Hope and Joy

red ink. . .

During the lead up to Christmas this year, I was especially grateful for two of the annual “markers” of the holiday season that my hubby and I are fortunate to enjoy together, year after year. Our dear friends in Chicago invite us to share a bit of adult time with them, complete with the best bands in town, dancing all night, great people and wonderful food.

With Barb’s pending surgery, along with the health challenges that my son has been facing recently (more on that in a later post), I was finding it kind of hard to get into the spirit this year, and didn’t even get motivated to shop for dresses until the week before these events, unlike my girl who shopped with abandon to find the just right dress for her holiday soiree with her hubby. Let me tell you, I usually need NO motivation to shop! I felt a mix of guilt and just plain sadness, but I got myself together thinking about my girl who styled her way through chemo and everything else and would absolutely chastise me for not doing my thing.

We had a great time the first night out except that, although I found an absolutely beautiful dress and wore it well, somebody else at the party had on my dress! I know some of you have had that experience. Now I absolutely can’t afford couture but still believe somehow that I should have on a unique creation. I whipped off a text to my girl sharing my humbling moment, and she shot back an LOL and wanted to know who would win the critics choice in a side by side comparison. (The other woman put on a shawl after seeing me, so I think I won. LOL) The fact that celebrities in magazines somehow manage to wear the same dress didn’t completely comfort me. Oh well!

Nevertheless, I got ready for event #2, praying that no one would have on my next dress! So my first present that night was that I was indeed dressed uniquely! And yes, my dress was red! 🙂

The most important present though came late in the evening. We were seated at a table with one of my dear friend’s godsister, who is a BC survivor. My friend shared with me earlier that her godsister had been through a lot with BC, but no details. As I watched her and her hubby (who had flown to town for the event) that night laughing, dancing, singing and sharing such joy together, I was filled with a hopefulness — about my dear friend and her next Christmas season — that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking her about her BC journey, but later that evening when we were seated together at the after-party, she volunteered information about what she’d been through to bring her to this point, and I took the opportunity to tell her about Barb and her upcoming surgery. As it turned out she’d had a similar surgery months before and shared a wealth of detailed information, including fashion tips (she too, was a chick with style), that I couldn’t wait to share with Barb the next day.

The most important thing that she shared though was the clear view of the other side – where there is laughter and hope and loving and fun! I will always remember walking to the elevator with our hubbies at 2 a.m., and laughing out loud at some silliness. This encounter was truly one of my greatest gifts this Christmas season, and brought such needed joy and most importantly, HOPE!

Alive

pink ink…

I’m baaaack…

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I lost my boobs! Big B has given me 20 minutes to check email and texts, or blog! No way I can begin to look at all those texts & emails, so here I am! Last night, my 1st night home, I was thinking about what I should share.

I could easily post about my “awesomely awesome” (as they say on “How I Met Your Mother”) husband & parents, and how they watched over me in the hospital, and made Christmas great for my baby even though I was wasn’t there. Big B cleaning my tubes could be a post in itself!

I could post about my girl, Soror, & Cancer Mentor Tracey, who might as well have been in the operating room with me! I mean, she beat us to the hospital for our 5:30am call, and stayed at the hospital with me every day, rubbed lotion on me, called my sis with updates, and “checked” a doctor when he wouldn’t listen to my request.

I may still post about my RADIO SILENCE! My complete lack of technology for a week! Y’all know Big B took my phone! Ironically, I did not miss it! I just didn’t have the mental capacity to manage it. Plus I couldn’t move my arms. It does take some energy to text. Who knew?

So I was at a bit of a loss…until I scanned a few of those texts. Most people were asking, “How was it?” “How does it feel”?
So in 15 minutes or less, (yes, he is watching), I will provide your next…MEDICAL MINUTE!

Now in the inevitable Guiliana Rancic E! NEWS special, it will show “G” headed to the hospital, scared, and crying as she heads into her double mastectomy. Bill, her hubby, will be seen pacing in the waiting room, assuring her parents that she will be ok. “G” coming out of surgery, groggy but eventually laughing. It may show her talking to her docs about what her tumors looked like, the size etc. Finally, it will show her at the Academy Awards with new boobs. (Update, she went back to work after 2 weeks! That is NOT normal recovery!!)

