Page 2 - My Journey Through Cancer the First Time

This is a series of emails, or newsletters, that I sent in then-"realtime" when I first learned I had breast cancer back in 2003.  It takes you through the daily struggles and victories of my treatment.  Unlike this blog that I began the second time I was was diagnosed with a recurrence of my cancer, which is/was posted in more digestible snippets that I've written along the way, this posting is a compilation of ALL my emails from back then, so it is very, very long.  Nonetheless, I hope you find it informative, enjoyable, a little humorous, and hopefully easy to read.


Hi all! Just wanted to say thank you so much for your many phone calls, cards, prayers, thoughts and kind words of encouragement. I really do appreciate it and I'm sorry that I have not been able to get back to each of you individually yet.

In the interest of time, I'm letting everyone know my progress at the same I'm starting my own newsletter for those of you who are interested.
First, we've got some catching up to do. I'm already in "Week 4" of my breast cancer discovery and recovery.

It's been hectic. Here's what I've been doing:

 * Felt a lump...which was actually more like a "firm" spot
 * Went to see the Gyn
 * Gyn sent me to a surgeon to investigate the lump
 * Surgeon performed needle biopsy (inconclusive)
 * Surgeon performed sonogram (inconclusive)
 * Surgeon sent me for a mammogram
 * Went back for consultation with surgeon to review mammogram results: showed micro-calcifications throughout breast
 * Surgeon recommended excisional biopsy surgery
 * Underwent surgery; frozen section completed during surgery (malignant DCIS); tumor sent for full pathology
 * Spent a day recovering
 * Had a follow-up consultation with surgeon to review complete pathology report: confirmed DCIS throughout; also showing signs of invasive-type cancer; triple negative receptors (the latter meaning tamoxifen won't work on me)
 * Consultation with oncologist... who then recommended add'l breast imaging before prescribing full mastectomy
 * Consultation with 2nd Opinion surgeon: agrees full mastectomy is needed for DCIS cancer; discovered palpable lymph node and suggests lymph node removal at time of mastectomy; is sending me for further testing to try to determine extent of invasive cancer
 * Had 2nd breast imaging session; lumpectomy ruled-out as an option
What next? Oh, well, you know, more tests and procedures...still all kinds of things to keep me busy:
 * I'm scheduled for a Bone Scan
 * I'm scheduled for a CT Scan of Chest, Abdomen and Pelvis
 * I have appointments with Plastic Surgeons (1st and 2nd Opinions)
 * Once I've selected my "team" of doctors, they'll schedule surgery (cancer, lymph node and reconstructive)
 * Then back to oncologist to review next course of treatment pending scans and lymph node results
So that's it. Fast forward from the beginning of the end of June....and here we are today.

Happy July! More updates later.
P.S. If you don't want to be on my "mailing list" in the future, it's okay; I understand! I know people are busy, or uncomfortable with the thought of illness, or maybe all of this medical crap just isn't
your thing and you simply aren't interested. Just let me know and I'll take you off the list! Conversely, if you know someone who's just *thrilled* about breast cancer, feel free to send this along! I'm a case study for the offering! :)
Thanks again for everyone's support.

Week 5:  You Know When...

You know you've spent too much time sitting around in waiting rooms when...
you're getting rich stuffing envelopes

You know you've accepted your cancer when...
you find the Lump Discovery Channel fascinating

You know your doctor's a quack when...
you learn he got his degree from St. Elizabeth's Hospital's self-study program

You know you're too young for cancer when...
you give up painted-on jeans for painted-on eyebrows

You know you're radioactive from the "potion" they make you drink when...
even the CT scanner is afraid of you

...ah, well, 'just trying to keep a little levity in the foreground.  but in the background...

I'm miserable. 

....I'M JUST KIDDING!!   'Doing fine.

Went to see the plastics doc.  I'm officially a faceless pair of breasts in his "before" portfolio.  I'm holding my breath for the "after" shots.

Also went for my CT Scan yesterday.  Among several other bodily quirks that apparently were revealed (WHAT??? I'm not PERFECT???!), results show that my axillary lymph nodes are, indeed, out of whack.  Won't know exactly what that means until I talk to my surgeon and/or oncologist again to review the report.  Meanwhile, surgery is scheduled for July 23.  WOOHOO!!  Bionic boobs are just days away!
Stay tuned for more; I'll keep you posted!   And thanks again for your support and well-wishes.  I am truly amazed by it...and very grateful to say the least.

Hi, all. It's me again, your old faithful, cancer-laden friend. I  couldn't get enough radioactive potion last week, so I went back for more today. This time, however, I got it by injection (putting hard-core addicts to shame). And then I had a glorious trip down the tunnel while the monster scanned my bones from toe to head. So that should be it for procedures for now -- that is, until the mother of all procedures, demo and reconstruction -- occurs next week. Less exciting will be my next consultation with the oncologist this Friday, but I'm not expecting to hear anything other than what I've heard before: "you have cancer," and "we won't know more until we do a lymph node biopsy." Nothing like drama and suspense.
"Meanwhile in the hospital" as I laid completely motionless for 20 minutes on the conveyor bed today, I had some time to's what I've decided:

 Ann's Top Ten Things About Breast Cancer

10. I always wanted to know what it would be like to be bald.
 9. Coming up with a nickname for my new implant.
 8. Getting felt-up by total strangers in a cold examination room.
 7. Painting-on happy eyebrows when I'm in a bad mood.
 6. Having a "Black-TieBr east Optional" party.
 5. The less hair I have, the less time I have to spend
blow-drying it.
 4. Nothing to get in the way of my golf swing anymore.
 3. Different Day, Different Wig.
 2. Making fun of breast cancer -- because I still can!!
....and finally, my number one thing about having breast cancer:

1. Being able to shout-out at the casino, "baby needs a new pair of hooters!"

Come on Lucky 7,

(hey, speaking of 7, my surgery will actually fall in Week 7....must be a good omen!)

As predicted, the visit to my oncologist this past Friday proved to be just another re-hash of old info and differing opinions, so I still don't know what my life will be like beyond Wednesday...actually, I won't *really* know until the full pathology report comes back about a week after surgery.  I must say I've grown weary from waiting.  I just want to get it over with and get on with my life.

FYI for those who've been asking, I'll be at Innova Fairfax Hospital.  I'm supposed to check-in at 11:30am and head into the O.R. around 1:30pm.  Prior to that, I will be having a margarita at 5:30am when the pre-op  "liquids only" rule kicks in.  Surgery should take about 3-1/2 to 4 hours, and I should be okay to go home sometime on Friday.

So...with less than 48 hours to show time  there's only one more day to play the "Name that Implant" game.  But I must warn you:  due to the graphic nature of this email (depending on your imagination), reader discretion is advised.

nicknames for the new girl in town:

double-d dollard
tattoo tina*
saline sally
plastic playmate
lola areola*
the stepsister
the anti-boob
henna headlight*
her highness
the other woman

*for those not aware (I certainly wasn't), with a mastectomy, even your nipple is removed, so at the patient's option, the plastics doc can craft a new one and literally tattoo your skin to match your other breast.
nicknames for the girl who won't be receiving a make-over:

old faithful
mammary mary
the real thing
sole survivor
wilma wanna-be
her majesty the queen
mrs robinson
hanna hanger-on
Just my way of trying to have some fun.  As always, if you don't have time for this nonsense, just let me know.  I promise I'll delete your name from the mailing list!

