• Home
  • Survivorship
    Currently viewing the category: "Survivorship"

    I was about business as usual today, having to do with my offspring. Discussing what they had experienced, I shared that I had faced IBC in 2007.

    The woman I was talking to said, “I had that”. Whoa! She was sitting across from me behind a desk, looking just as fine as you please, had it in 1995. She didn’t want me to take her picture or make a fuss. She was not into a fuss thanks, got stuff to do.

    What’s amazing about her story is that she’s alive, and the doctors who treated her botched it one way after another. She was diagnosed Stage IIIC IBC not before, but AFTER 2 botched surgeries where they took the wrong part of the breast! The third surgery yielded the proper diagnosis, MRM, only one breast, not bilateral because “we don’t do that”. Lots of dreadful chemo after (yes, after!) the surgery, which did not include herceptin of course because even though her cancer was Her2+ herceptin did not exist. Then, she did not get radiation either!

    Yikes! And there she is, cool as a cucumber, telling me about it!

    Go figure. Sometimes the best care in the world does not do what we want it to, sometimes the worst in the world doesn’t stop us from conquering. The happy medium is that these days, when women and doctors know more than they have ever before, and patients are full on players in their own story, more and more of us are going to beat it and get on with it, and decide for ourselves whether “making a fuss” is useful or not.

    So much for statistics, prognosis, or any other attempt to predict the outcome of anything!

    I guess what this reinforces for me is that always, always, anything is possible.

    I continue to make a big fuss, to help keep things moving forward in the right direction as much as I can, for all of those who can’t.

    My 15 year IBC survivor friend is quietly doing a whole world of good where she is. She is impacting the next generation, and I’m so glad that she’s still around, doing what she’s doing. She is someone I will run into frequently in my everyday life. Now every time I see her I have another reason to smile, and smile big.

    Very few of us cancer survivors would be here at all without clinical trials. Every new drug that emerges as a possible weapon in the battle for our bodies is an unknown in the beginning. Before it even gets tried on people, it has to be determined safe. How do we find out the answers? Human beings. Pioneers, risk takers, people for whom the options have become fewer and fewer.

    One of the first women to take herceptin was at death’s door. She was invited to be part of that study but declined, having had enough of treatment misery and thinking she had accepted her fate. She was invited again, after tests confirmed that her cancer was overexpressing the Her2 protein to a very large extent. That woman is still cancer free, alive and well in a small town in Washington State. She braved an unknown chemical, with unknown side effects or outcome, in the hope for another chance to beat cancer. Because of her, and the other women in that study, I and many other women with Her2+ cancer cell types are alive. We are perhaps 25% of breast cancers, and our prognosis used to be grim indeed. Herceptin, and the brave women who were human guinea pigs, changed all that.

    The prognosis for Inflammatory Breast Cancer is statistically still grim. However, today’s statistics don’t include a huge number of us treated in recent years, after major advances have been made in treating our disease, advances that were tested before they were put into practice. My treatment protocol, with herceptin used with adjuvant chemotherapy, was approved for that use only a mere three months before I was diagnosed. I am so grateful that my doc was a trailblazer! She predicted that dose-dense chemotherapy would become standard for aggressive, locally advanced cancers, and I am seeing that come to pass.

    This is on my mind because my friend Susan begins a clinical trial today for a new combination of chemicals, in the hopes of knocking the —- out of this latest, fourth manifestation of cancer, now in her lungs. I can’t imagine the fear and the hope she must be experiencing today.

    I remember my first chemotherapy infusion. I was scared to death. I didn’t know what these chemicals would do to me, or even if they would work. By the fourth infusion I was not afraid, because I knew about Adriamycin and Cytoxan. What they did was nasty, but no surprises.

    The first Taxol infusion was scarier, because of all the disclaimers and warnings I had to sign! When I didn’t turn green or blow up that was a relief. Feeling like I’d been hit by a truck and then flattened by it was nasty, but I knew that it would ease off over time. It also helped that I could see that the mack truck I’d been hit with was knocking down my cancer.

    I also knew that trial and error had evolved these treatments to the point of the least danger for the most benefit. This was available to me because of the brave women who had risked before.

