Sunday, November 3, 2013

525,600 Minutes

I am a huge fan of the musical, movie, DVD, all that is RENT. I have seen it performed live twice [once with the original members of Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp], both times taking Ali with me, as it is a favorite of hers as well. The girls and I even went to see the live last performance from seats at our local theatre as the curtains fell in New York and the stage went dark.

I don't know that I would have been a fan when I was Ali's age. AIDS was just becoming known, Reagan was President and it was a scary time as far as the disease was concerned. The movie, And The Band Played On, shows how unknown the disease was for my generation.

But the words, the characters, the music, everything that Jonathan Larson created in RENT was genius. The words and lyrics to his songs are timeless. Everyone knows the song made famous by this work, 525,600 Minutes. Who knew how the year broke down in minutes had it not been for this song? The words that were created are powerful and thought provoking. "How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?" How does anyone?

November 2nd 2013, yesterday, marked one year to the day, 525,600 minutes, since my last chemo treatment. I see my oncologist every three months now instead of bi-weekly, I get up and go through my day as I used to, dragging myself out of bed with the alarm to let the dogs out and then take my morning meds and get ready for work. I go through my usual work day, come home, let the dogs out, prepare dinner and clean up afterwards. I take more meds and watch television or get some reading done, something I had not been able to do for quite awhile, concentration being an issue, and drag myself upstairs to get much needed sleep.

There are a few differences if you were to look at me. My hair being one; it is not shoulder length anymore. It is growing in steadily and I need to get regular haircuts as it begins to look a bit mutton like if I don't, and my hair stylist is helping me to grow it strong and healthy. If you really look there are a bit more differences: my stomach pooch is no longer there, thanks to the TRAM Flap procedure I had for reconstruction. The other difference being that I went from a C to a DD, not by choice but the procedure, I swear. I am still getting used to this difference. I remember telling my surgeon that I didn't want to look much different than I already was and now they tell me I "look more proportionate". Personally, if I was the weight I was when I got married I think I would look more like Barbie. I still have little to no feeling in my breast and abdominal area and likely never will.  If I develop an itch, I actually have to concentrate and watch myself scratch or the itch doesnt go away.  The look on someones face when they inadvertently bump into me, bumping my chest and apologize and I ask them why is priceless.

I know that there are more subtle differences. I don't have the stamina I used to, I get tired very easily and am easily winded with things that are strenuous. I have permanent neuropathy in my hands and feet. I walk down stairs like a 100 year old woman, clutching the banisters, as I am terrified to fall since I cannot feel my feet touch the stair. My hands are better but, when I get tired, I am unable to grip well and drop things. I have emotional issues, I feel angry and things tend to bother me more. Not to say I was easy going before this journey but I seem to notice it more at least.

There are things I have decided, that I need to do more to help myself. I need to eat better, sleep better and exercise more, although, doesn't everyone? I am slowly trying to do these things in an effort to learn from what happened to me. I guess I felt that this would be a life changing thing for me and yet at times I do not and I think this is what frustrates me. How do you not learn from something like cancer? I wonder this from time to time and I think for most of the journey, all I wanted was my life back. To go from day to day as I used to and yet, this is what I think bothers me. I was not the healthiest, more active person and I know that this is exactly what I need to do to help myself feel better and age better.

Ali and Amanda are great examples of strength for me in this area, as well as Greg. Greg took up running when Amanda joined the ROTC. He felt that he should get in shape while she did. Amanda is always striving for better times and numbers in her PT scores with the ROTC and it pushes her to constantly improve herself. Ali, who suffers from a condition called POTS [Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome] needs to exercise to help her condition; the very thing her body does not want to do. Yet, when she called me last week, after having an extremely difficult week of classes and meetings and issues due to her condition, it was 8:30 in the evening and she was in the health club on campus, working out on a recumbent bike.

In an effort to improve myself, for me and my family, I first need to understand that I need to do this for myself. I am going to take better care of myself than I have before. I am going to look into yoga again, meditation, relaxation and healing myself. If this past year has taught me anything it is that while all I wanted to do was to return to normal after the cancer, my normal is not something that I like or is good for me.

