: my hair is falling out. 'Sure took long enough. Even my doctor was surprised. We were beginning to think I might escape it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Prayers for the Sick

Week 21: I completed my first "cycle" of chemo, which is 3 weeks on, 1 week off. Only five more cycles to go. My week "off" was great. I had more energy, didn't feel nauseous, and the metallic taste in my mouth disappeared. So to me, feeling normal is now my equivalent of feeling fab! Still, it was a rough week in other respects. I've been crying a lot lately. I try hard to fend off gloomy thoughts, but sometimes I just can't help it. I don't want to die young, but the possibility is never far-off. That possibility hit home when a friend forwarded me an email about funeral arrangements for another friend of hers who lost her battle to a recurrence of cancer. I felt an immense sense of loss for her loved ones who were left behind and for some reason it really struck a nerve. I bawled over what such a ghostly email might say about me when my time comes because it will mean I'm not here to love and take care of Stephanie. A few days later, my sister-in-law told me that one of her fellow home-school teachers went to the doctor for a fever... and discovered it was from cancer that had spread all over her body. The woman is 38 years old and has eight children at home. I had to keep myself from breaking down and sobbing over such heart-wrenching news. I don't presume to know the emotional turmoil that she and her family might be going through, but for me, living with cancer runs the gamut of distress, confusion, fear, sadness, and a profound loss of direction. I don't expect anyone to understand but, ironically, it's these feelings that have gradually led and continue to lead me closer to experiencing "truth." I hope she finds the same gift. When Stephanie was little, probably around 3 years old, she and I made up our own little secret prayer to say every time we hear a siren. "God bless that family in their time of need. Keep them safe, and give them strength." It's so imprinted in my mind now that my response is automatic: it's the first thing I think of when people are in trouble. We're all connected, strangers or not, and I can't help but believe that somehow, somewhere, off in the distant cosmos, my little prayer will be delivered when it's needed most. It helps me forget my own tribulations and reminds me instead that life is good. Even when we have to lose. I trust that God will take care of the families I mentioned. I know He will bless them; He will keep them safe, and He will give them inner strength.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I've Still Got It!

Week 20: I've still got it, in case you're wondering. My hair, that is. On the one hand, I couldn't be more pleased. On the other hand, it looks terrible because I've put-off getting it cut [for what's turned into months now] since I thought it would be a waste of money. It's getting pretty long, so at this rate I could find myself in a position to donate my own hair to "Locks of Love" and have them make a wig for me! Naah, never mind. That'd be too weird. Besides, I'm kind of looking forward to playing a blonde one day and a redhead the next. This time, however, I promise to get a NEW red wig. I saw myself in a picture from our Grinch Party the year I went through this the first time (Christmas 2003). Only one word comes to mind: frightening! I looked like that clown from "The Simpsons." That's what I get for trusting my sister, Jennifer, with styling advice. My mother-in-law, Val, will be thrilled to hear that I'm ditching Old Red. She cringed every time she saw me wearing it, bless it her heart. Maybe I'll take her out and get her drunk. Then when she least expects it, I'll pull the wig right off my bad-ass bald head, in public, of course, right in the middle of the restaurant/bar. Next, I'll throw it on the floor and stomp all over it. Let's face it, the same look of shock and horror that came across her face the first time she saw me wearing Old Red should also be worn the last time she sees it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Week 19: Not so lucky getting by without side-effects from chemo this week... but still, very mild comparatively speaking. By the end of the second day I felt like crap. I took some anti-nausea drugs, which in turn, knocked me out again. On Saturday, Mike and Stephanie decided to take one final ski trip to Snowshoe, WV. Depart at 5:30am? I think not. I drove up on my own later that afternoon. It was 70-plus degrees outside! I had the moon roof open, sunglasses on, and I hit the turns and curves like a magnet was holding me down. Not that my 540i is anything to complain about, but too bad I'm "not allowed" to drive the vette. It was the perfect day for it. Despite the constant feeling of illness in the background, it was a nice drive, full of those wonderful Spring sights and sounds I love so much: rushing mountain streams, deep green forests, rock cliffs, people out fishing, hiking, and folks on motorcycles waving at one another like they're exclusive members of a really cool club. And they are. Motorcycles are cool. They're fun and I wish I had one. Sunday we skied in 65-plus degree weather. Plenty of good base left on the mountain. I was tired, but the air and exercise did me good. Driving back wasn't nearly as much fun because the nausea was increasing and I couldn't take anything for it. The meds would've made me too tired to drive and it was a struggle as it was. We returned safely and by late Monday/Tuesday morning, I started feeling really good again.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Week Are We On?   Oh Yes, My Inaugural Chemo Treatment

