Thanks for visiting. This site is for anyone facing a cancer diagnosis, recovering from cancer, being treated or caring for someone being treated, and anyone else who needs a lift. I am still here six years after facing Inflammatory Breast Cancer, and life after cancer is different than it was before. It’s actually better, for me. Even with the inconveniences and remnants of my cancer fight, being here on the planet with my family is a blessing I never take for granted.
This is my little web sanctuary, offering help and hope to the weary I hope. Nice to see you.
I am amazed over and over again by how the things that come out of my mouth for the benefit of others are invariably for me also. I had a moving conversation with a client last week, which left both of us breathless. She was deeply stressed and had been coping with far too many overwhelming events in her life. I had shared a bit about what I learned from facing cancer that I thought might be helpful. She asked me how I coped with the fear of the cancer coming back.
I surprised myself by telling her that dying doesn’t scare me. It’s dying without completing the urgent demands of my soul that scares me. When I have accomplished what matters to me in this life, I can go. I do not fear dying. I was with my father when he died of cancer at age 44. I know without question that death is not the end. I know what a body looks like with nobody in it, and it’s just a discarded shell.
On the day my father died, I felt him all around me. I felt his love. I felt the power of who he really was, as the Big Him. I was cradled in peace of a kind I have never experienced since. From that day, I have no doubt that I will not cease to exist the day I die.
I needed to be reminded of what I have yet to do. I have been off course.
After that conversation, I took a little time the next day to revisit what was imperative for me. I am going to be fearless and share. Doing this will establish between you and me that I am committed to keeping this at the forefront of my mind and my days, so I can leave when the time comes with no regrets.
The Six Imperatives:
1. I need to write. I have been told many times that I have a book to write. I know I have a story to tell. I must tell it.
2. I need to sing.
3. I need to finish raising my children. They were 7 and 9 when I was diagnosed. I got to get them this far. I’m not done yet.
4. I need to leave no unfinished business. That means that the clutter in my house and garage are not left for my kids to clean up, among other things.
5. I need to see the world. I have always wanted to do that! Somehow I must make it happen.
6. I need to master the art of living from my spirit and not my limited ego. I have had friends joke that I want to be Mother Theresa. While I don’t feel called to go work in the slums of Calcutta, I do aspire to have the kind of trust that she did. Love takes risks, fear lives in safety. I aspire to live boldly.
These six agreements are between me and my soul. The people who are in my life, who I love, are people I trust to support these imperatives. I have the most wonderful friends and the dearest husband in the world.
When I got sick, I hadn’t been on a stage in 20 years. Now I am singing in a quartet, and we rehearse every Tuesday. I don’t know how I survived without this. I discovered how much I loved to write when I started my Caringbridge blog. It started as a way to keep people informed, and it became my lifeline. When I emerged from treatment, everything was beautiful to me. The world sparkled. I was in a state of bliss much of the time, continually grateful to be alive, expecting the miraculous. I told myself I would not lose this feeling, but over time I did.
I will not name my client to protect her privacy, but if you are reading this now you know who you are. Thank you, thank you!
Helen Keller said, “Life is a daring adventure or it is nothing at all”. I will not fall asleep and miss the adventure!
That was my reaction to hearing about this procedure, as my friends hit the 50 year mark and had to have one. Then it was my turn. If it is time for you to have a colonoscopy and you’ve been putting it off, don’t. It is a very useful diagnostic tool, and colon cancer, like so many others, is treatable if caught early. Polyps in the colon can become cancerous, so this is one of those diagnostic tests that is actually preventive, because the doctor will remove any polyps that are found.
The actual test consists of a tube with a camera inserted into the rectum and all the way into the large intestine. Being able to actually look means that any problems can be addressed immediately. What the doctor finds on your first colonoscopy determines when it will be recommended that you have another one. If all goes well, it will be ten years. If they find something, it may be five. Better to know than not! And, it’s really not that bad. I was in terror needlessly, and postponed my procedure twice before just doing it.
