In Celebration of Survivors – A video by Musiq Soulchild

red ink…

We are counting down to Barb being finished with radiation next Friday – yes, only six more treatments to go! The video reminds us of both the tumultuous journey and of the healing power of Love. Enjoy!

pink ink…

Big B first showed this video to me. It is powerful, and brings me to tears each time I see it. B says “Yes” to me every day. Every day that he sits in an appointment, every day he held me when I cried, every day he cleaned up vomit, every day he rubs my bald head, every day he takes care of Lil B. Every day he is by my side. I married a wonderful man, my best friend. I couldn’t “survive” without him. There is indeed healing power in Love.

Keep talking

pink ink…

This week I attended the Phoenix Susan G. Komen Affiliate Promise Luncheon. It was a time for us to recognize the Grantees. Our Grantees provide innovative breast health & breast cancer programs to the medically underserved, uninsured, or underinsured here in AZ. It was emotional as I heard story after story about women who otherwise would not have had access to treatment but for these programs. When asked what women do who can’t afford treatment, the response is that they “quietly die”. Wow! Again, so thankful that I have insurance. As a Board Member, and now a person in the Cancer Lane, I re-dedicated my promise to educate, advocate, and support others.

Side note: Our Affiliate was named Affiliate of the Year out of over 100 affiliates around the world! AWESOME!

Now join me as we take another break for a … real talk MEDICAL MINUTE! I promise it will be brief.

I am finishing my 4th week of radiation! Yay! Remember, radiation is used on the breast to stop any other cells from dividing and growing. When we talk about the cost of breast cancer treatment, here is a little nugget to ponder. My portion of my treatment PER DAY is $584. Now let me remind you that I have to have 30 treatments. You do the math. Let me also say that the last week of treatment will cost more because it is a more intense “dose”. Yes, I have great insurance.

As I’ve mentioned, radiation can definitely affect the skin. Mine started changing colors about a week and ½ ago. It is hard to tell in the picture, but it’s several shades darker than the other breast. It is also spotted. Or, as Lil B says, “speckly”. It can be very sore at night, or when I have worn a bra too long. What is more irritating is the itching! So now I am putting on aloe vera for the burn and cortisone for the itch. Fortunately, I have not lost movement in my arm. I am diligent about going to the gym or working out, every day that I get zapped! Trust me. That is a challenge. Again, the cardio is getting easier. But I still have little to no muscle tone or strength in my arms. I am only lifting 3-5 pds, and doing things like curls and arm circles. I have become one of those women I use to look at and say “Really lady? What is that 3 pd weight doing?” Oh how humbling the Cancer Lane is. (You see I still have a Frankestein scar on the other side where they took out the PORT! My Doc says my skin has changed from the chemo, so it is going to take…a while..for scars to go away.)

Yesterday, I was “fitted” for my boost treatment. This is the “extra strength” treatment that I will receive the last week of radiation. Women who receive this more concentrated dose of radiation are 2x more than likely to be cancer free 10 years after treatment! Sign me up! The down side is that the chance of scar tissue developing increases, along with swelling, redness and tenderness. Anyway, there is a special attachment to the machine to concentrate the beam. To “fit” me, they drew all over the breast and made measurements to figure out exactly where my crazy cancer liked to hang out. Then they took a picture for their records so they can compare it when we actually start. So I took one too! Then they told me…try not to wash off the marker! Seriously!? Let’s just say…”ummm…ok”! (side eye look!) The dots are the markings to direct the beam. The rest…surgery scars. Please note the second scar (the 1 on top) from my most recent surgery that removed the “new” cancer”. So Pretty! Red Ink Michele asked me about sharing such a shocking picture. But this is real talk, real life. The more we talk, the less fear we will have.

So there you have it. Welcome to Radiation 101, the abbreviated version. I’m surviving, tired, burnt, and with no appetite. But surviving!

And I promise to…Keep talking!

Stay Tuned

pink ink…

Life in the cancer lane could best be described as a “dramedy”. It’s a whole lot of drama with some pretty funny moments sprinkled in. You never know what you’re going to get from day to day. Sometimes it’s all comedy and other times…well you know.

This week, if “My Life in the Cancer Lane” were a 30-minute comedy, it would have played out like this. Each scene starts with me coming out of radiation.

