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Sep 2, 2009

All over the place…




I am mentally all over the map these days. I realized this morning that I haven’t read anything breast cancer related (not including articles on the internet) in a little while. A few days, maybe even a few weeks. That’s pretty major for me.

My weight is picking up which is both good and bad. Good because my appetite has certainly improved. Bad, because my appetite has certainly improved. (smile) One of the nurses told me recently that the weight gain was due to the drugs I’m taking. The herceptin is significantly reducing my estrogen production in my body and along with that for some people, comes weight gain.

Oh joy!

Considering how little I ate during the early chemo days, I’m excited and happy that I am able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want now. But, I am starting to realize that I do not want to change my diet – even though I know that it would be good for me and better for my cancer. I have been dragging my feet about doing the detox my friend shared with me, and also about eliminating meat, sugar and refined flour from my diet. I do little things, here and there but I haven’t made that all sweeping change yet.

It is a little scary to think about changing everything I know not knowing whether it will truly guarantee me more years of living or not. I still have the “Nicole-math equation” rattling around in my head. You know… 30 to the 40th power divided by 5 = ??? How long do I really have left with this beautiful life?

The breakdown: 30, represents the percentage that my doctor told me that it’s likely my cancer will return. 40 represents my age. 5 represents the magical 5 cancer-free years that I’m hoping to reach once all of this treatment is done.

Since I am no math major (in fact, I was a lousy math student) I have no idea whether my equation makes any sense to anyone besides myself. But it is rattling around in my head, causing me to make crazy decisions and leaps of faith that I normally might not do. Like… deciding, un-deciding, and then finally deciding to go away this weekend. Or, asking a friend on a whim if I can visit him and ending the conversation with the cancellation of one trip and the unexpected addition of a separate trip. In the span of about 6 hours, I went from thinking about taking one trip this weekend, and one trip in October… to buying a ticket to Texas for day after tomorrow, cancelling my tentative trip to Atlanta and instead rolling out to Vegas for something entirely different. Plus a little get-away to Baltimore squeezed in the middle.

Normally, I would have found lots of reasons to talk myself out of all of these excursions. But, yesterday I had a brief conversation with someone about my decision to cancel the trip I’m taking this weekend…she reminded me that in order to have the life I keep saying I want to live, I have to actually live it.

Profound, right? (laughs)

Breast cancer has made me rigidly self-conscious and a little shy. Neither of which are natural states of personality for me. I am wearing my brain out over-thinking every detail of my life because I am so anxious that I may make the wrong step and bam! I’m back in somebody’s hospital wishing I had just been more careful.

Who am I fooling? I am not this scary girl. I’ve been her for a little while and it’s gotten comfortable here but really, I’m that girl that everybody always wants to laugh with, joke with and have a drink or a meal with. I am THAT girl with the bright eyes and winning smile who makes people comfortable because she’s just so comfortable. I am a little annoyed that breast cancer has made me the girl who looks over her shoulder; under the bed and then wishes she had a flashlight – before she even walks down the hallway to her own bathroom. All of the admonitions to take care of myself now – wear a compression sleeve if you travel, don’t allow any injuries to your arm to protect against lymphedema, sunscreen and bug repellant, no chemicals in your hair or on your skin, blah blah blah – are ruining my easy-going nature.

At any rate…I’m going away for the weekend to celebrate my cousin’s birthday and to see what Houston has to offer a single girl from Maryland in terms of fun and laughter. And next month, I’m going to Vegas to participate in a conference about blogging that should be eye-opening and inspiring and I’m taking a friend with me… just because he was open to the experience. I hope that come November, when I’m lying in bed recuperating from my surgery...I hope that these memories will sustain my joy and keep me focused on the living part of life.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Aug 29, 2009

Cancer really makes me sick.

Cancer really makes me sick.


I was going to write a funny post about the possibility of waking up from surgery without a belly button (yeah, I know, right?) but just as I was working it around in my mind... I read the most heart-breaking email and I got good and angry.

The nephew of one of the women in my email group sent a message about his recent surgery. He had a tumor removed from his brain, and it turned out that the tumor was cancerous.

Right up the road from me at John Hopkins Hospital, there is a 6-year old little boy battling brain cancer.

SIX!

Teddy Kennedy just lost his battle with brain cancer and was lain to rest today. He was 77 years old. And while his death is a tragedy and I am sure that his struggle with cancer over the past year or so was hard... Ted Kennedy had the chance to live a very full and long life.

Meanwhile, a 6 year old baby is fighting for his life.

I HATE CANCER. I hate cancer. i hate cancer....


Where is the fairness? I know God is a healer and I am praying fervently for Elijah's full recovery but damn. Damn. I am absolutely stunned and stuck right now. Cancer really and truly makes me sick.

I just finished reading a really good novel, “The Living Blood” and one of the characters in the story was a 12 year old boy who had leukemia. The author (Tananarive Due) did an incredible job of describing his illness and how hard the struggle was for him to get through his treatments. Naturally, any discussion of cancer (real or imaginary) catches my attention and holds it for awhile.

The book I picked up yesterday morning to read is “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. This gentleman was a college professor who had terminal pancreatic cancer and decided to give a last lecture as a way of memorializing his career and to leave a visible legacy for his small children to see when they got older. I’ve only begun to read “The Last Lecture” and already I am humbled by the effort. Randy wanted his last message to the world to be one of hope for LIVING instead of a “how-to” book on dying. I found that so very commendable and it made me reflect on my blog and what perspective I am sharing with the world.


