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Is It Really “All About the Titties” on National No Bra Day (a.k.a. Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day)?

no bra day, #nobraday , #nobradayselfies , NOT breast cancer awareness, metastatic breast cancer awareness day, breast cancer, thirties, 30s, 30s, pinktober, Breast Cancer Awareness Month

For Real?? Is the pink ribbon pasted on this pic supposed to make this image less offensive?

Is It Really “All About the Titties” on National No Bra Day (a.k.a. Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day)?

Though it has been three years since I wrote “Put That Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On,” and two since it was published on The Huffington Post, it continues to be featured on Facebook pages and in articles and blog posts, etc. around the world and I continue to receive a surprising number of emails regarding the post and its message(s).

There is good news and bad news here.

I’ll start with the positive.

I hope you know how much I have appreciated hearing from so many of you over the past few years.  I need to tell you that while reading through the comments and messages you’ve sent, there have been so many times when I have been deeply moved by the stories and/or kind words you’ve shared with me.

I’m honored that so many of you have taken the time to read and share the post/article. I’ve been stunned to learn how many of you agree with or at least understand/respect my feelings about pinkwashing, no bra days, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, etc.  Because I stand by my message, I’m grateful that my point of view is shared by many other men and women who have been personally affected by cancer and by a surprising number who’ve had no direct contact with the disease. And I’m thrilled each & every time I hear that the post has changed minds and has educated…because it was clear to me that education was needed three years ago.

That being said, I must admit that despite continued positive support for the post’s message, I was wondering if perhaps my words might be too harsh for this October.  I wondered if those of you who might be reading it for the first time would be shocked by it because maybe, just maybe, things had changed so much so that the post wouldn’t have any relevance on 2015’s National No Bra Day and Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

I figured that a lot could change in two or three years and I had hoped that the themes of the first article wouldn’t be pertinent anymore.

Did things change as I’d hoped? Did “the Internet” deserve a pardon for cleaning up its act? Could I congratulate the former “No Bra Day for Breast Cancer” offenders for turning things around?

Well, you need only look at the image at the top of this page for the answer.  It took me all of 5 seconds to discover that distasteful National No Bra Day “for Breast Cancer Awareness” or “to support breast cancer?” advertising is still running rampant on the Internet this year.

“What’s the big national no bra day, breast cancer awareness month, support breast cancer, set tatas free, october 13, #nobraday, pinktober, 2015, metastatic breast cancer awareness day, bilateral mastectomydeal?” you ask.  Well, for starters, National No Bra Day for Breast Cancer isn’t a real holiday. When/where/how did this event begin and who created the first No Bra Day? Good question. The origin is unclear, but as far as a handful of journalists and I can tell, this event was created by Anastasia M. Doughnuts (hmm, sounds like a real name to me!) through a Facebook event page in July 2011.  The first event had ~400,000 supporters, so it was repeated in July, 2012. Then someone had the bright idea to have a second No Bra Day annually on October 13th to piggyback on Breast Cancer Awareness Month and to bamboozle women into thinking that by removing their bras, they would be helping the breast cancer “cause”.  If you ask me, Anastasia was probably a horny guy who was looking to expand his soft porn collection with girl-next-door pictures of breasts.  Well, Mr. Doughnuts, kudos! Your plan worked! And it may have worked better than you expected based on what I’ve seen this October 13th. Frankly, it seems that some of these girls have no intention of making a difference with respect to breast cancer and may just be using “the cause” or the event to share sexy selfies of themselves.

Sadly, the movement seems to be growing.  This pseudo holiday has gone international with an estimated 43,000 participants on the “International No Bra Day” Facebook page alone.

And much to my chagrin, many of the photos I came across when I searched the web using keywords like No Bra Day Breast Cancer were far more risque than the image I borrowed in 2012/13.  I can safely say that some could even be classed as pornographic.  Dare I say it, but I think “No Bra Day” has sunk to new depths this year.

Rather than give the raciest photos any extra attention by posting them here, I’ll tell you that they are easily searchable if you are so inclined.  But I don’t think the people/groups who posted them deserve the acknowledgement of their efforts to make light of and to sexualize breast cancer.

national no bra day breast cancer awareness 2015 #nobraday #nobradayselfie, bilateral mastectomy, oct. 13, metastatic breast cancer awareness day pinktober

And despite the song & dance on some of the sites that host these images, trivializing and sexualizing breast cancer is exactly what they are doing.

Take the “No Bra Day, For Breast Cancer Awareness” Facebook page.  The page’s owner claims that No Bra Day for Breast Cancer Awareness is meant to be a silly event that “really isn’t about sexualizing or about the breasts.”  But this is his/her description of his/her No Bra for Breast Cancer Awareness page & event:

“Boobies are fantastic, we all think so! What better way to express the way we feel, than to support a full day of boobie freedom? Women are magnificent creatures, and so are their breasts. Let us spend the day unleashing boobies from their boobie zoos. Ladies, free your breasts for 24 hours, our perkiness should not be hidden! It is time that the world see what we’re blessed with!
Your breasts might be colossal, adorable, miniature, full, jiggly, fancy, sensitive, glistening, bouncy, smooth, tender, still blossoming, rosy, plump, fun, silky, jello-like, fierce, jolly, nice, naughty, cuddly, sexxy, perky, or drag the ground.”  Not wearing our bras for the day is about “trying to GIVE hope [to breast cancer survivors], ya know?”

Pardon my language, but all I can say is, What the f*ck?

I could go on with this one, but I think there is no need.  You get the picture.

To be fair, this is nothing compared to some of the no bra day for breast cancer pages/posts/publicity I’ve seen in the past 24 hours.

Some of the posts/words/images that surprised me most can be found on Twitter.  I say “surprising” because yesterday was really the first time I had spent more than 5 minutes on Twitter and what I saw is not what I would’ve expected from a very public and mainstream site where teenagers, grandmothers, TV hosts, breast cancer advocates, movie stars, doctors, journalists and just about every other social media user has an account, whether they are in the public eye or just your average Joe.  Naive as I may be, I expected better for this reason.  I know, I know…

The feed for #NoBraDay (a top trending topic all day yesterday) is an enlightening read.  [  <—-  sarcasm]

no bra day 2

I’ll post this pic from the #NoBraDay twitter feed since it isn’t real. But some of the “real” poses rival this one from the waist up…

I’m pleased to say there are women and men on Twitter who share my stance on the day.  But i’m disappointed to say there are far more who praised yesterday either because it meant they’d get to see naked or braless “boobies, titties, etc.,” or because it meant they could “set their own tatas, girls, boobies, etc.” free and show them to the world if they felt like it.

I won’t lie. Reading/seeing some of these tweets made me dream of locking a handful of these folks in a room with a bunch of topless breastless women (like me) so they could have a little glimpse into at least some of the most obvious possible physical realities of a breast cancer diagnosis in our boob-obsessed world.

I can’t tell you how many perverse comments I read from men and women, how many racy selfies I saw, or how many tweets combined both [like a tweet too provocative to post here — it features a girl’s selfie (including her breasts/nipples and face, etc.) and the words “rape my chest”].  I’m shocked by how many girls were willing to bare their naked breasts in sexy poses “for breast cancer?”

I’ve asked this before, but how the hell could this help anyone with breast cancer and how could it assist with finding a cure or even raising awareness of breast cancer.  If you ask me, these provocative photos and poses do raise awareness of something, but certainly not breast cancer.

I have more to say, more to share, but since National/International No Bra Day has come to a close — and since I’m exhausted — I’m going to wrap this post up.

Before I do, it’s important to tell you that this day, October 13th, is the one day each year dedicated to Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness.  This should be a post of its own (and I will try to address this important day in a future post), but I think it’s rather fitting that I just have time for a brief mention of it here. Why? Because Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day has once again been eclipsed by “No Bra Day.”

Thinking about how a fake holiday that sexualizes breasts and trivializes breast cancer in the name of advancing the breast cancer cause (whatever that is!) and raising awareness for a serious disease that kills ~40,000 women & men each year should turn your stomach.  But knowing that it almost completely diminishes/overshadows Metastatic Breast Cancer on the one day each year designated for MBC Awareness should make your skin crawl.  Give me a break!  One lousy day granted to educate patients and the public about Metastatic Breast Cancer, to recognize the over 100 women & men who die EACH DAY because of this disease, and to acknowledge those who are living with it 24/7.

A less revealing pic from Twitter's celebration of No Bra Day for Breast Cancer... #nobraday

A less revealing pic from Twitter’s celebration of No Bra Day for Breast Cancer… #nobraday

So, yes, it seems that National No Bra Day is still “All About the Titties” and not the women attached to them.  No pardons will be granted this year.

I’ll leave you with the photos I included in my “tweeted” response to the #nobraday & #nobradayselfie posts:

Thank you for reading… All my best to you…

Thank You For Standing By My Side

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's infusion cancer center chemo port blood draw stage 3c IIIc lymph nodes bilateral mastectomy powerport

Hello Dearest Reader,

A quick hello… I’m working on a Breast Cancer Awareness post since Pinktober is clearly upon us again, but in the meantime I just want to pop my head in after these months of silence. I’d like to thank everyone who has reached out to me in some way, who has continued to read & follow, who has shared my posts, or who has had a kind thought for me and/or my boys. You are a warm light in my life and I am grateful…

I apologize for this long & unplanned hiatus. I know you’ve said not to apologize and that I don’t need to feel pressure to post. But I do need to apologize. This blog should be an account of the best & worst of my story and everything in between. But when I feel at my worst and when my anticipated posts take a negative turn, I struggle with hitting the “publish” button, feeling my words may be too negative, or that my writing may not be good enough because I’m not feeling well and am not putting my best foot forward.

I need to push past this for sure… Especially during the month of pink. The truth is, this experience, my life since diagnosis, has not been pink. It has not been pretty. Have some elements been wonderful & bright? Yes, definitely! There have certainly been moments, hours, days that have been special & sweet. These moments are often because of kind, compassionate people who have touched my life or my boys’ lives in some special way during these years. And for that I am thankful.

But I will never be grateful for cancer. This story is filled with good and bad, ups and downs. And I know in my heart that these twists and turns need to be woven into my written story if I am to share the truth of this experience.

Thank you so much for standing by my side, for reading, following, sharing my words, for reaching out to me, for sending kind words, thoughts, wishes for my boys or for me. You are a bright light in my life & I am grateful…

Warmest wishes to you all…

Doing Something a Bit Different This Mother’s Day…

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's fundraising walk fundraiser mother's day support advocacy breast cancer coalition of rochester family

Hello Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for welcoming Morgan so warmly and for encouraging his writing.  He was so pleased to be able to share his thoughts with you — and was even more thrilled to see your “likes” and read your comments.  Definitely a self-esteem booster!  He smiled from ear to ear when he read such kind words from you.  Thank you!!

Well, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before here.  And something that I wasn’t sure I should do — I’ve been going back & forth in my mind all afternoon!  In the end, though, I decided to just post this because it might help an organization and people who I feel are deserving of support…

A very ambiguous way to let you know that the boys & I have decided to use our Mother’s Day to do something a bit different this year.  [Since I have such a bad headache that I’m having trouble forming a coherent thought, I think it would be best if I just pull from something I wrote earlier this afternoon to explain so I don’t make this any more confusing!!]

*********

I’m a bit late to the party (okay, very late!) — I thought/wished/hoped I’d be visiting my family & new baby niece this weekend in VA (but sadly, we couldn’t go) so I didn’t register for tomorrow’s breast cancer walk until today — but hopefully we can still make a bit of a difference with your help!  Every little bit helps…

My sons & I are celebrating Mother’s Day tomorrow by walking in the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s (Mother’s Day) Pink Ribbon Run & Family Fitness Walk to raise funds for an organization that helps women (and men) cope with a breast cancer diagnosis through support groups, educational programs, evening seminars, special events, advocacy, and more.  They strive to ensure that no one feels as though they are facing this awful disease alone.

As you surely know, this is a cause that is very dear to my heart.  Diagnosed with a very aggressive inoperable Stage 3C breast cancer when I had just turned 34 and my twins were in kindergarten, I felt completely overwhelmed and as though the rug had been pulled from beneath me.  

And I’ve heard this sentiment time & time again from women (and men) — young, old, and every age & stage of life in between.  When you hear the words, “You have cancer,” many people feel overwhelmed, scared, etc.  And then they are sent off to make (what may even be life or death) decisions about their treatment & their bodies & a disease they may not know much about…  

The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester does their best to make sure no one feels alone at any point after their diagnosis — whether they were diagnosed that day or 20 years past.  And they seek to educate patients, survivors and the public about this insidious disease and to advocate for all of us (and future generations) not just locally and statewide, but nationally as well.  They understand the importance of being a voice for change and seek to educate lawmakers & elected officials about this disease and its causes & the devastating toll it can take on women/men & their families.  And they work with citizen and environmental agencies & organizations to increase awareness of environmental hazards related to breast cancer & other public health risks to protect & educate current and future generations.    

Please help the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester continue to provide their vital services, advocacy and support.

Remember, every little bit helps!  There is no amount too small.  Even $1 or $2 can help.  But since the minimum online donation the site can accept is $10, please don’t be discouraged.  If you’d to give a donation under 10 or if you’d like to pay with a check or cash — please send me a quick email to make other arrangements for your donation. [CancerInMyThirties@yahoo.com]  Thank you!  

My boys and I will walk tomorrow to honor all of the women (and men) who’ve ever heard those life-altering words — “You have cancer” — and who are still here with us, and we will walk to remember and pay tribute to all of the loved ones this horrible disease has taken.  If you’d like us to add a name (or names) of someone special to you to our shirts, please send me a quick email by 5 a.m…

Thanks SO very much!

Leisha & family    

If you’d prefer to send a check / or to give cash / if you have questions or if you’d like to contact me, please don’t hesitate to email me:  CancerInMyThirties@yahoo.com   Thank you!

P.S. We couldn’t decide on a photo so if you scroll through you’ll see some photos where the boys (and I) are actually looking at the camera!    🙂

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If you’d like to visit the fundraising page I just set up through the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s event:

Leisha’s Family & Friends Group

You can read more, make a donation, etc. there

And if not, no worries!  No pressure at all!  The boys & I are happy to simply participate. Plus the weather should be nice ( and I think some of their/my friends will be walking with us), so “the walk” should be a great way to spend the day and to honor women & mothers along the way…

Wishing you & your families a lovely Mother’s Day…

All my best to you, always… 

*****

Cancer In Many Languages by Morgan (Leisha’s son)

breast cancer 30s thirties 30's stage iiic 3c mastectomy dogs kids family life

This is me with Kevin (our big dog), weenie (our little dog), and puppy (my nanna’s dog) pretending to play xbox with me  🙂

This is Morgan, my mom’s son.  Thank you for your comments and nice messages and likes on my last post.

My mom has been sick with infections for a while and is very tired & not feeling well so i thought i would write another post for her.

This time I thought I would write a post so you could see what the word cancer is in languages around the world.  In English, it is CANCER.  Cancer is “a malignant growth or tumor resulting from the division of abnormal cells.”

“Cancerous tumors are malignant, which means they can spread into, or invade, nearby tissues. In addition, as these tumors grow, some cancer cells can break off and travel to distant places in the body through the blood or the lymph system and form new tumors far from the original tumor.”

This is CANCER in other languages:

KANKER

KANCER

السرطان
ԽԵՑԳԵՏԻՆ

KHETS’ GETIN

XƏRÇƏNG
РАК

RAK

ক্যান্সার
Kyānsāra

RAKA

CÀNCER

KAINSAR

癌症

RAKOVINA

KRÆFT

KANKER

KANSER

KHANSA

 KANCERO
syöpä
καρκίνος
kansè
סרטן
KRABBAMEIN
AILSE
CANCRO
癌
GAN
암
AM
Vėžys
KREFT
سرطان
RAK
câncer
рак
cáncer
โรคมะเร็ง
Rokh marĕng
KANZER
ung thư
CANSER
umdlavuza


 ❤   🙂

There are more lanaguages and more words for cancer but i’m tired and my mom says i have to go to bed! But this should be enough to show you that cancer is such an important and major thing that there’s a word for it in every language. Every part of the world knows about cancer. It’s everywhere! Cancer doesn’t care who you are or where you live or what language you use. It’s a horrible disease!

Thank you for reading my mom’s blog and for supporting her. I know you mean a lot to her. I know she’ll be back and write again when she feels better. Shes been really tired but shes been on a lot of strong antibiotics for 6 or 7 wks now so i hope she’s better enough to write soon.

