Tag Archives: Oncology

The Cancer Tunnel . . .

31 Jan

I went to see the genetics counselor this week. I saw her the first time when I was going through treatment. My parents went with me then, three and a half years ago now. I was told to bring a family member with me . . . especially if I could bring my Mom or Dad or both . . . “to go over our family history” . . . a cancer genealogy of sorts.

I was bald. I was too thin. I was pale. I was facing a lot of unknowns and trying to be strong for my parents and trying to . . . act normal. But nothing was close to normal. We all pretended pretty well. Jeannie, the genetics counselor greeted us and took us back into a room – a makeshift, mini living room . . . where people come and go and attempt to act normal.

Genetic testing

Genetic testing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come on over and sit for a while and pretend this is all normal.

And yet, for so many, it is normal. It is what has had to become normal.

I remember being surprised by the almost evening time feel of that little room – no day light came through and there were no fluorescent, clinical type lights, but instead a small couch, a couple of chairs and a lamp  on a coffee table. It was this forced space inside the cancer center (just outside of this room are chemo beds, doctors and nurses and every clinical thing you could imagine . . . and lots of very sick people).

That day is largely a blur now – other than the odd juxtaposition of chemo beds, IV poles, cancer patients and medical staff with this little, dimly lit, almost cozy, forced space where we were gently guided by Jeannie through medical terminology and explanations of gene mapping. At the end of that session it was Jeannie’s recommendation (based upon my family history) that I have genetic testing. She knew it would be denied by my insurance company and attempted to prepare me for a fight . . . that it needed to be done and that she would help me through the appeal process (after the inevitable denial).

She had already helped so much – by educating me, my parents, but mostly by listening to my parents, answering their questions and being so gentle with them. My parents are brilliant people. Jeannie was everything they needed that day: smart, informative, calm, honest and gentle all at the same time. She was so kind to my parents and so understanding of their need for truth, but also for their need for hope.

10% was what I had been told . . . that I had a ten percent chance of being here today. Today. Wow. Incidentally, I did not share that statistic with my parents . . . or anyone at the time. However, it did and still does, affect how I live and think about my life.

This is me and my Dad – we are both cancer survivors 🙂 He is 83 years old.Me&DadSurvivors

As Jeannie predicted back then, my insurance company denied the request for genetic testing (to see if I carry the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene). She attempted to prepare me to fight my insurance company. But, I didn’t have it in me to do it. I decided to preserve all of my energy for other battles (which were seemingly constant back then).

So this week I arrived back at the cancer center, with the infamous “cancer tunnel” (yes, they call this very long walk way that takes you from one part of the facility to the cancer center “the cancer tunnel” . . . I still can’t believe that . . . but, I digress).

I met with Jeannie again this week – she was the same peaceful, calm and gentle being that she had been three and a half years ago when I was a complete emotional wreck . . . and when my parents were daily grieving (as was I) my illness and prognosis and all of the fear and anxiety that came along with that.

Jeannie remembered me and remembered my Mom and Dad. She explained how the testing is more extensive now and that my insurance company had already approved the testing – so it would be done that day.

No fight, no battle – it was approved. And now, you get more for the same blood draw (more extensive testing, that is). Yippee! (The blood draw took two nurses and three attempts – my body is done with treatment, done with needles, done cooperating . . . the nurses felt really bad for the number of pokes . . . but, I kind of thought it was funny – the fact that my veins were seemingly running away from them). Veins can be very visible and present and look like they are perfectly read to be tapped and then . . . they can run and hide. That is what happened . . . as if my body was saying get that thing away from me!

So, I had a little victory this week – as I was fully prepared to have to come up with the four grand to have the genetic testing done. It is important now because I may make decisions based upon the results (do I keep my ovaries for example . . . are they ticking time bombs . . . or can they stay) and there is the matter of Jujubee who is now 20 years old – does she need to worry about this breast cancer thing in the sense that it is truly in our genes? So, I need to know now and now I get to know without having to come up with thousands of dollars. Yay 🙂

I am on my way to Santa Monica today . . . seeing my oncologist . . . it is a somewhat routine appointment. Although it is two months early and it is on the anniversary of my first “suspicious” mammogram . . . the day cancer entered my life in the first real way . . . I knew it that day when the results were “suspicious” that all of my tiredness now had an explanation.