Scene 1: After radiation, you see Cancer Chick with just eyebrows and lip-gloss on, leaving Mayo and driving to get her morning coffee. She pulls into the drive thru, orders coffee, and pulls up to the window to pay. The young guy says in his best “I will always be a drive thru teller” voice, “How you doing SIR? That will be $4.37”. Chick looks up, rolls eyes, and responds, “I am NOT a Sir, here’s the money”. Teller guy pauses, slightly leans out, and says, “Oh…ok…here’s your coffee”. Cancer Chick takes coffee, says “Seriously?” and drives off. FADE TO BLACK

Scene 2: After radiation, you see Cancer Chick in a little more make up, pulling into Nordstrom for some retail therapy. As she is perusing the dresses, two 2nd graders walk by. Cancer Chick smiles and says hi. (They are staring, after all!) One points and says, “You’re ugly.” The other little girl looks shocked, grabs the girl, and runs off to tell the mom. The mom looks back in horror, doesn’t apologize, but hurries away. You then see Cancer Chick text her friend what just happened. The friend responds that Chick should have said “You think this is ugly, you should see my A$$!” Chick laughs. FADE TO BLACK.

Scene 3: After radiation, you see Cancer Chick in FULL FACE, headed to a local convention. She is happy b/c she was recognized with others, for 25 years of philanthropic work. While waiting for another part of the program to start, a little boy with beautiful bouncy curls comes over and just stares. Cancer Chick, again, says hi. He just tilts his head and continues to stare. Finally, he asks, “Why don’t you have any hair?”. She responds, “It all fell out. Can I have some of yours?” The little boy grabs his hair, and screams “NOOOOO” as he runs to find his mom. FADE TO BLACK.

Scene 4: Cancer Chick is in bed with her husband. “Three weeks done!” she says as she looks down at her noticeably browner breast. Husband says she is starting to look more and more like herself. She is beautiful, he says. Cancer Chick rolls her eyes, and says she’s been assaulted by comments all week. Husband laughs and says, “Well at least your nose hair is growing back. That’s a start!” She hits him with a pillow. FADE TO BLACK.

The outtakes of the show would show Cancer Chick at the gym after radiation, after working out, watching tennis. An older gentleman asks her if she found her cancer herself. (They had been talking, but, how forward!) She says yes. He responds, “You need more boyfriends!” and laughs! She says, “I will be sure to tell my husband”. Dude responds, “Well he is useless, b/c he didn’t find it.” FADE TO BLACK.

But you know my journey in the Cancer Lane is never without drama. I have been relying on BET (I’m trying to help them jump into the mini-series game!) or Lifetime to do my story. But I think I am officially moving into HBO territory!

Scene: Cancer Chick is at radiation getting dressed, and phone rings. She ignores it, and camera catches “No cell phone” sign on wall. Next, she gets a text saying, “Call me”. Chick texts that she will call back in a day, after her visitor leaves, and she has a free moment. The responding text “Ok, I’m now in your lane”. Next, the scene goes into slow motion, and you hear only a heart beat. Images pop up on the screen. 2 girls at college. 2 girls in Sorority sweaters at Greek Picnic. Same girls, 1 is a bridesmaid, the other a bride. The two girls, one pregnant, at a baby shower. Same girls on phone laughing, split screen. One is bald. The other isn’t. Finally, screen comes back into focus, and you see and hear Cancer Chick burst into tears. FADE TO BLACK.

Yes, I learned that another woman has entered into the Cancer Lane. Not just any woman, but my 1st friend in college, sorority sister, bridesmaid, my…friend. The friend who texted the “A$$” comment above! Ours is a friendship that has seen many ups and downs in 26 years of knowing each other. But ours is a friendship that brought her front and center during my cancer journey. As I have said before, she and her mother have made me laugh & smile many times over the last 6 months. How could this happen? My initial reaction was panic and tears. Since then we have laughed together, reminisced, and talked “Cancer”. She already has her own growing list of “Sh*t, people say”! Alas, her story is not mine to tell. But our stories are forever intertwined. We will be writing a “bang up” story for the Alumni magazine when this is all done! I only hope I can do for her what she has done for me. Man, talk about being thrown into the role of Cancer Mentor! Where did those big girl panties go…

So life is full of stuff! Drama, comedy, and more drama. Hopefully, I will have more comedy and less drama!

Stay tuned!

