Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pink & Blue Documentary - The Updated Colors of Breast Cancer

Click to play - Video courtesy of Alan Blassberg
Although pink and blue combined make my favorite color purple, separating out these two colors for an extremely important cause is what's at hand here.

As we all know, October and the rest of the year is full of various shades of pink - pink ribbons, pink pens, pink mixers, pink calendars, yet this bright splash of color has yet to find us a cure. As for blue, it's just now stepping forward as a primary color to pay attention to and for good reason. No blue blenders and ornaments have hit the market yet, but I do believe that it's time to share the spotlight with pink and tell the men's side of this story too.

So, when I came across a film campaign and movement documentary last week, called Pink & Blue, I contacted the filmmaker immediately to see how I could help. His personal story and project grabbed my attention from the get-go and tugged at my heart strings which is why I felt compelled to share it with all of you.

In essence, an all-in-one filmmaker, brother and boyfriend, Alan Blassberg is now on a mission to get his film up on the big screen and for good reason: to inform and arm others with the knowledge of breast cancer and the BRCA gene for both women and men. And as Alan says, it WILL come into your life at some point in time - this I know is true. It did for him by touching two, very important women in his life (at the same time!) - his sister Sammy and his girlfriend Stephanie. And if that wasn't enough, he lost his beautiful, warrior sister Sammy after a 3-year battle with breast cancer. His story also shares that his grandmother took her wings from breast cancer two weeks before he was born. He is now concentrating on his own health as he tested BRCA positive and his film will poignantly take you on a personal and educational journey through his world of living among breast cancer and 'the gene.' Because, even though we have learned so much about this disease over the past decade, there is much more to know which Alan's film will attest to. Chock-full of personal stories, top experts in the field of breast cancer and many shocking statistics that may even affect you, this documentary is a must-support and a must-see!

Because Alan and his two sisters tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, shining the spotlight on this critical film and and the new color of breast cancer - blue, has become his mission. So, please, for your own sake and the health of your sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, mother, father, grandmother and grandfather, click on over and watch the Pink & Blue trailer and then please make a donation. Every dollar really does count. Be sure to show your support as well by following Alan and this project on both Twitter and on Facebook.

So remember, pink, blue, female, male, genetic or hereditary - this disease still needs our attention all year long, not just during October. And don't forget about blue. The men in your lives need to share the limelight with pink and have their voices heard.








Monday, November 25, 2013

Ode to 53!





Ode to 53!

It's official
Another year has passed
I breathe a sigh of relief
Long at last

How I have wondered
How many more will there be
So I relish the time
Whether I'll have, 1, 2, or 3

But here I am
I must stay in the now
Because none of us know
The way of our Tao

I celebrate with love
With sunshine and light
My stubbornness paid off
With one hell of a fight

So Happy Birthday to me
This is definitely the prize
I'll focus my best
On nothing but BLUE SKIES
 

 

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My 2 year Lumpiversary!



Call me crazy, but I'm not the only breast cancer survivor that has temporal markers in which we make notable observance. Almost like a holiday on a calendar (except that cancer is certainly no freakin' holiday!), most every cancer survivor recalls the exact moment in which they found a lump, knew something was amiss or 'just knew.' So, I know that I am no different from my fellow warriors.

For me, this day will be etched in my memory, well, FOREVER! I recall every detail of the tickle that I felt on this day back in 2011. I still like to credit my dad from above for his antics yet again for helping me find that sucker (thanks dad!).

It's been one hellova ride to say the very least. But again, I'm exceedingly grateful that what feels like just yesterday, was in reality, 2 years ago. And here I am, alive, and looking back at the day I began the third fight of my life.  Can I get an AAAAMEN!




Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nothing But Blue Skies





Inspired by one of my breasties, Wendy Nielsen and the title she gave my guest post this month, I thought I would sign off Pinktober with the color BLUE. Blue for my fave new song Nothing But Blue Skies, and for my fresh outlook on life. This beautiful color is also a tribute to the men out there trying to get some recognition and funding for breast cancer with films like Times Like These. And since I'm a bit further out now from round-freakin' 3 of the Big C., I thought I would sum up how I feel (at least for today) with Irving Berlin's song, Blue Skies. Little did this great, Russian-American composer know that 87 years after he wrote it, some random breast cancer survivor would adopt it as her new anthem in life. So, thanks Irv - much appreciated! And yes, there are Nothing But Blue Skies, Smiling at me! 


Blue Skies
by Irving Berlin


I was blue, just as blue as I could be 
Ev'ry day was a cloudy day for me 
Then good luck came a-knocking at my door 
Skies were gray but they're not gray anymore 

Blue skies 
Smiling at me 
Nothing but blue skies 
Do I see 

Bluebirds 
Singing a song 
Nothing but bluebirds 
All day long 

Never saw the sun shining so bright 
Never saw things going so right 
Noticing the days hurrying by 
When you're in love, my how they fly 

Blue days 
All of them gone 
Nothing but blue skies 
From now on 


I should care if the wind blows east or west 
I should fret if the worst looks like the best 
I should mind if they say it can't be true 
I should smile, that's exactly what I do




Friday, October 25, 2013

Sky's the Limit! Writing a New Story...


Today, I was featured on Wendy Nielsen's blog, 'Writing a New Story.' She has featured several touching stories from breast cancer warriors this month and I am honored to not only be on Wendy's blog but to be among the sea of kick-ass warriors (including Wendy!). So, click on over there to read the full story, learn a little bit more about my thoughts about this crazy cancer journey and be sure to read the other stories while you're there. They are truly amazing! Thank you Wendy!


Picture courtesy of Wendy Nielsen's blog post
on me about my journey!


