Tag Archive | 30s

Mistaken for the Bride of Frankenstein

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Photo Credit: frankensteinhalloweencostume.com

You may recall a post I wrote last month about skin cancer and learning that I have been growing said cancer on my forehead: Skin Cancer, Too?  Really?!

Well, despite my attempts to delay the surgery I need to (hopefully) eliminate this cancer, the day of this unpleasant event is now upon me.

In a few short hours I will be headed to the hospital for chemosurgery / Mohs micrographic surgery with our area’s only chemosurgeon.

And I am biting my nails.  They’ve told me that I should plan to be there for anywhere from half the day to the entire day.  They won’t know how long until the surgery is underway and they can see how extensive the cancer is — and what will be required to close the area up.

Apparently I am supposed to be comforted by the fact that my surgeon is excellent at doing reconstruction and skin grafts.  Let me assure you that I am not.  I would rather have not known that he may need to exercise these talents with me.

I don’t know why I am so concerned about this surgery.  I’ve had more than my fair share of surgeries and procedures.  And most of them were far more invasive than what I expect this one to be.  I’ve been cut into so many times that if I lifted my shirt, you might mistake me for the bride of Frankenstein.

So this shouldn’t be a big deal in comparison, right?  (Well, that’s what I’m telling myself at least.)

And it’s for a good cause.  I am actively growing cancer on my head — I can see it growing from week to week — so I should want to get rid of it.

But I am still scared.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bleeder?  And I’m on a blood-thinning regimen.  Just the biopsies required to get this diagnosis were a clear sign that bleeding will be an issue for me.

Maybe it’s because they’ll have a scalpel touching my head and I don’t yet know how deep they’ll have to cut?

Maybe it’s because I’ll be awake and I’d much rather be asleep?

Or maybe it’s just because I am so tired of cancer and side effects and surgeries and procedures and my body is weathered and worn out.  And I just want to feel like a regular thirty-something-year-old with regular thirty-something-year-old problems.

Or maybe it’s just because no one likes surgery — big or small — and I am only human.  (Of course if I lift my shirt, you may think otherwise!)

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Photo Credit: mubi.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic for this week is “UP.”

These photos were taken during a Fall trip to visit my dear friend Jin.  We traveled through NYC on the way home — the perfect place for “UP” photos.
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If you’d like to take part in a challenge yourself, just click on one of the links below.

~Thanks for visiting!~

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/weekly-photo-challenge-up-2/

And Tonight We Danced…

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breast cancer thirties 30s 30's cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com dancing kids twins

Tonight we danced…
You and you and I…
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We danced in the living room, between chairs
and beneath shiny blue paper stars and an off-white sky
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Some days I wonder when it will all end
Some nights I lie awake knowing it can’t last
And fearing the day when you will no longer have a Mom
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But for now, for tonight,
You are mine
And I am yours
***
For tonight your giggles will echo as you step on my toes
And we will dance and twirl ’til our heart’s content
You and you and I…

Daily Post: The Satisfaction of a List — Things I’m Afraid I Won’t Get to Do Before I Die

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cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s twins winter home

My Boys

The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt for today is: The Satisfaction of a List.
You are asked to make a list, any list, and share it with your readers.

Though I don’t usually manage to churn out responses to the Daily Writing Challenges, this one caught my eye because I am a lister and I love lists.

The list I’m sharing with you:

20 45 Things I’m Afraid I Won’t Get to Do Before I Die:

  1. Watch my kids go off to Fourth Grade
  2. Put my toes in the ocean again
  3. Dance with my sons at their weddings in 15 years or so
  4. Have my overdue eye exam — and get stylish new glasses
  5. Hold a new baby
  6. Be my youngest sister’s matron of honor (she’s 20)
  7. Get a new puppy
  8. Hold my grandchildren
  9. Finish the next season of The Walking Dead
  10. See Mumford & Sons in concert
  11. Have the option to opt out of going to my 10-year college reunion (because I don’t feel like going, not because I’m dead)
  12. Visit my family’s homeland (England/Scotland)
  13. Celebrate my sons’ 10th birthdays
  14. Publish my novel
  15. Finish writing said novel
  16. Publish a children’s book
  17. Use my teaching degree
  18. See some of my dearest friends again — jme, Jin, Loren, Sue, Sheri, Gil
  19. Make it to another winter (and I hate winter)
  20. Watch my children graduate from (and start!) high school
  21. See the love of my life again
  22. Experience what it’s like to have hormones again (or go a day without being hot and drenched from night/day sweats one minute and then shivering cold the next)
  23. Shed tears as I pack my kids up for college
  24. Shed tears as I wave my kids off to middle school
  25. See my mother happy
  26. Get divorced
  27. Be with someone who truly cares for me & who will miss me when I’m gone
  28. Listen to a lot more music
  29. Learn to play piano
  30. Live a day where money doesn’t keep me from doing the things I want to do for my kids
  31. Travel more
  32. Start a new job
  33. Hear that there is a cure/vaccine for cancer
  34. Show my kids the world
  35. Fall asleep snuggled next to my kids and my dogs more
  36. Experience a pain-free day
  37. Remember what it’s like to have energy
  38. To stress out about doing next year’s taxes
  39. Turn 40
  40. Turn 50
  41. Turn 60
  42. Turn 70
  43. Grow old
  44. To let go of everything that is holding me back…
  45. To say that I truly lived — and mean it…

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The Daily Post: Satisfaction of a List

Palliative Care at 30-Something. What Does it Mean?

Palliative Care Integration Model cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's death dying hospice

Palliative Care Integration Model
Image Credit: University of Alabama School of Medicine

If you’re like me (until fairly recently, anyway), when you hear the words “Palliative Care,” you think HOSPICE.

Hospice is a scary word in the cancer world.  At least that’s been my experience.  In Cancerland, nothing comes after hospice.  That’s it.  Game over.

So when you are a 30-something-year-old and you hear your oncologist tell you that she wants you to see a Palliative Care specialist, your heart might skip a beat.  I know mine did.

For me, I think it is because I was there as my grandparents went through cancer and treatments and eventually ended up on their deathbeds.  I was there when hospice began for them.  And the fact that the start of hospice coincided with the start of their palliative care was not lost on me.  So it’s only natural for me to associate one with the other, right?

Things were different years ago.  My grandmother suffered with her shiny bald head marked with surgery scars and radiation tattoos and burns from the treatment for her brain cancer.  She suffered with no relief until her poor shiny, wounded head lost its luster.  She suffered until hospice started.

The hospice folks came into her home, set up a hospital bed in the dining room, and they began her palliative care, finally, with some heavy duty drugs.  But she suffered until that point.  And even afterward because the pain control wasn’t great.  It was almost a relief when she slipped into a coma and finally died because it was so painful to watch her suffer and to hear her moan in her sleep when we knew that all hope was lost.

My grandfather’s scenario was different.  I’ve blocked out the length of time he actually suffered with lung cancer.  I was there, so I should know.  But it is too difficult to remember how long the cancer actually took to kill him.

What was different about his experience?  When he was ready for hospice, they didn’t come to us.  We moved him to a hospice.  This was where his palliative care began.

But it only lasted for a day.  We moved him to the lovely hospice home, they started him on morphine and gave me special swabs to keep his cracked lips moist.  The volunteers were warm and comforting and did their best to keep my grandfather pain free.  He died that night.

So it’s likely that my ideas about palliative care and hospice are rooted in my experiences.  I learned that palliative care was end-of-life care. But this is not true.  At least not anymore. So what is it, exactly?

From the Cancer Center’s brochure:  

Palliative Care is medical care focused on relief of the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness.  The goal is to help people live comfortably and to provide the best possible quality of life for patients.

Patients struggling with the uncertainty of serious illness need comprehensive care and support.  They need to know they aren’t alone.

What Can You Expect from Palliative Care?

  • Relief from distressing symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping
  • Improved ability to carry on with your life
  • Improved ability to tolerate medical treatment
  • Better understanding of your medical condition and medical choices

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Doesn’t sound so bad.  Sounds good, actually.  So I’m far less apprehensive (and maybe a little excited?) about my appointment at 8:30 this morning.  And I feel pretty lucky to be going to the Cancer Center at the best hospital in our area to meet with a specialist on their team.  Of course I’d feel luckier to not be 30-something and in need of their services, but I’ll take what I can get at this point.

I will let you know how it goes…  Though Percocet (Oxycodone) has been a faithful friend for a long while now, I’m hoping there might be something that works a little/lot better — and that’s less liver toxic — in my future.

We shall see…  Good night…

Skin Cancer Too? Really?!

Photo Credit: nation.com.pk

So the week before last I had some biopsies done.  I had postponed this followup visit to the dermatologist for, oh, about a year and a half.  Yep, I know.  But I’m sure you get it.

The previous two visits had ended with biopsies, some rather large and deep.  The results were mixed — some of my sacrificed moles were fine, others had pre-cancerous cells.

When my first 6-month followup came around, I canceled because, well, I was tired.  I had just finished radiation and was getting weekly infusions of Herceptin that my body wasn’t reacting well to.  And I was spending plenty of time at the hospital and Cancer Center. I just couldn’t deal with one more thing.  Then I just never bothered to reschedule.

So last month I finally picked up the phone and called.  Fast forward to my appointment.  They did a quick once-over, saw some areas of concern, and then scheduled me to come in for biopsies the following week.  I reluctantly but dutifully returned and got a bit nervous when there were two doctors, a nurse, and a tray of scalpels in the room.

It was less involved than it had been on previous occasions.  I was on my side when they took the mole that was on the fringe of my chest radiation field.  After cutting it out, the doctor stitched it up quickly, but I could feel the blood dripping down my back.  They scrambled to get it cleaned up as I mentioned that I was on aspirin therapy so I was a bleeder.

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Photo Credit: dermnetnz.org

They then moved to the lesion on my forehead.  This was the one that had concerned me for months.  It didn’t look like much, but every time I washed my face, even gently, it bled.  I thought this was odd and it was really what had inspired me to schedule the appointment.  The three doctors I saw the first week agreed and mumbled something to each other about act-something keratosis turning into cancer.  And then the two new doctors on biopsy day were mumbling the same thing to each other after looking at it with their special little scope-y things.  The the one turned to me and said it was likely actinic keratosis that became cancer, but I didn’t pay much attention.  I couldn’t have skin cancer, too.

When they got to my head, the numbing needles didn’t really do their job.  Thankfully it didn’t take too long.  But they couldn’t stop the bleeding.  Pressure wasn’t working, so the nurse passed aluminum nitrate (I thought they used to use silver nitrate?) to the doctors and they were finally able to stop it.  They taped me up and sent me home with an appointment card to have my stitches removed and receive my results in a week (last week).

I returned last week and was told that the area on my head is skin cancer.  They said that I would need to schedule my surgery with the Mohs or chemosurgeon at the hospital.  They asked me to head over there to schedule it in person.  Since I had the biopsies done at the hospital, this meant walking across the hall to the Mohs surgery department and the sole surgeon in our area who is trained to perform this type of surgery.

