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    Another year has gone by, and I am still here.

    It feels important to say that.  I know that there are women being diagnosed with IBC who are frightened, spooked by the statistics or just the “C” word, just starting on the incredibly rough path to post cancer life.  Unfortunately, most of us tend to get absorbed in normalcy once the heroics are over, and forget to let y’all know we’re still here.

    I fought my battle in 2007, most of all for my children.  I was damned if I was going to have someone else raise them!  Now, nearly ten years later, they are almost launched.  They were my Reason.  I am happy to say that now that the work has mostly been done, I still have ample reasons.  My son is moving out soon, and my daughter is in her last year of high school, currently absorbed in college applications.  My Knight in Shining Armor did that job very well, until I needed something else, and then he flailed.  So I am again on my own, and I am at peace with it and grateful for perfect timing and a benevolent universe that has always taken care of me.

    After I went through treatment, there was a period of quiet, of overwhelming gratitude, that invited reinvention.  At that time, I decided that I had to have meaning in my life every day, joy, service, art, fun.  This, and my children happy.  I feel on the cusp of this quietude again, as my son prepares to leave the nest, and my daughter is driving herself to her many important pursuits this year.  I really love my job, and I have lots of writing to do!  It’s been on the back burner while I raised my children, as is right and proper.  Now I am excited, curious, and sad all at once.  I had breakfast with my remarkable daughter yesterday, and got tearful thinking of how much I will miss her.  The boy is just moving a few miles away, so I’m sure he’ll show up at my house to do his laundry or raid my refrigerator.

    She is applying to colleges on the other coast, and then planning on two years in the Peace Corps.  She told me of an internship she is already considering, a summer in Kenya facilitating the education of girls.  Proud, and biting my nails.

    Surviving cancer feels epic when it happens.  After treatment, I was on a cloud of gratitude, for some long time, feeling like everything my eyes rested on was blessed.  Sometimes I wish for that same feeling, but it has given way to simple satisfaction, being at home in this “whole big beautiful mess”, to quote my friend Becky.

    For anyone reading this who just started:  normal comes again.  Believe it.  And normal is sweet indeed.


    Wow.  Hard to believe my last post was over a year ago!  This place must look like a ghost town.  Where does the time go?

    I have an interesting job these days, that I’ve been getting used to for the last six months.  It has created a very interesting perspective on my cancer experience!  What I do is screen massage therapists for an on-demand massage network.  I work for Soothe, interviewing therapists and accepting them into the network (or not).  The part that’s taking some getting used to is that the job includes receiving 30 minute practicals from candidates.

    Sure, it’s great to get massages every day I go to work.  It’s fabulous!  My office mates tease me about my tough job, lol.

    What I didn’t think about was how it would be explaining my contraindications at sometimes three times a day, up to ten times a week.

    Before I can proceed with having a therapist give me a massage, I have to tell her about my lymphedema, the tight fascia on my left side, and the neuropathy on my feet.  At first it felt a little weird.  Now I’m used to it. It takes the edge off after you say it enough times.

    I am 5’7″, have blue eyes, spend more time at a computer than I’m used to, and I have lymphedema.  Oh, and there’s no breast there on the left.  And the sky is blue.

    Technically, I still have breast cancer, and I’m in remission.  To me, I had breast cancer.  Once I had cancer that I could see and feel, I could watch it shrink, and after surgery I could joyfully believe it was gone.  NED, no evidence of disease, means that chances are good that it’s gone.  It’s been eight years now.  If I don’t think it’s gone, and that I had (past tense) inflammatory breast cancer, I could go crazy with worry and not live my life.

    I recently started downloading and editing the Caringbridge journals that I kept while I was going through it.  Soon I found myself drawn in, even though I’m just mostly downloading.  One night after getting lost in the journals, I became fixated on the risk of late recurrence and kept myself up all night noodling on the internet and worrying.

    It’s always there.  It’s probably good to just relegate it into another fact I recite to a massage therapist so I get a great massage.

    I feel a bit sheepish for staying away from here so long!  For every woman out there who’s just been diagnosed, I’m still here.  I’ll try to be here in my cyber room a little more often.




    (Originally posted on Yahoo Voices, 2012)

    Musings of a One-Breasted Goddess

    I’ve been a uniboober for nearly five glorious post cancer years, and I know that I won’t change it. How can I know?

    I appreciate so much that if a woman wants reconstruction she can have it, and insurance will cover it. That was not always the case, and that’s just not kind. Every woman who loses a breast should be able to do what she needs to do to recover and feel whole.

