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    Pink Link is a comprehensive online resource for people who have faced or are facing breast cancer.  You can find the link on the right of the page.  I highly recommend this site!

    This month there is a contest to win a book about humor, “Laughter is the Breast Medicine”.  Of course I just had to get into that act!  Laughing got me through, no doubt about it. To have a chance to win the free book, I had to answer the question, how has humor helped me heal?  Just thinking about that made me laugh all over again.  So I sent my entry, which you can read here!
    Here is my answer to the question,  “How has laughter helped you heal?”

    I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer in February of 2007.  At the time, I was taking a comedy improvisation class on Tuesday evenings with my significant other. It all happened very quickly.  From needle biopsy to chemotherapy was ten days.  When I set my chemotherapy schedule, I kept my class schedule in mind.  I had chemo every other Wednesday (dose-dense chemotherapy) so that by Tuesday evening I would feel well enough to go to class.  I didn’t miss a single one! The week after my mastectomy, I still showed up and watched. I howled with laughter every week, all the way through chemo, surgery, and most of my radiation treatments.  I finally quit when I found my way to the stage and worked out my cancer angst as the White Witch of Narnia.

    Sometimes Steve would get protective of me when the physical comedy got wild, but the benefits of laughing far outweighed the risks of being spun around on the floor or pretending I was a wild animal.  We even got mileage out my baldheadedness.  Steve was bald too.  During a show we did in the community, we staged an argument in which we both pulled off each other’s wigs! After that one, Steve and our fellow improviser Mark went off on “making the chemo girl laugh” and it just got more and more outrageous.  I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard!  Tears were rolling down my face and they asked, “are you all right?”  Oh yes, yes, yes!  and on they went.  As I recall I felt pretty great the day after that one.

    Humor during cancer treatment wasn’t all about just laughing a lot.  It helped me so much to see the absurdity in the whole situation.  People around me were sometimes baffled by what I found funny.  How many tweens do you know who call their mom “Baldy” when they’re mad?

    What’s a bad hair day on chemo?  When you can’t get your eyebrows to match!

    Steve used to call me every afternoon during his commute and make me laugh.  It always made me feel better.

    Steve and I did not continue our relationship, but I bravely ventured out into the dating world again.  Tom and I are a success story.  If a woman with one boob, two kids and no money can find love, anybody can!  I knew he was the one when I knocked on the bathroom door one morning and asked him if my prosthesis was in there.  Now there’s a dilemma.  Can’t go out without it!  His response was to hand it to me and ask me blandly,

    “Honey, will you please keep track of your boob?”

    I could go on, but that probably is a long enough answer to your question!  My plan is to read and review this book, and post the review on my blog.  I will do that whether I win this freebie or not, because laughter is just SO good for you.

    I would know!

     

    I secured my first Thriver story today.  My wonderful postman, Douglas, has agreed to tell me his story so I can post it as my first Thriver Profile.  My plan is to present these profiles of real people beating cancer on a regular basis, around once every two weeks for awhile.  I have at least twenty people on my list!

    Douglas and I were talking today about what a morass the internet is when you’re newly diagnosed.  There is so much information, and a lot of it is very valuable.  Some of it is contradictory.  Some of it is outdated and scary.  I suspect a lot of us, like my friend Douglas, will flail around out there for a couple of weeks and then “just put it away”.

    I want to offer something different here.  For every cancer, there is somebody who has prevailed against it, and it is those people that cancer patients need to know about!  If you’ve just been diagnosed with colon cancer, Douglas’s story will give you hope.  If you’ve been diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, read my story and take heart, because that is why I tell it.  If you are facing Ovarian Cancer, then you can be uplifted by my Aunt Joan’s story and my freind Avis’s story, if they will let me tell them.  I haven’t asked yet!  :)  These two amazing women have both conquered two separate cancer diagnoses.

    I know people who have faced and prevailed against colon cancer, throat cancer, Lymphoma, and Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I know people who were diagnosed at Stage Four and today are cancer free.  I also know people who are in remission and going about their lives, coexisting peaceably with their metastatic cancer. A friend of mine has a brother who has survived over 15 years after a belated diagnosis of Breast Cancer.  All of these people are on my list, and if they say yes, you will read their stories.

    As this site develops, I am getting a clearer and clearer idea of what I want it to be.  This is a place to find tools you can get your hands on with great strength, tools and inspiration to keep your chin up.  Sometimes keeping your chin up is the most important, and maybe the only thing you can really do today.  I’ve had plenty of days like that!

    You don’t have to have cancer in your present, future or history to welcome a boost of some kind.  I hope anyone who wants one can find it here.

    Second thing:  I need to adjust my tagline.  I don’t want just “resources for during and after cancer”.  What can I add to this line that expresses what I’m really doing here?

    Please, comment away, I need your input!

