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    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.

    Blessings,

    Elizabeth

     

    There is a progression through pink for those of us who get down and dirty into the real world of breast cancer. I liked pink ribbons in the beginning. They made me feel less alone.
    Now, the truth about breast cancer is in the front of my mind and I am annoyed by the large scale public complacency about a disease that we have been led to believe doesn’t kill people any more. I used to believe that. I had heard about mammograms saving lives and seen the pictures of triumphant women in pink hats all sweaty and beaming from their race for the cure. I was shocked when I realized that my survival was not a foregone conclusion.

    This month, I am acutely aware of sisters all over the internet who are dealing with metastatic disease. I am acutely aware that many, many women still have never heard of Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

    This last couple of weeks, I have been feverishly exploring freelance opportunities, because I want to free myself from the constraints of location and schedule. The added bonus that I love to write makes this strategy a no-brainer. I am going to a conference this month to learn more, to become a more effective advocate. The more work I can do on the internet, the more I can afford to take time to go where I can be of service. This is the desire of my heart, as I near the five year anniversary of my diagnosis.

    Another sister who first faced IBC in 2007 is struggling and it is deeply, deeply painful to me.

    One of my favorite people, Ginny Mason, said:

    “I’m on this side of the grass, so I figure I have a responsibility”. Ginny is a 20 year plus survivor, which gives us all hope! She is the mastermind and prime mover of the IBC Research Foundation.

    So, in keeping with my responsibility because I am on this side of the grass, I used my new found influence at Associated Content to publish an article on IBC. I became a Featured Contributor this last month and one of my first assignments was to write an article about any disease or condition I wanted. Of course I wrote about IBC. It made the front page of the “health” section of the Associated Content website and so far has been viewed over 5000 times in the last three days. That’s 5000 people who didn’t know, and now they do! You can view the article here. Please send it on to anyone you know who may not know about Inflammatory Breast Cancer!

    My personal agenda this month is to stir the pot as much as possible!

    We lost one on the list today. One of my IBC sisters could not stop the relentless forward march of this stinkin’ lousy disease. No matter what was thrown at the beast, it just kept on keepin’ on until it’s host could fight no more. Stupid parasite.

    My last blog on Everyday Health generated comments from two survivors, one of 12 years, and one of five years. The five year survivor had story similar to what I posted yesterday. Still here, backwards treatment and all!

    We need to know you’re out there, survivors!

    Here’s the post over there at Everyday Health.

    I had a great day today. I gave a massage, did theater with some kids, and then went to the childrens hospital. Now my husband and my son are bugging me to get off the computer and go watch “V” with them. Life is good.

    Everybody deserved a life that makes her as happy as mine does me. Let’s make it happen by 2020.

    Today I had to rant.

    I have a cold, which is no fun. Whine whine. Then I checked my e-mail and got a little overwhelmed by the IBC world, and quite pissed off. So I ranted over there at Everyday Health! I hope the editors don’t get upset at me.

    And what’s cool? Tom, Felicia and I are going to be in the Wiz together. Tom gets to be The Wiz, lucky guy. And alas for me, there are very few great soprano villains, so I defer to my fantastic buttery voiced friends Tina and Harini, and content myself with a frumpy dress, and apron, and a ballad. Aunty Em, here I come.

    Check out some ranting over here, and I apologize in advance if you think Suzanne Sommers is smart…

    This is the name of a kid show that my daughter watches. Once again I am up when I it would be better for me to be in bed. I just have this Type A streak that will never reform! I’m not upset about it. I don’t mind being a Type A if it is about something that makes me feel alive and passionate, something important.

    What made me think of “random” is the phenomenon of survivor’s guilt. That’s been a hot topic on one of my discussion groups, and it is something I struggle with sometimes. When I read a story like the one I just wrote about for instance. Some women go through chemotherapy and it is not effective, and they try something else, and nothing works. For some it works well, for some marginally. I have a new friend I’ve never met, and we both posted to another about the fear of recurrence that plagues all of us. Right out of treatment, we all wonder if we’ve really dodged the bullet. The fact is there’s no knowing, and predictors don’t always tell the story. My friend Kelly, whose cancer presented in a much more complicated way and responded to treatment poorly in the beginning, is still here, as am I. We are, as we have discovered, part of the “Class of 2007″. We are discovering that there are a lot of us! Quite a few of us it seems have busted the statistics.

