Archive for the ‘Living Beyond Breast Cancer’ Category

Breast Cancer Adventures – Away We Go!

August 13, 2013

Over the past few months LBBC blogger Ronda Walker Weaver has been sharing her story with us and highlighting the risks, surprises and adventures that her breast cancer journey has presented in her life. Today she shares with us her final installment of the four part series: adventure…

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I found my lump on Aug. 30, had my biopsy on Sept. 4, and received the “news” on Sept. 6, with surgery on Sept. 11. My first chemo treatment was on Oct. 10, and my last radiation session was on April 18. These dates served as reminders and markers along my journey.

Even though surprises are not my forte, adventures are; I like planning, that’s part of the adventure. As I’ve mentioned before, over our back door is the phrase, “Go out for adventure, come home for love.”  I’d like to share 2 adventures I’ve had while on this journey – one, physical, the other, well, the rest of me!

First physical -

I am amazed at my body. I’ve always been in good shape, but my body was put to the test during my surgeries and treatments. And you know what? My body has not failed me. With all the needles, drugs, radiation, stress on my body, I made it! I lost every bit of hair on my body, but most hair has returned. I gained 25 pounds – so I definitely don’t look at my body and see me, but I have a body, and I am working hard at regaining my strength and being able to fit into my clothes again! Listening to my body, and watching my body deal with cancer treatments was the adventure. What’s next? How will I react? This adventure has kept me wide-eyed almost curious, as I’ve put one foot in front of the other. I can look in the mirror and see the “trick” cancer has played on my body, yet I am astonished, amazed, and overwhelmed with gratitude, at my physical strength.

Second spiritual and emotional -

I am amazed at how much cancer and its treatments has strengthened me. I’ve always been a tough, “I’ll do it myself,” kind of person. Yet I now know how important it is to be soft as well. I could not have made it through my treatments without the generosity of others. I am more calm, more thoughtful, more optimistic, less reactive. Watching my own growth take place, over time, while recognizing it, but not necessarily controlling it, has been the adventure. I am finding there is less need to speak myself, more opportunities to share of myself, less need to take myself so seriously, and more need to take others seriously. I’ve learned how to say “no” as needed and “yes” when I sincerely want. I have cried more than I have in my entire life, and I am brought to tears by the beauty around me. I am astonished at the generosity of others, amazed at the beautiful world I live in, and overwhelmed with these lessons.

A friend wrote to me, “This time will be filled with deep and unexpected changes. Some beginnings, but more endings. It brings sadness and a curiosity about the future. The answer to getting through it seems to be steeping in it fully, and feeling every single thing. That takes the fear away.” This is where the adventure has been for me. Steeping in my cancer fully, feeling every single thing.  Life is good; I believed this before cancer treatments, and I know it now.

How can a woman with breast cancer (or any other cancer) be prepared for what the future holds? There is no map showing the journey – only a hopeful destination – health, life, remission. Life can’t always be planned (another lesson I’ve learned), and flying into an adventure can be good, even if the way looks stormy.

 

Ronda is 54 years old, she eats right, exercises daily, and there is no history of cancer in her family, yet she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. She teaches folklore and writing at Utah Valley University and works for an online education company, LearningU. She loves reading, listening to music, gardening, walking and riding her bike, traveling, and spending time with her grandchildren, children, and her dear husband – who has been her pillar of strength through her journey. She also writes her own blog called Folklady’s Adventures. Be sure to check back soon for the 3rd installment of her story!

A breast cancer diagnosis is an adventure in and of itself so be sure to check out our educational guides on various topics ranging from hormonal therapies to financial concerns here

Surprise

June 28, 2013

crashRonda Walker Weaver continues her series for the LBBC blog by discussing the three major challenges she faced after being diagnosed with cancer: Rise, Surprise and Adventure. Here she discusses the surprises she faced including a more recent, non-cancer related surprise (photo)…

My life has been filled with surprises – those gifts that show up on my back porch, uninvited, asking to stay. I usually have to choices with surprises – accept in awe and learn, or reject with a whine, “That’s not what I wanted!”