Meanwhile, thanks for all of your support.  I'm not one to worry, so you shouldn't either.  I'll bounce back in no time :)

Take Care,

thanks to all of your prayers and good wishes, i made it through my first surgery and returned home today.  by all reports, i was a great patient....however, i presume that a "great patient" is simply one that doesn't throw up, flail around or go into cardiac-arrest on the operating i don't really deserve so much credit. 

i've been doped-up for the last couple of days; i'm swollen and stiff, and have a lovely plastic bag attached to me to drain my wounds.  they removed over a dozen lymph nodes...the surgeon was suspicious of them and thinks that i will require radiation and chemo, but it remains to be seen until the pathologist makes a conclusive determination. 

other than that, it's a beautiful day.  i'm feeling fine!  ...except that, okay, i admit it...maybe i'm a little sensitive.  There are a few things things you should never say to a mastectomy patient:

'How they hanging?
How do you manage to keep such a girlish figure?
Hasta la vista, booby
Stuff it
Is that a fake nipple or are you just happy to see me?
Have a great weekend!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 8

i had my first follow-up visit today.  the day of reckoning:  the bandages came off.  i was afraid to look.  in truth, i was sickened at the thoughtof it considering how swollen and uncomfortable i've been...but thankfully, i made it through the exam without passing out!

it's a rather nice incision -- if you like shark-bites.  it's about 7" about being gutted like a fish!!  fortunately, the doc took good care of me and the edges are neat, tight and trim, so scarring should be the minimal-best i can hope for.  amazingly, i escaped without any bruising.  again, i give credit to the doc for taking good care of me because i normally bruise like an over-ripe peach.  it actually does *"look good"* as far as surgeries go; i'm pleased with the outcome thus far.  i still have my little pouch-pal, the drain, tagging along. there's still too much fluid draining out (stephanie thinks it's "juice"), so it will stay intact for another few days.

i spent the night at my sister and brother-in-law's place this weekend so that my relatives could tend to my every whim while i was recuperating.  it's been so nice having everyone wait on me!  :)
while there, i was rummaging through my suitcase in preparation of getting dressed for the day when it dawned on me that i had dutifully packed a bra.  i started laughing out loud to myself.  my 7-yr old niece and modern-day chamber maid immediately caught on and nervously chuckled, "that's funny because you don't have anything to put in there, right?"  "yep," i said, "silly me." I slipped on my t-shirt, ignoring the bandages, and off we went to have fun.

i don't have a breast (and i'm missing some lymph nodes for that matter), but here's what i do have:
• my life
• my limbs and the ability to move them
• eyes that can see wonderful things
• ears that can hear songs that make you feel good...especially the ones you remember from times gone by
• a husband who loves me
• a daughter i adore
• a family who's there for me
• more supportive friends that i could ever imagine
• opportunity and choices
• a full stomach
• peace in my homeland
• memories of lightning bugs, lazy summer evenings and of being a kid
• memories of being a teenager, a twenty-something, a new wife and a new mom
• gratitude for the amazing, unbelievable generosity that others have shown me in word, deed, thought, and prayer, and
• faith in our human connection

so this cancer isn't all bad.  it's changed me already, and i've only gone one step. you could even say it's a gift.  it's made me count my blessings.  too many to list, although the above is a good start.
more later,

hi all.  week 8 is behind me, but i know now that there's a long road before me.  here's the latest run-down of events in "my life as a cancer patient" (it's rather lengthy, so bear with me or feel free to hit delete on your keyboard now):

• as you might recall, i met with the plastic surgeon this past wed to see about getting my little buddy, the drain, removed.  there was still too much yuck coming out, so i was scheduled to go back to see him again yesterday, saturday.  well, i did; but unfortunately, there is still too much fluid coming out and i left the appointment with my friend still in tow.  my doc will check it again on thursday.  the stitches will probably not come out for another week beyond that, and the saline injections into the expander implant won't occur until my cancer treatment schedule is confirmed.
• still can't get wet....bird baths are all i have to work with.  I CAN'T WAIT to have a real shower, but i'm not allowed to take one until the drain is removed.
• meanwhile, my arm is stiff and numb.  i keep stretching it to try to maintain my range of motion.  i'm told that some of the feeling may never return and i can't have any shots, blood withdrawn or my blood pressure taken in that arm for the rest of my life.  likewise, from now on, i'm told i'll have to be careful of any injury and infection from even the slightest cut or scrape because it may cause lymphodema.
• saw the cancer surgeon on thursday.  unfortunately, 8 out of 13 lymph nodes that she removed were positive for cancer.  she also cut as deep into the chest wall as she could go and as close to the underside of my skin as she could in order to remove as much of the tissue as possible, and the margins are so thin that some cancer cells could remain.  she said it was an aggressive cancer calling for aggressive treatment:  radiation and chemo.  i cried on the way home, but i think it was PMS.  at least something is normal around here!
• met with the oncologist friday to review treatment options.  if i understood correctly, it will either be (a) 6 months of chemo at 3 week intervals with 4 different drugs [taking about 3 hours per visit to inject] plus 4 weeks of daily radiation, or (b) 4 months of "dense dose" chemo given at 2 week intervals with the same 4 drugs AND 2 additional drugs to accelerate blood cell renewal, plus 4 weeks of daily radiation.  i am choosing the latter if my blood work turns out okay, which leads me to the next piece of this puzzle:
• i had blood withdrawn to be tested for some antibody.  evidently, the results will determine whether or not i qualify for the 4-month version of chemo.  apparently one of the drugs poses some risk to your heart, so they're also testing me to make sure i don't have any unknown heart condition.
• before beginning *any* treatment, however, i have to go for outpatient surgery on tuesday morning to get a "port" and catheter put into my chest.  it'ill be hidden beneath my skin, and this is how i'll receive my infusions -- versus being stuck in the arm repeatedly.
• i'm also waiting to be scheduled for a PET {"pet"} scan.  the bone and CT {"cat"} scans that i already had were to identify abnormalities by size and density, whereas this PET scan will see "hot spots" of cell-growth activity.  cancer cells divide and multiply more rapidly than regular cells, and since the cancer may have already spread via the affected lymph nodes, they'll be able to detect if any cells are unusually active elsewhere in my body.  if so, it will change my course of treatment.
so that's where we are in my journey to-date.  exciting isn't it?!!  it's a good thing i'm available to keep all of these appointments!!!  as always, i'll keep everyone up-to-date as things continue to progress. 

'til then,
aka  soon-to-be "double d dollard" or "DD" (pronounced dee-dee) for short :)

random things that i want to remember...even if i don't actually remember some of it happening myself (as reported by others):
• told the nurse in recovery that i was ready for a margarita;
• stephanie learned to work the crowd in the waiting room by jumping off my overnight bag (a few inches off the ground) while everyone cheered her on (val, mom, joan, jen, mike and beth)
• when i got to my room, still feeling loopy (a) i didn't like the light overhead, (b) i was hot, (c) i was starving, and (d) the things on my legs were sweaty and uncomfortable. i must've been i real joy.
• "patti" my roommate from hell, escalating her complaints about pain, nearly non-stop.
• pain mgmt nurse asked how i was. she said i should be taking two percocet every 4 hours.  day nurse came in later, and when i asked for a single percocet to have at-the-ready, nosey patti chimed-in from behind the curtain that i'm supposed to have two according to the pain mgmt nurse. 
• doctor on duty tried kicking me out the day after, but i refused to go.  had to exaggerate my pain just to get him to leave me alone. 
• ann storck was visiting at the time and was shocked at the exchange.  the medical community wants you in-and-out as fast as they can move you...and they're shameless about it.