But that was still too long a walk for me at that moment, so I skipped out and went home.  I still haven’t scheduled the surgery.

I try to avoid feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on things that I can’t change.  But, really?  I mean it sounds like this one isn’t that big a deal, especially in comparison to the breast cancer, but I was a bit incredulous when they first told me.

I began wondering about statistics.  “What are the chances of having been diagnosed with two distinct types of cancer before the age of 37?”  I consulted the internet and still don’t know because I was sidetracked by the search results.  Turns out that it is not really understood why someone in this age bracket would develop one cancer, let alone two.

Well, I’ll just have to do my best to avoid a third.

P.S. Please do something for me.  Schedule a skin cancer screening — it’s quick and easy.  And you aren’t too young!

*** I am very sorry to say that a couple of months after I wrote this post, my little sister was diagnosed with MELANOMA, the deadliest form of skin cancer.  So I’d like to reiterate the “p.s.” above.  If you notice something that isn’t normal for you, be it a breast change, an odd-looking mole, or some other concerning symptom, please get it checked out.  It’s important, you are important, and you are not too young for cancer.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward — Boys at the Beach

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's beach kids forward

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's beach kids forward young

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's beach kids forward young

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

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/forward/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

Thanks for visiting!

The Worst Job I Ever Had — Or — A Hairy Guy and an Old White House

*Written in response to The Green Study’s “Worst Job I Ever Had” contest.  If you’d like to enter, just follow the link to her post.  Thanks for reading!*

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cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's worst job ever young mastectomy

Photo Credit: HowardOwens.com

I was eleven years old.  I’ll give you a minute to picture an eleven-year old.

At 11, you are just a kid.  So much to learn.  So many mistakes to make.  You still need someone to look after you.

But we needed the money.

So I placed an ad in the newspaper:

Summer Babysitter/Mother’s Helper:  Responsible 11-year-old girl available to care for your child(ren).  CPR-certified.  3 years experience.  References. Light housekeeping/cooking if needed. 

I received a number of calls.  I’m not sure that all of the men who called actually had children.  But that’s another story!

Anyway, I had been babysitting for my younger sister for years and had branched out to babysitting for friends, neighbors, friends of friends/neighbors since turning 8.  Think about that for a minute.  I have eight-year-olds.  Two of them, in fact.  And I cannot picture leaving them alone for 20 minutes.  I cannot picture them cooking.  Or cleaning.  Or caring for other people’s children!

But I did all of these things at the tender age of 8.  So, by 11, I was an old pro.

Of all the calls I received, the most appealing came from a woman who said she’d need me Saturdays and most weekdays and that I could start that Saturday.

Why was it the most appealing?

1.)  I could walk to the house.  We did not have a car, so proximity was important.

2.)  She had a two-month-old son — and I loved babies.

So I said yes.  And I walked there on Saturday morning, arriving early because I was a very responsible eleven-year-old.

But I was not prepared for what I would find or for what this job would be.

I had passed the house many times on the school bus.  It was a weathered old white house in poor repair.  The lawn was littered with bits and pieces from at least a few vehicles.  And there, in the long gravel driveway, was a run-down old truck with a skull and crossbones bumper sticker on the back window and a pair of panties hanging on the rear-view mirror.

But I was not one to judge.  I grew up quite poor.  Owning an old white house and a run-down old pick-up truck (with or without the panties) would have been a dream come true for us.

When I knocked on the front door that first day, a tall, hairy guy motioned me inside.  He looked me up and down and gave me a smile and a wink I had seen before.  Then his wife swooped in, red lipstick-stained cigarette dangling from her mouth.  She handed her infant to me with as much care as you’d expect from a football player tossing a football.  “Here are the other two,” she said, pointing to Jimmy, age 7, and Cassie, age 4.

And with that, the man and woman left, promising to be back “later.”

In the months that ensued, “later” meant anywhere from 2 to 10 hours.  I never knew.  Sometimes the couple would leave and go to an unnamed place.  Sometimes their bandmates would come and they would all go out to the old barn in the back to play while I looked after the kids all day.  And sometimes it meant that the mother would leave me home with the children and the hairy man.  And on those days, he often wore only a pair of boxers and said he enjoyed watching me bathe the kids.  Yes, hairy guy was a weirdo!

And the kids, oh, the poor kids.  I fell in love with 4-year-old Cassie and 8-week-old Joe.  They were sweet and cuddly and needed to be nurtured.

And, to my dismay, 7-year-old Jimmy fell in love with me.  I learned this when he took me back to the old weeping willow he called his treehouse and attempted to kiss and handcuff me to a tattered backseat his dad had dragged in there from his old car.  Of course a discussion about boundaries ensued.

And yet I returned.  All summer long.  And on the days when their parents came home drunk and/or stoned, I stayed late without pay and walked home in the dark.  Those kids needed me.

And I will never forget them — or the worst job I ever had.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss ~ a Wedding, an Elephant, a Gorilla and a Boy

I know I have been M.I.A. this week and that I’m barely squeaking this week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge entry in, but here is my submission for the challenge topic: Kiss.

Thanks so much for visiting.  And if you’d like to participate in a Weekly Photo Challenge, just click on the links at the bottom of this page.

May your life be filled with kisses…

cancerinmythirties,wordpress,com m gorilla cancer thirties 30s 30's weekly photo challenge kiss breast

My Son & His New Friend

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's kiss elephant mom baby

A Mom and Her Baby

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My Beautiful Sister and Her New Husband on Their Wedding Day

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/weekly-photo-challenge-kiss/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

Happy Valentine’s Day

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com valentine's day breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young

I thought I would take a minute to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day.

I was unable to eat and drink today because of a test I needed to fast for.  So when H and my sons came to pick me up from the hospital at 4 this afternoon (and I was cleared to eat & drink again), I was both hungry and thrilled.

I had big plans for the evening with my two Valentines (my twin sons).  But I was too tired to follow through.  I could barely keep my head up at the dinner table.  It wasn’t long before I needed to retreat to the coziness of the couch and my thick blanket and loyal dogs.

I thought my boys would be disappointed — they usually are when I need to lie down.  But they amazed me by understanding my exhaustion.  They thanked me for making their special Valentine cards (I stayed up all night last night crafting Valentines for them and for their teachers) and for the little gifts I made for them.

And then they brought me the gift they made for me.  They found an unused box and filled it with 2 new rolls of Scotch tape, a giraffe-shaped soap dispenser, and some special things from around the house (seashells, bits of coral, a photo of a sea turtle).  They then decorated sheets of copier paper and wrote “To Mom” and “Love, Us” on them.  They wrapped the box in their creations and topped it with an old Christmas bow.

They were grinning from ear to ear when they presented me with their box.  They were taking a rare reprieve from bickering with one another, so I knew this was important!

Struggling to keep my eyes open, and soaking wet and shivering from alternating hot flashes and night sweats that are really day sweats (thank you, radical hysterectomy and Tamoxifen!), I thought I was letting my kids down.  But when they presented me with that special box, I knew I was wrong.  They were happy to have me as their valentine, whatever my condition.  And I realized how lucky I was.

Their squabbling soon resumed and we had to get the homework show on the road, but I still felt like a lucky girl.

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Tonight I realized that I have two very special valentines.

I hope that you, too, have a special person/child/dog/cat/friend/goldfish in your life.  Good night & warmest wishes, dear readers…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Home

This week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge subject is:  Home

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/photo-challenge-home/

These images represent HOME for me…  Thank you for taking the time to visit…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s twins winter home

My Boys

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Fishing in the Living Room

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My Aunt & Cousin with My Boys & Our Miniature Schnauzer, Mattie

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancer thirties 30s 30's twins dog

My Mom & Aunt

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My Mom & Mattie & the Boys

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancer thirties 30s 30's twins dog young

Mattie in the Window

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancer thirties 30s 30's twins dog young

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancer thirties 30s 30's twins dog young

If you would like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenges, click here:

Weekly Photo Challenge

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited — Dirty Memories

Written in response to The Daily Post Challenge

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's sexual abuse childhood

Photo Credit: creepypasta.wikia.com

Dirty Memories

Chubby little fingers grip a wooden banister

He leads her toward a strange basement

She is scared

And for good reason

They reach the bottom and he takes her aside

This is where it happens

Again

Her young mind can’t wrap itself around this

And for good reason

No three-year-old should understand this

But she will one day

He finishes

And leads her back upstairs

She does what she is told

She follows

He is her dad, after all

He takes her to the pony rides on the way home

This will wash the dirty memories away

That’s what he thinks, at least

But he is wrong

I will always have the dirty memories

If you’d like to respond to a Daily Post Daily Prompt, click here:

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge for this week: Unique

I hope you enjoy my photo choices.  To participate in the Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/photo-challenge-unique/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

 

A Lone Coconut on the Beach

 

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A Lone Boy Beneath the Setting Sun (one of my sons!)

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I found this zoo’s fake flamingo enclosure to be rather unique.  It’s not often that you see a display of faux animals at an animal park!

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Thanks for visiting!

“Give me back my peanut butter!” — OR — “My 1st Bucket List Adventure: Part I”

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's young plane airline airliner

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on as I embarked on my first “bucket list” adventure.  I am glad to finally tell you that our intended mystery destination was… Puerto Rico.  Visiting this lovely place has been a dream of mine for many years.  Why?

#1:  Thanks to photos and travel shows I formed this picture in my mind of a beautiful island filled with old world charm and beautiful beaches.

#2:  I have always wanted to visit a Caribbean isle.  Our passports expired long ago and P.R. is one of only two Caribbean destinations (that I’m aware of) that doesn’t require them from U.S. Citizens.  Since it’s the cheapest of the two to reach, it was an easy choice.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's young puerto rico vacation kids twins beachThere were other reasons, but these were the big ones.  All in all, we were looking for a relaxing tropical vacation.

But this was hardly what we found…  And when I say we, I am referring to my twin 8-year-olds, my husband, and my dear friend, jme.  Jme and I grew up together (she was Jamie back them).  We’ve experienced many milestones together.  And we’ve experienced some significant losses together.  And you may recall that when jme first learned that I had the disease that played a role in her mother’s death, her reaction involved getting on a plane and flying clear across the country to show up on my doorstep.  She is the kind of friend you would feel lucky to have — if you were one of the rare few fortunate enough to know someone like her.  Anyway, she flew across the country again a few weeks ago, but this time it was to say a quick hello to her family before getting on a plane (a bunch of planes, actually!) to seize the day and make some memories with me and my sons.

I’m getting side-tracked already!  Okay, enough backstory…

The First Uh-Oh.

We left the house at an ungodly hour for this region.  Okay, 4 a.m. is probably an ungodly hour anywhere.  But in western N.Y. in mid-January when it is as cold as it is dark, you get the sense that you are violating some unwritten law by being outside at this hour.  It just feels wrong.  Especially when you haven’t slept a wink in a couple of days.

