Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Year in Review

Really Facebook?! You know my top '20 Biggest Moments' from 2012?!

This short phrase that has been sitting on my Facebook home page, begging me to click on it for at least 2 weeks, turned out to be a total bust (pun intended). Here I was contemplating over this concept myself, reflecting back on this year while I kept fluffing it off until a few days ago when curiosity got the best of me.  Finally, I went out on a limb and hovered my curser over that darn phrase... held my breath and..... click!

NOTHING! Seriously. Nothing happened! In fact, all that came up was a blank, white page. Where were my top 20 'Biggest Moments?' Did I not have anything of value for 2012 in Facebook's eyes? Was I not worthy of 20 moments? Did I not deserve to know how Facebook judged my life? Hell, they can supposedly tell me who is looking at my profile and timeline, and promised me 20 big moments for 2012 but then gave me only a blank, white page!

All of this huffing, contemplating and internal strife for nada! All of the avoidance of clicking on what Mark Zuckerberg thought were my top 20, biggest moments of 2012, and I get nothing?!  Well $#%!&! you Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, I've got moments! So, in one last ditch effort, I clicked on that phrase again today and VOILA! Finally, my top 20 moments appeared in a separate timeline. Ex.cept..... there were only 16 and one of them included a shared picture link from a friend who wanted me to see a colorful ad for some gluten-free play doh.

Again, I say to Facebook and to you Mark - REALLY?! Well, I have at least 20 big moments that include more than play doh! In fact, I'll name them right here and now and only keep them to 20 because... well.... I can. And while I think that gluten-free play doh is a really great concept, here are a few notions for your Menlo Park nerds to ponder in your logarithmic minds about my life:

1.   I secured an amazing 'Healing Dream Team' for my health
2.   I wrote 2 grants in my jammies while going through chemo and recovering from major surgery
3.   I made most all of my Christmas gifts this year in between treatments
4.   I helped my nephew chart out his summer plans to work for a minor league baseball team
5.   I helped my pregnant niece figure out what to do for her severe nausea in her first trimester
6.   I endured 6 rounds of chemo in 18 weeks
7.   I returned to work part-time while still going through treatment every 3 weeks
8.   I pulled out of a lymph node biopsy with flying colors
9.   I recovered from a double-mastectomy with stellar strength
10. I recovered from stage I of reconstruction surgery with brut strength and endurance
11. I did laps around the nurses' station in less then 24 hours after both surgeries
12. I returned to seeing a handful of private clients on a weekly basis in between treatments
13. I returned to work 2 weeks after my final reconstruction surgery
14. I wrote a third grant in my jammies just last month
15. I kept up with this blog when there were days when I could barely sit upright
16. I rekindled old friendships
17. I nurtured new and old friendships
18. I kept up with my 'gratitude journal' nearly every night this past year
19. I laughed whenever I could so that I would not cry my eyes out
20. I helped my sweet little doggie cross over to the 'Rainbow Bridge' when I didn't want to let him go

And there you have it Facebook, my top '20 Biggest Moments of 2012!' BOOYAH!! Oh, and Happy New Year to you too!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry! Merry!

The holidays came upon us fast along with the second year of being in the throes of the big 'C' yet again. But, that didn't stop the holiday spirit, parties and the neighbor's annual 'Ugly Christmas Sweater' party that we crashed a couple of Saturdays ago. So, in preparation of our week-long holiday celebration and before leaving for family celebrations in Northern California, we made sure that our own home gave a nod to the big man in the red suit and all that goes with it. Between the reindeer and the wrap-fest, it was a good kickoff to Christmas 2012.

First stop up North was my brother-in-law's house in East Bay, where the theme seemed to be games, games games. From Candy Land to a 2 hour game of Cranium for the grown-ups, this stop was full of fun, food and my 3 1/2 year old nephew making comments during our Christmas meal about my missing eyebrows as he pointed out that everyone at the table had eyebrows until he came to me - "....and you... don't have eyebrows!" Followed up with a toddler laugh a mile long, I simply said - "It's called chemo buddy...and I also lost half of my eye lashes too!" Again, he just stared at me, paused and then let out his cute belly laugh.

After finally arriving to my mom's house in Monterey, we took a couple of hours out of our Christmas day to visit my fab cousin Dee and her family (mom to Chris) one canyon over from my mom's house. Within 5 minutes of arriving, that Barker spirit kicked in and next thing you know, we were at their kitchen table for a 90 minute gingerbread house decorating competition to which the comments started flying as we were all trying to one-up and intimidate each other's creative process. In the end, mine and Hil's house, the 'Swiss Chalet,' won the finale from the four off-site judges (AKA, my family). So, next year, we're getting serious with personalized aprons, special tools and a year of Google-ing some top secret, decorative ideas.

And finally, four days of some much needed R & R at my mom's house was as always, full of wonderful family time, movies, laughter, crocheting and amazing food. My mom put on a great holiday as usual, made sure there was a fire in the fireplace, kept the coffee and tea coming and filled the house and my heart full of love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Herceptin #12: All In a Day's Work

Get in, get my 'pacman medicine' - get out! Well, not exactly that quick, but that's pretty much the routine these days. This process still takes a few hours but we're definitely getting this down to a science. I do my 'good intentions' at the beginning of each treatment, pose for my personal chemo room paparazzi (Hil!) and negotiate with the chemo nursing staff to slow down the drip a little so I can fit in that all important snooze towards the end of the treatment that I feel coming on. And hats off to Socorro for doing an awesome job and getting the right vein the first go-round. It's been a little challenging lately to get that infusion needle in there on the first try, but the Vein-Gods were on my side this time. Whew and thank you!