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 9  (I Think?? Hell, I Can't Keep Track)
not much new and exciting to report this week, other than i've had so many appointments that i don't know if i'm coming or going anymore. 

case in point:  i thought i was supposed to have the port and central line put in at the hospital on tuesday morning, but i soon found out that i was actually there for the heart scan!  this was the most painful appointment so far:  they stuck a nasty needle in the vein on the top of my forearm and left it there for about 15 minutes while they withdrew blood, mixed it with radioactive material, and then re-injected the mixture back into my body.  Y-O-O-OWWWW-CH!!!  once that was done, i took another ride down MRI Alley so they could watch my heart pump the dye for a little while.

so as it turns out, my valve/central line won't be put in until this coming monday morning.  and i still don't know when i'll have the PET scan done.  (they're supposed to call me but i haven't heard from anyone yet.)

my buddy the drain is FINALLY outta here!  it came out on it's own actually.  i called my plastic surgeon in a panic on tuesday, but he said it would be okay, just needed to cover the hole with a bandage for the time being and come see him as scheduled -- which was last evening (thurs).  everything looks good.  there's still a lot of fluid trapped in my tissue, partly because the drain came out so it couldn't escape, but the doc said not to worry, it will subside.  actually what he said was, "well it's only been two weeks for pete's sake; give it some time."  it feels like it's been an eternity to me.  nevertheless, I'm so happy -- I CAN SHOWER!!  meanwhile, i'm supposed to go back for my first saline injection on the 18th.  pamela anderson, look out!

one last thing for those who can handle it, and this is NO JOKE:  attached is a ppt of my mastectomy photo.  it's not for the faint of heart, so if you think you'll be grossed out, please don't look.  otherwise, feel free to put your illustration skills to the test and add a nipple/areola to the image; i'll show the best one to my plastic surgeon and we'll use it as a model for when i get tattooed! :)

see ya later,
Ann (Dee Dee)

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 10
and so Week 10 begins:  i had my central line/medi-port surgery this morning.  it was weird....i was drugged but i wasn't unconscious.  now i know what they do in the OR.  and i also know what the nurse did last weekend, who has tickets for what, and thankfully, i also heard their positive comments about how the operation was proceeding.  all this as they jammed-out to a Bruce Springstein CD.  go figure.  never mind the woman laying there covered in iodine with her chest/breast exposed and oxygen tubes up her nose.

it will be another busy week.  i have follow-up visits with the oncologist on wednes, cancer surgeon on thurs, and i'm finally scheduled for my PET scan on Friday.  sometime thereafter, i will start chemo.

meanwhile, i went out and tried-on a couple of new hair-do's.  i think i'll get at least 3 wigs to start:  a brunette style that's similar to my real hair; a "short and sassy" auburn/copper colored style; and of course, a blatant "ginger blonde" wig to experience first-hand if blondes really do have more fun.  it'll be interesting to see what kind of reactions i get from people based on my "look du jour."

i've gotta tell you that besides getting excited about wigs, cancer does even stranger things to you.  take some of my recent quotes for example:
• "i have 4 heinekens in my suitcase" ...which i proclaimed while still delirious in the post-op recovery room
• "no, i'm okay"...while throwing-up in a bedpan as my hospital roommate asked if i needed any help
• "you can take my breast, but don't hurt me with that needle" ...upon seeing an unusually ominous-looking piece of pointed metal that was about to be stuck into my skin.
• "had i known this was going to be one of those scans, i would have worn more comfortable underwear" ...upon realizing that my appointment was for a heart scan rather than for the surgery i thought i was supposed to have

what more can i say?
see ya,

Subject: Week 11 - Let's Roll!
okay, i'm ready to go kick some butt!  who's with me?  chemo officially starts tomorrow, August 20th, 2003, at 2:40pm ET.  i'm holding back tears as i write, but i don't know why exactly.   a mastectomy was easier to digest for some reason.  maybe because the mastectomy is a "tangible" injury that i expect will have some pain associated with it, but the pain lets you know things have been fixed and eventually it will subside and heal.  and then you're done. 

...whereas with chemo, meant to attack a silent and elusive killer, i will be made sick and robbed of my energy and hair.  unlike the surgery, there might not be a "done" with this cancer treatment.  i have to be on guard for the rest of my life.

meanwhile back in the doctors' offices:
* had my first injection of saline!  i'm gonna have the finest fake boob in all the land.   there's no stopping me now!
* had my PET scan today (versus having it last thursday  -  or was it last friday? - i just don't know anymore.  anyway, they wanted me to get updated blood work, so they didn't do the scan as originally scheduled).    let me tell you, a PET that's my kind of procedure!!   what other test actually demands that you relax and snooze for a good two hours?!!  except that they strapped me down like a mental patient so that I couldn't move.  the bone scan, heart scan, and CT scan were a little more civilized.  they use the "honor system" for controlling unwanted movement during the exam.  not so with the $3500 a crack, i guess they don't want to take any chances.
*  turns out that the stiffness in my arm is being caused by "cording," or the formation of lymph-node scar tissue, in my underarm.  despite my attempts to exercise and keep my range of motion, it will require some physical therapy to fix.  i'll be starting that next week and continuing until whenever it's no longer a problem.

so that's all for now...and i guess that's chatty enough.  i'll talk to you all soon!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 12

Happiness is...percocet after surgery
Happiness is...cleavage:  fake, natural, underwire, any way you can get it
Happiness more bikini wax worries
Happiness is...relief from the wedgie you had during your scan
Happiness is...having an excuse to wear false eyelashes
Happiness more bad hair days (bad wig days, perhaps)

Had my first infusion of chemo last week.  Went pretty well....they put the needle through my port and hooked me up to an IV for about 2.5 hrs.  Watched a movie, hung out.  I was a little anxious (my heart rate was 100-over something higher versus my normal 96-over near death) since the port and catheter have been the source of so much pain.  thankfully, the numbing cream they gave me to rub into the area ahead of time seemed to do the trick.  didn't even feel the needle stick.

The cream is over-the-counter and only cost $60!!!  What a bargain compared to the other meds.  My Neupogen shots would have cost me nearly $2000 a pop if I didn't have insurance.  Needless to say, I am very grateful that I'm covered.  If I ever become an activist in the fight against breast cancer, it will probably be to help raise money for those women (and men) who don't have the benefit of insurance.  What a way to face your illness: sick and possibly depleted of your life's savings.

In addition to the dense dose chemo, I'm also taking three different anti-nausea pills: 1 pill four times a day, the other 2 pills two times a day (8 pills) -- plus I have to give myself an injection of another drug (the aforementioned $2K Neupogen) once a day. much to keep track of; I hope I'll remember to keep everything straight!  The anti-nausea pills seem to be working, but they make me tired.  it's the kind of tired feeling you can't satiate with rest, unfortunately.  But if that's the biggest obstacle I'll face, I should be just fine in the coming months.

As always, your ongoing support and encouragement are a source of inspiration for me.  Thanks for being there through all of this.  I'll let you know how things continue.  Meanwhile, I go back for my blood work this week and then, hopefully, I'm off to the beach for a little R&R before returning next week for Cycle 2 and start of physical therapy. 