Week 18: Sorry, folks. I have some catching-up to do. Let me start with last week, my first official chemo session. I can't believe it, but I may be shrinking! Upon my arrival for chemo (and only after I forked-over my $30 co-pay of course), I was sent off to a "special" waiting room. But for the brief time I sat in the "gen pop" area, I noticed it was crowded and there wasn't much in the way of reading material. Being the Samaritan-type that I am, I grabbed a bunch of magazines from my special waiting room and walked back up to the front to hand them out. I thought it was the least I could do for people who might have bad news pending. I didn't see any baldies among them, so there was probably a good chance many were new to the oncology world. My world; again. Anyway, I was promptly hauled off to be given blood tests, measurements and questionnaires. It was at that time I was told that I was 5' 6-1/2" tall. To the best of my knowledge, I've been 5' 7-1/2" all of my adult life. I wondered, "what the...," but I wasn't there to debate. I had other things to worry about. What's an inch of shrink? I suppose it might matter to guys, especially in cold water, but I didn't care. I was set-up in a private room about the size of a one-bed area in a two-bed hospital room. I had windows, a barcalounger, a small flat-screen TV, guest chair, and pillow. What more could a gal ask for? They stuck a needle connector thing into my medi-port, which I can only describe as a disk beneath my skin that feels like a pencil eraser. I assume whatever it's made out of closes back up when the needle is removed. Anyway, they drew blood, tested it, gave me the green light, and then started my first fix. The initial IV was an anti-nauseous drip. Then came the platinum stuff, the Carboplatin, followed by a bag of the Taxotere. The whole thing took about 3-1/2 hours. Time that will be sucked out of my life for months to come. But the way I look at it, I'm willing to give up 3-1/2 hours for a potential 3-1/2 years return-on-investment. Or so one can hope. At the end of the day, there was no anaphylactic shock, no cardiac arrest or paramedic care. Thus I earned the respect and admiration of all the staff, and the right to drive myself to and from future treatments. Meanwhile, I was returned safely to my husband who had come to pick me up and take me back home to rest...and to see what happened next. Nothing all evening. Fabulous! T he following day? ...I wasn't conscious. I was feeling tired, so I laid down to take a little, mid-morning cat nap. I woke up five hours later. I couldn't believe I slept that long, especially when I noticed 4 phone messages and a fax. 'Hadn't heard a thing. I was utterly zonked. Over the weekend I started feeling nauseous, but fortunately, it was easily remedied with one of the prescriptions I was given. And that was it. Not too bad! If those side effects are any indication of how my body will respond to future treatments, I'll be loving life!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Chemo Cometh

Week 17: Wanted to let you know that my chemo is set to start next Wednesday, February 25th. It so happens that it's also Ash Wednesday, but I won't get into any of the religious significance for me at the moment. Rather, in the spirit of taking things "one day at a time," I need to focus on Fat Tuesday first. Cocktails and beads, anyone?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'm So Done With This Already

Week 16: I went to see my cancer surgeon. We went over my pathology report. They removed a piece of skin and underlying tissue that measured approximately 2-2/3" long x 1-1/2" wide x 1/2" deep. The tumor itself was about 2/3" x 1/2" x 1/4" in size. I don't recall the details, but I think the smallest dimension was about 3" with my original cancer, so this one was relatively small by comparison. That's the good news. The bad news is that my "Nottingham Score" is 9: Architecture 3 (out 3), Nuclei 3 (out of 3), and Mitoses 3 (out of 3). When the numbers are added up, a sum of 3 to 5 is Grade 1, 6 to 7 is Grade 2, and 8 to 9 is Grade 3. The higher the number, the more aggressive the cancer. That being said, because the Nottingham system is subject to a given pathologist's opinion, it's an imprecise method of categorizing the cancer. A high score doesn't mean I'm doomed, nor would a low score mean I'm off the hook. The grading is simply a tool to try to quantify tumor characteristics. After we talked about the report, my surgeon asked me, "so what does Dr. Felice (my oncologist) have planned?" I told her the names of the drugs I'm going to have and she shook her head in agreement. I asked her point blank what she thought of it. She stroked my arm and said, "it's really what you need at this point. It's the best thing for you." Reassuring while at the same time, ominous. Week 17: My central-line surgery went fine, except that, "IT HURTS LIKE HELL!" As soon as I'm done taking a little more pain medication, I'll tell you more about it. Four hours later... ...okay, where was I? Oh yeah, "IT HURTS LIKE HELL."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Twilight Ain't My Time of Day