As usual for Hil, she spent much of her time taking photos, getting me warm blankets and pillows and helping out the other patients. She is so great with elderly people and the other patients and it shows. I'm sure the chemo nursing staff would love to put her on payroll as a 'Chemo Room Concierge' as she's quite good at it.

It was such a beautiful day, that after Herceptin treatment #12 and before my next medical appointment, we headed over to our favorite park in Santa Barbara for some R & R, a little photog fun for Hil and just some much-needed time with Mother Nature. She was good to us this day and showed her sunny and warm side during our break at the park. The ducks were adorable, the leaves on the trees glorious and the grass smelled wonderful. As Hil always reminds me, it's the simple things in life that fill us up and we left the park that day with both of our emotional tanks full.

Next stop in our full day was a follow-up appointment with my lovely and wonderful plastic surgeon, Dr. Julio Soares. As standard procedure (ahem!), I wait for he and Hil to finish their camera, lenses and F-stop convo before he takes a peek at his skillful work on me. They are so funny in their all-consuming chit-chat about this subject but I've become quite used to it after a year. Plus, Dr. Soares was leaving the next day for a two-week trip to India and he had some pressing questions about lighting. But past that, he was quite pleased with my progress and finally admitted that my case was one of the hardest to date. But aside from that, we were all pleased with the outcome and I for one, am forever grateful to him for not only his skillful work but his level of sensitivity and care.

Driving home at last after a full and productive day. I cannot say enough how extremely grateful I am for this day, my progress, my medical peeps, Hil's love and care and a beautiful sunset. Life is indeed, good to me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Year Later...

Breast Cancer Phone Stats:  Repeat - NEVER! Alert - NONE! 

What a difference a year makes. Never in my wildest imagination, dreams or nightmares would I have ever thought I would be marking a solid year of breast cancer yet again. And when I reflect back on this past year's events of getting another diagnosis, surgeries, chemo and numerous doctor's appointments, I can still hardly digest it all.  But in contrast and to keep my mind from reeling over the past 12 months, I instead choose to focus my attention elsewhere, and that's with gratitude.

So, here I go as I did in one of my first ever posts last year - my gratitude to my universe of peeps.

I am grateful for my family for their endless love, humor, grace and support that they have given to me through both the highs and lows. They've seen me at my best and at my absolute worst. I couldn't ask for a more loving mom, sister, bro-in law, niece, nephew & 'J.' I am also very grateful to Hil's family for their love, humor and skills (and boy do they have skills!) - thank you Natey-Nate (wickedly funny!), Christine (sister-in-law & pharmacist extraordinaire!), Marcus (Boob engineer), Shawna (Words With Friends champ!) and 'da Mama' & Steve! I'm grateful for my 'Babysitting Posse' (Donna, Kim S., Miss O., Deb, Sam, Dolores, Donna, Maureen, Jack, My Angela, Cheri, Val, Nessa, Dana). I am grateful to new and old friends who supported me to the moon and back, Julie-Bunny, Cath, Susan & Sydney & Cynthia! Wow, you five could run this country! I am uber grateful to my 'Kid Posse' that continues to inspire me through their sweet honesty, beanies, and a 'who cares that you're bald and have cancer' mentality - Miss O., Little Mister Cash (who has finally stopped calling me 'shiny head!'), the Strand boys, Sam, Jack, Kai, Alex, Chloe, Zoe, Maddie, Hannah, Ethan and Eli. I am so very grateful to my 'Work Posse' and THE best boss I have ever had in my life!! Thank you 'Saint Silvia,' Wlady, Rosa, Donna, 'A,' Grace, Crystal, Gaby, Suzanne, Mari, the TCRC ladies and 25 others!  I am grateful for all the dinners provided to us when I could barely tolerate a sugar-free jello cup - so, hats off to the Sanfords, the Clawsons, the Beltrans, the Halls, the Joyce's and VAN (you know who you are!). I am VERY grateful to my 'Cancer Center Posse' for lifting my spirits every couple of weeks from the moment I walk into the building to the time that I leave - so thank you Tammy S., Sam, Joanna, Martha, Martha B., Amber (I miss seeing you!) Amanda, Dr. G., Socorro, and Kimba! You people ROCK! I am grateful for my longterm caregivers who came from near and far (Sweden) and who used their vacation days, sacrificed family time and who gave wholeheartedly to my care - thank you Aleesh, Jane, Denise, Kim & Eric, Mom, Deidre, Mama and the 'Swedes' (Micke, Lollo, Oscar, Johanna!). I am also beyond grateful to my amazing medical 'Healing Dream Team' - Dr. Soares, Dr. Grafton & Dr. Greenwald - they are freaking AWESOME! And lastly, my cup runneth over with gratitude, love and support for Hil. I can't even begin to find a proper word for the level of caregiving I have received from her over this past year. It is a very difficult job to provide caregiving to a cancer patient 24/7. So MWAH and gratitude to her, all of you and many more that I hope my chemo-brain has not forgotten.

And finally, but equally important, I have immense gratitude for my health, my life and my imminent future. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, just right now.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Herceptin #11: BOO!

By now, my new friends at the Cancer Center have learned one thing about me - expect the unexpected. And, never underestimate the power of a little humor as it truly can carry one through difficult and dark times. Hence, the hats for Herceptin treatment #11.

