Tag Archives: chemotherapy

Protected: Trivia that isn’t so trivial . . .

6 Aug

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Easter has become my Thanksgiving . . .

31 Mar

Last weekend I was invited to attend a blogging summit. The summit brought together cancer survivors (some 15 or more years out, some just a year out and some still in treatment). All of us blog or have blogged about our experience. We were also joined by medical practitioners (of many types: oncologists, radiology oncologists, naturopathic MDs, nutritionists, lymphedema specialists, nurses and and more) as well as care providers (who also blog) and other writers, journalists. I will write more about the blogging summit in a future post.

For now I want to simply say that being able to meet the amazing cancer survivors (some of whom I had only known online, in the virtual world, and some I had never met – virtual or otherwise) in person was truly incredible. I felt like I was meeting soul mates. There was just an immediate understanding of all things amongst us. That is the best way I can describe it.

There is a loneliness that cancer can visit upon you; does visit upon you I think (at least it did for me). I felt it most prominently four years ago – when all I wanted to do was to escape my body, run from it since it was, after all, seemingly trying to destroy me. It was a very strange sensation – one of being removed from seemingly everyone – despite the conscious and amazing presence that so many individuals in my life made to be there for me. I still felt so isolated. I was the one that could die from it and I was the one that had chemo coursing through my veins . . . you get my drift.

When cancer hits you are truly alone – at least with your cancer and your body. No one else has exactly the same thing, no one else will react exactly the same way (to treatment, to fatigue, to the pain, to the fear, to it . . . to cancer). No one can really tell you when you are in the throes of it whether you will make it or whether you will survive. And all around you there are both stories of survival and life as well as that of loss and death. And none of it makes any sense.

So back to the blogging summit. CTCA (Cancer Treatment Centers of America) hosted their second “blogger’s summit” in Arizona. I was fortunate enough to be invited . . . wow was I fortunate.

I met so many wonderful and amazing individuals at the blogger’s summit. To say that there is a kinship amongst those of us who are “survivors” and writers does not really quite capture it; not the depth of it anyway. It is something indescribable and quite frankly took me a bit by surprise. And, it is beginning to fill a void that I have felt for some time.  That sense of being removed from those around you; that loneliness . . . some of it that still lingers is melting away . . . a little. Meeting these wonderful people, with whom we have shared experience (that we wish we did not share) has helped me to feel less alone; less fearful.

The moment I became a cancer patient I became different. I was on the outside, removed somehow from everyone else . . . lonely.

At the summit we spoke about many things, there were presenters and questions etc. But, what was absolutely the most meaningful was the time with others who have been through, or cared for someone who has been through cancer (because they understand). We joked about cancer – not something everyone is comfortable doing. And we shared our stories, some of our fears and we talked about a future without cancer and survivorship. This was a room full of activists – women and men who want to spare others from having to either go through this disease or to at least spare them from having to go through it perhaps the way we did. And of course, we don’t want to go through it again ourselves.

I am so grateful for the time with these amazing individuals. And I look forward to these new friendships.

I am four years out from my diagnosis. I began treatment the week of Easter.

As someone who was raised Catholic, Easter has always had some meaning for me. But it is all the more meaningful for me now. Four years ago it was my first Easter with my youngest nephew . . . just a little baby then (who has now grown up into an exceptionally bright, talkative, engaging and delightful four and a half your old boy). That first Easter with him was very surreal.

A week into chemo, still a full head of hair (that was due to fall out) and the ever present thoughts of whether I would be there for his next Easter . . . all of that was surreal. I remember drinking up every moment with him and with my family that day. No one competed with me to hold him . . . the newest baby in our family. No one took him from my lap. No one. And although it was never said – we all knew why: it might be the last time I got to hold that baby.

I actively pushed away thoughts of whether he would he ever know his Auntie. But, I know it was a very present and real theme of that day, for all of us . . . for all of us except for the baby 🙂

Now he is four and a half. He knows his Auntie.

He pushes away pictures of me where I am bald and says “no, no, no”. . . he knows it is me in those bald photos. But somehow he knows that it was sick Auntie or at least not the Auntie he wants to see. And, in spite of the fact that some of those bald pictures with him are my absolute favorite, I kind of like that he now pushes those photos away . . .

These are a few of my very favorite pictures I possess:

April 2009, my nephew’s first Easter, a few days after my first round of chemo and a few weeks before I would be bald.