Week 16:   Nothing new to report other than I'll be visiting my cancer surgeon tomorrow for a follow-up and review of the patholgy report, and I'm scheduled to go under the knife again on Monday, Feb 16th.   As with the cancer surgery, I have to be at the hospital for check-in at 7:30am. These early morning procedures are getting annoying. They'll be putting my central line in using local anethesia and some other drug to render me semi-conscious rather than putting me totally out with general anethesia. Should take about three hours. I'll let you know how everything goes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Week 15: This week I went to see my oncologist for the "what's next" report. I was reminded that before I begin the chemo, I have to go back to the hospital sometime next week for another minor surgery. They need to put a medi-port/central line into my chest. Then we have to allow time for it to heal, so we're looking at the end of the month before toxins start filling my bloodstream. The infusions will be once a week, for 3 weeks, followed by 1 week off. I'll have to repeat this 4-week cycle six times. For you non-mathematicians out there, that's about a six month therapy period, provided there are no delays along the way - which would be a miracle. I'll be given only two chemo drugs this time. The first is Taxotere, which attacks cells while they're dividing. The other drug is Carboplatin, which attacks cells while they're at rest. By teaming-up the two, there should be an assortment of cells being killed at all times.   Lucky me.

Looking Good My Friend

Week 14 -   Took a quick trip over to my plastic surgeon's office for a follow-up. I can't see the actual incision through the bandage, but from what I can feel and see elsewhere, my new boob looks pretty good! The doc put in a silicone implant after the cancer was resected, and I have to say, I'm pleased with the result. They only only had to cut me open about 3-inches this time. It was more than twice that length with my original mastectomy and lymph node dissection.   The silicone implant is smaller but it feels SO much softer and natural than the saline one I had before. I had some swelling and tenderness, but no bruising and no dibilitating pain.   I went with Tylenol, so i still have several Percocet tabs leftover from my prescription.  Alas...I have no desire to abuse them.   Gone are the days when I probably would've taken them just for fun.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's All Good

Week 14: I'm still not in the mood to write, but suffice it to say I'm feeling good, I've rested-up, and I'm ready to tackle the next thing on my treatment list ...although I don't know what that will be precisely. In the meantime, I want to give a shout-out to some special people who've gone out of their way for me (in no particular order). I'd be remiss if I didn't extend my sincerest appreciation for your support, gifts, cards and prayers:

My Husband and Daughter My Siblings (David, Joan, Dan, Paul, Joe, Beth and Jen) My Mom Mrs. [Helen] Brewer Michael Blevins Val Dollard My Uncle George Lisa Maloney Deidre Howard Kelly Wyche Alyssa Alban Mary Savia Cheryl Judd and Doug Rinker Araceli Baker Mrs. [Maria] Bua Mrs. [Cindy] Revaz Mr. and Mrs. Beahm (Joan's in-laws) Troy Sloper, Kara & Jenna Sweeney

Many thanks also to those who continue to keep me and my family in your thoughts and prayers. So far, it's working!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Forget the Surgery, What about the Dream?

Week 13: I thought the day would never come. I finally had surgery this past Wednesday, Jan 28th. By all accounts it went very smoothly. But I'll tell you more about it later. Right now I need to write down what I can remember of the strange dream I had while I was coming out of my post-surgery haze. I have no idea why these random, out-of-order memories from the past spilled into my sleep. If anyone wants to analyze my dream, I'd love to hear your theories.