"31. 34. 51. She says they aren't her measurements. What are they then? Meet Dee Anne Barker. She's a three time breast cancer survivor and those numbers reflect her age at each diagnosis. Today she shares her incredible story. Read more..."


Image courtesy of Wendy Nielsen's blog, Writing a New Story



Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer Knockdown!


One of my fave breast friends Ann Marie Giannino-Otis, over at Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer is going the distance once again by taking a jab at breast cancer on the cover of Syracuse Women Magazine. Her cover story of course, not only details her effervescent personality and warrior ways, but her philanthropic means of helping others through the world of cancer. She has a strong following and holds fun and purposeful events on a monthly basis for her non-profit Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer - SDBC (her son's name for breast cancer).

When I first came across Ann Marie on her Twitter page I almost "fell off my unicorn" (her words, not mine) reading all of her tweets. With kind words, hilarious sayings and her fundraising efforts, I was hooked!

Keeping it real, meaningful and sassy, Ann Marie will stop at nothing when it comes to advocating for herself and others. Insisting that people know the real side of the breast cancer journey, her posts on the SDBC Facebook page are guaranteed to be full of left hooks and power punches. I've seen her take on numerous people making light of this journey and she'll have no part of it. Sassy but heartfelt, she'll take on anyone that attempts to knock down any of her girls and followers.

So, follow her, like her (she's VERY likable!) and get to know the real side of breast cancer - pictures and all! And if you cross her, you can be sure that she'll challenge you to a round of You vs. Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer and Knock.You.Out!




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Male Breast Cancer Documentary: 'Times Like These'



When I first came across these two guys, my heart just sank and immediately took me back to the early 90's to a time when a friend/colleague of mine (also named Bob) was diagnosed with breast cancer not too long after my first diagnosis. We were instantly bonded in that breast cancer way even though 'One-Boob-Bob' (his own nickname!) and I were different genders of the same cancer. We did cancer-survivor fashion shows together, fundraisers, and walks to raise awareness for the masses, but frankly, he was the only guy out there among a sea of women. And so, my first introduction to male breast cancer was born out of Bob's diagnosis.

Fast forward  20 years and a few weeks ago when I came across these two guys, Bill and Bob, on their Facebook pageI was captivated instantaneously and thought, FINALLY, someone is addressing the male side of breast cancer! The side that few are aware of or maybe even ignore. But it's for real, so here are a few stats that may surprise you but will aide in your knowledge of this female dominated cancer during the annual October Breast Cancer awareness campaign:
  • There are 2000 new male breast cancer cases diagnosed every year
  • 25% of men diagnosed with breast cancer will die
  • Men of all ages can be affected with breast cancer
So, let's cut to the chase so you'll know how to help with Bill and Bob's campaign. First,  click here to watch the trailer of two extraordinary men who were complete strangers but were brought together through their breast cancer diagnosis. Secondly, please donate any dollar amount that you can on their Kickstarter campaign page so that they can finish this very important film 'Times Like These' and generate more awareness about male breast cancer. Lastly, know the signs and risks of male breast cancer for either yourself or loved ones.

There are only 23 more days to help fund this campaign! So, please help spread the word by forwarding this blog post, their Facebook page and their Kickstarter crowdfunding page! 

GO! DONATE! NOW!





Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's BRA Day!


          
Yes, it's 'BRA Day!' (Breast Reconstruction Day!). But then again, every day is BRA Day to me! I see them, I feel them (well not completely) and I shift them around a bit, that's how it goes with the new girls. But, it was my choice and I'm standing by it! It may not be for everyone, but I'm still glad I did. If you want to watch my journey with reconstruction, click here for last year's video on October 26th, 2012 - a day I will never forget. I gave my surgeon a pep talk in the pre-op room, my sweet mom and lovely partner Hil were with me all the way, and I went in for what I hoped to be the final surgery in this process. So far, so good! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Metastatic Breast Cancer Day


MBC doesn't get much attention, but it should! Just thought you should know that this is where we truly need funding and research dollars to go to! No pink overlays here, this sh*t's for real! Read below - you'll be stunned at the reality of MBC.

(This post is dedicated to Lisa Bonchek Adams, Jody Schoger, and the many others out there with MBC- so many - too many! Please also add your name, or another person's name in the comments section below to honor their integrity and crusade against MBC!)

1. No one dies from breast cancer that remains in the breast. Metastasis occurs
when cancerous cells travel to a vital organ and that is what threatens life.

2. Metastasis refers to the spread of cancer to different parts of the body: bones,
liver, lungs or brain.

3. An estimated 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast
cancer. Metastatic breast cancer accounts for approximately 40,000 deaths
annually in the U.S.

4. Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is life-long and focuses on control of
the disease and quality of life.

5. About 6% to 10% of people are Stage IV from their initial diagnosis.

6. Early detection does not guarantee a cure. Metastatic breast cancer can
occur 5, 10 or 15 years after a person's original diagnosis and successful
treatment checkups and annual mammograms.

7. 20% to 30% of people initially diagnosed with early stage disease will develop
metastatic breast cancer.

8. Young persons, as well as men, can be diagnosed with metastatic breast
cancer.

9. Like early stage breast cancer, there are different types of metastatic breast
cancer.

10. Treatment choices are guided by breast cancer type, location and extent of
metastasis in the body, previous treatments and other factors.

11. Metastatic breast cancer is not an automatic death sentence. Although most
people will ultimately die of the disease, some will live long, productive lives.

12. There are no definitive prognostic statistics for metastatic breast cancer.
Every patient and their disease are unique.

13. To learn more about National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day and
access resources specifically for people living with metastatic breast cancer
and their caregivers, visit www. mbcn.org

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cancer Center of Santa Barbara: Walk. Run. Donate.


If there's one way to give back this month, it should definitely be to your local cancer center!

