Tag Archive | chemo

Morgan

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

Me, Mom, and Weenie Chillin’

 

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

THANK YOU, MORGAN

 

🙂   ❤    😉      ❤    ❤   ❤   🙂

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Warmth — Weekly Photo Challenge & Thoughts Of You…

 

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

 

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

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

Pulling away.  Distancing myself.

And I don’t want to do this.

It just happens.

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

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

And I realize how terrible that sounds.

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

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

Who really does?

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

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

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

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

I will try…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Dogs Get Cancer, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

My warmest thoughts & thanks are with you all…

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

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

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

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

I think the answer is simple.  It is not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

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The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge for this week asks participants to take a photo or photos from above.

Here are my selections, taken from a trip to Hawaii that feels as though it was a lifetime ago now!

I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking them…Okay, half as much (it was Hawaii, after all!)

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If you’d like to participate in the challenge, just click on the link below.

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

And, as always, thank you for visiting!

Man of Science, Man of Faith

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s 30's faith science church cat scan belief death

If you were a Lost fan and saw every episode (as I did), you might recall an episode titled “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” (S2, E1).

It was the first episode of season 2 and the episode where Jack, a surgeon, meets his future wife.  She is brought into the E.R. after a devastating car accident that leaves her paralyzed.  Jack plans to operate but tells her that the possibility of regaining function is almost nonexistent.  Jack’s father, a senior surgeon, witnesses this exchange and chastises his son for squelching his patient’s hope.  Jack barks that her spine is crushed and that any hope he’d be giving her would be false hope.  He performs the surgery to the best of his ability, but she is so damaged that he believes she is still paralyzed and that he was unable to fix her.  When he goes back to apologize and tell her she will never have feeling below her waist, she begins wiggling her toes.  Jack, who was previously only a man of science, realizes that science and faith merged to create a miracle.

My friend Nancy has known about my cancer since the beginning.  She watched me barely make it through harsh chemos.  She visited when I was giving myself daily injections of Neupogen as my white blood cell counts plummeted.  She came to say goodbye on the eves of major surgeries.  She brought dinners over to feed my children when I had I.V. bags full of fluid running into the Powerport in my chest and was vomiting so much that I could barely hold my head up.

She watched me spiral downward into a deep well of cancer.  And then she watched me slowly claw my way up to the surface again.

And somewhere in the midst of this, she came to my door with both fear and hope in her eyes.  She told me that her husband, Frank, had something show up on his CAT scan.

I knew that Frank’s hadn’t been feeling well.  I knew that he didn’t look well.  And when I last saw him, the yellow tint in his eyes did not go unnoticed.

She said that he was scheduled for surgery, but that God was good and that he would be fine.

As you may have guessed, Nancy is very religious and is outwardly so.  She has no qualms about sharing her beliefs.

Nor does she have any trouble with telling others to have hope and faith.  She has done this with me many times since my diagnosis.  She has even gone so far as to tell me in a roundabout way that when I am not doing well, it is because I am not trusting in God and not being faithful enough.

It is always a difficult thing for me to hear, especially during the times when I have felt my worst.  I’d be lying if I said the idea that I am responsible for the cancer for any reason is a tough pill to swallow.

But I listen and nod my head because I know Nancy is not saying these things to hurt my feelings.  I know she says them because her faith is so strong that she can’t see these situations from any other angle.

Frank’s surgery revealed a small tumor.  It was malignant.  They also found a small amount of cancer in one lymph node.  The good news was that the surgeon managed to get clean margins.

I was noticeably concerned, but Nancy reminded me that God is good and that the cancer was small and her husband would be fine.

Frank is a doctor and a man of the cloth.  Frank is both a man of science and a man of faith.  Usually.

When Frank started chemo, Nancy did her best to make healthy foods that Frank could tolerate.  She took care of him and they prayed together regularly.  They both had faith that everything would be fine.

Frank had a really difficult time with chemo and eventually decided that he’d had enough because it was making him so sick.  They repeated his scans and everything looked good.  So they both said “God is good” and made the decision to stop the chemo.  Frank was so sick from the chemo that he and Nancy thought it wasn’t worth continuing, especially when his scans were good and he had God protecting him.

I was reeling over this decision.  I insisted that Frank should continue to pray, but that he should also consider finishing the chemo.  I repeated that he would be horribly sick during chemo, but that he would feel better when it ended.  I said that it would be worth it in the end because it would give him the best shot at life.  I pleaded with them then — and many times since.

But they insisted that they were going to let God take care of it.  He didn’t need the harsh chemo.  He just needed to be faithful.