Learning I had cancer came as a huge uninvited surprise. I was in shock for months and in some ways I am still shaking my head in disbelief. Nothing I’ve ever felt – surgeries, pregnancies, or illness could have prepared me for the assault on my body – from cancer. That’s where the surprise came – nothing, nothing prepared me for my treatments and the side-effects. But I quickly stopped my whining and began to see it as a gift filled with surprises – the beautiful surprises that were, still are, a part of my journey. The Surprise is in the Goodness that holds my hand along this journey. The goodness in knowing, and in not knowing -

Knowing I didn’t cause this, and I acted quickly – I am healthy, and my healthy choices made this process more simple than otherwise – no “wish I would have” for me.

Knowing I have insurance. As the bills are still rolling in, we hit our individual out-of-pocket max in one week, I am blessed with healthcare. I give to the roadside panhandlers, and I’ve joked that one day perhaps I’ll stand on the side of the road with a sign that says, “Need boob job,” to see how much money I can make. But medical care is a necessity of life, and I count my blessings.

Knowing I can trust those who are providing my medical care. This has been such a comfort – they have a proven track record, are the kindest folks, they are proactive, and they are happy to work with me and my requests. As well, I have friends who are circling around me to hold me up when I’m falling, to lay beside me when I am alone.

Knowing I have emotional and physical support. I am so blessed to have family and friends and colleagues who care about me – I have so little to give right now, and they are giving so much (two types of soup in the fridge, a loaf of homemade bread, and warm apple cake, e-mails, cards, messages, music, a book).

Knowing Scott (my husband) is devoted to me. Oh he is a good man, he serves me gently, lovingly, patiently. I vacillate between tears of gratitude and tears of frustration and pain, and Scott holds me close. He is my rock. Even with the death of his father during all of this, he stands strong.

Knowing there is a plan – there has to be a gold lining in all of this – and I am hyper-aware that I need to be learning and growing from my experiences, so they are not in vain. While I have counted down my treatment calendar, I have not wished this time away. Writing, as a way to sort things out has been great therapy for me. This really is an “age of miracles and wonder.”

Goodness also comes in the not knowing as well:

Not knowing who or where I’ll be nine months from now, or even tomorrow – that’s part of the adventure and risk I’m willing to take on this journey. It’s part of the surprise – it is the excitement, even in the thick of things.

Not knowing what the plan is – I don’t believe “God must really love you to give you this,” or “God only gives you what you can handle.” Nope, not gonna buy this, there’s too much pain and hatred in this world, and knowing these statements, well, that’s discounting agency, choice, beauty, reality. This is not the God I believe in.

Not knowing has forced me to live in the moment, and this is something I must learn – I must learn it is good to not know.

 ***

A week post radiation my husband and I bought ourselves a post-treatment gift – hybrid bicycles – for road and trail riding. We put them in our pickup and headed to Southern Utah for a week of rest and relaxation and riding. I have fallen into materialistic love with my bike, and I have enjoyed the freedom it allows me, and the knowledge that this exercise is goodness for my mind and spirit. Until . . . two weeks ago I crashed on my bike. My bike flew one way; I flew the other, landing on my left side, elbow first. I am writing this post with one hand. I had emergency surgery to reassemble my elbow. I have stress fractures in my wrist, my hand, and my right foot. I also have some nice bruises! Crashing is the surprise, the goodness comes in the knowing that heck, I’ve had cancer; I’m not going to let a boot and a cast ruin my happiness. But I am going to rest! And no more surprises – right now I prefer “knowing.”

Ronda is 54 years old, she eats right, exercises daily, and there is no history of cancer in her family, yet she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. She teaches folklore and writing at Utah Valley University and works for an online education company, LearningU. She loves reading, listening to music, gardening, walking and riding her bike, traveling, and spending time with her grandchildren, children, and her dear husband – who has been her pillar of strength through her journey. She also writes her own blog called Folklady’s Adventures. Be sure to check back soon for the 3rd installment of her story!

