Friday, March 20, 2015
It's like a bad mashup and an oxymoron, this post-cancer life.
After nearly 23 years of going through breast cancer, this whole concept of a 'New Normal' has been at the forefront of my mind quite a bit. And as a Language Therapist, I am continually questioning the true premise of what this means to me and my life post-breast cancer - x3.
Everyone talks about this in Cancerland and post-anything-adverse-and-traumatic will of course, force you into a 'New Normal' in our lives, yet, I still can't unravel and pinpoint what this literally means for me. Yes, I understand that there's a transformation, and of course, I have a new perspective on life and absolutely, I am beyond grateful to still be alive and kicking, but it's most certainly a struggle as the scars are still there both emotionally and physically - every.single.day.
I often equate my current mental, emotional and spiritual state as an island. My own island. And sometimes when there are other people around me on my island, I still feel so very isolated and reclusive. Nobody truly grasps what it's like to experience such a phenomenon and the impact of these life-changing events, including me.
I frequently vacillate between my thoughts of I'm still mostly the same person and yet I feel so very different and offbeat from those around me. Do people look at me as the girl that has had breast cancer 3 times over the past 23 years? Do they still see me as the same person? I don't really know as people don't really talk about 'IT.' I can't even imagine (nor do I want to imagine) what my Stage 4 sisters and brothers feel like on a daily basis? I know this is nothing compared to their lives yet is quite impactful on mine.
So, where do I go from here? I'm trying to find my old and new identity simultaneously but I don't feel very successful at it. I heavily rely on complete strangers (thank you Ann Marie, Nancy, #BCSM and Liza!) for validation and comfort. They get me sometimes more than I get myself as I hear them saying the exact same thing with confusion, anger and bewilderment.
I don't want to be my cancer, I want to be myself. Yet, it seems slightly unrealistic when I've spent nearly 45% of my life with this roommate I call breast cancer. I ache on a daily basis, my immune system is shot, I've grown weary of the side effects and I'm so tired of daily medical appointments and therapy that both help me yet frustrate me (I had 11 last week!).
So now what? Life on the post-cancer-fence is most uncertain and definitely a contradictory way to live. I suppose I will simply continue to be myself, my new self or some semblance of my former self. Whatever the case, I'm going to address my life in the same way that I've addressed each cancer diagnosis, facing myself in a forward direction and simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Wish me luck.
Sunday, February 15, 2015
That's right, you heard it! I heard it! The words rolled off my oncologist's tongue as if I were in a slow motion movie. "Leeeetttt's puuuut yooouuu ooooonnn aaaaa 'Taaaammmooooxiiiifen Vaaaacaaatiooon' fooor siiiix weeeeks."
"WHAT?!" Just like that? I did a double take at Dr. G. and then to Hil and then to my mom. Did he just say a 'Tamoxifen Vacation?' Excuse me everyone, but I've gotta get home immediately and start packing my bags because I'm going on a vacation!
So, here's how it played out. After months of ongoing side effects with the newest, heightened one of peeing and pooping my pants at home AND in public, I couldn't take it any more. I had fallen into a crater of medication issues, a side-effects-depression and was now at an impasse and I wanted it settled immediately.
As my mom, my partner Hil and I sat in Dr. G.'s medical room waiting for him a mere 3 weeks ago, I was silently reviewing how I would bring up the Tamoxifen issues. My thoughts were swimming around in my head: Stay classy Yog. Put on your big girl pants. Simply explain the concerns. Inquire about alternatives. But as soon as Dr. G. walked in the room with his resident Sawyer, this is how the conversation actually went down:
Dr. G: Hey! Do you mind if our resident Sawyer joins in on our appointment?
Me: No. Come on in Sawyer!
Mom: (reaching out her hand to Sawyer) Oh, as in Tom?
Me: Sorry Sawyer.
Dr. G: (sitting on his rolling doctor stool looking at Hil) Bad-ass hair cut Hilary!
Hil: Thanks Dr. G.
Dr. G: So, how's it going?
Me: Can we talk Tamoxifen Dr. G?
Dr. G: (Smiling) Sure. What's going on?
Me: (looking at Sawyer). I know I don't know you Sawyer, so please excuse me for what I'm about to say.
Me: (spitting out my words in rapid succession) Dr. G. I'm tired of sh*tting my pants in public places. These side effects are doing me in. But may I say, if there is one place to sh*t your pants in public, may I recommend Walmart? They have everything you need in case this crappy situation happens. (looking at Sawyer) Again, sorry Sawyer.