I've been treated at 2 cancer centers over the past 20 years and with this last cancer diagnosis (I emphasize LAST!), I was beyond fortunate to have had amazing care from the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara. From the front desk gals, to the librarian, the 'Wig Guy,' the wonderful chemo nurses (AKA my 'Purple Angels'), my brilliant oncologist Dr. G., the snack lady, my hometown Physician's Assistant, to the financial assistant counselors and the uber kind, nurse navigator Tammy (AKA, my nurse 'GPS'), a cancer center can become a second home to a patient and their family. I know it was for me.

I actually looked forward to going into the CCSB (minus the chemo!) because of the remarkable amount of care that I received. Everyone knew my name and we were often greeted 50 feet away from the reception desk with "Oh no, here comes trouble!" I'm telling you, these people go beyond their job descriptions by showing selflessness, compassion and human kindness. A place where a patient like myself can feel 1000% support and emotionally safe. And oddly enough, one of the most positive places I could turn to during the past 2 years.

So, in light of my own PINKTOBER campaign this month, I highly recommend that you consider putting your pink dollars into your own cancer center community. A place where patients like myself can attend art classes, yoga, pick out free scarves and wigs and a place that assisted me in accessing nearly $35,000 in grant money to pay for all of my infusion treatments in 2013 when I personally ran out of funds.

So.... Give back. Give local. Give now. And while you're at it, consider contributing to my cancer center's  Walk - Run this weekend in Santa Barbara; a great cause indeed.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Bowling 4 BOOBIES!


That's right, you heard me say BOOBIES! And in keeping with this month's theme of introducing you to some great warriors, organizations and causes, this one is a must donate, must go event!

So listen, this fundraising event is happening this Sunday in L.A. and I was slated to be on the 'Boobie Bowlers' team but because of various life and medical events, our team is on hold until the next bowling event!

But hey, you can still go and show your support for this uber fun and meaningful event; an organization close to my heart that provides financial assistance to local women fighting and living with breast cancer. Because, as I've said before but will say it again, this breast cancer gig can be expensive. With bills like $65,000 for a hospital stay, $1,000 anesthesiology payments, $15,000 per chemo treatment every 3 weeks, a post-chemo-session Neulasta shot that was $3,000 for 6 treatments and $9,000 Herceptin treatments every 3 weeks for a year! It adds up. So, help a girl out by either donating online or by showing up for this awesome bowling event!

STRRRRIIIIIIIKE!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pinktober!


As I marinate in the pro's and con's of Breast Cancer Awareness month and all of its pink glory, I internally struggle with how to make it more about people vs. spending some greenbacks on a pink cuisinart that has yet to find me a cure. And as my sister Kim and I often joke around with our 'Pink, Pink you Stink!' mantra, I have decided to shift my efforts this year from raising funds that have NOT found a cure for breast cancer to raising awareness about some pretty awesome warriors and causes. So, stay tuned during the month of PINKTOBER and I promise to deliver an ample amount of very groovy peeps, tributes and fabulous events that I know you can stand behind and appreciate. Because the bottom line is that I am beyond weary of this disease, people dying and no cure in sight! Instead, let's all simply give some well-deserved salutes where needed and cross our fingers that all of that pink paraphernalia might actually buy us what we truly need - a cure.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

P.ink Tattoo Day!


Picture it, 10 breast cancer survivors, 10 tattoo artists and 10 healing hearts. Sounds AWESOME to me! And all because of one uber inspirational breast cancer warrior, Molly Ortwein.

Fast forward a year and a breast cancer diagnosis later and there's a new gal in town and a very cool organization called Personal Ink (P.ink). Ready to pay it forward, Molly and her crew over at P.ink are sponsoring and fundraising for their first PINK TATTOO DAY being held in New York City on October 21, 2013 at Save Tattoo Studio. Her mission: to "help turn something painful for breast cancer survivors into something beautiful." How awe-inspiring is that? Because let me tell you something, when the 'old girls' go and the 'new girls' arrive, the process is not such an easy one. It takes time. It takes acceptance. It takes therapy (AND a rockin' tattoo!).

So, when I first saw Molly's mission to assist fellow survivors feel better about themselves through beautiful body art, she had me! And although I'm medically unable to participate for their first fabulous event in the big city, I at least wanted to spread the word on how you can personally make a difference in someone's healing and life.

Here's what to do... Go to their indiegogo fundraising page for Pink Day 2013 and make a contribution towards their $25,000 goal! There, you'll see a very moving video and 2 clicks later, you've just made a huge difference in the often challenging journey following breast cancer and a mastectomy. It'll make you feel good for days! There's numerous levels of tax-deductable donations that you can contribute from $10 - $5,000 and they'll even throw in a few freebies for you.

So, do something good, click on over to the fundraising page right now but don't forget to keep up with them on Twitter or their beautifully curated P.ink Pinterest page for a dose of inspiration.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chris' Cancerversary!


And here he is folks! 1 year later and look at Chris now! As many of you know, my 'chemo comrade' Chris was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma 1 year ago today. His mom Dee (my amazing cousin!) says she remembers every single detail about this day last year. Where she was sitting, what Chris was doing, who told them, how she felt, etc... That's how it works in Cancerland you know, recalling every minuscule detail of a diagnosis like it was just yesterday.

But 1 year later, Chris is thriving, back in school and back in his game (go Chieftains baseball!). He's been declared 'cured' (such a spectacular word!) and sporting a rockin' new do! And even though he sees his Stanford docs and team every 4-6 weeks for the plethora of tests for this gig, I think Chris is amazing and.... wait for it....wait for it.... LE - GEN - DAR - Y!

Friday, September 6, 2013

...SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER!