So time passed.  His scans were still good.  I insisted that he go back and finish, though.  But my friends told me that it wasn’t worth the side effects and that God was healing him.

And then he didn’t feel well.  He was having trouble eating.  He didn’t look good.  He was losing weight.

A few weeks later, Nancy said Frank had collapsed and they were going to the hospital for dehydration.  It was the second time in a month.

I suggested that she look into home I.V. hydration so he could avoid these hospital stays.  And I also pleaded with her to reconsider the chemo decision.  She said that it wasn’t open for discussion.  Frank did not want to get sicker with chemo and she wasn’t going to push it.  She still insisted that he would be fine.

He had to go back into the hospital last week.  Again for dehydration.  But this time the scan revealed something.  But she didn’t tell me about it.

She called tonight during dinner.  She asked about the times when I had home hydration because the hospital was giving her a hard time.  They told her that he would need to enroll in hospice and sign a DNR before they would start home I.V. hydration and was this what I had to do?

I told her that it wasn’t at all.  I signed a few forms at the Cancer Center and then a few more when the delivery truck and my nurse showed up at the door.  But it wasn’t hospice related.  And there was no DNR to sign.

The conversation haunted me.  Then I learned that Frank was no longer going upstairs.  Nancy was giving him sponge baths in the living room.  And a hospital bed had just been delivered.

I was sick to my stomach because I had been through this with loved ones before and I knew what it meant.

Nancy said that the latest scan revealed that the cancer had metastasized to his stomach.  That he has 3 months to live.  3 months.

They are scared.  And rightfully so.

And my heart aches for them because I love them both and I don’t want this disease to take Nancy’s husband.

I do believe in God and I do believe in the power of prayer.  But I also believe that modern medicine exists for a reason.

I  wish they could have found a way to balance medicine and faith.  I wish he had finished the chemo.  And I’m sure they do, too.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s color weekly photo challenge daily post

I love The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme for this week — Color.

Though you’d never surmise it from my clothing (my wardrobe consists primarily of 3 hues (if you can call them that!) — brown, grey and black)), I love color.

I have a difficult time imagining a world without it.  I have often thought that of all the senses to lose, I would likely miss sight the most.  Of course losing the ability to taste during chemo made me question the theory I developed during my dismal ‘what if’ game.  But, in the end, I reverted to my original thought — that it would be more upsetting to live in a world without color.

Its presence lift our spirits.  Its absence brings us down.  It is powerful and beautiful.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30's 30s color weekly photo challenge daily post
As always, thank you for visiting.

If you would like to participate in this week’s photo challenge, please click on one of the links below:

Weekly Photo Challenge: Color

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenges

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!

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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.

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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.

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And my boys…

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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/

 

GUEST POST: A Holiday Season With Cancer

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com breast cancer thirties young 30s mom motherhood baby Christmas holidays

*Just so there is no confusion, this is me (NOT Heather)*
Christmas 2010

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I am pleased to introduce guest writer Cameron Von St. James.   I was honored when Cameron approached me to ask about posting an article here.  After reading a little bit about what his family has dealt with, I was also moved and inspired…and I thought you would be, too.  With a new baby to care for and the holiday season just beginning, Cameron’s wife, Heather, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.  Their story is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Please join me in welcoming Cameron Von St. James…

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A Holiday Season With Cancer

The holiday season has always been near and dear to my heart. It was always a time when my family came together to practice our holiday traditions and give thanks for all that we have in life.

In 2005, I was especially excited for the holidays, as my wife Heather had just given birth to our first child, Lily, and we couldn’t wait to establish our own traditions with our new family. Those feelings of giddiness were stamped out completely when we learned, three days before Thanksgiving, that Heather had cancer.

Our daughter was only three and a half months old when we learned that Heather was suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma. I knew enough about the disease to be concerned for our future. The anger I felt was overwhelming, and I found myself preparing for the worst.

I dreaded the holiday celebrations that year, during which Heather’s family came to stay with us before she headed off to a treatment center in Boston. During dinners that should have been about seasonal togetherness, we discussed how her family could come to terms with Heather’s deadly disease. We talked about the future of our finances and childcare options for Lily. We made plans to pay for Heather’s expensive treatments, and to my embarrassment discussed how her family could help us stay afloat financially.  Heather and I both worked, but with the new baby money was already tight, and with expensive treatment and travel looming, on top of the fact that we would soon be down to one income when Heather started treatment, we were going to be in real trouble. Heather’s family helped us figure out what we could liquidate for cash, and how much they could afford to pay for. I was mortified and embarrassed, and it would be years before I could look back on that conversation with anything but shame.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer malignant pleural mesothelioma story stories thirties 30s young mom mother kids holidays Christmas

Mesothelioma
Image courtesy of http://www.mesothelioma.com

I was so awash with negative emotions that I couldn’t see what I now see today. I realize now how mistaken I was to look at this time so negatively.  What I see now is that I was being so firmly supported by our family – people who came from afar to be with Heather, Lily and me during our moment of need. They were willing to help us in any way possible, they offered to make incredible sacrifices of their own for our well-being, but I was so weighed down with guilt and fear that I couldn’t see that clearly.