First, I'm a few thousand feet above the earth, in a freefall … gravity having its way. One way, no choice. Now the chute is open, I’m alone, adrift. Out before me are patches of green, patches of brown, fields, trees, buildings, roads, rays of sun, shadows cast by the clouds overhead, all representing tiny, fragmented pieces of my life. Over there, next to the train tracks, is the old, one-room church where my youngest sister, Jennifer, was baptized. Just about a mile away from that is the Catholic school I attended, and where the new church was built. That was where I made my first Communion, and where I nearly fainted during my Confirmation. I had to be taken outside for air in the middle of the ceremony. I returned there years later to get married, and now it's become the place where I said good-bye to my father. Now I can see the rented school bus that took us from the church to our wedding reception. My reception was the last time I ever saw my cousin, Mike K, alive. It was the first time I danced with my Dad and the only time I accused my sister of ruining my wedding during my post-reception meltdown. A little further off is the meadow where me and my husband, Mike, ran into his sister, Michelle, at a wine-tasting festival one very hot afternoon. It was there she announced to us that she was pregnant with her first child, who came to be my niece, Victoria. It’s the same meadow where my friends and I watched countless Gold Cup steeplechase races, where there were many tipsy moments when we acted like a horse’s ass, patted a horse’s ass, or danced on cars. I can see the outcropping of rocks where a group of us used to go to hang-out when we skipped school. We’d hike up the mountain and spend the day enjoying the view, smoking pot and watching birds of prey ride the wind. There’s sunlight reflecting off the lake where my husband spent time as a kid, where we returned to visit his grandmother, and ultimately, where my father-in-law died. Off in another direction is the neighborhood where I had a paper-route and where I crashed my bike straight into a parked car when I wasn’t watching where I was going. That gravel road over there... that’s the road I was taken down when I was abducted and raped. There’s the intersection where I had my first accident. I was driving my Dad’s green, Datsun B210 on the way to a summer job interview. I didn’t get that job. And you see that tree? That’s where I got stung by bees on the way home from one of our daily, sometimes twice daily, walks to the shopping center, back when we were kids wasting time on summer break. There is the drugstore where we’d go to eat French fries and smoke cigarettes, keeping a look-out for our mothers the entire time. We never actually spotted them, but we believed they had spies. How else could they know we'd been smoking? Well, duh... we never realized how much we reeked of it when we went home! The tiny Volkswagon I see off in the distance is my first car, bought with a loan from my Dad and paid back in full from my job at IBM during my senior year of high school. Near the IBM is the Mall where we spent our weekends loitering. That was during a time in our lives when we listened to everything from BeeGees pop music to Black Sabbath heavy metal. It was also when both my twin sister, Joan, and one of our friends, Cheryl, fell in love with an Andy Gibb look-alike named John who worked in the Roy Rogers. Unfortunately, Andy Gibb is now dead by his own hand, and sadly, the look-alike was murdered about a year ago. Our friend is still our friend some thirty years later. There’s the glint of a jet overhead, the one that often sped me to the west coast for conferences at Cisco. Beyond the mountain is a stretch of valley where my precious nieces, Taylor and Elise, are growing up. I can see a Cessna passing below me. It’s the puddle-jumper we took to the Outer Banks one weekend. I was in the back seat sleeping next to my then-infant daughter, and my then-greatest fear, but forever my greatest treasure. Mike was our pilot. Our whacky but so-sweet German Shorthaired Pointer, Suzie, flew shotgun. The farmhouse off in the other direction is where, during my later years in high school, we went to field parties, listened to bands and drank under-age. The little brick rambler I can see is the first house I ever bought, and the house that I eventually fled to escape an abusive relationship. The hedge of trees down below is where I hid from the cops when they chased us for lighting-off firecrackers in the alley behind the shopping center. The bend in the road over there is where a friend crashed her car violently into a ditch and hit a tree. One of her passengers was air-lifted to the trauma center. Joan was also in the car that night, but she survived, thank God. I was at a movie with my then-boyfriend, Bobby. There’s a river snaking down the valley. I can see the rapids we rode during a whitewater rafting trip. It was the time when Joan, my future brother-in-law, Mark, and my then pre-pubescent nephew, Michael, ventured out of their comfort zone and came along for the adventure. Joan showed up ready to paddle wearing white shorts, a white jacket and lipstick. "Novice," I thought to myself as shook my head in disbelief, smirking at the humor of it. Miraculously, ours was the only raft out of eight to make it past Dimple Rock without capsizing. A few years later, I went down the same river on another memorable trip, the time that I first “noticed” my future husband. Near that is the hospital where my sister, Beth, was born, and where I coached her through her own labor and delivery when she gave birth to my delightful nephew, Jackson. Now I'm looking out at the whole of what's before me. All is calm. The wind is quiet. 'Not sure where I’ll land. I just hope it’s soft. And I don’t know what direction I will walk.

Then "poof," that was it. End of story. The memories in my dream stopped abruptly, leaving me to drift with only those last thoughts in my head as I looked across the landscape of my life.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Cleavage Donations

