It is more important to know where you are going, than how long it takes to get there.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Service...

On Saturday I attended my first funeral service for someone that died from breast cancer.  I've attended countless funerals, but never for someone that died from breast cancer.  She was part of my Encore group at the YWCA.  When I walked into the foyer of the church, I got a little choked up when I saw about 10 other women from Encore....we had lost "one of us."

The service was very nice, but it is always a little peculiar to attend a ceremony at another denomination.  I spend so much time looking around, I look like a tourist.  So as I was sitting in this unfamiliar setting, my mind began to wander about my own funeral...I know, it sounds a little macabre.   I decided that I want balloons at my funeral!  Don't get me wrong, I love flowers and want them too,  but balloons would be fun.  Balloons are happy and make everyone smile.  If I die from breast cancer, I want all pink balloons.  If I go as an old crazy lady in her 90's- my preference, any color would do, but not black; they must be happy colors.  Wouldn't it be funny is one popped during the service?  If that happens, you can know that it was me waking everyone up.

I hope there is a lot of laughter at my funeral too.  I would rather people cry from gut-splitting laughter than from grief.  Although, I love the way Josh Groban sings, "To Where You Are, " which guarantees not a dry eye in the place.  Kleenex please.

Whacky thought for the day...
Why are flat screen tv's replacing artwork?
I recently went to dinner with a friend at fancy, smancy Ruth's Chris steak house in Boston.  In our little dining room (one of several) a flat screen tv hung between two pieces of art!  I thought..."are you kidding?"  If I am paying premium prices for steak and creamy potatoes, do I need to look at a tv on the wall?  I could go to a pub for a greasy burger and fries if I want that experience.  (Fortunately, I didn't pay for dinner, so, I shouldn't complain.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The YWCA sponsor's a program entitled Encore or ENCOREplus -same program, two different names.  It is a free exercise and support program for women with breast cancer.  Some Encore groups include cervical cancer.  You do not need to be a member of the YWCA to participate.  I saw a flier for the Encore program on a bulletin board in my oncologist's examination room.  Actually, this is where I find out all the good information about support groups. Thank you Dr. Banana Split and MGH.

 I joined the closest Encore group at the Newburyport YWCA, about a 45 minute drive from home.  The program offers exercise and support/informational programs.  Because Newburyport can be a bit of a drive, I just attend the exercise programs, (although I haven't been in a few months - don't ask.)  Anyway, when I heard it was exercises in a warm water pool, I thought...this is just for old people. The cynical side of me envisioned a bunch of lopsided or flat-chested old ladies walking around, waving their arms.  Boy, was I wrong!  First of all, there were women from early 30's to 60's, and every woman looked absolutely wonderful!  I was the only lopsided woman, and there were a few that had doubles, but looked perfectly normal.  We use foam dumbbells in different sizes that weigh nothing out of the water, but give your arms, chest, stomach and other muscles a great workout under water.  I was huffing and puffing a few times.  I use a lot of core muscle to keep me grounded in the pool; when the dumbbells are under water, your body wants to float up.  I found that this type of exercised did wonders for my range of movement of my left arm.  It really helped the tightness across my left chest.

Not only is this a great way to get exercise, it is a fabulous way to connect with other women who deal with breast cancer.  We have a lot of laughs that others wouldn't understand or would make them uncomfortable.  I met another woman who had a tram like me.  I was so excited to talk with her because she is the first person who knew what I had been through.  Like me, using hindsight she is unsure if she would have had the tram surgery.  The camaraderie is well worth the 45 minute drive.  (As I type this, I realize how much I miss it.)  For fun, I decided to bring tiaras for everyone to wear during one session.  Why?  Why not?  (It helps having two girls who loved dress-up.)  It turns out that we were filmed that day for an Encore video.  If I knew were were being filmed, I would have put on make-up and worn my pearls!  Ugh.

Encore was so important to me that I even drove through the one terrible snowstorm we had this winter to attend Encore. Unfortunately, when I arrived I learned that it was cancelled due to the storm, but I stayed and worked out. From inside the pool I could look outside a window and see snow falling on the tall, white steeple of a nearby was a "New England moment."

After one session, Barbara Hart, a fellow "Encorian" - my made-up word, and I stayed in the pool an additional 30 minutes to chat about "stuff."  Her husband joined us and we talked about treatments, and how Barbara's breast cancer moved to her lungs.  She looked terrific!  I would have never guessed that she was in treatment for lung cancer.   It's all about attitude!!!

A couple of the Encore ladies and I made a short film supporting the Encore Program.  You can view it here (Don't be shocked that I look like I had an airhose fill me up - you know how women say they still have their "baby fat" from pregnancy, I am claiming "chemo fat" - also I didn't know they were filming so I am wearing no make-up - scarey! - okay, enough excuses - here's the link):

Encore programs are all over the world, and it takes a little work to find one in your area.  If you type in "YWCA encore", the first link you will see is for Australia.  Although I thought it looked like a great program, the commute is a bit greater than 45 minutes.    I also saw Sacramento, Gettysburg, Santa Monica, etc. 

I feel good physically and emotionally after Encore.  Spread the word about Encore.

Solemn thought for the day...
This entry is dedicated to Barbara Hart, an Encore film star and comrade, who died last week from breast and lung cancer.  You left an imprint on my life.  My prayers are with you, Barbara.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Last October I had my first scare. It had nothing to do with Halloween or a bad hair day...

