Thursday, April 9, 2015

Cancer Patient: My New & Unexpected Career

If there was a job ad on LinkedIn or Indeed for such a position, it would read something like this:

Job Description
Cancerland is seeking a candidate with an extensive background with cancer. This highly stressful position is offered to hundreds of thousands of cancer patients (past and present) to join a personal medical team of dozens. The applicant is required to have a comprehensive background with an overabundance of doctor's visits, stress, bad cancer news (as in "You have cancer"), a multitude of blood work, numerous surgeries, chemotherapy, bone ache, extreme fatigue, hair loss, nausea, radiation and the like. A strong and positive attitude is required of this position while continuing to navigate your way through your health labyrinth.

Required Experience & Qualifications
  • Must be flexible with your daily schedule
  • Must not have another full-time job (you don't have the time or energy for one!)
  • Must possess strong phone skills and be patient while being placed on hold... for a really long time
  • Must not cry in public so as to make others feel uncomfortable
  • Must always wear a fake smile on your face and pretend that everything is just 'fine'
  • Must be a self-advocate (for those medical naysayers)
  • Must have good organizational skills in order to keep all of the medical appointments straight in your mind or.... someone that can help clear the fog in your chemo brain
  • Must have good or workable veins

Yeaaaahhh.....sorry... there won't be one. 

Apply Now
You know the gig. Send your resume or blog link to our medical headquarters in Cancerland with a special note to your cancer like, YOU SUCK! CANCER SUCKS! F*BOMB CANCER! Whatever you like.


And to give you a small taste of this job that I've been doing off and on for the past 23 years and more recently the past couple of years since I've 'finished everything', let me give you a small sampling of how cancer continues to play a major role in my life on a weekly basis:

Monday: Speech Therapy work (squeeze in appts in the mornings as I can)
Tuesday: 11:00am (acupuncture); 3:30pm (chiropractor)
Wednesday: 11:00am (general surgeon); 1:40 (oncologist)
Thursday: 10:15am (chiropractor); 11:00am (acupuncture); 1:30pm (Infrared sauna)
Friday: 9:30am (chiropractor)
Saturday: 11:00 ('Cancer Counseling')

Enough said, I speak for many out there when I say this new life of mine is not what I expected. Some aspects of this 'life after cancer is done' stays constant and some aspects don't. There are new meds, old meds, discontinued meds, new diagnosis from treatment and the meds, a fractured sternum because of bone density loss, a new diagnosis of osteoporosis, headaches, continued nausea, neuropathy, insomnia, stress, lab work, more lab work, MRI's, x-rays, CT scans, Cancer PTSD, food triggers, emotional triggers, fake smiles, 'I'm doing great' responses, blah, blah, freaking blah.

So the next time you ask a cancer patient, survivor or warrior how they are doing, please keep in mind, cancer is that epic.

Friday, March 20, 2015

My New Normal is No Hollywood Sitcom!

It's like a bad mashup and an oxymoron, this post-cancer life.

After nearly 23 years of going through breast cancer, this whole concept of a 'New Normal' has been at the forefront of my mind quite a bit. And as a Language Therapist, I am continually questioning the true premise of what this means to me and my life post-breast cancer - x3.

Everyone talks about this in Cancerland and post-anything-adverse-and-traumatic will of course, force you into a 'New Normal' in our lives, yet, I still can't unravel and pinpoint what this literally means for me. Yes, I understand that there's a transformation, and of course, I have a new perspective on life and absolutely, I am beyond grateful to still be alive and kicking, but it's most certainly a struggle as the scars are still there both emotionally and physically -

I often equate my current mental, emotional and spiritual state as an island. My own island. And sometimes when there are other people around me on my island, I still feel so very isolated and reclusive. Nobody truly grasps what it's like to experience such a phenomenon and the impact of these life-changing events, including me.

I frequently vacillate between my thoughts of I'm still mostly the same person and yet I feel so very different and offbeat from those around me. Do people look at me as the girl that has had breast cancer 3 times over the past 23 years? Do they still see me as the same person? I don't really know as people don't really talk about 'IT.' I can't even imagine (nor do I want to imagine) what my Stage 4 sisters and brothers feel like on a daily basis? I know this is nothing compared to their lives yet is quite impactful on mine.

So, where do I go from here? I'm trying to find my old and new identity simultaneously but I don't feel very successful at it. I heavily rely on complete strangers (thank you Ann Marie, Nancy, #BCSM and Liza!) for validation and comfort. They get me sometimes more than I get myself as I hear them saying the exact same thing with confusion, anger and bewilderment.

