Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vacation Time!!

all I ever wanted...Vacation...all I ever needed...Vacation...have to get away...Vacation....
all I ever wanted...Vacation...all I ever needed...Vacation....(something or other). Go-Gos anyone?
That's right! I am in the countdown to vacation. Chris and I leave Saturday morning to fly to Kansas City (yes, I know the photo is Chicago...hang on...). My brother picks us up for the drive to none other than Springfield, MO (I may or may not be related to the Simpsons). We'll spend a few days there visiting with the likes of these folks to the right (brother Jay, sis-in-law Jen, niece McKinzee and nephew Lucas).

We'll see just who's hair is longer--Jay's, Lucas's or mine! We'll also see my mom and step-dad, and even spend a day in Branson with everyone. Sadly, Yakov Smirnoff takes August off, so Chris's dream of catching a Yakov Smirnoff performance has been crushed.

After Missouri, Chris and I are driving up to Chicago, where I will be at a conference for a few days and Chris will be doing two Forgotten Grapes wine tastings. (If you are in the Chicago area...and some of you are...stop by the tasting event. Details available by clicking here: Forgotten Grapes Chicago!) Then we've even got a few days to play in Chicago. Art Institute, Frank Lloyd Wright house, there may be a wine bar or two...and hey, I hear there is good food there!

Why is this news? It isn't really. But note it had absolutely nothing to do with cancer. Nothing! Why? Because I don't have cancer anymore!! I'm just going on a normal vacation with a mix of family visit, work and sightseeing, like a totally normal person. I could get the hang of this.

Speaking of normal, I even watched the real live actual news today for the first time in a long time--probably since January. I've avoided television, books and movies that would be depressing or in any way sad (and believe me that's eliminating a lot) during this little precarious odyssey of mine. But I sort of missed knowing what's going on in the world. So who's this beer drinking Barack guy? Seems kinda cool. I'm thinking he could be big. Anything I should know?

This was a long-winded way (who me??) of saying, I may not be blogging for the next week. I've got to finish up much at work, pack, and...well, vacation...for a little while now. I think I may just take a cue from television and post a few re-runs. We can all remember what it was like back in the days UCLA was my home, wig-teens were my guide, and palm trees scared the bejeezus out of me.

I will however continue to collect the bizarre things people say to a nearly bald woman and dutifully report back. In bidding you adieu for now, I will leave you with today's gem from the "tact of a drunken bear" collection":

Me: "Yes, the doctors said all clear. No signs of the cancer."
DB: "That's great. But you and I both know the doctors miss a lot of stuff. Let's just hope they're right this time."

See why I need a vacation??
Cheers! A Bientot!

PS. Yes, I know it will be hot and humid. It's not like it's going to ruin my 'do.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I missed a few days of blogging. Did you notice? Nothing serious, I just got a new laptop and my "computer guy" was transferring files from the old to the new laptop so I can take the new one with me when Chris and I leave Saturday for the wild wild mid-west. That meant no computer access at home for a bit.

So now I've got two days of reactions to my going topless in public to share with you. (Yes, I mean "without headcovering" but I'm hoping for extra blog hits by weirdos online searching "topless." Not true at all.). You can see in the photo what my public self looks like now. I have hair, but I don't really think it looks like an intentional hairstyle yet. To me it still says "chemo happened here." Apparently that's not true to the public in general. I've had the following responses from folks who didn't know that chemo did indeed happen here but all of whom knew me "before":

1) (startled look) "Oh, I see you have your summer haircut." Because apparently I'm like a Lhasa Apso in that regard.

2) (brief look of surprise) "Oh, I really like your haircut." And, after I explained that it wasn't a "cut" so much as a growth she said "I would never have known. I think it looks great on you." (So you might guess this was my favorite response.) And then there was

3) (shocked look of tragic proportions) "Oh, you cut off all your beautiful blonde hair!!!"
Hey, thanks for the reminder!! [Help me out here. Would "Oh! You wrinkled all that beautiful young skin you had!" have been an appropriate response?] And then, after I explained that no, I did not "cut" the hair (and I believe I may be guilty of emphasizing that it fell out by the handful because of the CHEMO POISON I was underwent due to CANCER ), this person said, "Oh, right. I think I remember someone told me you had cancer. I just remember that you had such beautiful blonde hair, so this was shocking." Yeah, well, cancer can be like that. Oh, and I truly appreciate the empathy. Cow.

What have we learned here my precious readers? I'm thinking that a woman with a sudden alarming and really, really short haircut should be approached in the same manner as a woman who has suddenly gained a little weight. (In that "you shouldn't assume pregnant because she might just have gained weight" way). Maybe we did and maybe we didn't do this to ourselves.

What else have we learned? That some people have the tact of a drunken bear. I mean, what if I had in fact simply chosen to cut off all my hair? Where was #3 going to go from there?

Nonetheless, I'm getting rather used to the look. It's not my favorite and I won't be keeping it, but I find that if I just dress like a girl and throw on some jewelry (but not hoop earrings which still make me look like a pirate), and particularly "artsy" looking jewelry, I can almost fool myself that this is a "style."

You know, like a summer cut on a lhasa apso.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

All About the Hair

In keeping with my status as not a cancer patient, I have foregone wigs, scarves and hats. That decision has been aided greatly by the 100+ degree heat. So yeah, I'm pretty much running around, no, um,, bald, no, well, there is some hair, so, well....headcovering-less. Me. I've decided to just run around as me. Me, currently. And mostly I forget that I look any different at all. Lucky me, I don't see myself most of the day. I get to just experience getting ready in 20 minutes flat, not having any hair flying into my face, eyes or nostrils all day and being a lot cooler in general. And I mean that temperature-wise.

The reaction has been mostly good; but then I'm mostly around people who know this was not a hairstyle choice. I did have an encounter with a staring child in a public restroom who seemed a bit appalled at my hair, but it resulted in a sort of "well you can't have it both ways" moment with myself.

I've mentioned before I'm not much of a kid person. But, despite my lack of innate ability, little girls used to like me. I think it's because for the most part many years ago I, oddly, used to look like what girls seem to think girls are supposed to look like (i.e. I was tall, blonde and what passed for thin before anorexic became the new thin). That and I didn't and still don't talk to children in a child's voice. I don't have a child's voice. I have a whiskey and cigarettes voice, so even if I tried to raise it to mimic a child's voice I'd get to "normal adult female voice" at best. Despite all these impediments, little girls used to like me. I can vividly recall being in church one Christmas, festively dressed in bright red, when I was about 34 or 35 years old and still celebrated Christmas. And went to church. (I am Catholic enough that I hedge my bets against that whole burning in hell thing by at least showing up for the annual lapsed Catholic holiday ritual. Plus, at the time I was married to a man who thought he was going to burn in hell merely because he had married the likes of me.) The little girl in the pew in front of me kept turning around and staring, and then smiling, and eventually waving. And I mean through the entire mass (which, for the information of you non-Catholics, is 238 hours and 14 minutes). Her mother noticed this about halfway through and tried to correct the behavior by turning first the child's face, then her entire body away from me. The mother finally asked the inevitable "what are you staring at?" question. The little girl whispered into her mother's ear. The mother turned back and looked at me and spent the rest of the mass visibly shaking in her effort to not burst out laughing.

I was having no trouble not laughing and I think I may have started to glare at the little girl as a stand-in for her mother, who was decidedly not turning around again. When mass ended the mother did turn to me, barely containing her laughter, and said, "I'm really sorry. I should explain. My daughter thinks you're Barbie."


Christmas Barbie.