So, I am bringing my list of things that I both hope will not lead to scans or MRIs and hope will lead to further testing. Such a weird place to be – hoping and not hoping for the same thing. I have had pain that I shouldn’t have – that always causes worry for someone “post” cancer (as if there is such a thing, but, you know what I mean). So, I worry a bit.  But, I also have been working a lot and doing a lot and not swimming and not stretching and I did have that fall . . . so there are explanations for it all and we will just see what my oncologists thinks. I think she will say we should wait a few weeks and see if the pain continues and if it does continue, then she can order scans.

This is weird post, not at all really about what I want to be posting about. There is so much going on (and not going on) in cancerland that I want to write about. All of the fallout for Livestrong and the continued nonsense of Susan G. Komen (trust me, I will be back on that soon), survivorship, and Rachel. Rachel who died last year. Rachel who was amazing and who is missed by so many. I miss her. She was amazing, insightful, possessed a sharp and incisive and unmatched wit. She made things happen and to this day, her blog and her words continue to change the face of cancer. Here is a beautiful post dedicated to Rachel written by my friend Kathi, the author of the blog: The Accidental Amazon – check it out here: Accidental Amazon

Say some prayers for me and say some prayers for Rachel’s family and friends who are nearing the one year anniversary of her passing. She is so very missed. You can read more about Rachel here at The Cancer Culture Chronicles

 

Santa Monica . . .

19 Dec

Hello all,

I want to thank everyone for their support, kind words, messages, prayers, positive vibes and love.

I saw my oncologist today. It was a quick appointment. I had hoped that I could see the nurse so that I would get more of a physical exam done (the nurse does a more extensive physical exam and I was hoping she would do that and give me some reason to allay my fears a bit, as in, well, I don’t feel anything suspicious). But, I knew that my oncologist would order a breast MRI. It is the only way to tell if there is something going on there. So, my appointment pretty much went as expected.

Menopause Three

Seriously? "Menopause, the Musical"??? (Image by David Jackmanson via Flickr)

I was also chastised for not petitioning my insurance company’s denial of the genetic testing (to determine if I have the Braca gene or not). I will get on that tomorrow. It is so stupid that my insurance company denied it when both my oncologist and the genetic counselor requested it. There is no basis really for my insurance company to deny it. But, they did. Anyway, it is nothing new, battling with insurance companies. But, it is something I decided to take a break from doing (since at one time it was pretty much a full time job – back during chemo – it was a constant battle to get meds approved – the same meds each chemo round would get denied . . . as if I was no longer in need of the medication . . . very odd). I would love to some day make a change in that, I don’t know how someone who is elderly or sicker than I was copes with all of that during treatment. But, I digress.

I need to get off my butt and file the petition and make my insurance company do what they are getting paid handsomely to do.

The other concern my oncologist has is that I am still ovulating (or at least that is what she thinks given I still have pretty regular menstrual cycles despite all the chemo, despite taking Tamoxifen) . . . I know, aren’t you all thrilled to hear that?!! TMI, right?!!

The point is that I am still pre-menopausal, still producing estrogen (the hormone that the cancer I had loves) so that is a concern. Tamoxifen often causes menstrual cycles to stop (as does chemotherapy). When a woman goes into menopause from chemotherapy it is called “chemical menopause”. Some women never come out of that chemical menopause. I had that during chemo. But, as soon as I finished chemo, my ovaries kicked right back in. At the time I thought that was a good thing, thought it was a sign of my body being resilient. And now that I have been on Tamoxifen, but, am still having menstrual cycles well, it is not something my oncologist is very happy about I guess.

I am not really certain about that actually. Except that she keeps asking me “are your ovaries still kicking?” (which kind of bothers me a little bit, sort of, okay, maybe I am being ultra sensitive . . . I LOVE my oncologist, she is so great and I owe her so much, I really believe that I owe her my life. BUT, this whole, why-aren’t-I-in-menopause-yet thing is really getting kind of annoying.

Her concern is well placed . . . the more estrogen the worse my chances of a recurrence since the cancer I had was fueled by estrogen (and by HER2 gene expression – if I am even saying that right, don’t know that I am, so don’t hold me to it, I am too tired to look it up). Premenopausal women with estrogen responsive breast cancers do not get as much of a benefit from Tamoxifen (Tamoxifen is more successful in post-menopausal women as are the alternatives – aromatase inhibitors). Still, Tamoxifen is shown to help reduce the risk of recurrence in pre-menopausal women too, it just isn’t quite as effective.