Happy Labor Day!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 13
so let's see, where were we??  just got back from the beach -- which was awesome except that stephanie, at age 21 months, turned into a pint-sized "femme brutale."  she was picking on the other toddlers, slamming them to the ground as if they were rag dolls.  one of her victims managed to get in a good bite, but that still didn't deter her from claiming all toys for herself.  besides keeping stephanie at bay, i was challenged with her climbing on and attaching herself to me. it was all i could do to endure the effects of insomnia, fierce headaches, hotflashes, fatigue, and an unrelenting cough and congested nose -- all compliments of the chemo, supplemental drugs, and a nearly non-existent immune system.  thankfully, my mother-in-law was also down at the shore and she took stephanie to her house for a day/overnight.  'much as i love my daughter, i have to admit it was bliss without her for a few hours. 

ah-hh-hh, yes.  there i was, baking in the sun, hacking and wheezing and blowing my nose, with my 1.5 boobs, a medi-port jutting out from my chest, and, of course, my corona light.  i was quite a glamorous sight to behold.

speaking of glamorous, my film debut just wasn't meant to be.  as i mentioned to some of you, the Discovery Channel is doing a show about breast cancer and intimacy, and my surgeon gave them my name. (why me i don't know.) they're profiling 4 women for the documentary, but as it turns out, they already had 2 women that were my age and because breast cancer typically strikes more "mature" women, they decided to go with other, older candidates.  oh well.  hollywood will just have to wait.
meanwhile, i've reached a milestone in my cancer career.  MY HAIR IS OFFICIALLY FALLING OUT!!  stephanie got a clump of it while trying to use it as leverage to pull herself up on my lap.  it didn't hurt, but it was shocking.  it's a daunting reality now.  on the bright side, i think this cancer is just my body's way of refusing to grow old.  it's a big conspiracy among my organs:  "let's give her cancer so we can lose our hair rather than have it turn gray and so we can get new hooters instead of having the real ones sag beyond recognition."

anyway, i'm off to my second round of to you all later.

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 13-1/2 "Hair Be Gone"
just a quick note for those of you who might be interested in marking the occasion with me:  rather than having my hair  fall out slowly, i've decided to get my head shaved to commemorate my 39th birthday.  on tues, sept 9th at 5:30pm, i will no longer have to worry about "shedding" from my chemo (which is already driving me crazy). 

since i won't be able to do it myself, any volunteer(s) to film the auspicious event will be appreciated.  then if you want, we can go out for dinner and/or a few beers afterward.  my appointment is at "Alexandre de Paris" at Fair Lakes, so maybe we can hit that Crab Shack place across the street or the Blue Iguana for Happy Hour.  let me know who's up for it.'ll be tough deciding whether i should make my debut as a brunette, blonde or redhead, but i still have a few days to decide.  this is going to be a hoot!

see ya!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 14
i did it  --  i'm 100% BALD!!  or as I like to say, follicley-challenged.  the shave-o-rama went well.   i couldn't believe it:  about a dozen family and friends come out to witness the event and give me a hard time!!  poor alexander [de paris] was baffled by all of the people trailing in.  thanks everyone; without all of your support, i think i would have cracked under the pressure (although i admit i did bawl for a minute prior to going to the appt). 

i debuted in my blonde wig in stereotypical fashion:  as we were leaving the salon, my sister tipped-off my car alarm.  there i was fumbling around for the keys -- beep beep beep - lights flashing all around -- then i hear mike ribbing me from across the parking lot, shouting  "geez, you haven't been blonde for ten minutes and already you're acting like an air head."    (guess i'll have to get used to it)

for the record, since i was asked about it so many times, and probably will continue to get quizzical looks, the scar across the back of my head is from where i literally cracked my head open as a kid.  i was jumping on the bed one morning, laid out in splendid missionary form and struck the headboard.  several stitches later i was given a chocolate milk at the hospital for being so good (although i seem to recall screaming bloody murder the whole time).  other than that minor defect, BALD IS BEAUTIFUL!   

a few other quick things to mention to bring everyone up-to-date:
 * the good news is, i've already done 20 self-injected neupogen shots; the bad news is, i have  60 to go
 * the good news is, i've completed 2 rounds of chemo; the bad news is, i have 6 to go
 * the good news is, i've completed 1 saline injection to inflate my implant; the good news is, i have a lot more to go!  (can you say DD?)

so my schedule will be pretty busy this week with physical therapy, my second saline injection and another round of chemo.  i'm also going to the eye doctor for new contacts and a pair of glasses.  has nothing to do with my cancer, but thought i'd throw it in there since we're talking about appointments :)    

hope everyone is doing their best!
P.S.  Sonya:  let's hear you say "SHAVE-O-RA-MA" as only you can!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 15 Hurricane Isabel
so what do you do when you're out of power with nothing to do?  you peer into the light of your laptop (the only thing in the house with a battery-backup) and you start thinking about stuff; things like:  what do hurricane isabel and cancer have in common?

10.  they're both low blows
 9.   they send some people packing; they bring others together
 8.   they're both unpredictable
 7.   sometimes you're in the darkness; but you can find calm in the "I"
 6.   after much destruction, there is renewal
 5.   there is only so much you can do to prepare, then it's in Nature's hands
 4.   they are unrelenting and not to be taken lightly
 3.   you hope that you have insurance, and you're thankful when you do
 2.   both can bring out your worst...and bring out your best
 1.   you feel fortunate and relieved to have survived

i had my third chemo session last thursday, just before the power went out and the hurricane hit.  i couldn't escape being ill after this round.  it feels like a really, really bad hangover, and there's a metallic taste in my throat, so anything i eat has a strange flavor.  i also had another saline injection.  it's uncomfortable until my skin stretches out, but it's looking good!!!

just after my treatments, we went several days without water and power, and we were lucky: my brother brought over a generator for us to use.  some people still do not have power restored yet.  we just got our cable/hi-speed internet back this evening; hence the reason my newsletter is a little late being sent out this week. 

anyway, we're heading to the beach house tomorrow to see if there is any damage.  by most accounts, the area was really ravaged.  authorities were not letting anyone through, except bona fide residents, until today. 

so i leave you with a thought:  no matter how bad or unlucky we feel, whether cancer or hurricane, there's one other thing worth noting...the sun always returns.
have a great day,

Ann Dollard; wrote:
Hey everybody.  FYI, since my last newsletter, the beach house is fully intact...much to my dismay.  Just recently, we were thinking of *actually doing* the improvements we've been toying around with doing for years.  I was hoping our friendly Nationwide agent might help us out with the funding, compliments of Isabel, but nay, not this time.  Seriously, there was quite a bit of damage -- some amazing sights really -- but we happened to be in a few miles of relatively "safe" beach/beach road area and the worst we got was a damaged storm door and shed.

I had my 4th of 8 rounds of chemo this week.  So I celebrate with a fresh cycle of insomnia, self-injections, and minor nausea (I'm guessing 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-to-10 compared to what other patients might have to suffer).  The good news is, I am 1/2 way through the process!  I only have 8 weeks to go (i.e. one treatment every other week) and then hopefully I get my port/catheter taken out!  WOOHOO!  The profile of it sticking out of my chest makes me look like something from the Matrix, except that I'm hooked to a different kind of life-support tube.