More of the same day . . . the only family member who could truly freely enjoy the day . . . what a gift he was and is . . .

July 2009, was still going through chemo. This is one of my favorite pictures . . . but, my nephew doesn’t like it 🙂 So I keep it to myself 🙂

So on Easter of 2009 I wasn’t sure if I would make it to Easter of 2010. Easter 2010 came, and I decorated Easter eggs for my nephew’s first Easter egg hunt. I was still in treatment then, very tired and still not sure I would make it to another Easter. But, again, my nephew, aware of none of these things, was an incredible source of joy and energy for me. Here he is delighting in his very first Easter Egg Hunt . . . that I was very grateful to be around for . . .

Happy Easter! My nephew Garrett, sheer delight!

Easter 2010 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Sunday and to those who are celebrating Easter, Happy Easter. I hope for many more Easters for all of of us.

Much love and peace,

Lisa

Cancer’s Grip . . .

17 Dec

I want to preface this post with this: I am grateful everyday that I am still here.

English: A busy day on Third Street Promenade ...

My oncologist's office is near here . . . Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I always stop here at a favorite lunch spot . . . try to turn oncology appointments into a fun outing . . . 🙂

And now . . . something I don’t like to talk about . . . that fact that I experience pain everyday. Ever since chemo and radiation and all of the surgeries it has become what is normal. So now, it is just simply a matter of degree . . . it is either a bad day or a not so bad day or one of those days where you are so distracted by something beautiful or wonderful or fun that you forget your pain. That is what “post cancer” is like for me. At least right now. I have great hopes that I will be better with each passing day, week, month. And really, so much suggests that will happen. But, it is progress that feels very slow. I don’t know if I will be pain free one day, but, I hope that is possible.

But, until then, there are many things that help.

Laughter makes me forget the pain. It is truly good medicine.

Breakfast with a good friend makes me forget (thank you for that today, my friend).

Playing music and singing makes me fo

rget.

But, tonight I am worried. Tonight I am experiencing another type of pain from cancer: it is called FEAR.

A few weeks back a family member had a cancer “scare”. It was skin cancer, but, thank God, not the “bad” kind. And so a little surgery, a little reconstruction and a few weeks later he is all healed up and no one would be the wiser.

But, now this week, another person very dear to me was diagnosed with skin cancer. We don’t know yet whether it is the “good” kind or the “bad” kind. And, so we wait.

And just today I found out that someone else very dear to me, is waiting on test results for what might be cancer or might (hopefully) be something else.

I fear cancer more now than I ever did. I know what chemo is like, what radiation is like, what being made sick in the hopes of one day being made well, is like. And I know what life is like after cancer. And so when I think of someone very dear to me having to possibly go through that . . . I can not bear it. I am not saying that I wouldn’t be worried about it if I had not been through treatment myself. But, knowing what cancer can visit on a person makes it a whole different worry . . . to actually think that someone I care about might have to endure all of that is painful, frightening.

And, then there is my own fear for my own self. The fear I feel guilty for having . . . the fear of a recurrence. It is something that comes and goes . . . some days it is on my mind and some days it is not. I feel guilty for having that fear because I know so many people who have had a recurrence, who have terminal cancer, who will never end their treatment because treatment is what keeps them alive.

So my fears seem pretty petty when I look at it from that lens. But, these are real fears to me and yes, I feel guilty for feeling that way . . . almost like I feel sorry for myself. I hate that. I don’t like feeling sorry for myself. But, fearing a recurrence seems somehow akin to self pity, feeling sorry for myself, feeling like a victim . . . and that, to me, feels wrong. And, it definitely feels like a waste of time. But, sometimes it is just there, that fear, and there is little that I can do on those days to get rid of it.

Monday I see my oncologist because there is something on my right breast that does not seem normal. Some red spots. Maybe it is a rash. There is also a new pain in my right breast. Which, if you think about it, seems really odd since I don’t have breasts any more so why would I feel pain inside, where my breasts used to be . . . both were removed and replaced with implants . . . and as far as I know, implants don’t feel pain. So I don’t get it, don’t understand why I would have pain there where there is nothing that belongs to my body in that place. But, it hurts. And there are some red spots. Hence Monday’s appointment. (Oh, and just as an explanation for those of you reading this who have had breast reconstructive surgeries . . . I am used to the pain at the scar sites, but, this is different. Maybe this new pain is even normal. Who knows).