So, my question for all of you that are so kind to take time and read my blog posts is, do you like your normal? How do you measure the moments in a year of your life, all 525,600 minutes of them?

525,600 minutes,
525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love.
Seasons of love.

525,600 minutes!
525,000 journeys to plan.
525,600 minutes - how can you measure the life of a woman or man?

In truths that she learned, or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned, or the way that she died.

It's time now to sing out, tho the story never ends
let's celebrate remember a year in the life of friends.
Remember the love!
Remember the love!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lessons Learned...

Important dates allow us to recall memories, moments and time.  Families and friends recall good times and bad through collective memories and it is a wonderful way for family to continue stories from the past and allow their history live on.

Last Tuesday, June 11th, marked one year that I had my cancer surgery.  It is amazing to me that it has been only 365 days.  Some things are so easy for me to recall from this time, others, most likely due to the morphine, are not so easy to remember and I need to rely on my family for help.

We learn things from our experiences and those of others.  The goal when I began this blog was not only to help me get through the experience but, my hope was to help others if, sadly, they had to go through the same type of health crisis.  Through this adventure I have learned kindness, goodness, friendship and even sadness. I treasure the time. This may sound strange, but this experience has not only changed me in obvious ways, but I am different and continuing to change, evolve if you will.

Kindness and goodness of others is something that is easy to find at a hospital or oncology office.  The staff at Northwestern and my oncologists office were unknown to me when I began what was terrifying to me at the time.  Only having the memory of what my mother went through, I was scared and my family, though strong on the outside were scared as well.  How they go in day after day and help save lives is remarkable to me.  How they helped me, helped others, and how they deal with losing patients, I will never know.  Now, I consider these people to be lifesavers and am even more proud that I have one daughter who has chosen to be a nurse and one who is considering surgery. 

It may seem peculiar that sadness would be included.  Sadness though comes in many forms.  There is sadness in losing another part of my body that makes me female.  There is sadness in losing what fed my daughters when they were babies.  There is sadness in the loss of a few friends.  Yet, in the sadness, I find myself learning.  I am learning more and more the importance of family.  The true security that it brings.  We have been put through many tests this past year and have become even stronger.  I have learned who true friends are and have found that some are better friends than I may have given them credit for.  Those that I have lost, I have learned that they were not true friends to begin with. Does it make me sad? Absolutely, but I have chosen not to dwell on the sadness.

I believe that if we do not learn from our own experiences, we are not taking full advantage of what has happened to us therefore not growing.June 11th will always be a day that I remember.  It will continue to bring up memories and emotions, and I expect to continually grow from this experience. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

I Am Far From Over

I have always loved Cher.  There is something about her voice that has always appealed to me.  I can remember as a young girl watching the Sonny and Cher show on Sunday evenings with my family back home in Southern California.  Sonny and Cher's antics were silly but I always remember her solos. "Half Breed" was my absolute favorite song.  And, who can forget her singing, "If I Could Turn Back Time", on the battleship with all the Marines behind her years later?

Her roles in movies have always been well done.  Moonstruck is one of my all time favorites. I can drive Ali crazy within minutes as I speak each characters line; having seen the movie for the umpteenth time.  She was wonderful in Witches of Eastwick, Silkwood, Mask and Suspect.

My mother was a fan of Cher as well.  I remember watching her smile when we watched Sonny and Cher.  I remember one day, before she got ill,  walking to the sidewalk to get into our car.  My mother was walking in front of me and I said excitedly, "Mommy, you have hips just like Cher!".  I meant it as a complete compliment but it took me a few years to understand that it was not a compliment to her.

Today marks the day that I was told a year ago that I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma of the right breast.  Breast Cancer.  The idea that I had a disease that I watched take over and kill my mother when I was a child was terrifying to me.