Not even Lawyer Barbie. Freakin' Christmas Barbie. Visions of child abuse danced in my head. But this little girl was just glowing smiling at me. I managed to deduce that from a child's point of view this was probably a huge compliment and not an attack on my I.Q. So I mumbled something like "Oh, thanks. That's, uh, cute." And I went home, pulled my hair back into a tight school marm bun and burned my red dress.

Flash forward to this week and I'm standing at a sink in the restroom in my building at work, washing my hands, when I notice the little girl at the sink next to me has stopped mid hand wash, to stare in slack-jawed horror at my head. Maybe she thought a man had come into the restroom. And if that was the case a "Hi little girl" from my whiskey-cigarette voice was not going to help. So I just smiled at her.

Nothing. I got nothing. She just stood there, oblivious to the open faucet creating another several months of water shortage, looking at my head. I smiled again, this time trying to convey "you're being rude, future Heather" and contemplating whether I should or should not mention "cancer." Just then her mother appeared. I smiled at the mother and left before I could see if mother had the squinty "oh you have cancer look."

Okay, so I wasn't crazy about the Barbie thing. But I don't really want to be scaring little girls in public restrooms either. (Alright, maybe I do just a little bit.) I'm hoping for a happy medium sometime soon.

So tonight when we went out to the Street Food Omakase event I opted for the "I just came back from consulting my guru in Sedona where I planned my next trip to the Costa Rican rain forest on paper I made by hand while sipping green tea in the lotus position (for 16 hours)" look.
Roryann's sister, ERIN GUNNETTE , who in the past several months recognized me as a blonde "old Britney", a red-head and even a brunette, failed to recognize me at all. Hey, at least she didn't call me "Sir."

P.S. (That's me on the left, in case you are confused. And that's my friend NANCY CARPENTER. We manage to get together about every 15 years. And that started in 3rd grade. Let me assure you however, we did not play with Barbies.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

The River of Life

December 23, 2008: Doctor says "Highly Suspicious of Malignancy."

July 23, 2009: Doctors say "No signs of the Cancer" and "You are returned to the River of Life."

A seven month detour, that's all this breast cancer thing was. 7 months exactly, start to finish. There's the celebration with my boys--my two heroes from start to finish: Dr. Amer Karam and Chris Kern. (We're thinking Dr. Karam is growing out his hair for cancer too! It's a little strange to be the only girl at the table and yet the one with the shortest far.)

Yep, yesterday, July 23rd, was the final check-up visit at UCLA. I was able to schedule it so that Chris and I could leave in the morning, head to Mission Wine shop in Pasadena for some wine he needed for Forgotten Grapes, grab a quick lunch, get a mammogram at 1pm, see the radiologist immediately after that (no, seriously, immediately after the mammogram before I even changed back into my clothes, the radiologist was giving me the "no signs of cancer" report!!), see Dr. Glaspy (the oncologist) at 2pm, and then Dr. Karam at 3pm. We were at the Wine House (buying more wine for Forgotten Grapes...and um, me....and some fantastic cheeses!) by 4:30 and Bar Pinxto in Santa Monica by 5:30. An astounding feat in Los Angeles and with medical appointments in general. UCLA continues to impress.

The highlights--

The Mammogram: I've never quite had such a cattle call for a mammogram. They took five of us back at once. Which was great except there was only 3 changing rooms. We took turns, and when I came out I noticed I was the only one who had put my gown on open to the back. I was in the back of the group and had not heard the instructions that these gowns open to the front (and yes, that makes total sense for a mammogram--but wouldn't it make sense for the radiation too? And to the back). One of the ladies explained my mistake to me and I said "I had to wear hospital gowns everyday for 33 days. I guess old habits die hard." Then I went back in the dressing room and flipped my gown around. When I came back out everyone had that squinty "oh, I'm so sorry you have CANCER" look on their faces. And somebody got up to give me her chair. I laughed. I also explained that I had cancer but today was just a check-up to confirm that it's allllllllll gone.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous about whether the mammogram would hurt--the girls, particularly the right one, have been through a lot! I was concerned that squishing her in those plates would be particularly painful. It wasn't. Phew. When I was finished with the exam they had me sit in a separate waiting area to talk to the radiologist (right away. Did I mention that? Right. Away.) There was another woman waiting and we got to talking. She asked about my treatment and I explained "Lumpectomy, chemo, radiation, today is a check-up, but I'm sure I'm all good." She asked a few questions. Among them a very timid "were you just sick the whole time?" I said what I always say (and mean) "I was never nauseous and all in all it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Not even the hair loss, although I'm ready for it to return." She said she thought I looked great. She was also very kind when I came back out after talking to the radiologist and did a little clap when I told her it was all good.

Hours later, after Chris and I had been to Dr. Glaspy and Dr. Karam, we went downstairs to the Revlon Breast Cancer Center (I wanted to see if they have a resource center so I could steal ideas for the one we're working on!). I ran into the same woman again, sitting waiting for an appointment. This is 2 hours after her mammogram. I'm pretty sure she was there because her mammogram was abnormal. For once, I was happy about the things that came out of my mouth. I hope my response to having been through the whole experience was somewhat comforting to her.

Oncology: We saw Dr. Glaspy and I returned to his care "officially." Goodbye bitchy Rancho Cucamonga doctor with way too many patients and not nearly enough patience. Dr. Glaspy, you may recall, was the first oncologist I saw and recommended highly by Dr. Karam. He was the "river boat gambler" (the link will take you back to the post if you'd like a refresher) analogy guy and also the first one to tell me "100% guaranteed loss of hair." And not remarkably friendly. But this time? This time he was super friendly, super kind and full of super good news--which was basically that there were no signs of the cancer, I'd successfully completed all the treatment there was for me (since my former now-dismissed cancer was triple negative there are no medicines or hormones that they can also throw at it "just in case") and he doesn't recommend doing any additional scans because they can do more harm than good. He is the one who said "you are returned to the River of Life." No restrictions. He also said I am highly unlikely to die of breast cancer. It's pretty likely I'll die, but not of breast cancer. And that was pretty cool to hear. He even asked me about my law practice and how things were in general, so I'm thinking he looked at my chart! (You don't think I'm bitter about the Rancho Cucamonga oncologist do you?).

The Surgeon: Saving the best for last, we saw Dr. Karam at 3pm (and yes, Chris goes to all of the appointments with me and sits through all of the exams; that's why he's my hero). My scar is healing nicely, and those little "cigarette burn" looking things from the radiation stickers are almost gone as well. Dr. Karam did notice a little radiation burn that I hadn't really noticed before, but it's not painful. And that was it.

Voila. I am no longer a cancer patient!! My follow-up is just that I get a check-up with Dr. Glaspy every 3 months for a year, then every 6 months for another two years afer that, and then once a year until I hit that magic 5 year mark. My type of (former) cancer has a much higher rate of recurrence in the first 3 years, so that's why the schedule is what it is. I also get mammograms every 6 months for a few years (probably 3). That sounds highly do-able to me. Oh, and, I'm already 6 months into my five years. They start counting from the time there is no cancer detected in the patient's body. For me, that was actually after the surgery on January 28th. (Yeah, that chemo and radiation stuff were just precautionary.) 6 months down, 54 to go!

Dr. Karam I will be seeing more of. But that's because he's agreed to help with our Inland Agency Breast Cancer Resource Center!! And yes, he does know how far the drive is (he's done it twice so far). He's just that nice of a guy.

So much to celebrate! You'll excuse me while I go continue the celebration, right? (I did mention we bought some fabulous cheese and wine....)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Keep on Bloggin'

This post is not about the Survivor party, but I'll throw in a few random party people photos just to keep your attention. That's me with my pink-shirt BFF STACEY ALDSTADT (who made 14 tons of ice cream--including my all time favorite peach!!--for the party). I do have enough hair now that I run around without any head covering of any sort, but as I mentioned it was 106 degrees out so a hat was in order. And if you're going to wear a hat, you may as well wear a HAT!