I went for my one year check-up, (about 4 months late,)with my surgeon, Dr. T. Best. Dr. T. Best would be an amazing poker player because she always has a pleasant look on her face no matter what the situation. However, she dropped a card, losing her poker face when she began to examine me.  As she studied my reconstructed and radiated left breast, her eyes and forehead said, "That doesn't look so good." As she was prodding around her "hmmmming" said, "I don't like what I see." And then, her words actually said, "I think I would like to get a biopsy of a couple of spots. It doesn't look or feel quite right. I would like to do them right away. Can you stay around today while I schedule an appointment across the way?" My heart sunk down lower than any previous drop. I shuffled outside the office with my scheduled appointment for 3 hours later. I sat down on the first bench in the hallway and went numb. Everything about me froze. All I could hear was the sound of air swirling past my eardrum. I though I was going to cry, but I just sat, staring straight ahead. I think tears may have welled up in my eyes, but I don't remember.

After I snapped myself out of it, ate a decent burrito from a nearby tacqueria, and sat in the MGH healing garden, I went to another building for the biopsy. The pathologist reminded me of The Absent Professor. She had a brand new, state of the art ultrasound machine, but she was flustered because didn't know how to use it, so she used her old machine. After numbing a couple of locations (my second numbing for the day) she inserted huge needles, and then dug around with them. I felt like a turkey on Thanksgiving with the chef swirling the turkey baster under the skin. The results came back negative for whatever they were looking for that could have been positive... more cancer, I guess.

I never worried about cancer returning until that day in October. I have an unjustified fear that if cancer returns, it comes back worse than in the first place. To me, it seems like more people die from a second or third round than the first. (I know, I am probably wrong, but I'll pass on this research.) .

My second scare was early this spring. I had a lady issue - (I don't know why I am embarrassed to write the word spotting.) Dr. Banana S. sent me for an internal ultrasound...I will let you guess what that might entail. I had one long ago, at the beginning of this cancer dance, so I was prepared. However, this time I didn't need to drink gallons of water and slosh in with a full blatter. I asked the tech at MGH why I didn't need to drink the water.  She responded that they have not used that technique for several years. She said that the bigger hospitals have technology that allows them to see what they need without a full bladder. Really?  Why doesn't everyone have that technology? A week later I get a call Dr. Banana S's office saying that the ultrasound was a little abnormal and that she wanted me to get a biopsy with an OB-GYN. As you can imagine, this biopsy was a little different than the scare #1 biopsy. Because I only had c-sections, my cervical door was never opened, making it difficult for Dr. OBGYN to get a biopsy. So, lucky me, I had to get dilated - and I don't mean the eyes that require the stylish, senior-citizen sunglasses. I can definitively say that this was without a doubt, the absolute worst medical experience ever! The pain and discomfort was so awful that I became completely nauseous. (If Riley would have just opened the door when I was in labor, I could have avoided this hell.) The results came back negative for whatever they were looking for the could have been positive...more cancer, I guess.

I don't want to think that I am a hypochondriac, but I now worry much more often-than I care to admit- about cancer returning. I've had a pain in my wrist for over 3 months. I went to my new primary care - who is not long for my world - and she had no idea what was causing the pain. I told her about my recent Zometa infusion, and she responded, "Why are you taking Zometa?" Duh...cancer, remember the visit when I talked to you about it atgreat lengths? She said, "Oh I guess I should look at your chart." (Can someone please tell me why I can find the best cancer doctors but keep striking out on primary care physicians?!) On my regularly scheduled visit with Dr. Banana S. in May, I asked her about the pain because I remember that she once said that breast cancer often returns in the bones. So, I naturally thought I now have bone cancer - self-inflicted scare #3. She said that it is rare for bone cancer to first show up in an extremity. Usually it manifests in the torso. However, she once saw it show up in an ankle. I still have the pain, and I still don't know exactly what is causing it. Dr. Banana S. thought that it appeared like a nerve issue. Boy, do I have a lot of nerve issues...someone always seems to be stepping on my last one!

My tooth and jaw have been hurting for a couple of weeks. Finally, the pain reached a crescendo and I had to do something about it...root canal. Is the jaw part of the torso? Yes, I thought, can you get cancer in the jaw? - self-inflicted scare #4. When I drove home from the emergency root canal, I was in terrible pain - the entire left side of my face, ear and jaw were throbbing.. I went through the medicine cabinet like a tornado, looking for the Vicodin that I never took with the cancer surgery. Chubba saw me crying and was worried. He asked, "They didn't find cancer in the jaw, did they?" It appears that I am not the only one worried about cancer returning. Wouldn't you know that just a couple of days ago someone told me about a friend with cancer in their jaw. Swell.

I had to go to two different locations for my dead tooth.  Each dentist/endodontist had to look over my medical history.  Strangely, they both asked me the exact same question, "Are you completely clean?"  I assumed they meant of cancer because I did shower before my appointments.  I responded, "I hope so."  The closest someone has said that I was completely clean was when my surgeon said that she believes she got it all.  I don't think any oncologist or any other doctor would ever be so bold to say that someone is completely free and clear of cancer.

Whacky thought of the day...
Can you sweat in a swimming pool?

Whacky thought of the day #2...
I just saw that this is my 100th post.  Thank you to those who have hung on through all my rambles!