Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aloha, Maui

I have to say, if you are trying to generally avoid Christmas but still be celebratory and be certain not to be down, Maui is an excellent place to spend the holidays. I'm sure one could come here and really actually enjoy Christmas too (lord knows there are plenty of families here doing so. Oh, and note to said families, if you are going to have a family portrait on the beach at sunset, and you all do, for the love of god wear something other than khaki shorts and white shirts so we can tell you apart!).

Our Christmas day was spent whale watching (note photo; no, we are not whales. We did see some but oh my god are they hard to photograph) and having brunch, which included mai tais, with the Pacific Whale Foundation on board Discovery II. Unfortunately, we encountered a whale that had been seriously injured by a boat and since this was the Whale Foundation, our captain's job was to babysit the whale (and ward off other boats) until the rescue boat got there. Although the captain said there was probably nothing that could be done for the whale--except keeping other boats away (and how long can that go on for?). We spent most of the tour floating near the injured whale. Afterward, on our way back in, they cued the performing whale (who Chris named "Timmy"; I don't know why) and Timmy began performing spectacularly, repeatedly breaching and waving his dorsal fin--which is why it seemed he was a "ringer" whale to make up for the injured whale experience. Before Timmy, I almost, but didn't quite, launch into a sad state (the poor injured whale!). I kept telling myself it was nature (but it was a boat!!) and nature can be cruel (don't we know that?!). Timmy and his exuberance saved the day. Okay, so did the mai tais.

The rest of the day was spent at the condo, relaxing on the lanai, reading and napping. Dinner was hot dogs and potato chips and wine. A lovely non-Christmasy meal. Neither one of us felt like moving, dining out, or really cooking much, so it was perfect.

Here's my best whale shot (it's Timmy; wave back to him).

We leave Maui late tonight on a red eye flight. It's been a wonderful trip. We've completely explored both the big Island and Maui, went for long walks on the beach, spent two days on the beach and one poolside, been on a lava boat tour (and seeing molten lava pour into the sea is a must-see experience), had several fantastic meals, toured a tropical, botanical garden, a lavender farm and a goat farm (fantastic goat cheese! and newborn babies right as we arrived), gone wine tasting on each island, seen whales, and waterfalls, and gorgeous stretches of beaches and tropical LOST-like jungles; I read two books, wrote about 10 pages, took nearly 500 photographs, and finally, relaxed. Most importantly, I rarely thought about cancer and we never mentioned it. I've lost my compulsion to "explain" my hair to people (actually, it was great to have short hair on vacation) and when I wore my "survivor" t-shirt on Christmas day, even though it says "out-chemo, out-radiate, out-live" and there's the pink ribbon and all, the only comments I got were from people who assumed I meant the TV reality show. Huh. Maybe this BC odyssey really is over.

Onward to 2010!
(Christmas Eve dinner at Mama's Fish House).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Provence, Maui

One of the many problems with having  breast cancer this year (yes, there are problems with breast cancer. Who knew??) was that Chris and I basically missed out on summer. Summer is our favorite season. By far. But with radiation and what not, I was banned from the sun and well...bald. So we weren't really out playing in the sun much. That's part of the reason we picked Hawaii for our December trip. Our "make-up" summer.  As it has turned out, we got an added bonus.

 We also missed going to France this year (stupid cancer!). But today, on Maui, we got to make up for that too. We went "upcountry" to what really should be known as Provence, Maui. Why? Because stop number 1 was a lavender farm, where we walked the fields and then had lavender lemonade and a lavender scone with lavender honey (and we bought some lavender honey to go with...well, wait and see how the rest of the day went).

 Then we went a little further "upcountry" and went wine tasting! who knew there was such a thing as pineapple wine (and it wasn't bad, but there was some "normal" wine too, made from, you know, grapes and all).

(Note bag in Chris's hand...a little Maui Rose' champagne).

And then we journeyed on over to....

The Surfing Goat Dairy Farm for a little goat cheese tasting!! And as we arrived, many baby goats were being born. Spectacularly cute.

Minutes after they were born they were brought out from the barn to the sunny, grassy area where we could watch them try to stand (sometimes helped by the border collies) and then eventually run and play.

(They're not running...they're trying to stand up). After they are sturdy, they get moved over to a different pen. And surfing lessons begin.

And did you know Santa had goats? And lived in Maui?

After a "flight of goat cheese" tasting and  buying some incredibly fresh, fantastic pure goat cheese (called "udderly delicious")  to go with our lavender honey and rose champagne (read: Christmas day on the lanai), we ended our day back down in Lahaina, with mai tais of course.

But, I feel compelled to mention that I had absolutely nothing to do with this:

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Way to Spend December

Maybe I've been too hard on December. Maybe December isn't always about sickness and death and bad stuff happening.  Maybe December could just be about lazy days reading in a chaise lounge, mai tais, walks on the beach, palm trees, sunsets and kind strangers offering to take our photo.

Today anyway, that's what December was about. I could get to like this.

Okay, wait....Chris just brought me a glass of Chardonnay and a bag of Lay's potato chips (also known as "Teresa's favorite trashy 'meal'"). I could get to love this.

Walking south on the beach.
And then north (notice how few people are here?? Amazing).

P.S. I'm feeling so good about December, I made reservations for us to go on a Christmas brunch whale watching tour!  Details (and photos) will be forthcoming.

Friday, December 18, 2009

One Year Ago (the BC anniversaries begin)

One year ago today I was sitting in my doctor's office because I felt a strange thickening, lump-ish sort of thing in my right breast. And the physician's assistant said, "I don't like this one bit." So began my breast cancer odyssey.