    P.S.  Are you seeing popups on this page?  I you are, I am going to kick some —.  I hate popups and I am getting them on my admin page.  Please let me know!

    P.P.S.  I just updated “my story” with photos.  It’s kind of a long story….

    Some days are just like that.

    Today I accompanied a dear friend and her husband to her first appointment with her oncologist.  They have been married for fifty five years.  She has Stage I lung cancer.

    It was a hard afternoon.  One of the rotten things that cancer patients have to accept is that the treatments are usually hard, and the good (#@&!!!) part about getting it when you’re young is that the treatments can be more bearable and less dangerous.

    I remember when I was going through it and I was told untold times, “stay positive!”

    Rubbish.  What does “stay positive” mean?  If it means smiling all the time and caring for everybody else, forget it.  What it means for me is to feel everything, make it as comfortable as I possibly can, and not fall prey to helplessness or hopelessness.  Stay positive for me means be real, and have people around that are totally ok with that.

    A friend of mine wore a “chemo whore” t-shirt.  Her husband wore one too!

    I wore my “cancer sucks” button on my bucket hat.

    Today it really sucks because it has intruded into my dear friend’s old age.  Other times it sucks because I see it affecting the young, and causing suffering.

    Other times I don’t give it a thought at all, all day, all week, all month.

    For that I am grateful today, even as I feel a bit sad.  I didn’t think I had it in me to post today, but as always, to write is a blessing to me.

    Thanks for reading.

     

    That is the question…

    Is it more important to stay on the straight and narrow with diet, exercise, good health habits etc. or do you get to goof off because that is good for your soul?

    I think that a balance between the two is essential.  All work and no play makes Elizabeth a dull girl.  When the three tween girls who have been negotiating their spoil bring me some, I am delighted.  Reese’s peanut butter cups, yum!

    Sometimes people ask me, “did your cancer diagnosis make you change your diet?”  Of course the implication was that it was probably rotten before.  Actually, it wasn’t.  One of the toughest parts of living another woman’s nightmare is that she wants to make sure it will not happen to her, so she has to figure out what I did wrong so she can reassure herself that she is safe. That’s a whole different topic for another day!

    Back to straight and narrow…

    How is it that some folks do everything right, eat very well, exercise, practice yoga, meditate, don’t eat red meat, drink moderately if at all and still get cancer?  Others do all the wrong things and live to be 90.  Go figure!

    Yesterday I saw a video of the oldest concentration camp survivor, named Alice.  She’s a pianist.  She is 107 years old.  She survived because she was a famous concert pianist, and the prisoners who could make music had something to offer their captors.  What struck me most about her was that she is happy.  She plays the piano every day, still.

    How much health value does happiness provide?  How do you break down food made with love into bad  or good?

    Obviously I don’t go crazy on red meat or skimp on vegetables.  I walk most days.  I tend to my health.  The most important thing about that is the message I send to my soul. I strengthen the connection between body, mind and spirit by being committed to caring for me.  This is self care from love, not fear.

    If I am terrified of an occasional hamburger, or if I am awake nights because I ate a peanut butter cup, then my self care is motivated by fear.  Fear is hard on the body and weakens it.  Love strengthens it.

    When I was very sick, one of the nurses I worked with organized a food delivery sign-up so that I would not have to prepare food for my family.  I never worried about whether that food was vegetarian, how much fat was in it, or anything else.  I was so grateful to other people for showing they cared in this way.  We ate it all, with gratitude.  Gratitude is the best nutrition there is.

    This Halloween eve, as I sat in the kitchen drinking tea with my friend, I got such a kick out of those girls negotiating for their favorite candy.  When all three of them came and plopped a bunch of peanut butter cups in front of me I was delighted, not so much about the candy, but by the spirit in which it was given.

    So, I continue to be committed to my health, my happiness, my art, my dear husband and children, and to bold, outrageous naughtiness whenever I get those special opportunities.

    Here’s to your naughtiness this Halloween!

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    One of the problems with our current, new age influenced culture is the idea that we create everything that happens to us.  If we believe that, we can un-create it, or so the wisdom goes.

    Even if you don’t necessarily believe that, a lot of folks do, and it can make it hard to be gentle on yourself.

    I have always been health concious, although I have not always done what I know to be best for myself.  I certainly pointed a finger at myself at first when I was diagnosed with Stage IIIC Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  If only I had been more consistent with exercise.  If only I had eaten more vegetables, if only I had left a stressful marriage years before, if only……

    I got over that and got committed to surviving.  I had some strong beliefs about what would work, and fortunately for me I survived.  Did I survive because of the acupuncture, the massage, the therapy, the healing touch, my health shakes, my self inquiry?  Or did I survive because Dr. Brown knew what sort of cell type I had and that she expected the cancer to respond to the big guns she fired at it?  Was my fantastic response to chemotherapy a result of my holistic East/West approach, was it luck, or the wonderful, compassionate and thorough team of doctors who treated me?  In any case I was blessed.  If I had a setback whose fault would it be?