Thanks for the voting on when the blog should die a natural death. Seems most of you said "when there is nothing left to say about cancer." Which is very nice of you. Then it occurred to me, finally, you aren't exactly a captive audience anyway (and probably some of you didn't vote on when it should end because I didn't give the "three weeks ago" option). You can stop reading whenever you like and I could keep blogging even if I was only talking to myself. So perhaps there isn't such a thing as a natural death of a blog. Or there is but it might be a different time for you than it is for me. Or something crazy and meta like that. But here's the thing--I'm not quite ready to stop. I've still got check-ups and all that sort of ongoing business and while I ramble through these postings, it sometimes actually helps me process all that goes on. So there. (photo on the right is me, Teresa 2 --also a breast cancer survivor!, BARB ABEL, and of course, the good and great and tattooed DR. AMER KARAM; still paying attention?)

But then today, a really valid reason to keep going presented itself! I met with the lovely ladies from Inland Agency's Women's Health Initiative (BECKY FOREMAN, JODEE PALMER and ROSA OLAIZ). Besides being able to give them $330 from the Survivor t-shirt sales at the party, I was able to learn about their plans for the much-needed, long-awaited Breast Cancer Resource Center in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. They have a physical location and hope to soon run a center that provides information, support, books, publications, wigs, scarves, prosthesis, lymphedema sleeves, education and outreach and basically allllllllllllll the stuff a woman may need when first diagnosed with breast cancer and throughout treatment. Fantastic!! I can't over emphasize how much this is needed here. I marvel at what UCLA has in this regard, but I also realize not everyone can drive to UCLA. There's a great resource center called Michelle's Place in Temecula (about 30 miles south of here) that does great work, but we need another center in our vast two county area.

(photo is Jayden Pierce rockin' the pirate look in a feeble attempt to hide the fact that I'm kickin' his Pampered butt in the hair growing contest!!)

So, I'm going to help (of course I am!). And you are too (of course you are!!). I offered to help put together an advisory committee to focus on exactly what a breast cancer patient needs throughout treatment and beyond (you know, besides a blog!) and then of course where we can get those things. I'll be calling on my local friends who've "been there done that" either themselves or in support of a loved one. [But hey, you know who you are, save me a call and just email me that you'd love to be involved (not a lifetime commitment here; just a few meetings and I promise good wine)].

For those of you who aren't local or can't be involved at the committee level, email me or leave a comment with your thoughts on what would make for a great resource center. What did you want to know? What things did you need? What resource did you find that was particularly helpful to you? What works? What doesn't work? Speak up! I want to hear from you. I'll give you an example--I had a heck of a time organizing all the paperwork and keeping track of everything I needed to know, test results, phone numbers, doctors information, prescriptions, and all that crap. About halfway through treatment my new friend and fellow survivor URSULA VUCCI-GIGLIA sent me a fantastic Breast Cancer 101 "Basics for the Diagnosed" organizer! Super useful. And it would have been even more useful had I known about it from the beginning (she sent it in response to my complaints on the blog!). Little things like that make a difference. So give me your ideas and experiences and help make this resource center happen (a lot of women will thank you later; I'll thank you now!).
(photo is COURTNEY KERN, SUSAN SANTOS, and KATI KERN--Chris's sisters and aunt; in the background is RINA GONZALES...but I don't know the boys she's with; I'm guessing they were there celebrating Michelle's birthday!)

I'll likely have much to blog about in this new endeavor. I'm also the honorary chair of the 2010 Shop to Stop Breast Cancer which raises funds for the Resource Center and breast health programs (including mammograms for the uninsured and underinsured). We'll have so much to chat about.

The Dog Lived. I lived. The Blog Lives!!!

(photo is KRIS DEGREZIA and NANCY MCELHANNON)(Hot folks having a hot time!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Party People

We survived the Survivor party. You haven't seen postings in a bit because a) um, there was a party going on and it needed my full attention, b) I posted the Quinn Cummings interview and folks seemed quite interested in reading that so I left that as the "lead story" for a couple o' days, and c) I had house guests and limited energy!

But here, in no particular order, are some of the Survivor party highlights:

1) it was 106 degrees and people were melting. I was astounded at the number of people who showed up nonetheless, and many even came out from the air conditioned house to enjoy Michelle's spectacular yard. In the first photo is STACEY ALDSTADT, LAUREEN PITTMAN and RORYANN CLEMENTS, aka part of the world's greatest party planning committee. They had been working for 2 days straight by the time this photo was taken. (Oh, and Rory refused to be considered "staff" so she didn't wear her "Survivor" t-shirt; she's all management, all the time).

2) The travelers (photo #2) were author LORI LACEFIELD (Denver, Co; buy her book The Seventh Survivor!!), MICHAEL WAKEFIELD (Portland, OR), and JANE GIDEON (who drove down from foggy, cool San Francisco and withered in the heat but never stopped smiling)

3)We managed to avoid it for 5 years, 1 month, 1 week and a few hours...but eventually, Chris's parents met my parents (or a sub-set of "parents" anyway--my father and his beautiful wife Nancy). There are no photos of this monumental occasion as Chris and I both stood rooted to the ground unable to move in fear that there would soon be a breach in the time/space continuum. There wasn't.

4) Many friends from my many years on this planet showed up and melted with me. Photo 4 is from left to right, my dad JIM MCELHANNON (please don't mention that his shirt is hot pink; I gave him the shirt for Father's Day and told him to wear it to the party. He's color blind. He may think he was in a very sophisticated navy blue.) TOM DEGREZIA (dine at Pizzaioli and buy all your wine from because they're good people and it's good food and wine!!), RICH GOLD and GARY BERG (Gary has been my friend for longer than BRIEN CLEMENTS--the awesome chef of Omakase--has been alive; but we tried not to discuss that fact!)

5) Beautiful young girls who I've known since they were born showed up and smiled when all of us old people gasped at how much they'd grown (that's MIMI DEGREZIA and LOREN DEGREZIA--my goddaughter, god help her!)

6) Not to be outdone by the group that broke through the Orange County curtain to appear in Riverside, there was an L.A. contingent making a strong showing. In the left photo: DAVE and JUDY DEL BOURGO (buy his book Prague Spring now!!), the good and great DR. AMER KARAM (yes, he is old enough to be a surgeon and apparently pretty outrageously tattooed; I'm still wondering how all the ladies at the party knew this!); and EILEEN AUSTEN (a fellow breast cancer survivor!). The photo to the right-ish is ASHLEY SMITH (who ran the LA marathon recently. Seriously!!) and COURTNEY KERN (Chris's sister, who nicely covers the Orange/ LA divide by being raised in the OC but living in LA currently).

7) And then there were my nieces, ELISHA on the left and NATASHA on the right, who were perfectly willing to accept pink cupcakes (with, ahem, Good 'n' Plenty centers that made them look suspiciously like the cold. Thanks, RORYANN CLEMENTS!!), but did wonder where the pinata was, thus making us realize we had overlooked one awesome Survivor party opportunity: The Boobie Pinata. But, really, haven't the girls been through enough?

(Special programming note:there was indeed a significant Riverside contingent; and yes, JACK CLARKE appeared and closed the party down again. Those photos will have to come later as others were acting as photographer and I am anxiously awaiting the results. As is Jack, I'm sure. Let's just say the "hair-off" was a close call, but there was a clear cut cleavage winner. Enough said.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Return to the Underwire Bra

I realize that my cancer is officially over, what with the last day of radiation and the whole (gigantic!!) Survivor party happening tomorrow, but indulge me one more time. This is perhaps slightly off-topic, but we all deserve a break from cancer, no? For those of you who are sticklers for themes, I offer you this: I can now return to wearing underwire bras (which were banned during radiation treatment). Quinn Cummings book is out and it's titled "Notes from the Underwire: Adventures from my Awkward and Lovely Life." If that's not enough for you theme-obssessed, in the book she has written about a time when she was 14 years old and her mother was undergoing chemotherapy. She goes wig shopping with her mother. There is no Wig Teen in her story, but the results were quite similar to my Hairy Scary Day.