This year, I'm cancer free, relaxing in Hawaii with the one I love--the one who saw me every step of the way through this-- and enjoying the view. This year, I could marvel at mother nature in an entirely different way.

(First photo is from our hotel room balcony--Chris is out there right now. Second photo is from the lava boat tour we took last night. Yeah, that's lava pouring in to the sea. Amazing.)

You'll understand if this is a short post, right?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mammogram Math

I read this article in the New York Times this morning and I think it, although heavy on math, is a rational and helpful discussion on the task force mammogram recommendations. Mammogram Math.  So I thought I'd share. Your thoughts?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Beach bound

My foot neuropathy seems to be getting better.

My hair is getting longer.

The cough is pretty much gone.

My ribs are starting to feel better.

I've got only 3 more days in the office (yeah, still need to work Sunday).

Things are looking up.

And do you know why?

Because that photo is where I will be in just about 100 hours from now. I'm trying not to jinx it (you'll understand if I'm skeptical about this time of year, right?), but I'm really looking forward to this. I need a vacation from this year.

The laptop is going with me (I'm going to keep writing the memoir), so expect photos and maybe a little bragging. Also news of a tsunami total relaxation.

And just so we all remember how far I've come...remember this little encounter with a Hawaiian Sunset last January? Ha! Obviously it was just a vision of happiness to come.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

200th Post--and it's Deja Vu all over again

Yep, it's the 200th blog post. And coincidentally, I journeyed back to UCLA and the good and great Dr. Karam again yesterday. And, for those of you keeping track, you'll quickly figure out that my 3 month check-up was only a month ago so there's no way it's time for the 6 month check-up. No, I went back because I found another lump in my right breast. This time it was right breast 2 o'clock. Deep breaths. This time, it's only a build-up of hardened tissue caused by all that radiation. But what a couple of weeks it was worrying about it! There's actually a funny story here and now I can tell it (because my parents read the blog and others who don't need to be worrying about me right now, I didn't post about this until I knew it was nothing to be concerned about).

A couple of weeks ago, I felt the lump. And just like last time I got a second opinion from Chris. He didn't think it was anything, but I did. In fact, I had a whole little spiral downward of "oh shit, here we go again." (You may remember I mentioned having a really shitty week? Yeah, this was the beginning of it). And then a couple of days later was The Pink Ribbon Place's professionals panel that I was moderating. Of course, Dr. Karam was one of the speakers. So after the event, when folks were still hanging about chatting, I mentioned the lump to Dr. Karam. He offered to exam me..., the lump. It seemed like the prudent, if somewhat odd, thing to do--hey, it would save me from driving to UCLA. We set about trying to find a private room for a private exam. Recall that the event was at the Community Room of the Riverside Police Department, which isn't really set up for, you know, breast exams. But it was Captain Meredyth Meredith to the rescue. She's a breast cancer survivor herself so she understands the sort of panic a lump can cause. Off we went to her office, and yep, Dr. Karam examined "right breast 2 o'clock" in the privacy of the Captain's office, with her stationed outside (weapon and all!). Too funny. If, you know, I hadn't been worried that my cancer had come back before I'd even grown my hair back out! Dr. Karam's opinion (which turned out to be correct, naturally) was that it was hardened tissue caused by the radiation. I was relieved, but also noted that his bottom lip was sticking out during the exam and to me, he looked more concerned than he was letting on. Or, maybe that was just me. He suggested that I come in for an ultrasound, just to be sure.

I, being me, decided I'd rather wait until after Thanksgiving and getting some stuff taken care of at work before thinking about being cancer girl again. I underestimated how much the not knowing would weigh on my mind. I should have just recalled the "if this were any other dog" lesson I learned when Seamus was post-treatment. I should have just remembered that I once upon a time (long, long ago) had cancer and therefore I'm always going to get "special treatment" and need to have things checked out. It doesn't mean it's cancer. I'll have to get used to that.

Yesterday I and my lump and my entourage headed out to UCLA. Because hey, we may as well make a fun day of it, right? Brein and Roryann Clements and Sheena Meder and Ronaldo Fierro joined us for the afternoon--which started with Bloody Marys (aka spicy courage) and French Dips at Cole's in downtown LA.

Then, we were off to UCLA for my ultrasound. The entourage had Starbucks (and worried about me, I'm sure) while Chris and I visited with Dr. Karam and the ultrasound machine. The good news was, as mentioned, it's just hardened tissue. The bad news was my cough--which is just not going away and my ribs on the right side (weakened from the radiation) are really painful. So, I got a Z pak prescription (antibiotics). We'll see if that kicks it. But hey, no cancer! (The top picture is me with the entourage after I came out and gave them the thumbs up that we were free to proceed with our fun LA day without any cancer tagging along; which is good because Ronaldo "hates" cancer people. So he keeps telling me.) The ultrasound was otherwise uneventful. Chris did ask if it was a boy or a girl and looked really emotional staring at the ultrasound. But that's because he says it looked like pork belly, and he's a big fan of pork belly.

After those touching moments, we were off to the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop. Mmmmmmmm!!

And because that wasn't decadent enough, we made our way back downtown to the Pacific Dining Car for Caesar salads, steak in Bearnaise sauce, creamed spinach and onion rings. Oh, and there may have been a celebratory martini. And wine.

Ironically, in celebrating my good health, I managed to over-eat, over-indulge and feel not so hot that night, but hey, you could've been a lot worse.