Anyway, I am rambling. I’m thinking I should wrap this up.

Okay, so the upshot of my appointment was exactly what I expected: get an MRI. Hopefully it will show that everything is fine. The pain I am having can be due to surgeries and the redness can be from the radiation I had to that area (skin changes can occur for many years to the areas that have been radiated). Anyway, that is the latest.

It is unlikely that I will be able to get the MRI before the end of the year . . . which is just fine with me.

So, now it is back to planning Christmas dinner . . . going to repeat the Tapas Christmas dinner I did last year (although different dishes).

No turkey here . . . unless I decide to go for turkey empanadas . . .

I am so over cooking Turkeys, Hams or Crown Roasts . . . don’t think I will ever do that again. We had so much fun last year doing the Tapas dinner that we decided it should be a new Christmas family tradition. So there we are. I plan on thoroughly enjoying the holiday and putting all of this cancer crap out of my mind.

This morning I visited a friend of mine who had breast cancer surgery today. This is her second time through breast cancer and it will hopefully be her last. She is strong and beautiful and courageous and I am grateful to know her.

I don't know anyone who can rock a surgical hat like this woman 🙂

I will go see her tomorrow (her surgery was today). I am hoping and praying that the pathology report is good. Some women have what is called a “complete response” to Herceptin and chemo treatments prior to their surgery (meaning that when they get to surgery there is no more active cancer left). I am hoping and praying that she gets good news.

Please keep me and my friends (who are still waiting on results) and my friend who is currently having surgery for breast cancer in your prayers. This cancer stuff seems like an epidemic some times.

Well, all is well for now. I am sitting in a cafe in Santa Monica waiting for the traffic to improve before I make my way back home. I have to say the people watching here is great!

Third Street Promenade . . . one of the things I enjoy about my oncology appointments . . .

Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday, peace and health!

Love,

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

Dear Susan G. Komen . . .

27 Sep

Breast Cancer Action has written a letter to Susan G. Komen requesting that SGK agree not to “pinkwash” and to recall their “Promise Me” perfume. Here, they ask you to join them I did. I hope you will too.

Here is what all the stink is about.

Susan G. Komen launched their “Promise Me” perfume (which shares the same name as Nancy Brinker’s latest book . . . talk about branding) in the name of breast cancer. “Promise Me” perfume sells for $59.00 with less than two dollars of the sale price going to breast cancer research.

Not So Sweet Smelling After All

But, here is where it really gets smelly:

After conducting an independent laboratory study, it was determined that “this perfume contains chemicals that are a) categorized as toxic and hazardous, b) have not been adequately evaluated for human safety, and c) have demonstrated negative health effects. Source: Breast Cancer Action.

Here are the chemicals that are of most concern that are contained in Komen’s “Promise Me” perfume:

  • Galaxolide, a synthetic musk that works as a hormone disruptor and is detected in blood, breast milk, and even newborns.*
  • Toluene, a potent neurotoxicant known widely as one of the toxic trio, has demonstrated a variety of negative health effects and is banned by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).*

*Source: Breast Cancer Action

Breast Cancer Action coined the term “Pink Washing” to describe the pinkification of products that are actually known to increase the risk of breast cancer or are thought to be linked to an increase in breast cancer. Now it seems that Komen has produced their own pinkwashed product: their “Promise Me” perfume.

I have long thought that pink bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and other alcoholic beverages that go pink for a cure to be hypocritcal at best. Alcohol consumption is known to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. But, when ever I have complained about these pink bottles, many take issue with why I would care where the money comes from . . . after all, isn’t it just a good thing to raise money for breast cancer research?

But, do people know how few of their dollars spent on these pinked products actually go to research? Probably not. And, you would think that a product commissioned by Komen would actually serve up more money “for the cure” . . . but, out of the $59.00 purchase price for “Promise Me” less than two dollars goes to research. (For more on where the money DOESN’T go see Cancer Culture Chronicles: “Komen By The Numbers: 2010 And Still No Answers” and Uneasy Pink’s: “Quick Math” and for some more of my own snarkiness: “Pinktober Comes Early”

Breast cancer action is taking Komen on. They have asked Komen to join them in a promise not to engage in pinkwashing and to recall their “Promise Me” perfume.