But I was excited and determined.  I had been waiting for this for most of my life.  So my husband (I’ll refer to him as “H” for husband from now on)…  Crap, where was I?  Oh, yes, so H dropped us off and drove off to park our minivan at an economy parking lot nearby.  And we went about the business of checking in for our flights, begging for seats near one another, printing our boarding passes, checking our bags, and ensuring that they were free (thanks to a credit card perk) at the counter.  This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but when 5 people are booked under 5 separate reservations (this is a requirement for getting the huge travel discounts that we do), it is.  No big deal.  Still excited.  Let’s get to security.

Photo Credit:  huffingtonpost.com

Photo Credit: huffingtonpost.com

After taking our shoes off and putting all of our belongings in buckets on the conveyor belt, I was told that in lieu of a traditional walk through the metal detector, I would need to stand in the full-body X-ray scanner.  Not one to speak up or slow a line down, I reluctantly said that I would rather not.  I was asked if I was refusing the security measure.  So I explained that I had had enough radiation in my lifetime to grow a tail and start glowing and, thus, I was leery of the X-ray scanner if another option was available.  I told him that I would prefer the pat down option.

This is not me in the scanner.Photo Credit:  http://www.aetherczar.com

This is not me in the scanner.  I wish I had her butt, though!
Photo Credit:  www.aetherczar.com

The T.S.A. agent was rather smug and made me feel as though I was I causing a major problem.  He set me off to the side and told me that I would have to wait for someone to come to give me a pat-down — and did I want to reconsider in lieu of being a giant P.I.T.A.?

I told him I’d wait for the pat-down.

When the patter-downer arrived, she asked if I would like to have it done out in the open or if we should go to a private room.  I jokingly said that I’d had enough surgeries to make my dignity a non-issue and told her to go ahead right there.  She smiled and began.  It was my first pat-down and not a big deal.  It did take much longer than I expected, especially given that I normally walk through the metal detector and that’s it — quick and simple.

I passed, of course, but my jar of peanut butter didn’t fare so well.  It didn’t cross my mind that the sealed jar of organic peanut butter I brought to make everyone’s sandwiches with during the long day of travel wouldn’t make it through security.  Alas, it did not.  And my inconvenienced T.S.A. agent friend seemed all too happy to confiscate it.  Since I would much rather airport security be more cautious than less, I happily sacrificed my jar of contraband in the interest of national security.

We finally redressed (coats, sweaters, hats, shoes) and made our way to the gate, still with 5 minutes to spare before boarding.  It was about 15 minutes after we were supposed to board when I started to get a bit nervous.  We were on a tight timeline.  You see, to do this trip on a shoestring budget, we had to book two separate itineraries with two different airlines — and do it all through a 3rd party website.  In hindsight, it was a bit crazy.  But it was the only way — and it should have worked out.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's young twins winter

We began boarding at about 5:45 a.m., toting our carry on bags out of the warmth of the airport and into the bitter cold and darkness that surrounded the little plane that waited to carry us to New York’s J.F.K.  We shivered as we inched up the plane’s steps and found our seats at the back of the plane.

And we waited.  And waited.  When the pilot announced that we were experiencing mechanical issues and that we wouldn’t be leaving until they were taken care of, I wasn’t surprised.  “These things happen,” I thought.

The surprise came when he later returned to the intercom and announced that they were unable to fix the problem and that we were to collect our things and leave his aircraft while further repair attempts were made.

“What??”  I didn’t understand.  “Why can’t we just wait here while they fix it?  It’s going to take longer to get off and get back on.”

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s peanut butter

Photo Credit:  komu.com

I really didn’t understand — until we were told that we could rebook our flights at the gate.  Uh oh.  We didn’t have enough padding in our schedule to account for this much of a delay.

So we reversed the boarding process and walked the steps down the plane and the steps back up into the airport.  At the gate we were told that we could form a line and the gate attendant would attempt to find alternative flights for everyone.  H immediately took off.  He left the secure area to go out to the main ticket counters at the airport entrance to see what could be done there.  So while jme and the boys sat patiently, I stood in gate counter line with a bunch of other passengers and tried to figure out how to get us to Tampa, Florida in time for our JetBlue flights that afternoon.  I knew that if we missed our flight out of Tampa, our trip would not happen.

It still seemed possible to get to Florida.  But it wasn’t.

——

There’s more to come… I just know that if I break without posting this first installment, it will be harder for me to carve out the time to finish it later.  And I know it’s not that riveting a story to warrant a cliffhanger, so thank you for indulging me!

FREE Papa John’s Pizza!

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's young free pizza papa john's

Photo Credit: Papa John’s Facebook Page

My bucket list adventure post is a work in progress, but in the meantime, I couldn’t resist this opportunity to pass along an opportunity to win a FREE pizza.

I have neglected the “Freebies & Special Deals” section of my blog, so I hope this post makes up for that a bit!

Here’s the deal:  Papa John’s is giving a FREE pizza to everyone who guesses the outcome of the Super Bowl coin toss.  This gives everyone who enters a 50% chance of winning a pizza!

And since they allow up to 4 entries per household, this means that as long as you live with someone, your house is guaranteed to win a FREE pizza!

It’s simple to enter.  Just visit:

http://www.papajohnscointoss.com

Then fill out the entry form.  Be sure to NOT select the “yes, please send me offers and spam” boxes if you don’t want to receive future texts and emails from Papa John’s (or check them if you do — who knows, maybe there will be more free pizza offers for you?).

Make sure you select Heads or Tails at the top.  If you want a guaranteed pizza, make sure the 2nd entrant chooses the opposite side of the coin.

Remember, you & your housemate/spouse/child/dog must have different email addresses or you will be disqualified.  I read that up to 4 people per household could enter, but we just did 2 to play it safe.

Be sure to enter TODAY by 11:59 p.m. PST.

“Winners will receive a promotion code good for a FREE LARGE 1-TOPPING PIZZA, which can only be redeemed at papajohns.com. The promotion code will be emailed to winners on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 by 11:59 p.m. PST.”

As a bonus, after you complete your entry, you will see a code worth 50% off a large pizza that you can use now.  We priced it out to be $6.48 including tax for a large cheese.  Not a bad deal!

ENJOY!

*If you have any questions, just post them below.  And if you enjoy non-cancery posts like these & would like me to do more of them, please click the LIKE button.  Thanks!*

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

Well, I have returned from my first adventure…but things have been far too hectic and I have been far too exhausted (and ill with cellulitis) to write about the experience yet.  But it is a post I am looking forward to sharing!  In the meantime, I thought I would return with a photo challenge post.  Thank you so much for all of the likes and comments on my last post — and for being there to cheer me on…

These may not be the greatest photos, but to me, they are wonderful representations of this week’s photo challenge topic, “love.”

There were many contenders, but I am far too tired to add them all (and I don’t want to bore you!), so here are just a few.  I may come back to add more at a later date…

Thank you for reading!

————————————————————————————————-

It was Christmas and my littlest sister decided that after all of my chemo and surgeries, the best gift she could give me would be a little companion to help me weather the remainder of my cancer treatments.  So she chose this sweet little mini dachshund and presented her to me with a red ribbon around her furry little body.  Ginger has spent many hours snuggling with me and giving me comfort in the two years we have been together.  And she is a wonderful reminder of the special kind of love sisters sometimes share.

Image

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Another Christmas photo…  I was sick and so tired.  And my sweet miniature schnauzer, Mattie, snuggled up next to me.  I had so much to do to get ready for a busy day of making our Christmas rounds that day, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to lay there with my special girl.  And I am so glad that I did because she died suddenly of cancer a couple of months later.   She loved me unconditionally and I miss her as much today as I did when she first died.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young dog dogs illness

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And my boys…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s sick dog dogs illness

Weekly Photo Challenge: Love

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

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/weekly-photo-challenge-love/

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

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

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

cancerinmythirites.wordpress.com breast cancer young 30s illumination daily photo challenge kids

cancerinmythirites.wordpress.com breast cancer young 30s illumination daily photo challenge kids

cancerinmythirites.wordpress.com breast cancer young 30s illumination daily photo challenge kids

cancerinmythirites.wordpress.com breast cancer young 30s illumination daily photo challenge kids

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved — In Memory of Julie

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

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.

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

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

********************

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: Resolved

A long overdue thank you…

I can’t believe I have let so much time pass since receiving award nominations from three of my favorite bloggers…but I’m embarrassed to say that I have!

So here is my long overdue ‘thank you’ to Kat B. of Travel. Garden. Eat for a Liebster Award nomination…to Cancer Curmudgeon for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  And thank you to another of my faves, The Green Study for a Reality Blog Award.

Thank you all so very much!  I am over the moon with gratitude, especially because I admire your blogs so much…

To formally accept these award nominations, there are a few things I must do.   Here goes…

breast cancer thirties 30s liebster blog

The Rules for the Liebster Award are as follows:

  • Link back to the blogger who gave you this award – http://travelgardeneat.com/2012/11/29/you-flatter-me-blogger-friends/
  • Post the award to your blog – done!
  • Post 11 things about yourself – see below
  • Answer the questions asked of you, plus create 11 new questions for your nominees to answer.  (I’m going to fudge the rules a bit and ask my nominees to answer the same 11 questions if they choose — otherwise I might never post this!) – done
  • Nominate 11 people you think deserve the award and link them to your post. – see below
  • Go to their pages and tell them they have been chosen. – This might take me a couple of days!

11 Things About Me:

  1. I love sea turtles, giraffes and elephants.
  2. I have twin boys.
  3. One of my two best childhood friends was killed in a car accident when we were 31.  It’s been 5 years, but I’m still in shock.
  4. My other best childhood friend dropped everything and hopped on a plane from the opposite end of the country when she heard that I had cancer.  (See photo from A Minute Can Make a Difference)
  5. I have 2 dogs.  A big mutt and a mini-wiener dog.  They look like giant and mini versions of each other.
  6. My favorite movie is The Adjustment Bureau.
  7. I was a straight-A student and graduated with Honors.
  8. I love bacon even though everyone tells me I shouldn’t eat it because of the cancer thing.  I just can’t resist!
  9. As soon as my children’s kindergarten class heard that I had cancer, I was overwhelmed by kindness and yummy dinners.
  10. My grandmother died of cancer when I was just a few months older than my own kids.
  11.  One of my dogs is named Kevin. 

Questions for me from travel.garden.eat :

A place you have never traveled to that is on your travel bucket list?

-Hawaii’s Big Island

Book you are currently reading?

-I forget — I think it’s called The Lost Girl

Have you ever bungee-jumped?

-No

Morning bird or night owl?

-Used to be a morning bird.  Now a night owl for sure!

How long have you been blogging?

-Only since June

Which movie can you watch again and again?

-50 First Dates

One of your favorite quotes?

-“I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life.  I know you’ll be a star…in somebody else’s sky.  Why can’t it be mine?”

Your favorite recipe (in full or via link)?

-I’ll have to think about it.  I love to bake, so probably a chocolate cake recipe.

Pet peeve?

-People who repeatedly ask for advice but never take it.

If you could invite anyone to join you for dinner — fictional or real, from the past or the present — who would you invite?

-My grandmother

Your favorite blog post — from your blog!