Week 12: Hey everybody. How's it going? First, I wanted to let those of you who've asked how to post a comment to my blog that all you need to do is click on the title shown above the post. A comments block will open at the bottom of the window, then you're free to type away! You can always email me privately if you want to keep it personal or confidential, but otherwise posting your message will save you a step. Ask me any questions, share information, tell a joke, or share your own stories...write whatever you want. I'd love to hear from you. (And I promise I won't vote you off the island unless you're a meanie who writes bad things.) I've also had several people cheer me up by volunteering to donate their surplus "tissue" to me. I actually thought about that, except tissue from elsewhere on my own body, thanks. I think I mentioned before that the plastics doc told me that once the muscle in the abdomen is cut or lifted or otherwise compromised, she can't use it...which is what happened with my appendectomy. My back, on the other hand, is my sacred cow and messing around with it is strictly a last resort. So I asked the doc why she couldn't just use the skin from my thigh or arm as a patch over the area where the cancer is cut out. (Better yet - instead of skin from my limbs, give me a butt-lift and use the leftover skin from that! The problem with that youthful vision of mine is I wasn't blessed with any junk in the trunk. "Baby don't have 'back," so there's no underlying tissue I'd be willing to part with.) Nothing to spare from my derriere doesn't really matter though. The doc told me that taking skin alone won't work because the skin needs a blood supply. With all of my breast tissue removed, there won't be any stuffin' left to graft the skin to -- which means there won't be a source of blood supply -- and without a blood supply the skin will die. Essentially, the skin, muscle, fat and blood supply all has to come as a unit that can't be severed and then re-attached. (At least that's my interpretation of what was explained to me.) So to clear up the confusion I've probably caused now, if the tissue from my abdomen or the tissue from my back was to be used, it wouldn't be detached, moved and re-installed. It would remain attached to the veins/arteries that are feeding it (like being on a leash), then pulled through my body and brought back up to the surface to be stitched into place. Again, that's my interpretation of what was explained to me, but I could be one of those quack cancer-patients you hear about who doesn't know what she's talking about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Finding Inspiration in a Song

Week 12: This week I added a link to the song "It's Not My Time." I don't recommend that you easy-listeners set the volume on your speakers too high if you plan to click on it. Don't let the soft beginning fool you. I'm keeping the song handy because I hope it will help me keep what's important in perspective. If I'm going to survive, I can't let moments of despair derail me. When I'm feeling down and out, I need that inner voice to remind me, "I'll be damned if I'm going anywhere." The song is by Three Doors Down. You might need to open another window, then click on the link and sing goes like this:
"Looking back at the beginning of this And how life was Just you and me and love and all of our friends Living life like an ocean But now the current's slowly pulling me down It's getting harder to breathe It won't be too long and I'll be going under Can you save me from this? 'Cause it's not my time, I'm not going There's a fear in me, it's not showing This could be the end of me And everything I know, Oooh, I won't go I look ahead to all the plans that we made And the dreams that we had I'm in a world that tries to take them away Oh, but I'm taking them back 'Cause all this time I've just been too blind to understand What should matter to me My friend, this life we live It's not what we have, it's what we believe And it's not my time, I'm not going There's a fear in me, it's not showing This could be the end of me And everything I know But it's not my time, I'm not going There's a will in me And now I know that This could be the end of me And everything I know, Oooh, but I won't go I won't go There might be more than you believe (There might be more than you believe) And there might be more than you can see But it's not my time, I'm not going There's a fear in me, it's not showing This could be the end of me And everything I know But it's not my time, I'm not going There's a will in me and Now it's gonna show This could be the end of me And everything I know There might be more than you believe (There might be more than you believe) And there might be more than you can see But I won't go, Oh no I won't go down Yeah"

Let's Get This Show on the Road

Week 12: I finally heard back from the scheduling office about my surgery. My cancer surgeon and my plastic surgeon only have one hospital in common, so it was more challenging than usual to schedule a time that both could be there. One to cut me open, one to sew me up. Now I wait. I have to be at Fair Oaks Hospital at 6:30am on Wednesday, January 28th. Hell, that's so early I might as well spend the night and have them roll me in when they're ready. My sleep resumes on the operating table at 8:00am. Maybe this time I'll actually pack those Heinekens that I told my sister I had for my mastectomy. That was during my post-op haze, but it goes to show you what I must have been dreaming about. If I can sip Bailey's in the line to see Santa, surely I can have a beer in the recovery room when I wake up from surgery.

The Spirit of Christmas

Weeks 10 and 11: Christmas and New Year's flew by so fast this year. We took Stephanie to see Santa for the first time. I never bothered to take her before because I was pretty certain she'd be too timid. But this time she had the support of her cousins. After her bowling party for her 7th birthday, we went up to Merrifield with my sister and my brother-in-law, who had visited the same Santa during his childhood. We were literally the last in line before they closed the door. The wait was about two hours. We sent Mike out on a beverage run. He came back with Bailey's, Jack Daniels, Coke, and a couple of Arby's sandwiches. It sure helped pass the time and made the event more memorable. Not many people I know would have enough daring. It was fun! Another highlight was when my two-year old niece told Santa she wanted a doll that poops. Santa wasn't epxecting that one! Stephanie wanted a Dallas jersey, but when Santa looked over and we shook our heads no, he told her, "I don't think so...this is Redskins territory." Whew, what a save! Quick thinking, Santa. New Year's Eve was spent over at my in-laws. Mike's aunt and uncle were in town. We had a great time. We played a very competitve, slightly drunken game of bowling on the Wii system the family got for Christmas. We hooted and hollered and shot silly string everywhere to ring in the New Year, and topped it all off with a nightcap in the hot tub/spa. Our wet hair froze, but no one seemed to mind. Thoughts of cancer, at least for a little while, receded to the background.