Delightful and humorous, simply said, these hats that neighbor Sam gave me came in handy just in time for not only Halloween, but for the diversion I was looking for 4 days post-reconstruction surgery and for some gnarly pain. And because of that, may I openly and honestly admit that I don't recall much about this day, my treatment or the hats (Thank yoooouuuu Norco 10, Ativan annnnnd Tramadol).

High on life (and apparently pain meds), this treatment went swimmingly well and smooth according to my mom and Hil. And while I value a sharp mind and memory, undeniably, I didn't have much of either for Herceptin #11 or for that entire day for that matter. For all I know, I showed the chemo staff and the room full of my newest, elderly friends, the 'New Girls' (Oh, how I hope that isn't the case!).

And so here's how the day went down according to Hil, my mom and the pictures that I found on the computer just yesterday - a genuine surprise.

First stop, an appointment with my oncologist which was quickly followed up with my Herceptin treatment in the chemo room (again, I only know this because of the pictures you see above that I found on the computer yesterday). Second stop, lunch with Julie-Bunny at her house for some lovely soup (so I hear), great company and stimulating conversation (I recall NO.THING! - Sorry Julie). And my last stop was to my post-surgery appointment where my acute memory (vaguely recalled yesterday) of the conversation the three of us had (subtext: a lecture from Hil and my mom) in the parking lot as we were walking into the medical building to see Dr. Soares. Apparently, it went down something like this:

HIL: Ma, we HAVE to make sure Yog walks in there like she's off her pain meds because the nurse doesn't want her to be on any and will chew her out if she suspects anything!
MY MOM: Okay, what should we do?
HIL: We need to give her more coffee!
MY MOM: Did you hear what Hil said, Yog? Drink the coffee. Quick!
ME: What are we doing here?
HIL: Yog, I'm, serious, stand up straight, don't talk much, open your eyes and act like you're really alert.
MY MOM: Shouldn't she be able to walk in on her own, Hil?
HIL: Yeah. Well, we'll just get her up the ramp to the front door of the building and then have her walk into the office on her own.
MY MOM: Got it. Sounds good. Did you hear that Yog?
ME: Oh yeah. I just love Dr. Soares. He's the best ever!

Stellar performance with Dr. Soares and his nurse - check. And from what I found out yesterday and after looking through all of the pictures, the appointment went very well and the doctor was extremely pleased with the outcome of my reconstruction surgery and recovery.

Moral of this story: Ignorance is bliss.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goodbye Expanders -Hellllooo New Girls!

Click and Enjoy the Show!
Music: 'Butterflier' from A Movable West

After months of waiting, and watching my original implant due date come and go, I finally welcomed the 'New Girls' on Friday, October 26th! And no, do not expect the pink announcement in the mail giving all the details like "They're twins." "Weighing in at 425cc's." "October 26, 2012 at 7:15am." "Santa Barbara, California.' Nope, not going to happen.

And long gone are the days of the uncomfortable-hard-as-rocks faux breasts from those gnarly expanders that have been in place since last January. And, as luck would have it, I am actually one of the first patients in Santa Barbara to receive the new FDA gel-filled breast implants with the new outer casing and durability. Feeling like a true breast cancer patient pioneer!

I know, I know, a bit of an 'overshare' on my part but hey, the days of being timid about the 'Girls' are so over. But, I've had every doctor, nurse, intern, surgeon and friend take a peak at my front side over the last year, so by now, the subject is clearly no longer taboo for me. A little nip and tuck here, liposuction there to even them out, half a foot of stitches there and 2 hours later - VOILA!

But all kidding aside, I once again had an entire team of medical staff and family by my side to see me through this next step in the journey. Both nurses Barbara and Joe, were at my bedside yet again as they were for the double mastectomy surgery. Mindy, the surgical nurse was again cracking us all up with her hilarious jokes and iPhone pics of past Halloween costumes. Dr. Soares, surgeon extraordinaire, who was by my side gently holding onto my arm,  promised me and the nurses that he did his morning 'Surgical Zen ritual' and that he was completely prepared for my procedure.

And last, but definitely NOT least, was the loving presence of Hil and my mom by me every step of the way that Friday. Snapping pictures, holding my hand, helping me get into a good space with releasing, breathing and meditation, both walked by my side as I was wheeled into the surgery room. I couldn't have done it, or would have had it any other way. I thank them both with all my love for the purest form of love and care that anyone could ever hope to have.

So, as usual, I went in with my "See ya in 2 minutes" philosophy and with my dad's Two Feathers in hand, along with my chanting music playing on my iPod; all was well and all went well. I thank my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for all your prayers, good wishes, jokes and love. It really does make a difference in my life.

P.S. Special thanks to 'Julie-Bunny' for bringing mom and Hil S.Bux and goodies to the waiting room. MWAH!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pre-Op, Post-Op: It's All Good!

To digress slightly, there have been some medical appointments as of late that have seemingly come in a pack of 3 - like socks, iTune gift cards and a really nice set of pens.

Doctors, follow-up appointments, pre-op surgical consultations and the post-chemo early Herceptin Echocardiogram to make sure the 'ol ticker is still in good shape has been on the menu. A cornucopia (excuse the Fall, but timely reference), of all-important appointments in the land of cancer and surgery.