In the “Another BWats Production” special on BET (hello..Mr. Armstrong!), OWN, or Lifetime, it will be a bit different. It will be gritty.

SPOILER ALERT! If you are queasy, or don’t really want the truth, STOP READING. Here are some of the things the viewer will learn.

A Bilateral Mastectomy is real surgery! I was on the table for over 6 hours. I will start by saying my doctors were EXCELLENT. The nursing staff…SUPERB! My scars look GREAT. I will be back in a bikini by the summer! I have no bruising, very little swelling and I got to keep my nipples. My margins were negative, so no cancer anywhere else in the breasts. So the overall consensus was the surgery was an overwhelming success!

Now to the other stuff…

Where to begin? Ok, I got expanders, not implants yet. They are like little balloons under the skin. The doc adds solution to them over the course of time to grow/stretch your skin. I was too thin to put in implants and needed more skin to cover them. Also, implants can be affected by radiation. So my boobs are a little bigger than they were, but we will “grow” them over the next couple months, and then switch in implants. Again, b/c of my size, they had to manipulate my muscles to put in the expanders. That is the source of my greatest pain. Crippling muscle spasms! Also, hot flashes, that had sweat dripping between my breasts…that I couldn’t reach!

I cannot lift my arms above shoulder length. I can only lift a water bottle. ONE. Not 2, at the same time. Nothing heavier. I am wrapped tight and have to sleep sitting up. I won’t be able to drive for about 3 weeks.

I was in the hospital for 6 days. They expected 2 or 3. Why, you ask? The pain had to be controlled. That took a minute. My temp rose to 103.5. They couldn’t get it down for a day. My blood pressure rose to 175 over something. I usually hover at 118 over 80 something. I needed another blood transfusion. One of my lungs was starting to collapse, and a fear of pneumonia! So there were chest x-rays etc. I couldn’t get out of bed for the 1st 3 days. When I did, it took 3 people to help me, and I thought that gravity was ripping the expanders through my chest. I actually tried to “hold them in”! And finally, a vein collapsed. Busy week huh?

Did I mention the itching?? That is worth mentioning to any people who end up in the Cancer Lane. There is uncontrollable itching…that you cannot reach. It is due to all the medicine in the body. Totally dries it out. I tried to address it by moving my back up and down the bed as much as I could. Worse thing to do! Big B says I now look like I was in a fight with a cat. Turns out, the sheets scratched up my back. I wore compressions socks. They added to the itching. I know Tracey is now a sister for life b/c she rubbed me down in lotion, scratched me, and kept me in Vaseline as the skin on my lips started to peel off.

Is that enough detail? Ok, I will move on. All the above was made “better” by the presence of Tracey, Gina Bowser, the great staff, and of course my family who were there everyday wiping tears off my face, or just sitting watching me sleep.

Finally, I got to come home. It’s been 24 hrs. It is getting better and I am glad to be home. My new name is “Octo-girl”. You see, I have 8 arms now. My 2 real ones, and 6 tubes with drains, (my “new” arms) that hang from my body. These will stay in for a few weeks. Imagine all that, while I shower…sitting down…not able to lift my arms. I still have to sleep sitting up so my lungs get enough air. I still itch. I am taking 6 or 7 (Zophran, again) types of medicine. My schedule is:
7:30 AM
9:30
10:30
1:30 PM
3:30
4:30
7:30
9:30
10:30
1:30 AM
3:30
4:30
Then we start over. No longer than 3 hours of sleep at a time.

While I love “G”, I guarantee that type of detail won’t be in her special. But it will be in mine, because that is my Life in the Cancer Lane. But like G’s, my special will end on a positive note. We will both enter 2012 with no tumors! People who love and support us will surround us both. We both will have the scars to show for our journey. We will both be helping someone by sharing our stories.

Best of all, we will be both be…ALIVE!

Radio Silent

red ink . . .