Love Is Where It's At

Week 10: According to Love's book, the stats for my situation are as follows: - Forty to sixty percent of local recurrences occur at the original site. (Okay, so I'm relatively "normal.") - The risk of this happening in the first place, however, is only ten percent. (Evidentally, I'm among the unlucky.) - Approximately ninety percent of these recurrences happen within the first five years. (Amazingly, mine is right on time.) - Approximately eighty to eighty-five percent of women with a local recurrence eventually develop distant metastases. (Unless I manage to get into the other fifteen to twenty percent who make it through a recurrence without metasases, I'm looking at an early death sentence.) - To top it off, I quote: "Studies, both randomized and nonrandomized, have suggested, however, that if the recurrence can be removed and radiation given, the addition of systemic therapy such as tamoxifen or chemotherapy can lead to five-year remissions of thirty-six to fifty-two percent." (Where does this leave me?) It leaves me pissed-off and heartbroken, that's where. I can have the tumor removed, but since I had radiation the first time, I can't have it again. And because my "receptors" are negative, tamoxifen won't work on me. Can I make it another five years? I'd like to think by some miracle, I'll end up in whatever bracket suggests a longer period of remission. As much as I'd like to include a corny anecdote here, I can't identify any humor in this to mask the devastation I feel, and to try to keep my spirits up. The only solace I can find lately is in thinking about my beautiful daughter and how much I love her. She will be the reason I beat this thing -- mercilessly. She is my hope for the future.

Wouldn't You Know It - I'm Special

Week 9: One of the nice things about my new plastic surgeon is that she's a woman, and she specializes in breast reconstruction, augmentation and the like. So she can empathize. The other nice thing is that she gave me a gift-package containing a bunch of information and resources about breast cancer. The packages were put together and donated by a former patient and survivor. I think that's awesome. I read numerous articles, websites and books about breast cancer the first time I was diagnosed, but a recurrence, I'm learning, is quite different. In the gift-package was a copy of "Dr Susan Love's Breast Book." I highly recommend it. Some passages are so on-the-money that they're as if I wrote them myself. It's uncanny, yet communal it would seem. I poured over the chapters in the days following my appointment. It's oddly reassuring to recognize and understand the different types of cancers, procedures, outcomes and what to expect afterwards, etc.. The terminology and imagery aren't as foreign and scary to me as they probably are for first-timers. It's comforting to know, in a morbid sort of way, that "yes, I've been there; yes, I remember that; yes, the same thing happened to me; yes, I have that...." Scarring - check Lymphedema - check Numbness - yes Pain - check Fatigue - yep Chemically induced menopause - yes Weight gain - check Hot flashes - yep Insomnia, night sweats, mood swings and fuzzy thinking - check, check, check and... check Those are just the long term effects I live with, never mind the short term side effects I previously enjoyed. The bad news about educating myself is that I know where I stand, and it's not in a great place. I read and grasped the implications of my PET and pathology reports, and my oncologist confirmed that I have Stage III invasive cancer -- the same as before. It's left over from the previous cancer, not a "new," second cancer. These aggressive, little microscopic cells have withstood each previous treatment: surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. It gives me the creeps.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Be a "B" or Not to "B"

Week 8: The following day, I met with my new plastic surgeon. She was great. We went over some options but a few of them were immediately ruled out. Because I had radiation as part of my first treatment, she said my skin won't behave the same way. It won't have as much elasticity and it won't heal as well. That removed the possibility of gradually stretching my skin with an expander followed by a permanent implant sometime down the road. That's what I did the first time. double-D's in my future. The second option was to take tissue (muscle, fat, skin, and attached blood supply) from my abdomen and relocate it up into my chest to form a new breast. Unfortunately, that approach was off the table because my abdomen has already been compromised from when I had the emergency appendectomy (not to mention a subsequent scar revision surgery - at which time I at least got the benefit of a mini tummy-tuck). Still another alternative was to take tissue from my back and relocate it to create a new breast (like the abdomen procedure, but more difficult). I decided that my back is off limits because it's the only part of my body that's still in good condition - no scars, no sagging, no wrinkles. Only two options remain. Do nothing, or go with a smaller implant that may not provide a good result because of my radiated skin. I'm going with the implant and keeping my fingers crossed.