Strange as it seems, I gained strength from Cher.  She was in a horrible movie a couple years ago entitled Burlesque.  But, in that movie is a song she sings that I have played over and over and over again.  It has helped me get through the past year.  

The words are below and I know that you will see why I love this ballad and the strength it has given me.  I thank Cher for her beautiful voice and, I thank the writer, Diane Warren.  Her words are striking.

You Haven't Seen The Last Of Me

Feeling broken
Barely holding on
But there's just something so strong
Somewhere inside me
And I am down but I'll get up again
Don't count me out just yet

I've been brought down to my knees
And I've been pushed way past the point of breaking
But I can take it
I'll be back
Back on my feet
This is far from over
You haven't seen the last of me
You haven't seen the last of me

They can say that
I won't stay around
But I'm gonna stand my ground
You're not gonna stop me
You don't know me
You don't know who I am
Don't count me out so fast

I've been brought down to my knees
And I've been pushed way past the point of breaking
But I can take it
I'll be back
Back on my feet
This is far from over
You haven't seen the last of me

There will be no fade out
This is not the end
I'm down now
But I'll be standing tall again
Times are hard but
I was built tough
I'm gonna show you all what I'm made of

I've been brought down to my knees
And I've been pushed right past the point of breaking
But I can take it
I'll be back
Back on my feet
This is far from over
I am far from over
You haven't seen the last of me

No no
I'm not going nowhere
I'm staying right here
Oh no
You won't see me fade out
I'm not taking my bow
Can't stop me
It's not the end
You haven't seen the last of me
Oh no
You haven't seen the last of me
You haven't seen the last of me

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Things We Won't Forget

There are days and times in all of our lives that we will not forget.  Yesterday, sadly, is a perfect example.  There are memories that we all will deal with in different ways; those big headlines that we will always remember and those on a more personal level that we, and a few close to us, may always recall.

Me? There are a few headlines I remember.  I was in the Student Center at my high school when President Reagan was shot.  I was coming up the basement stairs with a load of laundry when the news came on that Princess Diana was killed.  I was standing at the back door waiting to wave good-bye to my husband as he left for work, something I try and do every day he leaves first, when he yelled to me that we had been attacked and then turning on the t.v. to see a plane fly into the Twin Towers and Pentagon.  I will now recall being at work and having a text from CNN beep into my phone to announce the terrorist attack in Boston.

This week though, there are the other kind of memories that are hitting home for me.  Tomorrow, the 17th of April, was the day I went to Northwestern for my scheduled biopsy a year ago.  I had already had my diagnostic mammogram and an ultrasound a few days before that was questioned   I remember having the ultrasound tech tell me that she was going to bring in the radiologist.  The radiologist came in and she spent a great deal of time looking at my right breast and then showed me the ultrasound, something they usually do not do.  I saw the black circular area that spanned out a bit like a paisley design and I knew.  She told me she was concerned.  She was very kind and quietly waited outside the changing area to personally walk me to the scheduling area.  

A few days later, the 17th of April, I was back for the biopsy.  I was not nervous.  If you have been to Northwestern you know that it is more like a spa than a hospital, as a friend this morning told me when she was there for the first time.  Dr. M. came in and when the resident asked her if she still wanted me to have the biopsy, having seen the screen image, I knew that the results I would get were not good.

This Friday will mark the one year mark that I received the phone call telling me that I had cancer. It is a day that will be forever in my memory, my husbands, daughters and family.  It is a marker for me, something to use and look back on.  With regret?  No.

I pray for those who were killed, maimed and in any way hurt by yesterdays terrorist attack.  It is a horrific tragedy for all.  Most especially for the families of the three who were murdered.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Lesson Learned... The Hard Way

I have been feeling better these past few weeks.  I thought that the start of the new year was the start of a new me.  My hair has been growing on my head slowly but surely, albeit there are days when it itches like crazy, but I take it as a good sign.  My eyelashes have come back as well as my eyebrows.  