Thank you! Goodnight! from Morgan

❤     🙂       ❤      🙂      ❤     🙂

Morgan

breast cancer thirties family 3c dog weiner weenie doxie dachshund 30s

Me, Mom, and Weenie Chillin’

 

Hi my name is Morgan my mom was diagnosed with stage 3C breast cancer when I was in kindergarten.  As you may know I wrote a post when I was 8. I am now 11 in fifth grade and she has had cancer for about 5 years.  When I look back it tells me my mom is STRONG.(of course I already thought that). She has fought this long and I will always love her in the present and the future.

THANK YOU, MORGAN

 

🙂   ❤    😉      ❤    ❤   ❤   🙂

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Hello, My Friends… AND Weekly Photo Challenge: Early Bird

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's bilateral mastectomy stage 3c IIIc illness

Again I am thoroughly amazed by how much time has passed since my last post…  But I couldn’t allow another day to pass without saying a quick “hello” to you…

I have so much to say, so much to share.  But finding the energy to tell you the things I’d like to tell you is something I’ve been struggling with.  Still.

Please know that I am grateful for everyone who continues to reach out to me or to have a passing thought about me — and/or my boys…  Your thoughts & kind words mean so much…

My warmest, most heartfelt good wishes for you all xxx

early bird 2 ——————

And you know how much I enjoy sharing my love of photography, so here are a few photos that reflect The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge theme: “Early Bird.”

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s family children weekly photo challenge early bird the daily post bilateral mastectomy island

If you would like to participate with your own photos, just click here or here.

Warmth — Weekly Photo Challenge & Thoughts Of You…

 

Radiation, Cancer Center, breast cancer thirties 30s 30's kids twins family dogs morgan william mastectomy Christmas Hanukkah 2014 lymph nodes weekly photo challenge warmth the daily post

 

I can’t believe I’ve allowed so much time to pass — again.  It just happens.  It’s so easy to let this happen.  And yet it is so difficult.  So difficult.

I’m doing it here.  I’m doing it in my life outside of this blog.  I’m doing it everywhere.

Pulling away.  Distancing myself.

And I don’t want to do this.

It just happens.

There is so much to tell you.  So much I should have shared with you about everything that has been going on.  But…

I’m just so tired.  So tired.  So tired of feeling awful.  Of being in pain.  Of being tired.  Of feeling sick.  Of vomiting.  Of everything…

And I realize how terrible that sounds.

I should be grateful to be here.  To be alive.  And I am.  But there is a part of me that feels as though maybe that just isn’t enough anymore.  That maybe quality — and not just quantity — of life is important, too.

Of course this is a complicated topic.  Even my own point of view changes throughout the day and as I lie awake at night often feeling too sick or in too much pain to sleep.  There is no easy answer where all of this cancer and cancer treatment “stuff” is concerned.  On the one hand, I (like so many) have been driven to do everything I can to survive.  But on the other hand, I never really considered how much collateral damage there would be.

Who really does?

For many of us — and for many of our oncologists — the goal really is survival and/or life extension.  Sure, there are consent forms and there’s a bit of discussion about the risks of our treatments, surgeries, etc.  But how many of us fully appreciate what the cost (and I’m not even addressing the financial toll…yet) of these sometimes Herculean efforts will be?

I’d venture to guess that the answer is “not too many.”

There is so much I want to say.  So much I want to tell you.  There are so many topics I’d like to cover here.  Questions I want to answer.  And I know I need to try to do better here.  To be present more.  To give this platform the respect it deserves.

In the New Year I hope to do better.  To tell you more.  Because there is so much to tell.  And to address the questions/issues/etc. that so many of you have written and asked me to address.

I will try…

For now I will say “hello again” and tell you that I’ve missed you and that I hope you are doing okay and that you had a nice holiday.  And I will thank you for continuing to stand by me, to check in, to care.  And I will tell you that you are appreciated more than you know…

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's kids twins family dogs morgan william mastectomy Christmas Hanukkah 2014 lymph nodes weekly photo challenge warmth the daily post

And for old times’ sake I’ll leave you with our Christmas card and some photos that illustrate The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge topic—  “Warmth.”  — for me.  {If you would like to participate in the challenge, just click on the link above.}  In the Christmas card you’ll see two humans and two pups who warm my heart.

Radiation, Cancer Center, breast cancer thirties 30s 30's kids twins family dogs morgan william mastectomy Christmas Hanukkah 2014 lymph nodes weekly photo challenge warmth the daily post

And in the fleece photos, you’ll see a literal example of warmth.  My boys (and one of their special friends) were asked to do a service project for school.  They chose to volunteer their time at one of my cancer centers, a place that is very dear to my heart.  They helped to prepare fleece ponchos to gift to new patients set to undergo radiation.

I’m not sure who first thought of the idea, but I know these warm ponchos will provide a bit of comfort for patients who will appreciate them, I’m sure.

The Cancer Center’s social worker was kind enough to give the boys a tour of the radiation suite that I once visited daily while I was undergoing that phase of my treatment so they could see where the patients will be wearing the ponchos.

Thank you, friend…  Sending my warmest wishes to you during the holidays and as we head into the New Year…  xxx

 

 

Hello Again…

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's cancer center kids lymph nodes mastectomy stage 3c

Hello Dear Readers,

I realize time has gotten the best of me again.  Time and a host of other variables — illness, fatigue, pain, busy schedules, etc.

But I can say with complete sincerity that not a day has passed when my thoughts haven’t turned to you.

You have been on my mind.  Every single day.  I miss the outlet.  I miss the conversations.  I miss the connections I’ve made with so many of you.  And I miss those special few friends who were strangers before my first post and who I met through this blog.

And though you would never know it from my silence, your comments and emails and facebook messages have reached me.  They have touched and helped me.  And I’m certain they have helped others, too.

To my newest visitors and followers, thank you for being here.  Thank you for your comments and for taking the time to read, follow, and in some cases, share your personal stories.  Even if I don’t write a response right away, know that your words have touched me deeply, that your stories have touched others, and that you are not alone.

And thank you to those of you who have been with me for longer.  Your continued support and readership and comments always mean so much.

Thank you for helping me change the way people think about cancer.  Thank you for helping to create a platform where those who have been touched by cancer in one way or another can have a voice.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.  It is so flattering, touching, humbling to read your comments.  You are all amazing.  And you have helped me far more than I could ever express.

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And I realize it is fluffy Pinktober again…  I hope to have a new Breast Cancer Awareness Month post up tonight or tomorrow…  In the meantime, from what of seen, a good deal of what I wrote 2 years ago in National No Bra Day & Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put That Pink Can Of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On  still applies…

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Thanks for reading…  Take care & talk to you soon — I promise!

On a Dark and Winding Road

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's illness twins lymph nodes bilateral mastectomy stage 3c boys family stonybrook park life

This is where I have been during my absence.  On a dark and winding road.  It has taken me nowhere good.  It has been fraught with pain and stress and painful, stressful days.  And weighty revelations that come when you feel as though you just can’t handle one more thing — until one more thing comes and you begin to tell yourself that you can’t handle one more one more thing.  But still I walk this thorny path.  Or drag myself along its rough terrain.  And I wonder what choice I have.  Or if it is even a choice at all.

But I am here.  My twin boys are with me.  And though it doesn’t “feel like” summer in our world most days, summer is here.  My favorite time of year.  The little break we have from snow and cold and grey is here.  And it means more time with my growing boys and dogs.  And for that I am grateful.

I am grateful to you, too.  For continuing to “visit” even during my silence.  For continuing to leave messages or send emails.  I feel fortunate to have you.  I hope you know how fortunate…  Thank you…

p.s. My youngest sister (21…well, she turned 22 days after getting off the plane) just returned home from Alaska with her greyhound mix, Gracie.  So that is a good thing, too.  We’ve missed her and hadn’t seen her in a year and a half — and now they are living in my house!  Here’s a photo —

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's illness twins lymph nodes bilateral mastectomy stage 3c boys family stonybrook park life

A fun afternoon with my littlest sister & the boys

Thank you all…  I hope life is being kind to you…

 

 

 

I’m Sorry… An Open Letter to My Followers

 

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's lymph node nodes axillary node dissection bilateral mastectomy illness port powerport needle anesthesia lymphedema

Hello Dear Readers,

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post.  I thought about writing to you.  Every. Day.  I began posts that I never finished.  I had things to tell you.  I took a notebook to my appointments and filled page after page with thoughts meant for you over these long weeks months (gasp!) apart.  But I just couldn’t.  Share them.  Here.

It’s difficult for me to admit that things have been just plain crappy.  I’ve had infection after infection (pneumonia, kidney, cellulitis).  Super antibiotic after super antibiotic.  And I have zero energy.  Just getting out of bed each day has been such a struggle.

I’m beginning to think that if I don’t tell myself repeatedly on a morning that I don’t have a choice, I may not be able do it.  I am no stranger to forcing my body and mind to push on when they are begging me to just rest.  But pleading is being replaced more and more by screaming on the part of my exhausted body and mind.  And sometimes I am met with absolute refusal.  There are times during the day, or especially in the early to late evening, when I am just hit with insurmountable fatigue and I must stop, wherever I am, and lie down.

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This was happening before I was diagnosed.  In the months before I heard the words, “Everything we biopsied was malignant,” I was struck with fatigue like this.  The kind of fatigue that stops you in your tracks.  The kind of fatigue that lets you know that if you don’t find a place to lie down and sleep immediately, your body will find one for you, be it a bench or a chair or a carpet or a patch of grass.  Your body doesn’t care about the where.  It will drop you anywhere.

This happens about once or twice a day now.  It’s usually after I’ve been up and out for appointments, etc.  By the time the kids get home, have dinner, and I help with homework, it has already been creeping up on me.  And then I just hit a wall and cannot do “it” anymore — whatever “it” may be.  Not for another minute.  And I go to the couch, drop down, and cannot move again.  It takes a great deal of cajoling to get my body to take me upstairs for bed.  Brushing my teeth seems an insurmountable task.  I just need to crawl into bed after the exhausting trip up the stairs to my room, and fall asleep.

But it is happening earlier in the day, too.  A few days ago, I went to an appointment in the morning and had to lie down in the car afterward and cancel my afternoon appointment.  And when I finally made it home, I had to lie down and couldn’t move again until the kids came home and I convinced my body that it no longer had the luxury of resting time.  But after dinner, I had to lie down again.

I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but this is not normal for me.  I can usually push, push, push, until everything is taken care of, everyone is in bed, the day is done.  And then I will lay awake for hours, waiting for sleep to come.  And it eventually will, but sometimes not until the birds are beginning to stir outside and I know that the faint early morning light will soon creep through my velvety merlot curtains.  And just a few hours later, it will be time to get up with the kids and for the school routine to begin before I head out the door myself.

Well, that “normal” is long gone…  This hasn’t been happening for months now.  Now, when I hit that metaphorical wall, I will drift in and out of sleep.  Sometimes just until the dead of night.  Other times it is until the dawn begins to break.  But I just can’t stay awake without a major effort.

I do wake frequently.

I was experiencing night sweats “before.”  During the worst of the chemos.  And then ever since my radical hysterectomy and salpingo-oopherectomy two years ago.  But the hot flashes and night sweats that spiked when I had to have my my surgery two years ago had begun to wane (well, somewhat, anyway — when I say “wane,” what I really mean is slip down to a more manageable number/degree, if there is such a thing) about a year ago.

And now… They’ve ramped up again with a vengeance and have become far more intense and overwhelming than what I had been accustomed to, even when they were at their worst.  They have been even more overwhelming and exhausting in the past six months than they were in the first year without my ovaries.  I am waking about three times a night now just completely drenched.   So much so that I need to change whatever I’m wearing each time.  And it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.  Flannel head-to-toe pajamas — drenched.  A soft robe — drenched.  A cozy sweatshirt and sweatpants — drenched.  Yoga pants and a light top — drenched.  A thin t-shirt and undies — drenched.  Just the undies — drenched.  It really doesn’t matter.  I will often lay a blanket down in the bed to cover the soaked bedding and to give myself a fresh start for the night.  And then I’ll do this maybe twice more per night after each soaking.

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I’ve tried everything I can think of to curb the frequency or intensity of the night sweats, but nothing helps.

And then every day I find myself breaking out into cold sweats.  My face is dripping with sweat.  Drops of sweat roll down my legs and arms.  And then I find myself shivering and needing to change my clothes because I am so, so wet.

Sure, this happened before.  To a degree.  Surgical menopause at 35 will do that to you.  Or at least that’s what it did to me.  But this, this is so much worse.  It doesn’t feel normal.  So far from it.

It’s concerning and exhausting, to say the least.   I’m hoping (I think?) this increase in frequency and intensity might have something to do with the fevers I’ve been experiencing on a now regular basis over the past six months?  But then, what is causing the fevers?  Sure, I’ve had lots of infections.  But I’ve been on antibiotics consistently, with breaks of only a couple of days, if at all, between.  So it’s unclear as to whether the fevers are linked to the infections.

Sometimes I’m glad I’m too tired to expend the mental energy to think about it!

Well, this has become more of an explanation post than an apology letter.  But I began intent upon focusing on the apology.  Because I do owe you an apology.  You’ve stood by me, reading, commenting, emailing, or sending messages in some other way.  And I haven’t been the best with the communication.  Okay, I’ve been downright shitty, really.  But it is not because I haven’t thought of you.

It is not because I haven’t appreciated you.

It is not because I haven’t wanted to reach out to you.

It is just because.

I wish I could say or do better than this.  But I will try my best to give you what I can, when I can.  And I sincerely hope you’ll continue to reach out to me as you have been.  Because it has meant so much to me.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, I am listening.  And I am grateful to know that you’ve thought of me, even if it is just a fleeting thought.   Because sometimes that makes all the difference in the world…

Thank you…

p.s.  Because you know I love to stick photos wherever I can, I’m adding a few pictures that illustrate (at least I think so!) the theme of The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week.  This week’s challenge asks participants to show readers a “Room” or “Rooms.”  Here are a couple of rooms other than the hospital and Cancer Center rooms above…

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The rooms below are from a visit to “Give Kids the World” with my boys’ best friend and his family.

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B has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and was granted his “wish” by the Make A Wish Foundation and “Give Kids the World” back when he and my twins were in pre-school.

We were fortunate to be able to return to “Give Kids the World” with B and his family recently.  I am good friends with B’s mom.  The boys and B’s brother and sister all get along so well.  And we like B’s dad, too.  So it was wonderful to have some special time with B and his whole family.

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These are a few photos from a visit to a series of special rooms on the campus where each child leaves a shiny gold star containing his/her wish behind…  The ceilings were covered with wishes.  What a moving experience.

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Okay, off to bed.  Thanks so much for visiting.  I hope life is being kind to you…

My warmest wishes…

 

Silence Isn’t Golden — and — Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside / Little Dog Inside Big Dog

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There have been times in my life when I have agreed with the title of that old song, “Silence is Golden,” by The Four Seasons.  But my silence here has not proven to be one of those times.  As the days following my last post crept to weeks and then to months, I couldn’t believe that so much time had passed.  But I still felt powerless to do much about it.

Call it the result of unrelenting exhaustion.  Call it the result of a muddled mixture of intense pain and a haziness induced by strong opioid painkillers.  Call it an inability to balance new/worsening symptoms with life and its demands.  Call it what you will, but whatever it was, I just wasn’t able to pull myself through “it” to find the energy and space to write to you.

I value our time together.  I value our relationship.  And I didn’t want to just pop in to do a quick, crappy post while I was in the midst of feeling as though I was caught in a tailspin.

YOU:    “So, is it over?  Are you better?  Is this going to be a terrific post that was well worth the wait?”

ME:      “No.  No.  And no.”

YOU:    “Aw man, I was hoping for something riveting and inspiring.”

ME:      “I’m sorry, this post will be neither.  But I figured that if I waited any longer, the gap would just widen and it would be even more difficult to return.  So I am here, for better or worse, with a crappy post just meant to let you know that I have missed you and that I do value our relationship — probably more than you’ll ever know.”

ME:      “And, given the nature of some of the emails I’ve received from some of you, I felt that some of you might be wondering if I’d gotten much sicker and perhaps moved on to the great blue yonder.  To be honest, I would wonder the same thing, especially because some of my “virtual” cancer friends (cancer bloggers or online breast cancer community friends) have disappeared in this way when they’ve died.  Silence.  Then, after a few days or weeks or so, a husband or best friend or mom will pop in to say, “Sorry, _______ died last month.  I know she’d want you to know.”