So We Meet Again

Week 8: I went to see my cancer surgeon. She did my original mastectomy. But the last time I saw her was when I was being wheeled into emergency surgery at three in the morning five years earlier - almost to the day. She happened to be the surgeon on-call when my appendix burst about a week before I was due for my final chemo session. But that's a story for another day. This time all she did was check me and then she outlined the area of skin she intended to remove along with excising the cancer mass. It's unsettling to see the lump and feel how deep/thick it is now that my implant is deflating. In fact, it's kind of sickening to know that what could kill me is so tangible this time around.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hey, I Know Her!

Week 7: Much to my surprise, the interview didn't end up on the cutting room floor. A couple of days later, they ran a few of those "coming up tonight at 11" news clips and soundbites throughout the day. A family member saw one of them and called me to let me know. It wasn't much notice, but I managed to tell a few folks to tune-in even if they didn't want to see it. I had the opportunity to torture a few more people when it aired a second time the following evening. Then another family member who lives out-of-state sent me the link from the station's website. Personally, I thought I looked better on television than on-line. The hi-def wrinkles made me more recognizable than on the web video. I think I would've named the segment "Living Proof Why Women Should Do Breast Self-Exams," but I guess that's too long. The producers went with "Ann's Story." Here's the link. "Ann's Story"


Week 7: Over the weekend I noticed that my implant was leaking. Well, so much for a perfect biopsy. I called the radiologist, who told me to call my plastic surgeon. I called my plastic surgeon only to hear a recording that he was in the process of closing his practice. Leave a message and send a written request if you want your chart. Geez, what now? So I called my cancer surgeon. I knew the saline wasn't going to make me sick, and since the implant wasn't causing me any pain or discomfort. she said not to worry about it. I made an appointment to come in anyway because she had to exam me for surgery to remove the new mass. Still not using the "c" word at this point, and I don't mean "Christmas" despite the time of year. Tues Dec 8: Doreen Gentzler and crew were coming over to interview me. Minutes before they arrived - literally - the phone rang. Turns out the pathology report came back sooner than expected. "It's cancer." My heart sank. There was a knock on the door. It was Channel 4. We introduced ourselves and I told them, "your timing is perfect. I just found out I have cancer again. So your news story really did save my life." Tears welled-up and I almost lost it when I spoke those words, but I quickly regained my composure. I had to get ready for my interview...

And there it was, the silver-lining of inspiration. Had I not seen the news that night, I might've been on my way to the grave for a reason that could've been avoided.  I had a purpose now: tell women to pay attention to their bodies and monitor their health whether they think they need to or not.

Needles Don't Bother Me

Week 6: The PET scan results came back. My chest "lit up" in the same area as the mass shown on the MRI. Not good. My oncologist sent me for an ultrasound-led biopsy to get a tissue sample. Arrived for my biopsy. The radiologist was nervous. I remained calm. He was reluctant to perform the procedure because the mass was right on top of my implant with little margin for error. He was afraid he would knick it. (By the way, I adopted the term "mass" from the doctors' lingo because I think "tumor" sounds so ugly and gross.) He decided right on-the-spot to send me down the hall for a mammogram. I obliged. When the technician who performed the mammogram took a look at the first picture, a quiet "shit" slipped out from under her breath. She re-set me and took another picture. Same boob different angle. "Shit," she said again, but louder this time. While she let me loose from the machine, I asked, "what's the matter?" She said, "come here, honey," and led me over to the light box viewer-thingy that she had been looking at. "These are calcifications." She paused. "That's why I said 'shit.'" I knew what she meant. Add it up: MRI, PET scan, ultra-sound and mamogram all pointing to the same thing. "Oh," was all I could muster. Back to the examination room to wait for the news. The radiologist came back. He asked me one more time, "are you sure you want to do this or do you want to wait to have your surgeon do an excisional biopsy?" I'm pretty certain he was secretly hoping I'd take him up on the offer so he wouldn't have to do anything. Nope. I was there; might as well get it over with. "Come on, MacGyver, you can do it." The lights were dimmed, and we watched the ultra-sound screen closely as he carefully guided the needle in and vacuumed some tissue out. Nothing else happened. Success. He told me the sample would be sent to a lab and the pathology report should be back in about a week. That was the hard part. Waiting. Not knowing with 100% certainty whether or not it was malignant.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gee, This Seems Familiar

Week 4: This week, rather than being allowed to cancel the PET scan if the MRI results were good, I had to keep the appointment. At least my trip down the pipe wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as before. The last time I had a PET scan, it was to get the "all-clear" from any signs of cancer after my course of treatments. Back then, I couldn't comfortably stretch my arm over my head because of lingering problems from surgery. Keeping my arm raised and immobile caused my neck and shoulders to cramp to the point of excruciation. I wanted to lower it so badly, but I knew it would screw-up the scan if I did -- and then we'd have to start all over. So I laid in agony. Thank the Lord for small favors; I didn't have to suffer like that this time. And it was such a joy to be shot-up with more radioactive dye. Now that I've decided to keep a blog, I'm finding out how challenging it is to write on a regular basis. I'm worn out and we haven't even got to the good parts yet. More later...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Is Watching TV Good for You?

