Gotta keep on keepin' on.......

Cancer again...that's 3 times in 2 years. This time it’s not breast cancer, but a new one called squamous cell carcinoma. New cancer, same old fighting spirit! My blog is still named for one of many songs that kept me going the first time around. Driving home from an upsetting appointment, I turned on the radio just as this line from Steve Miller Band's Jet Airliner was playing: "I've got to keep on keepin' on" I did just that. And I'll do it again.

Monday, April 16, 2007

anyone know any happy stories?

Last week, I called one of the writers from the local paper. Her name appeared at the end of a story titled "When Cancer Returns". What a depressing article! Ever since Elizabeth Edwards' recurrence hit the news, I've read nothing but bad things about cancer survivors.....all about how they went cancer-free for years only to be hit once again.

I don't mean to be unkind or unfeeling. I certainly sympathize with anyone who has to go through this twice. BUT....I just finished my treatment and am trying to move on. The last thing I want to see is more Debbie-Downer stuff!

So I called the writer, introduced myself, told her I enjoyed her article but as a recent breast cancer survivor I would really love to see some happy stories. How about an article featuring people who dealt with cancer years ago and haven't had a problem since? (Or how about, although I didn't have the nerve to suggest it, how about a recent survivor whose parents and siblings supported her all through treatment and who are ALL coming to town in May to walk/run in the Race for the Cure? And whose sister is already one of the top 5 fundraisers for the race?)

The writer was less than polite. I swear I heard her snort at me before she said, "We don't usually run anything like that until October.....Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

That's all she had to say. I told her that was too bad, that it really would be nice to see some good news for a change. But that was it. She had nothing to add, wasn't interested. Maybe the editor would be the one to send requests to, I don't know. At least I tried!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

and now I heal

Well, I'm done. No, I guess I mean my sister says, "A lady is never done, she is either finished or through." So yes, I am finished with my treatment. YAY! That's it!

On Friday, in celebration of my last day, I received a "TREATMENT COMPLETE" certificate from my radiation oncologist and his nurse Melinda, and on the drive home I stopped at my favorite cafe for some breakfast. The owner knew it was my last day and he greeted me at the door, all smiles and congratulations. He and his wife made a big fuss. I enjoyed that, and my breakfast too.

I drove home and as I neared the house, I saw bunches of balloons decorating the front yard....on the mailbox, the lamppost, and the porch. Across the stairs was a big "Congratulations" banner. It was very festive!

The girls ran to the door as I walked in, screaming "Mommy's home, Mommy's home!" Frances just about knocked me over. It was great. I love attention! There were more balloons on the staircase and in the kitchen. So that explained John's mysterious "I have to make a couple stops" the day before on the way home from the office. He had purchased a helium tank good for 50 balloons. (They saved some helium for my birthday balloons, though.)

On the kitchen table were several beautiful pictures drawn by the girls. Leah's picture was of 2 Mommies: me with my new short hair and me with long hair. Leah is maybe even more excited than me about my hair growing back. She had such a hard time when I lost my hair, I can't bear to tell her that it will be a while until it is long again! She keeps thinking I'll wake up one morning with long hair.....if only it were that simple!

Friday night, John and I went to a movie and then had a late dinner at an old favorite restaurant we hadn't been to in years. Saturday afternoon, we took the girls and Jesse out for ice cream, and met our friends Susanne and Wesley at the ice cream parlor.

It turned out to be a nice long weekend of celebrating the end of my treatment. Now all I have to do is heal. Physically, I think it will be fast: The skin on my chest and armpit is pretty sunburned, but I have lots of aloe and soft cotton shirts for that. My arm is still pretty stiff, but my physical therapist has helped me tremendously and I have plenty of exercises to help regain range of motion. And my scars look pretty good, for scars. The surgeon did a nice job with the stitches on my armpit and breast. You can tell I had surgery but it's not grotesque. (Not that I plan to flash anyone, but I do like to go sleeveless in the summer and so my pits will be exposed.)

So, let the healing begin!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good-bye Delores, I have hair now

Woke up with bed head this morning. To most people, this would be annoying, to wake up and look in the mirror only to see your hair sticking out in all sorts of unattractive ways. Me, I am just so glad to have hair! And now I'm THRILLED that it's finally long enough to look funny after I sleep on it!

I'm happy to have hair and even happier that it seems to be growing fast. Kelly, my hairdresser, cleaned up the straggly hairs last week with the electric clippers. It was the same clipper/razor/shaver thing she used for my crewcut back in October, when my hair was falling out left and right and I couldn't take it anymore.

Kelly was so funny when she saw my hair. She was excited for me that I had so much hair so soon after treatment. Someone else she knows who finished chemo before me didn't have nearly as much hair as me, she said. The other hairdresser in her shop agreed. Perhaps they were making it up to make me feel better, but I definitely appreciated the support and loved the fuss they made over my hair.