The staff at LBBC would like to wish Ronda a speedy recovery!

For more information about Living Beyond Breast Cancer please visit www.lbbc.org or like us on Facebook.

Lightened Up French Fries!

June 4, 2013

A few weeks ago, “Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen” authors Annette Ramke and Kendall Scott gave us some tips on how to use healthy foods to help boost our moods and ease anxiety and depression. Now these two regular LBBC blog contributors are back with a calorie saving and heart healthy version of a traditional comfort food: The French fry.

Sweet Potato Fries with Peanut Dipping Sauce

When looking to “upgrade” your food choices, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. It might be too much to make a huge, 360 degree change overnight. That’s why we love to keep it real and talk about doing it step-by-step. Every step counts and will make a difference! And guess what? Eating well can be delicious, too! Believe us, we are foodies and we want what’s on our plate to make us smile and make our taste buds happy!

One favorite comfort food many of us have is French fries. Here’s an idea, based on the “Poor, Better, Best Picks” concept in our book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, for satisfying your craving while upping the nutrition in your food!

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A Plane In The Sky

June 3, 2013

A little poetry for your Monday! Courtesy of Suzin Glickman:

My Father was an Officer in the Air Force.

He was a  pilot.

He flew planes in the “Big One”, WWII

He is 96 and a cat with 9 lives.

I am his daughter.

——

I don’t really want to be a plane – literally,

But, in a poetic sense

If I were a plane

I would be…

(not want to be but would be now)

 

A War Bird,

As they were gloriously referred to in

“The Big One”

 

My engines are not firing on all fours

(Not in the sense I am mentally not with it, rather as a result of battle)

Low on fuel;

Flying on

Through this dark and stormy night

The plane, me, keeps flying

The odds building against it

Turbulence

Additional tactical problems arise

My sleek body is rattled with bullet holes;

Paint dull and chipping

Landing gear not functioning properly

Radio contact with tower spotty

 

Yet, me, the plane,

intends to accomplish it’s

Mission

See it through fruition

Attacked,

Battered,

Tossed about

 

The pilot will not bail,

The plane and mission will not fail

Failure, a NASA expression,

Is not an option

This plane will not crash and burn in a Fiery wreck

It will land

With as much grace

As its war torn shell can muster

Beating all odds

Mission accomplished

 

Not its final mission

Whatever patching

And touch up that can be done

Will be seen to

It will prepare

As best it can

For its next dangerous mission

 

I want to be the plane

Which despite all expectations otherwise

Stays up in the sky

And keeps flying.

Suzin Glickman May 18, 2013

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Suzin Glickman is a former Long Island girl, survivor, professor, lawyer, mother, wife and daughter who found writing and creative expression to be one of the most therapeutic and inspiring ways to cope and heal from her cancer diagnosis.  She is pleased to share some of her favorite original poems with the LBBC blog readers. You can find more of her poetry at SuzesMuses.blogspot.com.

Cancer: A Risk, A Surprise, And Certainly An Adventure

May 14, 2013

RondaWalkerRonda Walker Weaver, LBBC‘s newest blog contributor and soon to be regular contributor, shares her story about her diagnosis and how it made her step outside of her comfort zone and learn to accept the new changes in her life.

I am 54; I teach writing at our local university and I work for an education company in my spare time. I am the proud grandmother of 16 grandchildren! I found a lump in my breast on Thursday Aug. 30, 2012, and by the following Wednesday I had a diagnosis of cancer and surgery the following Wednesday – Stage 1 Grade 3 Invasive Ductile Carcinoma, Triple Negative. Twelve days from finding to removing (nothing in the nodes or surrounding tissue). I was told I’d need 8 biweekly chemotherapy treatments and then 35 radiation treatments. No one in my family has had cancer; cancer has never ever been in my vocabulary.  I knew I could not go on this journey alone, and so I invited friends and family to join me. I figured the prayers and positive thoughts would be enough to bear me up. I learned my life was out of my control, and I had to live moment by moment, not only trusting others, but actually needing others to care for me. No plans – just prayers.