I hope that I am leaving a legacy of hope and persistence in my writings but a day like today, when you learn that a little child has to deal with something as devastating as brain cancer makes you wonder just how we manage to get through all the tough times that life throws our way. And that’s when I realized that cancer makes me sick. I’m not talking physical pain but just heart-wrenching, emotional anguish. I’m not typically a “why me” girl but I can’t help but wonder how much suffering will be enough?

I keep having thoughts and brief visions of my last visit to the cancer center. I tried very hard to really plug into the moment and focus on the details. Now that my physical pain is lessened and my emotional turmoil is quieter, I try to make sure to acknowledge within myself that each person there is an individual whose path crossed mine for a reason. But it is difficult when I look at some patients and they look like they are dying. As though they are fading from sight right before your eyes.

Every time I hear about someone losing a loved one to cancer, I wilt a little. After learning earlier this week that one of my sistagirls lost her mother to ovarian cancer (on my mother’s birthday no less), I had to really sit down with myself and think about death, dying and the possibility of a terminal cancer diagnosis down the line. I didn’t stay there long but I had to look at the possibility squarely and tell myself that if I ever hear those words, no matter what else happens… I am going to be okay.

Just like I know that little Elijah will be okay and I know that now Khadijah is okay as well. I suppose that no matter how long your life is, it always feels short in hindsight because you realize that there was so much more that you could do. If only you had just a little more time.

But all you have is what you have and none of us knows how long that will be.

Just before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I prayed to God and made a resolution in my mind that I wanted to live to see 100. Seems foolish now, my vain wish. Something like a child trying to out-scream a tornado. I have just as much time as God sees fit to give me, and not one second more. Death doesn’t frighten me, never has really, but it does make me wonder how history will swallow up my memory.

I think I could manage another 60 years. That’s enough time to forget all the foolish mistakes I have made as a young person and still enough time to venture out and see the world, learn new things, meet new people. But even if all I have is another 60 months or even 60 days... I hope that I leave behind a little more love than I accepted and a little more hope than is ultimately needed.

Cancer is a hard burden but its not impossible to deal with. Its just hard. At the end of the day, cancer or no cancer... Nicole is going to be okay. I just have to keep working at making sure all of my friends and family members know that I love them and its all going to work out in the end. No matter what that end is.

Aug 26, 2009

the last day at the cancer center...



Today was one patient's last treatment at the cancer center. Her last chemo drip. I didn't actually meet her but her name is Rachel. Seems that she and the guy sitting next to me built a fun camraderie during their treatments. They would "race" to see who could finish their chemo drips first. I think the race tickled the nurses more than it gave those two cancer patients something to look forward to.

I had to admit, as an outsider to their competition, it looked like fun. It was especially fun for me considering, I finished before both of them. (smile)

Rachel had her husband with her and Brian (my neighbor) had his mom with him. And I was alone. It has not bothered me for a long time to sit in chemo alone but today, I felt like I was missing something. But what really made me envious of Rachel was that she had CUPCAKES delivered to her today. Georgetown Cupcakes.

It was lovely. And quite funny because I had just mentioned to my neighbors that I was overdue for having cupcakes with my chemo. But it got me to thinking about my last day of chemo. I mean the last, last, LAST day. When there's no more herceptin, no more shots... nothing. Just follow-up visits every 6 months.

What's that day gonna be like? I think I may follow Rachel's pattern and have some yummy cupcakes delivered. But I'm not sure.

Watching my neighbor deal with his chemo was really difficult. He has lymphoma and it seems like he has had a rough road with it. Difficulty being diagnosed, delayed port implantation (he didn't get a port until they could no longer find his veins), trouble with the actual chemo drugs, no tastebuds...and on and on. His anxiety started from the moment he walked into the cancer center and from what I could tell, it was going to be a bumpy two weeks until he came back for his next (and his last) chemo drip.

It was so hard. He was a really nice guy and very friendly. The staff seemed to love him. Rachel and her husband seemed to have created a strong bond with him and his mom. But he was really in pain. Emotional and physical pain. And even though I was sitting right beside him with drugs going into my body the same way -- and for the same reason -- for some reason, I felt sadder for him than I did for myself. How is that even possible?

I felt badly for him. I was envious of Rachel. And I was perplexed because I know that the transition from going to the cancer center regularly to not going at all is going to be traumatic. The cancer center has become like a sanctuary for me. Its a safe place. Its the one place where I know that something is being done to help me get rid of this threat to my life. And I realized that its the one place where I don't worry about my cancer. I know its crazy but its true. I can turn over the worry to other people for the few hours that I'm at the cancer center. I can relax and be at peace...

I will be thinking of ways to ease myself into and through the transition. I expect it to be difficult but I have been through difficult things and come out okay. But I do think that cupcakes will be a part of that special celebration.

I may get some cupcakes this week... just to make myself smile a little and remember that its the little things that make life so sparkly and wonderful.

mmmm.... cupcakes. :)

Aug 25, 2009

Pink ribbon warrior? Me?




My mind is still circling, trying to figure out the meaning and purpose of all this. Before I was the one with the crisis, I looked to politics to provide me with hope for change necessary to move forward in the world. I was passionate about the collective power of voters and the abilities of our elected officials to bring change to the world. Now... it seems that even politics can't fix things. At least not in a timely fashion for millions of people.