    Nobody’s!  I repeat, nobody’s.

    I had a friend in my art and imagery support group who had faced an aggressive breast cancer.  She believed strongly in the approach she had taken.  When her cancer recurred, she was certain that she had failed.  It was hard to watch her beat herself up about it, and I was certain that her self flaggelation was not helping her body to stay strong.

    I believe very strongly that self love helps us to be strong.  Love strengthens and heals.  Whatever beast has intruded on your life, self blame will only give it power.  Self blame is a useless, counterproductive activity.  Now don’t blame yourself for indulging in self blame!  Enough already if you are doing that!

    Cancer happens.  It sucks.  Sometimes it happens again.  Cancer happening again does not mean the end.  I asked my oncologist what would happen if the cancer I beat once were to return.  Her response was that we would beat it again.  She’s a research specialist among other things, and in the cancer world new stuff is coming to light all the time.  It is true that people still die of cancer.  That does stink.  However, it is also true that more people don’t die than do on the whole.

    Setbacks can be anything.  They can be chemo effects that don’t go away as fast as you want them to.  A minor or major recurrence can be a setback.  I viewed my lymphedema, which surfaced nearly two years out, as a setback.  At first I was annoyed at myself for not being more careful.  I got over that.  It was just a setback, and now my lymphedema is very well controlled.  Hey, I’m still here!

    If you are reading this today, you are too, and that’s what matters.

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    I was in Sedona for the Christmas of 2008.  I declared myself AWOL because I was there alone, accountable to nobody.

    My children were with their dad for Christmas, my fiance was working a lot, and I knew that by the following Christmas my children would be with me and their new stepfather.  It was one of those sudden, undeniable urges that I’ve learned to listen to.  It was everything I wanted it to be and more!

    I blogged on my caringbridge site, I hiked, I sought out the famous energy vortexes, I gleefully took myself out to a nice dinner on Christmas eve.  I enjoyed my own company, with no one to entertain me but myself.

    The last time I had enjoyed such a long period of solitude was in 1988, when I rode my loaded bicycle down the Pacific Coast alone.  It was an amazing, transformative trip.  Solitude and self determination have a way of peeling away layers, revealing what really nurtures my spirit and what I want the most in my life.  It was the perfect thing to do to settle into the next stage of my healing, when I would no longer be receiving any chemicals at all, when I would try to move forward into my post cancer life with excitement and not fear.

    The first 2-3 years are the most critical after IBC.  What’s good and bad about it is that if it bites again, it tends to do it quickly.  My challenge was to not be distracted by the awareness of this, to have faith that I would continue to get stronger.  My mentor, Jean, said “the trick is to act as if you have control while realizing that you don’t.”.  Not easy certainly, but necessary.

    It has now been nearly four years since I was diagnosed in February of 2007.  I think I need to go AWOL again soon!

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    I always look twice when I see a woman with very short hair.  I wonder….

    When I was wearing my bucket hat with the “cancer sucks” button on it, I was occasionally approached by survivors who wanted to encourage me.  I appreciated that every time, especially the ones who had finished with treatments some time before who looked healthy and well.  When I’m in an environment where I know it’s ok, I do that as well and it is well received.

    When it seems so but I’m not sure, I don’t ask but I want to.  I want to know if she’s part of the been to planet cancer club.  I’m not sure why I want to know but I do.

    The cancer experience changed me irrevocably.  I would not have chosen such a method to create such deep change, but my life is very different and much better.  People sometimes ask me if I am glad it happened.  If I had a guarantee that it wouldn’t bite me again, my answer would be an unequivocal yes, even though I am missing an appendage and wear a compression sleeve on my left arm.

    It is so hard to explain how this is so to people who haven’t had to face it, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

    That handsome woman there with the chic, outrageous short hair might just be another member of the club I never wanted to join, and she might not…

    I guess I’ll never know.

    Is it yours?  Is it your family’s?  Does it belong to your kids, your job, your partner, is it hostage to dreams you have tucked away for the future until you could ransom them?  Do you value it?  Why?

    When I was diagnosed with IBC in 2007, my life had become unbearably stressful.  I was overwhelmed by the fallout of a horrible divorce, I was struggling to make ends meet, my children were hurting, and I came perilously close to losing my job which had been a labor of love for many years.  When the doctor who did my ultrasound and biopsy told me “this is very possibly a cancer”, my first thought was

    Oh no.  My poor children.  No.  This can’t be happening.

    I knew I had to survive for them.  Then I realized I had to survive for me.