Over the past 20 years, I've been irked, I mean privy to many comments from others and have had the privilege of hearing how other breast cancer survivors deal with the benefits of cancer! Some of these thoughts and comments are those I've heard, those I've experienced and those I've read from other warriors. Let's take a peek, shall we?

"Gee how I just love all the side effects from chemo and meds" SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! It's like having the worst flu of your life - for 1 year! 

"Yes, I just love my new 'girls' - how lucky am I to have had a boob job?!" SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! While it does sound exciting, try laying on your stomach, on a hard or soft mattress with these things!

"Being bald is such a cool hair style to rock!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Until you're made fun of by a mom and her four kids in the parking lot of Trader Joe's, not such a rockin' moment in hair history and so not a self-esteem booster.

"I just love all of this attention I'm getting!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Are you kidding me? Someone once said that to me and I about lost my sh*t!

"Well, maybe getting chemo will finally help me lose those extra pounds!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Please know that the only reason we lose weight is that we are so damn nauseous that we can hardly eat a morsel of food. I personally survived on water, 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes and 2 crackers on any given day. Do you know how few calories that is? 

"I so love that I get to take Tamoxifen for the next 10 years!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! I am now in my second menopausal stint and have gained 30lbs! WEEEEE!

"I'm just going to make this the most positive experience in my life!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Yeah right! While thinking positive is a common motto for many, it doesn't mean that this gig is still not chock-full of the most challenging and scary experiences. Positivity is just a bonus that we all dig down deep for.

"I'm so glad that it's only breast cancer!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER!  Bwah Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

"I've always wanted to wear a wig!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! FYI, they're hot, uncomfortable and itchy-scratchy on a bald head! You try it while being bald and get back to me on this one!

"I'm not afraid to die!"  SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Let's get real here - we're all afraid to die. We know that this is a possibility and a reality, but we're just not ready to die yet!

"Having cold breasts during hot weather is so awesome and convenient!" SAID NO BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR - EVER! Unless you need to help chill a summer salad or a six-pack, the implants are just that - COLD!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

I'm Twalking Twitter People!


This post has been long and coming as I've vacillated for months about coming out of the Twitter closet (there I said it). But to my credit, I've been running a Twitter feed for the past 2 years for two business' and frankly tired of not being able to #follow who I damn well wanted to. Instead of being PC in Twitterville, I decided I wanted my own, personal account so that I could get all the latest and greatest deals from Groupon, Travelocity and track the food trucks in L.A. just for fun.

But that didn't last especially long because within a month of getting my own big girl account, I received news that I had cancer. So, my elation for Groupon deals swiftly wained as news of this third diagnosis was a total buzz kill. Instead I sheepishly started seeking out resources for breast cancer and started to connect with some fellow survivors. Next thing you know I have more than 600 followers (people who follow me) and Monday night live chats for my online support group #BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media).

My language swiftly changed from friending and liking on that other social media website with a lowercase 'f' to hashtags and followers on my new social networking platform with the little birdie. With 140 characters at my fingertips, I rapidly learned that hashtags like #cancersucks and #breastcancer would lead me to a community of sassy warriors and people in my malignant new world.

So vastly different from my first diagnosis of getting into the car once a week to drive to the nearest cancer center support group, I have come to find solace and anonymity with my online gal-pals going through breast cancer of all different stages. I even found a '3-peat offender' like me and an immediate twriendship was made.

We have supported each other in ways that I never expected. We're blogging about this prolific disease, discussing the politics of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and debating about the out-of-control pink culture of finding a cure for all of us. With names like 'thescarproject,' 'bustedfd,' 'ItsTheBunk,' 'BoobsOnTheMove,' 'LovelyKatieLumps,' 'CancerHAWK,' 'ChemoBrainFog,' 'StupidDumbBreastCanc' and 'TalkAboutHealth' and 'AFreshChapter' - we're connected in a way that is frankly, safe, bold and downright authentic.

Wishing each other good luck on important procedure days and offering up helpful hints for chemo, surgery and doctors, we're running in a strong pack. With no time to waste, the 140 character restriction allows us to get straight to the point. And when we're mad as hell at times as we've lost a few gals this past year to this beast of a cancer, we're all trying to take charge of our own journeys in a virtual and supportive fashion. And for this, I am eternally grateful to my kindhearted and spirited tweeps.

So, follow or hashtag me @DeeAnne_Barker to catch up with me in the twittersphere! In the meantime, #peaceout.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

When I Was Sick (Guest post by Dena Taylor)


**Welcome guest blogger and my 500th Twitter follower, Dena Taylor. I wrote her and asked, "As my 500th follower, would you be willing to write a guest post from your point of view with cancer?" and she said "Wow! Yes!"  and... "Congrats on your 3-time victory over emeffing cancer!" And there you have it, a new 'Breast Friend' to add to the lot of us. Thank you, Dena!
_________________________________________________________________________


“What movie are you guys gonna watch?” I asked my friend Alice’s 5-year-old daughter Claire on a recent visit.

Despicable Me,” said Alice.

“The wha?”

Claire grabbed the DVD case out of Alice’s hands and held it up for me to read.

“Ooh, ‘Despicable Me.’ That looks fun!”