The neuropathy in my hands and feet has been really slow to dissipate   The numbness is gone for the most part though.  My hands don't tingle although they ache if they are washed in hot water and are painful and swollen in the morning.  I have to pay close attention to when I am typing [something I do at work all day long].  If I don't, Iendupwithaparagraphwithoutspaces [I end up with a paragraph without spaces].  I also tend to knock things over when not paying attention,  of course, I was a klutz as a kid, maybe it's just returned from childhood.

My feet are another story.  When I wake up I feel like my feet are swollen balloons.  Walking on them first thing in the morning is really painful, it takes awhile to feel comfortable on them.  Sometimes, a water pill is needed to take the puffy feeling away.  The great thing is I have been able to wear heels at work.  I love high heels.  Not the ridiculously high ones, just one inch kitten heels or my favorite pair of Enzo's, never more than three inches high.  It makes me feel feminine again.  I don't believe there is any correlation with feeling the morning pain and wearing heels the day before.  It happens in flats or when I wear my new gym shoes [fluorescent hot pink and black, Amanda is so proud].

I got up this morning and put on my robe and slippers, as usual.  I had my book in my hand and started walking down the stairs the way I always do, like an old lady [no offense].  I go one step at a time.  I put my left foot down onto the stair and then my right and I proceed down the stairs in this manner until I reach the bottom and hold the handrail the entire time.

Last night though, it snowed.  For this California girl, the first morning of a measurable snowfall is always breathtaking; really to me they all are.  I love the white stuff.  The crisp feel in the air, the clean smell, the way the white of the snow can make the world look new and fresh.  I used to wake up Amanda if the first snow began after she had gone to bed.  I don't know why, just something we always shared.  I think my friends from Chicago think I am nuts about how much I like the snow.  When we had the blizzard two years ago I was probably as happy as the neighborhood children who played while I shoveled. It makes a great work out.  I find myself upset with weathermen who tell us it is going to snow and then, in the morning or at the end of the day, there is no snow.

I found out the hard way that I still need to pay close attention at all times to my walking.  As I came down the stairs my eye caught the whiteness in the window and while my left leg was lifted to go to the next stair, and my eyes were on the snow, in that split second I lost my footing and fell the last four or five stairs down. I landed hard.  So hard that Greg, who was in the backroom on the recumbent bike and rocking out to Katy Perry with his headphones, heard the thud.  Thankfully he was home, I was freaked.  I landed and slid.  I am almost positive that I did not hit my head.  I joked with a girlfriend that the scar from hip to hip in the front will be paired with a bruise from hip to hip in the back that I am sure to get.  My left elbow has suffered the worst of it.  Right on the spot that bends I have a lovely gash.  

For those who don't know me as others, I don't deal well with blood.  My security staff when I was the Assistant Manager at the Chicago Hilton and Towers knew this.  If there was a call and there was blood, they shielded me.  I have never handled it well.  So, as Greg was cleaning up my elbow in the bathroom, he walked out to get the first aid kit and I saw the elbow in the mirror.  The room started spinning, the queasiness came on, my eyes went blurry and the cold sweat soaked me.  I don't think I have ever been so close to fainting.

I didn't break anything thank God.  I am sore as sore can be and know I will be popping Motrin tomorrow. 

I also wanted to share with you an amazing thing that a bunch of students and a couple faculty and staff did at Trinity a week ago.  They gave of themselves by giving their hair.  They donated almost 40 feet of hair to Locks of Love.  I was asked to speak to the school [yikes!!] .

You can view it here [copy and paste]: 

or go to  At the top right you will see the youtube icon.  Click on it and I believe it should pop right up.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's a New Year...

I would like to say that 2012 was horrible; the worst year ever, one not to be repeated.  Surprisingly, I cannot.  I saw a post on Pinterest the other day that helped me to realize something.  That although the glass may look half empty [yes, a true pessimist I am], it is really not.  That the glass, with the water only filling it halfway, is still full, simply with another form of matter, oxygen.  Hence, the glass is always full.  It's another way to look at it at least.  I have heard this before of course, but it seemed funny to me that on the very day I saw this post, my dear husband and I had a talk and he said virtually the same thing in an anecdotal way.