One of the things that I told myself at the beginning of my cancer journey was that I was not going to become one of those women who constantly wore pink and always screamed about breast cancer. I just wanted to move past my personal issue and return to my life. Pick up the pieces that I’d left behind and pretty much act like my life wasn’t any different.

The problem with that type of thinking was that I had no idea how much different my life would become. And by default, how different I would become. I blame some of the difference in myself on my age. I am 40 now. But I know that the biggest agent of change has been the cancer.

I hated the thought that there was something within me that didn’t belong. I hated the thought that the something might eventually kill me. But what I’ve come to hate more is knowing that there are others… always others… coming right behind me who will have to experience all the negatives and all the pain of this experience. I feel that my pain should have been sufficient. But it is not. There is always another sister or brother experiencing this painful journey.

So, I write this blog and I talk about breast cancer. A lot. To anyone who asks. Even if they don’t ask. And I think about breast cancer every moment of every day. It is too much even for me sometimes…but this has become my life.

As I walked into my office this morning, running late and feeling slightly rushed, I realized that although few people may really love what they do, a lot of people enjoy the satisfaction of productive work. What’s different for each person is which work they find joy and fulfillment in. My day job is a good one. But it doesn’t bring me that deep satisfying joy that writing does. This blog has opened up possibilities that I would not have imagined a year ago. And while it does not pay any bills (yet), I could see how just the work of it could continue to bring me deep joy for a long time.

That revelation led me to accept that despite what I thought initially, I was becoming one of those pink ribbon warrior women. I’m slowly starting to realize that all of those women (and men) keep fighting because there’s always someone who cannot. The Susan G. Komen Foundation was started because one sister was left behind to fight when the other sister lost her battle with breast cancer. Team Heather – which has raised over $250,000 for breast cancer awareness – was started when a brother lost his younger sister to breast cancer. And so forth. Some of us fight because we’re happy that we can fight. And some of us fight because someone we love cannot fight any longer.

I am fighting because right now, I am still here and able to do so. My aunt Vinnie Lee is not. I fight for her. My aunt Sarah Alice is here. And I fight for her. I fight for the mothers of my friends who are fighting this cancer and other cancers. I fight for the sista-girl friends who are fighting this cancer. I fight because… tomorrow is chemo day and I have to keep fighting to stay alive.

Hug somebody you love today. And fight for their right to live cancer-free too.

I read a quote recently that made me smile:

When asked if her breasts were fake, she replied… “Why yes they are. The other ones were trying to kill me.”
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Aug 20, 2009

ISO: deeper meaning to life

I knew that transitioning back to work would be a challenge. And I suspected that I would have to do lots of work to keep my mind straight and my emotions in check. However, I was not prepared to be facing an existential crisis.

I do not want to complain about my job or to seem ungrateful for it. I am truly blessed – really and truly blessed – to have this job with this company. My health benefits are outstanding and I do not know where I would be in the midst of my health crisis without them. My colleagues have been kind to me and I am grateful that I had a position to come back to. In light of the current economic situation in the nation, I know that I am lucky and privileged to be right where I am.

But I have to be honest when I say… “Is this it?” I get up early and make my way to my fabulous and shiny downtown office, to sit at my fabulous and shiny new desk… and spend the next 9 hours doing a variety of tasks – some mindless, others a little more challenging – only to head home to sleep to wake up and do it again.

My job does not save lives. My job does not happily entertain people and take their minds on a trip. My job basically makes other people’s jobs a little easier. And that isn’t a bad thing at all. But I’ve been wondering…

Not a day goes by – actually not an hour – when I don’t blink my eyes and see the cancer clinic around me. I think about the faces of all the people I have seen and made cautious friendships with over these past few months and I wonder. What about their lives? What happens after cancer?

The nurses, technicians, doctors and students all work toward healing sick people. But the sick people themselves… what do they ultimately work toward?

I was discussing my cancer-journey with a colleague yesterday afternoon. I was trying to explain to her that if I were faced with the notion that I would have to have cancer in my lifetime but given the option to choose when I had it – there isn’t much that I would change. Well, one thing. I would have had a child before now. But even that one thing doesn’t fill me with regret.

When I review all that I’ve been through – and I review it often in my mind – I would not change one thing about my treatment so far. Even in the hardest days – those early days of chemo, the times I ended up in the hospital because of neutropenia, or because I kept passing out – I would not change a thing. I would still cry all those tears and laugh every chance I could.

I would do it all again. Every step. I never thought I would feel this way about something so cruel. But this is how I feel. I would still start the relationship that ended halfway through my treatment. I would still go along with the radiation treatment that took an extra 2 months I had not planned to spend at GW Hospital. I would still have my mother call the ambulance the day I passed out in the kitchen, not once but twice. I would still talk to several surgeons before agreeing to relinquish my entire breast. I would still do everything I have done, to save my life from cancer. But after doing it all again – if I had it to again – I think I would still be asking… “is this it?”

So now, I am sitting at work wondering… is this all that there is to life? A million people everyday scurrying to work to do jobs they may or may not like, to earn money to live a life that they really never get to experience because they are so busy working. It’s tragic really.

Meanwhile, in hospitals across the world, people are in various stages of dying. Most are wishing for another chance to get their lives back. I was that way. I sat in that reclining chair in the cancer clinic, week after week, begging God to heal me so that I could get my life back. And now that I have it back… it seems, woefully insufficient to be here. Sitting at the pretty desk, in the pretty office… answering phones, typing letters, responding to inquiries, conducting research… meanwhile, I know that just 7 blocks from here… people are sitting in chairs hooked up to tubes that they are praying will save their lives.