YOU:    “Well, I didn’t want to say it, but, um, yes, maybe “that” thought crossed my mind.  This is a cancer blog, afterall!”

Okay, all kidding aside, I wanted/needed to say hello.  I wanted you to know that you are still in my thoughts.  I wanted to respond to the kind emails and messages I’ve received.

And I wanted to apologize for such a long silence.

Sure, I’ve felt crappy.  Sure, I’m struggling to manage life and the boys and everything else while feeling so cruddy.  But you’ve come to mean a lot to me and I owe you more than this silence.  Plus, this is a cancer blog, so I should be blogging about feeling crappy and about the ins and outs and ups and downs of this whole experience.

I should.

I know I should.

But I wage this positive vs. negative battle with myself all the time.  In my day-to-day life, I try to be positive and upbeat because this is what is expected of me.  So it is difficult for me to give myself permission to be “Debbie-Downer” in my day-to-day.  And sometimes that cup runneth over to my blog, too.  If you’ve been reading all along you know that this doesn’t happen often — I usually don’t have much trouble “telling it like it is” and spreading some gloom here! — but it does happen sometimes.

I’ll try to elaborate a bit more on how life has been soon.  But for now I wanted to end the silence.  Close the gap.  Get back on the horse.

And I wanted to thank you for sticking by me.

I’d also like to know how you are doing…  During my silence I have not only been a bad blogger, but a lousy blog reader.  But it isn’t because I haven’t thought of you.  In fact, I enjoy reading your blogs far more than I enjoy creating posts for my own, so I’m certain I’ve missed you much more than you’ve missed me!  So if you have a moment, please drop me a line / leave me a comment to let me know how you are — and I promise to pop over to visit your blog soon.

And I will be back soon to fill you in.  Even if I just write crappy one paragraph posts.  I’ll shoot for “quantity vs. quality” rather than the “neither” I’ve been giving you!

p.s. For old times’ sake, I’ll include a few photos that happen to be in line with The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge.  Okay, “on purpose” rather than “happen to be.”  But you know how I like pictures!  This week’s challenge topic?  “Inside.”  Participants are asked to photograph “something” inside “something else.”  [There’s more to it than that, but I’ll give you the skinny version in case you are tired, too!]

You know how I love my dogs, so I’m giving you photographs of “Ginger Inside Kevin.”  Or “Little Dog Inside Big Dog,” because I refer to them as “Big” and “Little.”

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Kevin is a Heinz 57 rescue who we brought to live with us after my dogsoulmate, Mattie, my mini schnauzer, died of cancer in 2009.  Ginger was a “Christmas/chemo/mastectomy/more chemo/radiation/and still more treatment gift” my sister gave me after I’d had a bunch of chemo and my bilateral mastectomy, and then was then destined to go through more chemo and radiation and other treatments.  My littlest sister, Laura, thought she would be a wonderful snuggler and that she’d make it easier to get through the difficult days, so she wrapped her up for Christmas…  And what a wonderful gift she was/is.

Well, ever since Ginger/Little’s arrival, she has ruled the roost.  Though significantly smaller than Kevin, she is definitely the alpha.  From the very beginning, she would climb into or onto Kevin and he wouldn’t move a muscle.  To this day, if she climbs into his curled up body, he stays in this position until she is ready to get up — mostly because she’ll bark at him if he moves an inch!  And since they are coincidentally almost identically colored, it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.  Most pictures of the two of them together look as though I’ve snapped a photo of Kevin with a small dog-like growth protruding from his neck or back.

A looong explanation for a few photos!:

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Can you find Ginger?

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Once in a while, Kevin builds up the nerve to *attempt* to knock Little off his chair. He is never successful…

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***Good night and thank you for visiting.  Thank you for helping me through the dark days, even when you don’t know you are doing this…***

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I’ve Missed You — and Weekly Photo Challenge: Object

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Hello dear readers,

I realized weeks ago that I had not yet posted in the New Year, but was feeling so awful that I just couldn’t force myself to do anything about it.  I decided tonight that this had to change this!

First of all, I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year.  May 2014 be filled with peace, joy, and (hopefully) health.  As I welcomed the New Year this year, my thoughts turned to family and friends rather than resolutions.  Even when it feels as though the world is crumbling around me, I know that I am fortunate in that I have good people in my life.  And I count you in that mix of important people who make my life better.  How many bloggers are fortunate enough to have readers email or leave comments to make sure they are alright?  I’m grateful to say that I am that one of those lucky people.

There is much I want to tell you and much I want to share — but I’ve been so crippled by pain and fatigue that I’m just going to have to share things in bits and pieces.  I hope you will continue to bear with me!

Until my next post, I will leave you with a couple of photos of the boys and a school owl they were asked to take care of and write about for a weekend.  These photos are from an Autumn ago.  There is far too much ice and snow on the ground for grass or light jackets or John Deere gators in the yard right now!  But the memories are nice…

All my very best to you —

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p.s. If you’d like to see other Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge photos, please click here or here.

Lone Jellyfish, Candy Apple Redhead, Happy Holidays, and a Weekly Photo Challenge

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In a tank full of jellyfish, we watched as this lone jelly moved gracefully away from the others

It has been far too long, but I am popping in to wish you all a very happy holiday season.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or warmest wishes for whatever holiday you might celebrate.

The boys and I celebrated a lovely (but exhausting!) Christmas together.  They both made special cards and scoured the house and found items to wrap up and place under the tree.  Picture that scene from one of my favorite Christmas movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  [If you haven’t seen the movie, you should.  My sister and I loved it so much as kids that we watched it more times than I’d care to admit.  As a result, we can recite the script verbatim, complete with accents and inflection, also something I only admit sparingly.]  Aunt Edna arrives at Clark’s house with two gifts.  One box is leaking and the other is meowing.  Old Aunt Edna doesn’t have much money (and is a bit senile) but still wants to give gifts, so she has wrapped up jell-o and her cat.

Thankfully the boys did not giftwrap the dogs this year.  [Yes, they wrapped the little one up last year.  She did NOT like it.]  They gave me chocolates from the cupboard, one of my favorite winter scarves (which was a relief because I thought I had lost it, but it was under the tree the whole time!), and a few other special items they found.

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“One of these birds is not like the others”
The photo doesn’t do the vibrant red hue of this red-crested cardinal justice. What a beautiful bird!  [What is a photo of birds doing in this post?  Trust me, there is a reason.  Read on…]

They gave their dad some things we were able to procure together, like a nice Columbia fleece and some of his favorite candy.  They also made homemade ornaments with their photos on them and special cards to accompany their gifts.  And they wrapped up a handheld showerhead we had gotten a few years ago for their bathroom.  Their current cheap showerhead leaks so much that their is minimal water pressure when they shower.  It takes them forever to rinse their hair.  So we acquired the new one from our struggling kitchen and bath supply business.  It’s lower quality than what we normally sell, so we decided to keep it for ourselves and figured it should solve the boys’ bathroom dilemma.

The only problem is that my husband hasn’t installed this unopened self-proclaimed “easy installation” faucet in the three years it has been sitting next to their bathroom door.  You are probably wondering why I haven’t just done it myself.  Believe me, the thought has crossed my mind a thousand times.  But I can’t manage it because I can’t lift my arms over my head thanks to the bilateral mastectomy & axillary lymph node dissection surgeries.  [Of course it would have helped to have continued my intense physical therapy sessions instead of failing to show up one day because I was too tired.  In my defense, I did call them to tell them I would reschedule when I felt better.  That was 2 years ago, though.  Woops!]

The boys thought that if they wrapped up their new showerhead and some of the other home improvement items that have been gathering dust, the jobs would get done.   I even caught them wrapping the curtain rods from their bedroom windows!  I had been really sick for months when we decided to remove the curtains, rods and their anchors so we could paint the boys’ room (ocean colors with freehand waves and plans for ocean creatures).  I had just started the painting when I had to go in for biopsies on both breasts and lymph nodes. The biopsies confirmed the doctor’s cancer diagnosis 24 hours later, and the diagnosis and more biopsies and scans were immediately followed by my first lymph node and powerport implantation surgery and intense chemo until I was ready for the mastectomy and full-blown lymph node removal surgery 5 months later.

Needless to say, I could not reinstall the curtain rods because of the “not being able to raise my arms thing,” so the twins still have no curtains up in their room.  Part of me thought, “good for them for wrapping up their curtain rods!”  But they know their father all too well.  They said they were sure they would have to wrap all of those things up again next year because (I’ll paraphrase, but it was something like this) “Dad doesn’t care about our curtains and showerhead and smoke alarm batteries and blah blah blah… because they are not the internet or a video game.”

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I know, I know. You are saying, “WTF, another bird? What does this picture have to do with the holidays?”

We had a quiet Christmas Eve.  I worked on finishing Christmas cards between appointments.  I’d been up until 3 or 4 a.m. for the few nights before, writing personal notes on the cards (and reapplying for health insurance).  I mailed a stack each day for those 3 days.  So when I was finished with my appointments at the hospital, my husband and the boys came to get me and it was a relief to stop at the post office to mail out the last stack of cards.

I was glad to be heading home after a long day.  I was tired and had a lengthy to-do list that had to be finished before Christmas the next day.  But my husband’s bad mood won out and when something set him off, he decided to punish us by parking the car and refusing to take us home or to relinquish the keys.  We sat for over an hour like this.  Luckily, I keep warm blankets in the car (it’s really a minivan) during the winter, so I gave the boys a couple each and they alternated reading and playing DS (handheld Nintendo games), while I worked on the Christmas cards that didn’t need to be mailed and finished my insurance paperwork.  It was 17 degree F and snowing but I dared not challenge him too much because I’ve learned that it isn’t worth it when he is in one of these moods.  And I honestly didn’t think he would keep it up for that long.

We sat until the kids and I couldn’t wait to go to the bathroom.  So the boys and I got out of the car and walked to a nearby grocery store to use their restroom.  When we got back in the car, the boys insisted that we go home.  We were going to Christmas Eve Mass at 7:30 (which they were not looking forward to earlier in the day, but were now begging to go home for) and we were still 30 minutes from home and had to eat dinner and get ready to go.  So he reluctantly drove us home.

We barely made it home to eat, and I didn’t have time to change out of my wet clothes (a byproduct of a day full of hot flashes — a gift from my hysterectomy) and then ended up getting to church late.  For as often as we go to church (not often at all!), I don’t think we should walk in late.  We hadn’t been in weeks and filing in while everyone was seated and the priest was watching us walk in the door was not a good way to return.  But the service was nice.  And we ran into my aunt and uncle (and my cousin and her boyfriend), so that was a good surprise.

Christmas was nice.  I was up until about 4 writing long notes in books and special cards for the boys and helping Santa get things ready (he left notes for the boys and personalized their stockings, etc.).  Comet even left a note and explained how he was sorry for leaving a bit of a mess on the front step — he left some chewed up carrots from the plate we left out for the reindeer and some droppings that looked a lot like raisins that had been soaked in warm water to plump them up.  [Yep, reindeer poop.  Since the kids had been questioning the Santa thing all of a sudden, the big guy had to step the proof of his existence up this year!]

And then the boys were up and ready for Christmas morning at 6:30.  Thanks to the kindness of a family at church who “adopted” us, and to the generosity of the boys’ teachers and school, we had gifts to put under the tree.  There were even gifts for me, including several giant packs of paper towel, toilet paper, Lysol wipes, and laundry detergent.  Such amazing angels who knew exactly what we needed.  Despite the events of the day before (and so many days before it), I couldn’t help but feel thankful for the good people in my life.  Such a stark contrast to my marriage are the relationships I have with other people.  Thank goodness, or I think I would have given up a long time ago.

We rounded out the day by going to my aunt and uncle’s to spend the afternoon with my family.  We hardly ever get to see them, so it was good to be together.  And then we moved on to Christmas dinner and dessert with my husband’s mom and dad.  It was a busy day and we didn’t get home until late, but it was really nice.  And I was glad we were able to have our own little Christmas in the morning and then have time for both sides of the family the rest of the day, so Christmas felt complete.  And I know the boys enjoyed the time spent with family.  They fell asleep on the way home, though they were up again at 6 a.m. to build their new Lego sets!

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Hmm, I was hoping to have this post serve double duty as a photo challenge post, but this week’s challenge topic is “Joy” and I think this post is just not joyful enough to qualify.  So I will improvise.   While I missed The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge for last week, I might as well show you the photos I would have designated for that post.

Titled “One,” the challenge asked that we show:

“photos that focus on one thing.  Maybe you’ve got a stark photo of a single tree silhouetted against the setting sun, or a lone sandpiper wandering the beach as waves crash.  Perhaps you’ve caught your mother sitting by herself in a moment of quiet contemplation.  Maybe you saw a basket of wriggling puppies, and got a photo with a single fuzzy face in focus.”

So now you see why I have a photo of a lone jellyfish and two oddly placed bird photos here.  Thanks for bearing with me!

Here’s one more:

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And I promise to come back with the JOY photos from this week’s challenge.  Full disclosure — I’ll tell you that I’m in a “Tell it like it is” frame of mind so I can’t promise that the text will be overtly joyful.  But I can promise you honesty and I hope that’s good enough!

Until then, thank you for reading and for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts, light and dark.

My warmest wishes and appreciation for you all…

p.s.  If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click here for a list of challenges or here for the current challenge, “Joy.”

Dogs Get Cancer, Too

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This is a heartwarming story that I’ve been meaning to share with you for some time now…

I’ll admit that when jme first told me about this little pup, my heart sank a bit.  4-year-old Edward Carter had been diagnosed with cancer — advanced T-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the white blood cells.  

My thoughts first turned to my own special girl, my Mattie, who died from an aggressive canine cancer (hemangiosarcoma of the spleen) when she was 10.  [Read her cancer story here.]  My heart still aches when I think of the circumstances of her death.  

But when jme told me that Edward Carter had a bucket list and that he was going on adventures and making the most of his last days, I could picture her smiling as she spoke to me on the phone, thousands of miles away.  Edward Carter would make the most of his remaining time and have no regrets.

jme is founder and executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, an rescue organization committed to improving the lives of animals and finding loving homes for those in need.  Motley Zoo is foster and volunteer-based.  They have a dedicated volunteer board of directors and caring foster families who provide temporary homes for dogs and cats in need until permanent homes can be found.  jme and her exceptional team have found adoptive homes for over 1,100 animals since Motley Zoo’s creation less than five short years ago.  She is so committed to her mission that she and her husband have personally fostered over 700 dogs and cats to help Motley Zoo.  In fact, it would be odd for me not to hear a chorus of dogs in the background when we talk.

So it is not surprising that Motley Zoo wanted to help this little Powder Puff Chinese Crested / Maltese mix who was abandoned at a local shelter and found to have incurable Stage V lymphoma.  [If you have any knowledge of cancer in humans, you are probably looking at the V and thinking it is a typo, but it’s not.  While the highest stage for human cancers is Stage IV, canine lymphoma stages range from I to 5.] 

Despite being dropped off at the shelter in September and later diagnosed with cancer, he was quickly swooped up and moved into his new and permanent home with Brooke, a longtime foster and Motley Zoo volunteer.  Because he is a hospice dog, he requires special care.  Brooke and her dog Ottis happily accepted the challenge and decided to be his permanent foster family, giving him a warm, safe, and loving home to live out the rest of his days comfortably.

Just like those of us humans who have been diagnosed with cancer, Edward Carter has an oncologist and expensive medical bills.  He also has caregivers who need to make decisions about his treatment and his quality of life.  And since lymphoma is a systemic form of cancer, it has to be treated with chemotherapy. 
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But unfortunately for Edward, there is no cure.  The goal is solely to lengthen his life and to give him the best quality of life possible.

Edward Carter doesn’t seem to understand how sick he is.  He is active and full of LIFE and LOVE.  So creating a bucket list for him seemed like a great idea.  Motley Zoo even created a fan page so that his followers can follow his journey and participate in helping him come up with and check off bucket list boxes.  He has even been the feature of a number of news stories.  He is quite the character!

If you would like to learn more about Motley Zoo Animal Rescue or about Edward Carter and his bucket list — or even ways you can help him with his list or his costly cancer treatments, please visit his facebook page, aptly named Edward Carter’s Stairway to Heaven, or visit Motley Zoo.