And that's my 200th blog post! (Now, just leave a comment so I know you're still out there!)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The far so good

I guess I've been sounding grumpy in my blog postings of late (Chris informs me of this--he says I'm dangerously close to the "hey kids get off my lawn" old person except we have no lawn). Yeah, there's a reason for that (hint: I am grumpy). But I will say, the holidays have officially started and so good. Of course, it helps tremendously that I don't really have to deal with them at all this year. Chris and I are off to Hawaii in 16 days, 11 hours and oh, call it seven or eight minutes. That's a whole heck of a lot better than this time last year.

Around this time a year ago I had felt "the lump." Chris had felt "the lump". Although then we were in the "it's not really a lump--it's more of just a thickening" stage. And I was in the "I don't really have time to get to the doctor and sit around for an hour or so waiting for my appointment" stage (my primary care physician is never, but never, on schedule). Eventually I got to the doctor and we all know what happened next.

My what a difference a year makes. I may have been not-horrified to hear Christmas carols recently. It's possible the commercials that already say "last minute shopping deals" aren't bothering me. I'm not throwing things at the television when sappy holiday movies are advertised.  I'm still not at the "I'm looking forward to Christmas" stage. Heck, I'm not even at the "I acknowledge that it's Christmas" stage. I'm at the "I'm so excited all this stuff is 'not applicable'" stage (also, I'm thinking I would like being Jewish right about now every year). But, I am acknowledging that Jimmy Buffett's birthday is coming up and I'm really, really looking forward to celebrating that on a beach with a mai tai and Chris and not a care in the world (I can barely type that without thinking I'm jinxing myself, such is my fear of this time of year; knocking on all sorts of wood).

Oh and the photo, that's Chris and I with our friends Sheena Meder, Roryann Clements, Barb Abel and Ronaldo Fierro after we closed down the wine bar at Mission Inn post-private party at Bistro O at Omakase for the Festival of Lights Friday night. I'm not going to say it was a holiday celebration, I'm just going to tell you we had a great night.

So far, so good.

PS. My next post will be my 200th post. Wow. Yeah, that's quite a year. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Talking Task Force

I feel the need to comment on the US Preventive Services Task Force report on mammograms that was released last week. The report essentially said that most women don't need mammograms until age 50 and then only every other year. Since I was 45 when diagnosed with breast cancer, several folks emailed me about the report and even more asked me how I feel about it. And well, I have to say, I kind of get what they are saying. In the sense that I understand. There is a way in which I agree as well.

Because here's the thing-- It wasn't a mammogram that caught my cancer early. It was me. It was a self-exam. I had my regular annual mammogram in July of 2008 and no cancer was visible. It was there, it just wasn't large enough to be picked up by the mammogram. By November (yep, 4 months later) it was large enough to be felt by me so I went to the doctor. Another mammogram was ordered, along with an ultrasound. That's when the cancer was diagnosed. But there's a big difference between the first and the second mammogram. The first mammogram is a screening mammogram--and that's the one they are saying I could have done without. And they're right--it was not of any use in catching my cancer. What was of use was the self exam. Based on that and the doctor's exam a diagnostic mammogram was ordered, and that's a mammogram that is different from what the task force is discussing. The task force isn't saying no mammograms until after 50. They are saying that in most cases it's not necessary. If there is a reason for a mammogram before age 50 (a lump is felt; family history; higher risk) then of course the doctors should order the mammogram.

This seems reasonable to me, on one hand. There are risks associated with the mammogram and if those can be avoided (not to mention that it's a really uncomfortable experience!), then so be it. And I do understand that there is a limited health care resource available. It comes down to the rationing of health care of course. Let's be clear--we are doing that now; it's like any other resource--there is only so much of it and choices have to be made as to where the resource can be spent. (Right now it seems we give any and all health care to those that can pay for it, and much less or none to those who can't.)  So if there is only so much that can be allocated to "breast cancer care" well, it makes more sense to allocate it to pay for the care of those that have been diagnosed and need treatment and cut back on screenings where it seems, according to the report, 1 life in 1,900 screenings would be saved (in women aged 40 to 49).

So that much I get. What I don't get is the discussion of self exams and women being stressed out or hysterical over possible breast cancer. First off, they can't stop us from doing self exams! That's a little ridiculous. And again, it was a self exam that allowed me to catch mine early (and even so, my cancer was at stage 1c--which means it skipped on aggressively through a and b in the four months since my July mammogram). No self exams and no mammograms for a woman in her 40s seems like saying "well if you get it in your 40s, just die." Makes no sense to me at all. Early detection is key. Of course you have to do your self exams! Just be realistic about it. Not everything you feel is cancer, but when you feel something unusual get it checked out and talk it over with your doctor. That's simple enough. Nothing to get hysterical about.

Oh, and the other thing I don't get? Why mammograms? Why is that what they were looking at? That doesn't seem like that expensive of a test. Since the US Preventive Services Task Force has such a broad, far-reaching name...I'm assuming we'll hear about some other procedures they're looking at for effectiveness as well. Right?

PS. I've still got the annoying cough. The positive thinking didn't work. And, I discovered yet another side effect of BC treatment. You know how sometimes when you cough so hard for so long your rib cage and stomach muscles start to hurt? Mine only hurt on the right side--the side that was radiated all summer. Hmmm. I guess it's been weakened.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Positive Thinking, I think

This has not been my year of good health. So, while I complain for a moment, bear in mind that you cannot say to me "at least you have your health." You can't say this because, well, this is a blog, but also if you were actually in earshot of me I would just give you "the look" that says "think about what you're saying and who you are saying it too." The look might also add "you twit" but that would depend on my feelings about you in general.