$50 Straws and How Cancer Changes Everything

or

The Daily Post: Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

Now for my Liebster Award nominees:

  1.  Life PortOfolio
  2. sharechair
  3. Yet Another Prostate Cancer Blog
  4. Richert Images
  5. rarasaur
  6. Ron Mayhew Photography
  7. The Blog of Otis
  8. Wind Against Current
  9. Westlake Musings
  10. Cancer Curmudgeon
  11. FiftyFourandaHalf

**********************

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

The rules for this award are:

Post about this award and the blogger that nominated, tell 7 (random) things about myself and nominate & notify 15 other very inspiring bloggers.

First, the blogger who nominated me…  Cancer Curmudgeon.  I love her blog for her ‘tell it like it is’ attitude and her engaging posts.  I also love the way she finds the best of what’s out there and reblogs topics that her followers like me!) want to read about.  Thank you for the nomination, Cancer Curmudgeon!  And thank you for your blog!

I have decided to spare you and not share another 7 details about myself — I think I bored you enough above.  I am skipping straight to my list of nominees:

  1. inspired2ignite
  2. Clanmother
  3. Prego and the Loon
  4. Three Hundred Sixty-Five
  5. Keeping It Real
  6. The Retiring Sort
  7. born by a river
  8. Mirth and Motivation
  9. mainelyhopeful
  10. Green and Clean My Life
  11. Bucket List Publications
  12. Jump For Joy! Photo Project
  13. Campfire Memories
  14. Denise4Health
  15. The Sarcastic Boob

***************

The Reality Blog Award

This award has NO rules!  Yay!  But I will follow The Green Study‘s lead here and answer a few questions:

1) If you could change something about your life what would you change?

My marriage

2) If you could repeat an age, what age would it be?

25.  I would like a do-over now that I know better.

3) What one thing really scares you?

Dying before I have a chance to have a real and positive impact on my children’s lives.

4) What one dream have you not completed yet and do you think you will be able to complete it?

I would like to have my novel/autobiography (not yet fully written!) published.  I doubt that I will be able to accomplish this goal before I leave the earth.

5) If you could be someone else for the day, who would you be?

Someone who lives on a lovely tropical island.

And my award nominees are:

  1. Three Hundred Sixty-Five
  2. The Retiring Sort
  3. FEC-THis
  4. Chris Martin Writes
  5. Cancer Curmudgeon
  6. Flickr Comments

———————————————————————————-

Thank you, Travel.Garden.Eat., Cancer Curmudgeon, and The Green Study!

A Minute Can Make a Difference

cancer in my thirties breast 30s bald

I was writing a ‘thank you’ post when I received an email about a petition to ban BPA from our food supply (and a couple of others), so I had to put my other post on the back burner for a minute to pass these petitions along.  If you remember my Please Don’t Eat Anymore Plastic, you know how I feel about issues like these.

If you have a minute, please sign these petitions — you can make your name public or not.  Thanks so much.  If we all do a little, we can make a big change together.

Petition to ban BPA, a carcinogen found in plastics, etc. [“BPA is still used in various food packaging, soup cans, soda cans, and more. With all of the serious health risks BPA presents, why is it still being used in any products at all?  There are perfectly safe alternatives to BPA, yet manufacturers continue to use the chemical.”]:

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=2&campaign=BPAChemical2

———

Petition to stop insurance companies from dropping patients with breast cancer:

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=2&campaign=InsuranceCancellation

————————————-

Petition to ban dangerous chemicals in cosmetics:

http://www.thebreastcancersite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=2&campaign=SafeCosmetics

Thank you!

The Daily Post: Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

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It was April 12, 2012.  It was the anniversary of terrible surprises.

I won’t name them all.  Just a few.

It was the anniversary of the day I was certain that my unborn babies and I would die in the hospital.  It was the day after Easter.  I had been hospitalized with preeclampsia since the week before when I had gone to my check-up and was told that I needed an emergency induction.  I was sent next door to the “best” hospital in our region.  The hospital with the Level III NICU.  The hospital that people traveled across counties and hundreds of miles for.  I had been in active, induced labor for 4 days by April 12, 2004.  By then, the preeclampsia had become severe.  I was so sick.  I was shaking.  I was bleeding (from a yet-to-be diagnosed placental abruption).  I was being pumped with high doses of pitocin to keep me in active labor — and competing doses of magnesium sulfate because my blood pressures were so dangerously high.  And I had gained an inconceivable almost 100 lbs in edema weight since my admission into the hospital.  My organs were shutting down.  I was hearing Christmas music when there was no sound.  I was dying.  And my babies were, too.

Fast forward to April 12, 2005.  One year later.  Two days before my babies’ 1st birthdays.  The day the woman who was like a second mother to me took her life… a woman who also had breast cancer young (but for her, her diagnosis came in her 40’s)… a woman who was also the mother of one of my two very best childhood friends.  I had known her for what felt like my whole life.  I had lived with her during a rough patch in my life.  And now she lived around the corner from me in a house matching mine.  And she had reached out to me and asked me to spend more time with her…but I was so wrapped up in my own traumas and exhaustion that I didn’t see her as much as I should have.  I thought there would be more time.  And then the call came on April 12 that I was too late.  We all were.

And fast forward ahead again to April 12, 2010.  This was the day before I learned for sure that I had breast cancer.  Nuff said.

But…

I had to put these difficult/horrible memories the back burner because April 12, 2012 was 2 days before my twin sons’ birthdays.  It was also their Spring Recess from elementary school.  So we wanted to do something special and make some happy memories for their birthdays.

We packed up the car the day before and set our sights on Philadelphia.  I never been there, but we had free passes for the nearby Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ.  Since it was “only” about an 8 hour drive and we had heard the aquarium was something special, we couldn’t pass the opportunity up.

April 12, 2012.  After a struggle with traffic and an almost unsuccessful quest to find cheap parking, we arrived at the aquarium much later than I had planned.

And I was already exhausted.  You see, only a couple of weeks before I was lying in an operating room while my gynecologic oncologist was performing a radical hysterectomy and oopherectomy on me.  I was 35 and wanted another baby.  But what all of the breast cancer crap would have made unwise and extremely difficult, large masses that we were all certain would come back as ovarian and pelvic metastasis, made perfectly impossible.

surprise the daily post weekly photo challenge cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer feeding the stingrays philadelphia camden, nj Adventure Aquarium thirties 30s mom motherhood family sting ray tank touch wadingDespite this, I entered the crowded aquarium in a wheelchair and with a twinkle in my eye.  I was planning to enjoy the day with my boys.

It was when I was handed a map at the admission desk that I first saw it.  There was something special going on today.  At precisely something-o’clock (I don’t remember when the something was!), a few lucky aquarium goers would be selected from the crowd for a special stingray encounter.  Now this wasn’t your average aquarium encounter.  This was an opportunity to wade into the large stingray pool to hand-feed the rays!

I was determined to be one of the lucky few.

But there were a few major issues with my plan.

  1. My plan wasn’t a plan.
  2. I generally don’t win things.
  3. The place was packed.  And I mean packed.  Everyone with kids on Spring Break clearly had the same idea as we did.  It seemed like the whole east coast was in the aquarium.  There was no way I would be able to get anywhere near the stingray tank, let alone in it.

Nevertheless, I told my husband and my boys that I would be in that tank that afternoon.  My husband told me to give it up.  There was no way.  So we visited the other exhibits and made our way through the aquarium.  We were looking at the hippos in a giant tank filled with hippos, fish and hippo poo when I said, “Oh no, it’s 5 minutes til something-o’clock!”

Unable to run because of the surgery and my post-chemo fatigue, I asked my husband to push me over to the exhibit, an exhibit located almost all the way over on the opposite side of the aquarium.  He told me that it was impossible to get there in 5 minutes and that even if I did, I would never get near the tank and I would certainly never be chosen.

No matter.  I called in all of my favors and groveled, something I never ever never do with him.  I was determined.  So we weaved in and out of the crowds and crowds of people and finally made our way around after what felt like an eternity.  When we arrived near the entrance of the giant stingray room and pool, I emerged from the wheelchair and we left it outside.  I walked into a densely packed room filled with children and adults alike.  It was chaos.

And we were late.  They were asking the audience 4 questions.  4 people who were given the opportunity to answer the questions and who answered correctly would be invited into the tank.   The selection process had already begun.  I had already missed question 1.

Question 2 came and at least 50 hands shot up in a crowd of many more than that.  The tank-keeper wouldn’t even see me.  She selected a child in front and, with the assistance of her dad, the girl gave the correct answer.  Question 2 came.  50 or 60 more hands.  She chose a teenager in front who also answered correctly.

The final question came.  “What kind of seastar is this?”  I knew the answer.  My hand shot up with about 1,000 others.  She asked a child.  Wrong answer.  She asked an adult.  Wrong answer.  I was so buried in the crowd that she would never see me.

But then she pointed in my direction.  “The young lady with the longish red-brown hair.”

“Oh, that’s not me,” I thought.  “I have ugly short not red-brown ‘I’ve had lots of chemo’ hair.”

But then I remembered that I was wearing my lovely wig.  It was me.  She was asking me.  “A chocolate chip seastar,” I shouted!

It was the right answer and I was invited to come out of the crowd to get ready for my encounter.

It was incredible.  I changed out of my winter boots and into the crocs they offered me and we walked up the ramp to be debriefed.  We would be given dead fish parts to hold between our fingers and the rays would glide across our hands and take the carcasses into their mouths.

I could barely contain my excitement.  I had never done anything like this before.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com thirties 30s stingrays sting ray weekly photo challenge surprise hysterectomy twins aquarium camden, nj philadelphia mom motherhood infertilitySo I waded into the tank and began feeding these beautiful creatures.  It was an incredible experience.  And I made a new friend, a giant ray who seemed to want to climb into my lap like one of my dogs.  He didn’t take the food from me, but let me pet him as he slid up my shins and splashed me.

When it was over and we were washing our feet off and changing our shoes in the little prep room, I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the experience that I felt the need to say something to the tank’s keeper.

I told her that I was surprised to have been chosen.  Shocked, actually.  I told her that this was such a special experience for me because for the past 2 years I had been battling breast cancer.  She told me that I was so young and she gave me a hug.  She said that she was a 10 year breast cancer survivor.  She said that though they caught hers early, she still looks over her shoulder, wondering if it will return.  But she said that it also makes her grateful for every day that she is here.

I thanked her with tears in my eyes and we parted.  She felt good about her choice.  And I felt grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity to wade with the stingrays.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s weekly photo challenge surprise motherhood mom young

Weekly Photo Challenge: Surprise

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

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-surprise/

Update: Received My Cheap Holiday Cards…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer card cardstore cardstore.com christmas cards holiday bilateral mastectomy thirties 30s deals freebies cheap

Photo Credit: blackcollegereunion.com

Hello dear readers,

Just a quick update on my “Procrastinator’s Unite” post…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer kids mom thirties 30s Christmas holidays deals freebies freeI received the “test card” I had mailed to my address and was not expecting much when I opened the envelope.  In fact, the deal on the cards was so spectacular — $0.24 per custom photo card including a FREE 1st class stamp!!! — that I was expecting less than ‘not much.’  I was expecting cardstore.com to close up shop in the dark of the night after I placed my order.  I was expecting them to disappear, papers blowing in the wind, tumbleweed rolling by their empty office building…  I was expecting that they would vanish without a trace, their pockets overflowing with my $13.03 (for 55 photo cards and stamps!!!).

