Saturday, November 19, 2011 link

Ok, it's up!  The new link is and click on "blog."  I have an introductory piece up, as per request of the people, describing who I am and what I plan to write about.

I would like the other articles to be less about me, and address the breast cancer experience in general.  But in writing my second article, I realize that it is very dry for a non-expert like myself to write an informative article but omit all the personal connections to the subject.  So even though I need to write about my own experience to personalize the articles, I know that it is  not about me.  I'm not going through treatments anymore.  I am hoping that women or men with breast cancer may be able to identify with the articles and find them helpful.  Or if not helpful, then at least interesting.

Please check it out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Soon to appear on!

I am going to be writing a blog for publication on the website!  It's a big honor, especially since that website is an important information source for millions of women, and men too.  The site itself contains a lot of useful information and the discussion forum is a great place to connect with women or men who are going through a breast cancer diagnosis, or who are survivors.  Publication on that site of course depends on whether I can focus myself to construct readable essays of relevant topics.  If you have any suggestions, send them my way.  I will post here to let you know the link when I have my blog up on that website.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The "radiation is done" Triathlon in Lake George, NY

66 degrees water temperature.  That's the only thing I kept thinking as I set up my bike and run shoes and equipment at the transition area of the Lake George triathlon.  I did not bring a wetsuit.  I do not own a wetsuit.  Used to have one but I sold it on ebay in frustration after enduring friction burns to my neck during a swim event years ago.  The lack of a wetsuit would not have bothered me if I had not heard that announcement: "The water temperature is 66 degrees. Bundle up."  Almost every other other competitor - there were about 400 - schmooshed their bodies into tight neoprene wetsuits.  I had bike/triathlon shorts and a sleeveless triathlon top plus a thin rashguard for whatever extra warmth it would give, and a whole lot of early-morning-in-the-Adirondacks goosebumps.

A woman with a pink breast cancer ribbon tattooed on her left arm was putting her legs into a wetsuit.  She was flat chested, definitely post-mastectomy.  I thought about how to approach her, immediately feeling drawn to talk to her.  I didn't want her to think I noticed her chest, so I pointed to her tattoo. Turns out she finished treatment two years ago and was doing her first triathlon since treatment.  She was nervous and excited.  I told her I finished treatment on Thursday, suddenly feeling very green and fresh off the boat in terms of the whole "survivor" mentality. 

The swim went off in waves.  I was in the 40+ women wave - the middle aged and older women leaving the shore last, after everyone else.  Fine with me, as getting kicked and punched and having people swim over me in the water is always nerve-wracking.  You realize that drowning after a swift kick to the head is a distinct possibility.  With that thought in mind, I heard the announcer call the neon green swim caps to the beach.  That's me.

The water didn't feel as cold as I expected.  No ice cubes or glaciers floating by.  It felt almost balmy.  I saw the turn around buoy half mile out in the lake and it didn't seem too intimidating.  It was a 1-mile swim and the water looked pleasantly choppy but no major waves.

"On your mark, get set" then foghorn, and I jumped in.  Kick, punch, elbow to my waist - man, these middle aged women are vicious!  Finally we spread out in the water as the faster swimmers took off into the horizon. I got into a rhythm and focused on my form.  The water was clear enough to see feet ahead of me and just follow them.  The swim was fun and pleasant.

Next events were a 25 mile bike and a 10K run.   Biking is my strongest event and, since we started in the last swim wave, I was already in back of the pack and had fun passing and passing and passing people.  Parts of the bike course went on a paved bike trail, winding through scenic woods and wetlands. The last five miles followed the serene west shore of Lake George.  It went fast and I felt my legs fatiguing from the sustained effort as we hit the 25-mile mark.