Allow me to whine (or, just, you know, close out the blog and don't read my whining). If you've been a careful reader you may have noted that I had breast cancer this year. (Really!) And then last month I had my first ever bladder infection (yes, I know, you're welcome; I share--it's what I do). And now, I've had that nasty cough, cold, sore throat bug thing that is not the swine flu (even though everyone wants to freak out that it is) for most of this week. And, sorry, but it kinda pissed me off. I think I've had my share of sick days this year, thank you very much. Now I feel like I'm going to become one of those people who catch everything that goes around-- pre BC I didn't really get sick very often at all. Pre-BC and stretching back to my early childhood I generally got sick once a year--usually around Halloween, which was just my elaborate ruse for getting out of trick or treating (I hate costumes and I dislike most candy--particularly chocolate; yes, you read that correctly). I don't have the time or patience to be a "sicky."

Sure, sure, my body has been through a lot this year and it's probably still in repair mode. Whatever. Health again, please. And the somewhat ironic thing is, I think I whined more about this cough sickness than I did during chemo. Chris can probably attest to that fact (see likely comment below). Like I said, I was pissed, I was not willing to admit I was sick (I did work at home on Wednesday but then on Thursday everyone in my office told me to go home. I think the mailman mentioned it too), and then when it was totally obvious I was indeed sick, I was a giant baby. But that got me thinking. I was wondering why I was a bigger wimp about my cough/cold than I was about chemo. And I had a little revelation.

I think I may have figured out that whole "keep a positive attitude" thing! When one gets diagnosed with breast cancer (or any other serious illness, I imagine) everyone says "just keep your positive attitude" or "stay positive" or some version of that. And I think most of the newly diagnosed think "what?" Okay, and me, I also think "we'll sure you're saying that--you don't want me breaking down and getting all crazy and sobbing on your watch because then you'd have to deal with that, so sure you want me to stay positive!!" And of course there is the "I can be all happy and giddy and downright perky and, um, I'm still going to have cancer" so what good does this staying positive thing do?  But here's the thing---as I went through all the slash, poison and burn stages of breast cancer treatment, for the most part it wasn't as bad as I was expecting so I pretty much thought, 'Huh, okay. I can do this." And I did.  I just marched on without spending too much time thinking about how awful it all was (okay, except to laugh at it in the blog; well, mostly laugh). I don't think I whined too much (see inevitable comments below from those in the know. ;-)  )  But now, this cough/ cold thing was totally unexpected and I wasn't prepared for it--so it was worse than I was expecting and I let that get to me. I didn't "stay positive." (um...I may have been feeling sorry for myself; I had a really shitty week last week and then got sick this week). Now that I get that whole "mind over matter" thing--I expect to be up and about and doing just fine tomorrow. Sure, I'm hacking up a lung, but it's all temporary. This too shall pass. All that happy, perky stuff.

Chris has escaped down to San Diego today and tomorrow for the Food & Wine Festival--I was too sick to go and he needed the break. That gives me 24 hours to perfect this "positive thinking" thing. Hey, I've done it before. Sort of.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Breast Cancer: Now What?

The Pink Ribbon Place (our new Breast Cancer Resource Center serving Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) hosted its first professionals panel entitled "Breast Cancer: Now What" this past Monday night. I was tasked with moderating the panel, but hey, they hardly needed me. The panel was comprised of the physicians a patient encounters in dealing with breast cancer: surgeon, anesthesiologist, oncologist, radiation oncologist, and plastic surgeon (breast reconstruction). In the first photo is the good and great Dr. Amer Karam (surgeon to the stars, or, er, to me...and many other lucky UCLA patients; but he treats us all like stars), Dr. Candice Ruby (onocologist), and Dr. Jean Sprengel (anesthesiologist and author of "Chemo Companion" which is a fantastically practical book that she wrote when she was helping her sister deal with stage III breast cancer).  In the next photo is Dr. Janet Hocko (radiation oncologist; and more specifically, my radiation oncologist!) on the far right, and Dr. Ben Childers (plastic surgeon) at the podium. (Oh, and I have no idea why I look so frightened in the photo, but yeah that's me to the left of Dr. Childers; okay, I'll admit it--I was just intimidated moderating all those doctors!).

There were 53 folks in attendance--most were breast cancer patients in various stages of treatment and their family members. We had a very lively question and answer period and we asked the audience to write their questions down and hand them in (to protect privacy) on index cards. We had more cards than we had time, but the doctors all hung out afterward and answered many questions from many inquiring minds. Significant, practical information was shared and each of the doctors was compassionate and very "human" in their responses and in how they took the time to explain complicated medical matters in terms a lay person could understand. Really, really impressive.

I think the whole Pink Ribbon Place advisory committee (we call ourselves the "BRA" committee--Breast Resource Advocates) was proud of what we put together. The doctors were all from various organizations (UCLA, Kaiser, Loma Linda University Medical Center, Vantage Oncology, etc.) and all gave freely and graciously of their time. Rosa Olaiz, the program director of The Pink Ribbon Place also secured a Spanish translator so we had several Spanish speaking breast cancer patients who were able to participate as well. Several folks made donations to cover the food and drinks; Captain Meredyth Meredith from Riverside Police Department secured the Community Room at RPD for the event. The whole evening was also videotaped (for free!) by Captive Audience productions and will become part of the library at The Pink Ribbon Place. And look at the "gift with attendance" that was put together by volunteers and handed out at the end:

Yeah, baby...that's chocolate!