Maybe it is just a rash and maybe the pain is from something I did physically different this past week. I don’t know. But, my oncologist, who is going out of town for ten days, wants to see me before she leaves. She told me to either come in today or on Monday. I am angry and I am afraid. On the one hand, I am grateful that she is so accommodating and that she is able to see me before she goes on vacation.

On the other hand, I am alarmed that it can’t wait ten days. Or, why can’t it wait until my next scheduled appointment in February? Nope. I see her Monday.

A friend of mine has offered to drive me to Santa Monica on Monday (my oncologist is in Santa Monica). At the time she offered to drive me, I almost turned her down as it really didn’t seem necessary. But, now, as Monday looms and I have had a chance for my oncologist’s apparent urgency to see me to sink in, I believe that by Monday I may very well be a basket case. So, I am taking her up on her offer of a ride. And, we will make it fun. Santa Monica is a nice place to visit. We have a few favorite spots to eat, to window shop etc. There are some good distractions at the Third Street Promenade.

A rash. What a bunch of nonsense this whole cancer fiasco is . . . that some pain and a rash cause such a degree of alarm. God, I hope it is a rash.

That is what I hate the most about cancer . . . the fact that what might just be a rash stirs up all of THIS. A rash. Pray that is a rash, will you?

And pray that my friends waiting for results both get good news too.

Damn, fucking cancer. Fucking cancer.

I know, not the best language. But, sometimes that is the only word that works.

Thank you for your prayers and positive vibes.

Love and peace,

Lisa

Birthdays . . .

30 Nov

Yesterday was my birthday. I had lots of things swirling through my head yesterday. Birthdays are kind of weird for me now. Mostly I am just grateful to have had yet another birthday and extremely grateful to have one that is cancerfree.

This same time in 2008 I was sick, but, didn’t know it yet. Well, that isn’t quite true. I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know that it was cancer. I was tired all of the time. My body ached. I had intense night sweats. I was told by my doctor that these symptoms probably meant that I was going into early menopause. It never occurred to me or to my doctor that it was in fact breast cancer. But, a few months later I would have a mammogram come back with something suspicious and then everything suddenly made sense – I instantly knew why I was so incredibly tired all of the time.

Marahon shoes

Fast forward through a couple of years (wish I could have . . . ha, ha, ha) of cancer treatment and multiple surgeries (months of chemo, followed by a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by multiple hospitalizations for post-surgery infections, 6 weeks of radiation, a year of Herceptin infusions, months of daily nurse visits to administer IV antibiotics for the post surgery infections, two reconstructive surgeries – still one more of those to go – lots of trips to the ER and probably a few other things I can’t remember) and here I am . . . on the other side of it all. Or so it seems.

So, this is a birthday that I did not know if I would have. Of course we never know what tomorrow will bring. But, having clawed away through most of that first year post diagnosis to be here, it is really quite something to still be here.

Last year on my birthday I was recovering from surgery. The preceding birthday I was going through radiation treatment (had finished chemo and made it through the first surgery a few months earlier) but, still had two more surgeries and half a year of Herceptin infusions ahead. When I look back on the last two birthdays it is amazing to me that I am as well now as I am.

I don’t know how many more I will have, no one knows how many birthdays they will have. But, it is really something to be here in this way today. Last year was tough, the year before was kind of almost not really bearable. In fact, I remember wondering if I would have another Thanksgiving, another Christmas . . . you get my drift.

Since being diagnosed in 2009 I have met and become friends with many cancer patients. I have lost friends to the same disease that I have, at least for now, somehow managed to survive. It doesn’t make any sense. And, I am well aware of the fact that it could come back any day and simply strike me down. That is cancer: it comes, and it it always goes . . . it is just a matter of whether it takes you with it or not (and I mean that both literally and figuratively).

Last February I stood and watched a friend of mine cross the finish line of a half marathon. I remember how difficult it was for me (not even one year ago today) to simply stand there for 20 minutes waiting to see my friend cross the finish line. I was still so tired and weak. I remember hanging onto a chain link fence for support and wondering if I would make it through (kind of the way cancer treatment and recovery is like . . . hanging on and wondering if you will make it through). I promised myself last year that I would be crossing that same finish line myself some day.

So tomorrow I am buying a new pair of running shoes (compliments of my parents – their birthday present to me). I have ten weeks to get myself, and my new shoes, ready for a half marathon. I fully expect to walk a significant part (if not all) of this “run” but, I don’t care. I just want to get through the 13.1 miles and cross that finish line. Wish me luck 🙂

I am very thankful for this birthday. And, I am so incredibly thankful for my family and friends – without whom I would surely not be here in the way that I am.