And please take a minute to help Edward win Modern Dog Magazine’s Star Dog Photo Contest.  It just takes a second and you don’t need to sign up for anything — just click a button to vote and help a little dog’s dreams come true.

 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Let There Be Light

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Before I get to this week’s photo challenge, I wanted to mention that I’ve just been nominated for Healthline’s Best Health Blogs of 2013 Award and I was wondering if you could please vote for my blog?  Voting started a couple of weeks ago & my nomination was just posted so I am quite behind!

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There are many amazing blogs included, so I doubt that I have much of a chance, but I truly appreciate your support and I am honored to even be grouped with the other blogs.

So, to vote:  You can vote EVERY DAY until JAN. 20th. Voting is through Facebook or Twitter.  Click here to VOTE:  http://www.healthline.com/health/best-health-blogs-contest-id?id=714  — or — click on the “VOTE FOR ME” badge in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!

And now, on to the photos…

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week is “Let There Be Light.”  From the original post: “We’re entering a truly light-filled season. Christmas trees, Hanukkah menorahs, and Kwanzaa kinaras are spreading their glow in homes the world over (or are just about to), while main streets and public buildings are being prepared for the winter holidays with an explosion of bright decorations.

Take a look around you. Choose one of the light sources you see, and make it the focus of your challenge entry. It can be a dramatic chandelier or a pair of dying candles; the moon, a row of glaring lightbulbs in the parking lot, or a gaudy lava lamp stored in your attic: anything goes. The light doesn’t even have to be switched on: some lamps are just as fascinating for their shape as for the photons they emit.”

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

Sadly, shortly after I finished this post I learned of Nelson Mandela’s death earlier today (12/5/13).  It is my hope that Mr. Mandela’s legacy will endure and that his life’s work, his leadership, and his compassion will continue to have a deep impact well beyond his years on this earth.  

I will leave you with my photos and with a favorite quote that many believe was uttered by Mr. Mandela.  While there is controversy about whether he ever spoke these words (written by Marianne Williamson in Return To Love), I think the sentiment so perfectly relates to my vision of how Mr. Mandela lived his life that I feel compelled to share it here regardless:   

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The world lost an amazing source of light and life today.

Thank you for visiting my little corner of the world, for voting (if you choose to), and for bringing light into my life.

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

breast cancer let there be light thirties 30's 30s puerto rico mom twins kids young

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If you would like to participate in this or a future challenge, just click here to visit The Daily Post.

Hello Again…

Safari

Hello dear readers…

Once again I am returning with a photo post after a long hiatus.  I know it is not the ideal way to manage a blog, but it seems to be what I need to do for the time being.

Though this used to stress me out, I am learning to let go a little.  And that is because of you.  From the comments I’ve received from so many of you, I have found that you are forgiving of my infrequent visits and that you’ve even embraced them.  What a lucky girl I am to be able to stop in with some photos of my spirited little boys and my quirky canines and know that you will be here to welcome me back with open arms, to know that you will celebrate the good moments in my life, and to take comfort in the fact that you will offer words of kindness when times are tough.

The past few weeks have been a bit of a mixed bag.  I began to follow up with those of you who left comments on my last post to let you know that the thickening in my chest was likely swelling compliments of the lymphedema that has made its way beyond my arms and into the area where my breasts once were, but I never formally posted about my appointment.  It was a bit of a blow to discover that it was likely an extension of the lymphedema, but MUCH less of a blow than a cancer recurrence would have been.  It’s amazing how cancer puts everything into perspective!  I never would have thought there would be a circumstance in which I’d “welcome” an advancement of my lymphedema, but here I am!

[If you would like to know more about what lymphedema is, what causes it and how it is managed, stay tuned — I’m working on a post that will deal with this important topic.]

Just after that last post, pneumonia came knocking and, as you can imagine, it has been difficult to come back from.  On a positive note, though, I had a nice Thanksgiving break with the boys.  I spent most of Thanksgiving day preparing a turkey with all of the fixings.  I was pretty exhausted, but I’ve always enjoyed roasting the turkey and making Thanksgiving-y foods, so it was a labor of love.  Still, the day itself was a bit sad.  It was an unusually quiet holiday this year.  My in-laws had just gotten on a plane that morning and we had visited them night before, so we weren’t going to be going to their house on Thanksgiving Day.  And we were also not honoring the tradition of spending the other half of the day with my side of the family (usually at my aunt and uncle’s home) because we were missing some very important members this year.  I lost my youngest sister to the Alaskan wilderness (and her Alaskan boyfriend) when she packed her suitcase and got on the plane for a 5-day trip to Willow, AK in February.  5 days has stretched into 10 months because she has yet to return!  And the sister who had always been within minutes of me since she came home from the hospital when I was two years old, moved to Virginia to follow her/our dream to be near the sea.   She and my brother-in-law and my only niece and nephews hugged us goodbye as they drove away in their minivan and a big moving van during the first week of July.  And, sadly, they have not been back and my husband will not allow us to go to visit them (which the boys and I were pushing our hardest to do over the long Thanksgiving school break).  That leaves one sister [I am the oldest of four], but she and her husband [who is not a giant meanie like mine] went down to VA to spend Thanksgiving with my sister/BIL and the kids.  So it was VERY quiet.  My mother came over to eat with us and brought her little Yorkie.  The boys helped me decorate the table with our Halloween lights so we dined by the lovely saffron glow of the twinkly pumpkins we’ve collected over the years.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Then on Saturday and Sunday we took a quick little road trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Though the kids did their best to cajole my husband into allowing us to go to Virginia to seem my family, he made it clear that it would not happen now or ever, so we ended up “compromising” with Pittsburgh.  We had never been there but had heard that the city had a wonderful children’s museum and science center, both of which we have free admission to because of a reciprocal partnership between our local science center and other museums around the country (including those in Pittsburgh), and we also had a free hotel stay there.  Though the boys and I were sad about VA, we knew that it wouldn’t help to be upset about it, so we were determined to enjoy the weekend.  Though I would have been content to spend another “sick” weekend curled up under the blankets with the boys and dogs, I was the only one who would have gone for this over the long Thanksgiving weekend because the “sick” weekends had just been piling up with no end in sight.

Though it was tiring, I am glad we did it.  As it turned out, I had plenty of time to rest.   We only spent a few hours at the Children’s Museum on Saturday and then The Carnegie Science Center on Sunday, and we got home fairly early on Sunday.  And I just read during the roundtrip drive.  The hotel also provided board games, so we played Sorry! after the museum closed at 5 on Saturday, and then I was in bed by 9.  It was actually pretty relaxing.  At home, unless I am pretty sick, I have a hard time with giving myself permission to really rest.  For some reason it was much easier to do this while in another city or during the long car ride.   And the Children’s Museum was excellent.  There were plenty of activities to keep the boys engaged.  Our favorite section was an art annex of sorts.  The boys and I sat for ages at a long table cutting shapes that they could take up to a screen printing station where our designs would be printed.  I did the cutting and they would take the shapes up to be printed.  We made a nice stack of art that we plan to decorate their room with.  They loved the idea of stringing the pictures we made up on a long twine clothesline with old clothes pegs that were once my grandmother’s.  That will be our next project!

William enjoying one of the activities at The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA

William enjoying one of the activities at The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA

The Science Center was a bit more difficult for me.  But there was plenty to keep the boys busy.  And there were a plethora of benches and even some comfy chairs for me to sit in and even lie down on!  It really was chock-full of activities and displays.  We were even able to enjoy a star show (also free!) in their cozy planetarium chairs, located right inside the science center.  And the boys participated in some cooking demonstrations (free, too — and with samples!) in the “kitchen” section of the center.  Yum!

Yay! for The Carnegie Science Center's comfy chairs!

Yay! for The Carnegie Science Center’s comfy chairs!

And then we were back home to our dogs Sunday night, and I was back in to the hospital Monday morning to start off a full schedule of medical appointments this week.  But it was nice to have a change of scenery for a weekend!

Wow, I’ve written far more than I intended and I haven’t even gotten to the photo challenge yet!  Rather than muddle the photos up with all of these words (which have little/nothing to do with the challenge!), I’ll post a separate photo challenge entry in a minute.  I’ll also be requesting your help with a little something in the next post…

See you in a few…

Weekly Photo Challenge: An Eerie Feeling — Is it Cancer?

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When I saw the Weekly Photo Challenge for this week — Eerie — my first thoughts weren’t of Halloween costumes or fake blood or ghouls or goblins.  No, my first thoughts were of the sore spot and the “thickening” in my chest in an area that cancer once called home.

Since my bilateral mastectomy three years ago, I have been checking the area often enough. Monthly, I suppose?  Maybe less?  It’s often enough that I would notice a change.

5 days post mastectomy and axillary lymph node dissection for stage 3c breast cancer

While I rarely have trouble with my right side since the surgery, my left side has been a different story. Because of the depth/extent of my left mastectomy and the resulting nerve damage, I have been plagued with a range of unpleasant feelings, from numbness, tingling, itchiness and dull pain, to searing pain and what they term “phantom pain.”

You may have heard of phantom pain before.  Maybe you’ve known someone who has had a limb amputated.  Or you’ve watched an interview with a war veteran who lost an arm or a leg.  Or you follow Grey’s Anatomy and saw the episodes when Arizona was struggling after losing her leg in the plane crash. Or maybe you’ve never heard of it and just think it sounds kind of eerie.

Well, it is kind of eerie.  And not just because of its name.

“Sometimes after a body part has been amputated, it feels as if that part is still there. This is called phantom sensation. It…is not pain, but is a “tingly,” cramping, or itching feeling where the missing part used to be.

[Phantom pain, on the other hand, is painful.]  The pain feels as if it is in the part that is missing. Phantom pain…may feel like a burning, crushing, or stabbing sensation.”  [UPMC.com]

This is a roundabout way of explaining to you that despite the wide range of sensations I’ve experienced on the left side, none of these feelings have ever prompted me to pick up the phone and call the doctor because I’ve always accepted them as my new normal.

But what I’ve been experiencing recently does not feel like the pain or other sensations I’ve become accustomed to in the past three years.  It feels different.  It feels like the pain I felt before my surgery. Like the pain I was experiencing in my breast when my cancer diagnosis came 3 1/2 years ago.

Now maybe you are thinking that doesn’t really mean anything.  I don’t even have that (or any) breast anymore.  I was thinking this, too.  But then I reached under my shirt and felt the area.  In fact, I’ve repeatedly “checked” the area over the past week.

And it feels different.  Like a thickened “something.”

breast cancer young mom thirties 30s 30's mastectomy

At first I thought maybe it was swelling.  Swelling has been an issue for me since I received my first intervention — months of dose dense chemo meant to make my inoperable cancer operable.  When I was finally ready for surgery, it was a different kind of swelling.  Swelling in my arms from lymphedema.  And despite having surgical drains placed to collect excess fluid/blood that can accumulated following the surgery, in the space where the tumor was, there was a significant amount of swelling in my chest/underarm/shoulder area. While surgical drains are very common with this type of surgery, leaving them in for many weeks is not typical.  But there was so much fluid that it was necessary. Even still, I developed large seromas [a seroma is a collection of serous fluid in the dead space of post-mastectomy skin flap, axilla or breast] that necessitated trips to the surgeon’s office every 2-3 days so he could insert a long, wide needle and manually drain the fluid.

But it’s been a while since I’ve had a seroma or swelling in this particular area of my chest.  And it does not feel like swelling.  In fact, it doesn’t feel anything like what I’ve become accustomed to.

Normally when I touch the area where my left breast used to be, since the tissue and muscle are missing, I feel rib bones (or the spaces between them) through a thin layer of skin.

It’s odd, really, to go from feeling the squishy, rounded softness of your breasts, to feeling the hard, unforgiving rigidity of bone.

It’s a difficult adjustment to make.

And though you may con your brain into accepting the new “normal” day in and day out, your fingers never really forget.  Touching the area where your breast used to be is still just as jarring for your fingertips as it was in the beginning.

So when something is different…less chiseled…more flexible…softer, your fingers notice.

So it is easy to recognize when something is different or awry.

Maybe it’s nothing.  Maybe it will be fine.  It’s probably nothing.  It will probably be fine.  I haven’t even mentioned it to anyone in my life other than “you” because I’m almost sure it will be okay.

But the eerie feeling I had this past week each time my fingers were drawn to my chest was enough of an incentive enough for me to call the office of the breast specialist who diagnosed my cancer.  And it was enough to make me accept (and not cancel) an appointment for 7:30 this morning so I can find out for sure.

I will leave you with my “eerie” photos…

mastectomy drains cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com blood bilateral breast cancer

Even more eerie than fake blood is real blood… These are my mastectomy drains.

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halloween orange

Kevin looks for ghosts amid the cobwebs this Halloween

As always, thank you for being here.  And if you would like to participate in The Daily Post‘s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click on this link.

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Daily Prompt: My Little Characters

breast cancer thirties 30s 30's kids twins dog weiner dachshund sunflower young mother

I happened to notice The Daily Post‘s Daily Prompt for today — It Builds Character — and couldn’t resist the opportunity to share some photos of my little characters.

The prompt asks that we show readers a CHARACTER.

Every month, my boys, twins who are in the same class, must do a family project for school.  October’s project asked them to choose a character from one of their favorite books and turn a pumpkin into that character.  M chose Greg Heffley, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.  William chose Darth Paper, from Darth Paper Strikes Back, an Origami Yoda book.

So when I saw today’s prompt, M and I hatched a plan.  We took the pumpkin heads and, well, I’ll just show you:

M wearing the pumpkin head we made -- Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Greg Heffley

M wearing the pumpkin head we made — Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s Greg Heffley

M as Darth Paper from Darth Paper Strikes Back

M as Darth Paper from Darth Paper Strikes Back

During dinner, M also developed a character he decided to name Detective Bacon Mustache Hamburger Head.  Unfortunately, Detective Bacon Mustache Hamburger Head had a not-so-secret admirer in Ginger (our weiner dog) and had to change his name to Detective Hamburger Head when Ginger got a bit too close to his mustache.

Detective Bacon Mustache and his secret admirer, Ginger

Detective Bacon Mustache Hamburger Head and his admirer

And both boys decided to pose for one last photo:

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And this is a terrible segway, but I just wanted to thank you for your kind words when I was struggling last week (Why I Can’t Wait for my Colonoscopy).  And I also wanted to tell you that of all the things they found in my colon (like plenty of scar tissue and adhesions), cancer was thankfully not one of them.   It’s nice to have some good news!

Thank you for helping me get through an especially rough week!

 

 

 

 

Why I Can’t Wait for My Colonoscopy

Photo Credit: abcnews.go.com

Photo Credit: abcnews.go.com

You’re probably wondering what’s wrong with me.  Why would anyone in their right mind look forward to a colonoscopy?

It’s simple.  I can’t wait for the “prep” to be over.  But it may not be for the reason you are thinking…

Of course the prep itself is rotten.  It has been three days since a morsel of food has crossed my lips.  And drinking this God-awful stuff that wrenches your insides and makes you feel as though you are tethered to toilet is no picnic.  And because Palliative Care (see Palliative Care at 30-Something: What Does it Mean? Part I and Part II) has me on around-the-clock opiates, I was required to do the “Extended Preparation” which includes “extra” days of not eating and of a clear liquid diet, a few different types of unpleasant liquid solutions that make you “go” with extreme urgency, pills that also make you “go,” and enemas.  Did I mention I’ve gone 3 days without eating any food and have been consuming only clear liquids?**  Can you tell this one is getting to me

Photo Credit:  pregnancy.lovetoknow.com

Photo Credit: pregnancy.lovetoknow.com

Right now I’m trying to drink the last 4 liters of yucky stuff from the pharmacy in the prescribed 3 hours, but I can’t keep it down.  I have been vomiting so much that I’m not sure there is anymore liquid to throw up — until I throw up again.  I stop drinking entirely this afternoon.  And then I have to give myself 2 enemas in the 2 hours before the procedure, holding the contents of the enema bottles “in” for 15 minutes per bottle before I can go to the bathroom.

If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, you are probably nodding your head now.  You know how rotten the prequel to this procedure can be.  Or maybe you’ve blocked it out of your mind and forgotten?  If so, I’m sorry for reminding you.

I must admit that I had forgotten.  Tucked the memories of my last “clean out” neatly away in my brain.

Okay, really what happened was that they were replaced by much more traumatic scenes. The last time I did this it wasn’t for a colonoscopy — I honestly can’t recall my last one, let alone the prep.  I just remember waking up shocked that I was dressed and asking who had put my underwear back on.  The answer was “me,” but I was so out of it from the anesthesia that I had no recollection of the day’s events.  Sounds like spring break gone bad!