I don't want to be my cancer, I want to be myself. Yet, it seems slightly unrealistic when I've spent nearly 45% of my life with this roommate I call breast cancer. I ache on a daily basis, my immune system is shot, I've grown weary of the side effects and I'm so tired of daily medical appointments and therapy that both help me yet frustrate me (I had 11 last week!).

So now what? Life on the post-cancer-fence is most uncertain and definitely a contradictory way to live. I suppose I will simply continue to be myself, my new self or some semblance of my former self. Whatever the case, I'm going to address my life in the same way that I've addressed each cancer diagnosis, facing myself in a forward direction and simply putting one foot in front of the other.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Tamoxifen Vacation?! This is So Genius!

That's right, you heard it! I heard it! The words rolled off my oncologist's tongue as if I were in a slow motion movie. "Leeeetttt's puuuut yooouuu ooooonnn aaaaa 'Taaaammmooooxiiiifen Vaaaacaaatiooon' fooor siiiix weeeeks."

"WHAT?!" Just like that? I did a double take at Dr. G. and then to Hil and then to my mom. Did he just say a 'Tamoxifen Vacation?' Excuse me everyone, but I've gotta get home immediately and start packing my bags because I'm going on a vacation!

So, here's how it played out. After months of ongoing side effects with the newest, heightened one of peeing and pooping my pants at home AND in public, I couldn't take it any more. I had fallen into a crater of medication issues, a side-effects-depression and was now at an impasse and I wanted it settled immediately.

As my mom, my partner Hil and I sat in Dr. G.'s medical room waiting for him a mere 3 weeks ago, I was silently reviewing how I would bring up the Tamoxifen issues. My thoughts were swimming around in my head: Stay classy Yog. Put on your big girl pants. Simply explain the concerns. Inquire about alternatives. But as soon as Dr. G. walked in the room with his resident Sawyer, this is how the conversation actually went down:

Dr. G: Hey! Do you mind if our resident Sawyer joins in on our appointment?
Me: No. Come on in Sawyer!
Mom: (reaching out her hand to Sawyer) Oh, as in Tom?
Everyone: Bwahahahaha!!
Me: Sorry Sawyer.
Dr. G: (sitting on his rolling doctor stool looking at Hil) Bad-ass hair cut Hilary!
Hil: Thanks Dr. G.
Dr. G: So, how's it going?
Me: Can we talk Tamoxifen Dr. G?
Dr. G: (Smiling) Sure. What's going on?
Me: (looking at Sawyer). I know I don't know you Sawyer, so please excuse me for what I'm about to say.
Sawyer: Ooookaaay...
Me: (spitting out my words in rapid succession) Dr. G. I'm tired of sh*tting my pants in public places. These side effects are doing me in. But may I say, if there is one place to sh*t your pants in public, may I recommend Walmart? They have everything you need in case this crappy situation happens. (looking at Sawyer) Again, sorry Sawyer.
Dr. G: (waving his hand toward Sawyer) He's heard it all.
Sawyer: Yeah, I've heard it all. This is nothing.
Me: Thanks Sawyer. So, what are we gonna do Dr. G. What are my options?

As the conversation continued, I was quickly trying to read Dr. G's response but didn't have to wait very long before he said, Well, this is no way to live, so let's put you on a 'Tamoxifen Vacation' for six weeks and let's see what happens.

Wha, What?! Really? Just like that? Well, ok then.

After 3 1/2 years of getting to know Dr. G., he knows me well enough to give it to me straight. It's just how we both roll and this time was no different. No beating around the bush, carefully choosing your words and talking to me in a nice, calm, soothing yet annoying voice. Just tell it like it is. And this is exactly why I adore this man. Other than his brilliance, innovation, great sense of humor, open-mindedness, humbleness and nice Stanford background, I just admire and revere Dr. G. so very much!

So, in a couple more weeks, I'll go back to Dr. G. with the good news that most of all of the dreadful side effects are mostly gone and I've had only 1 sh*t-my-pants episode behind me (pun intended), we'll see what's next. He said that there are 2 other meds we could consider as well as a once-a-month shot, so, I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I'm feeling pretty darn good these days and excited about now a third round of meds to try to keep that damn estrogen-induced-breast-cancer-feeding-hormone at bay. All in all, I'm just hopeful, and that's good enough for me right now.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Re-Do on the Breast Reconstruction - Yes Again!

I know this sounds redundant, redundant, but yes, this is the 5th surgery for me for this last round of cancer and my third breast reconstruction. And like the professional patient that I have apparently become these past 20 years, I have my pre-surgery juju and rituals down to a science now - juicing, keeping to myself, yoga, a massage, inspirational reading and a mishmash of surgical customs. Makes me feel like I have an ounce more control over something that I truly have zero control over.