First stop, Dr. Grafton, my general surgeon, whom I see every 3 months for the post-mastectomy show-and-tell where she inevitably brings another professional into the room to say the predictable "See, isn't this wonderful? Look at that!" And she doesn't, at all, do this out of the need to boast or brag about her uber-surgeon-skillful-work but rather, to connect with her patients and show her sensitivity towards the aftermath of a double-mastectomy. And also as usual for her was the mid-sentence conversation we had the second she walked through the door - "So, I just came home at 1:00 this morning, guys because I had to go back East on a college tour for my oldest..." aaannnnd we're off! Accompanying her was my 'Nurse Navigator' (I do not make these titles up!) whom I call my 'Nurse GPS' - Tammy Stockero from the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara (LUV her!!) who happened to be in Dr. Grafton's office so she popped in on the post-mastectomy-surgical-party! 20 minutes later, we were all laughing, joking and hugging-it-out and forgetting all about the Big C!

Next stop, was my pre-op final breast reconstruction appointment with the ever-talented Dr. Julio Soares, plastic surgeon. Yep, the time has fallen upon me as I'm going in to get these #$%&!# breast expanders and magnet ports removed once and for all and to have the new FDA approved breast implants, AKA, the 'New Girls' (which I've already named), take up residence in my post-mastectomy chest. FDA regulated this, 425cc's that, skin sparing this, blah, blah surgical-talk blah. BUT....the silver lining (yes, that's how I'm calling it) is that this is my final surgery and BOOOONUUUSSS.... I got thrown in a complimentary Latisse eyelash prescription treatment (my other choice was Botox - noooo thanks!) to help these chemo affected eyelashes grow and thicken. But in all seriousness, my appointment with Dr. Soares goes as it always does - with sensitivity, kindness, respect and a heart-to-heart about the breast cancer journey. And as always, Dr. Soares and Hil get into a deep but enthusiastic convo about cameras, lenses, lighting, megapixels, filters and the like, all the while I stand there getting my breasts measured with some cold metal instrument as he declares my numbers for the nurse to record. AHEM.... helllllooo people, I'm in a gown, with it opened in the front - can we move the Canon 60D dialogue along and out into the hallway?! Yeah, thanks!

Last stop, was my post-chemo, 6-month cardiac follow-up with my previous technician Kim who loves to distract my wooshy doppler ultrasound experience with stories about her teenage daughter and the challenges of pubescent technology and the lack of face-to-face communication (and I thought breast cancer was a challenge? - ha!). But, 30 minutes later, she said I had a "beautiful heart" and that there was absolutely nothing for me to be concerned about. So, we bid each other adieu with a "See ya in 6 months!" and that was that. But, all in all, it was good to know that the Herceptin hasn't done a thing to my favorite bodily organ! And in fact, laying in the dim light on a massage-like table was kind of like taking a mid-afternoon nap which apparently me and my heart needed.

In the end, I hope to marvel at the new me. Walk proud. Be courageous in all matters of importance and carry on as if this were a tiny blip on the radar screen of my life. Can I hear a big Woot! Woot! please?!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Herceptin #10: Meet Chris!

I knew right out of the gate that I wanted to dedicate this treatment to my second cousin, Chris (and Aunt Charlotte's grandson), who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The son of my fabulous, first cousin, Deidre who lives 'one canyon over' from my mom up in the Monterey area - Chris is a true champ in every sense of the word.

A 15-year old teenager and a boy of few words, Chris has already shown quiet determination (totally genetic!) as he just completed this week's first round of 7/8 days of chemo (insert a loud round of applause here!). And of course, he is amazing and blowing away his team of doctors and medical staff up at Stanford already! Surgery - check. No nausea - check. Good appetite - check. Great attitude - double check.

Instead, Chris prefers to occupy his time with matters of great importance for a teenage boy, like listening to music, watching TV and gaming on his iPad during treatment. And while he and his family spend nearly 4 hours each day driving up to Stanford for his chemo, not a peep or a complaint is heard. Instead, Chris is simply doing the job that's been set before him by his fab medical team along with a great spirit.

And as I continue to stay in close contact with my cousin, I realize that I can really learn some things from my chemo comrade, Chris - like doing what I need to do right now and taking myself less seriously. I even told my cousin Deidre that I wish I could face my own life with cancer like a 15-year old boy - maybe I can. So, I will most definitely make every attempt to channel Chris a little more as I enter into another surgery next week and 7 more months of infusions.

So, join me in honoring Chris - an inspiration and a 15-year old force to be reckoned with!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bald Solidarity!

I finally gave in and shaved Hil's head after months of her begging me to allow this act of solidarity. I simply couldn't bear it at the beginning of chemo as it only represented illness to me. But now that I'm on the other side of that part of treatment and feeling much better physically and emotionally, I volunteered to give her the Buddha look she was desiring a few nights ago (thank you Amy & Matt for the shaver!).  I am over the moon with her new look and this immense act of love and support! Here's a few more pics that I captured of her today. WOW, right?!

A nod to a true beauty...

In contemplation as always...

With our backyard Buddha. Lots of prayers these days...

Thanks to Buddha for answering our prayers...