Have you ever been rendered speechless? Anyone who knows this particular lawyer chick knows that really doesn’t happen very often! But there are those times when my words simply seem inadequate. Occasionally, I have this dream where I open my mouth, usually trying desperately to say something, and nothing comes out. In the dream, I feel like I’m watching something happen and I can’t do anything to stop it or to help. That’s exactly how I felt when my lil’ sis told me, after weeks of progressively good news, that the cancer was back, bigger, and that she had to have surgery just before Christmas, likely spending the holiday in the hospital. It felt like a punch in the stomach. For friends and family on this journey, when your breath is taken away by a development, you can only imagine how your loved one is feeling and you are left sometimes, for short periods, without words.

Thank God, she had a successful surgery and is home recovering now, and my belated Christmas gift was a break in the radio silence and a chance to talk to her and to hear her sounding like herself. Minutes into the conversation, she was beating herself up for not being “strong enough” to handle all the pain, yet I was the one who was rendered silent (online at least) by her ordeal. Imagine that! Please know that I kept talking to her until the day of her surgery, and even managed to sneak in a talk (thanks Tracey!) just after her surgery, but I didn’t have anything for the “chicks” fans – I just didn’t have any words.

Before she went in for her chemo treatments and even before her surgery, we always joked about how it was my “job” to keep up the blog posts while she was “radio silent” so I feel a little bad for not keeping up my end of the bargain, while she has been posting away despite everything that she has been going through. But my journey isn’t the same as hers, and this time, I gave into the silence and simply let go.

During this Christmas season, it strikes me that there are times when we all need to “turn off our radios” and just feel the weight of something. It might be the pain you’re experiencing at a particular moment, it might be missing a loved one or it might be a great joy like the birth of a child.

As we live this life moving quickly from one “to-do” to the next, I realize that I’m actually grateful for those times when I have been literally stopped in my tracks. It’s during those times – stopped in my own tracks – that I know what is really most important and that I take the time to think, to cry, to appreciate and to pray, and that’s exactly what I did.

Radio’s back on . . .

Surrounded by love

pink ink…

Well my friends, I am headed into surgery. You know what? I am ready. I am not mourning the loss of my breasts. I am only fearing the pain! Yes, I am a wimp. I survived a tough ‘C-section”, so I gather I will do ok with this.

I had a moment of “post traumatic stress” yesterday. I had to go to have my blood checked. Turned out it was in the chemo treatment area. I walked in, saw the other patients, and collapsed into tears! Who knew?! I don’t know what came over me. Probably a combination of it being what would have been the day of my 6th treatment, the memory of what chemo was like, and the reality of having surgery in 36 hours. Whatever it was, it hit me like a brick. The nurse was taken aback, but quickly tried to help me. But as always, it was my husband who helped me gather myself. All I can say is, it was a lot to take in. Tracey, my Cancer Mentor told me it was a natural post traumatic reaction, and to allow it to happen. Michele told me I deserved a breakdown or 2. I guess all that emotion had to go somewhere.

But today, I am back on the horse. Ready for the next adventure. A little tired…ok, a lot tired…but ready to go. Thanks to all who have called, texted, emailed and written notes of their love, prayers, and support. I cannot respond to each of you, but will talk with you in the new year! Despite it all, I feel blessed going into this knowing that I am…

Surrounded by Love…

Savor the journey…

pink ink…


So, I had 2 days of real self-pity! Don’t I deserve at least that for the possibility of having chemo again? I think so. Wallow, I did. While the pain of a double mastectomy is daunting, it is really the possibility of chemo that has laid me out. This recent turn of events even had my dear “I can handle anything” husband, a tad discombobulated.

After 2 days, my Cancer Mentors each effectively said “Buck up!! You do what you have to do”! Tracey told me to stop talking about it and think about my new boobs. Gina told me I will be fine and to enjoy the next few days.

So guess what? I did. I went to lunch with some girlfriends on Friday. I was a little tired, a little nauseous. But I laughed for the 1st time in a couple days! We talked boob size! (The consensus is, big enough to make my husband smile…a lot) We talked Jack & Jill, Links, AKA. We talked about a “Poetess” gone astray! (And boy, did she go astray…) We talked about the waitress who sounded like Mini Mouse. Most important, we LAUGHED. They’re my tight Phoenix girls, and they knew exactly what I needed. I love them for that!