The Pink Ribbon Place is going to make a big difference in our community and I'm really grateful and happy about that. When I can I will post a link to the video. Also, our "survivors" video is complete and we played it at the beginning of this panel. I'll link to that when it's available as well. It's too good not to share.

For now though, I'm going to enjoy the martini Chris just made me. Other than Monday night's event, this has been a really, really crappy week. Really.  But hey, here's to a good weekend. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Before, During and After

I've gotten comfortable with my hair. I might even like it. I would never, ever in a million years have voluntarily cut my hair like this or become a brunette. And yet, I sort of like it. I'm not leaving it this short, and I may add a few (incredibly natural) highlights, but I am starting to look at shorter hair styles as the end goal instead of just wanting to get back to the same old same old long blonde hair.

Sunday I went to brunch with friends from junior high (oh, that terrible, mean, difficult junior high time!!). One of them (Hi, Tana!!) has a haircut sort of like mine (only hers is more stylish, because, well, she got to actually cut and style it that way). And that made me feel good; especially since she was the girl in junior high with the really long really gorgeous hair. She still looks gorgeous (and a lot taller!). There will be more on the brunch later, because of course, I have pictures.

Then, last night was the "Breast Cancer: Now What?" professionals panel that the Pink Ribbon Place put on. Over 40 women and men attended to hear our panel of doctors discuss breast cancer treatment and answer their questions (more on this later too; geez, I better start blogging more). I was the moderator so I was up at the podium and could see out over the audience. A roomful of women with hats, wigs, and scarves--all looking fantastic. It was a terrific event and I felt sort of oddly proud to be part of the group and I felt proud of "the battle." I realized again that the hair or lack thereof is the most and maybe only outward sign of this breast cancer battle. It's the only one I have still remaining (okay, two scars, but they're barely visible and only two of us ever see them). So maybe rather than thinking of the new hair as a scar or wound from the battle, I can think of it as a medal. I battled through breast cancer. I won. And the hair is well on it's way back.

Naturally, I have that journey in pictures:

December 26, 2008:

May 9, 2009:

And October 25, 2009:

And did I mention we're going to Hawaii in 35 days???! 2009 is looking better and better.

(P.S. Seamus is actually in all three of these photos--if you look closely at the last one you can see the very top of his head; it's just really hard to get a photo with Seamus actually facing the camera; especially the last two photos which we were taking ourselves. But he was there. He's part of the  kickin'  cancer's butt crew after all).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Open House Awesomeness

So, we had the festive Open House celebration of the new breast cancer resource center "The Pink Ribbon Place" last week. Over 100 people showed up, toured the facility, chatted, admired the newly decorated office, and applauded and cheered wildly as the pink ribbon was cut. Oh, and speaking of "newly decorated"--Chris donated his furniture (couch, loveseat, coffee table, dining room table and chairs and a few other items) to the center and all he asked was that if I ever kick him out of the house he wants privileges to sleep on the couch at the center. They agreed. He's had the furniture in storage since he moved in 3 years ago. I'm thinking he'll enjoy saving the $80 a month for the storage unit. (And...there's no way I'm kicking him out, so ladies you can stop lining up!)

Anyway, in the first photo that's me holding one end of the ribbon; two people to the right of me is T.C. Bond, another Advisory committee member and then City Councilman Mike Gardner (whose wife is a breast cancer survivor), Rosa Olaiz, the director of The Pink Ribbon Place, and City Councilman Andy Melendrez. Mayor Ron Loveridge had stopped by earlier as well. The next photo is Chris being "pinked." Quite a nice event to launch a much needed resource center.

This Monday night (November 9th) we'll be presenting our first "professionals panel" which will feature 5 physicians who treat breast cancer patients--including the good and great (and also cute) Dr. Amer Karam (yep, trekking all the way in from Los Angeles for us again!) and my radiation oncologist Dr. Janet Hocko as well. We'll also have Dr. Ben Childers (plastic surgeon/ breast reconstruction specialist), Dr. Jean Sprengel (anesthesiologist and author of "Chemo Companion") and Dr. Candace Ruby (oncologist). They will each be talking about their role in the care of a breast cancer patient, what the patient can expect, what's new in treatment, as well as giving helpful tip and answering questions from our audience. The event will be held at the Riverside Police Department Community room.We're expecting around 50 breast cancer patients and family members.  How quickly, efficiently and fantastically the advisory committee was able to put this together has been truly amazing. And it's heartwarming to know these physicians were all willing to donate their time and energy. (If you're local and you want more details, please feel free to email me. We'd love to have you.)

Oh, and speaking of donating time and energy..... This photo is of Mike Easley of Vital Excess designs. He designed The Pink Ribbon Place logo, made the brochures, got 100 t-shirts made, business cards, bookmarks, and giant photo portraits for the walls of the center (he's the one who took my new post-chemo glamor shot!) all in a very, very short time period so it could all be available for the open house. Then he showed up and photographed that too!

Don't you just love it when awesomeness occurs?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Top of My Class

You, my faithful readers, left me for a bit awhile back and it appears I've returned the favor. I'm like that.
Actually, I hadn't even realized I went over a week without blogging until I sat down tonight to write. And wow, so much to cover.

Let's start with the important news about "The Cancer." Or, to be precise, "The Cancer that no longer is." I had my first 3-month check-up last Wednesday. Chris and I trekked back to UCLA Medical Center and I have to say, it was odd being back. You'd think it would be fresh in my mind (I spent quite a bit of time there and was last there in July) but no. It felt like a long, long time ago I was there and I was even noticing things I'd never noticed before. Hmmm...ya think I was a little focused on the immediate task at hand previously? Yes, perhaps.