I've been so touched by Yog's bravery throughout this entire breast cancer journey and especially her willingness to embrace her beautiful baldness by walking out courageously in public without any hair covering.  Throughout this process, I have noticed how people, both young and old, would stare at her and I just wanted to protect her and shield her from all judgement.  So when in choosing to shave my head, I wanted to not only provide a buffer for her but to also walk in unity with her in as much as I could, not having gone through the experience of cancer, myself.  I also wanted to know what it was like to walk in her shoes, if only through the semblance of a bald head.  And since last Thursday, which was B-day (no, not birthday but rather my personal Bald-day) I have undergone an enormous emotional and spiritual change.  What was intended as a supportive gesture to Yog has ended up being a wonderful gift to me.  I feel stronger, more powerful as a woman, more vulnerable, and feel stripped of some of my ego. I never expected to receive the gifts I have from this simple act of a head shave but I'm glad I did it and am glad that Yog was the one to shave it for me....She is the brave one!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Bald Truth

To the 4 kids and their mom in the blue Honda CR-V in the Trader Joe's parking lot:

The next time your kids yell out rude comments from your car window at the bald lady (AKA, chemo/cancer patient) pushing her grocery cart through the parking lot, PLEASE.DO.NOT.MAKE. FUN.OF.HER!! Instead, why don't you 'parent up' and make this a 'teachable moment' in lieu of allowing your little angels this disgraceful behavior. SHAME.ON.YOU! And, while you're at it, you should also not look directly at the bald lady (that would be me!) and start laughing with your kids before quickly rolling up your window!

Oh, and here's another little insight for you CR-V mom - you will, at some point in time, be afflicted by this epidemic called breast cancer! If it's not YOU, it may be your daughter that was sitting next to you in the car in 15 years that receives this diagnosis. Or, it may be your mom, sister, cousin, best friend or neighbor that has to endure this atrocious and hellish disease.

Truth told, do you not think that I already don't feel emotionally drained from this experience that I have had to withstand for the past year? 20 years? Do you think that I am feeling at my physical best during this cancer gig? Do you know how horribly difficult this past year has been on my life, my partner's life, my sister, my mom, cousins, friends and neighbors?

Will you laugh then when your own life is impacted by the doctor saying - "I'm sorry to tell you, but you have breast cancer - AGAIN!?" Will you stop your sons from making fun of your mother, daughter-in-law, sister, daughter? Will you look the other way to try and hide your snickering then? OR...... might you take the high road and impart some thoughtful and mindful wisdom while showing some compassion and sensitivity as a conscious parent?

Just asking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Herceptin #9: No Monkeying Around!

As Dr. G. said to me a couple of weeks ago, "You have chemo room anxiety. All patients do!" Really, I thought? Not me. I don't think I feel that much anxiety about going in there. But, this morning at 3:00 am proved me wrong. Dang! I don't like that he's right on this one! I mean, even Hil admitted to having the same anxiety about being in there along with the familiar 'chemo smell' that gets to her while we're in the treatment room.

But, early this morning (3:00am to be exact), I was awakened by significant nausea, which, was going nowhere and actually became significantly worse. So, I popped my anti-nausea pill and tried to settle into it and go back to sleep but, my stomach wasn't buying it. Hil went downstairs to get me an applesauce cup so that I could have something in my belly to help and it did the trick thank goodness. As her dietician cousin says, "Nausea needs attention with meds and stomach pain needs food." So, that's what we did, which, definitely helped, but was taking a little longer than I desired.

Hil, now wide awake, spent the next half-hour sitting next to me with her hand on my stomach trying to aid me to sleep. Must have worked, because the next thing I knew, it was 6:00am and the alarm was sounding off.

So, in my usual pre-infusion ways and rituals, I took in lots of water today, went for a long walk, meditated, ate wonderfully, healthy foods and journaled. I also like to keep to myself on these days in order to cultivate the right mindset and framework. It's much too easy to be externally distracted by life's minutiae so my goal is to maintain a certain, yet solid mentality that allows me to have my 'Pac Man Medicine' as my focal point for the day and for my treatment.

As for the Herceptin infusion itself, it went fast and easy once my veins cooperated. Took a couple of tries but eventually my nurse (the fabulous Martha!) found the right one. She kept apologizing that the first several pokes weren't working and I about squeezed Hil's little hand right off, but we got through it and all went well.  I even scored a monkey bandage like I used to get when I had to go in for my post-chemo immune booster shots with Amber. 

As for our time in the chemo room, we spent it as we usually do with Hil going to the 'blanket oven' and bringing me two blankets (and a pillow!) - one for my cold infusion arm and one for my body as it's very chilly in there! And then we settled in... me on my iPad, iPhone and writing some cards while Hil was grabbing some snacks and downloading all those saved up Amazon gift cards on her Kindle (my sister would be so proud of her that it only took 2 months to use them since her birthday)!

So, all in all, Herceptin #9 treatment proved to be just fine and A-OK! Only 8 more months of my marvelous infusions and it's a done deal. In the meantime, I'm aspiring and striving at staying present with myself each minute, hour and day as I forge on with my cure. What choice do I have but to stay as focused as I can and allow this miracle medicine to heal and cure my body. While that's the prize at the end of this trail, I can't help but be reminded that each moment we have is a precious one. As the children's song 'Going on a Bear Hunt' says - Going on a bear hunt! Going on a bear hunt! I'm not afraid! I'm not afraid! Are you? Are you? Not me! Not me!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Standing on the Corner of BALD St. and CHEMO Ave.

No, I did not plan this one bit. In fact, I didn't even notice this sign when Hil and I went to Ojai a couple of weeks ago for one of our 'Sunday drives.' We simply wanted to be out in the sunshine and after stopping at a new outdoor cafe for a break and a small bite to eat, we returned to our car to keep heading down the road when we noticed it. We both gasped, laughed and immediately she wanted a pic of me right under my new street sign. We couldn't believe the coincidence (HA!) of standing on this corner at this time in my life - baldness down one street and chemo down the other. Clearly, a salute and a bow to this journey.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flying Solo with Herceptin

Although it's been some time since my last blog entry, cancer, chemo and Herceptin are always on the forefront of my mind. And after finishing 6 rounds of chemo, a bout with bronchitis and now the flu, I remain grateful for all the good medicine that comes my way.