But that’s not how things played out.  I opened the card envelope (complete with a FREE 1st Class Stamp) and…the card is lovely!  The cardstock is nice and is a sustainably sourced paper (bonus!).  And the print quality (on both sides) is quite good.

Now I just hope their prices stay low enough to make my next order a great deal — because I will be back!

Wishing you all the happiest of holidays…

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer kids mom thirties 30s Christmas holidays deals freebies free

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer weekly photo challenge delicate breasts lump lymph nodes surgery

PowerPort (port) through which chemo and other medicines and fluids can be administered. Also great for lab draws and scans for which I.V. contrast is necessary. I was reluctant to have the port placement ‘surgery’ back on May 7, 2010. But I am so glad I wasn’t given a choice & was ‘forced’ to do it — it has been a lifesaver!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

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

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/photo-challenge-delicate/

Procrastinators Unite! Photo Cards — Printed, Addressed, Mailed w/ FREE STAMPS for $0.25

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties young kids mother motherhood mom 30s Christmas

My Boys — Christmas Card Photo

Still need to order your holiday photo cards, greeting cards or invitations?  Here’s an amazing deal:

Place your order before 11:59 p.m. ET on 12/17 and you will not only receive FREE Standard Shipping (through USPS), but you will also receive 70% off your photo card order.  AND, like I did, you could choose to have CardStore.com address, stamp (with a 1st class stamp!) and mail your cards on your behalf for no charge (THE STAMP IS EVEN FREE)!!!

This is a PHENOMENAL deal!  I ended up paying $0.24 each for my 4″ x 8″ holiday photo cards — printed, addressed and stamped!  All for less than the cost of a 1st class stamp (did I mention that the stamp was free?)!

Of course I did order a “value” design (because “Value” is my middle name — well, not really!) and didn’t have the 1,000 card choice options I’m accustomed to each year, but for $13 for 55 photo cards, stamped and mailed, I didn’t mind.  And even if you choose to class it up a bit more with a Signature or Premium card, this is still a terrific deal!

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties young kids mother 30s

Not really our holiday card — but a quick mock-up! Our personalized text is missing and the pic is pixelated in this one.

My cards were also so cheap because I ordered 55 and received a quantity discount.  I’m not sure how many cards push you into the “quantity” range — and I’m too tired to test it.  But the prices are still low, even without an added discount.  The drawback?  They say that the cards should reach my recipients on or before 12/22.  A little late by most people’s standards, but still before Christmas.  And had I found the deal and ordered sooner, this would have been a non-issue.  But I’m so exhausted all the time & we just got our tree this week & didn’t take our traditional “under the tree” photo until Thursday, so I’m trying not to chastise myself too much!

Celebrating Kwanzaa?  Their Kwanzaa card selection is also governed by the same deals.  Season’s Greetings cards, too.

And, hey, these are such a great deal that you could make New Year’s cards or invitations and be an early bird with them!

Here’s the breakdown of my order: 

55 “Value Design” 4″ x 8″ photo cards (flat)

  •  Each card is Printed, Addressed (my return address and the recipient’s address), Stamped (FREE) and Mailed to my individual recipients!

Cost:

Cards:  $1.09 each  LESS  quantity discount   LESS   70% off ALL Holiday Photo Cards, Greeting Cards or Invitations  =  $0.24 each!

Stamps:  $0.00

Shipping:  $0.00

Grand Total:  $13.03 including 55 stamps!

So, design away!  Just be sure to place your order before 11:59 p.m. ET Monday night to take advantage of all of the discounts.  I’ll include some links below to help you get started.

P.S.  They even include a fancy schmancy Excel spreadsheet template you can use if you don’t want to individually add addresses on their web site.  Login, go to “All You” and click “Address Book.”  Fill in your addresses and when you are ready to order your cards, just import the spreadsheet and, voila, you’ll see all of your addresses there.

P.P.S. I am in NO way affiliated with CardStore.com.  I just found them this morning and am using them for the very first time (in lieu of spending more and ordering from “big-box” stores like I usually do).

P.P.P.S.

The 70% off Holiday Cards code:  CCP2147 — Be sure to enter it at checkout!!!  Expires 12/17 11:59 p.m. ET

Free Standard Shipping or Free Stamps code — There isn’t one, just order by 12/31

Christmas Value cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/christmas/cards/bargain

Kwanzaa cards link (No “value” option):   http://www.cardstore.com/shop/kwanzaa

New Year’s cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/new-years

Season’s Greetings Value cards link:  http://www.cardstore.com/shop/seasons-greetings/bargain

————–

Happy Holidays!

$50 Straws AND How Cancer Changes Everything

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer mastectomy  hospital port

A different day. A different place. In a less hospitally-looking reclining chair at the Cancer Center.

This will probably seem like an odd post, but I’m going to present a snippet of my afternoon from two different perspectives for no other reason than “just because.”  Thanks for indulging me.

Scenario 1:

Across the room, a girl sits in a recliner with a small table beside her.  She is sipping a large cup of tea.  The tea bag tag dangles gently over the edge of her cup. The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  What is she thinking about?  Perhaps she is remembering a lover from her college days?  Maybe she is picturing a basket of puppies?

Wait… judging from a frame most would describe as thin and a belly that is unmistakably large and rounded, it’s clear that she must be pregnant — she must be thinking of the baby growing in her womb.  Yes.

Her eyes light up as she thinks of the “baby duckling yellow” paint color she and her husband chose for the baby’s room this morning.  “It’s not too masculine, not too feminine, and it will be easy to paint over if we decide to change it when the baby gets a bit older.”  She bites her lip as she wonders how she is going to wait for the next three months to meet her new baby.  She has slipped her calendar out of her purse and is making a list of baby names now.  It’s the same list she and her husband have been coming up with every night before bed.  But she thinks she might have a revelation and “the one” might pop into her head today.

She continues her list.

She is mostly alone as she relaxes in the large open room filled with beds and curtains and chairs just like hers.  Mostly.  She has a number of visitors over the course of the next hour.  Each one stops by to chat briefly with her.  She laughs and talks with them individually.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.

She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea. Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her grandmother.  Her hands are full, but with what?  It’s hard to say.  The visitor dressed in white sits across from the girl and then leans toward her for an unusually long time.  She holds what looks like a long, shiny pin or needle in her hand.  Odd.  But when she stands up to walk away, her hands are empty and she and the girl are both smiling.  She now has something pinned to her chest — a flower perhaps?

Just as her name is called she looks at her list.  She is clearly pleased with her accomplishment and is excited to share this new name with her husband.  It was her grandmother’s name.

She slides gracefully out of the chair (well, as gracefully as a pregnant woman can) to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk happily down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling and walking again.  The girl is stroking her belly, as if to comfort the baby inside.  She returns to her chair as the lady in white brings her a cocktail with one of those cute little paper umbrellas poking out from the rim of the glass. She relaxes for a bit longer before rising from her comfy chair, bidding adieu to her friends and walking out to greet her waiting husband.

————————————————

cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer 30s cartoon

Cartoon Credit: chibird.tumblr.com

Scenario 2:

I am sitting in a large, sterile room.  Across the way, I see a girl…or a woman, really.  She looks biologically young, but I can tell she has been weathered by experience.  Something tells me that she probably still thinks of herself as a girl in the quiet morning hours when everyone else is asleep.  So I will indulge her and call her “a girl.”  It’s the least I can do.

The woman, uh, girl, is sitting in a reclining hospital chair.  Beside her is a small table where alcohol swabs and some medical paraphernalia sit. She holds a large, lidded Styrofoam cup, the largest one I have ever seen, in her hands.  Dangling on the side of the cup I see a tea bag tag.  She looks at the bit of wisdom the tag has to dispense, rolls her eyes, and takes a sip from her straw.  Odd that she is drinking hot tea through a straw.  Maybe she’s one of those women who don’t want to stain their teeth so they drink their tea and coffee through straws?

Just then a nurse walks over to her and asks her to sign a form stating that she understands the risk of drinking this tea.  WTF?

Well, it’s not your average tea.  It’s tea that has been infused with a radiocontrast agent.  Is it radioactive tea?

The girl stares off into the distance and a smile crosses her lips.  She is thinking of a sandy beach in a warm place far away.  “If this is more cancer,” she thinks, “I am moving to that beach.”

She puts her hand on her protruding belly and secretly hopes one of the nurses will ask her if she is pregnant when she signs the next consent form.  It’s an odd thing to hope for, almost masochistic, really.  She pictures what she would say in response to the question.  “Of course I’m not pregnant.  I’ve been gutted.  Every part that makes me a woman (except the “V” one) has been stolen from me.  I am empty inside.  Dead inside.  And, oh, this?  It’s edema.  My belly is swollen with fluid.  No baby.  I’m here to see if it’s cancer in here, not a baby.  My fate was sealed at 33 when those lumps in my breast were written off as nothing.”

Of course no one asks her if she is pregnant.  They all know the answer.  They all know why she is here.

And she wouldn’t have the guts to say what’s on her mind, anyway.  She wouldn’t want to hurt or bewilder anyone.  She wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s day.  So she thinks about what she would really say.  “Nope, just fluid.”

She snaps out of her daydream when a second nurse asks to see the port in her chest.  They’ll need it later.

She slips her calendar out of her purse and tries to recall the appointments she has scheduled for next week.  Her fuzzy chemobrain has made it impossible for her to remember much these days.  She soon finds herself drawing seagulls and starfish in the margins.  “Oh, to have my toes in the sand right now and to be anywhere other than here,” she dreams.

She shifts gears and makes a list of everything she needs to do when she leaves.  Her 3rd graders — twin boys — will be waiting for her.  It will be dinnertime.

She is mostly alone as she sits in the large open hospital room filled with curtains on tracks and not rods, hospital beds and hospital reclining chairs just like hers.  Mostly alone.  A number of nurses stop over to check on her progress with “the drink” or to ask her to sign a form.  She smiles and makes small talk with each of them.  And then her visitors move on, one by one.  She continues to sip on her unusually large cup of hot tea.  Through a straw.   That’s probably so she doesn’t spill the giant cup of lukewarm possibly radioactive tea on herself.

Her final visitor is dressed in white and bears the name of her long deceased grandmother.  Nancy.  Her Nanna was one of her most favorite people in the world.  She watched her die a painful death from cancer when she was 8 through 9 years old. “My kids are 8, too,” she thinks.

The nurse sets up a tray with everything she needs to access the girl’s port.

She holds a long shiny needle and asks if the girl likes to hold her breath or if she applied the EMLA cream in advance to make it hurt less.

The girl laughs, “No, no need.  Just go ahead.”  She has been poked and cut so many times it’s not even funny.

The needle punctures her upper right chest skin and enters her port.  Now they will be able to push the intravenous radiocontrast agent through her chest.