I’m not one to run away – I am not one to live in fear – I will walk away from anger, hurt, betrayal, poison, but I prefer negotiating, talking things through, working things out, coming to some sort of compromise. I believe in education, intuition, and inspiration.

Yet I’m not really a risk-taker, unless a risk is defined as driving down a road without a map, or pushing myself at the gym. I won’t put my physical self in any place that might be risky – I don’t like heights, I’m not a great swimmer, I’m probably not going to sky dive anytime soon. I like intellectual risks though – what a rush it is to learn, to discover, and to know I can learn – bring it on!

I prefer “looking forward to,” over “surprise.” I love adventure, but I want to know a little about what I am embarking on. Over our back door we have the phrase, “Go out for adventure, come home for love.”  I like planning, that’s part of the adventure, part of the journey – it’s like receiving a gift card for Christmas, and then using it, 2 gifts for the price of 1!

And here stands cancer.  A risk, a surprise, and certainly an adventure. However – fear, get thee away. I will learn what I can, listen to my own body, and pray for inspiration – it is already arriving.

What I’m learning:

1. Acknowledge it – Breast Cancer

2. Don’t blame – it’s not heredity, not second hand smoke, not diet. It just is. Why me? Why not me.

3. Listen to myself – I was told “something” was coming my way, here it is.

4. Time – a dear friend of mine taught me, “Give it time, the answer will manifest itself.” Reminds me of the tune, “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Time is of the essence, but all I have is time.

5. Get out of my comfort zone – My comfort zone is this, do, do, do, busy, help, seek, find, do, do, do. Now I will learn to be still – again.

Ronda is 54 years old, she eats right, exercises daily, and there is no history of cancer in her family, yet she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. She teaches folklore and writing at Utah Valley University and works for an online education company, LearningU. She loves reading, listening to music, gardening, walking and riding her bike, traveling, and spending time with her grandchildren, children, and her dear husband – who has been her pillar of strength through her journey. She also writes her own blog called Folklady’s Adventures.

Give LBBC Your Feedback About Peggy Orenstein’s New York Times Article, “Our Feel-Good War on Cancer”

May 3, 2013

2012JeanSachsHeadshotVer2WebBy Jean A. Sachs, MSS, MLSP, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s chief executive officer 

Journalist Peggy Orenstein ignited a debate when she explored the limits of mammography screening and the dangers of overtreatment for breast cancer in her New York Times Magazine article, “Our Feel-Good War on Cancer” (April 25, 2013).

For many in the breast cancer community, Ms. Orenstein’s observations come as no surprise. We know survival rates for women with metastatic disease have not changed, despite the widespread adoption of breast cancer screening. That women with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, often receive the same treatments as those with invasive disease—along with the related side effects and emotional distress. That more and more women choose prophylactic mastectomy after a diagnosis of DCIS or early-stage disease. And that our sisters with stage IV breast cancer remain silenced, isolated and underserved.

Still, the article introduced thousands of people to the realities of breast cancer today. As we talked about it at the LBBC office, we had many questions. How did this piece impact you and your loved ones? We want to know:

  • What is your perspective?
  • What questions does this article prompt for you?
  • What are your concerns for your health or well-being, based on what you learned?
  • Which issues deserve more discussion?

Based on your feedback, Living Beyond Breast Cancer will design a program to help further discussion. Please post your comments below, and our staff will review them.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tamoxifen

April 18, 2013

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Most of you already know Randi from her many contributions to the LBBC blog.  Today, Randi gives her take on tamoxifen, currently used for the treatment of both early and advanced ER+ (estrogen receptor positive) breast cancer in pre- and post-menopausal women. In December, 2012 The Lancet, one of the world’s leading general medical journals in Oncology, Neurology and Infectious Diseases published a report suggesting for women with ER-positive disease, continuing tamoxifen use to 10 years rather than stopping at 5 years produces a further reduction in recurrence and mortality, particularly after year 10¹. In her latest post, the first of a two-part series, Randi shares with LBBC readers her experience and thoughts on these latest findings.