We met up with Dr. Glaspy for a quick exam and chat. Dr. Glaspy was the oncologist I originally consulted with, although I had the chemotherapy with Dr. B (and we all know what that stands for!). Since Dr. B didn't want to see me when I was in chemo, I figured she didn't want to see me for any sort of follow-up treatment and thus I returned to Dr. Glaspy's care. You may recall him from prior postings--he's the one who explained his role with a river boat gambler metaphor. Basically, it's his job to review the cards I'm holding (i.e. my pathology report) and let me know the best moves (i.e. chemo and radiation, in my case) and my odds of winning the hand (click here to read the posting about this). He's also the one who told me my hair would fall out "guaranteed." Both things were a little tough to hear in the beginning, but I came to appreciate his directness. In essence, the cards were dealt long ago and all I can do is play them the best way possible and then go on about my life. And when the time came for my hair to fall out, having the "guaranteed" voice in my head made it easier to just go ahead and shave my head without thinking "well what if I'm part of that 1% whose hair doesn't fall out?" Because, well, with my chemo there was no such 1%.

So back I went to Dr. Glaspy in July and again this last week. He asked me questions, joked a bit, answered a few questions I had (mostly reaffirming that I have no restrictions whatsoever. None.), and said that basically everything looks great. No concerns. (If you are wondering, the 3-month exam is a lot like a regular check-up any non-cancer patient would have and that's it; I'll have another mammogram at the next 3-month check-up). Then Dr. Glaspy said "Are you seeing Dr. Karam after this?" To which I answered "Yes." And he said, "Well, we don't both need to grope you, so you can have the breast exam with him."  "Um, no doctor, that would be awkward seeing as we're meeting up with Dr. Karam at Literati for a glass of wine!"  Dr. Glaspy did the groping. And then (after I was dressed again, let's be clear) came the favorite part of the day. He told me that I had handled this whole cancer thing really well and had the right attitude. In fact he said that I was in the top 1/2 of 1% of women as to how I handled this! And hey, I have to say, I'm kind of proud of that. Because, as you know if you've been reading along, mostly I feel like I've been Cancer Dork. I seem to not do things like others generally, and that seemed particularly true as I went through breast cancer treatment. I wasn't emotional enough, I wasn't exercising enough, I wasn't having epiphanies, I kept working, I kept joking, I didn't think I was going to die, I didn't get spiritual, I had parties, and I didn't change a single bad habit (except blow-drying and poofing out my 80's hair...but that wasn't by choice!). I kind of thought I screwed up. Especially in the last few months where I was wondering if I was supposed to be different or somehow a "better" person for all of this. But here's Dr. Glaspy telling me that no, I'm supposed to just get back in that river of life and keep swimming. He said "some women make cancer their whole life. You don't want to do that. This is not likely coming back. Just go on with your life." Which is pretty much how I feel, so that worked out well. Dr. Glaspy is the one who told me I was "the poster child for chemotherapy" (meaning, I absolutely needed ifs, ands or buts). So now I'm the poster child for cancer treatment. Yeah me! ;-) I'm feeling a little less cancer-dorkish these days.

And part of that might be the post-chemo glamor shot photo in this post. I'm kidding. But the photo was taken for the new brochure for The Pink Ribbon Place which  my friend Mike Easley of Vital Excess Designs put together. He did these great photos of several breast cancer survivors, and this is the photo he took of me. Lovely touch-up job don't you think? Yeah, please say you like it because there are also 20"x 30" posters of each of us in the actual Pink Ribbon Place office! I haven't totally gotten used to this look (I can still be caught off guard and surprised by my own reflection), so it was a little freaky to see the giant poster. But, you can see that my hair is growing. In fact, it's growing enough that Chris announced on Friday morning "Hey, you have bedhead!" And I did--one funky little section on the side of my head was just sticking straight up and out. Never has a woman been so excited to have bad bedhead. I'm contemplating my first official hair cut.

Alrighty then, that's enough for now. I will share with you the exciting grand opening of The Pink Ribbon Place and a few other things from a very eventful week in the next few posts. For now, there's some trash television just calling out to me. And there may be wine. Because that's the river of life I'm swimming in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Memoir Memories

Yesterday I had a very busy day of running around to various appointments that I hadn't gone to while I was dealing with The Cancer. It was finally time for the dentist, the optometrist and the therapist. I'm still trying to squeeze in the massage and the mani/pedi appointments, but the practical side of me took over and insisted on those other things first (and of course, when I started arguing with the practical me it became obvious how much the therapy appointment was needed and just like that practical me won. It was just sad. And practical me just said "Duh.")

I did have a little time to kill between appointments (okay and after they were all done) so after buying some practical, basic black pants that can be worn with flat shoes (and not look like the proverbial flood was chasing me) I found myself in Borders. I ambled by a section--you know, maybe one bookcase full--that had memoirs displayed. I stopped and perused to see if memoirs were still hot, what was out, and well, just to peruse. I've been reading memoirs lately as I contemplate (and type) my own little dog cancer/ breast cancer/ everyone survives story. I looked, and I picked up a few, and I turned the corner and there were more. And then more, and then more. Really, a whole large section of them! My first thought was "Holy Capitalism! Memoirs are totally hot! Everybody loves them!" followed swiftly by, "yikes, even were I shockingly able to finish mine, by the time I even started approaching agents the inevitable backlash against memoirs will have occurred (think "chick lit"--although the backlash was not fatal; not at all)."