No the last “prep” of this kind that I am talking about was for my hysterectomy and salpingo-oopherectomy last year.

It’s no wonder the prep is not what I recall about the events leading up to this surgery.  I had complex pelvic masses.  One was so large that you could feel it when you touched my belly.

I needed to have my right ovary removed the day after Halloween two years ago thanks to the side effects of Tamoxifen* [see below].   The ovary was filled with a crap-ton (urbandictionary.com defines a crap-ton as “4 shit loads”) of septated cysts.

And here I was facing the prospect of losing my remaining ovary and my uterus.  At the age of 35.

A part of me wanted to be sure of what they were seeing before I went under the knife again.  This was the part that didn’t want to have to go through another major surgery and recovery.  And this was the part that was still holding on to the hope of giving birth to a little girl, the daughter I had dreamed of having from the time I was a little girl myself.  It was also the part that wanted to be absolutely sure of what they were seeing before I let them cut into me again.  And this was the part of me that was just tired of all of the cancer crap.

And then there was the part of me that wanted to shake some sense into the aforementioned part.  This was the part of me that, after each scan or exam, grew more and more fearful that what I might be dealing with was ovarian cancer [breast cancer increases this risk], or ovarian mets (metastasis) from the breast cancer to the ovaries.  I was also dealing with the concern that I could have a new primary cancer in my uterus.  I say a new primary rather than a metastasis in this case because Tamoxifen upped my risk of developing uterine cancer.  “Tamoxifen acts as an anti-estrogen in breast tissue, but it acts like an estrogen in the uterus. It can cause the uterine lining to grow, which increases the risk of endometrial cancer.” [Source: cancer.org]

In a short period of time I had multiple gyn exams, transvaginal and abdominal ultrasounds, an MRI, and a CAT scan.  Each of these tests confirmed the presence of these complex masses.  And they were growing.

At my last ultrasound appointment, the technician asked me to stay on the exam table while she went for the doctor.  When they came into the room together, my doctor told me that I needed to go to the hospital immediately, and she sent me to the emergency room.  I remember scrambling because it was a Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t know how long I would be in the hospital, but I knew it would be long enough that I would need to find somebody to pick my boys up from elementary school.

Another CAT scan was performed in the Emergency Room.  It didn’t look good.  The thought that these masses could be ovarian mets or ovarian cancer scared the hell out of me.  And there wasn’t really a decision to be made.

After meeting with the leading GYN oncologist in our area, my surgery was scheduled for the next week.

But a part of me wondered if there was any way out of this.

And then I began hemorrhaging just before my surgery.  There was so much blood.  I remember trying to get into the shower before an appointment.  It was just a few steps from where I disrobed to the shower, and just with those few steps, I managed to cover the floor with a large pool of blood.  I was as pale as a ghost.  And I felt like I was a stone’s throw from becoming one.

When I went in to see my regular gyn, she was clearly concerned that this was further evidence that I might have uterine cancer.  She did a biopsy that day and prescribed drugs that would help to lessen the bleeding until my surgery.  They didn’t really help, so I was almost “thankful” that my hysterectomy was just around the corner.

My gyn oncologist removed everything that was left of my female parts, with the exception of the one that starts with a “V,” but even “it” did not come out unscathed.   Since he took my cervix, the surgeon had to use the top of the vagina to create what’s known as a “vaginal cuff.”

Though I had signed all of the consents prior to my surgery, including the special one you have to sign when you are of childbearing age (indicating that you understand that you are undergoing surgical sterilization), I was still shocked to wake up to find that everything was gone.  Everything.

I spent 4 days in the hospital after the surgery.  It was a difficult 4 days, emotionally and physically.  I required blood.  I needed enemas and catheterization.

I could barely get out of the hospital bed, let alone make it down the hall — for days.  {The blood transfusions helped with this, thankfully.}

And I had a massive migraine.  As a chronic migraine sufferer, I am no stranger to headaches.  But this was worse than any headache I had ever experienced.  The consensus was that the cause was linked to the fact that my estrogen levels had soared in the year before my surgery, and then, suddenly, plummeted as a result of the surgery.  And nothing would alleviate the pain.  Not the morphine drip, not the oxicodone or the oxycontin, not the dilaudid.  Nothing.  I needed my hormones back.

A normally positive person who tries to see the good in everything, I lay in that bed, broken and empty, as I awaited the pathology report.  I felt as though I was a shadow of my pre-cancer self.  I pictured Hansel and Gretel walking on that path through they woods, leaving bits of bread behind so they could find their way back home.  I had been leaving bits and pieces of myself behind on the long and winding road since my diagnosis.  But I knew I would never find my way back home.

So doing this “colon prep” has been especially difficult.  Not just because it’s physically rough, but because it has made the memories of my hysterectomy flood back through gates I had sealed shut soon after the surgery.  As the old saying goes, “Denial (The Nile) ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

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There is more to this story.  But I will have to save the remainder until I am feeling better.  Thank you for reading…

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*Tamoxifen is an antagonist of the estrogen receptor in breast tissue via its activemetabolite, hydroxytamoxifen. In other tissues such as the endometrium, it behaves as anagonist, and thus may be characterized as a mixed agonist/antagonist. Tamoxifen is the usual endocrine (anti-estrogen) therapy for hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in pre-menopausal women, and is also a standard in post-menopausal women althougharomatase inhibitors are also frequently used in that setting.[1]

Some breast cancer cells require estrogen to grow. Estrogen binds to and activates the estrogen receptor in these cells. Tamoxifen is metabolized into compounds that also bind to the estrogen receptor but do not activate it. Because of this competitive antagonism, tamoxifen acts like a key broken off in the lock that prevents any other key from being inserted, preventing estrogen from binding to its receptor.

[Thank you, Wikipedia, for this Tamoxifen info!]

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**In case you are interested, here’s the list of approved clear liquids:  water, Sprite, apple or white cranberry juice, clear or yellow Gatorade/Powerade, chicken broth (nothing in it — NO beef broth), black coffee/tea (no milk or cream), Jell-O (yellow, orange, green only), or popsicles (not red or purple).

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P.S.  As much as I’ve struggled with the prep, I know it’s worth it.  IWith symptoms like pain and rectal bleeding (and with my cancer history), I know it’s better to do this than risk the alternative.  Please don’t let my post deter you from having a colonoscopy.  The “extended prep” is usually not necessary, and the procedure and the prep are over before you know it (and I think my reaction to it is rare?).  They are also far easier than dealing with cancer would be.  So please follow the recommended screening guidelines and do this important test (generally beginning at age 50).  In some cases (like mine), a colonoscopy may be necessary before you turn 50 (or in between the recommended 10 year gap from screening to screening).  If you have a family history of colon cancer or if, like me, you are experiencing issues (i.e. rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits), please consult your doctor to see if you are in need of a colonoscopy.

“Almost all colorectal cancers begin as a small polyp. If a polyp is found during colonoscopy, it will be removed and this prevents the polyp from every turning into cancer. But if you don’t have your colonoscopy in the first place, then you are throwing away the chance to detect polyps when they are easily treated.” [http://www.columbiasurgery.net/five-reasons-not-to-get-colonoscopy]

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On the Radio

W and Lion

Whoa, oh, oh, oh, on the radio.  Sorry, I can’t get Donna Summer’s lyrics out of my head!

Good morning all…

I wanted to let you know that I will be on the radio tonight.

I almost didn’t mention it because I’m a bit rusty on the public speaking front.  Okay, a lot rusty.  But I reconsidered because I have a vested interest in the segment’s subject matter.  I have been asked to discuss breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pinkwashing, and events like “no bra days” on “The Afternoon Fix” radio show with Chuck Pullen on 1230AM WJOB in Chicago.

Just in case you are interested in tuning in, you can listen live on the station’s web site:

http://www.wjob1230.com/

at 6 p.m. Eastern

(As a head’s up, their stream is .pls format (Shoutcast).  You can listen with iTunes.  Or use Windows Media Player, but you will need to install this plugin ahead of time.  Or you can use WinAmp.)

A representative from Breast Cancer Action will follow me to discuss the “Think Before You Pink” Campaign.

I think it will be worth a listen…

If I don’t screw it up, that is!  But you’ve all given me the confidence to continue to stand up for what I / we believe in, so I’ll give it my best shot [she says with a nervous laugh]!

p.s. I know the photo of W running from the cardboard lion has nothing to do with being on the radio, but I thought you’d appreciate a laugh.  We saw the lion and couldn’t resist!

National No Bra Day — An Update

I continue to be amazed by the comments that have been left on National No Bra Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month — Or — Put that Can of Soup Down and Put Your Bra Back On and some of my other posts in the past few days.  While I am absolutely astonished by how many people from around the world have visited the blog in the past few days alone (over 100,000 people yesterday alone!), what I am most in awe of is the fact that so many people have left such supportive comments or emails.  While I have yet to respond to the comments (with the exception of a few on the first day), I have been reading each and every comment and email.  That little “your comment is awaiting moderation” blurb you saw if you left a comment means that I have the opportunity to read your comment before it appears on the blog.  Reading through your messages has been an incredibly powerful experience.  I am barely keeping up, so if you don’t see your comment yet, this is why.  But I am grateful that I’m having trouble with keeping pace!  What a wonderful “problem to have!!!

I am both honored and touched that you have chosen to share your thoughts and feelings with me and I am so appreciative of the outpouring of kindness, well wishes, prayers, and gratitude for the post and the blog.   And I have been deeply moved by your stories.  So many people have been touched by cancer in some way and have felt some connection with me.  And I can tell you that after reading your comments and stories, I feel a connection to you and I am truly grateful.

While the vast majority of the comments have been extremely supportive, a few have been less than.  In the interest of being transparent, I am approving ALL comments, including the 99.999% that are supportive and the 0.001% that are less than.  And I feel the need to respond in some way to the 0.001%.  I know this may go over as well as a gift-wrapped pair of socks on Christmas morning, and I am normally not a confrontational person at all, but I feel compelled to respond.  I’ll begin with clarifying that my message is NOT that people who wear pink ribbons are bad!  I know this an easy way for people to feel connected and a visible way to show that you support a cause and that there are a rainbow of ribbons out there.  In fact, I often wear a pink ribbon that was given to me from an organization that gave the money from the purchase to cancer research.  One of my messages — and I believe what so many people have been saying in their comments here — is that pink has become a marketing tool that some companies have used to prey on and profit from well-meaning people who are trying to help.  As one commenter whose close friend was an advertising manager for a multinational corporation said, this practice has been referred to as “the marketing of a disease.”   I know that not ALL companies/organizations are profiting from breast cancer (or using the disease as a way to improve their image), but it is certainly enough for it to be a problem.

And, yes, I do believe that breast cancer has been glamorized and cutesied up by all of the pink. I will stand by that.  From the people I have polled — with and without breast cancer — it has become clear to me that when many people think of breast cancer, they envision smiling women covered in pink having a great time on a walk for the cause.

But as most women and men (and their caregivers/loved ones) who have faced this disease will tell you, there is nothing pink about this cancer — or any cancer for that matter.  And these images of pink actually detract from the fact that this is a horrible, often disfiguring disease with harsh treatments and brutal side effects.  The awareness mission has been accomplished — we are aware that breast cancer exists.  But we still don’t have a real understanding of what causes it and why one woman will develop it and another won’t.  Or why one woman will die from it and another won’t.  And with these awareness campaigns we have largely ignored metastatic disease.  And we have ignored the women (and men) who are suffering or the women who are dying or who have died.  Fine, have the pink, but also incorporate the reality.

In my opinion, we need to get away from the message that early detection is the best prevention and focus our efforts on making PREVENTION the best prevention.  And all of this pinkwashing is making that damn near impossible.  You see some of these companies marketing pink products “for awareness” and “for the cause” or putting pink ribbons on their labels once a year, but then some of their products — like plastic water bottles — are made of materials that have been linked to cancer or they sell products filled with nitrates or foods packaged in BPA-lined cans.  And there are so many examples of this, but I would prefer not to name names.

I need to be clear that I don’t believe that all pink is bad.  And that I do not believe that people who wear pink are bad!  I know you have wonderful intentions and want to help.  But I do believe that if companies and organizations are going to pink brand their product (for breast cancer), then they have a responsibility to use that “pink” and their pink profits responsibly and not as a marketing tool to sell more product or to improve their image.  And that we, as consumers, have a responsibility to read the fine print and be aware of where our money (and how much of it!) is ultimately going when we buy pink products or support a cause.  It is unfortunate that this is necessary when we really just want to help, but the simple fact is that it is necessary if we want to make a difference….

It is my hope that if enough of us do this and if enough of us reject the packaged pink image of what breast cancer is and recognize it for what it really is, we might just be able to make a dent in the number of people suffering and dying from this and other cancers.
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Thank you all so very much for reading, for commenting, and for sharing your important stories…

WOW!!!… And It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Update:  Since I first drafted this in the morning, an overwhelming 26,000+ people have visited my little blog with over 42,000 page views today!!  Though my blog-writing has never been motivated by numbers (as evidenced by my often sporadic posts!), I can’t help but be incredibly appreciative.  When I first set out to tell my cancer story, I thought it would be seen by a handful of readers, at best.  To say that I am humbled by the number of visitors and the number of amazing comments that have come through today would be an understatement.  

I think the realities of breast cancer are often trivialized and “pinkified” so I am sincerely grateful to everyone who has taken the time to visit/read/comment.  I am sorry to say that my story is just one of many.  I’m hoping to pull together a list of these amazing blogs/bloggers soon.

Thank you all for reading — and, of course, thank you to the special people who are always there to “like” or comment on my posts, even when they are few and far between.   I am grateful to you all.

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Imagine my surprise when I logged into my WordPress account last night and saw that over 2,800 visitors stopped into my little blog yesterday.  Now, for someone who’s daily page view number peak was something like 622, this was a bit of a shocker.  I figured it was a mistake.  

But this morning, I saw that it wasn’t.  Naturally, I decided to investigate.  It seems that it is Facebook that is bringing the lion’s share of these visitors to my blog.  And the post that’s bringing them here is one that’s pretty fitting given what time of year it is.

As you’ve probably surmised from the pink ribbons that have popped up in the aisles of your grocery store, it Pinktober a.k.a. Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I think by now most of you know how I (and a growing number of us) feel about October and the pink displays and endcaps that have appeared in stores across the country.  But I think it’s worth mentioning again.  I won’t rehash my thoughts here, but I encourage you to visit the post that is circulating around Facebook and the Internet.  I wrote it around this time last year on one of two National No Bra Days (there’s a fake one and a real one!) — NATIONAL NO BRA DAY & Breast Cancer Awareness Month (OR Put That Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On) and then reposted in July (for the ACTUAL no bra day).

Though I don’t think it is that great a post, I AM thrilled that it is being read and I hope it generates thought, discussion, whatever.  Even if it creates a paradigm shift for one person who woke up this morning planning to post a National No Bra Day comment on their Facebook page, or if it makes one person with or without breast cancer feel as though they aren’t alone with their thoughts about how big businesses are profiting from and glorifying this deadly cancer, then I will be thrilled.

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Lines to Patterns — Prelude to Toplessness

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As I was assembling photos for this week’s photo challenge, I stumbled across a file filled with photos from September 2010.  It was three years ago this month.

It’s safe to say that the dusty manila icon on my computer screen stopped me in my tracks.

It was filled with good memories from our trip to Florida with jme and my mom.  It was an important trip for many reasons.

I learned that I had cancer that April and had been having a horrible time with chemo ever since.  So when I finally had a break from the Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Taxol and Herceptin, we found some supercheap last minute plane tickets and I threw our clothes in a suitcase.  We were off with just a day or two’s notice.  This was my attempt at finding the spontaneity I’d been told The Big C endows you with.

I remember being supersick but grateful to be there.

Especially because of what was looming over my head.  Other than the cancer thing, of course.  What loomed, large as life, was the fact that I would be returning home the day before the surgery I had been anticipating since April.  It was time for my bilateral mastectomy and complete axillary node dissection.  My tumors had finally shrunk enough to make my formerly “inoperable” cancer “operable.”

I’m explaining all of this because I looked at the shots of superbald me smiling next to my family in Treasure Island, Florida, and I was filled with the same sense of dread that plagued me on that trip each time I stopped to consider my reality.

And then I skipped ahead one image too far and saw myself in the hospital bed.  Days after my surgery.  Showing my bruised body and bandages and blood-filled drains to the camera with a vacant look in my blue eyes.