Happy ending

Pink ink…

I’m back!

It has been a crazy 2 weeks. There have been all kinds of highs…seeing friends from Chicago and Philly, Lil B getting straight “A”s AGAIN, and 90-degree weather. I went to my 1st Komen Board meeting since my operation! But, also all kinds of lows. I just couldn’t easily dismiss being told that the doctors found a whole bunch of new cancer, (I could actually die from this!) seeing Big B really scared for the 1st time, or being told by a good friend to get control of my health. (Seriously?! If I weren’t in control of my health I would already be dying!) So I went into kind of a hole. We needed some time. But, after I ran into a friend in a restaurant who asked when I was going to blog again, I figured I had to get back on the proverbial horse! So here I am!

A lot has happened since then. Three distinct things have marked my time “away”.

Most important, I started radiation!

Medical Minute: Radiation is basically the micro attacking of cancer cells. Chemo attacked the entire body. Radiation highly targets the breast tissue where cancer was found. It reduces recurrence by approx 75%. Clearly, I need it! The side effects are fatigue (of course), armpit discomfort, sunburn like side effects, lowered white blood cell counts (again!) and possible lung problems. Some other interesting facts. .. I can’t wear regular deodorant. Did I mention it is 90 degrees here? Actually, there has been great research that suggests that the aluminum in anti perspirant may cause breast cancer. Maybe no deodorant is a good thing. So I am wearing natural “Crystal” deodorant, like they do in Europe. It can be found in Whole foods, or Walgreens. So far so good. My family hasn’t told me I stink yet!

My radiation plan calls for 30 treatments. Five days a week, for 6 weeks. I have made it through 6 days so far! The whole process of checking in, getting undressed, zapping, etc takes about 30 minutes. But the zapping itself takes about 2 minutes! My treatment also calls for me to wear a “Bolus” on top of my breast. It’s a rubbery material that is used to ‘fool’ the radiation beam so it will deposit the maximum dose on the skin surface instead of a fraction of an inch deeper. That means I will definitely have some skin irritation. My skin is already beginning to slightly turn colors. It is also getting a little tight. So I am doing arm exercises so the skin won’t pull too much.

Second, I FINALLY got out my port! Yay! That means that at the moment they don’t think there will be any more chemo for the time being! It did mean more surgery. But it was quick. Big B got to watch it this time. Kind of gross, but at least it’s out. Alas, I have one more Frankenstein–like scar! LOL

Finally, Big B and I had numerous interesting conversations with people who seem to have recently “re-discovered” that I am fighting breast cancer. Once people heard or read that the doctors had found more cancer, we started receiving calls etc, like we did when I was first diagnosed. A lot of folks we hadn’t heard from in months. People also wanted to “lay eyes” on me. What we observed these last couple weeks was very insightful. It seems that the prevailing thought of several people was that:
1) Breast cancer isn’t “as bad” as other cancers.
2) Once a person has a mastectomy, they “are fine”.
3) Because I am out and about, we aren’t in fact, in the fight of our lives.

We got a lot of “I didn’t realize it was that serious”, from people whom we have only heard from once or twice over the past few months. Others admitted when they heard that there was more cancer, they ignored it, didn’t process it. (I understand that! It took me 2 days to truly “hear” it!) Some didn’t even acknowledge this turn of events and talked about other things. B also got “Wow, Barb doesn’t seem that sick”. You never know what will be the tipping point for a caregiver or spouse. This period was one of the few times that Big B has actually gotten angry. He had to tell close friends and family that he could lose his wife and that the best way to support us was to be more “present” in this fight of our lives, to take it a bit more seriously. It was a tough time for the both of us. It also provided us another learning moment about people’s perception. But we GREATLY appreciate all the friends, near and far, who surrounded us with love and prayers, notes and calls, when they heard this new news!

Ironically, Giuliana and Bill’s reality show resumes on the Style network, Tuesday evening! This season will focus on her battle. Another parallel…turns out, when she received her pathology back after her mastectomy, it was worse than the doctors thought. BUT, she is not going through chemo. She is taking oral meds instead. (Will have to research that!) So no shopping for wigs, no Zophran, no black tongue. It will be interesting to see where her story leads.

My story is still being written, one day at a time. Breast cancer does, in fact, kill young people. This is not over, and it’s not easy.

But don’t worry. I’m still counting on a…happy ending!