As a cancer survivor, I’m not messing around with diagnostic procedures that could save my life. As I researched the procedure, I learned that 50% of Americans don’t do it, and an appalling number of deaths could be prevented if they did. Knowing that knowledge is power, I did my research, but there were still questions I couldn’t get the answer to. So, here’s the path to the least discomfort and the most peace of mind if it’s your turn!
First of all, the dreaded “stuff you have to drink” has a very good purpose, which is to clean out your colon so the doctor can get a really good look and see if there are any polyps to remove. The cleaner the better. The stuff just runs through your system and scours as it goes. The less there is in there in the first place, the less likely it will be really uncomfortable. I may have made that up, but it seemed to work for me. Eating lightly the day before you fast is a good idea. My doctor had me eliminate foods with any significant fiber for two days. It was an opportunity for me to congratulate myself on my eating habits, because I had to give up my favorite foods! No oatmeal, no nuts, no fruit… ah well, it’s temporary. You can manage it for a couple of days, and it will make the rest easier.
You will not be on the can all day.
You may have heard horror stories about running to the bathroom all day long. I tried to get the real scoop, and couldn’t find it anywhere, so here it is: actual toilet time is 3-4 hours for the whole jug of solution. My doses were divided, half in the early afternoon and half in the evening. The stomach rumbling started about an hour after I started, and the clearing out process took about 90 minutes to two hours. Then I had a break, and went through the whole thing again in the evening. It’s not that bad if you’re prepared.
When your stomach starts to gurgle, the process is immanent. Gather your supplies and head for your temporary office!
Take care of your tush.
This advice came from my mom, and it was good. Some diaper rash ointment or equivalent before you even start will prevent any discomfort. It’s also well worth it to have REALLY soft toilet paper.
Claim the bathroom as your very own.
If you only have one, send everyone else away for the afternoon! Once the purge starts, it’s pretty continuous until it’s over. Just accept that fact and take everything into the little room to be comfortable. I watched back to back episodes of Game of Thrones. A good book will also do very well.
Have your prescription drink, a glass, a timer (8 oz. every 15 minutes or so is standard I think) and something else to drink as well. Why?
It is very important to stay hydrated.
The solution you drink is very high in sodium. Besides tasting really nasty after awhile, it draws fluids out of your body and can leave you dehydrated, which can result in feeling bit woozy. All the liquid foods you are allowed are a good idea. Enjoy that yellow jello. Drink your ginger ale. Keep chugging that water. After all, you’re stuck in the little room anyway, so what if you have to urinate a lot?
Another important reason is that it will make the I.V. easier when you have the colonoscopy. I hate I.V’s. and I am not an easy stick, after all the chemotherapy I’ve had. Being properly hydrated makes that part go much more smoothly.
The day of the colonoscopy is the easier part!
My team was really wonderful. They know everyone is nervous about this procedure, so they tend to be super nice and reassuring! Many people don’t remember a thing after they get the intravenous sedation. I remember it all, and actually found it rather fascinating. Having the tube with the camera inserted was a little uncomfortable, but the rest of it was not bad, and I could see what the doctor was seeing on the screen. Once they have the tube all the way in, they pull it out slowly and look with the camera. If they see any polyps, they remove them. Then you’re done, and you go chill out in the recovery room. The medication they gave me for conscious sedation left me feeling rather pleasant and sleepy.
When you’re coherent enough to get dressed and gather your belongings, your support person can come and take you home. It seems to me that it was less than an hour after the procedure that I was ready to go. I felt fine, and once I was home I settled into bed and had a delicious three hour nap. I woke up in the afternoon feeling just fine.
The best part is that I don’t have to do it again for another ten years! It’s nice to know for sure that my colon is healthy. One less thing to dwell in that nebulous land of the unknown. I appreciate all the evidence I get that 7 years after cancer I am a healthy middle aged lady.