Officially, next Tuesday will mark my 9th treatment total and my 3rd solo Herceptin infusion which takes less than 2 hrs. from my pre-treatment appointment with my oncologist, a chat and check-up with his fab P.A. Amanda, and the dreaded weigh-in. A far cry from the 6 plus hours I used to spend in the cancer center. And although I'm nearly 40 lbs. lighter, I still beg the nurse to skip that part and negotiate at least 2 lbs. less due to clothes and a meal in my belly. She usually gives in and now says, "Okay, minus 2 lbs, that makes....." Thank you Martha!

As for the wonderful support people in my life, I count myself extremely fortunate to have good friends and neighbors helping out along the way. Deb and Sam (my beanie pal across the street) drove me to my first solo Herceptin treatment in August and provided great company to me. Afterwards, we even fit in a quick stop at the beach on the way home to get a whiff of that great ocean air and take in some of those magical negative ions to enhance the mood.

So, even though I have 8 months left of infusions for the 'ol veins to endure, I count my lucky stars that my 'Pac Man Medicine' (my visualization) is doing its thing to implode those cancer cells. So, thank you Herceptin, thank you Dr. Michael Press for discovering this miraculous medicine that's giving me my cure and thank you Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.

Grateful indeed.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chemo Graduation!

I am beyond ecstatic to be writing this post congratulating myself for finishing 6 rounds of chemo and 18 weeks of side effects. So, yes, a flames' beanie was in order for this final go-round (again, courtesy of my 11 yr. old neighbor Sam).

Thank you to all of you who cheered me on these past 4 months and especially for this last round. I received such wonderful texts, cards, pictures, calls and love! I am forever grateful for the support. And before I head into 9 more months of Herceptin infusions (minus the side effects of chemo!), I wanted to share a small dose of the love that I received from all of you during this last round.

Nothing like a thumbs up pic from my big sis as I sat down in that chemo chair on July 17th. Made my day! She's been cheering me on the entire way with a big 'Wahoo' even when I felt like I couldn't go on for even one last round. 

I came home that day to a fun surprise delivery of flowers from my sister and a sweet note congratulating me on my chemo finale and saying that I 'Rock!' Love you 'two biggers and a whole lot too' sister!

A text from my mom made my day (my head cheerleader)! We just got her up and running with texting (she's so hip!) and look at her go now! I love hearing from my mom since she couldn't be there with me! Love you 'Two biggers and a whole lot' back Mom! 

Good friends Jeff and Aleesh paid homage to my flames beanie on chemo #6 by texting me back this picture of the two of them in their froggy and panda stylin' hats. Man I could've used those cute hats over the past couple of months but they look crazy cute on the two of them.

Obviously against his will and better judgement, Jeff and Aleesh's dog Cal (yes, named after Cal Berkeley) sent his own texted pic of a beanie tribute for round #6. And although his expression doesn't capture the jubilation of wearing a kitty beanie, I know deep down inside, he was super excited and knew how uber cool he looked sporting that black cat on his head.

Even my 5 year old niece Maddie got in on the celebration by texting this pic with her dad saying "I Love you Auntie Yogi and Auntie Hil!" And to that, I say "Ditto and back to ya girlie." Appreciate the love and the cure!

To top things off, our old housemate and good friend Ruston dropped by for an impromptu visit the day after round 6 and graced us with his supreme musicianship. He and Hil got right back up on the saddle like the 'ol days and sang several songs for our listening pleasure. It was divine and definitely music to my ears. Ruston even dedicated 'On the Road to Recovery,' a special song that he made up for me on the spot. A good way to end round 6 I would say.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chemo #6: The Final Frontier!

Drum roll please, aaaannnnd - YES, this is my last and final chemo treatment. The voyage has been long, it was an 18 week mission, I explored a strange new world, I am seeking a new life and civilization and indeed, I went boldly where I have never gone before.

So, in honor of this process and two of my aunts, I am dedicating this final chemo to them. Two ladies who fought their own wars and had their own encounter with breast cancer. No longer with us, I have thought of them numerous times throughout this journey. I've held them close to my heart as they've visited me in my dreams throughout my own cancer odyssey which is why, tomorrow I must continue the showdown on breast cancer on their behalf too.

Aunt Charlotte, a true-blue 'Barker' (AKA, stubborn, headstrong, persistent!) was tiny but unyielding during her battle - actually, her entire life! I recall that big smile, her beautiful blonde updo, and the long, weekly chats at her kitchen table after a day at community college. I also fondly remember those amazing cakes that she used to make with each perfectly dotted dab of frosting. And I'll forever recall my last visit with her in the hospital in Monterey just weeks before she left us way too early - still smiling, holding MY hand and looking at me with such sweet eyes. And before long, she became my 'Left Shouldered Angel.'

Aunt Henrietta (AKA, 'Hanky Panky') also took a stance with BC as we were diagnosed twice at the same time with her encounters of cancer in her home in Sweden and mine here in California; we had much in common to say the least. Bravely facing the Big C. with that determined 'Barker Temperament' I recall a lifetime of fun, laughter and wonderful conversations around both our American and Swedish tables. And visiting her a week before she took up residency as my 'Right Shouldered Angel' - her last words to me were simple yet profound as she channeled my dad - "Don't worry so much Yogi, just be happy. It's most important for you in this life to be happy."