One would think that a diagnosis of Invasive Ductal Carcinoma would tag 2012 as a horrible year.  Of course, April 19th, 2012 will forever be in my mind; the day of my diagnosis.  Then there will be June 11th, the day of my very long surgery which I am sure my husband will never let me forget as he, my daughters and family members spent over 16 hours in the waiting room.  July 26th, my very first chemotherapy session.  I will surely never forget the sickness from the first chemo.

Then, there is Amanda.  When she went away to school we all believed that the plan was that she would graduate and return to the Chicago area.  A true Chicago sports fan, we knew that she would not want to be far from Soldier and Wrigley Field and the United Center.  It was discussed that when she graduated, she would return home for a year or so to save money as she worked as a nurse at one of the many great hospitals in the Chicago area. As most of you know, Amanda joined the Army ROTC.  Hence, she will  not be coming home.  Once she graduates in 2014 she will be sent somewhere,  who knows where, but it will not be home.

And, Alexandra.  Ali left for her first year out east to Haverford.  Greg and I are officially empty nesters.  It is so quiet in our home now. What do I miss most?  My drive to work.  I work where the girls went to high school and every morning for the last two years, Ali and I would drive to school together.  It was usually a quiet ride as Ali and I are not what you would call "morning people", but it was nice.  The drive home was always a great time to check in with Ali and what was happening at school.  She would tell me about her day, her friends and the homework she had or presentations that she was either preparing for or how they had gone.  But that does not happen anymore.  Ali loves Haverford, of which we could not be happier.  The transition has been hard for all of us.  She loves the school so we are comforted by that.

I will remember my husband and Ali looking at me, being with me for my first chemo session and trying very hard  not to look scared themselves nor trying to look at me with sympathetic eyes.  I will remember Amanda, not my daughter but my nurse, who worked so hard to get that first chemo through me and then very sweetly had to tell me that I needed a port, something that I was actually truly grateful for as it made it so much easier all the other visits.  I will remember every chemo session, the amazing nurses, my amazing Dr. T.. I will remember November 2nd, my last chemo session and the huge hug my oncologist gave me.   I will remember the friends and family that took me to my sessions, lunches at Corner Bakery and how wonderful so many people were to me.  My bosses, Sr. Michelle and Chris, so understanding and supportive, full of love and prayers.  Dr. B, the principal where I work, who texted me faithfully everyday to see how I was doing, and upon returning to work, made a point of seeing me everyday to check in, lend her support and give me a hug and smile. She is a breast cancer survivor herself and was so full of information and support. My neighbors and friends, who helped me and my family by bringing dinners or brunches and my sister-in-law Kim who organized it all.  For all the cards, flowers and fruit, even a yummy jar of bread and butter pickles came my way. I will remember Ali, running through Target to track down the two teenagers who laughed at me and her berating them in the store.

Although I would not recommend cancer to anyone, it does, if you let it, allow you to see all the wonderful people around you.  People who in their own way, show their care and concern.  I cannot thank my dear Ali enough.  She and I have always been close and, if possible, this brought us closer.  Her care was 24|7 day after day as Amanda had to leave for ROTC leadership training and Greg had to go back to work.

Although Amanda will not be coming back home after school, and we don't really know where she will end up, she has made me so proud.  She is excelling at school and will make an amazing nurse when she is done next year.  She has amazed me with her determination and strength of self and character.  I know that she will not be coming home but, I also know that she has made the decision that is right for her.   She will be serving our country by serving those who go out and protect our country and those that need protection.  She will be providing much needed care to those who live to defend others.  She truly inspires me.

Ali has just left to go back to school.  It is quiet in the house, when the dogs are not barking at anything passing by, when the girls are both gone.  I am slowly getting used to it.  I miss our  mornings but, I also know that she is right where she is supposed to be.  She loves where she is, excels in her classes and, has made many great friends around the country.. 