Love and peace,

Lisa

 

Thank you for visiting cancerland. We hope you enjoyed your stay.

18 Nov
Cover of "One Fish, Two Fish (Dr.Seuss Cl...

One Breast, Two Breast, Red Breast, New Breast . . .

I haven’t written in a while. I keep starting a blog post, even get quite a distance into it, but, then I stop, save it as a draft and put my laptop away. When I return to it the next day I am no longer “there” anymore and so I start over, writing about something else. I have nearly posted something on a number of topics in the past couple of weeks. But, I just can’t seem to put myself behind it long enough to get it done.

Lately, I either write because I feel particularly down, displaced by this cancer nonsense, and use writing as a vehicle to somehow transport me back to a better spot or I write because I want to share something really good.

I think the past several weeks I have had so many highs and lows and have so quickly felt tossed back and forth from one extreme to another that I can’t wrap my head around either place long enough to write about it. Friends are calling and emailing to see how I am doing: “You haven’t written in a while . . . are you okay?” etc.

I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I am happy. I am sad. I am grateful. I am angry. I am joyful. I am mad.

I am quick. I am strong. I am slow. I am weak. I am exhausted. I am invigorated. I am bereft. I NEED sleep.

Maybe I can turn the above into a Dr. Seuss book for cancer patients.

In a tree. In a boat. On a train . . .

I know . . . I could call it: One Breast, Two Breast, Red Breast, New Breast (you know, the Dr. Seuss book: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish). That would have to be the breast cancer-mastectomy-radiation-reconstruction version of the book. Or I could do a new version of “Oh the places you”ll go” . . . and call it: “Oh The Places You Will Never Want to Go”?

I am fierce . . . the hot-pink-now-faded t-shirt I wore to nearly every infusion for over a year.

I am 20 months into this cancer roller coaster and still I am not off the ride. It isn’t like there is a graduation day. No Pomp and Circumstance marks the end of my war. I don’t get a diploma that says “cured”. There isn’t a sign that says “Now Departing Cancerland”.

Instead, there are the daily reminders of both what I have been through and what I look forward to, what I have lost and what I have gained. Every time I get dressed and look to see if a scar shows through or whether a top still fits or does it need to be tossed. And, the difficulty even getting some clothes on and off because my arms don’t go all the way up over my head anymore (the radiated side is not cooperating at all – one of the things they don’t tell you is that when you go through radiation your pectoral muscle can shrink which can leave you with a frozen shoulder . . . back to physical therapy at $100 a week . . . )

I marvel at how far I have come, but, I am sobered by how far I still have to go. It is a very strange and surreal journey. And it is not over. I guess that is the most difficult part right now – navigating through this time – from cancerland to the rest of my life. I feel pain on a daily basis, but, it is better to keep moving than to lay in bed. I definitely feel like I have my wits about me again . . . chemo-brain be damned (my brain really does seem to function again . . . the way it used to . . . what a huge relief). And, I have been able to work out a few times at the level I would have before all of this began (I put in a pretty intense hour and a half at the gym just a few days ago). I AM making my way there . . . where ever there is . . .

I just wish there was a map.

Re-post of a favorite post . . .

19 Sep

One of the benefits of blogging I did not expect was that it would put distance between me and the cancer. It is still in the room . . . reconstructive surgeries and scans ahead of me . . . make it hard to not think about it.  But, looking back, reading old posts, for me really reminds me of how far I have come and how so many have helped me to where I am today. So, thank you all, my family and my friends . . . for rallying behind me, around me, praying for me, cooking for me, driving me to and from and just being there, here, for me.

Here is the re-post of an old post (originally from February 14, 2010 – one year after my ride began):

Last year, on Friday the 13th no less, I received a phone call, instead of a letter, from my doctor’s office about my last mammogram results. When I had the mammogram, my doctor told me that I would either get a letter in a couple of weeks or, if anything showed up, then they would call me. He conducted a physical exam first, told me he didn’t feel anything abnormal in either of my breasts (and neither did I, by the way) and that most likely I would hear in a couple of weeks by mail – meaning nothing to worry about.

Instead, I got a phone call late in the day on Friday, February 13th. I was feverishly grading exams that had to be returned to my students by our final class to be held that Sunday. So, since I didn’t recognize the number, I let it go to voice mail and kept grading.