In spite of the odds against her, Heather eventually beat mesothelioma. This holiday season I want to take the time to give thanks for everything that I have; I know how much family means because of how close I came to losing the most important person in my life. I am so thankful for my little Lily’s continued health and growth and for all the people who helped us through our dark times. Thank you so much! You’ve all given me a reason to look forward to celebrating the holidays.

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

Special thanks to Cameron and his wife for sharing their story…

Would you like to be featured here?  

If you have something to share, please send me an email:

cancerinmythirties@yahoo.com

                        

Thank You & Happy Holidays!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

A collection of photos for the changing seasons:

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer winter photo challenge changing seasons illness

Fall Becomes Winter
“Winter Through the Window”

cancerinmythirties.wordpress breast cancer weekly photo challenge changing seasons swan

Winter Becomes Spring

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer breast cancer changing seasons beach bald

Spring Becomes Summer

cancerinmythirties.wordpress breast cancer weekly photo challenge changing seasons leaves stoneybrook park autumn

Summer Becomes Fall

If you would like to take part in the challenge, please visit:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/weekly-photo-challenge-changing-seasons/

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

Thank you!

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*

Follea’s Breast Cancer Wig Giveaway

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com

Me During Taxol — just before beginning radiation — January 2011. This is a wig! I had a shiny bald head underneath this lovely hair.

The post below was left as a comment on my blog.  I wanted to share it with all of my followers who have cancer — or who know someone who is receiving treatment.  Share your story (or your friend’s, sister’s, daughter’s, mother’s, wife’s, etc. story) and you could win a lovely new wig or sleep cap…

I won’t enter myself because I have hair now, but I hope you will consider entering…

Best wishes!  🙂

And thank you to Follea, Lisa Elia and Candice Cousins for sharing this info!

———————————————–

Deadline for Submissions 11/18: Follea’s Breast Cancer Wig Giveaway – 6 Winners Will be Selected

Dear Cancer in My Thirties,

We believe you and your followers may be interested in Follea’s Breast Cancer Wig Giveaway on Facebook. Participants who share their inspirational story will have the chance to win a Gripper-2 wig, a beautiful Tres Chic wig or a super-soft bamboo sleep cap. To view the Follea video “A Woman’s Spirit is Unbreakable: A Tribute for Breast Cancer Awareness Month”, visit
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhD75zYz92M.

Here are the Follea Breast Cancer Wig Giveaway instructions, which can also be viewed at http://www.facebook.com/follea:

1. There are two different ways that a woman with breast cancer can be submitted for a chance to win these prizes:

• A woman with breast cancer can create and submit a short video about her journey with breast cancer, how it has affected her life, and how she is dealing with it.

• A friend or family member of a woman with breast cancer can submit a video about how their loved one who has cancer inspires them.

2. Submit video by Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm PST.

3. All winners, including grand prize, second place and third place winners, will be determined based on the number of votes a contestant receives, in comparison to their competitors. Voting closes Friday, December 14, 2012, at 11:59 pm PST. :

• The grand prize winner will receive her choice of either Follea’s Gripper-2 Sport or the Gripper-2 Cool, from Follea’s innovative and luxurious 2012 Gripper-2 Collection. The winner will select from one of five standard sizes and available standard color and length specifications.

• five second place winners will receive one of Follea’s beautiful, short-style, premium European-hair Tres Chic MM6 wigs.

• 50 third place winners will receive one of Follea’s super-soft bamboo sleep caps.

4. Follea will announce the winners on December 17, 2012 at 12:00 pm PST.
Also, every Friday through December 14, Follea will conduct a random drawing of all of the contestants’ names, giving all participants the chance to win one of Follea’s bamboo sleep caps every week.
About Follea: The company’s 2012 collection includes wigs and hairpieces that are specially designed for women with little to no hair such as the Gripper collection, which is light, breathable and stays securely in place with affixed medical grade silicone tabs. Follea has ICARe representatives and ICARe salons around the world, so women can get hands-on help choosing just the right wig or extensions to suit their needs.
Would you like to receive any additional information?
Best regards,
Lisa Elia
Lisa Elia PR
310-479-0216

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/

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.

————————————————————————————————-

 

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]