For all the time I’ve spent in hospitals, there aren’t that many photos of me within their walls.  But I recall thinking that it would be important for me to have some photos from my weeklong post-surgical stay — in case I ever wanted to document my experience in some way.  There are only a handful of photos, but there are enough to make me swallow hard.  Pictures of me with bandages, and some without, as I look at my incisions for the first time.

Fast forward three years and here we are.  I have this blog, this platform, and I think I am ready to share.

But not just yet…

I still need a day or so to wrap my head around what I am about to show you before I post the images.  And, who knows, maybe I won’t be able to post all of them?  Maybe it will be too much for typically modest me?  I truly hope not, because I think this is an important part of my story.  An important reality that needs to be shared to blow a hole in all that pink frilly nonsense that makes breast cancer seem less serious, less deadly, less disfiguring.

So please bear with me as I summon the courage to post this pivotal piece of my story.

In the meantime I will lighten the mood with this week’s challenge photos.  Titled “From Lines to Patterns,” this challenge tasks us with interpreting lines and patterns through the camera lens:

“We see lines and patterns in the world around us, in nature and things man-made. Sometimes we don’t realize they’re there: on the street, across the walls, up in the sky, and along the ground on which we walk.  So…grab your camera, get outside, and snap a great shot of shapes or lines that you stumble upon, or a cool texture or pattern that catches your eye.”

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My little W

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“Under Construction” — Spring 2007 — I’m wearing the same clothes I was wearing in this photo right now! (But the pants are tighter!)

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The beginning of Autumn at the Christmas tree farm

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M climbing the giant web

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Stripes and patterns: Max, our Leopard gecko, was a gift for my 20th birthday. In her younger years she was a vibrantly-colored patterned beauty (for a reptile, anyway!). This was her last picture — she died of old (15 years!) age later than night.

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My Mam’s “Fancy Jell-O”

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NYC

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Thank you for visiting, for looking at this hodgepodge of photos, and for standing by me as I share my story.  I am a grateful girl.

See you soon…

P.S. To participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click here or here.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside — A Word From the Dogs

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Let’s Make a Break for It!

I failed miserably with my plan to write a complete non-Weekly Photo Challenge post this week.  And now it’s Thursday at 12:47 a.m.

ImageI’d love to blame a brief stint in the hospital, too many doctor’s appointments, a lengthy to-do list, nightly struggles with 4th grade homework x 2, tear-filled boys who do not want to go to bed, crippling fatigue, high-maintenance canines, a husband who was logged enough hours to equal days worth of playing time since our local video store opened on Tuesday (10 a.m.) with the newly-released Grand Theft Auto Five (if you’re not sure what that is, please see photo to the left), and blah, blah, blah… but I won’t bother.  Instead, I will just present you with another photo challenge and I’ll hope you keep returning while I’m on my downswing!

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Well, much to my chagrin, it seems I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open for long enough to post this one, so I’m going to turn it over to the dogs — literally!

For this week’s challenge, titled “Inside,” Kevin and Ginger (or Big and Little as I often call them) are sharing the view from inside our kitchen out to our empty, unfenced backyard.  To me it looks like an empty not-quite-green palette that I long to paint.  To the dogs (my favorite Houdinis) it looks like the open road to FREEDOM!

Kevin & Ginger:  “Yep, all we need to do is pull the front door handle or slide the back screen open — and we DO know how to do this! — and we are free!  There’s no fence to stop us!  It drives our Mom crazy because she has to keep the doors closed ALL the time (even in the summer) and hold onto our collars whenever anyone goes in or out of the house — and that’s A LOT because the twins are always going in and out!  But she knows we’ll take any chance we can get to run away.  And then she has to run through the neighborhood for hours to catch us.  It scares the hell out of her!  It’s SO much fun!!”

Me:  “Yes, it’s a real hoot!”

Kevin & Ginger:  “So these photos are of us trapped INSIDE.  I remember when Mom took these.  She unlocked the glass door for a few minutes while the boys carried the compost out to the compost bin.  She was watching us like a hawk ’cause she knew what we were thinking.  We were working hard to figure out how to unlock the door again.  See the smoke coming out of our ears?”

Kevin:  “Ooh, look, you can see where I scratched big holes in the screen.  See the tape she put on them?  I have no trouble pulling that right off.  Silly Mom!”

Ginger:  “Anyway, I just uploaded the photo — it’s at the top of the post.  I’m the little one.  Kevin’s the big one.  Thanks for reading Mom’s blog!”

Kevin:  “Ooh, I just found a picture of our butts.  I’m going to put that one in for fun.  Don’t tell my Mom.”

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Our Cheeky Bums!

Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

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Hello Dear Readers,

Thank you for the comments and notes you’ve left and emailed in the weeks since my last post.  The boys and I are doing okay.  I have much to tell you and hope I will soon have the opportunity to do this…

While longer and more meaty posts are difficult at the moment, I thought I could at least visit you with a Weekly Photo Challenge post.  The latest challenge, An Unusual Point of View, brought to mind a special opportunity the boys and I had to visit a camp for children who have been touched by cancer.

Camp Good Days and Special Times is an amazing organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life challenges through summer camping experiences and year-round events and activities.  Founded over three decades ago by a father whose 8-year-old daughter, Teddi Mervis, was suffering from a malignant brain tumor, the camp was meant to give children who are dealing with cancer — either their own or a parent’s or sibling’s — with a chance to just be kids and forget about this life-threatening disease.

We were fortunate enough to go through a special weekly support program during one phase of my treatment, and then to attend a retreat weekend at the Camp two years ago.

The boys were treated to crafts, an egg hunt, tasty meals, fishing, and other special experiences with me and the four other families who attended.  Like my boys, the other children each had a parent with cancer.  I was one of three moms and a dad with cancer.  My boys were the youngest of the kids, but all of the children seemed grateful to have a weekend with children and families who understood.

It was a wonderful weekend and one I will always be grateful for.  So when I was invited to serve as the speaker for a fancy fundraising event held that summer, I happily accepted and sang the organization’s praises.

I am filled with warm memories as I think back to each of these opportunities and to the amazing people who volunteer their time and talent to make Camp Good Days and Special Times the organization it is.

These photos, taken during the retreat, are of a memory garden in a wooded meditation space at the Camp.  It is a peaceful little place where campers are taken to reflect and to remember those who have been affected by cancer, both living and dead.  We were asked to write our names on a stone and then place it in the garden.  You will see close-ups of a turtle painted on a stone, my stone and one of the boys’ stones, and wider shots of the memory garden.

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Thank you for continuing to hang in there with me.  I hope to return with more than a photo challenge post soon.

Until then… xo

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

It is safe to say that I have missed blogging.  I have missed you, dear reader.  But it has been difficult to find opportunities to write to you.  Between not feeling well, working on a few projects, having two very active and easily bored twin boys home for summer, and all that is going on with you-know-who, it has been a bit of a struggle to visit with you.

So I will pop my head in again with a Weekly Photo Challenge.  This challenge is titled “One Shot, Two Ways,” so I am offering you a shot of the clouds and sky, two ways.

These images were taken on a muggy night on the short trip home from the boys’ soccer game.  The clouds above the soccer field looked pregnant with rain.  Since it had not rained for some time, it was a welcome sight as I thought about my parched garden.

But as we drove home and the minutes passed, the clouds thinned to reveal the gray whisps and fluffy tufts of a sky on the brink of nightfall.

There was no rain that night.  No relief for my languishing flowers.

But the beauty of this moment was not lost on me.  As I took these photos with a home along the way as a backdrop, I was amazed when I realized how often I must fail to look up in the evening, because these clouds must be present often enough — I just haven’t noticed them.

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The third photo, of the last of the sun’s rays streaming through the clouds, is an extra that I couldn’t help but include.  It was a reminder to me that even when times are difficult, there is beauty all around us.

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Thank you for visiting and for serving as another reminder of the beauty in my life…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh

Since it’s been ages since I participated in a Weekly Photo Challenge, I thought I would take a brief break from the serious topics I’ve been posting about and share a few photos with you.

I have been overwhelmed with the kind responses to my last post, The Devil is in the Details…and My Bed.  It is taking me a bit of time to respond to you all individually, but I promise to do this and will keep at it because everything you’ve said has helped me tremendously — and each comment means a great deal to me.  And I’m sure your words will continue to help me move in the right direction.  Thank you…

The Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week is FRESH.  What came to mind was my little pot of fresh basil grown from seed.  You’ll find this tin pot of my favorite herb on my kitchen windowsill:

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And the “fresh” idea the boys hatched when I asked them to take my Mom’s dog and one of our dogs for a walk last night:

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This is virtually the same photograph, but my Mom’s dog is a bit more visible in the wagon in this shot so I felt compelled to include it:

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Until we meet again, thank you all…

The Devil is in the Details…and my Bed

Snapped this photo of a piece at the school district art show.  Not sure if I agree with the sentiment, but the flames are fitting at least!

Snapped this photo of a piece at the school district art show. Not sure if I agree with the sentiment, but the flames are fitting at least!

What’s that old saying, “The devil is in the details?”  That phrase has cycled through my head many times in the past couple of weeks.  Followed by silent conversations about how that’s not the devil’s only hangout.

The week or so before last was, to put it mildly, a week from hell.

The best way for me to explain what I mean is to just tell you what has been happening.

On Saturday, June 29, I asked my husband to come to bed at about 3:30 a.m.  This is around the time when he normally decides go to bed.  He is either on his tablet surfing the Internet or playing video games until the early morning hours.  Every night.  I honestly don’t mind the video games.  I really don’t.  But I don’t have the same feeling about the tablet.  When you are repeatedly told that “this tablet and the Internet are my life,” it makes it hard to see it coming into your bed at 3:30 in the morning when you are not feeling well and would just like to get into bed with your husband at a normal time and feel like there isn’t something more important in there between you.

This night was no different.  Except that when he brought the tablet up and proceeded to get into bed with it, I asked him if we could just have one late night (early morning) without it.

A few seconds before, he had taken the clean socks that were sitting on the bed half folded and shoved them all onto the floor.

As I bent over to pick them up and put them in the basket, I made the “Can we just have one night without it?” comment.

A split second later, I was seeing stars.  He had taken his pillow, and with a significant amount of force, was swinging it back and forth at me, smacking me in the front and back of the head.  The force was enough to knock me down.

My ears were ringing and I was in shock as I stood back up.

He looked at me angrily as he climbed into bed, turned the tablet on and put his headphones on, cursing at me all the while.

I was shaking as I thought, “It’s now or never.”  You see, I had decided a few days before that the next time he hurt me or one of the boys, I would get him out, come hell or high water.

I would have welcomed a flood that night.  But it was hell that came instead.

I have been asking him for as long as I can remember to leave when he flies off the handle.  But he always refuses, stating that it is his” fucking house” and that he is not going anywhere.   We bought the house together after both contributing financially because I had a pretty good job as well.  I worked really hard and had been saving since I was a teenager.  And in the past few years since he has been out of work and we have been running a small business together, it has probably been me who does the lion’s share of the work.  And, honestly, ever since his job loss and my cancer diagnosis, we have been swirling in debt together.  So even he, with his nasty comments, can’t convince me that the house is “his.”

Normally, I beg him to just let me stay in the house with the kids until I die, and to be left in peace with them.   I tell him I will take care of the mortgage.  And then he can have it when I’m gone.  Of course I don’t know how much time this will be, but given the details of my diagnosis, I know it can’t be forever.  So I think it sounds like a good deal for him.  I pay the mortgage and take care of the kids.  And then he gets it all in the end.  And no one has to know about how he’s been treating us.

But he says he would never let this happen.  That he’ll make sure I get nothing.  And he will not leave the house.  If anyone is to go, it will be me who has have to get out of his “fucking house.”

I know he feels he can wait me out and that he’ll get the house in the end anyway when I’m gone.  And I think he believes that the sympathy would end for him if he were to walk out the door.  He knows that no one would think he’s the doting and kind husband he has tried to lead them to believe if he were to leave and people were to know the truth about how he treats a wife who is not well and who has been through more surgeries and cancer treatments, complications and crap than I’d care to recount, even in a cancer blog.  So he has never left before.  Just created a path of destruction.  And I kiss his behind the next day because I just want peace.

But this night I was bound and determined.  I told him that I was done with being treated this way and with having the boys be treated this way.  I said that given what I had been through to just simply stay on this earth, I shouldn’t have to endure so much stress, or to live with the knowledge that the person I married doesn’t think I’m worthy of his kindness.  And that if he didn’t think I deserved at least this much, then he would do us all of a favor if he just left.  I told him I wouldn’t tell anyone what he had done if he just left.  And when nothing worked, I threatened would call the police if he didn’t leave.  He told me to go ahead, not believing that I’d actually do it.

After a couple hours of pure hell, I decided that if I didn’t do it now, I never would.  I told him that if he wasn’t willing to change his behavior, I had no choice but to call and I went for the phone.

He yelled, “If it shuts you the fuck up, I will go.”  He grabbed a bunch of things, including the tablet, and said he was taking the better car and leaving our older minivan with the flat tire and a mountain of problems behind.

He had been swearing at me the entire time and telling me how I was a bad mother and how my kids were going to be ruined by me.  He yelled all of the things that he knew would hurt me, along with plenty of “fucks.”

He said that I would get nothing, save for the ocean of debt we are swimming in.  He would take responsibility for none of it and would make sure I suffered.

And then he went outside to move the cars so he could get out of the driveway.  When he came back in, I started to back down, afraid of what would come next.  He continued to be nasty to me.  So I said that this had started because I made a normal request for the tablet to not come into our bedroom for that night.  And that, like every “night,” it wasn’t really night, but morning, when he was finally ready to get into bed with me.

He began to flip out all over again, shouting that he was the “fucking normal one” and that I had no right to ask him for that.  He told me to “Shut the fuck up” and threw the minivan keys at me and stormed out.

It was 6:00 a.m. when he finally left.

My mother had been staying with us for a few days at that point because she was in transition from her own divorce.  She heard everything from the next room (and from upstairs when we went downstairs), so when he left, she came to see if I was alright.  She said that she had wanted to call the police and had her cell phone in her hand the whole time.  She said she didn’t because she knew I would be upset if she did because she knows how I have tried to protect him over the 20 years I was with him and how I never thought I deserved the kindness plenty of observers over the years said I did.  I always stood by and protected him and his image.  And she knew that I wouldn’t have the heart to turn him over to the police that morning.  But she was appalled by the things she heard him yelling when our boys were just down the short hallway asleep (for part of the time, anyway).

I was sobbing.  And I never sob.

It felt horrible.  I felt horrible.

I was physically sick and just riddled with the fear of what his retaliation would be.  It was awful.  Almost as horrible as learning that I had cancer.

I will add more as I can.  Or maybe not?  I don’t know how much more I can bear.  I gave in and he is back in the house.  He vacillated between intimidating me and promising things would be so much better.  In the end, I couldn’t take the fear of what would come next any longer — I was physically ill — vomiting and shaking — and just felt so completely broken.  Plus I felt that I could give him one more chance.  I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt and despite everything, I wouldn’t have felt right about not giving him another chance when he made it sound like he was sorry and would change.  I have always been loyal to a fault.  [I still see the doctor who told me I was too young for breast cancer and whose office wouldn’t see me the next year when I’d lost my health insurance and was so sick because the cancer had now engulfed my breast.]   I felt like I had to give him another chance, despite what my gut was telling me.

It took a great deal of wrestling for me to share this or anything like it here, but I think telling you is the right decision.

Thank you all for reading and for helping me get through this without even knowing that you were…

National No Bra Day & Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put that Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On!

My “Where I’ve Been” post is still forthcoming, but in the meantime, I realize that I missed the opportunity to post on “National No Bra Day.”

I am reposting an article I wrote back on the unofficial No Bra Day during Pinktober (October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month).  The “official” fake holiday was actually yesterday, July 9th.

I see that you left a number of lovely comments on my M.I.A. post.  I will respond, but wanted to say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart in the meantime.  I am also looking forward to catching up with your blogs and all I have missed in the past couple of weeks.

My warmest thoughts & thanks are with you all…

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Peter Griffin / Family Guy "What Grinds My Gears" Episode

Peter Griffin / Family Guy “What Grinds My Gears” Episode

I am not a ranter by any means and I have been pretty quiet about “Pinktober” and what has come to be known as “Pinkwashing” in breast cancer circles, but seeing October 13th advertised as “National No Bra Day” and as a “fun” way to support people with breast cancer has pushed me over the edge.