Is this it?

Medicine is not my calling. I know that. I am squeamish at the sight of blood – even after seeing it pulled out of my body and forced into little tubes week after week. Dealing with sick people is a calling of the highest order because sick folks are not always kind. They are often cranky and rude because they don’t feel well and they are scared. And many are worried about how to pay for the treatment that they desperately need to save or salvage their lives.

But is this it?

Did I pray and beg and rush to get back to my life only to find out that my life is one of fake deadlines and false emergencies? It is difficult to get riled up and excited about deadlines when my mind constantly fades back to people dying of cancer. Dying while in treatment no less.

I don’t know. I just have a big question mark over my head right now. Is this it? Is the end goal just about how much stuff I can accumulate with my job? Can I keep up with the neighbors or my friends?

It seems so ridiculous that I want a purse that costs nearly $500. But I do. It seems so ridiculous that I want a new Jaguar – but I do. (I can’t afford it but I do want it) It seems so meaningless that I work with the mindset of buying this and that and nothing more.

Meanwhile, just a few blocks from my office… people are dying.

I cannot believe that this… is... it.

Aug 17, 2009

my second visit with the plastic surgeon


Well, I will say this... prayer changes things.

I went for a follow-up consultation with the plastic surgeon this morning. And although we've had some issues in the past -- unfriendly staff, missed appointments, etc. -- today's visit was actually quite pleasant.

As pleasant as could be expected when you're discussing major surgery and all of the risks that go along with it. To start, it seems that I will be having at least 2 more surgeries and two in-office procedures following that. The first of the two surgeries is very serious stuff. But that's the most exciting one because I will emerge with a new fabulous boobie!

The second surgery is less major but still serious... the reduction of my natural breast. Then there are the two procedures where I get a nipple and aereola.

sigh.

It is a lot to absorb. I wish I felt better about just having one breast. It would make the decision to have any of this done, simply moot. But I don't feel great with just one. And though I'm sure no one else in the world cares about it other than me, I care enough to go through some serious stuff to feel whole again.

The thought of all this surgery is frightening and overwhelming. For my reconstruction, I will be in the hospital for about a week. In the intensive care unit for at least 2 days... and that's hoping that nothing goes wrong and I don't have to go back into surgery for any corrections. That is frightening to consider but I will be okay. I know that I will.

What I learned today, that I did not know, was that they cannot do both the reconstruction and the reduction at the same time. That is a bummer. I was counting on coming out of this surgery complete. But once again, not going to happen. So, while my natural breast will remain an H cup, my new boobie will be (prayerfully) a DD cup.

That's a pretty drastic difference. (not as drastic as what I'm looking at now) And even at that size, the plastic surgeon seemed concerned that she could construct a breast that large.

(That large?? Considering that a DD cup is about half the size of my natural breasts, I am dumbfounded)

So, I will become less lopsided with my new boobie. And then after the second surgery I will be more even. I know already that there is no way that they can guarantee me that I will be perfectly even and symmetrical after the surgeries are done. It is still wishful thinking on my part. But I continue to wish and hope and pray for balance (pun intended) to get me through this whole ordeal.

Here is the thing... large breasts run in my family. I am related to lots of wonderful women with FABULOUS BOOBIES of all sizes but I learned to embrace my large breasts because so many women in my family have them. They are not unusual. Its just how some of us are built.

As much as its sometimes difficult for me to fully accept, I do understand that every woman isn't endowed with so much and some women truly wish that they were. I understand that -- I don't fully get it but then again I do. At least, I do now.

Just over a year ago (before any of this began) someone could have stopped me on the street and offered me a free breast reduction and I would have seriously considered it. I thought of my breasts (my fabulous boobies) as somewhat of an inconvenience and a nuisance. A part of me built to satisfy others more than myself. Fast forward a year and now I'm practically begging my surgeon to make me a boobie as large as she possibly can.

You never know what God has in store for you.

It probably sounds silly for me to feel this way about my boobies, but its true. It is difficult for me to picture myself with small breasts. Small-ER breasts, yes. I am coming to a place of understanding with that. But not small. Not A or B cup small. No. I cannot picture that for myself. Not with my body structure.

I mention that because when I discussed the size I wanted with the surgeon today she seemed surprised that I wanted to be as large as a DD. I don't think it initially occurred to her that I consider a DD to be rather... well, middle of the road size-wise. Not too big, not too small. Just juicy enough that I still feel like me but not so big that I still struggle to find lingerie that is both pretty and supportive. Her perspective is different from mine. And I think that it is that difference that I have to really work on.


When I think of how Nicole looks... big boobies aren't the entire picture but they are definitely a part of the landscape. My paternal grandmother was tall like me, and built like me (or rather, I am built like her). She was a beautiful mahogany brown with long, black hair cascading down her back. I didn't get her skin complexion or her hair... but I got her build. On my maternal side, my grandmother was petite but curvy with high cheekbones, thick eyebrows and a curvy shape. I missed the petite part (laughs) but the curves and the eyebrows... Yes!