I've just started reading the book and it's hilarious and well-written and supremely entertaining and interesting. Go, buy it. From your local independent bookstore if you are lucky enough to have one (Vroman's sells it online and they have autographed copies--which is what I got; yeah, call me a geek. Whatever). (And I got this far without saying it, but yes, that Quinn Cummings--the little girl from Goodbye Girl, all grown-up and intellectual and have I mentioned funny?). Unfortunately I missed her one public appearance and reading at Vroman's in Pasadena. Luckily for us all however, she is doing a "blog book tour" which is exactly what it sounds like and really pretty smart. Here, read for yourself (questions are mine; answers are hers....really).

1) Now that you've had a live reading book "tour" and your blog tour is well underway, which group of fans do you find to be better dressed?

Oh, the little people who live in my head. They might shout at me and disparage my grammar, but sartorially, they’re flawless.

2) In your book, you discuss dealing with your mother's cancer. Because this is a blog about dealing with breast cancer, I feel compelled to ask a cancer related question. So here goes--what advice would you give to family and friends of someone diagnosed with cancer (or any serious illness for that matter)? (I'm avoiding asking for advice to the person diagnosed--we get so much advice our heads spin and spit).

I think there’s no one answer. You offer the adult one kind of support when their partner is living with and fighting ovarian cancer. You offer the eleven year-old son of the melanoma patient another kind of support entirely. Truthfully, I’m not sure what I would have welcomed at fourteen. I was a prickly kid and I have a cellular horror of anything resembling pity. We’re going to be FINE, get off my BACK, just give me a butter knife and I’ll take the tumor out MYSELF. I can say this without feeling too pompous; you are the person giving support don’t get to decide what form that’s going to take. You might feel like having a good long cry with the family member. They might feel like talking about anything but the cancer. The family of a person fighting cancer gets one thing over which they have control and that’s how they’re going to deal or not deal with it.

3) How do you feel about questions (brilliant, ridiculous, incoherent or otherwise) with a lot of parentheticals (which may or may not be an attempt to avoid commas)?

Since a usual sentence for me would, if written, contain more subclauses than an insurance rider, I’m awed and fearful of people who don’t need my precious parentheses. I’ve actually learned to talk in parentheses.

4) Would you like to take this opportunity to clear up your prior statement that some unknown breed of dog called a Boykin something or other is your favorite breed of dog when actually you meant that "Beagle" (particularly diabolically cute beagles named Seamus that have survived cancer against all odds) is your favorite breed of dog, right after any dog that was rescued from a shelter and given a second chance?

And then there are Beagles and they are very good and brave and only bay when it’s totally necessary. To prove my love for the fair beagle, I will now offer a beagle story; the woman who runs the rescue group where I work has a beagle who comes to work. There he sits most days, overrun by cats; the elders ignore him, the teenagers try to pick fights with him and the kittens use him as a climbing toy. Throughout, his tail never stops thumping (Although it must be noted that he does enjoy sneaking a little kitty food when he can and has been known to sneak a cat-box treat if no appears to be looking). In short, he is the embodiment of the beagle’s good humor, adaptability and style.

5) What are you currently working on writing-wise (besides blog interview questions)?

This is it for right now, because it’s taking about two hours a day and it’s summer time and my daughter is very present and I really ought to parent her.

6) What book do you wish you had written and what book are you glad you didn't write?

I wish I had written “Don’t Get Too Comfortable,” by David Rackoff. I wish I had written “Play it as it Lays,” by Joan Didion. I wish I had written the “Pigs in Heaven” series by Barbara Kingsolver, because she wrote a boyfriend character for the lead I finished the book totally crushed on, and it would have been nice to keep him in my head for the years it took to write them. I won’t say which books I’m glad I didn’t write, because someone out there likes them.

7) Why was this your favorite blog tour stop to date and what could possibly top it?

Well, being able to clarify the terrible beagle misunderstanding brought a lot of peace to my soul.

See, that was worth the digression, wasn't it? Also worth your time is her blog:

(If you have a blog and would like to interview Quinn, you can also accomplish this amazing feat. You need only go to her blog to find out how. But you may not ask any dog questions that in anyway defeat the glory of the beagle.)

Seamus and I would both like to thank Quinn for stopping by the blog. And neighbors, he only bays for a reason. Got that??

Friday, July 17, 2009

Too Cool For School

It's Friday night.

My friends' Facebook status's are all about the fantastic food they are preparing for Sunday's Survivor party.

Chris is in the kitchen making BLT sandwiches.

My step-brother Michael flies in from Portland, OR tomorrow morning. My friend Lori arrives from Colorado later in the evening. Jane, Gary and Rich all arrive from the Bay area Sunday morning.

RSVPs to the party have topped 100 and friends are arriving from all over the place.

And this morning Seamus decided to dress himself (yes, he did this himself--by rolling around on top of a pile of laundry) in what shall hence forth be known as a "B*&#h Beater" tank top (Hey!! He's a dog!!! It makes total sense).

I'm a Survivor. And life is good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

That's Gonna Hurt

(Note: this is not for the squeamish--which, ironically, used to be me).

When I saw the doctor on Tuesday for my final exam, I was anxious to take the five "stickers" off my right breast. Cute as those butterflies were, my skin was itchy, and after wearing the stickers for 8 days, well...I just wanted them gone. I wanted all signs of this experience gone (the pretty and perfect surgical scar I can live with, like a badge of courage). So I started to peel off the sticker right there in the doctor's office. And she winced and stopped me. Yeah, the doctor winced. She explained that because the skin had been radiated (read: burned) when I peel the sticker, it may peel the top layer of skin. My thinking was if my breast was going to be bleeding, I wanted a doctor in the room, so I returned to my peeling ways. But she was really wincing and said "No! It's better if you just let them fall off. Get it wet, use lotion, whatever. But just wait." I joked with her saying that apparently she chose radiology because she can't handle the sight of blood. Now I'm thinking she was thinking that I chose law because I can't understand the most basic medical fact (like, say, the texture and weakness of burned skin).

Being perhaps a bit stubborn and way too anxious to be done with this all, I took off 4 of the 5 stickers that night. But the fifth one, the one in the most delicate location, didn't want to give. So I waited. I got it wet. I used lotion (believe me, the whole area needs moisturizing), I got it wet again. Then last night I was able to peel it off.

Perhaps now is a good time to stop and explain these "stickers." They look like kids stickers (the butterfly ones) or are just clear circular dots, not quite an inch wide I'd say. Their purpose was simply to cover the lines drawn on my body ( to line up the lasers) so they didn't wash off. But they're super strength surgical stickers--they stayed on my breast for 8 days without budging, even in the shower. Industrial strength. Okay, now, put one on a piece of, say, raw chicken with the skin on. Then barbecue the chicken. Now, gently, gently, peel off the sticker. Right. You got it. Skinless chicken....breasts!

Shockingly (no, that wasn't already the shocking part) it didn't actually hurt that much. I suppose it's like a sunburn when your skin peels--it sounds way grosser than it feels. But this morning when I got out of the hot shower and saw my right breast in the mirror, looks like it has 3 or 4 little cigarette burns around the scar! Perhaps I should have listened to the doctor.