My oncologist is eliminating two drugs and switching me to a different drug for the last 4 rounds (as planned, so don't be alarmed).  That means it will only be two drugs coming down the I.V. instead of the current cocktail of three, yet the infusion time will *increase* from about 2-1/4 hours to taking about 3 hours per session.  HUH?...I don't get it.  2 drugs take longer than 3?  Maybe it's part of that whole "less [toxins] is more [time]" conspiracy.  The only reason I can think it will take longer is because the new drug must be "sludge."  Great.  What a nice image I've put in my head now.  All I can say is it damned well better suffocate those cancer cells!!!

After chemo, it's on to 4 weeks of daily radiation.  What a pain in the neck (or should I say chest and shoulder) that's going to be.  I'm dreading the hassle of daily doctor visits and finding parking.  I was less worried about all of the chemo combined (knock on's easy for me to say now since I've been skating through the chemo so far).

Remember when I told you last time about that metallic taste in my mouth?  Well, it's still there and driving me nuts.  I never realized how enjoyable it was to eat.  'Ever been starving and then burned your tongue and you couldn't fully enjoy your meal after that?  Well that's how DISAPPOINTING it is for me at every meal.  I can't even snack happily anymore (...and I LOVE to oppose to actually "cooking").  And margaritas...forget it.  They're horrible.  So count your blessings -- including *each and every one* of your taste buds.

Annie "DD" Dollard

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 17 Cost of Care
Here are some stats to give you a perspective on the cost of health care.  Billed to date:

   Doctors' appts, radiology, lab, pathology, misc. procedures and diagnostics = $16,161
   Prescriptions = $8,846
   Surgeries (mastectomy, initial reconstruction, and catheter implant) = $29,918
   Chemotherapy (2 sessions) = $3,400

That's a whopping $58,325 so far.  I've paid only $330 out-of-pocket, thanks to having insurance.  Pray for those who don't; worrying about how they're going to come up with that kind of money is the last thing a cancer patient needs.

I go in for Round 5 of chemo and start the new drug tomorrow.  I'll let you know how it goes.  Hopefully better.  This past week really wiped me out with extreme fatigue and those nasty headaches.  Add to that the newest side effects -- painful mouth ulcers, loss of eyelashes and constant sneezing (due to the loss of even my NOSE HAIRS for pete's sake!!!) -- and you end up with a sick human being just trying to make it through another day.  'Good thing I want to live!! :)  I can't wait to get this all behind me so that I can clean my house.

Keep your spirits up and I'll do the same.

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 17 Update
Seems that God heard my wish and decided I could use some time off to clean my house.  No chemo today.  Yippee!   They did my labwork and determined my blood cell counts are too low (1.9 of something vs. acceptable range of 4.1 to 10.9).  Another round will obliterate anything that's left, so it was a No-Go.  They sent me home to recuperate for another week.  I'm looking forward to a few productive days when my full or at least almost-full energy level returns.

On another note, I wanted to let everyone know that when I share my litany of side-effects and challenges with you, please don't take it as me complaining or whining or seeking sympathy.  I'm only trying to provide some "insider" information to you to demonstrate the reality of, and educate you about, what this cancer patient and probably many others have to deal with.  My situation is a piece of cake compared to thousands of other people who are in a much worse state of life than me (whether by injury, illness, defect, socio-economic conditions, "fate" or other causes), and I don't dare complain. 
And really, I'm not that strong and courageous like a lot of you give me credit for (although the accolades sure make me feel good, thanks!).  I'm just doing what I have to do and plugging away like most people would do in the same circumstance and still trying to have some fun in the process.

That's it for now.

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Week 18 "Bummer"
Went back for chemo this week and got turned away again.  Instead of rebounding with the extra week off, my white cell bloodcount actually fell further, from 1.9 to 1.2.  Apparently, the effects of these
long-acting drugs hadn't run their full sinister course yet, so the oncologist postponed treatment for a second time.  Meanwhile, I've been directed to do another week of shots to try to boost my immune
system.  I go back next Wednesday for more blood work, then chemo on Thursday if all indicates that I'm back in the "safe" zone.

My doctor and I were both surprised with the results this time, given that I was feeling better.  In fact, I was feeling so ambitious that I decided to do some laundry the other day.  Unfortunately, that didn't
go well.  I broke a picture and shattered glass everywhere when I accidentally ran into it with the ladder I brought in so that I could reach the top of the clothes pile.  The good news is, Mike hasn't
noticed was one of his sports memorabilia pictures (Yankees).

On a final note, remember awhile back when I told you about the possibility of me participating in a Discovery Channel documentary?  (You might recall that Hollywood wasn't ready for me yet.)  Well, the show airs next Thursday, so check your local guide if you're interested in seeing it.
Tune in Thursday, OCTOBER 30TH @ 8 PM on Discovery Health Channel for the premiere of: "Breast Cancer & Intimacy"  A portrait of 5 women and their families on personal journeys as they learn to live with breast cancer.

I wonder if they'll vote anyone off so that I can join the cast for the next show!  :)


Subject: My Cancer This Week - Weeks-19/20
Hi, all.  Last week, I finally got the green light for my next round of chemo and started the modified version.  It took 4 hours!  I presumed that the new cocktail would be something along the lines of sludge and that's why it would take more time, but it actually takes longer because there's more of it.  That is, there's been a decrease in the overall number of drugs, but an increase in the volume. 

I also have to take large doses of steroids to counter-act the potential for an allergic reaction.  Guess it's time to start working out!!  Maybe I'll have a nice muscular body to go with my nice Double-D breasts.  Speaking of which, I had to cancel my saline injections until my immune system got back up-to-snuff, so I will be re-scheduling now and hope to be totally lopsided by Christmas.

Many of you have asked to see pictures from when I got my head shaved.  'Hard to believe it's been 2 MONTHS!!  Sadly, I still haven't figured out how to work the digital cam, but when I do, I'll post them on the web and send you the url instead of trying to email a large file.  Meanwhile, I've attached a more recent photo.  My hair is finally starting to grow back in, but it's thin and wispy and sticking straight out.  I have a new appreciation for wigs and hats!!

'Hope you all had fun on Halloween.  I planned to take Stephanie to a few houses, but it didn't work out.  I was going as a cancer patient - in my bald head, hospital gown and slippers (yes, I'm allowed to make fun of it!) - and she was going as my surgeon - in scrubs, a mask and stethoscope. Unfortunately, she would have none of it.  It's an indication of the terrible two's still to come.

Finally, the answer is, "no, I didn't really need a ladder to do the laundry."  I was KIDDING!!  And I thought I was gullible!  But I did break the glass in the picture as Mike quickly attested in his email.  My doing so must have cast a curse on his team (, *if* you know what I mean...cough, "World Series," cough).

Bye for now!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Weeks 20/21 Thanksgiving
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I look like a plucked turkey!  No eyelashes, eyebrows, or hair.  (Okay, well not maybe I'm not totally bald since there are a few hairs slowly pushing out again.  And my eyebrows - well, they hung-in courageously for as long as they could, but they now they've diminished to a mere trace of their former glory and it looks like the results of a really bad wax job!)

I'm sitting here in chemo, trying to kill 4 hours.  Thinking of all of the things I have to do for the upcoming holidays and our annual Grinch Party on Dec which you are all invited.  Here's a sneak preview of the details: visit my website (more to come).  At this point in my treatment, I'm going stir crazy!  So this event will give me a few simple tasks to work on each day going forward. 