I jumped off the bike, got my running shoes on with my dorky pink ribbon laces, and headed out to the two-loop run.  As I left transition and turned up the first hill I heard "mommy! mommy!"  My two girls and husband were sitting on a rock watching the race and shouting.  They probably had been waiting a very long time for me to pass, considering we all woke up at 5:30 and the race started at 7:00 and it was already 9:00.  Do the math, and it amounts to a long time for a 7- and 8-year old to be waiting. Maybe some day they can race and I can cheer.  Or we can race together.  I thought all these thoughts as I ran to them, high-fived them all and then continued on the run.

In triathlons you always get your number magic-markered onto your arm since you can't wear the number in the swim, and also in this race your age was magic markered onto the back of the calf.  Presumably this stirs competition; you know who to compete with for an age group prize.  Most women I saw in the run were in their 20s and 30, according to their calves, but there was an occasional woman with a "46" or "48" on her calf.  My legs felt heavy and I did my best to waddle over and pass if I could.  But all in all, I was mainly competing with myself, not expecting any great times, and enjoying the challenge.

I finally finished in 2:50.  Emily and Sami came over and gave me a bouquet of wild flowers that they picked.  So sweet.  Through some miracle of science, I came in 2nd in my age group (out of only about 25 women, but we'll keep that quiet..)  We stuck around to wait for the prize, which turned out to be a pint glass.

I saw a woman with a baseball cap in Maryland a few weeks back with the simple yet meaningful words: "Fuck Cancer." That's exactly how I felt yesterday.  Fuck cancer.  Cancer did not kill me and did not slow me down.  I know of women who are chronically fatigued, and have joint pains or neurological issues from chemotherapy -- and my heart goes out to them.  Women with metastatic breast cancer who have a long road ahead of them in terms of years of treatments and surgeries. 

So I am humbled to be able to finish treatments  for stage II cancer with decent health and virtually unscathed - apart  from some pretty gruesome scars and a few missing body parts.  As for me, I think I can safely say that cancer is in my past; it's no longer part of my present.   I am ready to move on and not have to focus any more energy at this point on getting through treatments.    It has taken a  back seat in this middle-aged lady's life

(Stay tuned for word about an upcoming fundraiser.  Not that you're dying to part with your hard-earned cash, but there are a lot of breast-cancer oriented organizations and research institutions that are worthy causes.  More to follow.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Last and final update

It ain't over till it's over.  The fat lady hasn't sung yet. Bread is still baking in the oven. Now I'm out of cliches.  Suffice it to say that you thought I was done and I thought I was done, and my husband sensed that I was done, but the reality is that I'm not done.  After a weekend of fun in the sun, lake swimming, trail running while the kids are away on their Disney cruise with grandma, plus a lot of skin healing, I realized the trapezoid sunburn pain is not really that painful, and cancer regrowth would be a lot worse than a short term sunburn.

I have no  idea why I thought that the sunburn was worse than cancer.  Temporary insanity.

So the scales of good judgment are back in balance.  I returned this week to the zap machine at Sloan Kettering to finish the last five of twenty-five treatments.

So by September 1, we will be DONE with radiation.  Dare I say "Done?"  Could it be true?  I darn well hope so.  Just in time for race day.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Update on treatments

But last Thursday, I did it and quit.   I drove to Sloan Kettering, talked to the nurse, teared up, and told her I was afraid of more treatments.  She didn't talk me into it or out of it, and didn't really say much of anything, except to remind me that she had warned me that the skin would burn. Yet the fact that she warned me a month ago had nothing to do with how I felt last Thursday. So I followed my conviction, threw in the towel, and I left.  I know that I may have reduced my risk somewhat by the radiation but did not completely eliminate the risk.  I reasoned that I was in the "grey area" to begin with; one oncologist recommended radiation to reduce my risk of recurrence to the chest wall, and the other said there wasn't enough medical evidence that it was necessary for someone in my shoes. 

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Family reunion 2011

I love my family. We have a family of comedians. And comediennes. Cousins from up and down the east coast converged on Rocky Gap Resort and State Park in Maryland for a weekend of catching up on graduations, jobs, health, boyfriends, kids and everything else. Outdoor activities, food, exercise, and socializing were on the agenda.