The nurse dresses her port with a tegaderm and gauze.  With the little yellow butterfly clip sticking against the transparent tegaderm, it almost looks as though the girl has a flower pinned to her chest.  An ugly flower, but a flower nonetheless.

Just as her name is called, she looks at her list.  She is already tired, but smiles at the thought of being able to sit down with her kids when she is done.

She drags her body from the chair to meet the woman who beckoned her.  They walk quietly down the hall together and slip into a room nearby.  The door closes behind them.

When they emerge, they are smiling faint smiles and walking again.  The girl is doing that thing she does — looking dizzy and as though she is going to hit the deck.  She strokes her sore belly.  The nurse asks her to lie down until she feels better and says that people who receive the contrast through their ports need to wait 10 minutes for observation before they can leave anyway.  The nurse brings the girl a drink.  This time it’s plain cola.  Nothing added.  The nurse puts a bendy straw in the Coke.  The straw wrapper bears the name of a famous medical supplier.  “Yikes, a straw from a medical company!  It probably cost $50,” she thinks.

When her 10 minutes is up, she is so ready to leave that she walks out in her disposable drawstring hospital pants and stuffs her slacks in her bag.  It’s time to go home.

———————————–

So I was sitting in one of those recliner-type hospital chairs drinking oral contrast in preparation for my CT scan when I started thinking about perspective.  Of course the “girl” above is me…

Thanks for reading… Your comments and “Likes” brighten my life…

Grateful Am I…

oopherectomy hysterectomy breast cancer cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com 30s incision liver lab

After not posting for a week, I thought I would put my concerns about poor liver function tests, leg and abdominal edema, and the words of the medical professionals who urged me to “get myself to the Emergency Room” this week aside and return with a post focused on gratitude.

A fellow blogger has honored my little blog with an “Illuminating Blogger Award” and I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge how thankful I am.

Many thanks to http://theretiringsort.com/!

breast cancer in my thirties cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com 30s

*********

The rules for accepting the award are as follows:

  • Leave a comment on the original award site
  • Share a random fact about yourself:  My dream job would involve saving sea turtles.
  • Choose 5 bloggers to pass the torch to. Here they are:

***

1.  http://bornbyariver.wordpress.com

2.  http://travelgardeneat.com/

3.  http://lesleycarter.wordpress.com/

4.  http://keepingitrealmom.com/

5.  http://clanmother.com/

Thank you, “The Retiring Sort!”  Thank you to the bloggers listed above (whose blogs brighten my days).  And thank you to everyone who takes the time to read and follow my blog!

Oh No, I’ve Been Robbed! Did Cancer Steal My Compassion?

cancer in my thirties young 30s hospital

Cartoon by Robert and Donna Trussel http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

So I spent Thursday night through Friday morning in the E.R. with one of my sons.  I was reluctant to go in, but his 106.2 degree fever and listlessness made it necessary.  Though no one likes the emergency room, I have a developed a particular and overwhelming distaste for the whole hospital scene.  And, sadly, this hospital overnight prompted me to realize how “jaded” I’ve become when it comes to the severity of symptoms and illnesses in general.  Call it another side effect of being a cancer patient.

What I am afraid to admit out loud — and even really hesitant to share in this, my somewhat anonymous blog, is that I am beginning to wonder if cancer is interfering with my ability to be the kind of parent and person I want to be (and the kind of parent/person I used to be).

While procedures and blood draws and surgeries and medications and side effects and…(well, you get the picture) have become the norm for me, they are not the norm for everyone.  And, fortunately, they are not the norm for my children.  But I sometimes lose sight of the fact that everyone hasn’t spent what amounts to months (when you add up all of my time as an inpatient and outpatient since my cancer diagnosis in April 2010) in hospitals and cancer centers for surgeries, life-threatening infections, chemo, radiation, appointments, monoclonal antibody infusions, port blood draws, tests and procedures.  Or that not everyone is waiting to find out if that lesion in their brain is malignant or if their liver function and lab values are so poor because the cancer may have metastasized to a vital organ.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons I see my new perspective reflected in my everyday life.  Someone will tell me about a symptom they’re experiencing or about their cold or papercut and I try to be supportive and kind.  In my mind, though, I sometimes find myself wandering off to thoughts of how upsetting it might be for them if they had to have their breasts cut off and their lymph nodes dug out, if they faced each day with a constant headache, if they had to manage life with lymphedema, or if they lived their lives with unrelenting neuropathy (a leftover gem from the chemo) that gets so bad that it interferes with their ability to concentrate/type/hold a glass.

Or when I hear a pregnant woman my age talking about heartburn or swollen ankles and I am consoling on the outside, but inside I am thinking about how the large masses in my pelvis and ovaries prompted two painful surgeries and the loss of what remained of all but one of my female parts (in case you are wondering, it rhymes with bagina).  And then I drift off to a mental picture of the baby girl I will never get to hold in my arms because:

a.) You need a uterus to have a baby — and ovaries and Fallopian tubes and a cervix lend something to the process, too.  But all of these things filled my gynecologic oncologist’s specimen jars and were sent off to a lab and probably a garbage bin somewhere.

b.) Who would allow someone with my medical history to adopt a baby?  As much as I would love to be here to raise a new little baby, let’s face it, I am clearly a flight risk.

I thought of a “c”.

c.)  I know surrogacy has gained popularity.  But that’s not even an option for me because my eggs were stolen.  Okay, they weren’t stolen.  But it feels like they were.

And I have that heartburn and those swollen ankles (and legs), too.  Two years of chemo and Herceptin messed up my kidneys and made edema a big problem for me.  And I have my dusty bottle of Nexium for my acid reflux disease, but I stopped taking it because I take so many pills that I’d rather look at those pretty purple capsules than ingest them.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s funny medical cartoons

Cartoon Credit: Robert & Donna Trussel
http://donnatrussell.com/cancer-cartoons/

The bottom line is, even though I want to feel sorry for you because you have a cold, inside I am dreaming of what it would be like if a runny nose and congestion were my biggest medical problems.  Not so deep down I am wishing I could just take some NyQuil, hop into bed, and wake up the next day and be all better.

This is NOT me.  This is NOT who I am.  I am was a kind and thoughtful person before cancer left my spirit beaten and bruised.  Even if I felt like I like was dying, I would put your illness ahead of mine.  I would comfort and take care of you.  I would ask what I could do to be there for YOU.  Even if I had just had surgery myself, I would gladly and altruistically chop vegetables and brown chicken for your homemade chicken soup.  And I would do it without a second thought.

Though my ovaries weren’t technically stolen, I feel like the deeply compassionate person I used to be was.

While this isn’t great news for most of the people in my life, it is worse news for my twin 3rd graders.  I fear that there will come a time when I devalue their medical experiences, their illnesses, their scrapes and bruises, their throat cultures and their trips to the doctor for a flu shot or a blood draw, or the sessions with the nebulizer to that help with their asthma.  And that’s just not good.

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com breast cancer thirties 30s mom hugging roo baby hysterectomy death dyingSo I am trying my best to undo some of what the cancer has done.  I am making a conscious effort to put the severity of some of my experiences aside to look at things as they are for other people and to avoid comparisons.  I am trying to give my boys the special hugs they need for their scraped knees and to talk them through their fears of having blood drawn or shots given.  And, as was the case this week, I am putting my own exhaustion and pain and sickness aside (as much as I can, anyway) to care for these boys who need me.  Case in point — even though my brain shouted, “Don’t do it!” because I am leukopenic and neutropenic, I climbed into my son’s hospital bed to cuddle with him because he was worried about what was going to happen to him… While I can’t guarantee that it always will, my heart won this time.

I am really trying to do what counts for my kids.  But I may still look at you with envy when you tell me you have a cold.

*Special thanks to Donna & Robert Trussell for allowing me to use their fantastic cartoons*

PLEASE stop eating PLASTIC!

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young plastic

Please Try a Sandwich Instead!

After hearing yet another “young” person’s cancer story, I feel absolutely compelled to write this post.  It’s too late for me to prevent my cancer, but it may not be too late for you or your mother, sister, daughter, friend, wife, husband, son, father, aunt…

I am writing today to urge you to limit your intake of the harmful chemicals found in plastic.  Because the dangers of plastic use have been largely ignored by the powers that be, you probably ingest more chemicals than you even realize each and every day.

As a breast cancer patient diagnosed in my early thirties, I am literally sick cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic mastectomy bpa fda garbageover this.  I am actually quite surprised that I haven’t posted about this topic sooner because it is something I think about every day.  Until I was aware of the danger (at some point after my cancer diagnosis), I ate and drank from plastic packaging at least as much as the average consumer.  I used plastic water bottles and those plastic travel coffee mugs all the time.  I left water bottles in the hot car and drank from them without a thought.  I consumed soups and other foods from cans, used plastic food storage containers, plastic wrap and plastic bags, and I didn’t think twice about handling store receipts coated with BPA (bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical often found in plastics and register receipts and linked to cancer, obesity, heart disease and other diseases).

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer awareness pink ribbon mastectomy illnessCan I blame my cancer on my exposure to the chemicals in plastics and other products?  No, probably not entirely.  But do I think this played a role in encouraging my illness?  Yes, definitely.  As a young person with no family history and no risk factors for breast cancer, I feel pretty justified in pinning some of the blame on an environmental cause, especially since I am in a segment of the population that has seen an increase in breast cancer rates since plastic use became so widespread.

Plastic is EVERYWHERE.  Food, drinks and personal care items like lotions and cosmetics are packaged in plastic more often than not.  This makes chemical exposure almost inevitable.  I have tried to eliminate plastic from my life (and from my children’s lives) but have determined that this would be far too costly and time consuming for tired ol’ me.  In the world we live in today, plastic exposure is virtually unavoidable.  So I have refocused my energy on limiting our plastic use.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic landfill mastectomy bpa fda

Some of my favorite ways of reducing our plastic exposure:

-We drink from glasses and mugs whenever possible.  I have recycled most of the kiddie cups that once filled the shelves of my

cupboard (and I wish I could take back the years I used plastic sippy cups for the kids).  We make a concerted effort to use non-plastic drinking vessels now.

-I reuse my empty glass Snapple bottles.  I fill them with water (and other beverages) and carry them in lieu of a plastic water bottle.  I  usually keep one or two with me and have a couple in the fridge so I can just grab them and go.  Of course you can do this with any glass bottle.  Not only will you be making a healthier choice for yourself, but you’ll also be making a good choice for the environment.

-We store food in glass and never in plastic.  At first this was really difficult because I just had a few glass storage containers.  cancerinmythirities.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic bpa glassI made makeshift containers by putting plates on top of bowls as lids — not a good use of space!  But I have since asked for Pyrex for Christmas and birthdays and my little collection is growing.

-We have reduced our use of canned foods.  BPA is often found in the lining of food and baby formula cans.

-I avoid leaving cosmetics, lotions and other liquids packaged in plastic in the car.  You may have heard the warning about not leaving water bottles in the car for the same reason — heating plastic encourages the release of toxic chemicals.

-We don’t use “steam in the bag” foods like frozen vegetables.