When I look in the mirror, I see generations in me. I see both sides of my family tree in different body parts. My legs -- from my momma, my height -- from my daddy and so forth.There were two reasons why I hesitated to have a reduction done in the past. One, I was waiting until I had children so that I could breast feed my babies. But the send part was because I felt that these breasts were a part of my heritage, a part of who I am. I did not want to turn my back on that as though I wasn't appreciative of the gifts I had been given.

My mother and I have discussed big boobies, breast reductions and breast feeding for many years. (shrug... its what we do) My mom helped me to come to accept my breasts and learn to enjoy them, appreciate them. I guess now, I want to replace what I was given. When I think of me post-cancer treatments... I still want to resemble the me it took me nearly 40 years to fall in love with. That me had two tigolbitties... two fabulously large boobies and while they didn't define me, they certainly were a part of my distinctive landscape.

But, today's visit with Dr. L reassured me that I will come through all of this okay. I will feel more whole again with my new boobie. My sexy-meter will be off the charts -- what with my new tummy tuck and all.

-----

I have spoken with the plastic surgeon's office and have scheduled my surgery. I will be having my reconstruction done on November 11th. Say a prayer on that day. I would say send flowers but I will be in ICU for a few days and they don't allow flowers. So, save the flowers for about a week and then send them to my house!! (smile)

I know you think I'm joking, but I'm not. :)

Aug 14, 2009

frustration... changes...


I had a moment today at work when I felt like slapping somebody.

Seriously.

Someone asked me something really trivial and I lost it (in my head). In hindsight it was rather innocuous but at the time, it was close to setting me off.

sigh. (keep praying for me)

Honestly... it wasn't a big deal. Even though I felt put out in that moment, I was painfully aware that I was getting riled up over a very pitiful and small issue. But in my mind, that little thing quickly became something else. I felt almost violated, taken advantage of... something. And it really wasn't that serious. Not that you could tell that by the way I felt inside. I am embarassed to even think about it now.

I've been feeling "some kind of way" for a couple of days now. I don't know if its being back at work, the actual job, or something else but I'm not right. I'm close to the edge. I'm not happy. I am too emotional and its not a good thing.

Now that I am aware that my anger is out of balance, I know what to do to get it together. I've got to get back into the practice of regular meditation. Meditation really helped me in the past when I felt out of sorts with my moods.

sigh.

I've been studying this detox program that my friend shared with me and its making me a little crazy. One, its not well-written. Trying to clearly understand all of the directions is frustrating. Two, its going to cost a GRIP to buy all the food items necessary to do it. Maybe that's why I'm a little twisted inside -- I can't afford this. But I cannot afford not to try it either.

Being sick is really ridiculously expensive. My frustration grows every week when I realize that something else I need or want is expensive and I may not be able to afford to do it on an on-going basis. Its really tired.


I have read several things that claim that juicing fresh vegetables and fruit daily and incorporating lots of raw foods into the diet is the way to get your body into a healthier state. And while it makes sense, I realize more and more that food is expensive and I (like many other Americans) am not really in the best position to always afford the best food.

Its a tragic cycle. Poor people eat poor quality food because that is what is plentiful and affordable. But that poor quality food is horrible on the body. Insanity...

I really have to wonder...Is there a conspiracy at work here?

We live in one of the richest countries in the world yet I'm beginning to wonder whether our advancements could be killing us. Most of us live on a diet of genetically modified food, prepackaged products, food that is combined with chemicals to keep it shelf-stable, meat that is filled with hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Is this stuff really killing us slowly?

I don't know. During the past year, more than a few people have come to me with their conspiracy theories about cancer and its treatments. Primarily, the consensus has been that its a grand conspiracy between "big corporate", the government and the medical association... to keep many of us sick in order to make money from the treatment of our illnesses.

I think that's crazy and illogical. But there is something going on here that's not quite right. Just a few weeks ago there was a story in the news about a 10 year old girl with breast cancer. How utterly crazy is that? Something really isn't right... but what exactly are we talking about here? And will it be fixed by drinking beet juice every morning?



Also, I have to contemplate... what is the mind-body connection when it comes to disease? I read an excerpt from a book that asserts that it is our thoughts that contribute to our diseases. And some of these thoughts are passed to us genetically through generations. That what we hold in our minds as true and as possible really does come to pass.

That resonated with me and scared me because as I've said previously, one of my darkest fears for many years was that I would have breast cancer. Now that I'm here, I wonder whether I ate myself here, drank myself here, believed myself here or what.

I often replay (in my mind) a scene from Sex and the City where Samantha remarks that her "horrible" lifestyle is to be blamed for her cancer. I feel that way too. The connection to alcohol consumption, obesity etc. is not to be forgotten.

Which leads me back to where I was. Is this some grand scheme in which female empowerment, women's lib... has only served to leave me cracked and bruised? I truly do not know.

I do know that somehow I will try the detox program. I do know that from this point forward, I will work diligently to guard my thoughts and focus on my health -- rather than wonder about my illness.


All in all... as usual I have a lot on my mind. A lot to digest.

Is it really possible that my embrace of the "American way" -- complete with artificial food and negative thinking -- has led me to suffer from cancer? And... is it true (as the detox program suggests) that the way to wholeness and health isn't through western medicine, chemotherapy and radiation... but simply through eating a more natural diet?