Are you kidding me?  How on earth could a day where girls and women are encouraged to walk around with their nipples poking through their shirts be “supportive” for women who are living with or who have died from breast cancer, or who have managed to ‘complete’ the arduous treatments and disfiguring surgeries required to put them into remission?

I think the answer is simple.  It is not.

Like so many women–and men–who have faced this disease, I have lost my breasts to cancer.  Though I had a terrific surgeon, it was a physically and emotionally disfiguring surgery.

The cancer had gone so deep and was so extensive on my left side that it was at first inoperable.  Even after months of chemo, my surgeon took as much tissue and skin as possible and went deep into my axilla (underarm area).  The cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes and had invaded them to such a degree that they broke open to allow the cancer cells to go beyond the walls of the nodes.  Because of how invasive the surgery was and of how much nerve damage, etc. resulted, it was not only extremely painful then, but continues to be a source of pain and phantom sensations that affect my entire upper torso even today.

I required over a year of physical therapy just to be able to raise my arms again and I still don’t have full function or range of motion.  And, because of pain, swelling, conspicuous compression sleeves and gloves, I am constantly reminded of the lymphedema that resulted from the surgery and loss of my lymph nodes.  Oh, and the life-threatening infections that forced a couple of hospitalizations and four months of massive doses of antibiotics this summer (almost 2 years after my original surgery), are also a little reminder of some of the things that the bilateral mastectomy and lymph node surgeries have left me with.  And there is so much more…

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So the thought of seeing bra-less women flaunting two body parts that I have lost to cancer — more than I already see this on a regular day — does not feel all that supportive.  In fact, it feels quite the opposite.

I consider myself to be an open-minded person.  I do my best not to judge others or their beliefs and ideals.  I have a pretty good sense of humor and am usually the first to poke fun at myself.  And I make light of breast cancer and my struggles, treatments and their side effects, lack of breasts, fear of death, etc. fairly frequently.  It is how I cope.  But, given what I have been through, I think I have earned the right to joke and make light of how this terrible disease has affected me.  But if you haven’t been there or taken care of someone who has been there, then you should think twice before you publicize a day that jokes about putting the first body parts we usually lose to this disease “out there” on display even more conspicuously and then labeling it as an activity that helps our ’cause’.

We live in a society that makes a huge hoopla about breast cancer while at the very same time trivializing the seriousness of the disease.  How can we be so contradictory?

While I am beyond thrilled that breast cancer is no longer a taboo issue and that people are talking about it, the commercialism has gotten out of hand.  There is nothing pink and rosy about breast cancer, yet it has been pink-washed to death.  It is a serious disease that kills.

And while I do think we need more awareness and education (about metastatic disease, about how young women CAN develop breast cancer, about how women (young and old) DO die from this disease, about the importance of research, etc.), I don’t think we need the kind of awareness that buying a jar of salsa with a pink ribbon on it brings.  While I hardly ever see “awareness” products addressing the topics above, I can’t go anywhere without seeing pink products.  Heck, I just have to look out of my front window to see giant pink garbage totes.  Pink-Cart---cut

The stores are filled with pink as companies try to make a buck off breast cancer.  If you look carefully at these products, you’ll find that some of them don’t even donate a cent to breast cancer awareness, support, research, etc.  And oftentimes those that do make a very minimal donation–and not always to organizations/programs where the money is well spent.

What is most unfortunate is that well-meaning people are willing to buy pink products, even pay a little extra, because they think they are helping to do something to “cure” breast cancer or to provide “hope” to breast cancer patients.  Why is this sad?  Because those dollars spent on pink flowers, pink shirts, or a pink box of crackers or spaghetti sauce could be going to research, our only real “hope” of beating this horrible disease.

So please put your bra back on, put down those pink garbage bags (unless you really like pink that much!), that pink “awareness” pepper spray keychain, and that pink breast cancer “awareness” vibrator and dildo (yes, I’m blushing and yes, these are real things that their merchandisers say will “help you raise breast cancer awareness” — though they are shipped discretely in plain, unmarked boxes so no one knows what you purchased) and send a few dollars to an organization that devotes their fundraising dollars to research.  You just have to do a bit of homework or read the labels on those pink items to see where your money is actually going.  Or, if you don’t like homework, here are a couple of great ones:

StandUp2Cancer.org: Our mission is to fund collaborative, translational cancer research to bring treatments from the bench to the bedside faster, and save lives now.  Since Stand Up To Cancer was founded in May 2008, we have granted $161 Million Dollars to ten Dream Teams of scientists and researchers, one international translational research team and 26 high-risk, high-reward Innovative Research Grants.  100% of public funds go directly into research grants. A portion of the funds that are raised from major donations and third-party fundraising go towards administrative expenses and overhead.

Metavivor.org:  From support groups to funding vital research, our programs sustain the power of hope.  Passionately committed patients ourselves, we rally public attention to the urgent needs of the metastatic breast cancer (MBC) community, help patients find strength through support and purpose, and make EVERY dollar count as we work with researchers to regain longevity with quality of life.

…or consider a group that helps actual cancer patients and their families cope with their illness.  For example:

CancerIsAJerk.org  — This is a charity my dear friend jme set up to help families touched by cancer.  You can make a financial donation  or  if you’d like to have a tangible something to wear to show your support, you can purchase a “Cancer Is a Jerk” t-shirts with all proceeds going to help actual families touched by cancer.  You can also contact jme through the charity if you’d like to sell shirts as a fundraiser with all proceeds going to benefit cancer family applicants in general OR designate a specific family of your choosing.

And don’t underestimate the value of local organizations.  My local Breast Cancer Coalition is a perfect example.  The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester‘s mission is to make the eradication of breast cancer a priority through education and advocacy; to empower women and men to participate fully in decisions relating to breast cancer; to provide support to those coping with a breast cancer diagnosis; and to focus research into the causes, prevention, treatment and cure of breast cancer.

Also local for me is The Karen Carson Crane Foundation.  Founded by Karen’s siblings after she died of breast cancer, the mission of the Karen Carson Crane Foundation (“the KCC Foundation”) is to provide support and financial assistance for individuals affected by breast cancer; to encourage breast cancer patients to have the strength, courage and passion to overcome their disease; to support local organizations that assist breast cancer patients; and to donate a portion of its fundraising dollars to organizations that research and promote alternative cancer treatment methods.  

There are many other great organizations and groups out there — these are just a few.

And if you can’t help with a financial donation, consider volunteering your time or talents.  Perhaps to local cancer patients — bringing a meal or knitting a chemo cap or scarf, or sending a cozy blanket are examples of ways to show your support.   I remember when a small box of craft supplies was left on my doorstep when I was first going through chemo — what a gift that was — my kids loved it and it kept them occupied for a little while when I was really ill!  Or consider volunteering at a local cancer center or for a local American Cancer Society chapter.  There are many ways to show your support that don’t require $$.

And, of course, don’t forget to go for your regular mammograms and to feel your breasts when you can (and report any changes to your doctor) because doing these things IS important.  It — what I can loosely call a self-breast exam (but really just washing myself in the shower) — is how I found my own lumps, about 17 years before I was due for my first mammogram (according to the recommended screening age back in 2009).  If I had ignored my lumps and waited for that first screening mammogram, I can safely say I would have been long dead!  So please pay attention to your body and your breasts.  While the vast majority of lumps are benign, I still believe it’s always best to bring your breast changes to the attention of your doctor.  Thanks for reading…

I will leave you with a picture that I think is my best advertisement for National No Bra Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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5 Days Post Bilateral Mastectomy and Complete Axillary Lymph Node Dissection (ALND)

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Side note:  The ACTUAL National No Bra Day is July 9th annually.  Someone had the great idea to do a braless day during October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — to support “the cause.”  Adding insult to injury, the day they chose — October 13th — is actually the one day out of the whole year designated for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness.  Sadly, I’ve seen far more No Bra Day awareness advertising circulating around the web than I have Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day info.

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M.I.A.

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[About the photo:  

The best photo I could come up with to illustrate “missing” on short notice. My soul feels like this puzzle at the moment — missing pieces, unfinished, broken…

On a more positive note, jme & her husband bought this 3,000 piece puzzle for us on one of their visits. The gorgeous subject is Seychelles, a place Julie, jme & I all hoped to visit (but never did).  We worked on this masterpiece together for a solid week, and then continued to work after jme & bryan returned home. It was a lovely puzzle, but we never quite finished it.

On the boys’ birthday party day that year, I had to make an executive decision: put the puzzle back in its box unfinished and reclaim the kitchen table for the party OR cancel their birthday party last minute!  It was a tough decision!  I took this photo just before we packed the puzzle up that day.]

***

Hello Dear Readers,

I know I’ve missed an entire week (or so?) of posting.  

And I set off alarm bells when I didn’t even participate in the Weekly Photo Challenge for last week, which is not like me at all.  Some of you noticed my absence and have emailed to ask if I am okay.   So I am writing to tell you that the past week and a half has been extremely difficult, but that I am alright.  

I will be posting in the next few days to explain.  And you will likely understand my silence after you’ve read the post.  But in the meantime, know that I haven’t forgotten about you.  In fact, I think of you every day and I am grateful for your presence in my life.

My warmest thoughts are with you all xxx

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: World Through Your Eyes — “Old San Juan”

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Thank you for all of the likes and wonderful comments and congratulations for celebrating my first year of blogging.  You’ve made me feel so special!

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week is “The World Through Your Eyes.”

The criteria for this post is as follows:

IN A NEW POST CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PICTURE OF THE WORLD THROUGH YOUR EYES.

A few tips reinforcing what Ming taught us on Tuesday:

  • Observe a scene first before lifting your camera to your eye.
  • Ask yourself: What is the subject? What will you (not) include in the frame?
  • Look for natural lines or frames in the shot to guide the viewer’s eye.
  • Try different angles: Get low on the pavement. Look down from above.

 —

I’ve chosen to feature photos of Puerto Rico.  I know, I know — Puerto Rico, again?  But when you view the photos, I hope you’ll see why I chose to share them.  They were all taken in Old San Juan.

As always, thanks so much for visiting…

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To participate in this or a future Weekly Photo Challenge:

click HERE or HERE.

Thank you!

Today is My 1st Birthday…My Blog’s 1st Birthday, That is!

The twins asked for matching Angry Bird birthday cakes, so I made 6 cakes in a matter of a week.  Two blue, three red, and one yellow Angry Bird.  This was my fave -- a lemon cake, even though I am a chocolate girl!

The twins asked for matching Angry Bird birthday cakes, so I made 6 cakes in a matter of a week. Two blue, three red, and one yellow Angry Bird. This was my fave — a lemon cake, even though I am a chocolate girl!

Yep, today is my first blogoversary!

It has been one year since I first entered the blogosphere.  One year since my very first post, Yep, I’m a Cancer Patient.  One year since I first sent my thoughts out into world for everyone to see.

The thing is, I never expected anyone to see them. I didn’t tell anyone about my blog or where to find it.  So I thought no one would.  I thought this blog would just be an online diary of sorts, a memoir for my kids.

And that’s it.

To this day there are only a handful of people in my offline life who know about it.  I almost said in my “real” life.  But that wouldn’t be fair to you or to my blog.  What you are seeing, what you are reading, is my “real life.” In fact, you, dear reader, have been privy to more of my experiences and thoughts than most people in my “life-life.”

With you I have shared my joys and my sadness. My valleys, my peaks.  The waiting.  The worrying.  The hope.  The FEAR.  The beautiful.  The ugly.  The pain.  The LOSS.

And so much more.

You’ve laughed with me and cried with me.

Your beautiful comments have helped me celebrate the good moments — and have lifted me up through the most difficult times.

Took this photo at the boys'  District Art Show.  The quote says:  "My life would not be complete without my friends and family. I don't know what I would do without them all."

Took this photo at the boys’ District Art Show. The quote says: “My life would not be complete without my friends and family. I don’t know what I would do without them all.”

So it is you who deserves a celebration on my blogoversary.  It is you who has spurred me along and encouraged me to write and to share, when I felt like it — and when I didn’t.

And it is you who deserves my gratitude.  Thank you for reading, liking (even when some of the content seemed unlikable!), commenting, following and sharing…

I feel like a VERY lucky girl!!  Well, aside from the cancer thing, of course!  😉

If this is your first visit, welcome — and click HERE for a good place to start.

First anniversary stats for those of you who like math:

-226 wonderful followers

-15,300 views

-1,100 (exactly!) comments

-95 posts

And cake, for those of you who prefer baked goods!

I asked the boys if I could share their cakes with you and they said, "Of course!"  They looked at me like I was nuts, but they were happy to give you all cake!

I asked the boys if I could share their cakes with you and they said, “Of course!” They looked at me like I was nuts, but they were happy to give you all cake!

THANK YOU!

The Dream

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I realize it has been over a week and a half since my last post.  Since I am too tired to muster the energy for a proper post, I thought I’d leave you with a short story — a dream, really.  

I promise to be back soon.  School ended for the boys on Thursday after 4 half-day sessions.  And the weekend was filled with their soccer games and errands in 90+ degree temperatures.  I thought being out in the heat  and hot sun all weekend would tire them out, but it’s actually me who seems to be having trouble!

Thanks for understanding.  I’ll “see” you soon…

——–

The Dream

Nina awoke in a panic.  She had been up well into the early morning hours again.  The last time she recalled looking at the clock, the bright blue numbers read 5:13 a.m.  She remembered getting up to go to the bathroom — again — and that was it.  She must have fallen asleep soon afterward.

More often than not, this was about the time when her eyes would finally close for the last time each night.  She was in pain all day, but the nights were in a class by themselves.  It was as if she kept herself so busy throughout the day that she managed to distract herself from what her body was feeling.  But at night there were no distractions.  It was just her body and her thoughts.

And she didn’t like either these days.

When sleep finally came, it was a deep sleep.  The kind that encourages dreaming.  She didn’t usually remember her dreams.  She was okay with this because there had been times in her life when her dreams had come true — and they were never the “good” dreams.

She thought of this as she remembered the dream she’d just had.  When she slept that morning, she found herself running from an assailant wearing a dark sweatshirt and black sneakers.  She was out of breath and panting as he came upon her.  He had the same shape as her husband and the same dark hair.  She couldn’t see his face.  But his scent was familiar.

She saw something shiny in his hand.  It caught the light from the streetlamp just right.  She recognized the object now.  It was a long kitchen knife.

Panic set in as she tried to run faster.  But it was too late.  He grabbed her from behind.  She tried to scream.  Tried and tried.  But no sound emerged.

She was still straining to scream when she woke suddenly.  Her heart was racing.  She was dripping with sweat and shivering because she was so wet that she was cold.  It had seemed so real.  And even in her groggy state she realized that she’d had this “dream” many times before.

She rolled onto her back and saw her husband’s dark eyes staring at her with a look of disdain.

“You woke me up,” he said, angrily.

She apologized and started to tell him that she was having a nightmare.  He cut her off and said he knew this because she was whimpering and saying “No” in her sleep.

She said “Sorry” again, but he didn’t care.  He never cared.

When Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody” interrupted her pathetic apology, she was glad.  It was 7:30.  Time to get the kids ready for school.  Time to put her game face on.

Her husband rolled over, positioning his back to her.  She caught a whiff of his musky odor.  And it was then that she recognized the scent from her dream…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting — “Not Enough Time”

I know my response to last week’s photo challenge was far from pretty.  But I appreciated the comments I received and I was grateful for everyone who encouraged me to continue to share the truth of my story.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands of The Daily Post posed the theme “Fleeting” for the current Weekly Photo Challenge.  Naturally, my thoughts turned to the fleeting nature of life itself.  I got to thinking about how we are on this earth only briefly, and of how we have such a limited time before our bodies turn to dust and the memories we spent a lifetime making soon begin to fade.

So for the challenge this week I’ve decided to tackle the fleeting nature of life.  But to make it far less morose, I am going to focus on childhood and how quickly those precious years pass.  I say “far less” because I am still going to sprinkle a few cancer-y photos in the mix.

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As always, thank you for visiting.  And if you’d like to participate in the challenge, just click here.

I DO NOT LIKE WASHING MY HANDS!

FROM MY SON, M.  He thought this was important and needed to be shared with my readers:

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my mom is always telling me to eat my vegetables and wash my hands.

she said a  million times that ” I have a higher chance of getting cancer because my mom got it when she was so young.”  so I have to make healthy choice’s so I don’t get cancer.  That means I need to eat my vegetables and fruit.  I know I shud.  But I dont like to.  My Mom doesnt want me to get cancer when Im her age.  