If you are about to have this procedure, I hope this is helpful, and if you’ve been postponing it, don’t! I hope I’ve taken some of the mystery and the dread out of it. Peace of mind is worth a little minor discomfort.
This month is a milestone. It just crashed into my awareness on Sunday, as I was taking my daughter and her friend shopping. We were driving along, and saw a man on a bicycle with a little trailer behind him. There was a dog in it, and the sight was just so funny! We pulled up next to him to get a picture. Alas, my daughter has not sent it to me yet. I will post it when she does!
The man gave us a big grin. The man gave us a big grin.As we were having a good laugh, I had one of those “high on life” moments I get every so often. I get them a lot more these last seven years than I used to before that. I think I took everything far too seriously. What happened in 2007 was serious. Very little after that has been!
Seven years from tomorrow, I received the diagnosis of Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer. My first thought was for my children. I was determined to see them grow up. I have done that, and what a wild ride it’s been! They drive me absolutely nuts many days, and I treasure it all.
The hard lesson that cancer taught me was to put myself FIRST. That goes against everything most of us were taught, especially people my age, the baby boomers. I’m right on the tail end of that wave. I remember June Cleaver and all those nice ladies who took care of everybody. I remember the Enjoli commercials.
“I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never never let you forget you’re a man!”
Oh good grief! Puh-LEASE! Nobody can do that and have any juice left. I call BS.
Self care is sexy! It means that I approach life on full, not on empty. I am convinced that I am alive today because I got the message. Not only am I alive, but I have a really good laugh most days, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I do hope you’ll indulge a little motherly pride, as I post pictures of the offspring I was determined to raise. They are feisty, demented, gifted, amazing teenagers with larger than life attitude, and I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!
What always comes up when I feel full to overflowing like this is the continued commitment to giving back. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have to do this.
I just set up a new website for massage therapists, because I feel so blessed to have been doing this work for the last 23 years. I also know that massage therapists and other healers tend to give and give, as I did. I have a very different viewpoint now! You can check it out at www.thriving massagetherapist.com.
Every year as October approaches, I feel the thrill of autumn and the dread of Pinktober.
It’s not that I don’t value all the work that goes into raising funds for breast cancer awareness and research. I won’t bore you with yet another rant on this topic! Anyone who has checked into this blog periodically knows how irate Pinkwashing and retail opportunism in the name of charity makes me.
The fact is, I always have mixed feelings during this month. I am thrilled to be alive, and sad for my sisters who aren’t. It is annoying and inconvenient to be constantly reminded of breast cancer when most of the time I don’t think about it too much any more. It is not the center of my world, and that’s how we all want it. For women who face breast cancer, for a long time we can hardly think of anything else. For the unfortunate ones who have disease progression instead of successful first treatment, it is always top of mind. For women who have recurrences it is top of mind. For those of us fortunate enough to be NED, we can blessedly enjoy a day, a week, or a month without thinking about breast cancer.
Not so during October. My daughter put it succinctly. “Most of the time I don’t have to remember that my mom almost died!”
If there is anything I can accomplish during this month, it is to gently and persistently tell the true story of breast cancer, so people like my mom who are terrified for loved ones don’t hear “Breast cancer? Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. They cure that now.”. That was pretty tough for her to hear while I battled a disease that statistically was more likely to kill me than not. It makes for a lonely journey.
I am relieved that I don’t have to deal with the clerks at my local Safeway when I opt out of the “donate to breast cancer” option as I check out my groceries. I don’t participate because last year I asked a clerk where that money went, she had no idea. Neither did the manager.
I donate year round, to organizations that give money to funding research, so we can have a world where my daughter doesn’t have to be afraid.
Last week, one of my massage therapy clients was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is terrified, as we all are when it happens to us. I suspect that October will be a little extra rough for her in years to come.