So, these are the memories of my two lovely aunts that I will hold near and dear to my heart as I walk into that chemo room tomorrow. I'll give them both a nod and wink of love and gratitude as I take my place in that chemo chair for one last round. I will forge on with our 'Barker Spirit' and enough of a feisty attitude for the 3 of us! And although I will continue on in that chemo room for the next 10 months every 3 weeks for the final phase of my non-chemo treatment, I will self-assuredly, keep my aunts on my shoulders as this is where I have felt and seen them through every step along the way and throughout each and every surgery.

Love & Älskar dig! 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Ray of Light & Sunshine

Some might say this shot was a simple sunshine effect or a lighting bonus, I say poppycock!

Actually, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this picture, recently taken just two days before my last chemo, was perfect timing. And without risking sounding too spiritual for some, I'd like to believe that this beam of light was a message from someone (ok dad, I got it!) letting me know that I can forge on with my treatment and all will be just fine.

I'd also like to think that I still have that beam around me as I head into my last chemo treatment next week. The past couple rounds have been rather gnarly and I'm hoping for a little light (pun intended) on this round because frankly, these treatments are starting to take a toll on this body. But, I'm doing my very best to keep my chin up and know that I am surrounded by goodness (and light!).

So, thank you to our friend Vanessa who took this picture and was amazed herself as none of the other pictures she captured that day showed the beam of light. Now that, I find inspiring.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chemo #5: On the Home Stretch!

Me rockin' my Sponge Bob beanie next to my rock star chemo nurse, Martha

Yesterday's chemo #5 had so many special moments wrapped up into one that I hardly know where to start.

For obvious reasons in my family's mind, yesterday marked 14 years since my dad unexpectedly passed away.  And as he always used to say, "All the best and most important things happen in June... Father's Day, Flag Day and my birthday!" So, of course he timed it so he passed away in June. Just one more time to prove his point of the significance of this month so of course, I dedicated this treatment to him, his strength, his humor and sensitivity. I knew he was by my side as both tears and laughter hit me throughout the day.

On another note, it was my niece Maddie's 5th birthday (Hannah's younger sister) who is psyched to be aging slightly as she is gearing up for Kindergarten in the fall. A fun yet slightly nervous anticipation for her.

And as kids go, I decided to sport a beanie that my 11 year-old neighbor, Sam brought over to me. In fact, he traipsed across the driveway about a month ago with a basket full of groovy yet boyish beanies for me to borrow for my head. I finally came down to 2 of them and made my way back across to his house a few days ago asking him which one I should wear for my next treatment as I held them both up for his final viewing and vote - "Flames or Sponge Bob?" And without an ounce of hesitation, he just gave me a firm nod from across the room and said "Sponge Bob!" So, there you have it. And may I also say that I have never received so many complements from the cancer center staff and fellow chemo-mates about my headgear as I did yesterday.

And as usual, Julie-Bunny did a quick surprise drive by to say a loving hello and to hold my hand during the infusion as Hil took a quick break for herself. So, we kicked her out yet again with her Kindle in hand for some prime reading time. But as always, Julie brought a bundle of love and care along with a video from her boys who keep sending me awesome songs to lift my spirits. They are such talented young boys and I simply love the sweet gesture and their costumes (leather jackets, bling & caps). So, we sent one back two days ago and apparently we are now in a video sing-off with this testosterone trio. Bring it on boys, we're ready!

All in all, it was a pretty good chemo day. Great staff, my dad by my side, a new arm to poke and infuse and my old meds to help with the 'ol nausea. So, pray to the Chemo Gods for me that this round goes much easier and that I'll be up and ready to roll for my last chemo on July 17th!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fun with Frankel!

A good friend (thank you Sydney!) and chemo veteran said to me nearly two months ago, "You've got to find some fun things to do when you feel good!" Within an hour, I went online and applied to go to the new Bethenny Frankel Show produced by Ellen. "Hmmm" I thought, "This could qualify as fun." It's free, I think Bethenny is fun herself and I hope to drink one of her Skinny Girl margaritas by the end of summer.

A few weeks later, I got a call from the Ellen Degeneres Show stating that if I wanted two tickets to the new summer show, guaranteed tickets to see Ellen in the Fall, and a chance at attending one of her '12 Days of Christmas' shows then they were mine.

Pause.... (2 seconds) - "Uh, yeah" Mr. Audience Director, "Sign me up!"

So, the timing as I had hoped, worked out uber perfectly. Rough week last week... rested all day Monday... hopped in the car yesterday and headed to Burbank at 8:45 in the morning (showered AND dressed!).

The process went fairly easily (minus Hil misplacing her studio ticket minutes before our group got called up) as there was a buzz of excitement throughout the several hour wait.  And the estrogen-fest in the holding tank made for some good people-watching before we all made our way into Stage 1 at Warner Bros Studio.

Once inside, I forgot all about cancer, chemo, burnt veins and my bald head as my focus immediately shifted to a frenzy of screaming, clapping and dancing with 200 of my newest gal-pals. The 'Crowd Guy' quickly got everyone onto their feet and explained to us the dos and don'ts of the show and the commercial breaks were filled with dance-offs and giveaways.

Suddenly I was consumed by Stiletto Defense Classes, Dancing With the Stars' Maksim's shyness with women and bathing suit makeovers (love the new knit pants trend!). The Skinny Girl bartender (6 feet away) even provided Bethenny with a margarita and a straw to sit on Maksim's very fit, table-like derriere that she sipped her cocktail from.