    Now, what about the early stage cancer, the one where treatment went smoothly, margins were clean, plenty of options, and the nasty beast comes back and wreaks havoc? It’s just not fair! When I read about a young mother who lost her battle after a 14 month fight, I stand in amazement and gratitude. I don’t feel guilty most of the time, but I feel unbelievably blessed.

    What cancer does is just so random. It is unpredictable, capricious, unfair. Part of living after and surviving well is learning to live with uncertainty!

    What I know is that since I am still here, it is my gift and privilege to continue to advocate on behalf of those who cannot, and to do my part for those who will be diagnosed.

    It’s not guilt anymore, exactly. It’s a sacred assignment that is mine because I am alive. Since I am alive, and have this assignment, it is imperative that I safeguard my future and present as much as I can.

    Now, to bed, because my body is telling me it wants rest.
    I’m going to be nice to my friend and take her to bed! Follow the link to “My Body, My Friend” at Everyday Health.

    Someone on my IBC support list brought this amazing story to our attention.  Megan Waldbridge Nelson had seen an e-mail about IBC, which had been circulating on the internet.  It had been years ago, but she remembered, and advocated for herself.  The knowledge that she had in her mental rolodex, and her decision to act on that knowledge was lifesaving.

    This morning I spoke about IBC to a group of nursing students at my local coffee shop.  I saw a woman in scrubs, wearing a pink ribbon.  I saw my opportunity!  I thanked her for wearing the ribbon, and asked her if she had ever heard of Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  She had not, and her classmates had not either, although they had already learned about breast cancer.

    Since I became part of the internet IBC community, it is clear to me that a lot of us are committed to getting the word out, but still the majority of women I speak with have no idea about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  Nursing students didn’t even know!  Every one of us who can speak about it are needed voices.  Megan is my hero today because she used the opportunity to make her story public, so other women can save their own lives as she has done.

    You can see her story by clicking on the link:

    http://www.9news.com/rss/article.aspx?storyid=168708

    I’m having a hard time getting the link to work!  If you are too, just go to www.9news.com and search Megan Waldman.

    For women facing IBC, the support list is a hugely important and valuable resource:

    http://www.ibcsupport.org/

    for more information and the most current research on IBC:

    ibcresearch.org

    I am alive today because of research (which gave us herceptin, relatively new when I was diagnosed), doctors who were knowledgeable about IBC, and because I took care of myself.  More and more women are speaking up to make sure that women and men know to take care of themselves.  This is not just true of IBC, but of other cancers as well.  The work is never done, but we make progress, and keep on keeping on.

    Thanks Megan.  We’ll be watching you!

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    Yesterday, I had the loveliest afternoon and evening.  I went and saw the Bodyworlds exhibit  with my husband, my dear friend Susan, and new friend Kit.  It was nothing less than amazing.  Bodyworlds is an amazing display of the human body in movement, health and also in disease.  The technology is plasticized  human cadavers donated to science.  They are beautifully and reverently displayed, and utterly fascinating.  Interspersed with the specimens were elegant displays of relevant information.  Susan and I are both massage therapists, so we were like little kids in a store full of chocolate, greeting the bones, muscles and nerves like old friends.

    After the exhibit, we came home and watched a fascinating movie called “The Living Matrix”, about what they called “Informational Medicine”.  The theory is that illness is scrambled information, and that by restoring the natural blueprint to the bodymind, health can be restored.  It’s a complex topic too big to go into here, but the nugget that got me thinking was the discussion about the Placebo Effect.  One doctor pointed out, if the placebo effect is documented to aid healing up to 30% of the time, why aren’t we using it?

    In my case, I don’t think that belief itself changed anything about my disease.  I think instead that the focus of my belief sent powerful messages to my body, which engaged my own healing response.  I am deeply grateful that my doctors, and my mom, used their own Informational Medicine.