Dr. G: (waving his hand toward Sawyer) He's heard it all.
Sawyer: Yeah, I've heard it all. This is nothing.
Me: Thanks Sawyer. So, what are we gonna do Dr. G. What are my options?
As the conversation continued, I was quickly trying to read Dr. G's response but didn't have to wait very long before he said, Well, this is no way to live, so let's put you on a 'Tamoxifen Vacation' for six weeks and let's see what happens.
Wha, What?! Really? Just like that? Well, ok then.
After 3 1/2 years of getting to know Dr. G., he knows me well enough to give it to me straight. It's just how we both roll and this time was no different. No beating around the bush, carefully choosing your words and talking to me in a nice, calm, soothing yet annoying voice. Just tell it like it is. And this is exactly why I adore this man. Other than his brilliance, innovation, great sense of humor, open-mindedness, humbleness and nice Stanford background, I just admire and revere Dr. G. so very much!
So, in a couple more weeks, I'll go back to Dr. G. with the good news that most of all of the dreadful side effects are mostly gone and I've had only 1 sh*t-my-pants episode behind me (pun intended), we'll see what's next. He said that there are 2 other meds we could consider as well as a once-a-month shot, so, I'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I'm feeling pretty darn good these days and excited about now a third round of meds to try to keep that damn estrogen-induced-breast-cancer-feeding-hormone at bay. All in all, I'm just hopeful, and that's good enough for me right now.
Monday, February 2, 2015
I know this sounds redundant, redundant, but yes, this is the 5th surgery for me for this last round of cancer and my third breast reconstruction. And like the professional patient that I have apparently become these past 20 years, I have my pre-surgery juju and rituals down to a science now - juicing, keeping to myself, yoga, a massage, inspirational reading and a mishmash of surgical customs. Makes me feel like I have an ounce more control over something that I truly have zero control over.
As for the video, it will give you an inside peek into the ups, downs and the twisted (as in my case) of what can happen to an implant, post-mastectomy as well as my journey in Cancerland. And as usual, my amazing plastic surgeon, Dr. Julio Soares rocked yet this surgery too! Repositioned implant - check. Encapsulated scar tissue removed - check. Reshaped capsule pocket - check. Breast liposuction - check. A rockstar surgeon - check.
Sometimes, I must admit that these ongoing surgeries, no matter how big, serious or small they may be, still get to me. And because I'm a bit of a pro now, my mind often looks beyond the surgery as I know what lies ahead of me - pain, drains, meds and sponge baths. And of course as most all cancer survivors will tell you, I can't seem to disregard my nervousness about the possibility of my surgeon 'finding something.' (But he didn't - WOOT!).
Lastly, you might inquire as to why I made a video of this most recent journey - it was because it allows me to examine a small but significant segment of my life and what I have conquered. The silver lining in doing this is that it sheds light on my present and all that I have to be grateful for.
Surgery went well, I didn't have drains, my implant only twisted around and the surgery lasted only over an hour instead of the predicted 2-3 hours. My incredible surgeon did his brilliant work once again and this recent journey was by far, the easiest surgery and recovery - see for yourself.
Friday, January 2, 2015
Since I haven't blogged in 2 months (needed a break!), I thought the first of the New Year would be a perfect kick start to what I hope to be a very powerful year for me personally and professionally.
Having said that, it has always been my favorite time of year as it feels so fresh and exhilarating. Seriously, who doesn't like a chance for a do-over? I for one have always felt immensely inspired by the New Year as it embodies new beginnings and fresh starts! So, a few years back my partner and I began picking words, phrases and themes for each year as our main focus. But as it turned out, it didn't actually pay off.
In 2011, we decided that it would be the year of 'FUN!' as we yelled it from the rooftops. We were thinking more along the lines of lively, boisterous, exhilarating.... you with me?!
We almost made it through the year on this theme when in November, I felt a lump in my left breast - again! Dang. Felt like I was sucker-punched.
When the New Year, and a 3rd breast cancer diagnosis came, I still felt empowered and yet a little cheated from the previous year's theme, so we went with 'A YEAR OF MORE FUN!' as our mantra for 2012. Unfortunately, that didn't last but 6 days as I went in for a biopsy and a double mastectomy along with the beginning of the reconstruction
Ready to embrace yet another new year and a new theme, I kicked 2012 to the curb and welcomed the new year and continued treatment with my kick-ass attitude! But 2013, the year of 'GRATITUDE' was full of pros and cons, ups and down, good and bad as I finished treatment and rented out our home of 10 years due to the medical bills (American insurance, you SUCK!). With no place of our own to call home, we stayed at my mom's house and other friend's homes up and down the California coast for 5 months (thank you mom, the Ambroses, the Sanfords, the Beltrans and Nance & Val).