I’m still not a full-fledged Tamoxi-Babe.

There.  I admit it.

But after reading lots of information released since The Lancet published a study showing the probability that tamoxifen treatment for 10 years instead of 5 decreases both the rates of mortality and chance of recurrence in women with breast cancer, I may find myself stuck as a passenger on Train Tamoxifen for a few more years.

Pass the happy pills (we’ll get to that in a minute).

I say “stuck” because I was hoping that train was coming to the station.  I was first given tamoxifen after I completed my treatment plan for breast cancer, which was ER-positive (lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation).  I honestly can’t recall the physical side-effects because this little thing called chemo-brain got the best of me (we’ll talk about that some other….what was I saying?) Anyway, after the first few months of tamoxifen treatment, the unexpected happened.

“Seriously?  Did you just say I have a mass growing on my left ovary, which is going to result in the need for me to have complicated surgery? Because believe me, that wasn’t in my cancer plan.”

Seriously.

My body betrays me again.  And then, a little voice in my head started asking if the tamoxifen could have been the reason for my gynecological “problem.” And before you say, “But Randi, studies indicate there’s maybe only a small chance of that happening,” I get it.  I really do, so thank you.  But, “small” ain’t “zero” and I already proved my ability to beat the odds by being diagnosed with breast cancer in my 40s so I know all about odds and how somebody needs to be in the “small” group in order for there to even be a “small” group and deal with the fact that it’s sometimes better to be a zero.

I digress.

As I recuperated from the big hysterectomy bag of a nightmare, my oncologist put me on an aromatase inhibitor, the results of which for me were some messed up side effects. Joint pain 24/7 bad enough to feel like I was going through chemo all over again. I couldn’t get out of bed without being in pain. I feared my days were numbered when I had difficulty just lifting my legs over my bed or unfolding my fingers one-by-one. I felt arthritic and old. Did I mention I was also cranky and belligerent? Like that crusty ancient neighbor we all had in the old neighborhood whose house we ran past because word on the street was she’d try to fatten you up with the gingerbread cookies she used as shingles on the roof of her house.  On the outside, I didn’t look a day over 40, but I felt like a 90 year-old on the inside.

After months of complaints and many aromatase inhibitors later, I came full circle back to tamoxifen. Ironic.  Even worse, it was Alanis Morissette irony better known as the “isn’t it ironic that the things I sing about in this song called “Ironic” aren’t actually ironic but really are just bad luck” kind of ironic. And that little voice was in my head again and it was asking if I was putting back inside of me the very thing that had got me to where I was in the second place. I wondered again if it caused me to lose my female reproductive parts. I even begged my oncologist to use me for a study regarding gynecological masses after taking tamoxifen.

“Not enough data.”

Again. Seriously?

I am the data!

And now The Lancet study, those aforementioned happy pills and a ticket to ride Train Tamoxifen.

I can tell you right now that I’m willing to bet my…

Wait. I was going to say eye teeth but on second thought I’m not voluntarily going to give up another piece of me. Let’s start again.

Randi’s story concludes next week with part two of The Seven Year Itch or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tamoxifen.

For January’s Ask the Expert , Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s monthly online Q&A forum, Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, answered questions about ATLAS, a major new study that has shown that tamoxifen treatment for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer is even more beneficial when taken for 10 years instead of five. These questions were submitted during our January 9, 2013 webinar on News From the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

¹Long-term effects of continuing adjuvant tamoxifen to 10 years versus stopping at 5 years after diagnosis of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer: ATLAS, a randomized trial.  Published online December 5, 2012 in the Lancet, First author:  Christina Davies, MBChB, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.

What, Me…Cancer??

April 11, 2013

On Tuesday we introduced first time contributor Sandi Dennis to the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Blog.  Sandi is a long time supporter of LBBC who grew up in Philly and attended Philadelphia High School for Girls (where she is looking forward to her 40th reunion in 2014!). She majored in journalism at Penn State and worked as a TV news reporter in Columbia, South Carolina, prior to attending University of South Carolina Law School. Today she practices FDA/healthcare law, and policy, including work for companies and nonprofits in oncology and patient advocacy.  She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, daughter and a dog named Lulu. Here is part two of her story.