    For whatever reason, I believed with all my heart that I would survive.  I don’t know exactly why I did.  The story I made up served me.  I believed for myself that if I got the lesson, the teacher would leave and not return.  I believed that what I was being asked to do was learn to really love myself, to open my own heart to me.  I asked for any karma I had coming to make it’s way to me right then, in February of 2007.  I decided to receive all that anyone wanted to give me.  I used every tool I knew of to heal my whole life.  This was and is my belief.  I believe that staying on this path will keep me well.

    What I did not know was that this story I was using to empower myself was fragile indeed.  Any doctor could have deflated it easily, with one thoughtless comment or practical observation.  The facts (the statistics) were not in my favor, the truth of which I was blissfully unaware.  How did this happen?

    It started with Dr. Borofsky.  She did not tell me what she thought I had.  She said that it was “very possibly” a cancer, and that we would know more when I received my full diagnosis.  I was scared out of my mind.  I asked her tearfully, “am I going to die?”  Now there’s a silly, loaded question!  Even bolder was her answer.

    “No.  No you’re not”.  She said it with a firm shake of her head.  I believed her.  If she had lied, oh well, I wouldn’t be around to scold her for it!  I believed her implicitly.  I asked her about it later, and she laughed.  She said that what she meant was,

    “no, not now, not on my watch!”  It was good enough for me.

    When Dr. Brown told me my diagnosis, she did not express dismay when she said the words “Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer”.  It rolled off her lips like “it’s raining today, shall we eat inside?”  When I asked for a prognosis, she said, “we’re optimistic”.  That’s all I could get out of her.

    Dr. Metkus wouldn’t give me statistics either.  She said, “why do you want statistics?  What good would they be?  No one has ever studied Elizabeth Danu before.”  My friend Flo told me that she had mentioned me to Dr. Metkus, and that the doctor had observed, “she’s a survivor”.

    My mom totally censored the information she sent my way.  The 25-50% survival rate for Inflammatory Breast Cancer never reached my ears.  Instead, she sent me snippets of things that gave hope, and posts from long term survivors on the IBC support list.

    My doctors, and the people who love me, conspired to keep me in the dark about what might frighten me, and they fed me what gave me strength and courage.

    Never worry about giving someone “false hope”.  No hope is false!  There are exceptions to every statistical curve.  This is why I read and re-read “Remarkable Recovery”.  It was full of stories about people who disproved the statistics, and did what they knew would heal them.  A basic principle that I learned years ago is, it’s true if it works!

    My paradigm worked for me, and I am so grateful that the healers in my life supported my belief.  This is the Placebo effect at work, deliberately.

    This site is about Informational Medicine Power.  Take what gives you strength, makes you laugh, brings hope, or whatever else you want, and disregard the rest.  Reality is overrated!

    We interrupt our regular blog program today for a moment of grief, as your chronicler just read a story that was painful and sweet beyond bearing.  As I have been emerging from my cave of recovery and joining the world I see stories that break my heart, and I know how blessed I am to be alive.

    I just read through a blog by and about a 37 year old mother,  who died of Inflammatory Breast Cancer in July of 2008, 14 months after she was diagnosed.

    I am so sad that I never met her.  I am so sorry for the ache remaining in the hearts of her six children, who still open cards written for them in the months before she left them.

    She was breastfeeding her youngest child when her symptoms began.  She waited too long.

    Damn, damn, damn.  It hurts. She was one of too many on a list on the blog I was reading.  I read their stories.  They were all mommies.  They all left children behind.

    Survival is bittersweet sometimes.

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    The day of my cancer immersion (Monday) I was talking with my new friend Norine, and she expressed frustration that she was not feeling better faster. She acknowledged that she felt “a bit blue”. I understand this so well!

    After the heroics, there is the plodding back into life as usual, except that usual is not what it was before. The hordes of supporters get back to thier own lives, and the well-wishers relax a bit, seeing that you’ve successfully weathered the storm. It is not uncommon for the blues to set in, as we adjust to our post cancer lives.