I checked my voice mail the next day, it was a vague message (naturally), but, I had a pretty good idea of what it meant. The doctor’s assistant actually gave me her cell phone to call her back. So, the next day, on Valentine’s day, I called her. We played phone tag until she finally reached me back (I was on the phone with my brother Steve at the time, telling him that I didn’t get the letter, that instead I got a phone call and that I was worried and so on and then she called). I spoke with her and she told me that the mammogram showed a mass and that I had to have a biopsy.

As much as I hoped that it would be one of those things that turned out benign, I knew that it wouldn’t. I just felt it, I can’t explain it really. I just knew it.

So, I went back to work, finished grading my exams, taught the last class of the course the next day and then on Monday scheduled my biopsy.  They wanted me to do it as soon as possible and so to speed things up, I was told I could pick up the mammogram films and deliver them to the facility where I would have the biopsy.

I of course did this. I remember walking down a long, cold corridor, looking for the room to pick up my films. I remember signing for them. I remember the woman at the counter sealing up the oversize envelope that contained the pictures of my breasts and telling me I was not supposed to look inside, that the information was for the doctor.

I remember walking back through that cold corridor and feeling the weight of the films growing heavier and heavier in my hand, and, as I left the building and walked through the parking lot to my car . . . heavier and heavier still.

I of course opened up the envelope as soon as I got back to my car. I didn’t look at the films, I didn’t want to touch them, as if in doing so, somehow it might spread. I know that sounds weird, but really, I was terrified to even touch or look at the films. But, I did look at the one white piece of paper and I read the typed letters: ” . . . biopsy ordered to confirm malignancy . . . “

I put the paper back in the envelope, sealed it up and drove it to the facility where I would come back a few days later for a biopsy.

I never shared those words with anyone then. Why should I have? What for? No doctor was going to tell me that it couldn’t be benign. No radiologist, no person, no one was going to take away the hope that I would carry for the next weeks that the biopsy would show that the mass was just a benign cyst. And so I went about my business, albeit in a little bit of a fog, but truly hoping for some miracle. For some OTHER explanation than cancer for why I had been so tired the past many months, nearly a year now – for why I just didn’t seem to rebound the way I used to after a long day or week of work.

I promised myself, whatever the outcome, that next year’s Valentine’s Day would be a better one. And I know it will be. I did not get the news that I wanted last year. But, I have learned a lot about life in the past 12 months. I have learned a lot about myself, about regrets, about not having regrets in the future, and about how to live. I have learned how wonderful and beautiful people can be, how near strangers can become some of your most steadfast supporters and cheerleaders and I have gained so much strength from all of you, my family and friends and . . . I am here.

I watched a movie a couple of days ago called “Crazy, Sexy Cancer” (got it from the library). It was supposed to be an upbeat film/documentary about a woman who was diagnosed with cancer. It was, I enjoyed it. But, here is how it started: “Happy Valentine’s Day, you have cancer.” Apparently that was the day that the woman, whom the documentary was about, found out she had cancer.

My Mom and I were watching it together and I turned to her and said THAT was the day, last year, last Valentine’s Day, when I knew I had cancer. Bizarre. Anyway, it’s been a year now. And, assuming all is going well, I am nearly done with treatment (at least all of the IV type of treatment). There are still some medications to take or at least one to take – but, that is to be worked out still. I will have a bunch of tests in May to see where I am at and will have tests forever I guess (since I plan on being around a very long time).

Well, another ramble during another sleepless night – but the night isn’t quite over yet, so maybe I will go get some sleep now :)

Please continue to keep me in your prayers and send positive thoughts my way, I still very much need it. And, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Much love,

L.

This is me off of herceptin . . .

11 May

Hello all,

I was going through some pictures and realizing that I really did look sick a while back . . . which means that by comparison, I really don’t look sick (at least I don’t think I do) now.

So, I thought I would share a few then and now pictures . . .

THEN:

Herceptin Treatment (unlike the 8 hour chemo/herceptin days, the herceptin-only treatments took just a couple of hours, still, I do not miss these days).

In between treatments, waiting to see my oncologist. This was about 8 months into treatment, post surgery and radiation. These were the days when I couldn't even stay awake in a waiting room. I was so tired and weak back then, phew.

NOW:

This is me with my friend Amber at my first baseball game in over a year. (Go Angels!) Now off of herceptin . . . and sporting an actual haircut, sort of . . .