But this also makes me smile a bit. It's a pretty big sign that I've come a long way. See, as I've mentioned, I'm usually a pretty big wimp when it comes to medical things. Me BC would have left those stickers on until age deflated my breasts and the stickers just floated away or crumbled into dust. There's no way I would have heard "skin peel" and gone anywhere near those stickers. In fact, I probably would have bought new extra padded bras just so nothing disturbed those stickers. Me Post-C? Hell now I'm standing around nearly bald, wearing just underwear, swirling a martini in my left hand and ripping off breast stickers with my right, shouting "what the hell does the doctor know anyway??"

I probably should work on correcting that pendulum swing a little bit, huh?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dreams of Normalcy, Pearls of Wisdom

So maybe my return to normal is going to take a little while. This was the first morning I was able to sleep in a bit and not have to go to radiation before work. Naturally that meant I tossed and turned all night and was pretty much wide awake at 6:30 in the morning. Still, I managed to have two cups of coffee while getting lost and wasting a lot of time on the internet (lots of interesting and crazy blogs out there, don't you think?).

I finally got moving, got showered, did my hair (I kid, I kid), and used the pretty new make-up that I bought yesterday on my little "spoil me" shopping spree. It looked great--and the eyelash primer and mascara made my lashes long enough to actually be seen. Nice. Until about 2 minutes later. When my eyes started burning. And squirting water. And burning. Did I mention burning? I had to wash my face and splash water into my eyes. Then after I dried my face, my eyes kept jetting water (or acid, I'm still not sure) so I dabbed at my eyes with a tissue. Turns out one of my freshly manicured finger nails snagged and broke somewhere along the line. You know that delicate thin skin under your eyes? Yeah, turns out it's easily snagged by a broken fingernail. And also very sensitive! I'm sure I looked worse today than I have probably throughout radiation. Particularly since my right eye continue to drain and smear the rest of my re-applied make-up (not the new stuff). Nice. I'm no longer Cancer Dork. I'm just Dork. (Note to Stila make-up: turns out "genuine crushed pearls" in eye shadow, while very pretty, is a really, really bad idea.)

On a brighter note though, Chris had a dream last night. He started to tell me about the dream but once he got to the part where I was in the dream, I had a dire need to know something extremely important (or so it seemed). In the dream, did I have blonde hair or was I bald? Or lesbian chic? The whole question fascinated me (Chris was less fascinated). I don't remember any of my own dreams through this so I don't yet know what I look like in dreams.

Apparently, in Chris's dreams, I still have long blonde hair. I think that's good. He doesn't see me any differently now, not even sub-consciously. That's got to be good right? I'm not Cancer Girl in his dreams! I'm not even Radiation girl! I wonder if I'm still a dork?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Graduation Day

Looks like I made it. Graduation day! And there was a final exam (where apparently I was so excited I forgot how one holds a pen):There was a diploma:There was a congratulatory handshake from the Dean/ Doctor (she's the one with the chin; I have no idea where my chin went in this photo; but yes, that's Dr. Hocko and she gets an A for this experience, as does her staff):
There was the returning of the gown:
The tossing of the cap into the air:

And finally there were flowers, courtesy of Barbara Ryan (aka "Gary's Mom"!) and dinner with the family (Chris...and then later Seamus).
With a Ph.D. in Kickin' Cancer's Ass, I think I'm marketable even in this economy.

It feels good. It feels really, really good to graduate.

Monday, July 13, 2009

This time tomorrow

This time tomorrow morning (call it 10ish as I type this) I will be all through with radiation treatments. Which means I will be all through with the big three cancer treatments--slash, poison and burn as Stephanie puts it on Bah! to Cancer. Yeah, I've got follow ups, and tests to be sure the cancer is all gone, and all that, but in my mind, I'm done with being a cancer patient. I'm a former cancer patient. Just like Seamus (you know, the Famous beagle).

I have to admit, I may have a little Stockholm syndrome. One starts to get in the habit of being a "patient." Plus I've met so many great people on this odyssey and have gotten quite use to the wonderfully kind, caring and fun folks who work at Vantage Oncology that I may--may--actually miss it. I have a follow up with them in a month, but that's different. So how weird is that? I may miss my treatment schedule! See what I mean--Stockholm syndrome!! Luckily, I'm returning to UCLA and Dr. Karam next week.

My post-treatment day tomorrow hit a snag. Laureen (something about a bounce house and forgetting that her age is actually different than her children's) went and twisted, tweaked and darn near broke her ankle such that she can't be walking around shopping, can't get a pedicure and basically can't be decadent with me (yeah, that's her ankle...or should I say "cankle"; and yeah, it's worse than my swollen chemo foot). So I opted to cancel our spa reservations (we'll do a raincheck in August, I think). I thought about just going into work and going about my day--after all I have the Survivor party bash on Sunday and that will be more than enough celebration. But then, I think tomorrow I'm going to be pretty excited when I actually finish. Just that moment when I get to say "I made it. I did it!"--it seems like I probably won't want to then just go to my office and draft an eighty page trust for someone. Instead, I'm still having breakfast with my blue gown BFF, and then I'm headed out to get more Survivor t-shirts. After that, I'm giving it one more shot shopping for a party outfit, followed by a manicure/ pedicure (and it's entirely possible STACEY ALDSTADT will be joining me). Then, I'm celebrating with the person who's been through it all with me and been the most fantastic support anyone could ever have in such a situation--Chris and I are going to dinner. There may be champagne. There will be toasts. And cheers. And general happiness.

Let the partying begin!! I'm ready for my life back.

(Yes, the picture is of Chris. And yeah, that's a Strawberry Shortcake hat he's wearing. Oh, you have to go to a Forgotten Grapes wine tasting event to know why. It's not just because it helps to keep that hair under control).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Sushi

You are in luck. This should be a short post. It's Sunday and I've had the perfect combination of productive and relaxing today. And now Brien and Roryann Clements are coming over with homemade sushi (theirs, not ours...and they're, you know, real chefs). I haven't actually had sushi since the ban went into effect (when chemo started), so I"m kind of excited about this. Thus, in keeping with the productive but relaxing theme I have going, I'm posting to the blog but keeping it somewhat short. After all, the photos sort of speak for themselves.

Breast Cancer As Seen Through the Hair:

January 24, 2009 (the night before surgery):
March 13, 2009 (Head shaved two weeks after first chemo):

Sometime in mid-May after last chemo, before hair started growing back: And finally, July 11, 2009: Making it's way back!!

A few things to note here--if you ask me, I look happier in the last photo then I do in the first three. And I am. That's because I'm all done with this cancer thing (you hear me you little bitch cancer? Done!). Also, the hair is definitely darker. Although, now that it's getting a little daylight exposure I can see that it might very well lighten up. Who cares? It's hair!!

Obviously you will also note the shirt! That is one of the shirts we had designed and made up for the Survivor party and are selling to benefit the new Breast Cancer Resource Center at the Inland Agency here in Riverside, California --and believe me, we need a resource center!! The shirts say "Out-Chemo, Out-Radiate, Out-Live." With the ubiquitous pink ribbon and "Survivor" emblazoned in the middle. There is also a turtle in the ribbon loop (turtle is a symbol for long life--and I happen to like turtles) and the palm trees along the bottom which will make you laugh, as it does me, if you remember this January posting: How Medicine Made me a Hot Babe. (You too can have a shirt--$15 each and available in men's or women's sizes (M to XXL), V-neck and crew neck, white or gray for the men, and white, hot pink or baby pink for the ladies; email me if you want one and you'll have to throw in a few bucks for shipping if I have to mail it to you. Hey, I have medical bills to pay for I can't be supporting the US Post Office too!).