Since the theme of this blog is surviving breast cancer, I need to point out that some of my relatives are breast cancer survivors.  Two aunts and a first cousin, to be exact, so it is a relatively known disease in this family of mine. Fortunately, no one that we know of in the present generations, which includes individuals from 6 months of age to 86 years of age, have died of the disease. My 86 year old aunt had it twice, once in each breast, in 1970 and 1975, before chemotherapy was used. She had mastectomies and radiation and no recurrence. No chemotherapy, no anti-estrogen pills, just radiation and a radical mastectomy.

Was her health care options as broad as those available today? Definitely not.  But external beam radiation, directed to a specific area of the body, was available.  And it was enough to get rid of the cancer, not cause any fatal radiation overdoses, and kept her alive and well for another 35 years and still going strong.  She may well still be running around at 100 at her rate. The radiation alone and the mastectomies, for her, prevented any recurrence. While I am sure 1970 and 1975 were not happy years for her, and probably left some battle scars, life was much more full and memorable and didn't stop in 1975 for her.

So thinking about my aunt, and her 85 year old sister, and my cousin, reminds me not to fear the radiation, but just to get through them by putting my nose on the grindstone.  (Is that the right cliche?  I'm not even sure what it means.  Hopefully you do).

I know there are radiation overdoses and long terms risks, but I am pretty certain that my facility crosses its t's and dots its i's in terms of checking the equipment every morning, making sure that the dosage is accurate for each patient, and spending lots of time ensuring that patients like me are positioned in the same exact way for every treatment, with one arm up and laying my head and arm in the plaster mold made just for me.  At least that's what they tell me, and I have to believe them.

There are lots of holistic options, from oils to diet and herbs.  But it seems to me that we ought to take advantage of all modern medicine offered.  I know I want to make sure that my life is just as long and cancer free as my aunt's is.  Not only is she cancer-free for 35+ years, but she is fit and one of the sharpest tacks in the family gene pool. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Did Google send you here?

Google's blogspot website tracks the traffic to each particular blog. Not only does it indicate the number of "page views" per day, but it also tracks the popular key words that people used in a search engine, which led them to unwittingly stumble onto a blog. So I found myself, earlier today, reading the numbers. I was at first shocked to learn that more than a handful of people read this blog. Shocked. Though I'm not exactly sure if they read it, or just mistakenly clicked on it then ran away to the blogosphere.

But I was more shocked to learn that three people -- whoever they might be -- used the google search words "little girls breast" and then were led to one of my entries from April 2011. And that entry had nothing to do with those keywords, I might add. Nothing.

I was amused at the thought that such a disgusting, demented person may be in for a surprise to find that this website is about the breast cancer journey of one very conventional mother of two, and nothing more than that. What sicko searches for "little girls breast" on google? Don't you, dear person, have anything more important to do than succumb to perverted desires as you sit yourself in front of your monitor on a lonely Friday night?

Maybe my misleading the person to this website will be so aggravating to the pedophiliac researcher that he will just give up and log out. And my writing this little blog entry will save a child from having their image peered at for demented entertainment. That would be a good thing.

(By the way, I am amused at the thought that anyone who now searches for "little girls breast" will probably land on this website, judging from the frequency in which I used those words in this post alone.}

On the other hand, if the search was related to a medical condition or other legitimate question or concern, then I'm sorry I called you a name, and good luck with that.

I admit that I have done google searches to learn about medical conditions. In our house of hypochondriacs (and I speak only for myself here), there have been dozens of symptom searches. I have been known to search for "how to extract baby tooth that won't come out" and "do I have skin cancer or a hairy wart" and "what does green poo mean." Don't ask.

So I could be misreading the situation. Or misreading the stats that blogspot provides. Either way, I really hope that whoever is searching "little girls breast" is not finding what they are looking for. Unless they need to find it for medical reasons. Then it's okay.

For those of you who read the blog out of pure interest or concern, please come back to read more. I swear you are almost completely in good company.