I love the unexpected phone calls from the girls.  I also love the hugs when they come home, I will not forget them.  Likewise, I will not forget the shopping excursions, lunches, movies or just sitting and talking.  They mean the world to me, and honestly tide me over until I get to see them again.

So, as we are heading to February, I am thankful and grateful for all that I have.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lady with a Brown Paper Bag


I have to say that I am glad that no one saw me the other day, at least not that I know of.  I must have looked a tad crazy to the woman at Famous Liquors.  I limped in, having hip pain from the latest chemo.  It was last Thursday and Greg and I spent a very very long day with Dr. S., a radiologist at Northwestern.  The end result of meeting with him; radiation is not needed.  In a day and age when doctors need to be ever cautious of what they say for fear of being sued, when he told us this we felt relief beyond words.  I am done.


Greg left and went back to work.  I drove home and as I parked my car into the garage I realized that it was something we needed to celebrate.  I decided to walk to the local liquor store and get a split of champagne. As I left the liquor store, carrying a brown paper bag, walking with a limp and wearing a head cover, I realized I must have been some kind of sight and probably looked a tad drunk, walking down Madison Avenue with my special brown paper bag of champagne, having to walk slowly and deliberately due to the neuropathy in my legs.  It caused me to laugh, and silently pray that none of my neighbors were looking out their windows at the particular time of me walking down the street.

There is still allot to do, many doctors to see and of course, getting back to where I was before all of this started, actually I want and need to be better health wise than I was and I know that it will take time.  But, I am motivated.

The best news, I am considered to be in permanent remission.  I will need to see my oncologist every three months for blood work and check ups but, the road ahead looks sunny.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Six Down... Two to Go!!!

I have now completed half of the last phase of chemo.  Last Wednesday I spent the day at the oncologists office getting loaded up with Taxel.  I was told that this would be easier than the lovely cocktail that I got the first four visits.  I am not sure what scale anyone uses but I am finding this to be actually more difficult.

As before, I go to the office, visit with my amazing doctor and them go to the chemo room.  I get all the same anti-nausea meds that I usually get.  Taxel is different from the cocktail though in that it is not water soluble.  It gets put into a medium that apparently many people have allergic reactions too.  I was given Benadryl the first time and Natalie, one of the amazing nurses at the office stayed with me for 15 minutes to watch for any allergic reactions.  Thankfully, I did not have any.  The first visit was about six hours long and the second was no shorter.  The drug has to go into the body so much slower.

I go back to the oncologists the following day so that I can get my bone marrow shot.  I think I have stated in the past that it boosts my hip bones to pump up the production of both red and white blood cells.  I was told that one of the symptoms could be bone pain.  The word pain does not adequately describe what I felt.  I could feel my heartbeat throughout my hips and legs.  It was excruciating.  I was given the same pain meds that helped when I had the surgery.  Taking a double dose doesn't do anything to make the pain subside this time. The pain was so bad the first time that sleep was not possible.  I tried to take a warm soak in the bath. I love baths, they are always so comforting to me but, not this time.  Again, every heartbeat was exaggerated by the warmth of the water.  My legs felt like they had weights on them.   Again, probably the worst pain I have ever felt. It took a good four to five days to where I was able to  move comfortably.  

This second visit I feel like I am more prepared.  As soon as I wake, I take a dose of Motrin.  I have the pain meds when I come home for the evening and take the steroid in the morning for six days versus the usual three.  I am in some pain now, very achy but it is manageable at this point.  

On Wednesday when I finished my chemo the offices were already closed so when I went for my bone marrow shot the next day I made my next chemo appointment two weeks from now.  They usually do not  allow you to make more than one in advance.  I asked if I could also schedule my last one, explaining that I would really like to get it on my calendar.  They smiled at me and said that I could.  So, October 18th is my seventh and my last chemotherapy appointment is scheduled for November 1st.  