“We are genuinely shocked to see a breast cancer organization marketing a product containing multiple chemicals categorized as toxic or hazardous” (Breast Cancer Action)

I hope you will join Breast Cancer Action, go to their link and you can use their letter, in asking SGK to do better, to honor their promise. It only takes a moment to do.

Here is my letter . . .

Dear SGK:

I am disgusted with what I believe began with the best of intentions and has now become a giant pink money maker. I am NOT alone in my feelings. There is a movement, a group of women who are educated, strong and angry. We know you hear our voices, but, you have yet to respond. We are waiting, we will not let up.

We feel as though you are profiting over breast cancer. We feel that you really are not racing, or even slowly walking, towards a cure. I went to your OC race this past weekend and I saw the same thing that I have been inundated with ever since my diagnosis – you sell this idea that you are raising money to “CURE” breast cancer and yet you preach early detection as the solution instead. You have even trademarked the words so that no one else can use it and then waste valuable time and resources to sue anyone who uses your “for the cure” language. This makes it seem like you are more concerned about protecting profit motives than actually racing after a cure.

The reality is that even with early detection, women (and men) DIE of breast cancer. You wrap up poster women – take credit for their survival – all in a pink bow and sell this idea that it will all be okay if we just get screened early. Early detection is NOT a cure. Wake up. We have and we are NOT going away.

Facebook is credited to helping Egyptians take to the streets and to revolt.

There is an online movement, a revolution of sorts. I am one of many who are spreading the word. We are all already aware of breast cancer. The NEW AWARENESS that we need is how little money goes to actual research. (I hear that only 19% of the $389 million dollars that Komen raised in 2010 went to research). 19% is NOT enough!

Stop pinkwashing. Promise me this: stop knowingly contributing to the proliferation of products that not only increase the risk of breast cancer, but, also increase the risk of all cancers. We know you can do better. I, personally, will not rest until you do.

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.

In need of sleep . . .

12 Oct

Today was rough. It was preceded by a rough night . . . I couldn’t sleep and for the first time in some time I thought about, worried about a cancer recurrence. I have had a headache for some time now and that is one of the things that my oncologist wants me to take note of . . . any new headaches, any prolonged headaches etc.

I don’t know why I am having headaches. It could be from stress, diet, lack of sleep . . . who knows. But, it is a bit worrisome. And, when I am alone and can’t sleep the worry creeps in and then sleep is pretty much impossible.

Last night was one of those nights. I didn’t feel well when this morning at all. And, I compounded that feeling by following through on my plan to go to a support group today. That was not a good experience for me today.

Today’s group was somehow very depressing to me. Maybe it was the woman who has had a recurrence of the same kind of cancer that I had. Maybe it was hearing the suggestion that the worst kind of breast cancer to get is HER2 positive breast cancer. I am sure that was not the intended point of the discussion. But, it is what I came away with.

One discussion today was about the different types of breast cancer – triple negative, HER2 positive, “regular” breast cancer . . . etc. I am not sure exactly what is meant by the “regular” kind of breast cancer. But, it is the kind that most women who get breast cancer get . . . so, non-aggressive.

About 70% of breast cancer is not aggressive. As I sat in group today I kept thinking are the survival rates simply reflective of the types of breast cancer? What I mean is that most women survive breast cancer . . . but, most women have a non-aggressive form of breast cancer. So, where does that leave me?

No once can say. My oncologist has told me I am cured. But, she has also said that there is a fifty-fifty chance of recurrence. So then what?

And I know I shouldn’t be thinking that way. But, as I have these aches and pains that I can not adequately explain away, I think about it. I worry about it.

The worry and attitude are always worst when I don’t feel well. I am tired. Very tired of so much pain. I had a great weekend. I went out, spent time with friends and got really tired doing all of that. But, I felt pretty good. Today, however, just wasn’t a good day.

Tomorrow I will see my surgeon. Hopefully it will go well. I am having some new pains that I will bring to his attention. I hope that he will take out the one remaining drain. That would be great and a real relief.

Well, I am super sleepy, hoping to get some sleep soon.

Love and peace,

Lisa

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.