    Today, I am hoping that Susan will find the least suffering for the most benefit. I am praying that this battle will end the war and see her triumphantly resuming her life, tending to her sweet family and doing what she loves.

    And, asking once again for all who can to join the Army of Women! When we know what causes breast cancer, we can reduce the suffering on the other end.

    I just read a story about the youngest breast cancer survivor, a little three year old girl. She is now four, and already and activist!

    Enough is enough!

    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.

    Like the conscience in old cartoons, My Own Death sits on my shoulder, reminding me to pay attention and treasure my life.

    I was noodling around this evening as I often do, looking for cool juicy stuff on the internet, and my meanderings brought me to an article written by a Palliative Care nurse. She writes about the common regrets she hears from the dying. I was deeply moved by the article, because what happened to me is that I got a second chance, so every regret that she listed was a change I had the opportunity to make in my life.

    Everyone who faces life threatening illness and survives gets a second chance if they choose. I am so grateful that my second chance came while I was still young enough to have more years to enjoy my children, and to follow the passions that I had forgotten on the back burner for so many years.

    The little annoyances and aches and pains that make me afraid are the reminders of my commitment to myself. None of us knows how long we have. Am I doing what I want to be doing, what matters most to me with each day that I have?

    Susan said in her blog, “please don’t pity me. I have work to do”. I am certain that the passion she has for this work of the heart that she does will keep her alive. I feel deeply that my passions keep me well, and feeding them is a smart survival program.

    Today I joined my daughter and my husband for the audition workshop for “The Wiz”, the musical that Bay Area ETC is doing this spring. Part of me thinks I don’t have time, and that I have other important things to do. This article was a timely reminder that doing what I love is the most important thing I can do, and the fact that I get to do it with my sweet family makes it all the more ridiculous not to do it. So, this week I’ll be warming up the pipes, practicing my cackle and hoping the director can see my diabolical side!

    go here to be reminded.

    Today was such a good day.

    In the back of my mind, when I was very sick from the treatments that I was banking on to save my life, I had the thought that at least I would better understand the patients I work with after I get well! Maybe I take this silver lining thing just a bit too far, but it works for me. I have heard more than once that people who find meaning in their illness tend to do better in the long run. I have quite a story I made up about mine, and just because I may have made it up doesn’t mean it isn’t true!

    Years ago, I learned a principle from shamans:
    “Effectiveness is a measure of truth”. This is a fancy way of saying it’s true if it works!

    The meaning that I attached to my cancer was that I was going deeper into my own healing journey so that I could be of greater help and service to others. My cancer gave me the opportunity to clarify what is important to me, and my ability to tolerate more suffering than I ever thought I could taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.

    I learned that expressing my creativity and seeking and making beauty in this world is good for my health, and the love of my friends and family taught me what a difference love and care makes to all of us.

    Today I was blessed to walk into a room where an adolescent girl was moaning in distress, and hyperventilating because she was so scared. I was blessed to walk in there because I understood. After I spent a half hour with her she was calm and breathing normally. Her mother appreciated it so much! Every one of my massage therapist colleagues could have made her feel better. Being the one to do it today was a blessing to me because understanding her fear and her suffering made the experience richer for me. I appreciated perhaps more deeply what an impact I had been able to make.

    I am blathering. How to express the inexpressible? How to give words to the satisfaction of giving comfort after having needed comfort deeply? Now I understand better what my friends received from tending to me, while I feel also that I am deeply in their debt.

    I do remember what a ray of hope it was to have someone speak to me who had been through the same ordeal I was facing. Remembering this, I shared with a fuzzy headed young man recovering from a stem cell transplant that I had faced cancer. He was wildly curious about it. His mother was too. She was especially impressed by the thick knot of hair that I had in a gazillion clips to keep it out of my way.

    I keep my hair long now, and it’s still growing. I do this because every inch is more distance from my diagnosis, and is representative of the length of my survival. It also has meaning attached to it, given by me. I had a vision once, when my dear friend Deborah was doing her healing work with me, of myself strong, sinewy, older, more wrinkled, with long brownish hair streaked with gray. I decided that this was prophetic. I take comfort in this vision as my hair grows. I am going to be an old, strong lady with lots of hair, full of gray ones that I earned. At least I choose to believe this, and act as if.