I showed Kelly a picture of Annie Lennox that I found online. (Go to , click Images, then click the top image, a black-and-white. It will bring up the "Annie & photography" category of photos. About 7 images down, there is a pic of Annie with a teddy bear.)

Anyway, in this picture Annie is sporting a really cool chunky hairdo, very short of course, and blond. I'm shooting for something Annie Lennox-ish. I always liked her hair, although I never wanted it for myself, much preferred my hair long. But now that I'm in this lack-of-hair position, I might as well go for it! Kelly thinks my hair will be long enough by June to be able to "go Annie". I might change my mind about the color and do something more red, though. Not sure. I've never colored my hair before. I've always liked my color, but now that it's coming in this horrid brownish-grayish-whitish color, I'm ready to experiment!

I left Kelly's with a cleaned-up crewcut. I look like my dad did in the 1960s with his buzzcut. Close-shaved on the sides. Short on top, but not the sticking-up-straight kind of short, it lies flat. If you rub my head (which I encourage the girls to do, I tell them it will make my hair grow faster) you will say my hair feels so soft, like a Schnauzer puppy. It is pretty cool!

So now that I have this cool crewcut, I hung Delores on her wig stand for good. She, along with Audrey-Angelina and Paige, are perched on their wig stands, sitting on my dresser. I really should put them away before they get dusty. My plan is to donate them to the American Cancer Society. They collect wigs for cancer patients who need them. Delores, though.....I may be selfish and keep her around for future bad hair days. Sometimes it's nice to put on a ponytail! One of these days I'll have a real ponytail. Maybe it'll even be blond.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

No delay in treatment, so far

Back to treatment today, after a lovely day off. It turns out the machine really was down yesterday. One of the motors was broken, the one that turns the big round thing where the radiation beams out. (That's as technical as I can get, sorry).

So it was not a setup by some jealous patient coveting my timeslot. 9:20am really is a great time for treatment. I miss the morning traffic on the drive over, and afterwards it is still early enough that I can go out for breakfast (which I do at least 2 mornings a week. My favorite coffee shop, which went out of business in December, is now my favorite cafe and ice cream shop. They serve breakfast all day.)

Anyway, I walked in to the treatment room this morning and told the technicians about my suspicions (about someone wanting my timeslot). They laughed. Hopefully they understood that I was kidding.

I asked them about making up the missed day. No biggie, they said. "You'll just finish up on the next day. If your last treatment is a Tuesday, you'll finish on Wednesday instead."

"Well," I said, "what if my last treatment is a Friday?"

"Oh...." (said like it's not a good thing) "'d end on that following Monday."

And here I was looking forward to ending my treatment on Friday the 13th. I thought it was so fitting. One of my chemo sessions was on a Friday the 13th, and it was great. ("Great" meaning that I didn't pass out.)

Finishing up on Monday the 16th would have been fine, though. I wasn't going to make a big stink about it.

After my treatment, I stayed later to see the radiation oncologist. Every Thursday I see him so he can check my skin and answer my questions. But first I see his nurse, Melinda, a very sweet nurse who has forgiven me for being such a fusspot at our first meeting following my first treatment. (Well, I wasn't so much a fusspot as a sourpuss. I was so shaken up by that first treatment, I just wanted to go home and cry. Instead, they made me wait so I could meet with Melinda and go over instructions for my skin.....using the gel, no more hot showers, blah blah blah.... The first thing she said was, "So, I heard you had a rough time." She was so nice about it, really concerned about me, but I just wanted out of there, so I ignored her prompt to get me to open up and said, "Look, I'm really sore and really tired. I would like to go home. Can you please just tell me what you need to tell me so I can leave?" And she did just that. Very business like, very pleasant, no sarcasm, no lecturing. A week or so later, I apologized to her and told her about Get Over It Day. She didn't need an apology, she said, but she loved the Get Over It Day idea and was glad I was doing so well.)

Now, back to today's meeting. Before I met with the doctor, Melinda met me by the scale (I dropped 2 pounds, but I think it's the shoes. I wore flip-flops today, not my clunky winter shoes) and then sent me to the exam room. She checked my skin and was concerned that it was so red. Usually she raves about how great it looks and how I'm really taking good care of it. But today, she wrinkled up her nose and came in for a closer look at the long strip of beet red skin running straight down my sternum. She apologized for getting so close, but said she wanted to make sure it wasn't infected. (It wasn't.) She decided I'm fine, since she knows I bathe and keep it clean, so she said infection is not a concern for me.

I asked Melinda about making up the missed appointment, and she told me the same thing the technician did. Then she checked the calendar and realized I'd be ending on a Monday instead of Friday. She said that sometimes the technicians will double up treatment and that she'd look into it. "It's OK," I said, "I don't mind."

But Melinda was determined. "Aren't you going on vacation on the 16th?" she asked me.