AND

my mom makes me wash my hands a lot.  espeshally after i come home from school.  my mom makes me yous soap and hot water.

some times it gets annoying but I no why she she make me do these things.

i have to wash my hands because her white counts are really low.  and she gets infectshuns really easy.  and fevers easy.  she had to be in the hospital a long time for infectshuns.

So I wash my hands because i dont want her to be sick.  and i dont want her to go to the hospital.

i dont like to wash my hands or eat my vegetables but i love my mom!

Weekly Photo Challenge: “The Sign Says” I Have Cancer

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*WARNING:  The last image on this page is pretty disturbing — and gross — so be careful as you scroll down the page if you don’t want to see it.*

I am writing this post in response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic “Signs.”

While I know this isn’t what Sara at The Daily Post had in mind, taking the post in this direction is what feels right to me.  Rather than compiling a handful of hysterical sign photos (I do have a few!), I have decided to abandon my first inclination and leave funny at the doorstep.  Instead of happy and light, I’ve opted to share a few photos that capture my physical state just months before my diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer.

Now, before you run off in the other direction, I’ll tell you that I won’t go as far as posting photos of my breast with its visible lumps.  But I will post more benign shots that really were not benign.

I was 33 in these photos and had lost about 10 – 15 pounds without changing my eating or exercising habits [I didn’t exercise].  It may not show, but I was thoroughly and completely exhausted.  I had been tired before, but this was the first time I would hit a wall where I couldn’t, regardless of how hard I tried, force myself to keep going.

I was so sick.

I had infection after infection.  Bronchitis.  Pneumonia.  Eye infections.  Etc.  Etc.

My lymph nodes were swollen.

My skin was dull and grey.  I was breaking out in rashes and developed acne-like bumps.  I had sores in and on my mouth.  My lips were peeling and cracked, swollen and often bloody.

I had been growing my hair for ages so I could again donate to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs for kids going through cancer and chemo (and other serious illnesses). But I was afraid they wouldn’t accept it this time because it was so dry, dull and lifeless.  And it was falling out.

And I was falling.  On one of the occasions when I blacked out and fell down the stairs, I hit my back and head so hard that I ended up in the emergency room.

I was experiencing a constant tingling throughout my left breast, similar to the “let-down” feeling I remembered from nursing my twin boys.  But the pain in the breast, from the surface to somewhere deep inside my chest was just as concerning.  The pain in my armpit was also making me wonder.

And there was more.  But why bore you with the details?

I knew something was gravely wrong.  And I knew that if I didn’t find out what it was soon, it would kill me.

And I was right.

While these photos are not pretty or well done, they are real.  They may not look like much if you didn’t know me before all of this, but for me these photos illustrate clear signs that cancer had engulfed my breast and lymph nodes and that it was trying to go further.  I just wish I had recognized them for what they were.  I wish I had paid attention to the signs sooner.

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The two photos that follow were taken on Christmas Day, 2009, just under 4 months before my diagnosis.  I was so ill and had been for a while.  And other than pneumonia and very swollen and sore lymph nodes and these recurrent infections in my mucous membranes, etc., no one knew what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t leave these infections and illnesses behind.  These were two of the rare photos I was in that Christmas:

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Just a warning:  the disturbing photo is coming after the photo below.  Last chance to turn back!

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You probably thought I would share a photo of my breast or axillary lymph nodes here, but I promised I wouldn’t do that to you!  The disturbing photo I am sharing is of my eye, my skin, and my swollen (and bloody — though you can’t see the blood here) lips.  Both of my eyes looked like this quite often near the end.  They were as painful as they looked and were infected over and over again.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me because this wasn’t normal.  But no one sought to get to the bottom of my symptoms — I’m sure having no insurance at the time had something to do with this lack of action.

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Thanks for making it to the end.  Even though this photo montage isn’t pretty, I think it is important to my story and I appreciate everyone who was willing to see it through.

And I promise that the next photo challenge post I do will be filled with beautiful images of people or places I hold dear…

If you’d like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click here.

Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap

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I don’t often participate in The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt challenges, but this one caught my eye because it asks for photos that illustrate vacation. You all know how much I love to take and share vacation photos, so I couldn’t resist.

Here are a few favorites you haven’t seen yet. All were taken during our holiday in Puerto Rico:

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breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young puerto rico

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young puerto rico

As always, thank you for visiting. Your “likes” and comments brighten my world!

If you would like to participate in a Daily Post Challenge, just click:
here or here.

The SCAR Project

The Scar Project — Reblogging this from The Sarcastic Boob

The Sarcastic Boob

I was benignly checking Twitter one day when I saw a tweet from Anne Marie Ginanni (Stupid Dumb Bread Cancer) that Facebook was taking down pictures from The Scar Project’s FB page.   A further tweet by David Jay, the photographer who undertook this project, informed us that Facebook had also banned him from posting for thirty days.

Why is this important?  Facebook, in its decision to censor these photographs, has placed the project’s images in the same category of images that objectify women and sexualize the female breast.  We all know that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon, but Facebook seems to think that images of amputation or reconstruction is erotic and therefore a violation of their terms of service.

To call attention to this misguided policy and with the desire to change it, I have started a petition to call Facebook’s attention to this…

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In Memory of Julie (Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved)

*This is a repost of a story written months ago in response to a Weekly Photo Challenge. I’ve never reposted any of my posts before, but I was compelled to do this with this one because Julie’s birthday was this month… And because I reread this post and realized that I am already losing sight of my “resolution” and need a nudge… Thank you so much for reading…*

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Julie (left) & Me

I missed last week’s photo challenge, but when I saw this week’s topic, I had to pull out my old photo albums.

The photos you see here embody my New Year’s resolution for 2013.  What is it?

***To appreciate that life is sometimes too short — and to fulfill some of my bucket list wishes.***

The photos I’ve chosen are from a defining point in my life.  Why was this little window of time, this blip in my life, so special that I feel the need to highlight it here?

Because the girl in the photos with me is my friend Julie.  She was one of my very best friends growing up.  I loved her like a sister.  We laughed together, cried together and reached many a milestone together.

These photos of Julie and me are from a once-in-a-lifetime trip we took together.  I know, I know, people say “once-in-a-lifetime” but they don’t always know that for sure.  Sometimes they just say this to be dramatic.

But I am saying it because I know it is true.  I know that Julie and I will never take another trip together.  In fact, we will never laugh or cry or meet another milestone together again.  Ever.

Because Julie is dead.  She was killed in a car accident 5 years ago when we were just 31.

It still takes my breath away when I remember that she is really gone, but I often find myself smiling as I think of the time we spent together.

Though Julie’s death was tragic and horribly sad, her life was the opposite.  Julie exuded warmth and beauty.  She was positive and sweet and lived her life to the fullest.  She was courageous and didn’t let anything stand in her way…

…including me.  You see, I didn’t want to go on that trip.  I had never done anything like that before.  I wasn’t adventurous.  I didn’t think I deserved the opportunity to get on a plane.

It was about a month before our high school graduation when Julie proposed the idea.  Her exchange student for our senior year, now like our new sister, would be returning home to Mexico just after graduation.  What if we went to Mexico to stay with her over the summer?

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young bilateral mastectomy death loss grief

I was not the adventurous type and I opted to stay home and work until we started college in August.  Plus, I needed to be home to help care for my little sisters.  And I had never done anything just for me before.  How could I start with something so drastic?  No, I would not go.

But it wasn’t really up to me.  Julie would not listen to my protests.  She jokingly threatened to unfriend me (we had been very good friends since we were kids) if I didn’t commit to going.  She said she knew what was best for me (and I admit that she often did).  So, on one of the many evenings I spent at her house, she made a final plea.  Again I refused.  We were munching on her delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies when she picked up the phone and called the airline (this was before you could use the internet to book your tickets).  She pretended to be me and booked my tickets while I stood in her kitchen.  Though I halfheartedly protested and though I feigned anger, I was secretly delighted.  I knew I would enjoy this special time with Julie.  And I knew I was going to miss Judy (her exchange student), who was now a dear friend and that this was my chance to see where she lived and to say a real goodbye.

This was going to be my first real adventure, my first and last hurrah before heading off to university (20 minutes away – another story!) in the fall.

So we graduated from high school, Judy left for her home in Mexico, and we embarked on our adventure 8 days later.  Before stepping off the plane in Tucson (and driving the 4 hours across the border to our friend’s house), I had been a shy straight-A student who hung out in the teachers’ lounge after school because I could always relate better to people older than me.  Between sophomore & senior year, I took every single Advanced Placement class (and there were a lot!) our high school had to offer — and aced them all.  I was voted “Class Introvert” and could get A’s on Calculus tests without studying.  I thought A.P. Physics and Chemistry were fun.  I had been babysitting since I was eight and got my first “real” job the moment I was old enough to get a work permit.  I balanced school and mountains of homework with two afterschool/weekend jobs.  I volunteered a ton — you name a volunteer activity and Julie, jme and I signed up for it.  I had a resume filled with achievements.  I had a full scholarship to Cornell University and scholarships to a number of other prominent schools for Engineering or Biochemistry/Pre-Med waiting for me and I had every intention of continuing to be that people-pleasing, old-before-my-time nerdy girl…

I thought that maybe before college I would do something crazy like cut my long hair or start wearing lipstick.  I had no idea how this trip was going to change me.

It was an incredible 3 weeks.  Because Julie and I were staying with Judy and her family, we “lived” in the heart of a non-touristy part of Mexico where I was the only person with blondish hair for many, many miles.  We got a taste of what it was like to grow up there.  What an amazing way to see another culture.  Our many adventures included a 28 hour (total) roundtrip escapade on an old, steamy, smelly, jam-packed bus.  We were headed to see another friend (Juan–also a former exchange student) in Mazatlan.  The bus trip came complete with dirt roads, middle of the night stops by gun-toting “bandits” in the midst of nowhere, and people who were so scary that we slept in shifts because there had been a number of recent American kidnappings on buses just like ours.  As the only Americans who had probably set foot on our bus in a very long time, we figured we were targets, which made it that much more exciting for my friends (and nerve-wracking for straight-laced me).  When we stumbled off the bus, though, I realized that it was all worth it.  The area was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.  The days were amazing — swimming in the ocean, drinking pina coladas in the pool, parasailing and so much more — things I never dreamed I’d be doing.

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Julie parasailing in Mazatlan

And the nights were even more incredible.  More things I never dreamed I’d do.  All of a sudden quiet, shy me who hadn’t really dated much was dancing on tables at these gorgeous open air bars, forgetting about all of the responsibilities waiting for me back home, and getting kissed by older guys in their 20s (Mexicans & Americans alike) who could have stepped off movie sets or off the pages of GQ.

On the bus ride back to Judy’s city, I felt like a new person…  All of a sudden I had gone from being a cornerstone on the math team to someone who had 25 year-olds competing to spend a few minutes on the dance floor with her.  It was fascinating and exciting.

Our next stop was a lovely little town on the Gulf with mountains in the background.  Here we had more adventures with sangria, late-night swims, and mechanical bull-riding.  Then Julie’s older brother (who was in a band & lived in San Francisco) asked us to take a couple of days out of our Mexican adventure to come to see him.  Julie hadn’t seen her brother in a while and she had a huge crush on his roommate, so it was a quick yes from her.  All we had to do was drive to San Diego & he’d have tickets waiting for us at the airport.  Along the way we stopped to visit Judy’s cousins in Tecate (right next to the Tecate beer factory) for another wonderful night filled with yummy food & drinks and happy people.  No matter where we went (with the exception of on that bus to/from Mazatlan), I never heard a word of complaint or saw a frown.  Regardless of what everyone did or didn’t have, the people we met/lived with were warm, welcoming, generous, and positive.

Even the drive up to the U.S. was an adventure.  And then we were off to San Francisco, a place I had always wanted to visit.  We didn’t do anything too exciting, but even a trip to the grocery store was fun with Julie.  And, as it happened, the roommate guy she had a crush on actually “liked” me.  Julie was very gracious about it and happily let me have my moment with him.  He was 25 and an engineer on a big naval ship — the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln.  Though he was quite handsome, he was nerdy like me & we were instantly drawn to each other.  It was odd for me to realize that I had spent my teenage years feeling awkward and burying my nose in books — and all I had to do was take my hair out of my ponytail and throw a pair of jeans on (and talk to people 7 or 8 years older than me!) and voila…  Eric and I stayed up all night every night talking.  And then we all spent the days together seeing the sights.  It was a total departure from the “me” I knew, someone who had only had a few high school boys show any interest in her.  [Eric continued to send letters & call me (and my mother!) for years after this trip.]

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young bilateral mastectomy death loss grief

Julie in Spain — wasn’t she lovely?
(I didn’t take this photo — I never made it there)

Before I knew it, Julie, Judy & I were flying back down to San Diego and driving back into Mexico…  And shortly afterward, we made the long trek back to Arizona to catch our plane.  Judy’s family had a condo near the airport, so we spent one last night there — the 3 of us girls — laughing, talking & drinking more sangria in the hot tub (I hadn’t even been in a hot tub (or a condo for that matter!) before).  It was a wonderful way to end our trip.

That summer was — and remains — the best of my life.  After that I started college as a new person.  Still the old nerdy straight-A student who loved math on the inside, but with a new look and a newfound confidence on the outside.  I was always so grateful to Julie for that and so many things.

That trip was the last time I saw Judy… Until 5 years ago — for Julie’s funeral.  Julie was killed by a drunk driver in Spain, a country she loved so much.  The special young man she loved survived, but he was seriously injured — and he had lost the love of his life right before his eyes.  I was no stranger to loss or tragedy, but this was beyond anything I could wrap my mind around.  When jme, who had grown up with Julie from the age of 3, phoned to tell me what had happened, it was an absolutely heartbreaking call.  Jme got on a plane to come back home from Seattle.  And Judy flew from Mexico to stay at my house so we could be together to bury our dear friend…

Though her life was short, Julie’s impact was great.  She made everyone feel special and she touched lives here and across the Atlantic in deep and lasting ways.  The world was a far better place because she was in it.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young bilateral mastectomy death loss grief

Julie (rt.) and me
Early morning somewhere in Sonora, Mexico

So, this year I resolve to be more like Julie.  I resolve to check some things off my bucket list (and to make a bucket list).  I resolve to just “go for it” more.  I resolve to work on living my life to the fullest (I’m sure it will take me a while to get there, but I vow to work on it).  And I plan to honor her memory by trying to find and nurture the little light that she saw inside of me when we were just girls on the edge of new beginnings.

In Memory of Beautiful Julie – 1976 – 2007

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge:

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: In The Background

Taken from The Daily Post’s Challenge Page — “In the Background: The places that we pass through day after day, or even once in a lifetime, leave in their small way, echoes and traces of themselves upon us. But so often when taking self portraits or pictures of friends, the places themselves become a soft blurred mush of indistinct semi-nothingness, the limelight stolen by our smiling faces. In today’s challenge, let’s turn the tables.” 

For The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge this week, Pick asked that we take a photograph of ourselves or someone else as the lesser part of a scene, making the background or foreground the center of attention.

This may not have been exactly what he had in mind, but here are my photos:

The first image came about because I was taking a photo of the boys whilst sitting on a large rocking bench swing at the park yesterday.  My little mini doxie was positioned strategically in my lap.  Until she decided she wanted to be a part of the photo.  The original image captured just the top of her head and her eyebrows.  So I repositioned her (against her will!) to shoot this picture.

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Nobody puts Ginger in the Corner

I told the boys I would take individual photos of them, so I was in the midst of photographing W (in the tie-dye shirt) when M decided it was his turn to be in the limelight.  So he jumped in front of the camera in what I think was a rapper pose?

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I’m calling this one “Yo Mama” because that’s what came out of my sweet little boy’s mouth when he popped up in front of the camera!

And this last one has nothing to do with the theme.  I just thought I would show you how silly my kids are.  They crack me up often.  Since I like to think I am hilariously funny, I can only assume they get their wit and comedic timing from me.   😉

I’m just going to call this photo “Yikes,” for obvious reasons.  I haven’t a clue as to where they’ve seen a pose like this before!  [Mental Note:  Fix the lock on my bedroom door!]

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Thanks for visiting!  If you’d like to participate in the challenge, just click here:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/weekly-photo-challenge-in-the-background/