Finally, I've mentioned before that there are cliques and "teams" in this breast cancer brawl and I seem to not ever get it right for the "pink" team, what with my whole refusal to cry, making jokes and continuing to go about my normal life (hence, my cancer Dork status). But occasionally I run into my people and it makes me happy when I do. So check out the blog of another woman who can laugh (and make you laugh) in the face of breast cancer. And given what her face has been through lately...that's saying a lot! (An example--she refers to surgery, chemo and radiation as "Slash, poison and burn" and yep, that about covers what we've been through!) We've been chatting and she also posted on her hair growth today. Meet my new blog friend Stephanie at Bah! to Cancer. (She's British...they talk like that.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Fading Super Powers

It's time for the story of my encounter with scarf kryptonite, especially since there seems to be a leak and it's spilling kryptonite everywhere. The day my scarf superpowers-- which previously had caused even the most hardened cynical strangers to reach out to (pathetically obvious) Cancer Girl with free banana cream pie and offers of assistance carrying things and smiles and door holding and all sorts of baffling kind behaviors-- failed me. And it failed me right here in my hometown at a place where I regularly go, where people know my name, where they serve my favorite and yet unpronounceable (and unspell-able) martini!! That's a picture of the scene of the crime. It happened at Ciao Bella. Which, apparently, means "Hello Beautiful Roryann and we can't even see your bald friend right next to you so we'll ignore her entire being" in Italian.

See, Roryann Clements (who, like Chris, is blessed with astoundingly beautiful, abundant hair) and I met for a secret lunch at Ciao Bella in order to plan a little surprise dinner for Chris's birthday (which turned out to be not a surprise at all, because he apparently reads my emails and Facebook page when I leave it up on my computer screen in my private office at work and he stops by unexpectedly and needs to use my computer... but that's an entirely different blog post). We (I'm back to Roryann and I; please try to keep up) were barely seated and had barely ordered our Prosecco when the server, who had walked up to our table from behind me, said "Rory your HAIR looks fabulous! I love your HAIR! That is the best HAIR anyone has ever had! Isn't having beautiful HAIR the best, most feminine, attractive thing in the world??" Or something along those lines. I may be paraphrasing. Naturally Roryannn did not thank her. She and I instead berated the server in stereo with "How can you say that in front of cancer girl and her glaringly bald head?? You insensitive whore!!" (Or something like that; I may be paraphrasing.). And much to our surprise the server left the table in tears and the next thing we knew another server came out and said "I guess I'm your server now. And Rory, your HAIR looks fantastic! I love all the curls and the HAIR color is amazing. And wow, Rory, look how long and luxurious your HAIR is!" We cranked up the stereo and played our favorite tune again.

That server too beat a hasty retreat from our table (but did leave the Prosecco and ice bucket behind). Not too much later the owner of the restaurant came out and said, "Teresa, I love your scarf. That is fantastic!" Which is why she's the owner. And why I was able to continue dining. That and the perfectly chilled bottle of Prosecco.

But the scarf's power is clearly fading. I also had a new client come in the other day and I had forgotten that the last time he was in I was still wearing the red wig. This time I was in a black pencil skirt, white shirt, black high heels, and a black and white and vividly floral head scarf...with dangly earrings. I could see the alarm on his face, so I explained ("Apparently I didn't tell you but I've been dealing with breast cancer this whole year so I lost my hair in chemo, and it's too hot now for wigs, so I've given them up. I'm fine now though, no worries. Have a seat. Can I get you some water? A fan? Prozac? Tequila shots?" I have it down now and can explain my situation in 10 seconds flat without making anybody uncomfortable; I haven't been able to eliminate the surrepitious glances to my breasts however.) And client says back to me "Oh, I just thought it was a costume or something." Wow. Costume. And as I looked at myself later, I had to admit I was an interesting cross between a waiter and a pirate gypsy. I think there's a job at a Vegas hotel somewhere with my name on it. But for the record, we don't normally wear costumes in my law office.

Given that the power of the scarves is fading, it was time to debut the new hair look. Because yes, I have hair. It's probably not quite at the lesbian-chic stage, but it does cover my head now. It's dark, baby fine and appears to be as straight as it ever was, but then it's not long enough to bend, let alone curl. After Chris's Forgotten Grapes wine tasting event at Omakase we went to the Mission Inn with friends JOHN and CARRIE SCHUTZ and John insisted on seeing my head. I think he was hoping I had less hair than he does, but alas, that was not true. But for the first time I was out in public without the scarf. Just me and my nearly lesbian-chic head (the photo is the bar we were in--the bald-ish heads usually seen there belong to old Republican guys). It's certainly a lot more comfortable, and John must have thought so too because he kept rubbing my head (it's kind of irresistible like that; I don't know why. Chris and I rub it all the time too. There's something very tactile about it.)

Today we were cleaning out our garage--because what else do you do on the first free weekend in forever when you finally have energy and time, never mind that it's 90+ degrees out! This did not seem to be an occasion for a scarf or make-up, so I didn't wear either one. None of my neighbors appeared to be frightened. In my next post I'll share the hair look with you too--and I'll be modeling the newly available "Survivor" t-shirt. Because it's almost party time! Ooooh, and Laureen and I booked our shopping/spa day for last-day-of-cancer-treatment Tuesday!! The scarf may be losing its power, but that's okay. I think I'm ready to move on.

(No servers were actually harmed in this story or in real life. All was in good fun. And Ciao Bella is a lovely place to dine. Awesome happy hour also. )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Blue Gowns and BFFs

I'm winding up the radiation treatments. Tuesday was the last of the full radiation and today started the "boob boosts." Chris came with me on Tuesday, since this would be the last chance for him to see the full radiation in action. Thus, we have photos! That's me with my Blue Gown BFF Ms. 9:15 (okay, her name is Melanie). You see how she rocks the cute hats while I stick with the scarves, and there's another semi-regular who has a perfect wig (there's really no way to tell she's wearing a wig it looks so natural) so we cover the spectrum of chemo fashion. And this gives you an idea of the initial part of my radiation mornings--we change into our blue gowns (oh and either the light blue or the dark blue is supposed to be the "large" gown--neither one of us can remember or actually tell which is the large size).

Next up I get called into the room where "The (giant moody) Machine" is. Meet The Machine--that's her on the right. Menacing looking isn't she? Well, she's fighting off cancer, so you'd expect her to be menacing looking.
And speaking of fighting off cancer, here's me assuming the position with the assistance of the world's best radiation therapists (Shirley on the left, Jana on the right):
Normally at this stage my blue gown would be off down to my waist, but that's not really appropriate for a blog. Once I'm positioned like this, they (and Chris in this case) scurry off behind the thick metal door, which I also insisted Chris photograph (that's it on the right, the door swings shut toward Shirley during the radiating of me). I just find this 1,000 lb door kind of amazing.

I described the actual radiation process before (if you've forgotten, just click here: "Radiation Explained" and it will take you there) so I won't go into that again. I'll just point out that today was the first "boost" radiation. Look back up at the photo of the machine. See the extension coming out of the middle of it (kind of looks like a brace) that isn't in the photo where I'm laying on the table? That's for directing the boost to the tumor bed--you know the one that is circled and butterfly stickered at "right breast 10 o'clock." The boost is pretty quick. I was about 10 minutes late this morning and still made it in, out, thru Starbucks and to my office by 9:30. The final four are all that's left. Should be breeze.

I now also have a plan mostly in place for celebrating the end of treatment on (please, please, please, fingers crossed dear machine) on July 14th. First, my Blue Gown BFF and I are going out to breakfast. She'll still have her 5 boosts left to do, but hey, it's worth celebrating how far we've both come. Then LAUREEN PITTMAN and I are taking off for a girl's day--shopping (can I find a dress that doesn't make me look like a pudgy, bald, retired linebacker? Unknown), lunch, shopping and then it's the Brea Glen Ivy day spa for manicures, pedicures and massages. Maybe even facials. Whatever we can get appointments for and fit in in the time we have. Then it's home to celebrate with Chris. And the next morning? I'm sleeping in! No radiation appointment for me!! So close I can almost taste it.