    As Jean says, acting as if I have control while accepting that I do not.

    One thing I do have control of is the story I embrace as my story, and the meaning I attach to it.

    Today my story is one of blessings and great healing.

    And the day’s end? Painting my daughter’s nails bright pink. Life is grand!

    Tagged with:
     

    Is yoga therapy?

    For me it is. It is good for me in a number of ways. It was good before I got sick, and it is good for me now whenever I take the time to do it. It was especially helpful after I had surgery. My doctor was delighted and amazed at how back I got my range of motion! At this time there is no difference in how I can move my left arm (the one affected by surgery) and the right. There is also very little difference in strength, although I have some lymphedema in the left arm. The lymphedema occurred for the first time when I got distracted and neglected my practice of yoga.

    Here is why it’s good practice:
    1. It is meditation, for folks who are challenged to meditate. The poses require concentration to do properly, and the breathing is very settling. I believe that yoga provides the same benefit for me as sitting for meditation. It is true also that the practice of hatha yoga is said to make the body comfortable for meditation. Either way it is a win/win.

    2. Yoga brings my full awareness into my body. I am more aware of all of me, my spirit inhabiting my body and everything going on it it. I am more likely to take care of issues before they start if I am doing yoga.

    3. Yoga is just plain good for me. It is one more expression of valuing myself. My balance, flexibility, and strength are improved when I do yoga regularly. The benefits are more than the sum of their parts!

    4. When I am doing yoga regularly, I suffer fewer odd aches and pains. When I feel rotten in general I get paranoid and off center, fearful of the beast coming back. This is something that survivors deal with all the time. The fewer odd aches and pains I am subject to, the less anxious I am! I think also that the awareness I have will make me notice sooner if there is really anything amiss.

    5. Yoga, practiced vigorously, is good for your heart. It qualifies for the type of exercise survivors need to decrease the likelihood that our cancer will recur.

    6. Yoga makes me sleep better. It also makes me require less sleep. Now that’s efficient!

    There are yoga centers everywhere, some good some not so good. It’s important to feel confident and at ease with the person you are learning from. There are also a lot of great videos out there. I mostly taught myself and then go to classes every so often to make sure I’m doing it right. I also love the yoga program on my Wiifit!

    For now I’m going to follow my own advice, and sign off so I can do some yoga before I go to bed!

    Tagged with:
     

    The new year is upon us, and I feel that I hardly skipped a beat. Where did all that downtime go? What downtime?

    Kids are back in school, and once again I am trying to decide what to do first each and every day. Always several too many choices. This is the downside of a “composite career”. Or, as Jean says, “a beautiful patchwork quilt”. This is my work and home life, patched together out of the things I find most meaningful.

    I had kind of a down day today, because I am frustrated by the remnants of chemo-brain that still make it hard to juggle the many interests that I do. I like things like this. This is my dream life, really. Some work at the hospital, some theater, some massage therapy, doing my mom thing, blogging, advocating, learning, researching, attending to my own evolution. It’s satisfying, it’s interesting and well….

    It’s complicated! Too many details to keep track of, too many things to forget. My smartphone was stolen recently, and my whole house of cards fell apart! I had hailed my droid as the solution to my organizational woes, and it is, as long as I don’t lose it!

    I got an email from my supervisor at the hospital about some details I didn’t get right, and I felt crushed. I had far more of a reaction than I would consider appropriate for a couple of wrong stickers and a missing form. I think I just had a “poor me” moment. Chemo brain, dammit. Then it was a “you loser” moment, from ‘way, way back. Truly, I know better than that.

    Dropping a ball or two, or forgetting to cross a “t” is only an issue if I do the same ones again. Part of coping with chemo brain is learning how to back things up so I don’t have to rely on my memory. So I guess some new checklists are in order, and a back up system for my smartphone. I resent having to adjust to having “a brain like a sieve” to quote my kids. I used to have a memory that never failed. I used to have a strong left arm too, but oh well. I’m still here, and I guess I get to gripe once in awhile. Griping is cathartic if I don’t make a habit of it.

    whine…….