Then I looked more closely...the section I was standing in was actually labeled "Memoir and Biography." What caused me to look up and notice that was that Senator Ted Kennedy's book "True Compass" was there.  I don't know. Can a 532 page book that spans a lifetime really be a "memoir"? Mark the moment I noticed that the word "autobiograpy" has left the lexicon of publishing. So, okay, they'll mix autobiography (generally, a life story written by someone who you had heard of before you rambled into Borders and picked up his/her book) and memoir (generally, a shorter book of a life experience or theme or moment or unique something or other by someone with an interesting voice, story, or relative in publishing). Okay, publishing no longer wants to decide between those things, or shoppers eyes glaze over at "autobiograpy." Okay. But, um....biography too? My brain was having trouble with this. Biographies are usually studied, researched, academic-like tomes written by superreallysmartliterate people. Professors and stuff. It seemed incongruous they'd be sharing shelf space with diseaseoftheweek/southernfamily/ funnyaddiction/ fatskinnybodyissue stories written by...well, anyone and everyone pretty much.

And then as though to demonstrate my point, straight in front of me was Valerie Bertinelli's "Finding It" right next to..."American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House." Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a Valerie Bertinelli fan (loved One Day at a Time in its day), but these do not seem like the same type of book. Is anybody going to find themselves in that section deciding between these books? No, no they aren't. (Are they??).  So I decided the good news is, we can all now still pretend to have very highbrow reading taste while snooping around in books like
Leaving Dirty Jersey: A Crystal Meth Memoir (by James Salant).

Other things I noted in the Memoir & Biography section: the book about Dana and Christopher Reeve has on the cover a very unattractive photo of them and yet they were both very beautiful people. Ditto for Patrick Swayze and his wife Lisa Niemi (is their book memoir or biography? Discuss amongst yourselves). And yet, Mackenzie Phillips who is, well, let's just say, no Valerie Bertinelli,  has an absolutely gorgeous book cover. Which, you know, should be the case for a book called "High on Arrival."

But the most inspirational discovery was finding that a woman who is likely only in her early 40's already had 4 memoirs out!! 4! That's like 800 pages on her life. And no, you don't know who she is...but her name is Jen Lancaster and she wrote Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Ego-maniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office; Pretty in Plaid, A Life, A Witch and A Wardrobe, Or, the Wonder Years before the Condescending, Ego-maniacal, Self-Centered Smartass Phase; Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover if her Life Makes her Ass Look Big Or, Why Pie is not the Answerl; and, Bright Lights, Big Ass: A Self-Indulgent Surly Ex-Sorority Girl's Guide to Why it Often Sucks in the City, Or, Who are these Idiots and Why do they All Live Next Door to Me.  No, I didn't make up any part of those titles, and yes, those are only 4 books.

So, after my little research foray yesterday, I think I will just  keep plodding along on my little "My dog and I both survived cancer" book, Or, "How a Surly, Narcissistic, Condescending Beagle with Cancer on his Ass, helped a Bitter, Sarcastic, Big Ass girl get through Cancer in her Boob."  It's like a biography, only not. At all. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If This Were Any Other Dog...

I've had my first post-cancer "If this were any other dog..."  experience. And once I again, I can thank Seamus for leading the way. See, after Seamus was all done with his cancer treatments and we moved into the every month, then every three months, then six months follow-ups, we began to notice a pattern. If anything was wrong with Seamus--if he was tired, if he threw up, if there was a fatty bump appearing, I'd rush him to the vets office and they would inevitably say, "Well if this were any other dog we'd tell you it was simple x or uncomplicated heressomeantibiotics y, or it's nothing but z. But with everything he's been through we should really check for superbadawfulthing that nobody wants happening to their dog." And hundreds of dollars and sheer panic later, we'd find out it was supersimplenobigdeal x. Eventually, I decided (probably two years into this; I'm not a fast learner) that as Seamus had already lived two years longer than anyone had expected (and that's 14 years to you and I) we could probably now treat  him like any other dog...let's rule out the small stuff first and then if need be we'll look into the C word and it's possible recurrence. Life got a lot easier and less expensive. Of course, this is Seamus so I've still had to rush him to the vet for things like, oh, knocking down and inhaling a bowl of dried fruits and nuts that included macadamia nuts (very dangerous to dogs). They gave him medication and up it all came (Dr. Davis assures me there were dried cranberries in the mix; thanks for sharing). Folks in my office (where it occurred) marveled that I knew to take him to the vet for that. When you have a beagle, especially a beagle like Seamus, you know these things. A beagle will eat anything. It's my job to know what will harm him. But at least I've learned it's just "any other beagle" stuff and not a recurrence of cancer.

My own "any other dog" experience happened last night. I go for my first three month check-up on the 28th. I've heard that this can be, much like the first post-treatment mammogram, a stressful time as it brings back memories of the disease and the treatment just about the time one has started to get back to normal. Plus, there is that constant "It might recur" feeling until one hits the magic 5 year mark (and I imagine, even after that). I wasn't really thinking about it or concerned at all. Until Sunday night.