If it really is that simple to cure cancer why hasn't it been done already? Which way is the right way? It seems that once again, no easy answers are out there. But I will continue to read and learn and hopefully grow.
http://fabulous-boobies.blogspot.com/p/new-here.html

Aug 13, 2009

feeling the burden of perfection

I returned to work full-time yesterday. I received a phone call on Monday evening from my disability services informing me that my oncologist had released me to return to work. I was unaware of that. So, I came into the office yesterday and hung out all day. By the end of the day I was tired, but not so badly that I couldn't make it home okay. And I crashed as soon as I got in the house.

I definitely am stronger now than I was a few weeks ago when I tried to return. But I do sense that it will still be a bit of a struggle to fully transition into work. Like right now, its still morning and I am wishing I was back in bed. Getting up early has never been a favorite thing to do.



I am feeling particularly burdened today. Partly attributable to a book that I'm reading (one of the characters is a little boy dying of leukemia -- ugh cancer strikes again) and partly attributable to the fear that I may not be able to handle all of the responsibilities that I have at work.

My work isn't particularly challenging on an intellectual level, but it does require a level of dexterity in dealing with a variety of personalities, shifting priorities and deadlines... all with a smile. If you know me, you're aware that I do not have a poker-face. Whatever I'm thinking or feeling shows up on my face. I don't "fake" very well. But, like everyone else in the world, sometimes you have to be what someone else needs you to be rather than what you may want to be. I do not have the luxury of not working. I have been really blessed and fortunate that I was able to be out on disability for as long as I was. But reality has struck and my bills are piling up in a serious way. I have to be ready for full-time work because my life requires my full-time pay. (and then some)

Its funny dealing with a major illness in a work environment. I am not the employee who tends to share a lot of personal business at the office. Usually because being the single, childless woman at work gives people the impression that you have no worries in your life. Rather than apologize for my life and my lifestyle, I stopped sharing who I was at work a long time ago. And it has worked for me for many years. But now I am being told that I have to share some sort of explanations about what I may be feeling in order to balance expectations in the office. At the same time, I am told that I should not feel burdened to share too much of my personal medical issues with my colleagues.

Seems like I am in the proverbial hard place. They want to know what they feel they need to know to understand what I'm dealing with (as it affects them) but they don't want to know too many details (I suppose to protect my privacy and probably to ease their minds too). The less you know, the less you're responsible for.

It will be a challenge to balance those two objectives. Tell them a little, but not too much. Try hard to be what they need, but not at the risk of my own health. Stay tuned in to what you need for yourself while balancing what they need at the office. And all so that you can keep getting that paycheck.

Sigh.

...and while I'm sighing... why is our new office right down the block from McDonalds? (laughs)

I was warned that transitioning back into my life could be difficult and emotional. Today I understand that acutely. Not sure who I can talk to about this though but I may need to work through my emotions surrounding this. I am terribly aware that my life is different, that I am different. I feel very burdened that I am not the me I used to be.

As frightening as it all was in the beginning -- going to the hospital every few days for this or that -- the routine of seeing people who were responsible for my care became a real comfort. They are very smart and well-trained people who know what to do to handle my illness. While its new to me, its not new to them. I rested easy because I felt like I was in good hands.

Now that the burden of care is falling back on my own shoulders, I'm afraid. I don't know what I'm doing. I have never cared for anyone with cancer (laughs). I have never had cancer before. I am unsure when I should push myself and when I should give myself a break. There's so much information out there -- I read no less than 5 articles every day about breast cancer -- and it all conflicts with each other. What I read on Monday will probably be refuted in another article two weeks later.

Its overwhelming at times. Its days like this when I am not happy with being single. Today is a day that a good bear hug would make me feel better. But that's not likely to happen. (shrug) So instead, I will bury my nose in this book and get caught up in the adventure of finding the "living blood" that may save the little boy from his blood cancer.

I wish somebody could save me.

Aug 11, 2009

I wanna lick your scar...

"I wanna lick your scar..." Someone said that to me this weekend while I was out and about. It was the first time that I have ever been told something like that and honestly, it made me laugh. In fact, I have been laughing for days about it.

Now, of course there was no way that it was likely to happen. I told him that I was sensitive about that scar but I have to admit, the line itself was just plain funny.

Who says something like that?

You know who does? A man who has no idea what your history is and in the moment that he utters it doesn't care. He's just trying to make a connection. For the first time in many months, it didn't occur to me to correct him or inform him of all my medical issues. I just left the comment where it was. And I laughed.

Some of the joy I experienced this past weekend was being comfortable enough to hang out with little concern about the details of my breast cancer. I did not mope around wondering whether people could tell I had on a prosthesis, what they may have thought about my radiation tan or anything else. I simply did not care. It wasn't my highest priority this weekend.

That means that I'm growing. I'm returning to myself. Life is gaining some normal perspective. Its a beautiful thing. I am blessed. Its not so bad being the "sexy formerly-bald chemo girl" these days.

So... tell me, are scars sexy now? If so, I might need to flip my game around a bit. Who knew that my port scar might become a conversation starter one day? I didn't see that one coming.

...and that's a good thing.

Aug 10, 2009

I partied like a rock star... now its time for detox


This past week, the brothers from Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity held their annual conclave event in DC. I have lots of Kappa friends (and a few old boyfriends) so I was very excited to have a chance to connect with old friends and party a bit.

Well... I partied A LOT!! And had a blast. I saw guys I had not seen in 20 years... it was so much fun. I needed that blast of good time (in a bad way). It was wonderful.

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend shared a detox program with me. She told me that it helped a friend of hers who also was battling cancer. It is quite detailed and a bit intensive but I do believe that I need to try it -- at least once -- just to see if it benefits me at all.