“Yeah,” said Claire. “They’re bald. Like when you were sick.”
~~~
One time, in my early 20’s I drank too much Bacardi 151 and Diet Coke and was sick for three days. Another time, while on a fancy boat in the Caribbean, I got seasick during a storm and barfed into a bidet. I was sick to death of hearing Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” when it played on the radio for the 50-millionth time and was once so lovesick, I dropped a pant size. Friends accuse me of being sick in the head, usually when I drop the word “moist” into a conversation or tell the story about what I found on the wall of a port-o-potty at a 5k event in Seattle.

There have been more serious sicknesses too, the worst of which required emergency hospitalization, once for a ruptured appendix and once for a small bowel obstruction, likely the result of the former’s post-op adhesions. But never, in any of the aforementioned instances, have I not had hair.

So what, then, was wee Claire referring to? That would be the one and only time I was bald. But it wasn’t because I was sick. In fact, in September of 2006, I felt particularly healthy and happy — randy, even — knowing that my best friend and I were just weeks away from celebrating my 40th birthday in Italy where we would surround ourselves with as many sexy Italian men as we could find. I had no idea a cancerous tumor was growing in my breast. But a routine mammogram and subsequent biopsy confirmed it, prompting me to swap our festive trip to Italy for a somber trek to the OR. It was an agonizing decision but having had microcalcifications in the opposite breast three years before at the age of 36 and a mother with a history of DCIS, a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction was the only choice I could live with.

Then, in early November, thinking the worst was behind me, and reconstruction nearly complete, I got more bad news. I scored “intermediate” on the Oncotype test, a genomic assay used to help determine the likelihood of recurrence and benefits of chemotherapy. After consulting with two oncologists, I ended up enduring six tri-weekly rounds of chemotherapy (FAC + WBC boosters). My first infusion was after Thanksgiving and I was cue-balled in time for Christmas.

Hair loss was a side effect of chemo. So were the headaches, bone aches and nausea I felt in the first days after an infusion. And the fatigue, brain fuzz, digestive calisthenics, persistent watery eyes and a runny nose in the remaining 16 or so days of each cycle? Side effects. I expected them, planned for them and managed them. But I was never sick.

So chemo sucked worse than back-to-back episodes of the Beverly Hills Housewives and after eating a few salmonella burritos while wrapped in a Snuggie of mold spores but you were never “sick?” C’mon.

I know and I’ve been thinking about my post-cancer refusal to equate those side effects with being sick ever since I was likened to a bald, yellow, cylinder-shaped homunculi. What I’ve realized is this: Of all the health challenges I’ve faced, it’s cancer that has scared me the most, and thus it’s cancer I want to identify with the least. If I yield to it in any way, even by saying I was sick, I’m giving it more power in my life than it deserves. I don’t want to think about it every day or spend precious time worrying about it coming back. There are too many other things vying for my attention, like traveling to Peru, sipping on a Moscow Mule while catching up with friends, that cute guy on the running trail. When I do think about it, I want to focus on how I confronted it (with support, determination and some luck) versus dwelling on what I suffered.

People are going to describe my cancer and chemo days as the time I was sick. And that’s okay. It’s another opportunity to share my experience, generate awareness and support someone new in navigating the scene. But the squat, yellow, bug-eyed minion comparison? That could be a problem.

~~~


Dena is finishing her memoir on her cancer experience, which includes plenty of descriptions of being sick. It does not include the story about what she saw in the port-a-potty. That story is by special request only and requires a signed waiver because it’s really gross. You can also find Dena on Twitter @DenaTaylorTime and on her website, www.denataylor.com

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Chemo Cancerversary!


Can you believe it?! I can hardly believe it myself that an entire year has passed since I finished my last chemo treatment! Even though I still had 8 more months of infusion treatments to go, the completion of the hard-core chemo was definitely the biggest accomplishment to date! And like many survivors who look back at these milestones and dates, I'm marking this one with a celebratory thumbs up - fo sho!!

Last year at this time, I had some pretty heavy-duty chemo drugs running through the 'ol veins along with some gnarly nausea. I could barely choke down 3 bites of mashed potatoes for a meal and was subject to some pretty bizarre and absurd reality tv as my main source of entertainment. I was bedridden for a full week after that session while I patiently waited for some fuzz to show up on my head.

Fast forward a year later and life is treating me pretty damn good! I may still have some daily nausea from the leftover chemo still running through my veins and my new daily drugs are having me walk like I'm 98, but dang, NOTHING like last year! And on top of all of that, I'm sporting a new head of darker hair! So, damn if I'm not partaking and devouring in some fish tacos, beer and guacamole tonight with friends!

As for the outlandish tv viewing these days, I've seemed to wean myself off of a few of those reality shows. But I must admit, watching them still makes me feel like having cancer for a third time wasn't as bad as those people's lives.

So there you have Cancer #3 - another year, another survivor and a new lease on life! BOOYAH!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Do YOU need a Cancervention?



Not too many months ago, my brother-in-law Nate, sat me down at the dinner table in his house and said "Yog, I think it's time for a cancervention!" Contemplative and serious, he continued -  "We've noticed that you seem to be needing a lot of attention these days. You know, with the boob job and the new hair cut, it just seems that you're trying to make a statement and go to such extremes to get a little extra attention and I'm hear to tell you Yog, we already notice you. We love you, we already think you're great so you don't need to be doing all of this. It's just not necessary."

Pause for reaction, and........BWAHAHAHA!

We both burst out into laughter, clinked our wine glasses (well, juice for me!) and carried on with our game night. Hilarious I thought. A Perfect way to check in with me and make light of an extremely sensitive and serious situation. But it got me to thinking, did I need a cancervention? Do we all need a cancervention? I don't really think so.

Yet, this led my mind down a path and thought process that not only myself but many other of my 'breast friends' and cancer survivors have repeatedly discussed - When will we be over the whole cancer thing? Are we supposed to be over something that threatened our lives? Should we just fold it up and tuck it neatly away while we silently and secretly wait for the other shoe to drop? What happens when the emotions start flooding our hearts and brain? The fear can be gripping if you allow it.