    Going to take my cranky self to bed now, and pray for my friends who have worse things to complain about.

    Tagged with:
     

    I thought I was done for this year, but no!

    I was inspired by a post by the woman who has influenced me profoundly in the brief time I’ve been reading her blog. She wrote a letter of thanks to Lymphediva’s, for making it cool to wear a compression sleeve. I concur, I love my lymphediva sleeves! I am convinced that having a fashion statement to wear on my arm actually means that I wear it, and so my lymphedema is very well controlled. I appreciated that she took the time to express what a difference this product has made in her life.

    So, how to express my appreciation to someone I’ve never met? All the same, we share a common trial and purpose, and she has shown me the way with grace and dedication.

    *****

    Susan,

    Your story and your commitment are an inspiration to me. What inspires me even more than these is how deeply you live these commitments, choices that you make for the betterment of our world. Your dedication to your children at all times reminds me to appreciate mine, the time I had with them before cancer, and every precious moment I have with them now. Your desire to be an advocate goes further than just your own words, you have engaged others to carry your experience further that other lives can be saved.

    I ask people about IBC and the majority know nothing about it. You are one woman sending ripples ever outward, inspiring, sharing, pushing, encouraging, struggling. All of your work, impassioned as it is, will not be enough to bring the awareness and resources for IBC that are urgently needed. Thanks to your powerful forward motion in the face of numerous setbacks, I know that each one of us that works to stop IBC from taking the lives of women will make a difference.

    I have pored over your blog posts to learn your history with IBC, and I am both amazed and terrified. You have weathered horrific trials with your integrity, purpose, and love for God and your fellow human stronger than ever.

    In a just universe, you would have a reprieve after all that you have faced,to move forward after IBC and leave it behind. In a just universe, none of us would have to face it even once. You faced it a second time and now you are still moving forward. I wish with all my heart, and am praying, that the Taxol that took it’s toll on you has done it’s job, that your future and amazing legacy will be secured, and your beautiful boys can be blessed by their mommy for decades to come. You have helped me to be less afraid.

    You are a scientist, an advocate, a wife, a mommy, a spiritual seeker and a powerful woman, and you manage to do and be all of this with cancer fighting you for your life. Bless you Susan. You have made a profound impact on my life, my survivorship, and my future.

    Wishing you peace, happiness, and health in the coming year,
    with great respect,

    Elizabeth,
    IBC sister and aspiring IBC awareness advocate

    *****

    Happy New Year!


    Read Susan’s blog at Toddler Planet

    So good to wind this one down. It was a good year.

    This was the year I moved forward out of cancer land, getting stronger, putting the experience behind me while looking forward to doing something good. I have heard it can take a good three years to start feeling “normal” again, whatever that is. Normal before was a woman 45 years young, now normal is middle age. It’s ok, it feels like at least I’m moving into an energetic middle age!

    While my personal journey is moving along, I continue to be amazed at how many people still have not heard of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I’ve been talking to a lot of strangers lately, and not a single one knew what it was. The only one who had even heard of it was breast cancer survivor I met having tea with my girl. She had just had a recurrence 16 years later, and she was 80(-ish??) years young. I look around me and I see women everywhere getting the word out, and yet so few still know!

    And, I continue to see the cancer beast at work in the lives of children, when I go to work. I hate it. One of my patients today was a young woman with leukemia. I just read “The Emperor of All Maladies”, a fascinating book about the history of cancer and cancer treatment. I have a new understanding of this cancer, as well as a deep appreciation for the drug that only came into use just in time for me and my contemporaries. I am acutely aware that without the persistent efforts and numerous setbacks of many, many dedicated people, I would not be alive today. This young woman will likely recover, but she’ll have to fight, and fight hard. Research is what it takes, lots and lots, persist, test, develop, learn, while in the meantime so many are just trying to stay on the planet until the new breakthrough that could cure them. The work is never done and I hope 2011 shows me more clearly how I can do my part.