Between the painful joints, insomnia, hot flashes (a TOTAL UNDERSTATEMENT) and an overall sense of fatigue (for which no amount of ginseng seems to alter), I feel too tired and "blah" to attempt any challenging projects or activities, but yet I'm not too tired to do absolutely nothing.  Hence my dilemma.  I'm stuck in boredom mode.  Among other things, I've been trying to use the time towards figuring out the @#!&%  digital camera, but after finally mastering some of the editing features, I found the directions for transferring files woefully inadequate.  That means I won't be sending any video stream or pics of my bald head and face.  'Guess you'll just have to show-up at the Grinch Party to see it first-hand!!

On other fronts, my underarm and part of my back are still numb from the lymph node removal...and the reality is that it may be that way forevermore...but my range of motion is painless and back to normal, so I don't need physical therapy any longer. 

Lastly, I got another implant injection this week. "Saline Sally" is now visibly overtaking "Hanna Hanger-on" in size and profile.  550 cc's to-date, and if it were up to me I'd say, "keep it coming, doc!"  But unfortunately, if he gives me anymore, I'll explode!  I don't think we want that.  The expander is primarily meant to stretch my skin sufficiently enough to get me through some shrinkage and scarring that the upcoming radiation will cause.  It will take about 6 months post-radiation for my tissue to heal before he can put the permanent implant in.  This was disappointing news because I had no idea that I would need to wait that long to finish-up my surgeries.  I just want to be done!!  The upside is that I'll have time to decide if I *really* want to have a bigger bust.  I'm thinking yes!! (...Hell-lo? I might as well get something out of my pain and suffering.)

It goes without say that this Thanksgiving has special meaning to me.  Once again, I'd like to tell each of you that I am "thankful" for all of the support you've shown (and continue to show).


Subject:        My Cancer This Week - Weeks 22/23  Emergency Surgery
If you'll recall, the last time I sent an update was on Thanksgiving-Wednesday, during my last chemo infusion.  It seems like an eternity ago.  You won't believe what has happened to me since then.  How does one describe their journey to hell and back? 

What began a few days after my last chemo as sharp, sporadic "skeletal" pain in my legs  turned into chronic, dull muscular pain in my back.  This was the most painful round of chemo to-date, and it sucked, but I bit my tongue and stayed focused on the prize ahead:  my 8th and final round of chemo that was scheduled for this past Thurs, Dec 11th.

Unfortunately, the symptoms I was experiencing were overtaken by a third form of discomfort:  bloating and excruciating abdominal pain (it was worse than being in labor).  I blew it off as yet another set of side effects and tried to alleviate the situation with various home remedies (namely, Tylenol and Peri-Colace).  Part of me thought it was just really, really bad constipation, and when it went unrelieved and I began to feel nauseous, another part of me was too stubborn to admit that I was sick.  I didn't want to delay my last chemo infusion.  I wanted to end the year on a high note with the chemo 100% behind me.

Next thing I knew, however, I was in the emergency room with a 102 degree fever and life-threatening peritonitis -- undergoing Xrays, CT scans, and blood and urine tests.  Twelve hours later (around 3am this past Tues night/Wed morning), I was rolled into surgery for a ruptured appendix.  I spent the next three days in the hospital.  I'm home now, resting and hoping for a speedy recovery.  It would take pages to tell you about the nightmare of spending 12 hours in the emergency room, and the challenges of my subsequent hospital stay, but suffice it to say that I hope no one else ever has to go through it. 

Still, for all of the bad, there was good.  Like my sister, Jennifer.  She's my personal guardian angel.  She's the one that insisted I get checked when my cancer was discovered, and she's the one that insisted on taking me to the hospital this time around.  I was on the verge of becoming "septic" and I literally could have died if she hadn't been there to be my advocate.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Jen, for everything you've done for me.

And I'll never forget an encounter I had the second night I was in the hospital.  It was around 4am when I was slowly and hazily moving through the dark to return to my bed after using the toilet.  When I came out of the bathroom and started around the corner, this cute tiny nurse was creeping slowly and quietly into the doorway to come take my vital signs.  Not expecting to run into anyone at such a wee hour, we both tossed our arms up in the air and screamed at the same time. Then the two of us stood there giggling in secrecy in the middle of the night.  It was so funny it hurt my incision, but I couldn't help laughing.  This may seem like nothing, but it taught me that life's "ordinary events" can take on significance and make everything all right, even if for just a moment.  Laughter is the best medicine.

So let's recap.  I've lost my breast.  I've lost my hair.  I've lost my vanity, and now I've lost my appendix.  The only thing I have left is tonsils and a few kidney stones.  My final chemo and the start of radiation are delayed until after I fully recuperate, so unless something develops in the meantime, you probably won't hear from me for awhile.

I hope everyone has a terrific holiday season, and I look forward to seeing many of you at the Grinch Party next week.  I'm determined to go on with show even if I'm as green and grumpy as the Grinch himself.

Be sure to tell people you love them.

Subject: My Cancer This Week - It's Been Tough, but Chemo is Over!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!   Wow, it's been that long since my last update.
As most of you know, my cancer treatment took a back-seat for a few weeks so that I could recover from a ruptured appendix last month.  I really enjoyed the heavy-duty antibiotics that were required to rid my body of the peritonitis.  It was a refreshing change of medication.  And the pain and soreness from having my abdominal muscles sliced in half was delightful, too.  It gave me reason not to push a vacuum.  Still, come hell or high water -- not to mention a caterer and cleaning company -- the Grinch Party went on as scheduled.  It was great to see everyone.

Unfortunately, my holiday elation didn't last long.  For Christmas, I was back on my sick bed.  Stephanie and I were under quarantine for the flu. 

Not to be denied, I managed to get back in the saddle and I'm happy to report that my CHEMO IS OVER!!!  I had my last infusion on Dec 31st.  YAHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I'm done!!!!  I was beginning to think it wouldn't happen.  Hopefully that's it for life.

I went to my radiation "planning" session at the hospital earlier this week.  By planning session they mean, "make a road map all over Ann's body so we know exactly where to shoot the beams."  I had to lay motionless on a table for about 30 minutes -- naked from the waist up with my arm overhead in a sling and my neck bent to the side -- while they took a bunch of measurements, made notes, performed adjustments and drew dozens of colorful, geometric lines across my skin.  I've never seen so many lasers, calipers, protractors, grids, tape measures, and other assorted equipment and devices used for one procedure.  What a production.

I start the actual radiation sessions this Thursday.  I'm looking forward to the fatigue and burned skin that come with it.  Should be a cake walk.  Treatment will be every day for 28 days (except weekends, go figure), so barring any hiccups in the schedule, I should be done by late February.

Meanwhile, my hair is growing back GRAY.  :{  Grecian Formula, here I come.
That's all for now,

Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2004 11:53 AM
Subject: My Cancer This Week - Radiation Galore
I can't believe it's FEBRUARY already!!  And I can't believe they passed me over for Janet Jackson to perform with Justin Timberlake at the SuperBowl!!  That's the first time in my cancer career that my mastectomy has held me back.  Seems having a right breast was a bona fide requirement for the half-time job this year.  The good news is, the promoters were gracious enough to invite me back as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader once my Double-Ds are installed.

Radiation is going....and going, and going, and going....just fine.  I'm a little tired and my skin is starting to burn, but no real complaints. I look forward to seeing all of my buddies in the treatment waiting room each day.  What a treat.....a bunch of old men in hospital gowns with no pants on, and a bunch of old women in hospital gowns with no shirts on.  Then there's me.  A young woman with no shirt AND no hospital gown!  Why bother?  I've lost all sense of modesty at this point.  (Insert obligatory "JUST KIDDING" here for the gullible among us.)