-Whenever glass is available (for food, beverages, personal care products), I’ll choose it over plastic, even if it costs a little bit more.  We are on a REALLY tight budget, but I think it’s worth it. cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic carcinogens chemicals Unfortunately, though, it’s not usually a choice — glass is often hard to find.  Even the organic hormone-free milk at my grocery store comes in a plastic container!

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Why am I publishing a post like this?  It is not because I’m having a bad day and need to vent (that’s just a coincidence!).  It is not because I am trying to blame someone for the hell I have been through in the past few years.  It is because I want to save someone else from the pain and the loss I have experienced and will likely continue to experience.  It is because I want to save YOU.

While I realize you may not be able to nix plastic from your life entirely, I hope you will please do your best to cut out as much plastic exposure as possible.

And PLEASE ask your friends and family and everyone you care about to do cancerinmythirties.wordpress.org breast cancer squirrel nuts plastic carcinogen bpa fda mastectomythe same.  If you are worried about sounding like an alarmist or a nutcase or a conspiracy theorist, take comfort in the fact that there is enough evidence to support the cancer – plastic link to validate your plight.

You can also consider joining an email writing campaign to urge companies to use safer packaging.  Or sign a petition urging the FDA to ban the use of packaging that contains carcinogens.  Here’s one asking the FDA to ban BPA, a carcinogen found in cash register receipts, in many of the plastics we eat and drink from, and in the bodies of more than 80% of Americans!  It will just take a minute and could make a big difference:

http://www.change.org/petitions/fda-get-cancer-causing-chemicals-out-of-all-food-packaging-now

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I googled “breast cancer plastic” and at the top of the list of search results (other than images of plastic ‘breast cancer awareness’ items — that’s another blog post!), I found an article that was featured on one of my favorite go-to sites for breast cancer information and support — breastcancer.org.  While I love bc.org and think the article is great for creating awareness, I do disagree with one section.  It lists “safe” plastics, but based on my research, it seems there may be no truly “safe” plastics.  Plastic = Chemicals.  Right now the focus is on BPA which was long considered “safe” by the FDA (we’re talking half a century here!).  I believe it’s just a matter of time before more of these chemicals are studied and deemed carcinogenic.  In the meantime, here is the breastcancer.org article:

http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/plastic

**************

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic turtle mastectomy bpa fda

Of course I hope you will share this post with everyone you know and I hope you will work to reduce your chemical consumption.  But I know that’s a lofty dream in today’s world.  So, please do whatever you can.  Whether you do one of these things or all of them, know that I am proud of you.  

If we can prevent even one more person from getting sick, we’ve done something good.

*************

If you have an idea for a way to reduce plastic use, please share it with us!   Thanks!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Renewal — Confessions of a Former Mermaid

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer ocean hawaii photo mastectomy sick

One of my most favorite places in the world
cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge subject for this week is renewal.  The word can mean different things to different people.  But for me, one word comes to mind — SEA.

Perhaps I was a mermaid or a sea turtle in another life?  Or perhaps my love of the water is a genetic trait passed down for generations by my English and Scottish ancestors, much like my blue eyes and my dimples?

breast cancer mastectomy hawaii beauty ocean sea

Regardless of how difficult life can be and how sick I have felt at different points along this rocky road since the cancer diagnosis, there is always one place where I feel safe and healthy and whole again.  There is one place where I feel renewed.  And that is in the ocean.

Pools are lovely.  And the lake is okay.  But the sense of relief I feel when I walk into the ocean or into Florida’s warm gulf waters just doesn’t compare.  It is as if I am home again.  Let me swim in lovely warm sea water and I feel refreshed and renewed and ready to face the world again.

Unfortunately, I don’t have many opportunities to visit the water and I live in a region that is cold half of the year.  And the bathtub just doesn’t cut it!  So I live for our trips to the sea and hold fast to all of the memories I’ve made in the water… And I dream of the next time I will be able to immerse myself in Florida’s warm blue oasis.

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breast cancer bilateral mastectomy hawaii seaIt was almost 2 years ago when I was shifting treatments from Taxol (chemotherapy) to radiation.  I had a 10-day break in between, so we cashed in our credit card miles and flew to Hawaii.  I was terribly sick from 9 months of treatment.  I had a shiny bald head and was swollen from the steroids and kidney trouble.  And it hadn’t been that long since my mastectomy.  I was a disaster.  But the trip was a dream come true.  How fortunate I felt to be able to dip my toes into Hawaii’s alluring waters.  It was a little too chilly for swimming for my fragile body for most of the trip, but just having the opportunity to absorb so much beauty was incredibly uplifting and replenishing for my mind and soul.  Here are some of the photos from that unforgettable vacation.

breast cancer thirties young bilateral mastectomy hawaii ocean sea bald

Thanks for reading!

breast cancer thirties bilateral mastectomy hawaii plane ocean

breast cancer thirties bilateral mastectomy hawaii plane ocean kailua lanai

breast cancer thirties bilateral mastectomy hawaii plane ocean

breast cancer thirties bilateral mastectomy hawaii plane ocean sea turtle mom

Sea Turtle

To participate in the Weekly Photo Challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/weekly-photo-challenge-renewal/

dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry

Geometry in Glass:

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young mastectomy

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young mastectomy

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/category/photo-challenges/

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/weekly-photo-challenge-geometry/

revelation from a chilly gray day: I am Cancer’s Bitch

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancerinmythirties breast cancer infertility baby hysterectomy

my lovely niece & me — the summer before my diagnosis

I waited a lifetime for you

but I guess it wasn’t long enough

I think of the babies I’ve lost

and wonder if you were one of them

I’m missing the baby girl

I always thought I’d have

Saw two pink lines last year

My heart soared but my stomach twisted

The hormones that sustain pregnancy

give cancer cells fuel, too

I didn’t care

I wanted you

Even if it meant more sickness for me

“I guess it’s one last chance,” she said.

“Stupid move,” he said.

Doctors.

But I was never meant to hold you in my arms.

Was it the Tamoxifen?  Was it my lack of health?  Was it the weekly Herceptin infusions?  or the steroids?  or the other meds they prescribed?  Or was it just a cruel twist of fate?

As quickly as it began, it was over — and you were gone

Then they found the masses in my pelvis

and the surgeries took my hope of ever seeing you away

and reminded me that I am Cancer’s bitch

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com cancerinmythirties breast cancer infertility baby hysterectomy

Unfortunately for my big dog, my little dog rules the roost just as this cat does!

I’ve forgotten where I first heard a young person describe someone else as their bitch, but I’ve heard the reference a few times — and I never thought I’d use it.  But it seems fitting here.  I sometimes feel that despite my efforts and success with being positive and despite the hell I’ve put my body through, cancer often finds a way to remind me that “it” isn’t really up to me.  And I know this feeling is shared by other cancer patients/survivors.  Cancer is bigger than me.  It is bigger than all of us.

*From wiki.answers.com (because I always look for reliable sources and because if it is written on the internet, it must be true! ha ha):  “If you are “someone’s bitch”  it means they can tell you what to do and you have to listen and do what they say when they say it.”

About My Brain

brain lesion cancer breast metastasis

So I fell down the stairs again today.  I hit my head pretty hard.  And I managed to land on a section of my back that was already hurting quite a bit.

This reminded me that I never posted a “brain update” after my last oncologist entry earlier this month.  I guess I didn’t really forget to write about it, I just didn’t because I didn’t know what to say after my appointment with the neurologist the next day.

I’m still not really sure what to say.  When I arrived at the neurologist’s office, I took a seat in the waiting room with a double-sided questionnaire about my symptoms.  I pretended to fill it out, but I was just sitting there lost in thought.  I had just filled the same paper out a couple of weeks prior and my answers probably hadn’t changed, so I thought the time would be best spent staring off into the distance, clipboard on my lap and pen in my hand.

I only had a few minutes of quiet before my neurologist walked out into the big waiting room, purse on her arm.  She said ‘hi’ and said she’d be back for me as she walked out of the door.  The nurse came out moments later and took me back to the vitals station and proceeded to take my blood pressure, etc.  Before he finished, my doctor was back.  She said she’d take it from there.  She walked me back to the scale, took my purse and coat, and I stepped up to be weighed.  We then walked back to the room.  She carried my purse, her purse and my coat and chatted with me during our short walk.  She set our open purses down on her desk and I took a seat next to her.  She told me she was glad I came in because she wanted to show me my MRI so I could see “IT” for myself.

We chatted as though we were girlfriends out having a coffee date and as though we were discussing our husbands, kids, dogs, and the piles of laundry waiting for us at home.  The only difference was that the coffees were waters, the table was an exam table, and we weren’t talking about what we were making for dinner.  We were talking about the lesion in my brain.

She showed me my brain MRI.  There was the lesion.  And then the same area on my MRI from about 8 months ago.  No lesion.

Not really coffee shop conversation.

When I asked if it was a metastasis, she said that it may not be malignant.  She said that they typically see a lot of “mass effect” with malignant tumors.  (*Mass effect is damage to the brain due to the bulk of a tumor, the blockage of fluid, and/or excess accumulation of fluid within the skull.)  She said that this ‘mass effect’ was lacking on my MRI.  I asked, “Could the mass effect be lacking because it is such a new lesion?”  Maybe.  “But it could also be because it is something benign?”  Yes, definitely a possibility.  Looking at the lesion’s shape, I wondered, “Could it be because I swallowed a small grape and it went the wrong way and lodged in my brain?” But I figured that was pretty unlikely!

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com brain cancer lesion thalamus breast cancer

The thalamus is the red area

The kicker (well, one of them!) is that it is deep in my brain — within the thalamus.  Not an easy place to access for biopsies, etc.  So no easy way to know for sure what it is.  My neurologist feels the best way to proceed is to wait a couple of months and repeat the MRI.  If it is malignant, we should expect changes.  If I have an increase of symptoms, it sounds like we can do it sooner.

Then there’s also that abnormal EEG that prompted the MRI.  So I don’t really know what to think.  On the one hand, I feel sick to my stomach because the cancer may have metastasized to my brain.  But on the other hand, I’m really hopeful that it hasn’t.  And at this point, I guess I should feel pretty grateful that it’s only a maybe and not a definite.

Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving…

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In case you were wondering what the thalamus does:

**”The thalamus has multiple functions. It may be thought of as a kind of switchboard of information. It is generally believed to act as a relay between a variety of subcortical areas and the cerebral cortex. In particular, every sensory system (with the exception of the olfactory system) includes a thalamic nucleus that receives sensory signals and sends them to the associated primary cortical area. The thalamus is believed to both process sensory information as well as relay it—each of the primary sensory relay areas receives strong “back projections” from the cerebral cortex.

The thalamus also plays an important role in regulating states of sleep and wakefulness.[9] Thalamic nuclei have strong reciprocal connections with the cerebral cortex, forming thalamo-cortico-thalamic circuits that are believed to be involved with consciousness. The thalamus plays a major role in regulating arousal, the level of awareness, and activity. Damage to the thalamus can lead to permanent coma.”