As for the video, it will give you an inside peek into the ups, downs and the twisted (as in my case) of what can happen to an implant, post-mastectomy as well as my journey in Cancerland. And as usual, my amazing plastic surgeon, Dr. Julio Soares rocked yet this surgery too! Repositioned implant - check. Encapsulated scar tissue removed - check. Reshaped capsule pocket - check. Breast liposuction - check. A rockstar surgeon - check.

Sometimes, I must admit that these ongoing surgeries, no matter how big, serious or small they may be, still get to me. And because I'm a bit of a pro now, my mind often looks beyond the surgery as I know what lies ahead of me - pain, drains, meds and sponge baths. And of course as most all cancer survivors will tell you, I can't seem to disregard my nervousness about the possibility of my surgeon 'finding something.' (But he didn't - WOOT!).

Lastly, you might inquire as to why I made a video of this most recent journey - it was because it allows me to examine a small but significant segment of my life and what I have conquered. The silver lining in doing this is that it sheds light on my present and all that I have to be grateful for.

Surgery went well, I didn't have drains, my implant only twisted around and the surgery lasted only over an hour instead of the predicted 2-3 hours. My incredible surgeon did his brilliant work once again and this recent journey was by far, the easiest surgery and recovery - see for yourself.

Friday, January 2, 2015

HELLLOOO 2015! What's your word?

Since I haven't blogged in 2 months (needed a break!), I thought the first of the New Year would be a perfect kick start to what I hope to be a very powerful year for me personally and professionally.

Having said that, it has always been my favorite time of year as it feels so fresh and exhilarating. Seriously, who doesn't like a chance for a do-over? I for one have always felt immensely inspired by the New Year as it embodies new beginnings and fresh starts! So, a few years back my partner and I began picking words, phrases and themes for each year as our main focus. But as it turned out, it didn't actually pay off.

In 2011, we decided that it would be the year of 'FUN!' as we yelled it from the rooftops. We were thinking more along the lines of lively, boisterous, exhilarating.... you with me?!

We almost made it through the year on this theme when in November, I felt a lump in my left breast - again! Dang. Felt like I was sucker-punched.

When the New Year, and a 3rd breast cancer diagnosis came, I still felt empowered and yet a little cheated from the previous year's theme, so we went with 'A YEAR OF MORE FUN!' as our mantra for 2012. Unfortunately, that didn't last but 6 days as I went in for a biopsy and a double mastectomy along with the beginning of the reconstruction fun, uh I mean hell. And a mere 4 months later, I was handed down the news of chemo which, as many of you know, was definitely NOT fun!

Ready to embrace yet another new year and a new theme, I kicked 2012 to the curb and welcomed the new year and continued treatment with my kick-ass attitude! But 2013, the year of 'GRATITUDE' was full of pros and cons, ups and down, good and bad as I finished treatment and rented out our home of 10 years due to the medical bills (American insurance, you SUCK!). With no place of our own to call home, we stayed at my mom's house and other friend's homes up and down the California coast for 5 months (thank you mom, the Ambroses, the Sanfords, the Beltrans and Nance & Val).

By the time 2014 rolled around and no longer feeling cursed, I began to move towards positivity once again and embrace the notion of a word or theme for the year. Survival and life seemed to be the basic theme as we had just moved into a condo down the street from our house and our neighborhood family. We rescued a new dog aptly named 'Tashi' which is Tibetan for good luck and good fortune; a new theme seemed to waltz right into our lives. My partner had just returned back to work full time (with new and good insurance!) and I was able to work a tad more. I was gaining more energy (and unfortunately some weight!) but learning to befriend my daily pal, Tamoxifen. Still in the throws of financial distress, we managed to get back on our feet on so many levels.

So, when the clock struck midnight just 2 days ago as we were in Disneyland ringing in 2015, I once again turned to my partner and said, "Well, what's our theme?" She simply shook her head and said, "No more themes. No more words."

WHAT?! I had to have a theme. A word. Something to feel inspired by. I'm a linguist and a language therapist, words are important to me and that's just how I operate.

I even counter-offered a few out-of-the-box themes. "How about I just make 2015 my bitch!" No. "What about INSPIRATION?" Nope. "OK, why don't I adopt the theme song to Frozen Let It Go for the year?" She indulged me for a few seconds and even sang along with me followed by an emphatic still no response.

With all of this being said, I think I get it now. No theme or word is necessary (there I said it!). Rather a simple and peaceful alternative might be a better case. Living each day with good intention. A positive purpose. A healthy attitude. Yep, that's what I'm going to do. Take each day and moment as it comes.

So, I'll simply say welcome 2015! The year with 365 days and numerous moments of ________, you fill in the blank because I'm not going to.

Happy New Year!