Hope everyone is well.  Stay tuned...

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Fwd: Re: WARNING
I don't usually forward these kind of "chain mail" things, but given my mastectomy, it's especially poignant, and I think it's a con you should know about:

If a man comes to your front door and says he is conducting a survey and asks you to show him your boobs, DO NOT show him your boobs. This is a scam, he only wants to see your boobs.

I wish I'd gotten this email yesterday. I feel so stupid and cheap.
Happy Valentine's Day!

03/03/2004 10:37 PM  Subject:    My Cancer This Week - Freedom at Last
First things first:  what do Minnie Mouse and I have in common? 
Big ears and a bow on our bald heads: 

You'll notice this is my sister's (Jennifer Clarke) website for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on May 1&2.  I would be a total ingrate if I didn't support her and help her with some fundraising, so in the spirit of being a good breast cancer citizen, I thought I would send this along.  For those of you who would like to contribute or have already contributed - a BIG THANKS.   There are a lot of "good causes" out there and I appreciate you sharing your resources for ours.

I'm happy to tell you that my radiation treatment is complete!!!  My skin is burned to a crisp and the lymphedema has returned, but the former will heal over time and the latter will subside with more physical therapy.

I feel like I've being thrown off a merry-go-round and I need to get my feet under me again.  The whole cancer fervor is finally over and I'm a bit exhausted, mentally and physically, but I'm grateful to be here!   I won't have an "all clear" confirmation until I undergo another PET scan, but a preliminary blood test for cancer markers indicates that I'm "normal" least where body tissue is concerned...personality is a different story. 

Thank you, all, for sticking with me through this challenging phase of my life and for tolerating my newsletter all of these months (I can't say it will be the last, but one can hope!!).

Sent: Tuesday, March 16, 2004 2:51 PM
Subject: My Cancer This Week - YEEHAH!
I had my PET Scan yesterday.  Notwithstanding the unrelenting cramping/pain I experienced from having my "bad arm" extended over my head for such a long period of time, I came out of the tunnel unscathed.  To make the time pass, I imagined I was floating along a slow-moving, cavernous at Disneyland.  There was some nice, melodic "Enya" piped-in over the background.  Then BAM!  Every now and then my fantasy was rudely interrupted by a guy on the mic saying, "okay, ma'am, you're doing great," "okay, about 14 minutes to go,"  "all right, ma'am, you're just about there..."      I don't know which was worse:  being jostled from my daydream or being called "ma'am."    hmmmpf

Now for the good news!  My oncologist just called and said the scan results came back 100% CLEAN!!!!  YEE HAH!  I'm officially confirmed cancer-free.  To top it off, I go back for minor surgery on Thursday to get this blasted medi-port taken out of my chest.  YA HOO!!  I just can't say it enough:  YA HOOO!!!!!!!

One final word, the complete reconstruction/double-D's won't be permanently installed until after the summer, once my tissue has had time to heal.  In the meantime, hopefully no one will notice that one side of me has cleavage up to my chin and the other half, well, let's just say she needs an extra "push" to keep up with her new sister.

See ya'all!

Sent: Tuesday, April 27, 2004 9:35 AM
Subject: My Cancer This Week - Getting Back to Normal
Hey everybody.  I just wanted to say hello and to let you know that things are slowly getting back to "normal."  I've returned to work full-time...'even flew out to San Jose for a few days of training and "meet-and-greet" with new and former colleagues...and I'm looking forward to a renewed social calendar, especially now that the weather is warming up.

My hormones remain out of kilter, I continue to deal with hot flashes, and I still have mobility/lymphedema issues with my arm, but the worst is definitely behind me.  Sleep is improving, headaches are gone, and no more feeling "strange," wiped-out and plain old blah.  My hair is now a vogue +-3/8" long AND I have eyelashes!!! 

It's hard to believe that I was out of work/life for about 7-8 months, and needless to say, things have changed a lot.  But I'm finding my place in the world again. I'll be taking-on my most ambitious endeavor in recent memory this coming weekend:  the 2-day, 26-mile "Avon Walk for Breast Cancer."  My sisters Jennifer and Joan were originally going to do the marathon part while I volunteered for a less demanding role of "cheerleader."  In an unfortunate turn of events, my sister Jennifer fractured her foot while training for this event!  That means "yours truly" will be stepping-in as the substitute roadster.  Wish me luck!  At a leisurely pace of 2 to 3 miles an hour, I figure I'll make it back in time to celebrate Y3K. 

Meantime, I've learned that my good friend "Kel-meister" and her women's social group, "The Flowers," will be volunteering at one of the pitstops, so at least I can look forward to some friendly, enthusiastic faces along the long, grueling, tortuous, unrelenting, harsh, brutal, merciless, exhausting route.  Can you tell I'm AFRAID!?  This involves physical exertion!

Since we're on the subject of the Avon Walk, "THANK YOU" again to those of you who so generously helped support my sisters' fundraising efforts.  With your donations, they raised an AMAZING  *SEVEN THOUSAND* dollars!!  WOW!  That' so awesome!  I feel so grateful to be a survivor.  I couldn't have done it without having all of you in my corner.  I'm sure that the final "pink mile" on Sunday will be an incredible, emotional experience for me.  Especially knowing that as soon as I cross the finish line, I'll be able to take my shoes off.

Love and kisses everybody,
Subject: My Cancer This Week - The AvonWalk
The Avon Walk was a success and my sore muscles have since been nursed back to prior out-of-shape health.  I've never popped so many Motrins!!  I actually had to lie to the medical staff about how much I'd already taken so they'd give me more.  (Oh come on, it was just a little would've done the same thing if you were in my shoes --pardon the pun.) 

So after conquering 26 miles of walking, I thought I might try something even more challenging:  hosting my own FUNdraising party!  Pencil-in your calendars for Friday, July 23.  That will mark my first Mastectomy Anniversary and I think I'd like to celebrate by hosting my first "Black Tie Breast Optional" Casino Night. 

Okay, okay, you could be asking yourself, "how in the world did she come up with that idea??" 
Well, here's how.  Some of you might recall that in one of my first cancer newsletters, I did a spoof on David Letterman's Top 10 List by coming up with a list of my own about breast cancer: 

Ann's Top Ten Things About Breast Cancer
10. I always wanted to know what it would be like to be bald.
9. Coming up with a nickname for my new implant.
8. Getting felt-up by total strangers in a cold examination room.
7. Painting-on happy eyebrows when I'm in a bad mood.
6. Having a "Black-Tie / Breast Optional" party.
5. The less hair I have, the less time I need to spend blow-drying it.
4. There's nothing to get in the way of my golf swing.
3. Different Day, Different Wig.
2. Making fun of breast cancer -- because I still can!!

....and finally, my number one thing about having breast cancer:

1. Being able to shout-out at the casino, "baby needs a new pair of hooters!"

You guessed it!  Items 6 and 1 seemed like a perfect combination!!  'Not sure if I can pull it off, but just in case, add a placeholder for July 23 and we'll see where it goes from here.

Before signing off, I wanted to get back to the Avon Walk and share a few thoughts.  For me personally, it was an extraordinary experience and an honor to be surrounded by so many women (and men!) with such remarkable courage, determination and goodwill.  It's overwhelming to think of how many people's lives are affected by breast cancer. My sister and I walked with over 2,200 of those lives.  As a group we raised over $5.2 MILLION -- all with the hope of putting an end to this disease so that our daughters and granddaughters will never have to experience it first-hand or see a loved one die from it.  I can't tell you how awesome it was to witness and be part of the energy, friendship and the genuine sincerity extended by everyone who participated and cheered us on.  All thanks to God.  He was every face.