* Information from: http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-BrainTumor.htm

** Information from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalamus

How the Hell Did I Get Here?

breast cancer is not my friend

I just learned that a friend of mine is expecting.  She is a wonderful person and such a good mom.  And I am so happy that things are falling into place for her and that she is going to welcome a new baby into her family…

So why am I so sad?

Other friends have been pregnant since the chemo made pregnancy questionable… and since a radical hysterectomy and oopherectomy made it impossible.  I see pregnant people and babies all the time.  My oncologist is even on leave to have her baby right now.  These things have made me a little sad… but just a little.

So why is this news bringing this non-crier to the verge of tears?

It’s as if it has finally just sunk in that this part of my life is over.  I will never have another pregnancy.  I will never have a “normal” pregnancy (my twin pregnancy was far from normal and my others ended in miscarriage)…  I will never have the little girl I waited my whole life for…  This is real and there is nothing I can do to change it…  Sure, I could adopt — if anyone would be willing to adopt to someone with my medical history.  Not likely!  Cancer has taken one more hugely important thing from me… and it hurts… it hurts almost as much as the surgeries did…

There are times when I can’t believe this is my life, when I feel that I’m SO far from where I expected to be…  There are times in the haziness of the night when I think “this” is a dream and that I will wake up to my “real” life in the morning.

Too Young for Breast Cancer -- Can't Have a Baby

Maybe that’s just the chemo-brain or the Percocet or the brain lesion talking?

Or maybe this is just how I cope with loss?

I know where I have been…  

I know where I am…  

But for the first time in my life, I don’t have an  f-ing  clue as to where I am going…

I HATE CANCER…

Holding my sweet little nephew… October 2010

I Want Out… Right?

As we were driving home the other night, I kept replaying the gas station scene from The Bridges of Madison County in my head.  You know, the one where Meryl Streep’s character is sitting in the car while her husband is pumping the gas.  She sees Robert Redford, the man who has asked her to run away with him.  Redford is also the man with whom she has had an affair and with whom she could have a completely different life.  She reaches for the door handle, almost prepared to pull it and to run out on her life to begin anew.  Almost. She can’t do it.  With tears in her eyes — because she knows what she is giving up — her hand drops from the handle when her husband returns to the car and they drive away.

It has been a long time since I last saw the movie and there were parts of it I didn’t agree with like, um, the adultery…  But that scene in the movie has stayed with me.  For me, though, Robert Redford would not represent a man I’ve slept with (because there haven’t been any since my husband), but he would represent an opportunity for a new beginning, a different life.

This is an odd topic for me to write about because I would never have expressed these thoughts before.  It’s kind of comical, almost like I expect angry black crows to fall out of the sky and to begin attacking me or that I think a fiery explosion might wipe  my whole family out in an instant, simply because I’ve allowed myself to wonder what it would be like to have a life that isn’t so difficult and, dare I say it, painful.

I never had these thought before.  I grew up in poverty and was teased for it right up until high school started.  I experienced important and traumatic losses at early age.  I grew up without a Dad — after living with a Dad who was abusive and drunk most of the time.  And blah, blah, blah…  The point is, I have never been a stranger to struggle or compromise or death or pain or loss.  But I never questioned my life or my choices or how other people’s choices affected my life.  I never looked at any of it with regret or disdain.  It was my life, for better or worse.  If there was something I didn’t like about it, I would work hard to change it.

I didn’t have any real regrets…  Until I was in the midst of a chemo combo that made me feel like I was inches from death.  I was so sick and needed to be nurtured and cared for and needed a partner to hold my hand — or, at the very least, someone who didn’t feel the urge to fight and argue with me or the kids all the time.  And then when I had the bilateral mastectomy and the hysterectomy, I tried to pretend these surgeries didn’t bother me and that I could roll with the punches.  And I did.  I just handled the pain and the immense sense of loss that accompanied losing these body parts, especially to cancer and especially at such a young age.  But inside I longed for a spouse who would hug me and tell me that I was still pretty, still a woman.  I needed someone to tell me that he loved me.  I kept thinking that for years I had weathered all of the ups and downs of our marriage, his deceit, his mood swings and so much more — and all I really wanted were a few kind words and to be hugged.  But I guess some things are just too much to ask for…

So as we drove home the other night and I thought about how stressful the previous 36 hours had been because of his bad temper and his unpredictable mood swings, I looked at the door handle and thought, “I am done with living this way and I want out.”  I wanted out with all of my heart…well, almost all of my heart.

But I couldn’t do it.  Especially when the only place I wanted to run to (other than Hawaii) was my home… to change the locks.  Now it would be just plain silly to jump out of my home-bound car to run home.  Right?

So I am still here…

With the same locks…

With the same husband…

Thinking about what it would be like to be dealing with cancer if I weren’t married to someone who was rooting for the cancer to win instead of me.

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March 25, 2010

I’ve had these lumps in my left breast since last year.  They were small when I first felt them, but now they are not only much larger, but clearly visible when you look at my breast.  It has been so long since I actually felt my breast (I know, I know!  I’ll explain why in a minute) that I was shocked to feel how much bigger they had gotten.

It was last summer when I told my doctor about them.  She felt them, said that they “did not feel like cancer” or “like anything to worry about” and she sent me on my way.  She said that at my age, the likelihood that they were anything was remote.  Since I’d had lumps in the other breast a few years before and she had sent me for my first mammogram back then (at 29) and they had turned out to be benign, I didn’t push it.  After all, out of all the cancers in my family history, breast cancer was not on the list.

But as I put my shirt back on after my exam last summer, I heard the words, “This will come back to haunt you,” very clearly.  I heard them so clearly that it was as if someone was speaking the words to me.  But I did not listen.

This was when I stopped doing breast self exams.  Since these were not my first lumps and since the others had been evaluated and were benign, I figured that I obviously did not know what I was looking for.  If she could feel these new lumps and could identify them as nothing to worry about by touch alone, then I obviously didn’t know what I was feeling.  I decided that doing self exams would only alert me to more benign lumps and take more of my doctor’s time.  I felt silly even bringing these new lumps to the attention of my doctor last year.  I didn’t want to seem like a hypochondriac.  Women my age don’t develop breast cancer and I don’t have a family history.  At least that’s what I thought back then…

But now that the lumps are so much larger, I have a bad feeling.  And I’ve recently learned that women my age DO develop breast cancer and that a lack of family history DOES NOT make you immune.

Still, I waver between being concerned and thinking my concern is silly…

March 5, 2010

Sweet Mattie

 

*Though today is June 28, 2012 and it has been more than two years since I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I believe the early days of this story are important, so I will do my best to recount them based on my notes.  Welcome…and thank you for reading…*   

 

So, today is the anniversary of Mattie’s death.  Mattie was my miniature schnauzer, my first baby, my closest confidant.  She was 10 ¾ and was with me most of my adult life.  Through jobs, four homes, births, deaths and everything in between, she was by my side.

I came home a year ago today and she wasn’t quite acting like herself.  And when I went into the bathroom, she lay on my feet and looked up at me.  Her gums were white–a sign of blood loss.  Her breathing quickly became labored and everything went downhill from there.  The rest of the night was a nightmare.  I called the vet, scooped her up, and we rushed off to the veterinary emergency hospital.  Almost $700 and just a few short hours later, I would walk out of the hospital not with my vibrant and beautiful dog panting in my arms, but with a small cardboard casket containing the body of my special girl.

Unbeknownst to me, Mattie had cancer.  Hemangiosarcoma, to be exact.  Her spleen had ruptured and she was bleeding to death.  Our only options were to let her die or consent to a  surgery costing thousands of dollars in which they would attempt to stop the bleeding and save her life temporarily so she could undergo chemo.  Before discovering this last chemo detail, I quickly said yes to the surgery, even though I knew that paying for her surgery (they required instant payment) would mean we would lose our home.  I had to try to save her.  It was only after I called my mother and told her what was happening that she encouraged me to ask whether the surgery would even save her life and what this cancer diagnosis would mean for her.

It was after this conversation that I asked what Mattie’s prognosis was.  The news wasn’t good.  She had a large tumor in/on her spleen.  Once these malignancies rupture, it is very difficult to control the bleeding.  They told me that they probably wouldn’t be able to save her because she had lost so much blood, and that if they did, she would require hospitalization and chemotherapy, likely for the remainder of her life.  Even with those measures, she would only have a month, at best.  I was shocked and devastated.  Did I want them to attempt the surgery and bankrupt our family so that she might have a chance to survive and be put through terrible cancer treatments until she succumbed to the disease?  Or did I want to let her continue to bleed to death until she was gone that night?  Or did I want to euthanize her and end her pain?

It was one of the worst decisions I had ever faced.  Horrible options, no happy ending.  After questioning them repeatedly about her chances for survival and about her prognosis if, by some miracle, she made it through the surgery, I made a decision.  With a heavy heart, I told them that I would let them put her to sleep.  They brought her out to me.  She was clearly suffering.  She was too weak to lift her head or to bark, her favorite pastime.  I knew she didn’t have much time even if I didn’t choose to put her down.

They told me to say my goodbyes.  I told my little boys that Mattie was very sick.  They asked if she was going to die and I said, ‘yes’.  They were just 4 years old, but they knew that Cancer was bad, and they knew that when you were very sick, you could die. I was unclear as to what their understanding of death was at the time, but I thought it was important for them to be able to say goodbye to her.  I didn’t want them to look back one day and wonder why I hadn’t let them see the special family member they had spent their whole lives with before she died.  I also thought it was important for Mattie to hear their voices and know that they were there with her.

After lots of hugging and tears and “I love you’s”, I asked my husband to take the boys out so they wouldn’t be there for her last moments.  They had wrapped Mattie in blankets and said that she would likely urinate and defecate when she died, so I might want to position her accordingly.  Through tears I said that this was the last thing on my mind and I held her close so she could feel my warmth.  They injected the medications into her and I was filled with a sense of panic.  I told her how much I loved her and how I would always be with her and how sorry I was that I couldn’t have saved her from cancer or from death.  It was horrible.  I told her it was okay to go and that I didn’t want her to suffer anymore.  She went peacefully and I sat, shaking and sobbing.  I had tried desperately to hold it all in until she was gone so I wouldn’t scare her.  I was successful at waiting, but when I let the emotions go, it was overwhelming.

As I carried her cardboard casket into the house that night, I could barely make it through the door before I set it down and removed the lid.  I lay down next to the box on one of the two blankets she had been wrapped in when they euthanized her.  I stroked her soft white fur and told her how sorry I was and cried until I couldn’t cry any more.  I felt like a shell of the self I had been that morning.  I felt as though I had lost myself and that I’d never be whole again.  Even a year later, I still can’t believe she is gone.  Or that she died in such a sudden and unforgiving way.

I still remember that night with such pain and sadness and guilt.  It was not the first time I had lost I someone I loved desperately to cancer.  And I knew it wouldn’t be the last.  I hated the disease.  I hated cancer.

And, at 32 years old, I had it growing inside of me, too.  I just didn’t know it yet.*

[*And, to be fair, I still didn’t know it for sure on March 5, 2010]