I’m so glad November is around the corner! My birthday is in a few days. I’m so glad it is not mixed in with Pinktober! I can still love autumn when November comes. I’ll be 52. Damn pleased to be 52! When I was 45 I wasn’t sure at all that it would happen.
As the years pass, I am embracing who I have always been, a wellness professional. For awhile I almost felt that I couldn’t claim that anymore, because I had faced cancer. I, who was the picture of health and good habits…how could it be? I know so much more now.
Now I know that no one is exempt, no matter how “right” they do everything. I am true to my profession because I used everything I know to beat it.
You can check out my new website here. I will never stop caring about the women who face breast cancer, or the people who face any cancer. I see it every week when I go to work at the hospital. I see it in the mirror when I look at my chest. And, I am committed more than ever to health and healing in the forms I know best.
I got a note from a reader that one of my links was broken. I had a feeling, and I resisted figuring it out. Why?
Because several of my links are blogs, and the authors are gone. Some links still take readers to their websites, but the posts are old. I just checked my friend Donna’s site. A sweet message from her husband, about how much he misses her. I miss her too.
Following up on some other blogs, I notice that many of us sort of disappear after we get through the ordeal. That is, unless it isn’t over. Some of us fight cancer once, and we go one with our lives. We don’t like looking back, for the most part. I told myself I wouldn’t disappear, but I do sometimes, for weeks or months at a time. It’s to be expected. Life stops being about cancer, and that’s what we fought for, yes?
And, I remember my friends. Rachel at the Cancer Culture Chronicles. Gone. Susan at Toddler Planet. I just made a donation recently to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation in her name. That organization is run by a 20+ year survivor, who says simply, “I figure I’m still on this side of the grass, so I need to do what I can”. I feel that way too.
My friend in New Zealand, gone. She and Susan died last summer, within days of each other.
It can be hard to keep showing up here in cyberspace, when life is all about enjoying it. Simple, but true. My teenagers are both taller than I am, and that was the future I prayed for when I was fighting in 2007. Life is good. I figure, I have been given the gift, and my job is to be happy. That’s what the Dalai Lama says, and I agree.
My job is to be happy, and remember my sisters who have left. I appreciate every moment I have, so much. I got to see my kids grow up. I am blessed indeed.
If you have found this blog, please don’t take the silence in cyberspace for lack of survivors. We are here. We’re just kinda quiet, despite our best intentions to stay visible. It’s been six years now for me.
Thanks Olivia, for letting me know I had some housekeeping to do. Nice to be here. Really, so great.
My cast is coming off on June 11. It will be exactly 6 weeks and three days from when I injured it. If the doctor’s office was open on the weekend I might’ve made it six weeks to the day!
I decided when I injured it that I would be derailed for a short time as possible. Unfortunately, when you ask a doctor how to make it heal quickly all he usually have tell you is drink your milk and keep it immobilized. Not satisfied with that, I went online and did my research.
I learned that anti-inflammatories during the first week are counterproductive, because the inflammation response is part of the healing process. So, I took Tylenol instead, and got to work on my guided imagery. I have a whole crew of the little osteognomes in there, bridging the gap across the fracture, wielding huge knitting needles.
After the first week, the doctor was pleased and startled by how fast healing was underway, but dismayed that it had moved out of position just a little bit. He wanted to discuss surgery. I decided that those booms were going to move back where they belonged.
After a week of pulling my fingers, tapping on the bone where it wanted to move, supplementing with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and lots of fresh food and rest, my doctor was startled again.
He thought perhaps that my wrist was aligned properly because the x-ray was taken at a different angle. I told him, “No I did that!”
That was May 14. We ditched the splint, put on a coolerriffic purple cast that lets me bend at the elbow, and he told me he’d see me in four weeks to have the cast removed. Woo hoo!
There is always more to a healing story than the doctors tell you. It felt great to take charge of my recovery. I’ll be back in business in less than three weeks.
17 days and counting!
I broke my wrist nearly three weeks ago. It has been quite an education.