I initially thought to start the detox program at the beginning of the month. But I chose instead to wait until after the Kappa festivities because I knew that I was going to party and hang out all weekend.

I will post parts of the detox and keep you abreast of the changes that I feel as I go through the program. I've been reading a lot of books on breast cancer and in almost every book (where there is a focus on nutrition) there is a definite strong urging to clean up your eating habits and work on making good clean nutritional choices a component of your treatment plan.

I've been encouraged by a few people to move to a more holistic and natural lifestyle. To remove meat and sugar (and alcohol) from my diet.

** rolling eyes **

Y'all know that is going to be H-A-R-D for me. I love a good steak, some pork and some chicken. I could go for a ribeye from Ruth's Chris RIGHT NOW... (laughs) but... its time to refocus on taking better care of myself and learning to incorporate everything that will make my life better (and longer).

One of the difficult emotional issues I am dealing with constantly is the fact that I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as a woman. I am comfortable in my skin, generally happy with my life and breast cancer is threatening to take that away from me at any moment. Its so frustrating.

At any rate... this train is about to take a different angle. I will have to work slowly with reducing my meat intake and really work hard at reducing my sugar intake. I like desserts a lot, but I will have to do things a different way.

Life is just simply different now. No matter how much I wish it wasn't. To paraphrase Marlo Stanfield from "The Wire"... I want it to be one way, but its the other.

Aug 7, 2009

how a pedicure reminded me that i'm making it over...


Remember that old gospel song..."how I got over"? That's on my mind today because my soul is looking back and wondering how I got over.

I got a pedicure last night. I went to a place I had not been to since before my diagnosis (I swore them off after an episode where I felt cheated). But I have always liked their work and feel that the environment is clean and sanitary, as well as comfortable and calming. It was nice. More than ever, I am particularly picky about the environments where I receive services for my body.

When I sat in the chair, I explained to the technician that when he removed the nail polish currently on my toes, he would notice that my nails were discolored but it was okay. I also explained to him that I was in treatment for cancer and that he needed to be extra careful about clipping and scrubbing my feet. No breaks in the skin because I cannot get any infections. Some nail salons are not diligent about the way that they handle their clients. And some people leave nail salons with nasty infections. That is not acceptable or tolerable for me. I have to guard my safety in every situation now.

He listened and he was very gentle. But when he removed the gaudy design that was on my big toes -- the look of shock on his face (and the lady sitting next to me) was in direct opposition to the smile that slowly grew on mine. They were stunned that my toes were so black. BUT... (praise God)... the discoloration is receding.

It was a beautiful sight to me. True to my oncologist's warnings, the chemotherapy wrecked havoc on my nails, my skin and my hair. My fingernails went black very quickly and started falling off shortly after. You remember those posts about the bleeding nail beds and all that misery? I was told that my toes would do the same. And they did discolor, turned an awful shade of purple and black. But they never fell off. Which I was grateful for because I've lost toenails in the past and it is NOT FUN at all. (and its yucky to look at)

But my pedicure last night gave me an opportunity to be a witness to my own progress. I have only 3 toes that are discolored. At one time it was 9. One of the three is only ever so slightly discolored at the tip. The other two toes have a broader band of the discoloration across them -- but the base of the nail is clear and blemish free.

That soothes my spirit like a cool breeze on a hot day. You just don't know. (smile)

Clear nails are a sign of good health. I have learned that during this journey. I always took my clear nailbeds for granted. I assumed that everyone had them, and wasn't aware that your nails could be anything else. Now I know better. Your nails are a barometer for your health which is why doctors look at your hands when they examine you. To get an idea of what (if any) deficiencies you may have.


My toes are hot pink now... with a multi-colored design on the two that are most discolored. Sooooo... very cute.

But also so very much a blessing.

(crying) It is so wonderful to realize that this journey that has taken such a hard toll on my body and my spirit.... has not taken so much that I cannot bounce back.

My hands look so normal now. My nails are clear and strong. No discoloration, no bleeding, no peeling nails. My eyebrows are thick again, though one is thicker than the other. But they are almost back to normal as well. My hair is growing... its really curly, and sort of cute, but there is hair up there. And its a beautiful thing. My friends are laughing at me now because I have more hair now than I did before cancer because I used to keep my hair cut very low. I plan to let this mop grow as long as it can. I am learning to take very good care of my hair and I'm treating it (and myself) as gently as I can.

Even my skin is rebounding. Its still pretty dry but I make sure to slather my moisturizers and lotions on all the time. My radiation scar is lightening up (not fast enough for my nerves) so I'm still applying my bio-oil every day and my aquaphor and my other cream to the area all the time. I want that big square shadow GONE from my chest, immediately.

The lady sitting next to me last night getting her pedicure felt sorry for me when she heard that I had cancer. She asked me how I was doing and said that it was so sad that I was going through all of that. I agreed that it had been a sad experience... but its a year later ...

AND I'M STILL HERE.

So, its okay. God is good to me. Even though the progress is happening in small increments, sometimes so small that I don't notice, it is happening. It is happening. My body will never be the same, that much is true. But, my body is healing slowly... all the way down to my little toes. And I couldn't be happier about it.