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On that day of the LBBC Yoga on the Steps Fundraiser in DC,  my sneaky triple negative breast cancer in fact was not gone, only as yet undetected.  And that 95% chance of non-recurrence? Well, somebody has to be in that 5%.  So much for my faith in statistics.   In early November 2012, a trip to the dentist and a routine x-ray showed something odd. “You don’t have a history of breast cancer, do you? I had a patient with breast cancer that metastasized to her jaw . .  .”  Well, my jaw dropped open, and then clenched through a roller coaster week of scans of my head, bones and brain (all normal), and a full body pet scan that showed metastases of my breast cancer to four sites—all soft tissue/lymph nodes.  In the world of Stage IV disease, I am very very early . .   . my cancer is virtually in its infancy. And I have every intention of keeping it there.  I am stunting your growth, you little b . .  .d!!

Wrong assumption # 5: stage IV is a death sentence.  I did not know that stage IV could be livable.  I truly thought that—except in rare instances—stage IV patients were down for the count.  I now understand that with current treatment I am likely to live for 20ish years (at which point I’ll be 75, which sounds way far away to me), and with treatment advances that are likely to emerge in the next decade, I’ll likely live longer than that–maybe even to my original target age of 90. (For some reason at age 45, I decided that 90 was a good ending point.)

I have just completed five rounds of chemotherapy, and am nearing the end of treatment.  The chemo was actually less fatiguing and I experienced fewer side effects this time.   I kept my hair, which shallow but true, makes me feel good about myself.  And I really, really don’t look sick at all, unless one notices my port.  I do suddenly have lymphedema in my right arm, a side effect of having fewer/less functional lymph nodes—even though those lymph nodes were removed surgically almost three years ago.  It’s always something.  But most importantly, the chemo is working! After three rounds, a scan showed that all four cancer sites had decreased in size by about 50%.  These numbers I can handle.  Hallelujah!  Thank you higher powers, and thank you drug developers, doctors, nurses, and everyone else that played a role in this.  Cancer, you’re going down.

Granted, I don’t always feel or act so tough.  Having a lifelong chronic disease is a life change that I haven’t quite wrapped my arms around yet. How exactly does one move on with life, and yet live from scan to scan? I feel like my cancer is a stalker that we may have driven away for awhile, but that is lingering nearby and can move back in at anytime.  My lifelong goal will be to keep him away from the good body parts.

In the meantime, I will continue to do the work I feel passionate about; work out, practice yoga, learn to meditate; be a loving mother, wife, sister, aunt, and friend; get pedicures, and buy rockin’ shoes.  Albeit, I will do all of these things as a cancer patient.  It’s not what I wanted or planned on, but it’s what I’ve got. And we don’t always get to choose.

You can continue to follow Sandi’s story by visiting her own blog, Cancer Diva 4 Ever and be sure to visit the LBBC blog for future posts by Sandi!

As we mentioned on Tuesday, LBBC will host its Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer  Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.  The conference is designed to address the complex medical, social and emotional challenges that women diagnosed with metastatic disease, their families and their caregivers experience. To learn more about the conference visit lbbc.org.  In addition, on April 17, LBBC and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will conduct a free webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST.  Also accessible by phone, the webinar’s featured guest is Dr. George W. Sledge Jr. Chief, Division of Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.  During the call, you’ll hear about today’s standard of care in treating breast cancer that tests negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 neu receptors and gain insight on making the treatment decisions that are right for you.  In addition, how to access clinical trials and get an insider’s look at the latest research on the horizon will also be discussed. Register online or call (610) 645-4567.

What, Me . . . .Cancer??