We ARE going on vacation, but not until the 21st. I hardly opened my mouth to tell her when she continued, "Yes, you have to be somewhere on the 16th, that's what I thought. I'll make sure they know you can't be here on the 16th. I'll take care of it!" And with a wink, she was gone.

My doctor came in a few minutes later, talking about doubling up treatment one day next week so that I could be done by the 13th as planned.

Good for Melinda! She really has forgiven me for being so rude that first week (or two). So for now, I'm still finishing up my treatments as planned, on lucky Friday the 13th. Yay!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Suzy gave me the day off

Good ol' Suzy Sunshine! Just when my chest was starting to get burnt and itchy from the radiation, she comes through and gives me the day off!

The machine broke down yesterday, sometime after my appointment. I got a call from someone in the office, telling me not to bother coming in today, because they are waiting for a part to come in from California (isn't that the Sunshine state? or maybe that's Florida....)

This never happens, the woman from the radiation center claimed. But that's OK, I don't mind a day off. Although I was a little suspicious and asked her again for her name. Where is Melinda? Or Gail? I asked her. I would expect them to call me. But this woman said she normally works in the downtown office but was helping out today. Hmmm. I can be paranoid sometimes, and for a fleeting moment I thought it could be a prank. Maybe the new patient with the timeslot before mine decided she wanted to be able to sleep in? Do you think she'd stoop so low?

Well, prank or not, I know my skin will really enjoy the day off! Thanks Suzy!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm fine, really

OK, just because I haven't posted in a while, and just because when I DO post I complain a lot, it doesn't mean I'm not doing OK! Life has been busy, with soccer (Leah) and softball (Emma) season starting up in March, plus our usual hectic schedule, not to mention my daily radiation....I mean, Suzy Sunshine....appointments.

When radiation first began, I was so unhappy that I didn’t want to write about it. I eventually got over it all and right now, I’m OK with my treatments. My arm even feels better, doesn’t hurt as much. I’ve found relief through physical therapy and while I don’t have even close to full mobility yet, I am hoping that it will come within the next few months.

So I’m back to being happy ol’ me. Happy ol’ me with a bad arm and a little sunburn on my chest, that is! But surprise, I don't have a lot to say. Nothing worth posting about. I'm doing a lot less writing, more thinking….. about things like, how to keep the cancer from coming back, if that’s possible. And how did it get there in the first place?

The doctors say there was nothing in particular that I did to make the cancer form or grow. Various books I've read suggest otherwise: among other things, a high-fat diet, no exercise, and high stress can bring it on. I thought I ate pretty well, lots of veggies and fruit, and even though I didn't go to the YMCA anymore I did get plenty of exercise chasing my kids around. As for stress, I am a Type A and can't help it. I'm a worrier. There's also the suggestion that secondhand smoke, underwire bras, or electromagnetic fields contributed to it. And don’t get me started on the soy debate! Experts can’t agree on whether it helps or hurts.

Of course, these are all theories. There's no way to know for sure what caused the cancer. We did rule out 2 known genetic mutations (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2) that can cause breast cancer. The several-thousand-dollar blood test my insurance finally agreed to cover came back negative. So while my cancer wasn't caused by known genetic factors, it does now run in my family and my kids have to be diligent about it when they're older. (That is a conversation I am not looking forward to. Not to mention the guilt. I know this whole thing isn't necessarily my fault, but I still feel indescribably guilty for possibly passing this cancer on down to my children.)

The important news remains: I am still here! AND the cancer is out, so everyone says, and between the chemo, surgery, radiation, and Tamoxifen, my risk of recurrence is less than 15% (per my radiation oncologist, the risk is even less in the left, previously cancerous, breast).

Still, I can't help but think about what's next, what if it comes back? What can I do to improve my odds?

Per my doctors, there’s not much I can do to prevent it from coming back, other than the standard treatments (chemo, surgery, radiation) I’ve been through. The Tamoxifen that I take every day (and will continue to take for 5 years) is supposed to work very well in preventing breast cancer from forming.

But that’s not enough for me. I would like a guarantee, although I know that’s not going to happen. So what do I do? I worry that I’m worrying too much, I get stressed over whether I’m too stressed. I know that can’t be healthy.

So I’ve been spending some time examining my habits and am working on improving my overall person. I have an appointment with a dietitian coming up, to talk about how to improve my diet, make it more healthy. There are foods that some believe help protect against cancer. I want to learn all about it. The family will benefit from this too. I am also looking for a yoga class to take, after my dance class ends, so I can get some exercise and maybe even relax a little bit. And I’m trying to lighten up a little, not let things get to me. Perhaps some massage and pedicures are in my future. A little pampering sounds great right now!

I know that none of these changes can guarantee me a life free of cancer. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to take better care of myself, and be a little spoiled for a bit. Who wouldn’t want to feel better? This way, if I ever do have to face breast cancer again, I’ll be well-fed, in good shape, and relaxed from the start! Ready to fight again!