    So why is this up for me right now? Maybe because the process continues to be cyclical. There’s the first bounce back, after treatment is over. Then, settling in to survivorship. After settling into that, I now find myself back into the world of cancer awareness, advocacy, research, other people’s stories, and suddenly the thing I hardly thought about at all is constantly on my mind. Concerning myself with educating people about IBC is bringing me back to how I was snatched from the lion’s mouth myself, thanks to a truly excellent team of doctors who had IBC on thier radar. The last few days I have been grappling with the fear of recurrence, as my brain is steeped in the statistics I so successfully ignored when I was being treated. Suddenly I’m worried about blood tests maybe I should be getting that I’m not. Every little ache and pain takes on huge significance. As I write this, I am remembering my last freak out, which was certainly more warranted, because I was in the riskiest time. Dr. Brown practically had to give me a shake, as she said with a chuckle and some exasperation, “Relax! All your doctors are very happy with your test results!” My pathological report was good, my scans were clear, and I was gripped with terror. IBC is known to bite back, and to do it quickly.

    So why the freak out now, nearly four years later?

    The better my life gets, the more there is to lose. Silly perhaps, but there it is. Many hard knocks in the past have taught me that just when things get good, something bad happens. When I was diagnosed, I decided deep in my bones that this was the last time I was seriously getting hit hard upside the head. This was Persephone’s LAST trip to the underworld dammit, I’m coming out now and staying! At the time I was diagnosed, I was blessed with a very deep faith that all would be well. I didn’t know where that came from. I am convinced that I was simply carried by grace. I told myself that if I got the lesson the teacher would not have to reappear. I don’t know if that was strictly true in the logical sense, but my heart and soul believed it, and I think my body listened. As a result of that decision, my life today is vastly different from what it was. I do things that matter to me. I let my heart direct where I spend my time. I have made the decision not to just leave IBC in the past and forget about it, but to have compassion on those who have yet to be diagnosed, and do my part to see that as many as can be will be diagnosed in time to have a real chance at survival.

    So maybe, because my life is so beautiful to me now, I distrust the changes that I have made, and have backslid into fear. My life used to run on fear. My home was full of fear, my past was full of fear, I was afraid for my children, afraid for me. Fear is an old habit that dies hard. To get well I chose love instead.

    I have to continue to remember what a powerful choice that was. I need to keep choosing it every day, because this day is all any of us have really.

    Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. After my needle biopsy, while I was waiting for my diagnosis, my mom came to the terrifying conclusion that I most probably had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, even though she really tried to talk herself out of it.

    When I received my diagnosis, I called her up and told her “the scoop”. She did not in any way blow the whistle on herself, she did not in any way indicate how she felt about this news. She asked for Dr. Brown’s phone number so she could talk with her personally, and later called me to tell me that she felt “very reassured”.

    I was perfectly happy to let my mom be the keeper of scary information. I figured she would tell me what I needed to know, and she did. I focused on managing the treatments and keeping my momentum, because I understood that this was what I had to do. I took care of myself, blogged, let people help me, and attached myself to fellow survivors and patients that inspired me.

    I looked into IBC a little more after my surgery. I freaked out a bit then for a few weeks, and then decided that it was a waste of my precious time. My self care program continued to be my focus, and the weeks and months passed.

    Now, nearly four years later, I am surfing the net for fellow survivors. I am finding women who were not so lucky as I was, women who waited too long to be diagnosed through no fault of their own, or whose cancer was just that much more of a cussed animal than mine was. I am aware that although I am past the highest risk period, there are no guarantees. I must use every day to good purpose. This is of course something I want to do anyway.

    This dose of reality is something I can cope with now. Not so much before, when I just had to keep my eyes on the prize, the chance to see my two beautiful children grow up! Now that the worst of it is over, I am more than ready to focus on doing all I can so that others are spared. Getting the word out about IBC has become an obsession. Finding hope and sharing it has become my life’s work.

    Sometimes emulating an ostrich is really not such a bad strategy!

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