Finally, if you think I haven't been sentimental enough, then this clip should do it.  You might have seen it broadcast locally to promote the Walk:

Be good and be well,

Subject: My Cancer This Week - One Year Later
Wow!  I can't believe it's been a year since I first heard the words, "you have cancer."   This Friday, July 23rd, will be one year to the day that I lost one of my girls and thirteen of her lymph node friends.  Yep; it's been one year since I proclaimed in my post-operative delirium, "I have 4 Heinekens in my suitcase"'s been a year since my hospital roommate asked if I needed any help and I replied sheepishly, "no, I'm okay," while I was slumped over and throwing-up in a bedpan.  ...and it's been a year since my then 18-month old toddler pointed to the blood in my surgical drain and proudly identified it as "juice."  Ah-h, the memories. [sigh]

Some of you have asked me recently if I was still planning to host my Black-Tie Breast Optional party to commemorate my one-year anniversary.  Unfortunately, the answer is no, I've decided not to have it afterall.  I told myself that if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right, and I just couldn't find enough time to give it the attention I thought it deserved.  Maybe next year.

In terms of an update on the medical front, I'm still taking medication for the hot flashes that have been bothering me for months now.  I saw my oncologist last week and he told me that at this point in time there's cause to believe that the chemo sent me into early menopause.  That sucks!  I'm not old enough to retire my box of feminine products.  It also means that I probably can't have any more children.  I feel like I've been robbed.  First cancer, now this.  So it looks like Stephanie will be my only offspring.  I have to look on the bright side though:  at least I was blessed to have one child, and she's the very best (...but at a headstrong 2-1/2 yrs, some days she comes close to testing that theory!)

Coupled with the hot flashes, another indication of menopause is weight gain.  I've put on about 5 lbs in 5 months.  It may not seem like a lot, but at that pace - well, you do the math.  "Diet" has never really been in my vocabulary, and I'm still in denial, but it may become a new challenge for me.

It also turns out that my hair is growing back REALLY curly...and it looks awful.  Long curly locks? That'd be okay.  But short curly sheep hair?  Awful.  So don't EVEN TRY to tell me otherwise.  It looked better when it was first growing back and it was straight.  I suppose I could always wear one of my wigs until it grows out more, but I think I'd feel terribly guilty -- unlike when I was actually bald and had a valid excuse.

As for good news, the effects of radiation are a thing of the past, so it's time to take the tissue-expander out and put the permanent implant in. 

My 40th birthday is on September 9th.  I want to go skydiving like I did for my 30th, so I was hoping to get the reconstruction out of the way before then.  However, my plastic surgeon warned me that it may not be safe to go jumping out of a plane after surgery.  He said that my new Double-D's would probably be a distraction to my instructor and we might not get back on the ground in one piece! :)   So my next surgery isn't scheduled until late September.  Maybe I'll treat myself to a tummy-tuck and butt augmentation at the same time, to both comfort and reward my middle-aged, menopausal, survivor self. 

That's all for now.  Hope everyone is having a great summer!

Subject: My Cancer This Week - Let's Jump!
In response my last cancer email, a number of people have asked me about my plans to go skydiving.  So here's the scoop: for the modest price of an airline ticket, you too can jump out of a plane instead of flying in one!  Cost is $195. (What a bargain! That's only $40 more than what we paid 10 years ago!)
I've held 6 spaces for Saturday, September 11th at Hartwood Paracenter (located about midway between Warrenton and Fredericksburg, VA.)  Anyone who is considering going should try to let me know by Tuesday, August 3rd.  To accommodate such a large group, the operators would like to schedule the "on call" instructors in advance, otherwise it will take a good part of the day for everyone to jump and we'll be waiting around much of the time  ...although it's still quite entertaining to watch from the ground   ...and even if you don't want to jump, you're welcome to come out and join us for the tailgate party!!   So think about it and get back to me.  While you're doing that, I leave you with...

A Dozen Good Reasons to Skydive

Treat yourself!
Get high or go home!
Just do it!!
Go for it!!
Live like you mean it!
Take a chance!!
Try it - you might like it!
Everybody's doing it!
Face your fear!
In God we trust!
No pain, no gain!
The sky's the limit!

..and only Two Good Reasons NOT to Skydive


See ya, sissies!

P.S.  I know there are a lot of August & September birthday kids among us who could also use a little celebration! Cheryl, Mike C, Rick, Alyssa, Eric, Paul, DT, Michelle, Britt...others I may be forgetting???

Sent: Monday, September 27, 2004 10:18 PM
Subject: My Cancer This Week - Finally!!!!!!!!!!
What a busy month it's been for me and many of you, my family, friends and co-workers.  Parties, skydiving, end-of-summer beach trips, baptisms, new jobs, the new season of The Apprentice...

But two dates in particular this month stand out for me.  The first is/was Sept 9th.  Last year, 9/9 was the day I was liberated from my hair and joined the ranks of bald women everywhere.  This year it was the day I turned 40 (as did my sister, Joan--funny how that happens with twins---always competing).  Next year it will be the day I win the lottery.  (Yeah, right, one can hope.)

The second date is yet to occur, but significant to me nonetheless.  Sept 30th.  This is the day I head to the hospital for another operation in my breast reconstruction process.   I'm "expanded" enough now that I should have ample room for a plump new, permanent implant.  Out with the old, in with the new.  I'm also having my other girl "equalized," (code word for "augmented") to match her pseudo sister.  Can't have one dangling lower than the other one, now can we? 

I'll be wheeled into the O.R. bright-and-early this Thursday morning; it should be about a 3-hour surgery provided my surgeon is awake for the procedure and all goes well.  I, on the other hand, don't plan to be awake at that hour under any circumstances, with or without anesthesia.  I think they're going to be gracious enough to let me actually spend the night, so I should be released mid-day on Friday.

Your prayers have helped me through all of this "stuff" in the past, and I'm not too humble to beg you for more.  Please do what you can for me and submit your invoices for payment within 30 days.  From your lips to God's ears, I trust I'll be okay.  And with angels standing by to help me, too - that is, the Victoria's Secret Angels - I'll be sporting a new, nearly-perfect set of knockers when I come out on the other side.  Heck, who am I kidding?  I may not even need the angels. Those puppies might stay up on their own.  :)

Sent: Fri Dec 31 12:20:21 2004
Subject: My Cancer This YEAR!
Hi, all.  One year ago today, I was bald and I think I looked pretty good.  Today my hair has grown back and I think I look a lot worse, but that's beside the point.  What is the point is that one year ago to the day, I had my LAST chemo injection - and then I rang in the New Year.  Today, I'm ready to ring in another.

This is to ask you to make at least one New Year's Resolution this evening:  if you're a woman, resolve to schedule your mammogram...if you're a man, encourage your female friends & family members to get one. 

Statistically speaking, 1 in 8 of the women I've copied on this message will develop breast cancer.  That equates to 7 wonderful people -- 7 of my family, friends, and co-workers -- whose lives will be threatened.  Please take an active role in your health; don't take it for granted.  Give thanks and get your exams! 

Educate  Advocate  Eradicate 
Happy New Year!!!

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