    Three years ago at this time I was just coming pack from an exhausting ordeal, breathing a sigh of relief while keeping my fingers crossed, knowing I would be challenged to stay in present time for the next three years, as I faced the major hazard period for IBC.

    Tonight, as I write, I am taking inventory of my body and it’s odd complaints and it’s aches and pains, hoping that I can truly say that I remain NED. February will be four years.

    I am not quite such a scatterbrain I think. Chemo-brain is giving way to just being middle aged. Not so bad. My energy is slowly but surely coming back. It has taken a long time! I was beginning to think it never would. I have learned that I can’t neglect self care, or I pay more dearly than I did before.

    I hope 2011 brings in more increase, in strength of mind and body, and in focus. I feel so unbelievably fortunate to be here for another flip of the calendar, another fresh new year to dream up.

    Another year older, another year I can thank God for.

    I cannot let the year close without appreciating the amazing women I have met as this year began it’s descent, when I picked up the proverbial cyberpen and began writing again. Susan, Donna, Valerie, Joanna, Julie and Jan, Vicki, and so many more who have touched me by their courage, grace, and activism. I am humbled to be in your company.

    May 2011 bring peace, health, and serendipitous blessings!

    We all know we are supposed to exercise. I was doing well until the weather changed and my walking buddy started having trouble with her ankle. Every day I haven’t exercised has made me anxious! I know I’m supposed to be doing it. I have a gazillion excuses…

    It’s yucky outside. I don’t feel like it. I have so much to do, I’ll do it later, no, I’m tired, it’s dark, whine whine. Thanks to my dear ol’ mom, I have no more excuses!

    Seriously, exercise is really, really important. Study after study shows the benefit of exercise, both as prevention and to reduce the risk of recurrence. It’s also good for just about everything else. I’ve been doing a lot of research on the internet lately. Body mass index and survival are inversely related. The higher the BMI, the poorer prognosis statistically. Exercise also impacts insulin resistance, a factor that is becoming recognized as a contributor to the development of cancer. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise, as I’m sure a lot of us do.

    I do great for awhile, and my body, mind and spirit hum. Then something gets me off track, and the all or nothing gal that I am not only drops the ball, I roll it down the hill behind me!

    So, this technological device is worth its weight in gold to my way of thinking. I can choose from a number of clever games that are just that, games! I’m being a kid, throwing snowballs at my family or being chased by a dog on my bicycle, and I’m getting exercise.

    Not only me, but my children as well! My son is very competitive, and the thought of mom doing better than he does is intolerable, so he is now effectively weaned from passive video games in favor of exercise.

    Something else I am noticing, which seems an obvious metaphor. My husband, who is calm to the point of being aggravating to his high-strung wife and step kids, leaves us in the dust when it comes to balance games. Now, this is my focus. Balance! I will be a penguin on an iceberg, cruise down the rapids in a bubble, dodge panda bears and shoes with my head, and any number of silly games to achieve balance first. I feel calmer at the end of the day when I’ve been doing that.

    My journey into this world of advocacy and awareness has been startling, terrifying, and exhilarating. During my entire journey through cancer treatment I really managed to not know what kind of trouble I was in. I didn’t want to see the scary parts, I just wanted to plow on ahead in warrior mode, pass the finish line and be done with it. I blogged all the way through, and then when it was all over I got depressed.

    Then, I got scared. So many of my blogosphere friends dealing with metastatic disease, so many blogs gone because another woman lost her battle. Terrifying and humbling, this. I alternate between terror and survivor’s guilt. Today where I stand is committed and awake, painful as that has been to get to. I have combed the statistics. I have pored through women’s stories. I have faced the impact of my current choices, and improved them. Life is a gift I cannot take for granted, and I need to keep on fighting for those who can’t anymore, and for those who are gone.

    What am I fighting for? Awareness, a cure, and a future without breast cancer.

    And that crazy Wii? Thanks so much Mom. I’m not facing chemicals anymore, I’m creating my future without cancer to the best of my ability, God willing, and you’re still helping.

    I never could do it without you!

    Content Protected Using Blog Protector Plugin By: Make Money.