A year from now, you may not be able to tell by looking at me that there ever was an issue with me. I think I'm starting to understand how that sister felt at the Cancer Gala when she expressed how much cancer had given her. This isn't the journey I would have picked for myself, or any of my friends or family. But I cannot ignore the lessons that it is providing me. Love, compassion, empathy, courage, resilience, humility, responsibility, trust and resolve. Just a few of the things that I'm learning so far.

I'm sure there's more to come.

Aug 4, 2009

some days i don't want to share my feelings


Tomorrow is chemo day.

Its been nearly a year since the first time I had my port accessed and my body was flooded with medicine for hours. And while it has gotten easier to deal with this part of my treatment, its still unsettling and nerve-inducing. But, anxiety aside... tomorrow is chemo day. Gotta suck it up and keep it moving.

There are days when I don't want to share my thoughts and feelings about this journey. Dark thoughts and scary dreams still dog my mind. They don't happen everyday, but they happen enough that I continue to have to work at keeping myself upbeat and grateful. Sharing my feelings (especially when they are deeply sad or frustrating) is difficult because this journey is hard and I want it to be easier for the next person. I don't want to frighten anyone -- at least not anymore than our media already does -- about dealing with breast cancer. But the path is what it is and it is not easy. Some days I am deeply sad and very discouraged and that's just the truth of the matter.

Blogging about this experience has changed my life in ways I didn't imagine last August. I have made friends because of this blog. I have had my writings shared all across the internet because of this blog. I have reconnected with family and friends as well. What I haven't done... is become completely accustomed to being so open about all of my emotions.

There have been days when I was too tired of having cancer. Days where I wanted to be done with all of it. I mean, done. I have had days and nights where I cried so much that I wondered how the tears kept flowing.

I watched a repeat episode of Oprah today with Montell Williams. He was discussing his journey with Multiple Sclerosis. His discussion about his depression about the disease really resonated with me. He told a story about how the pain of his illness had driven him to a point where he was sitting on the floor with a gun in his mouth, trying to figure out how to kill himself with the least impact on his family. I totally understood that place.

Now, I have never held a gun anywhere close to my head or my mouth... but I have had days during this past year where I contemplated just being done with all of this. Luckily for me, prayer still works and love prevailed. I am still here. But it is a constant battle. Some days are darker than others, harder than others. And some days it is just a joy to be alive. (by the way, today is not one of those dark days... I just felt like talking about it)

I cannot imagine what it is like to have MS. I cannot imagine what it is like to have a constant pain in my body, everyday for 10 years like Montell Williams. And before last July, I could not imagine what it was like to have cancer and to watch so many dreams fade away or change.

I wrote an article recently for Fight Pink (fight pink website) about my fears with taking tamoxifen. One of my twitter followers (another pink ribbon sister) wrote an entry in her blog about how my fears about tamoxifen reminded her of her fears about not being able to have children (journeying beyond breast cancer) and I've paused to just think about all the women & men whose lives have been altered because of breast cancer.

Dreams deferred... like the Langston Hughes poem asks... what happens to them? Like my pink ribbon sister, I still think (and cry) about the notion of not being able to have children. I really had not given up on that desire before breast cancer but now I find myself fighting to remain optimistic about having my own family. Travelling the world, living abroad, writing a best seller (or two), and getting married are just a few of my dreams that have been deferred because of breast cancer. Not completely denied but definitely thrown a curve ball. Sharing that sadness on this blog is hard. Not because I don't think that anyone will understand. But because I don't really want folks to feel sorry for me.

Its difficult to explain but while I want to remain honest and open about everything that this journey entails, I don't want to encourage pity parties. If someone in your life is dealing with this issue, or if -- God forbid -- you have to deal with this in the future, I want you to be prepared for the emotional war that this illness wrecks. And I want you to be aware that you (or your loved one) WILL get through this. But they can't do it without you. And if its you who is facing this journey, you have to accept the love and help from others. You can't do this alone.

Montell mentioned that he could not get through his illness without the help of his wife. She is there with him, day in and day out helping him to deal with his illness. She is so in tune with him and his pain, that she can see immediately when he's struggling and she steps right in to help him. And she does so in a way that to people looking at him, they cannot tell that she is supporting him in any way. In fact, he said that it looks like he is supporting her because of the way that she fits herself into his side.

I thought that was so awesome and again, I totally understood that feeling. I am getting through this because I am so very loved and supported. My parents, my family and my friends are so wonderful in taking care of me both physically and emotionally that it may appear that I am doing this without their help. The people who read my blog and then send me messages about my posts are truly helping me through this journey.

One of my girlfriends wrote a blog post about breast cancer and the single woman (blackgirlgrown). It was a great post and it clearly addressed my fears and concerns as a single woman dealing with a life-threatening illness. It is damn hard going through this without a husband or a boyfriend. (by the way, in case you couldn't tell -- I miss that man SO MUCH)

However, it isn't impossible to bear this because I do have support. Knowing how much that support has truly helped me through those dark moments of this journey compels me to reach out and help other pink ribbon sisters as much as I can. Now I understand why so many breast cancer survivors reached out to me when I started this journey. You lose a lot with breast cancer but you do gain a lot too. And you realize just how much your support (no matter how minimal it may seem) will matter to the next sister or brother who has to deal with this.

So, I am working through my emotional stuff. And doing it so openly is a true challenge... However, I wouldn't change any part of this blog journey because I know that it is helping and supporting other people on this same path. Whatever you're doing, or did to help someone handle their breast cancer journey... know that you are a blessing.


We're gonna make it... There is no alternative to that decree.