My dad unexpectedly died 15 years ago and I'm still not 'over' that loss. And like cancer, I think of him every day. It definitely gets easier with time, but those emotions still hit me at the heart level. I talk about him a lot like I do cancer. I make life comparisons to him as I do with breast cancer. I strive to gain that balance between moving forward and still processing these huge events in my life. So, as I strive to find meaning and acceptance of my cancer trilogy, I also covet the 'silver linings,' 'takeaways,' 'gems' and hidden treasures' of cancer. After all, I have an appointment with life as Thich Nhat Hanh says. Sounds simple enough, right?! And if suffering leads to understanding and eventual transformation into healing and well-being, then sign me up!

So the moral to this cancervention story is this - life after cancer remains uncertain. We are not guaranteed a cure but are merely promised a 'remission' (I'll take it!). Re-entry back into life 'A.C.' (After Cancer) is not always that smoothe but trying to plan and figure things out is the 'Booby prize' as my mother would say (pun intended). But like any animal, I suppose I will simply lick my wounds and stay present so that I can discover the new magic in life with my new normal.

And so it is.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ode to My Cancer Companions


Ever since I can remember, animals have played a hefty role in my life. From dogs, goats, pigs, cows and horses, my sister and I grew up surrounded by the animal kingdom. We spent our weekends and summers on the back of our horses with our herd of dogs and my cousin's pig 'Amos' trailing behind us. We frequently ate our lunch in the saddle, glided through creeks on horseback in the summertime and showed sheep and pigs at all of our local fairs. My sister always wanted to be a vet and our collective dream was to live in a big house on a ranch with our cousin Marion and raise a ton of animals. And although that's not how things turned out, animals still continue to play an essential part of our lives.

Fast-forward 5 decades and I find myself for the first time in more than 20 years, without a single animal in my life. Our dog and my cancer companion Romeo passed away at 14, a week before Christmas last year and our 15 year old cat Katsu passed just a mere few days ago. Absolutely a difficult and emotional pill to swallow.

Among the scientific data out there advocating for animal therapy for cancer patients, I definitely experienced the benefits of our furry friends throughout my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I personally experienced the loyalty of our sweet little doggy who was by my side every step of the way. From laying in his crate next to the bed for hours at a time, to escorting me throughout the house and going down the stairs step-by-step at my snail's pace, Romeo was there for me literally and emotionally. Once, when I was by myself and had to crawl my way to the bathroom, he ushered me inch by inch as I made my way across the floor. And when I went bald, both Romeo and Katsu stared at me like I was an alien, but eventually, settled into my new look, pre/post treatment routine and days of illness.

Post treatment, Katsu couldn't seem to cuddle close enough to me giving me the unconditional love and devotion that animals crave. Romeo seemed to worry if I sneezed or groaned in any atypical way. So my point is that animal companionship during a catastrophic illness is such a gift and I can't express enough, the gratitude that dwells deep within my heart for such authentic amour.

So a final WOOF, MEOW and bow to my amazing cancer buddies who championed around me during the fight of my life. I hope they felt at least a fraction of my love and gratitude in return. Now go run through the meadows of the Rainbow Bridge.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why I Keep Blogging!


I've been telling myself for over a year that I would stop this blog and close down the 'Cancer Shop' the day I finished treatment. But, the closer that date came, the further I moved away from that initial decision to stop. And as many things do, I've come to realize that this blog seems to have taken an energy all its own and I've now concluded that CCBB has become less about me and more about a cause bigger than myself. So, in an effort to pay it forward, have an impact on other's lives and continue my own healing and the process of reclaiming my life and myself,  I know it's time to let Cancer Cancer bo-Bancer continue to breathe in the blogosphere. So, thanks for your continued support and stay tuned, my work is not yet done here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Cost of Cancer!


Today was one of those days where the 'other side of cancer' (the financial side) really hit me as I reflected back a year ago when I was spending most of my days in bed in between chemo treatments, nausea and sleep. A time when the only vision I had was one of getting through my days one hour at a time, being able to eat more than 3 bites of mashed potatoes for dinner and figuring out a new remedy for that damn nausea.

Fast forward a year and you would have found me not in bed, but briskly walking through our house with boxes, odds and ends in my hands, directing friends between rooms and loading our belongings into the moving van and car over the past few weeks. I knew these days were coming and I somehow managed to hold it together just long enough to get through the scurry of people and boxes that were loaded into the van and taken to our new home - storage unit #888. The reality of the 'why' behind the move would swirl through my heart and mind, but frankly, I have been starting to feel a sense of financial relief.

So this is it, the cost of cancer. And no matter what your political views and opinions are about our nation's current state of health care, all I can think of is that I made it. I'm alive. The medical bills have piled up, the credit card companies are calling several times a day (from Florida & Texas to be exact!), the anesthesiology bills are still outstanding but honestly, I'm just grateful to be here.

Don't get me wrong - tears have been shed (many tears!) with my new reality of having to move out of our home, putting our belongings into storage and moving into my mom's house in order to afford our lives. But it became necessary. Not exactly what I envisioned at my age. I am an educated person, I have 3 degrees, a state license in Speech & Language Pathology and a national certification. My entrepreneurial spirit has always driven me to new heights, hence the 'major medical' health insurance coverage I have instead of full, fancy employee coverage. I don't regret my professional choices or the $800/month that we pay for 25%-50% medical coverage. My plastic surgeon didn't take insurance like all of the others but I'm forever thankful to him (just paid him off last month!) and for my new healthy girls. I have written grants and worked from bed falling asleep with my laptop on my legs, but I still managed to work, secure a grant and bring in some additional income in the midst of meds and nausea. Hil had to compromise her work and income as well in order to take care of me in the way I needed and the way she wanted.

BUT (yes, here it comes) - I'M ALIVE! I kicked cancer's a$$ - 3 TIMES!! I'm alive to write this post. I'm alive to pack boxes and move out of my house. I'm alive to call the anesthesiologist back to see if they'll work with me on my debt. Most of all, I'm beyond grateful that I have my health, I'm in remission, I have great friends and family, we have my mom's house and many new roofs over our heads to stay in and some much needed time to decompress and digest the past 18 months. AND, I have Hil. I have everything I need.