Saturday night, my hubby “Big B” and I went to “The” Holiday party. You know, the one that I was trying to find a dress for? One of my fashion idiosyncrasies is that I never wear black to an event. Why? Because almost every other woman will have on black or navy blue. Boring! I figure, why not “go hard” and wear…COLOR! But this year I had the added stress of finding a dress that covered my daggone PORT! Once again, it comes back to the PORT. You know, the one that is NOT going to come out in 2 days! Aahh, but I digress.

This week I found a dress. Yay! So Big B and I had our close friends over for cocktails and revelry, and then hit the party! What a great time! We called it my boob “last hoorah”! Great music, friends, and memories. So many people didn’t think I would come, and said they were glad I did. I never questioned coming. All who know me know I love a good “dress up” party! My other Cancer Mentor Gina, was there with just the right encouraging words, and assured me she would see me at the hospital. Then, we shared a joke and laughed! And to top the evening off, my husband gets up after dinner and “salutes” me with a piece of a poem he wrote for me over 17 years ago! LOVE IT! So all in all, a great evening!

Finally, this afternoon my parents arrived. We hung out, did some shopping and had dinner. Just regular talk. No heaviness. Just enjoying the time we have before Wednesday.

To be clear, I am still very stressed with all the things I have to put in place before the surgery. But as my big sis said, not everything is going to be done by then. (Thanks Michele!) There may be more course changes in the future. That’s ok. I learned this weekend that the best thing to do in the Cancer Lane, is to take pause and,

Savor the journey…

don’t count your chickens…

pink ink…


No doubt over the past week to couple of months, you have heard about Guiliana Rancic and her Breast Cancer journey. If not, go pick up the recent People Magazine. Anyway, Guiliana, or “G” as I like to call her, is a friend in my head. As you know, I am Pop Culture girl, and G is a pop culture/celebrity reporter from the E! Channel. I have watched her from the beginning and also watch her show with husband, Apprentice winner, Bill Rancic. So it is quite ironic that we are on the journey “together”, learning some of the same lessons.

Side note…what was REALLY funny was when Michele texted me, asking if I knew about Guiliana. She had no idea who she was, but wanted to share her story. So nice, but soo funny! I mean, really? Of course I knew “G”!

Ok, to bring you up to speed. G was diagnosed with breast cancer a week after I was. Big announcement along with many interviews. It’s always good when a celebrity can bring some attention to the “cause”. She was having problems conceiving and her IVF doc told her to get a mammo before she started treatments. Originally, G RESISTED getting a mammo b/c she was so young. Finally, she did, only to discover cancer in both breasts. G is also a skinny mini, and would not have found her cancer through exams. Her treatment path was to have a double lumpectomy and radiation. Over the last couple months, while I have been hooked to an IV getting chemo, she was getting radiation everyday. In my mind, G and I were doing this together! More interviews. G was “doing well” and happy that treatment was almost over and she could move on. Sound familiar?

Well, in an ironic twist, G announced last week that the cancer was NOT gone. What a shock, that I now completely understand. In fact, G announced, she was going to have to have a double mastectomy!

Yesterday, as G was in surgery, I learned that I would have…a double mastectomy. And possibly…MORE CHEMO! Again, you read correctly.

Possibly, MORE CHEMO.

How did this happen? As you can imagine, I completely lost it when the Doctor said she couldn’t take out my port b/c I may need more chemo. Honestly, as “strong” as I think I am, I don’t know how I…we, as in my family…will handle it. This is major surgery. There will be lots of pain. Upside…I will get those boobs after all. I tell you, it better be worth it!

Once again, I will pull out all the well wishes from family and friends around the country. I will accept all the prayers, and say my own. I will NOT think about the thought of chemo. All that will do is depress me really.

They announced this morning that my girl G is awake and cracking jokes already! That is probably the pain medicine! If I know G, she’s joking about her new boobs also!

I hope that one-day G and I will be able to meet. Our journeys so connected. (Ok, at least in my head!!!) She’s young. I’m young. She has a national forum to discuss breast cancer awareness, while I will still focus on our local efforts. Think of the work we could do! The messages to be shared:

Touch your boobs!

Get a mammo!

Ask questions!