    The reason that I will not reconstruct is that right now I am whole. I am missing one appendage. I have sensation and movement in my whole body, and my pectoralis muscle is intact. I don’t have any foreign objects in my body. That to me is whole.

    It doesn’t make sense to me to chop and numb other parts to give me back a breast, one that isn’t even like the one I have. My new breast would not have sensation, would not feel or look the same, would not respond to a lover’s touch. Would I ever be satisfied with this?

    Maybe if it could be a real breast, I would be satisfied to lose sensation in my belly, have my skin stretched, distort my pectoralis muscle so that it could not move freely, and to re-injure my entire left side and once again lose sensation to my elbow, across my back, into my neck, and across my chest. Maybe it would be worth three separate surgeries, sacrificing pieces of my beautiful, sensate muscles, the risk of infection, scarring that disfigures the new breast, tampering with the healthy breast, the risk of silicone leaking into my system, and the further trauma to my body that could leave me vulnerable a cancer recurrence.

    Since any new breast I would get would not be the real thing, why would I want one?

    I understand that it would be convenient to never have to search for my prosthesis if I misplace it. I would have cleavage, which I do miss a little. Perhaps I would feel less fearful of a lover being put off by the scar across my chest. Fortunately I understand that I am still a woman without cleavage, and my partner loves both sides of my chest.

    What doesn’t make sense to me is that my journey and recovery has been all about reclaiming the parts of me that were lost. If I want no part of my heart and spirit to be numb, if I want to feel everything, what sense does it make to cut off sensation and movement from large areas of my body? I want to feel it all, enjoy it all, be it all, body, mind and spirit.

    And, can a deeper healing come from acceptance?

    Maybe providing the new appendage makes it possible to not feel the pain. However, I believe that true healing means to feel the pain, let it go, and claim another part, the part that was numb or hurt, until I feel all of me. I grieve for my beautiful breast that nursed my babies, quickened at my lover’s touch, and is gone forever. I feel the ache, and I feel my chest, my belly, my heart. I move my body joyfully and with gratitude.

    I think every woman must do what feels right to her, and I believe that every woman should be encouraged to think it through. These days it is assumed that every woman who loses a breast will reconstruct. What isn’t discussed at length are the disadvantages and the risks. Nearly one third of all reconstruction surgeries will have some sort of complication, or less than ideal outcome.

    I miss low cut dresses, shelf bras, and sexy matching underwear, but not as much as I thought I would.



    When I decided that I was “not —-ing leaving the planet” because I was going to raise my kids, I had no idea what that would wet hugactually look like.  It didn’t matter.  It was a gift to anticipate, a package to open when the time was right, and I was determined to be around to open it.  I was mostly concerned about my children growing up without me.  What I didn’t think about at the time, but am thoroughly enjoying now, is what an absolute blast they are.  Teenagers are crazy and wonderful.  My mom refers to their “demented energy”.  Yes!   As long as I  maintain my sense of humor, I ride the tougher waves relatively easily.  I find that true of most things!

    You’ve probably heard of the ALS ice bucket challenge.  I wish I’d thought of it for IBC!  Anyway, I’m glad.  I had to have my dunking, but I didn’t mind.  The picture to the right is of my daughter, my son, and her friend.  They were nominated for the challenge, and recruited my son to dump the ice water on their heads.  After he did his brotherly duty, my daughter’s friend shouted “Hug!” and they chased him down.

    They tickle my funny bone and exasperate me daily.  My son thinks “school is stupid” and tested out early.  My daughter has decided she’s going to Columbia University (now I’m sweating bullets) and after years of constant squabbling, they are good friends.

    When I was fighting cancer, I didn’t know entirely what I was fighting for.  I was fighting for the surprise, for the unopened gift I didn’t want to miss out on.  If you are currently in the fight, whether a cancer, depression, or just a rotten day, remember that none of us can predict how good it can be!  So, if it sucks right now, take heart.  There is no limit to how much better it can get.

    If you want to see me get dunked, follow the link to my facebook page.  She who nominated “Mama Danu” (Emily…an exceptionally good kid) thoroughly enjoyed sopping me when I started to run off at the mouth.  Her mom and my daughter are laughing in the background.

    I love being “that” mom!

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    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. 

    leaping over small children to break a board!

    leaping over small children to break a board!

    exuberant girl!

    exuberant girl!


    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.

    Happy November!

    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!

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