I did think I had a month off before I had more doctors appointments, but that didn't quite work out. I couldn't get appointments with both Dr. Glaspy and Dr. Karam on the same day that was also a day that works for me until late August. Dr. Glaspy's office didn't think I should wait that long. And Dr. Karam is leaving on vacation at the end of, July 23rd it is. I get a whole 8 days off before I have another doctor's appointment. Truth be told, I don't know what's in store for me at those appointments. Do I get a mammogram? Do I get an MRI? I don't know. Maybe they just see me and we schedule those things for later. I just know it's not surgery, it's not chemo and it's not daily radiation. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

When you're voting in the poll over to the right, well...things have changed a little... the August 14th appointment is now July 23rd. But, there may be a mammogram or an MRI in August, I don't really know. So basically that August date will stand for "after the last doctor's appointment before we get to the regular check-up appointments." Makes total sense, right? Good. Now go vote.

[Special Programming note: tomorrow night is Chris's Forgotten Grapes wine tasting event at Omakase and it's sold out!! Hence there may not be a post tomorrow night, but you know what's great about don't really worry about me anymore when I don't post. You see how I'm improving over time? When I return to posting, I will show you the Survivor shirts that have been made and the party planning committee hard at work--because practice partying is hard work.]

Monday, July 6, 2009

Butterflies and Blogs

Twice today the image of butterflies came up. So it seems the butterfly is the image of the day.

First, this morning I returned to radiation after my 3-day hiatus from "The Machine." This is kind of a big week for me--it's my last full week of treatment and after Tuesday I will be down to just the five "boob boosts" which are the quick, targeted radiation to just the incision spot. And do you know how those darling radiation therapists wanted to celebrate with me? Yeah, they wanted to draw on my boob. Like I'm some sort of third grad art project! That's just weird, dontcha think? It's not weird to them. They claim it's required. And get this--I can't wash it off!! So, with the doctor's consent and involvement, they've now marked me with indelible ink circling the target area (Sharpie does not do this justice--and believe me, if it wouldn't get my blog shut down and fined by the morality police, I would be showing you a photo of this). Then, I'm pretty sure just to mock me, they put five little stickers on me--and two of them are butterflies. Oh, and I can't wash these off until radiation is over--8 days from now. Okay, I'm sure these butterflies serve a medical purpose but right now, they are two little creatures clinging to my abused breast and smiling up at me through a permanent felt-tip marker circle. You can't imagine how weird this looks. Hundreds of years from now scientist are going to be describing the weird pagan rituals our culture put breast cancer patients through and 12 year-old medical students who jet-packed to the hospitals will be laughing at this. Probably while looking at a photo of my breast that someone found on a fossil known as a blog on a laptop (which will seem gigantic and slow to them). Who knew that cancer treatment involved felt tip markers and butterfly stickers??? Raise your hand if you knew this!! (Okay, put it down--you're alone at your computer and you're a radiation therapist, Jana!!)

Because I was getting additional body art this morning, I was running late. I actually didn't get out of the radiation place until almost 10 and I had a 10a.m. meeting across town. I raced to it but still arrived late. I run enough meetings myself to know how annoying it is to have to start over or break stride for the tardy participant, so believe me, I was all ready with The Cancer excuse. None needed. They didn't even skip a beat. But the meeting was the beginning of the strategic planning sessions for the Riverside Humane Society Pet Adoption Center. And here's where butterflies came up again. No, not as pets, silly. There was an analogy drawn that our pet adoption center was just ready to come out of its cocoon and blossom into a butterfly (and it is! We have a gorgeous new facility where all the animals stay until a forever home is found for them, and no healthy animal is ever euthanized--which is the way it should be!! But I digress...). The analogy stuck for awhile. And there it was--butterflies right in front of me (okay, and um, lower...maybe lower than they should be) twice in just over an hour. Anybody know what a butterfly symbolizes? (And just a thought here, but if it's eternal damnation, death, or you know, disease, please don't share that information. Think about it, 'kay?)

Later in the day I found myself doing that thing that I'm not supposed to do---checking out other cancer blogs. I'm not even sure how I found myself down that particular rabbit hole, but it had something to do with when a cancer blog appropriately ends. And, um, duh...sometimes they end because the person has died. Why was I not thinking about that???? I wasn't. Because I don't go there. I don't think like that and I haven't been told I need to think like that, but nonetheless every once in awhile I get slapped upside the head with that reality. People die from cancer. I have cancer. Wow. So much for my cancer lite theory! And I realized that perhaps I'm being presumptuous (but let's just call it positive thinking) that my odyssey is coming to an end. Certainly there is the possibility of recurrence, and there are definitely follow up appointments and mammograms and ultrasounds and scans and all that sort of stuff that happens when one has been unceremoniously and rudely attacked by that bitch Cancer. Still, I think getting this far and the fact that there are no signs of the cancer at this point is worth celebrating.

Besides, my radiation therapists and I briefly discussed the power of positive thinking in these situations (they deal with lots of cancer patients of course). I didn't really get when people said that to me in the beginning of all this--how much attitude matters. I just figured there were two choices and I didn't like the other one, so a "good" attitude would have to do (and isn't it funny how a "bad" attitude--of the F**k Cancer variety--can be a good attitude? Discuss amongst yourselves.) I see now though that it's really true. I don't know what lies ahead of me any more or any less than you do, really. Sure, I've got this 15% recurrence statistic hanging over me, but I've also got an 85% chance it doesn't come back. And I do know what I can handle now (more than I thought), and I do know that I didn't allow cancer to rob me of these last seven months of enjoying life with my friends and family or any of the things that are important to me (and yeah, my career is important to me, that's why I kept working...oh, and I like to eat). And it could have done that if I had let it, if I had focused on all that could have gone wrong or all that still might. So I understand what they mean by having the right attitude. It doesn't change my chances, and it doesn't change the future, but I think it made the last seven months easier for me and the people around me.

Wow. That was almost melancholy. Or perky. And I hate both those things!! Note to self: stay away from cancer blogs!! (Oh, wait...that doesn't apply to you, dearest reader).

Tomorrow is my final "full" radiation. Chris is going to go in with me. He's been to every stage of this cancer odyssey with me every step of the way, but I've been going to radiation each morning by myself (it's on my way to work), so it's definitely time for him to come in and meet all these people I keep telling him about and experience the radiation part of this. So in all likelihood, there will be photos soon. Maybe even photos of The Machine! Definitely we'll get some blue gown photos. But I'm not sure if I'll be blogging tomorrow evening--we have the final party planning committee (where we practice partying to make sure it will go well on July 19th1), and my friend GARY BERG is in town, so that's always a party. Hmm...there could be lots of photos for the next blog.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Coming to the End

Seems this whole cancer thing may be coming to an end soon. Well, my whole cancer thing. At least we hope, right? I've still got 7 radiations to go, but it's been almost 7 months since I made my way into the doctor's office to have a thickening lump in my right breast checked out. There is a way in which it just seems like that time has flown by--and I'm amazed at everything I've been through. And in another way, it's almost hard to remember time when I wasn't dealing with The Cancer. Little things will happen that point out how much time has gone by and how Cancer really does suck away all your time (not to mention energy). For example, I was at Barnes & Noble on Friday and found out my Reader's Advantage card had expired. How can that be? I'm in bookstores all the time. Nope, it expired. In December. Right. I haven't been there since December. 7 months ago.