About a year ago I became very concerned about the state of my bones. I have a friend who went through menopause at 35, and found out at 45 that she had osteoporosis. I went through menopause at 45, due to chemotherapy. Last year I asked my doctor for a bone scan, because I was concerned. I asked several times for a close look at my results, but was told that they were not significant.
Fast-forward to April 27. I was racing up the stairs to the Canada College Main Stage theater, in a big hurry because I had to braid my daughter’s hair. She was playing Tiger Lily in Peter Pan. I knew she would be stressed because I was late.
I tripped and fell forward landing on the stair. As I broke my fall time stopped, and I observed to my dismay that my wrist was bending in a way was never designed to bend. I knew I have broken it.
The ER department at Kaiser did an excellent job with my wrist. I was in and out in three hours, with my wrist reset and in a splint. One good thing that came out of it was that I asked the ER doctor to look at my bone scan. My suspicions were confirmed. I have osteopenia. Very mild, true, but present all the same.
What I think is cause for concern and what other people think is cause for concern often varies wildly. I love my oncologist. She’s wonderful. However, osteopenia is only relevant as it relates to osteoporosis. Even then, the question she asks is, is it time for Fosamax?
That’s not my perspective!
I decided at that time to take on my osteopenia. I also decided to use everything I know to heal this broken wrist in record time. So far my doctor has been startled by my progress. The cast comes off June 11, six weeks and three days after I broke it.
So what have I learned? Nobody takes your health is seriously as you do. Today’s doctors are wonderful at what they do, but their vision is often limited. My bone doctor. who is excellent at what he does, could only offer “drink milk and don’t move it” as instructions to heal fast. I found many more options than that!
And on the fun side? Using your non dominant hand creates new pathways in the brain. That’s been great for me. My ADD and chemo-affected brain seems to be far more organized, and my research shows that this is no accident. My left handed writing is legible and about as neat as that of a first grader!
I also purchased the Dragon dictation system. That’s how I can write this post even though my right hand is basically useless! I never would have done that if I had broken my wrist. I am finally at work on my first e-book, which has been on the back burner for years. What else is there to do?
When I broke my wrist, my massage therapy practice was in huge growth mode. This interruption was aggravating, but I am making the best of it.
For anyone going through cancer treatment, it is important to know that chemotherapy is rough on your bones. Early menopause also puts you at risk for osteopenia and osteoporosis. When I went through treatment, neither of these was my concern. I just wanted to survive. Looking back, I believe that part of why the treatment my was successful was because I was thinking about the future I was determined to have. I do wish I had known about my bones!
What have you done for your bones today?
Yes, I’m still here! I got caught up in the delicious madness of Narnia. We had a great run. My daughter made me proud, I found new levels of wickedness, and my husband was delightfully typecast as Father Christmas. He always is kid furniture, and for this show he was double kid furniture! Every moment backstage his lap was occupied. A wonderful time was had by all.
In November, I had a revelation. It has given me back my life and my future. It was suggested to me that I have my son evaluated for ADHD. As I went through the process, I was startled to discover that what I was hearing applied to me. I proceeded to get myself evaluated. At the age of 51, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I have had it all my life.
Imagine, the combination of ADHD and chemobrain! No wonder I felt like I couldn’t get any traction! Now I understood why I have spent so much of my life in overwhelm.
I was, strangely, not in overwhelm when I fought cancer. I went into hyperfocus, much the same way I did whey I bicycled the Pacific Coast by myself in 1988. I knew the goal and the path, and I had faith that I would get there. When normal life resumed and I had to juggle many interests and responsibilities, I was overwhelmed.
So, the diagnosis was a revelation. The most amazing part was that I stopped beating myself up for being a flake, undisciplined, and underachiever, blah blah blah.