So, I leave you with what I hear my mom's voice saying repeatedly in my head these past few weeks, Is it that things are falling apart or falling into place?

I'd like to think that they're falling into place. Because even though the cost of cancer is huge, having my life and my health back, is priceless.




Thursday, May 23, 2013

Turtles of Inspiration!


Happy WORLD TURTLE DAY! I know this seems so 6th grade of me to start collecting such trinkets of every color, texture and size at my age, but may I just say that this little fellow has been one of my main sources of inspiration throughout the past year and a half. I have such respect for my hard-shelled, reptile friends and their steadfast, courageous and resolute ways in which they embrace and face life. So, without repeating myself, check out my original posting on the beauty and inspiration of the turtle and help me honor this ancient and persistent nautical warrior! And be sure to live life with the zest of the turtle!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!


Happy Mother's Day Mom!

If there's one thing I've learned from the many things I've learned this past year, it's that a mother's love can run very deep! My mom, as you can see from these pics, went on a journey with me, that neither one of us anticipated but she hopped on board the crazy-cancer-train a year and a half ago and continues to do all the things we hope a mother will do for a daughter in a time of need. 

From changing drains, holding my hand during so many procedures, buying me 'mastectomy pajamas,' gardening, sitting next to me in that chemo room, wearing crazy hats on Halloween (still sorry I made you do that mom - you're a good sport!), sleeping next to me on the couch because I couldn't make it upstairs and to cutting my short hair - she has been right there by my side. I never asked for any of it (except for the hair cut - I trusted NO ONE else!) and she just continued to dish it out day, after week, after month.

On top of all of this, she has done it all in love, gentleness, and an open heart and no complaints! And I'm not a mom, but I can't imagine her journey of watching her 'baby' go through this third round of cancer. But instead, she was steadfast in her sweetness and love and forged on in the most motherly way possible.

So, this is my promise to you mom. I will ALWAYS be there for you, be by YOUR side and love you with open arms. I will be forever grateful for you and to you, for your love and for your friendship. And I hope in some small way, you will feel my love, kindness, gentleness and friendship in return. But, most of all, I will always love you "two biggers and a whole lot!"

I love you Mom and I'm so glad you're mine! xoxo

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Home Run for a CURE!




Bases are loaded...Doctors and PET scan on 2nd.... Lymphoma in the outfield...
Chris is up to bat..... 
AND.....
he hits it out of the park for a home run and a CURE!
That's right fans, Chris did it, he's been declared CURED!

#6 HITS A HOME RUN!!!!!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Another Chemo Grad ROCKS IT! Go Chris!



My chemo-comrad-cousin Chris (say that 3 times!) and I seem to have a lot in common these days. For one, we're clearly relatives. But this last year has brought us together in a different way - through cancer, surgeries, side effects and treatment. Me with a 3rd breast cancer diagnosis and him with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma at 15. AND, recently, we finished our last treatments on the EXACT same day - March 26th! A day to remember! Woot! Woot!

His amazing mom (my first cousin) Deidre and I ritually texted each other this past year on treatment days with pics, "Chris ROCKS!" and "Number 12 - DONE!" texts! A year of closeness, perspective and cancer cheerleading that this disease has brought on.

And while Chris and my cancer journeys have been a mix of both similarities and differences, Chris and I mostly connected through cancer comparisons. With a quick hug and a head nod, we often and quickly fell into chit chat this past year about neuropathy, numbness in our toes, what foods grossed us out, our sleeping habits and of course remedies for nausea. One time, as we were sitting in his house on the couch while our band of caregivers were chatting it up and comparing OUR stats, I leaned over and whispered "Don't you like how they all talk about us like we're not even here?" He nodded and we both chuckled. But they all needed an outlet too as Chris and I forged on with hair loss and high-fives over our new fuzzy hair growth along with treatment and testing milestones.

Chris' cancer stats still blow me away (48 rounds of chemo, 1 surgery, 17 radiation treatments) even though I was deep in my own cancer trenches and stats. Deidre and I talked for months like we were medical personnel: "What are his blood count numbers this week?" "Can he take a Zofran with some crackers and water?" "When's his PET scan?"How many days will he have for his radiation boost?" "Who's your chemo nurse today?" A new world of communication that brought us two cousins closer together after years of intermittent visits and updates through family.

We laugh at our new cancer language yet often cursed it when we were angry or frustrated. But then quickly, we reminded each other to take a deep breath to refocus ourselves on what we now call our 'gratitudes' -  our health, our caregivers, our newfound perspective and treatments for a cure.

Chris also helped inspire us as usual as we watched his ongoing and quiet determination! As I struggled with fatigue and headaches, Chris quietly said he wanted to go back to school the day after his last treatment. And 2 days after his last radiation at Stanford, that's exactly what he did and showed up to baseball practice with his buddies as they watched him struggling to run around the bases. "Throw the ball down, Little Chris has no wheels!" But his first day of practice was done in usual Chris style as he played 5 innings while Deidre texted us his play-by-play action. We were all picking up our jaws as she was describing the return of Chris' 15 year old life and his favorite sport - baseball.

Oh how I sometimes wish I were a 15 year old boy!

In the meantime, Deidre, Hil and I talk endlessly about 'What now?' and how we are supposed to feel now that treatment is done.  But as we have learned over the past year-and-a-half, we could all use a little 'dose of Chris' as he hops back on the train of life. A boy of few words just carrying on with his teenage life, computer gaming, going to school when he can and catching the last fly ball of a recent game for the win!