April 9, 2013

Today, we welcome first time contributor Sandi Dennis to the Living Beyond Breast Cancer Blog.  Sandi is a long time supporter of LBBC who grew up in Philly and attended Philadelphia High School for Girls (where she is looking forward to her 40th reunion in 2014!). She majored in journalism at Penn State and worked as a TV news reporter in Columbia, South Carolina, prior to attending University of South Carolina Law School. Today she practices FDA/healthcare law, and policy, including work for companies and nonprofits in oncology and patient advocacy.  She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, daughter and a dog named Lulu.  

 

SandyDennis

I know far more about breast cancer than I ever thought I would.  In almost three years, I have gone from knowing a bit more than the average bear (as a healthcare lawyer I have worked with biopharmaceutical companies on treatment advances), to knowing a respectable amount.  And since breast cancer has now become part of my forever, I think I’m heading towards PhD status. Much of what I have learned has altered some of my basic assumptions: of who will be a breast cancer patient (not me, of course), what treatment is involved, what chemotherapy is like, and who will have a recurrence/metastatic disease (again, of course, not me!).

I was wrong on all counts.

First, I couldn’t count on lack of family history, my generally healthy lifestyle and overall excellent health, or regular mammograms and exams.  Cancer thumbed its nose at all of that. In April 2010–while trying to print out my boarding pass for a trip to Mexico and a week of intensive yoga, hiking, and vegetarian meals—I felt a lump just above my right breast.  I was not doing a self-breast exam; I think I was scratching under my arm.  If my Internet connection had been faster, I likely would not have found it.

Second, once I swallowed the “you have breast cancer” news (and bought a fabulous pair of retro-vintage high heeled mary janes in ecru lace with black leather trim), I thought I was just meeting with my surgeon to schedule a surgery date.

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(said mary janes)

I went alone, planned to drive to my office afterwards, hopefully in time for a late-morning meeting.  What was the big deal? Just a lumpectomy, I thought, maybe an estrogen-lowering drug . . .  but no, a diagnosis I’d never heard of: “triple negative . .   chemotherapy . .  you will lose your beautiful hair . . . “  I could not swallow those words.  The shoes did not help.  I called my two best friends who came to get me and my car, and stayed with me until my husband could get home.  He proceeded to refinance our mortgage at a lower rate.  I have no recollection of what I did for the rest of that day.

Third, I assumed chemo patients were pale, thin, and sickly, and expected to have my head in the toilet for days. Here, the reality was better than my assumptions. While chemo is no day at the beach, it can be livable and tolerable.  I worked, continued my workouts and yoga, and never felt nauseous, thanks to the advances in treatment of chemo side effects.  I got pedicures, which I once would’ve thought were verboten for chemo patients. I actually gained a bit of weight from steroids, and I never really looked sick, unless someone caught a glimpse of me without one of my wigs on (which did occur in yoga—95 degrees and sweat are not good for wigs!)

Fourth, once I got through surgery, chemo, and radiation, my “beautiful” hair grew back, and I became less fatigued (although fatigue never completely went away), I thought I was home free.  My chance of recurrence was decreasing every year, and at this point was only about 5%.  On October 14, 2012–exactly 2 1/2 years out AND my 56 1/2 year birthday– I proudly participated in LBBC’s Yoga on the Steps fundraiser in DC,  and was the top individual fundraiser.  (Yay me, and yay, my generous, thoughtful friends and family!) I was called up to the stage and given the microphone & announced that I was cancer-free, exactly halfway through my five year milestone. Yay me, yay science and medicine, yay life!

Wrong again, Mary Lou.

You’ll find the second half of Sandi’s first LBBC blog story on Thursday.  In the meantime, you can learn more about Sandi by visiting her own blog, Cancer Diva 4 Ever.