Next thing you know, it's two hours later and I'm beyond exhausted from my newly-found fun and hoopla!  Man, I haven't had a workout like that since last Fall (clapping and standing is exhausting!). And it must have showed because as we were leaving the studio, we ended up chewing the fat with 'Crowd Guy' who not only took our picture but tapped me on the back as we were leaving and flung an Ellen shirt over my shoulder with a 'Here, take this and..... blessings to you!"

WOW! What a day. Note to self, MUST schedule more fun things to do when I'm feeling good. Next adventure....who knows? Maybe I'll take the cancer center up on one of those free glider rides for patients that they offered to me at the onset of treatment. Heck, if I can endure chemo, I'm certain I could soar like an eagle above the mountains.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day Dad!

Nearly 14 years have passed since I lost my dad yet hardly a day goes by that I don't think about him. And at a time when I really need him, this Father's Day means even more to me. Because honestly, I could really use a big 'ol bear hug from my dad right now along with some of his wonderful wisdom and 'Dad-isms.' Or, maybe just an old fashioned Sunday drive in silence would hit the spot. Better yet, riding horseback through the 'back country' together like we used to would be even better. Whatever the case, I just really miss him and wish he were right by my side when I need him the most. So, to that, I suppose I simply have to believe that he's been by my side this whole time whispering in my ear his standard "I love you two biggers and a whole lot!"

Ditto Dad and Happy Father's Day. xoxo

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chemo #4: Friends, Love & Nosh!

There's something to be said about getting over the chemo hump and having only 2 more treatments before I'm solely on Herceptin for the next year. It really does put you in a different medical mindset. Couple that with some expected and unexpected visitors and it's a recipe for inspiration and hope. So, here's how my chemo treatment day played out...

First and foremost, we can never show enough gratitude for the chemo, oncology staff. These people work themselves silly and walk way beyond those 10,000 recommended pedometer steps each day all the while smiling, joking and laughing. That's why this bag of treats for them came with a big dose of gratitude, a 'double delight' rose from my cousin's garden in Monterey and a bag full of fresh cherries. THANK YOU to my amazing team of peeps at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.

My second 'double delight' of the day was both a planned and a surprise visit from good friends Sydney (AKA,  'Breast Cancer Survivor Rock Star') and Julie (AKA 'Julie- Bunny').  Sydney took a quick break from her baby-delivery job up the street at Cottage Hospital to come down and sit with me while Julie was bringing her mom Zeb in for yet another  follow-up appointment with our great oncologist 'Dr. G.' What a fun, spontaneous visit with these gals that unfortunately know first hand the ride that breast cancer has taken us all on over the past couple of years. 

Enter Zeb, 'Julie-Bunny's' mom who popped in to snap a quick pic with Sydney and myself for an official pose as the 'Greenwald Girls' - Dr. G's crew of gals that he has seen over the past months and years. Boy do we gals have some stories to tell, but most importantly, we share the common mindset of moving forward as breast cancer warriors.  We've all sat in this room for hours on end and yet we know there's more to life than meds, chemo, surgeries and baldness. Hey, sounds like a rap song to me!

Zeb and I comparing our 'domes'  as I told her that I hope my hair comes in as hip and cute as hers come August or September. We both decided that we'd like to rock the short hair 'do' for a while as neither one of us has never done before. Why not? Life is short and so is our hair.
P.S. I've been bogarting this chemo chair each time I come in for my treatments. It's the same one Zeb sat in for hers and that brings me some comfort;  although her grandson still doesn't understand 'Why Yog is there now' and sitting in 'Grandma's chair' but I still do it. The nurses know it and it's all ready for me when I walk in each time.

One of my favorite moments of the day was with Julie-Bunny who is always up for some fun! We started to take a picture together when I said "Hey, can I try on some of your hair?" And of course, she was all over that photo op. We did a few takes and she even styled this one so that it 'draped my face' a little. What a blast!
Even more special has been Julie's never-ending support and love that dates back years when we worked together as speech therapists in a private clinic in Santa Barbara to today. The fun and friendship hasn't stopped since then.
Fast forward 3 kids, 2 breast cancer diagnosis for her mom and now my run with my 3rd BC, she's been there for both Hil and I every step of the way. Love, Love, Love our Julie-Bunny!

Oh Angela (AKA - 'My Angela' ).Yet another volunteer to come sit with me to give Hil a break during her own busy day of kids, work training, preparing for her honemoon, you name it. We just met back in December in one of my doctor's offices and have become fast friends. She makes us laugh beyond laugh and we never seem to run out of crazy, funny stories to tell. She's just so very uplifting and did I mention hilarious! She joined us for a patio 'chemoluncheon' outside the chemo room and even threatened to do a pole dance on my chemo med pole for my dining pleasure and entertainment. Hey, no doubting people, I know she'll do it! I just didn't know if I can take all that laughter while being infused with chemo drugs at the same time. But seriously, many thanks for the visit from our new gal-pal.

Last, but NOT least, is my fave chemo nurse Martha. Always wearing this smile while running between patients and "Hey Martha..." requests - this gal is a bundle of energy and love! I can't even find the right words to describe her dedication, kindness and skillfulness as a nurse. She knows her stuff, does it well all the while telling funny stories from her paddle-boarding escapades to her children.
In the meantime, she's always wanting to know what's going on with us with a wonderful listening ear and an open heart. She's her own 'double-delight' rose in my book and I'm grateful to know I will have the pleasure of seeing her over this next year of treatment in the chemo room.