And unfortunately…don’t count your chickens…

Trust your gut…

pink ink…

Have you ever been on a plane, chillin’, enjoying your movie, music or book, and all of a sudden the plane drops? You’re like “What the…?” The plane is fine, and you are cruising again, albeit a bit shaken. The pilot comes on and says “Sorry about that folks. We unexpectedly hit some turbulence. There’s some more up ahead, so we are going to change course”. Now if you are like my sis, and me you are REALLY shaken! (We have become nervous fliers recently) But we know that the Pilot knows what he’s doing, and we will finish the flight safely. We know this in our gut. We just have to trust it.

Well kiddies, I ran into some turbulence in the Cancer lane.

Some background. I told you, I know my breasts. (And really, at this point, you should know yours too!) I followed my instinct and had that mammo back in September b/c I knew something wasn’t right. Well, I had another “feeling” last week. As I mentioned, I had my 5th treatment a week ago. It was a different drug, called Taxol. It was supposed to be much easier on the body. Guess what? It was. Low nausea, just a lot of aches and fatigue. Kind of like having the flu. What I noticed on Wed, was that my lump was now easily apparent to the naked eye. In addition, the inside of my breast had consistent shooting pain. By Friday, I called the NP to tell her about it. I almost felt embarrassed to call. It probably wasn’t a big deal. But the best thing about MAYO is that they WANT you to call, they WANT you to ask questions. So I picked up the phone and dialed.

I left a message Friday afternoon, and got a call 1st thing Saturday (yes Saturday!) morning. Again, I explained that I “just wanted them to know” something “seemed” different. I was soon scheduled for a Monday morning appt. A few hours later my Oncologist called. He was just “checking in” on me. (Again, it’s Saturday!) We talked about 15 minutes about my treatment, and he explained that he was very encouraged about my treatment so far. My lump had gone from 4cm to 2 cm, as of last week! Awesome! He would also be available to see me on Monday. Good deal! I got off the phone, once again counting down to MLK day and my last chemo treatment. I was encouraged.

The next day and ½ I took Tylenol for the pain, and ran around. (See below) Monday morning comes, and the road starts to get bumpy. My husband and I head to the appt, feeling pretty good, but not sure what they are going to say about why my lump is sticking out. But we had no fear. The NP takes one look at my lump, and calls the Doctor. Doc walks in, and full on turbulence.

In one week, my lump DOUBLED IN SIZE AND IS BACK TO ITS ORIGINAL SIZE.

Yes, you read correctly.

I had 2 thoughts.
1. I knew it. It felt wrong.
2. PLEASE don’t let me have to go back to the Red Devil chemo.

Boy was I off base. I am off to surgery in the next week.

How could this happen? Did I just go through 10 weeks of chemo for nothing? Well…yes. But now I know that I have a good shaped head? Now I know I can handle more than I thought. Now I can STOP chemo! YAY! But man, what a Christmas holiday. Next thing I knew, I was off to tests, and more tests.

Ironically, yesterday I was supposed to have lunch with my 2 Cancer Mentors. But instead, I was texting them the details of my doctor visit. As always, they stepped up and calmed me down. That is why everyone needs a Cancer Mentor. They’ve been on this journey, and offer perspective. One even offered to come meet me at the doctor and sit with me! (Thanks Soror)

When baby girl got home, we “spun” the story that Mommy was done chemo, and the doc was just going to take “it” out. She was so happy, she ran into my arms. But wait, she’s no dummy. She then asked about the hospital stay. 4-5 days we told her. Again, tears! “Will you be here for Christmas? Will I get to see you?” Inside my heart broke…again.

By the end of the evening, I was (and continue to be), mentally exhausted. I know that this is the right thing. I’m glad I followed my instinct and called the doctor. Imagine how big it would have gotten if I had waited another week for my regular appointment!! I think a mastectomy is in the near future. And as a result, I may actually get those new boobs I wanted! Score!

This bit of turbulence will actually make my journey in the Cancer Lane shorter. By the New Year, I will not have cancer in me. By mid Feb, I should be done radiation. If there is any reason to be happy, it’s that.

Most important, I will enter 2012 knowing to always Trust Your Gut…

Previous Older Entries