LBBC will host its Annual Conference for Women Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer  Saturday, April 13 and Sunday, April 14 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.  The conference is designed to address the complex medical, social and emotional challenges that women diagnosed with metastatic disease, their families and their caregivers experience. To learn more about the conference visit lbbc.org.  In addition, on April 17, LBBC and the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation will conduct a free webinar at 12:00 p.m. EST.  Also accessible by phone, the webinar’s featured guest is Dr. George W. Sledge Jr. Chief, Division of Oncology, Professor of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine.  During the call, you’ll hear about today’s standard of care in treating breast cancer that tests negative for the estrogen, progesterone and HER2 neu receptors and gain insight on making the treatment decisions that are right for you.  In addition, how to access clinical trials and get an insider’s look at the latest research on the horizon will also be discussed. Register online or call (610) 645-4567.

I Talk To Strangers, You Should Too!

March 28, 2013

randi rentz

Long time LBBC blog contributor, RANDI RENTZ, graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University with a Masters degree in Special Education. She was an editorial assistant for a publishing company in suburban Washington,DC before becoming a special education teacher in a school district outside Philadelphia, PA. Randi currently is an Asperger’s Support Teacher for grades kindergarten through fifth. Presently, Randi has her own consulting company for children on the Autistic Spectrum where you can see her work at   www.helpforaspergers.com. She is a proud member, supporter, and blogger for many breast cancer organizations and never leaves the house without diamonds. Visit Randi at her web site at www.randirentz.com. Be sure to check out the teaser for her upcoming book “Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds!”

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Call me crazy, but I look forward to waiting in line, and just about any opportunity to shoot the breeze with people I don’t know. I’m chummy with the guy who pumps my gas, (the only gas station nearby where they still pump gas for you), still exchange holiday cards with my 4th grade elementary school teacher, and the other day I spent a solid hour gabbing with an 81-year old woman I met at the tailor’s while having my pants hemmed.

I’m now a life-long, die-hard people person. I never used to be, though. In fact, I never enjoyed chatty encounters with people I didn’t know…until cancer. I wasn’t hostile before breast cancer.  Every day I had pleasant exchanges with strangers and acquaintances—an enthusiastic “Morning!” or a friendly “Have a great day!”  Such moments continue to be life-affirming, yet, prior to breast cancer, they were blessedly brief.

On-the-fly updates from people I’ve barely met used to drain me. Seriously.  I always felt obliged to respond with genuine emotion, to pay real attention. I would fake outrage or concern, with a performance that was definitely Oscar worthy. That meant stopping whatever I was doing, and force myself to focus. Since my laser-beam concentration was always sensed by the people stopping me, their details got longer and longer. Oy, vey! I felt trapped like a mouse in a maze.

Did breast cancer make me a people person? Well, I think it made me more aware of the little moments in life that make up the big moments. I now enjoy being a true people person—even though I’m inclined to dislike anyone who describes himself/herself this way. Go figure. I digress, sorry. Anyhoo, hear me out. Lifting your head and engaging with whoever happens to be standing next to you is worth the effort. It’s nice to see people smile and to genuinely smile back. It really feels good and refreshing. You should try it.

For one thing, you never know when you will receive priceless advice.  The 81-year-old cautioned me to get in good with my son’s future wife and to always take the dog out for an evening walk to do “its business.” Little did she know, I have no children and own two cats which use a litter-box. Needless to say, I felt it worthy to file away her words of wisdom. Maybe a stepson and a dog are in my future. Who knows? I digress. Sorry. When I left the fitting room, fiddling with the waistband of my pants, she said, “With posture like that, who needs Spanx? Coming from a stooped octogenarian, her words felt like a wake-up call to enjoy my youthful existence.

I believe my world is bigger with my random encounters. My brushes with strangers bring me the thrill of the unexpected, to glimpse a world I used to brush off and otherwise never see or appreciate. In the frenzy of life, with intense money, work and time pressure, I honestly didn’t have much conversational energy to spare.

Now, I think of it as a habit as “meeting new people,” even if I never see them again. My encounters with strangers bring me back to a place where I long to be. I never had grandparents, because they died before I was born.  But now I cherish chance meetings with people of all ages, especially older people. I find their perspective to be rather eye-opening.

Instead of rolling my eyes, I appreciate the interruption. I am so grateful for the little things in life. I now understand what being a warm person means.

And now, onto the Spanx…


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