It feels good to say that I am toward the end of this part of the journey. It has been a long and difficult road.  But, I see the end coming toward me and it feels good.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Armande's Voice

When I was younger and in college, I had a favorite pink angora sweater.  I loved this sweater.   It was the color of a ballerinas leotard and oh so soft.  I used to love to wear it with my ivory tweed pants and beige boots and belt.  A high school friend was in one of my afternoon classes and when I walked in and took my seat next to him he laughed and shaking his head said, "I knew it".  When I questioned him, Rob said every guy on campus has been talking about the girl in the pink sweater.  I liked to be looked at then. 

It's a different story now.  Before the chemo, you could not tell that I was sick.  But chemo, having made me lose my hair, has changed that.  I do not go out without a scarf or a head cover.  Now, as people stare, it is not a good feeling.  Being a mother of two girls who always asked a hundred different questions a day when they were little, I can understand when I walk past a child and hear her ask her mother, "what is on that ladies head?", or "it doesn't look like that lady has any hair".  But, I do not understand the unpleasant stares that I have received from others.  Some stares are obviously those of pity.  But, I do not want pity.  I want courtesy.  We teach our children not to stare, why do we, as adults, not listen to those same words.

 "Don't you dare pity me", is exclaimed by Judy Dench as she plays Armande in one of my favorite movies, Chocolat.  She spits it out angrily to Vianne when Vianne shows her pity when it is discovered she has diabetes.  Admittedly, I myself have wanted to say this to a few gawkers who have stopped, stared or given me a look of pity as I have passed them.  I   wanted to say something allot more graphic to one woman as I walked in to my local Trader Joe's the other day who not only stopped and stared but had a look of what I can only describe as disgust on her face.

I have not looked at this chapter in my life with pity, despair or sadness.  I have not had a pity party or really ever broke down and cried.  I do not have time for it.  I am fighting for my life and the life of my family.  I am a fighter.  I am a survivor.  I have a badge of courage that I wear proudly as it has shown me the strength I didn't know I had.  So, as Armande said, don't pity me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Chemo - Round 1 and 2

There is a scene in the movie, "As Good As It Gets", where Carol [Helen Hunt] uses allot of expletives to complain to the doctor that Melvin [Jack Nicholson] sent to take care of her son, about her insurance company.  Her mother shushes her for using this particular language and the doctor says, "It's okay, actually I think that's their technical name".

I would not go so far as to use this type of language to talk about my insurance company but a couple weeks ago, after my first chemo treatment, had I been capable of yelling or screaming, one might have heard me.  As Greg, Ali and I were being given lessons on chemo, what to expect and what to do, I overheard my nurse, Amanda, [not my daughter as she was at ROTC], say as she got off the phone, I didn't know --- was one of the insurance companies that did this".  When she came over I asked if there was a problem, she said no, that I would be getting two anti-nausea meds and the chemo cocktail  as ordered.

I have to say that I was not nervous.  We met with Dr. T and she assured me that all would be done to assist me and that the nurses in the chemo room were wonderful.  She was right.  They were kind, caring and very supportive.  I walked into the room prepared to fight for my life and knew that this was the way to do it.

It was uneventful to tell you the truth.  It was decided that even though I had drank all the water and more that was asked of me the day before that I would need a port-a-cath since my right arm cannot be used anymore for blood draws and IV's [due to nodes being taken out of my arm during surgery].  They were able to get a needle in and the meds started going in.  After two hours of assorted drugs I was sent home.  Not more than four hours later it started.  A sickness I have never known before.  Everything came up as fast as it went in. I was violently ill.  I could only sit in bed and not move a muscle.  I was so ill I couldn't even take one of the anti-nausea meds, to swallow with water meant it came right back up.  The chemo treatment was on Friday and by Sunday Greg was calling into the service to see if we needed to go to the ER.  The concern was dehydration but thankfully, with all that I had before the treatment it didn't seem to be a problem.  Greg, as ever, was wonderful in caring for me.  He told me that even if this is the way it was going to have to be for these first four treatments, I would get through it and live. He gave me warm sponge baths and told me all the things I would live to see: graduations, weddings, grandchildren.  But, by Monday I was headed to the Oncologist again.