BOOYAH Chris! You're my hero!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Herceptin # 18: The End of the Treatment Road



Wow...I don't even know where to begin on this one. I walked into the chemo room sick, with a fever and unprepared for the words "This is your last treatment." Thinking that I had one more according to my calendar schedule from Dr. G. it was evident that this was the alarming reality. The nurse liason quickly checked with my oncologist before coming back into the room with her proclamation as we all stared at her and waited with bated breath - "Yes, it's official, this is your last treatment!"

Silence. Gasp. "What?" Tears.

I couldn't believe it and reacted immediately by slapping the chemo chair arm and demanded that the nurse go back to Dr. G. with a message from me - "You go tell Dr. G. that I am NOT prepared for this!"

But as the Herceptin scheduling Gods would have it....this was indeed the end of the treatment road for me. Not knowing at all how to feel, the tears just started to slowly stream down my face as I looked into Hil's eyes. She knew that I had been dreading this day as it would be the transition to cancer independence. Along with the band of 'Purple Angels' chemo staff around me, I simply couldn't contain my tears, but thankfully and strangely, the ambiance was quite peaceful during this not-so-frequent occurrence - an empty chemo room.

Never in my year of treatment have I walked by or into that room being the sole patient as it was usually filled to the brim with people, yet this day I was. This further added to the somber and lonely feeling I quickly had when I received the news of this last treatment. Was the universe conspiring with me on this last day? I frankly didn't know how to feel as a flood of emotions welled up inside of me. Happy. Sad. Surprised. Shocked. Frantic.

Hil immediately started taking pictures, filming and hiding behind the camera as she too didn't know how to take the news. The chemo staff didn't blink an eye as they have become used to her filming and documenting my journey, but this day had her privately retreating behind the lens. The only thing she said she knew to do.

I was, as I professed at the onset of my treatment, utterly unprepared for this. All I wanted to do was to curl up into Martha's lap and cry my eyes out and never open them up again. The best chemo-purple-angel-humanitarian in THE world! AND...so happened that my last day of treatment was her birthday - a day I will never forget.

Then came a ray of sunshine that walked through the door by the name of Lorena, one of my new 'breast friends' that I've had the great pleasure of getting to know these past few months. Going through a second breast cancer diagnosis herself, I felt as if my reinforcement showed up just in the nick of time. LUV this gal and her spunky attitude! So we spent the remaining time, just the two of us in those chairs, laughing, crying and sitting in silence. Exactly what I needed.

Then, my other 'breast friend' Marion came in briefly to bring Hil and I some sweet treats - flourless, sugarless, dairy-free cookies. Wow, I was overcome by more love and support. A surprise visit, this other lovely is a special one too and someone I immediately connected with at her first chemo appointment a couple of months ago. More reinforcement in the form of love. Couldn't ask for anything more.

As for my final exit out of that room with hugs, love and tears, I held my new chest up high and walked out that door. Promising to come back as a 'Chemo Concierge' to pay it forward, I looked at the lovely Martha who said with her beautiful big smile - "Now get out and stay out!"



'We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us'
-E.M. Forster

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Flying Under the Vulnerability Radar

Brené Brown speaking at TED

vul·ner·a·ble [vuhl-ner-uh-buhl] 1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon; 2. open to moral attack, criticism, temptation

BUT...let me help you right off the bat by scrapping this dictionary reference above and instead, go straight to Brené Brown's meaning as you'll hear in the video.

vul·ner·a·bil·i·ty [vuhl-ner-uh-buhl-i-tee] 1. our most accurate measurement of courage; 
2. the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change (Brené Brown)

Now that we have that out of the way, I must again give an honorable nod to Brené Brown for her brilliant, straightforward and wholehearted work that continues to inspire me. Because let me tell you, if going through cancer, once, twice or three times doesn't make a person vulnerable, then I don't know what does.

There's so much vulnerability that correlates with a cancer diagnosis that I frequently don't know up from down. And I'll even go out on a vulnerability limb and share with you that I continue to feel exposed as I embrace the new changes about myself, my new perspective on life, friendship, my scarred body, my numb chest and my numb fingers and toes from the chemo. I frequently fall over from a standing position as if I were intoxicated and always joke it off with a 'no worries, I'm not drinking.' Walking around bald for months on end while looking like a ghostly, ashen version of my former self left me in one of the most vulnerable states of all as I endured stares, name calling and wide-eyed looks from children. And now my current struggle with vulnerability is focused on the end of the treatment road for me. There, I said it... well some of it. Enough for now.

And as I continue to question myself through this process, my writing and interactions with others about how vulnerable I 'should' be, my head often spins at an accelerated rate.  How much do I tell her? How should I say this? Should I gloss over this news? Can they handle it? And the biggest question of all, can I handle it?

My answer...HELL YES! This whole cancer gig has brought up a bundle of adjectives for me to chew on. And as a language therapist, I then typically start heading down the linguistic road of lexicon: exposed, tender, humbled, delicate. And then fleeting and flitting in and out of a Noun - Shame! (pause for reaction....). Yes, I said SHAME!

Because I felt such significant shame during my first diagnosis that I held 'it' in secrecy, swore people to secrecy and stopped telling people that I had breast cancer. I didn't quite grasp why I felt so shameful, and after watching Ms. Brown today on Super Soul Sunday, I realized how consumed I have been through each diagnosis with vulnerability and shame...until now. 

So, twenty years and a third breast cancer diagnosis later, I will purposefully choose to forge ahead and confront the 'Big C' in spite of feeling blemished, scarred and flawed. No more shame for me. I will go as far as to say that I will 'dare greatly' as Ms. Brown suggests.

I believe, that the path for me will continue to be full of vulnerability as it allows me to embrace my sometimes fragile self. It's the only choice I know.

So who's on board the vulnerability train with me?!