Chris and I were also talking about our upcoming trip to Chicago, which is a little bit business (I'm going to a conference and Chris has two Forgotten Grapes wine tasting events) but we're also swinging down to Springfield, Missouri to visit parts of my family for a couple of days and we'll have a day and a half or so in Chicago to play, so it's a little bit vacation too. Then I realized that while I've of course missed a few days of work here and there for The Cancer, other than the Monday we took off for our La Jolla weekend of decadence, we haven't been on vacation in over a year. Don't get me wrong, I realize lots of people don't go on vacation for a lot longer than that. It's just that we're not those people. Much like being in bookstores a lot, we also travel a lot. We get away as much as we can, whether it's weekends in San Diego or San Francisco or wine tasting in France, we kind of like to go. That's why we have a townhome and no real yard--our money goes elsewhere and we don't have a lot of "house" to take care of. Surgery, chemo and radiation have really put a damper on the travels. We canceled our trips to France of course, but also to Napa/ Sonoma and never did get to even finish up plans for a long weekend in Cambria and the Central Coast of California before The Cancer intervened. Wow. I miss traveling!

Another thing has got me thinking about the fact that this Cancer treatment drama is coming to an end and that's this blog. Some of you have even asked--what happens to the blog when the treatment ends? And fellow blogger Sara (Sara in Vermont--- check it out!) had early on mentioned to me that when the breast cancer "odyssey" ends, the blog will too. She learned this herself when she had a Sara Meets Australia blog that ended when....well, Sara was no longer in Australia (she's back in Vermont--you got that, right?). Treatment ends July 14th (The Machine willing) and the Survivor party is July 19th. Then I get an entire one-month break before I go for check-ups with Drs. Glaspy (oncologist) and Karam (surgeon; you could not have forgotten this!) on August 14th. I assume then I will learn what my follow-up care will be. At this point I understand it will be every 3 months. I'm hoping I get to talk to a nutritionist also. Even though me talking to a nutritionist my have the same effect as me walking into a church (cue the lightning), I think it would be a good thing to do. I believe this every 3 months thing goes on for a few years. And of course, I'm not considered out of the woods ("cured"?) for five years (although apparently with my kind of cancer--triple negative--there's a higher chance of recurrence but it peaks at three years). So what do we call the end of treatment and therefore the end of the blog?

I sort of like a different date as the "end" of the blog. December 15th, 2010. It's the day Chris and I hop on a plane for Maui. But it's also the 365th day since I walked into the doctor's office complaining of that dang-blasted (and doctor-excised) lump. Kind of a year in the life of a breast cancer patient. But then, what will I be posting for the next 5 months? (I realize that Chris's hair growth even when combined with my far less spectacular hair growth does not an exciting blog make.) I suppose I'll know more (and probably post less) once I have the follow up appointments. In the meantime, there is only one thing to do. I must take it to the readers!!

Yep, there is a new poll over there to the right. Vote now. Vote often (I'm kidding; you can only vote once...per computer).What makes sense as the end of this blog? You will note this blog has a much shorter polling period--that's because one of the options is to end the blog with my final treatment. There are some other choices, but it does seem the blog must end. Sorry, but I'm not willing to have a recurrence of cancer just to keep blogging. Besides, Chris and Rachel and I have been talking about getting our Words & Wine blog going (wine, writing, books, France...stuff like that; or drunk ramblings, it's a TBD thing right now), so there is always that to turn my attention to.
P.S. The picture at the top is from one of our trips to France (we're in the Rhone Valley). Sometimes I like to reminisce about our travels...and having hair longer than Chris's.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cancer Lite

I missed two days of blogging and the great thing is (besides the break you got from me) that I missed two days because I was just going about my normal non-cancer-person life and pretty much forgot. More and more I am able to forget I am a cancer patient. Sure, I still check in with the radiation folks (more on that in a bit) and get my intimate time with The Machine (which is not nearly as sexy as that might sound!), but my energy is back, I'm not in any pain, I'm busy at work and it's summer--my favorite time of the year. Plus this week was all about Chris (his birthday Monday night) and Forgotten Grapes (practice wine tasting event Wednesday night).

I've noticed lately that I have this feeling that I've had "fake" cancer, or cancer lite. When I talk with other patients or hear other stories, I frequently feel like everybody had it worse than I did. I mean sure, chemo is a bitch (wait, let's use a capital letter there--chemo is a Bitch) and I'm only a few days away from 7 months of treatment, but it could have been worse and many people I've talked to have had it worse (funny thing about cancer--you meet a lot of other people with cancer!). Sort of puts things in perspective for me--so I apologize for any complaining I did (I hope it was at least mildly amusing). I wondered too if maybe this is why I didn't have any major epiphanies--my cancer experience really wasn't one that brought me to my knees (figuratively of course; it does continue to make me walk funny on my numb foot, and I've fallen up the stairs more than once and I'm sure it will happen again, but that's entirely different).

But then, after work today I went shopping. I thought I'd buy a nice new outfit for my Survivor party. Although I've been trying to watch the budget (yeah, thanks, Cancer!) it seemed like a Survivor party was grounds for a new outfit in anyone's book. Plus I still had a $50 gift card from Christmas (right, yeah, again, I've been busy...). Oh boy. Bad, bad idea. As every woman knows, the dressing room in any department store anywhere, no matter how nice the store is otherwise, is always, without fail, the singular space in which you look your most horrific. They're always like funhouse mirrors guaranteed to add 15 pounds of pure cellulite, turn your skin green, spotlight that your bra and underwear don't match and are looking shabby, and instantly shrink any clothes brought in that are supposed to be in your size down to some size that you haven't see since high school, no matter what the tag says. Okay, so now have that experience when your right breast is glowing red, you're mostly bald, and you actually have gained a few pounds (not just the funhouse mirror ones). Do I need to tell you no dress was purchased? Lots and lots of cute dresses, but from what I saw I needed to find the mumu section and mumu isn't really what I had in mind for my return to civilization. I may have to force an epiphany. I'm fat. I need to not be fat. Hmmmm. Motivation anyone? I realized I even did the "not happy with my weight" shoppping. I bought shoes. Women with weight issues buy shoes and purses and get nice manicures and pedicures and avoid trying on clothing. (So guess where you'll find me next? I'm sure my nails will look great at the party). Maybe there isn't any such thing as Cancer Lite after all.

In brighter news (pun intended), my right breast is apparently not really as red as it could be (unless you are looking at it in a dressing room mirror, and honestly there's so much more to be horrified by in that experience you'd wouldn't notice the breast if it was flashing neon red lights). According to my radiation therapist--and have I mentioned how wonderful, kind and professional they are? And that they have great taste in shoes? (they read the blog now, so I have to be a giant suck-up since they control a giant radiation machine pointing lasers at me!! But really, they are pretty darn wonderful)--I am handling the radiation really well. The doctor said so too. So even though my skin has begun to itch, it's not really looking too bad. And in super exciting news, I only have 2 more full radiation sessions and then the last 5 are the "boosts" that target the incision area (I like to think of this as a boob boost; really, who wouldn't want to think of it that way?). That means the area that has been most affected (a section on my chest where I stupidly got sunburned a few weeks back) only has to tolerate two more sessions. Over before we know it.

In the meantime though, I got to sleep in this morning (no radiation) and I've got two more days off to enjoy. July 4th is my favorite's always so much better than that holiday formerly knows as Christmas and now known as Jimmy Buffett's birthday. We'll be sitting on our back patio with friends enjoying hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, potato salad, watermelon...all the usuals, and Chris's famous Blue Radley lemonade and blueberry vodka drink, while watching the fireworks across the skyline (we can see at least 3 different shows from our backyard without traffic or the noise of the fireworks--which works well for Seamus and Harold).

Happy 4th of July everyone!