By the time 2014 rolled around and no longer feeling cursed, I began to move towards positivity once again and embrace the notion of a word or theme for the year. Survival and life seemed to be the basic theme as we had just moved into a condo down the street from our house and our neighborhood family. We rescued a new dog aptly named 'Tashi' which is Tibetan for good luck and good fortune; a new theme seemed to waltz right into our lives. My partner had just returned back to work full time (with new and good insurance!) and I was able to work a tad more. I was gaining more energy (and unfortunately some weight!) but learning to befriend my daily pal, Tamoxifen. Still in the throws of financial distress, we managed to get back on our feet on so many levels.
So, when the clock struck midnight just 2 days ago as we were in Disneyland ringing in 2015, I once again turned to my partner and said, "Well, what's our theme?" She simply shook her head and said, "No more themes. No more words."
WHAT?! I had to have a theme. A word. Something to feel inspired by. I'm a linguist and a language therapist, words are important to me and that's just how I operate.
I even counter-offered a few out-of-the-box themes. "How about I just make 2015 my bitch!" No. "What about INSPIRATION?" Nope. "OK, why don't I adopt the theme song to Frozen Let It Go for the year?" She indulged me for a few seconds and even sang along with me followed by an emphatic still no response.
With all of this being said, I think I get it now. No theme or word is necessary (there I said it!). Rather a simple and peaceful alternative might be a better case. Living each day with good intention. A positive purpose. A healthy attitude. Yep, that's what I'm going to do. Take each day and moment as it comes.
So, I'll simply say welcome 2015! The year with 365 days and numerous moments of ________, you fill in the blank because I'm not going to.
Happy New Year!
Sunday, October 26, 2014
|Logo Courtesy of Jill's Wish|
And in case you missed her raw and candid beauty in the 15 min documentary, The Light That Shines by Sue Bryce, acclaimed fashion portrait photographer and videographer, you must take the time to watch it now. Because trust me, you will be impacted in the same way that so many thousands have been by her message and her essence.
Even more impressive has been Jill's pay-it-forward and give-back mission to spread her message of strength, love and joy in the midst of her own personal health challenges. Between hospital visits and treatment, she has appeared on several T.V. spots, morning shows and at conferences saying that if she could help "just one person" then she could "die a happy person."
Of course there is more, which is again why I wanted to feature her on my website and blog. And like me, she has endured the financial strain of cancer which is why one of her biggest messages and fundraising efforts is to help others in need. Bingo, she hooked me yet again!
Fast forward to a few days ago when I read on her facebook page that the 'beast' (as we both call it) is coming at her in full force, leaving her with few treatment options. My heart simply sank. But knowing Jill, she is still forging forward with both grace and courage as she attends to her current health challenge. With her wonderful mom and amazing husband, Bart by her side, my guess is that she is still giggling her way through yet another serious phase of her life.
So, with that, please take some time to learn more about this amazing warrior and then immediately donate any amount that you can to her cause that is so close to her heart and of course mine.
Monday, October 20, 2014
|Click the picture to donate!|
That's right, you heard me, I'm here to tell you to #GiveItUp4Mets! Why? Because this is the real killer of breast cancer which gets little funding out of this month's uber-Pinktober. And in case you didn't know, let me remind you of some formidable stats and of the Elephant in the Pink Room...
|Picture courtesy of METavivor|
Stage IV, Metastatic Breast Cancer (the transference of malignant or cancerous cells to other parts of the body by way of the blood or lymphatic vessels or membranous surfaces) is how men and women die from this disease. And unfortunately, nothing has changed much for this group of people as still, 30% of those originally diagnosed with Stage 0, 1, 2 and 3 will progress to Stage 4. Another alarming stat is that after someone is diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, life expectancy for this group is 18 months to 2 years which translates to my sisters and brothers out there dying of this disease every 14 minutes. And if you knew someone that died from breast cancer, this is why and how they did.
Is it starting to make sense now? Difficult to swallow I know, but this is information that we all need to have tucked away in our minds and hearts to truly comprehend this disease.
So, please, I am strongly encouraging you to consider something simple that you can give up in honor or in memory of those affected by Stage IV, Metastatic Breast Cancer. Here's how... take the money that you would have used for a coffee, a mani/pedi, a lunch out, a pizza, a car wash or a movie and take those greenbacks and donate them to METavivor, one of the few organizations out there funding research for this stage of BC!