Who'da thunk watching the 11 o'clock news could save my life? I guess there's something to be said for being a night owl. So let me go back to that night for a moment, and then I'll let you know what happened afterwards: Week 1: Watched the 11:00pm news on Channel 4. News anchor Doreen Gentzler featured a story about breast self-exams and a focus-group of women who failed to detect lumps in a synthetic breast. I promptly began feeling my "good" breast. To my surprise and horror, I felt what I suspected was an enlarged lymph node. It was located where the breast tissue extends into my underarm. (Yes, ladies, breast tissue reaches under your arms in addition to the top of your chest wall, so be sure to do self-exams there, too.) I obsessed with checking, and double- and triple-checking my breast all night long. I wrestled with whether it was real or just my imagination being led by the power of suggestion from the news segment. The next day, the "lump" was still there. I struggled internally with the possibility that something might be wrong, that my cancer had come back. But that's nothing new. I'm used to living with a dark cloud over my head. Every sneeze, wheeze, bruise and headache makes me wonder if I have cancer. Finally, the "I'm freaking out" voice inside my head won the argument. Thus I decided to make an appointment to see my oncologist. Week 2: My oncologist confirmed that he felt something, too. He referred me for an MRI and scheduled me for a PET scan. Better safe than sorry. I went home thinking I owed Doreen Gentzler a "thank you." If she hadn't done the segment, I wouldn't have checked myself. I sent an email to the station to let them know how important I thought the story was. A few days later, I went for an MRI. What I thought was a problem in my good breast turned out to be nothing. Instead, the MRI showed a suspicious mass on the opposite side, at the site where I had a mastectomy from my prior fight with cancer. I was already vaguely aware of said mass, but I had written it off as the valve in my implant. (I thought the implant had somehow shifted, and I was eventually going to call my plastic surgeon, but who knows when I would have actually gotten around to it.) "Okay," I reasoned, "it's just the valve they see." Deep inside, however, I wasn't convincing myself. I was nervous, but I held on to that hope anyway. At some point while this was going on, I received an email back from Channel 4 News. The producer asked me if I would meet with Doreen Gentzler for an interview. "Sure," I said. Due to conflicting schedules, we settled on meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday. Week 3: Whatever chemical they shot in me for the MRI "burned" intensely at the time, and a few days later my chest and arm started aching. The sensations were intermittent, but it hurt so much at times that I thought I was having little heart attacks. Although I didn't have a problem with it the first time I was diagnosed, I chocked it up as an after-effect of the MRI potion. Fortunately, the pain faded away a day or two later. Meanwhile, I was reminded, and disgusted, of the many, many side-effects I went through during treatment for my original cancer. Little did I know that pain in my arm was just a prelude to what's to come...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Introduction / Why We're Here

Hello, and welcome to my blog! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Ann Dollard, but most people just call me Ann (aside from other unmentionable names I'm sure I've been called at some point). In short, I'm starting this diary because I'm 44 years old and I've been diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer for the second time in five years. The situation stinks and I want the world to know it. I wasn't familiar with blogs the first time I had cancer; in fact, I'm not sure they even existed. Thus, instead of posting my thoughts, feelings, ill-famed attempts at humor, and distorted realities (accurate as they may be), I wrote a series of emails dubbed "My Cancer This Week." The emails served as updates about my journey through breast cancer. I sent them to various people I knew and didn't know whether they wanted to receive them or not. Now that I'm "on the web" (she says with pride) for all the world to see, I don't have to bother anyone anymore! You can decide to read my blog if you want to, when you want to, and if you elect not to devour my every word, that's okay. I'll get back at you somehow. I've covered a lot of ground since the news of "Ann's Story" first broke several weeks ago. Stay with me in the coming days as I post everything you need to know to get caught-up on what's happened so far. But be forewarned: I tend to wear my pink-ribbon wrapped heart on my sleeve, so it's conceivable that what I confess won't suit the fearful or easily offended reader. I smoke, swear, spit, drink and use foul language. And sometimes I tell the truth.