I wasn't feeling good. I was really, really thirsty and having to um, well, uh...pee all the time. Then, I got a killer backache. By yesterday, I also had the chills--which were highly reminiscent of my white blood cell crash experience which Chris described in such glorious detail here. When I took my temperature it was 102. Not good. I got online to look up my symptoms at Web MD. And I should add here, I've never done that before in my life. I either tough it out or call my dad. But I was a little nervous because I felt a lot like I did the morning of the crash. Web MD was pretty good--I either had bladder or kidney cancer, or a bladder or urinary tract infection. WTF?? Then it also had a warning about getting medical attention immediately if the person was x,y, z or had a compromised immune system such as a person in chemotherapy. Um, okay, I'm going to start with the lesser of these choices. I'm going to pretend I am any other dog and rule out the easier one first. I had a compromised immune system (during chemo) but I don't any longer. Do I? I drank lots of cranberry juice, slept like there was no tomorrow, stayed home from work today and got antibiotics. I'm feeling a lot better. I am, I think, just any other dog. With a bladder infection.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hair and There  thinks I'm totally cool this fall:

Actresses Mia Farrow and Audrey Hepburn and model Twiggy popularized the pixie cut back in the 1950s and 1960s -- helping to transform society's perception of beauty.

"No matter the decade, short hair on woman suggests an air of rebellion, liberation and freedom," said Tran. "The pixie can be traced as far back as Joan of Arc. While showing strength and courage, it highlights a woman's feminine features."

And Melville points out that the hair style is like anything else that's in fashion. "Everything comes back in time," he said. "We've done it all before but we do it again with a twist."

Oooh. I like that, "rebellion, liberation and freedom." So I suppose I could look at this as my rebellion from the same California blonde look I've had my whole life, a liberation from combs, brushes and blow dryers and freedom from...well, er...cancer.  Okay, not bad. I can probably think that way. Most days. Or I can just remember what Spicey Matt recently said about a picture of me on facebook: "Now that your coif is not swallowing your head, we can see your gorgeous face." (Yeah, I know!! Even he called it a back-handed compliment.)  But okay, point taken. And um, face still stinging. (I still kind of miss my 80's hair. But then Matt would be the same guy who once said to me at a cocktail party where I'd dressed up and done my hair differently, "You're hair looks gorgeous, I couldn't even recognize you!" Apparently he's always hated my hair.)

I won't lie, I bought this issue of Vogue solely because I now aspire to Michelle Williams' hair do on the cover. I probably won't see that until next spring, but still, I'm inspired. (And I'm pretty sure, with those dark roots of hers, I can get to this color as well. Or, um, my stylist Kelly can get us to that color.) That's kind of a cute spring look don't you think? Note also it's the October issue so of course there is the "Mammography update" in the left corner. Thank goodness Vogue didn't stick a pink bow in Michelle's hair. I would have been too busy controlling my gag reflex and totally over looked her adorable hair.

So okay, I can deal with this. I'll have a cool pixie hair do of rebellion, liberation and freedom. And the world will just have to adjust to a five foot ten inch pixie.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brunch for Breast (cancer awareness)

The Brunch for Breasts fundraiser for The Pink Ribbon Place was a huge success!! About 70 people were served spectacular brunch dishes by Chef Clements and his amazing Omakase staff from 9a.m. to 2pm on Sunday. Over $1,400 was raised for the breast cancer resource center. And I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one drinking those "Cure" Royales and Mamm-osas! Finally, I get my "drink for a cause" event. We knew I'd sneak that in there somehow.

Sunday was a busy day all in all. Chris and I were troopers and spent from 9:30 to 2pm at the brunch, dining with several different folks including my dad and step-mom (Jim and Nancy McElhannon), then the good and great and also cute Dr. Amer Karam (who almost got the long distance travel award by coming from Westwood, but then a breast cancer survivor showed up from Lancaster--her niece works at Omakase-- and tore the award from his precious and skilled hands; luckily this was only metaphorically), the lovely Sheena Meder and her friend Vanessa, and Chris's mom Trudi Kern (a 17 year survivor). 

Post-brunch I worked with  videographer Rees Evans (a friend of committee member and BC survivor Meredyth Meredith --yes, that's really her name) to start capturing our "survivors" for a film he's putting together. We were able to film 7 survivors out "living life" (which meant walking, shopping, running, playing tennis, golfing, playing with her daughter and playing with her dog....guess which one I was?) and then turning to the camera to say "17 years" or, however long they'd been kickin' cancer's butt. I was floored to meet a totally adorable, cute, fashionable smiling young woman who turned out to be a survivor reporting in for her filming. She's 28 and was diagnosed at age 25. And she was the one filmed out running--because she's a marathon runner. Wow. So impressive. And yeah, this disease touches everyone. The film is meant to be a message of hope to women facing the diagnosis themselves. It will also be the lead-in (no idea if that's the technical term) for the video of the "professionals panel" were putting together on November 9th. Doctors from each of the areas one encounters in BC treatment (surgeon, anesthesiologist, oncologist, radiation oncologist, plastic surgeon for reconstruction) will be present to discuss their role, give practical coping advice and answer questions the live audience may have. The video will become part of The Pink Ribbon Place's library as a resource. It's looking like it will all work out great. With any luck we'll be able to give at least a little support, reassurance and hope to others dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis.

And I am pleased to report I have walked Seamus 7 out of the last 8 days. Woo. Hoo. It's not a marathon we're walking but hey, at least I'm up and moving. I'm less pleased to report that I'm now pulling on my hair trying to make it actually grow. Okay, not quite...but I'm thinking about it. And according to Facebook, I only have about 12 months of hair growing before my 30th high school reunion will be here. Umm...fat and shorn? No, no, I don't think so. (Did I say 30th?? I meant 20th. I'm sure that's what I meant....)

PS the photos are not from the actual brunch; Brein's food looks (and tastes) even more amazing than that. I was too busy to remember to take photos at the brunch! Next time..