THEN, and hear comes the cool part... Take a selfie picture or selfie video of how you will #GiveItUp4Mets and the amount that you donated to METavivor. Send us your creative and awesome selfie over at Cancer, Cancer bo-Bancer's new website. Be sure to tell us who you gave it up for (in honor or memory of someone or for a future someone) and we'll put it on our website. Here's mine! - I gave up a pedicure (yep, doing my own!) and gave those dollars to METavivor. So, keep the selfies coming our way, keep donating and by all means, keep caring about someone with or about to hear the news that they have Stage 4, Metastatic Breast Cancer.
I also encourage you to watch this short video from METavivor about Stage IV, Metastatic Breast cancer. It will change the way you think about breast cancer - I guarantee it! Then, take just 5 minutes and one click to make a donation of any monetary value to METavivor.
Every. Single. Dollar. Counts!
Saturday, October 11, 2014
I think Elizabeth Taylor may have summed it up best when she said: "I fell off my pink cloud with a thud." And to that I say, "Well said Liz" because that's exactly how I feel.
Now don't get me wrong, I do have adoration for the color pink, own several pink shirts and blouses that are hanging in my closet and really do think that the singer Pink is quite talented. But when it comes to breast cancer awareness month and all the pseudo fundraising and Races for the Cure going on out there, I find myself getting more anti-pink. It even makes me think of what my sister used to say when we were younger - 'Pink, Pink You Stink!" And to her I say, "Right on, sister!"
So, first let me help you understand the pink underbelly of this famous and mass-marketed month of Pinkwashing.
Pinkwashing [verb] 1. The act of using breast cancer to guilt consumers into buying a product which, if it had not been for the advent of aiding the cure for cancer, they would not have bought. 2. the use of breast cancer by corporate marketers in which companies promote their products with claims to donate a percentage of proceeds to the cause
My definition? 1. An out-of-control lack of cause marketing where funding typically goes to more mass marketing and less funding goes to actual research to find a cure.
There. I said it.
So, now let me illustrate a couple of experiences and stories that will assist you in not only understanding Pinkwashing, but help you make some informed decisions to keep you abreast (pun intended) the next time you're standing in front of a pink endcap.
Today, I was walking in our quaint, beachside downtown area when I saw the sign above. Curious of course, I walked past the shiny and beautiful display of pink items for purchase and inquired about the 'Breast Cancer Research' donation statement. Three sales clerks in this high end boutique paused with great silence when I asked where the funds earned from their Brighton sponsored items would be bankrolled? Silence. Crickets.
Finally, all three of the ladies stumbled with responses such as "Uh, I don't know but let me see if I could find out" and "To breast cancer research" when suddenly, one of the clerks quickly departed the area while the other one just looked down. Finally, my inner Sagittarius couldn't take it any longer and I said rather firmly, "You should really know where those funds go if your store is selling them." Met with silence yet again, I launched into my Pinkwashing definition and my "I'm a 3 time breast cancer survivor" spiel before spinning around and leaving the store while the remaining sales clerk reached her hand out to pat my arm to say "I'm soooo glad that you're still here." Ok, I gave her an A for effort.
Not stopping at this experience, I came home later today and did what any cancer advocate would do - I Tweeted Brighton, inquiring about their #PowerofPink campaign and asked them where they donate those funds to from the accessory purchases. Still no answers and 6 tweets later, I got a cute little red heart icon and a "We'll follow up with that store. Thanks for letting us know." So, of course I responded and included the 'Pinkwashing' hashtag (hey, they included their #PowerofPink hashtag in an earlier tweet. What's fair is fair!).
One last story, my breastie, Ann Marie Otis over at Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer told me that she had a friend back in New York that saw a pink display and inquired as I did without any answer. Still bothered by the lack of information, she called back to the store to inquire yet again, when she was told that the funds were being donated to 'Various Breast Cancer Organizations' and in particular, St. Judes - 'A world leader in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.' A credible organization and cause for sure but hardly related to breast cancer.
So, with that, I'll leave you with a couple of suggestions for the next time you find yourself in front of a pink blender, a pink fracking drill bit, a ride for a cure dealership or a pink endcap in your local grocery store. First, inquire about the donation and funding resource and their cause marketing. Second, see what those funds are actually used for. And third, consider scientific research or patient funding as a place to put your money. Or, visit Cancer, Cancer bo-Bancer and choose one of our 4 breast cancer organizations that we're featuring for this month.
Now get the 'frack' out there and help us find a cure.