No one begrudges a slower time running the mile to someone who has one leg shorter than the other. It’s a simple matter of brain chemistry. My frontal lobe doesn’t have enough available dopamine. Exit self judgment, enter partnership with my wildly creative brain. I love my brain. I love how creative and intuitive it is. I just lost some other stuff to have that. So, during December, after I got the formal diagnosis, I began to research. While I was waiting to see the doctor again, I learned all kinds of tricks to work with my brain. It has been extraordinary.
In January I saw the doc and she prescribed Wellbutrin. For me it is a miracle drug. The static in my head is much reduced, and often it’s not there. Instead of everything I have to do feeling equally urgent (prompting me to freeze) I know how to decide what comes first.
My original intention was to try medication so I could feel what a more functional frontal lobe feels like. After researching Wellbutrin, I found to my relief that it actually has some other benefits that feel good to me. Preliminary research in mice suggests that it may have cancer preventative properties, because it reduces inflammation. It’s all good. We’ll see.
Right now I am catching up on all the balls I have dropped in the last five years. Woo-Hoo!
If you have left a comment recently, please forgive me. I will moderate soon. I have some spam to sift through. Aaaargh!
Happy New Year!
Well, here it is. Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fortunately I am very, very busy, rehearsing for Narnia. Yes, I am the White Witch again! Five years ago, I was rehearsing. My daughter was 7. Now she’s 13, and playing the part of Susan. My husband, who I had just met in 2007, is playing Father Christmas. Five years ago I was a lot skinnier. My husband says I was scrawny. I was sporting the Annie Lennox look.
Breast Cancer Awareness month is hard. While I so appreciate the funds that are raised for research, I detest the sea of pink and the pink labels on things so people will buy. It’s the good and the greedy all mixed together. My daughter confessed that she hates it as well. All during the month of October, she is reminded that she could have lost her mother. Two women on my support list announced that they are stopping treatment this week. It’s hard.
All the dancing, writing, driving, working, has made my muscles sore. I am sore on my right side, and I noticed it just below my ribcage on the right side. I began to worry about liver mets. That happens every so often. An ache or a zing of some kind, and I worry. Someone on the list had a recurrence 6 years out. I don’t like hearing those stories.
I stretch, I take care of myself, I watch the aches and pains, but mostly right now I’m having a blast. It’s family theater. The cuteness factor is extremely high, with little woodland fairies, animals, and cruelies, who are the witch’s minions. I have the most delightful little dwarf, my personal henchman, a ten year old named Amy. The adults in the show are there to do something magical with their kids. I appreciate all of them so much!
If you want to see some great theater (really! We have fabulous talent directing this year), go to www.bayareaetc.org and get tickets to see the “Wardrobe” cast. We perform Friday night November 2, Sunday Matinee on the 4th, and Saturday November 10.
When I started this blog, I came to know several other survivors in the blogospere. It is painful to me this October that they are all gone, all but one. At least the ones I knew well. I know it’s not because none of us survive. I know for myself that moving away from life being about cancer and into the next chapter tempts us to forget that people need to know we’re here. Many who make it get quieter, as life resumes. I have done that many times.
For those at the beginning, know that I am one of many. It has been over five years. I’m still here. At the moment, cackling madly, turning little children to stone, singing fantastic music, and sharing the stage with my beautiful teenage daughter.
Now, to bed.
Tomorrow is the audition workshop for the next eTc Mainstage show, Narnia.
Five years ago, skinny and rockin’ the Annie Lennox look (super short hair), I worked out my angst on stage singing amazing music, turning little kids into stone, and cackling madly. A week from tomorrow I will audition to reprise my breakout role as the White Witch of Narnia. I can’t wait!
The last time I played the White Witch, I was scrawny and exhausted from radiation treatments. It was still an absolute gas. My daughter will accuse me of being cocky, but I’m confident that I’ve got a pretty straight shot to do it again. This time I am not scrawny (alas, I could be a little scrawnier!) and I am tired from momming and working, but it’s a nicer kind of tired. I can work with this kind of tired. Pacing can be done!
Time to choose a song and a monologue…
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