    Four days later, I was at a restaurant waiting for my breakfast, passing time while my car was being serviced.  I got the call from Dr. Borofsky.  Yes, the mass in my breast and the lumps under my left arm were cancer.  I was sitting next to a couple having breakfast, and I tried not to call attention to myself.  After the call, my breakfast arrived.  I tried to eat it, but it tasted like sawdust.  As I was struggling with my breakfast, the couple got up to leave.

    The woman approached me and said,

    “Honey, you’re gonna be all right.”  I was speechless.  While I recovered, she continued.  I remember her face ever so clearly.  Big blue eyes boring into mine, red hair, her expression deadly earnest.

    “Do you have children?”  I nodded tearfully.

    “Well, this is their time to learn that you come first.  Nothing, and I mean nothing is more important than taking care of you right now.  Do you understand?”  by this time I was really crying.  She went on, “and when you get scared, you just feel around in you left back pocket, and I’ll be there, praying for you.”   I blubbered, “promise?”  and she did.  She meant it.  To this day I don’t know that woman’s name.  I never saw her again.  I will always be grateful to her.

    Later, my struggling seven year old daughter would tell me “ever since you got cancer, all you care about is yourself!”  That was hard, but self care for me was not negotiable.  If I gave my life away, how was I to love my life enough to tell my body to hold fast?  Whose life was I fighting for, if not for mine?

    It was tough at first.  I had to learn to pay attention to subtle signals from my heart and spirit about what I wanted to experience, what I wanted to do with the windows of strength and focus that I had.  Before my surgery, I painted my room purple so I would be enveloped in my favorite color while I recovered.  I rediscovered painting after decades of not even picking up a brush.  I made my Bay Area stage debut as the White Witch in “Narnia”.  I blogged on Caringbridge.  I accepted every offer of help I received, as a heart opening opportunity.  I went to my comedy improv class every Tuesday and laughed like a lunatic.  I made sure that even if I felt like crap, I saved some juice to sing my children their lullabies.

    Happiness and satisfaction made my body hum.  I chugged along through chemotherapy uneventfully without interruption, which was the goal.  Creating a life that fed my soul kept me engaged in doing everything I needed to do to get well.  Self care was not a task, it was love.  It was love for myself, love for the people who cared about me, love for my children, love for this beautiful world which I am still blessed to inhabit.

    Today my life looks very different.  I had been a professional full time massage therapist and teacher for nearly twenty years, and now I had a moderately gimpy left arm and not so much stamina.  So other things, things I loved, came to fill in the gap.  I provide massage for very ill pediatric inpatients at a children’s hospital, and I teach theater arts to children in an elementary school.   The art that began to emerge after my year of treatments was shown locally, and people actually bought prints!  I discovered through Caringbridge (which I highly recommend) that I loved blogging, so here I am blogging again!

    Having discovered who I’ve been hiding all these years, I brought her to light and my husband of just over a year found me.

    So, with all this ”me” focus, what happens to my kids?

    I laugh with them.  I nurture their dreams, and they get to see that I am nurturing mine.  I spend more time with them.  I do shows with my daughter.  My son just popped his head into my room and said something ridiculous, cracked me up, then left without a word.  I take them and their horde of friends to the beach.  When I have been taking care of myself, I have the patience of Job, which is quite an asset with a tween girl and a teenage boy.  Most of all I am still here, with them.

    That red headed woman was an angel.

    I just posted a blog about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  Why?

    It’s a rare cancer, so it may not be relevant to a lot of people.  But for those who want to know, it is more than relevant, it is extremely important and unbelievably scary.  Why?

    Stinkin’ statistics!

    When you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, it is tempting to look for hope in statistics.  The problem with that is that many statistics are irrelevant by the time they’re published.  Sometimes you’ll find different statistics in different places.  If the statistics are on your side, maybe it helps to look at them and maybe not.

    When I was waiting for my cancer diagnosis, my mom was going crazy on the internet, looking up all kinds of breast cancer and trying to second-guess her fear.  What I had sounded alarmingly like IBC.  She told me she said to herself, “oh please God, not that one!”  Everything she read about it sounded terrifying, the statistics not the least.  She didn’t tell me any of it.  When Dr. Brown gave me the diagnosis of Stage Three Inflammatory Breast Cancer, her tone of voice and facial expression told me it was breast cancer, period.  She told me that I had an aggressive cancer and that we would treat it aggressively, and she was optimistic because she was confident that I could handle the treatments.

    I responded to her optimism with my own.  I was very blessed to have her and the other amazing docs on my team taking care of me.  I didn’t know that I had the bogeyman of breast cancers until later, after  my “phenomenal” response to chemotherapy.

    So, if you or anyone you know is facing cancer, forget about statistics if they aren’t great.  If they are, so much the better.  Each of us gets to choose where to direct our energy, and for me the pursuit of my own happiness and well being was the most important task on earth in 2007.

    I still try to remember that. When Mama’s happy, everybody is happy!

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