Ali drove me and my mother-in-law met us at the door to help get me out of the car.  I was incoherent and barely able to move.  After bags of IV fluids and more anti-nausea for hours the staff wanted to put me into the hospital.  I wanted to go home.  I wanted to sleep.  They agreed and allowed me to go home on the condition that I called in the morning.  I was able to sleep semi-comfortably and even made an attempt to go to work the next morning.  By Wednesday, I felt a bit like myself again and by Thursday even more so.

Now, to say that I was apprehensive this time, for my second round of chemo,  would be an understatement.  I had an appointment in the morning for a port-a-cath to be put in.  Once fully awake and watched for an hour to show that all was okay, Ali and Amanda [yay, she's home!] wheeled me over across the street to my Oncologists office.

The good news?  Getting so ill allowed me to get the third protocol that the doctor ordered for the type of chemo cocktail I am on.  The insurance company approved me to get it this time, they had not the first.  Dr. T was not happy that I had to go through what I went through.  She was very professional but clearly upset.  I was taken into the Chemo room and as the radiologist had kept an access in the port-a-cath it was easy for the meds to go in.  Actually, I don't even remember getting the meds.  With the "twilight" meds that I was given for the port and another to help me relax, I fell asleep almost immediately and didn't wake up until it was over.

I did not get sick, I have a small appetite and am able to sleep.  I am tired and stop to rest when I feel the wave of exhaustion but that is fine by me. 

Two more of this cocktail in and two more to go and then onto the next drug. 

Friday, July 27, 2012


Almost 25 years ago, I married my best friend.  Literally.  It's a long story and a good one but it is for another time.  Suffice it to say, I not only married my best friend, I married someone who has been a rock for me all these years.  He has been my anchor when things go wrong.  Does his optimism drive me crazy at times?  Absolutely.  But, if you know Greg, you know that he knows things.  We, his family, friends and business partners, are always driven crazy by the comment, "I know things", but, ultimately he is right. [I can't believe that I put that in writing].
Greg, as always, has been my touchstone through all of this that is my life, our life.  He has sat in more hospital waiting rooms for me over the years and he has never failed me.   My daughters told me that in the sixteen hours that they were at the hospital waiting, he did not close his eyes a single time to rest.  He is devoted to me and especially in the last few months, it has brought me more comfort than I could ever describe.
 I expected to be growing more and more anxious yesterday, to not be able to sleep last night and none of that has happened.  I took a bath early in the evening with a good book and sat down to go through emails and look at Facebook and I say Greg's latest post and it has helped me to put a timeline and a victory to this next phase of this cancer battle. 
Greg wrote:
Tomorrow Andrea starts Chemo. Its been a long 3 months but so far things have been going well. Currently Andrea has an excellent chance of never having to deal with cancer again. Along the way family and friends have been great with their support. Words can never express well my deep feelings of gratitude for everyone in our lives. Also along they way we have found grace and beauty... daughters who sleep on a couch to give their mom medicine during the night...neighbors who just cut your grass...sisters who arrange meals from friends...parents who buy you a reclining bed for comfort...parents who are just always there has your safety net and foundation to go on... Drs. and nurses who do not see you has a job but a calling to walk you back to full health. Our experience has just been awe-inspiring. All of this has led me to one conclusion...It is A Wonderful Life we have been given and like George Bailey we sometimes need a harsh example to see clearly the love around us. In the end...that is all that matters. So by the time Christmas comes we will watch the movie Its a Wonderful Life has a family and know the gift we have been given is Andrea's full health. Thanks to all.
So, this Christmas, I plan to sit and watch this wonderful classic movie with Greg, Amanda and Ali surrounding me and be ever mindful that yes, there are bumps and even boulders in the road but, with faith, family and friendship, we can get through anything.
 To my wonderful husband, I love you more than words can say and I look forward to sitting together with you and the girls, when they are home for Christmas break, watching the movie and sharing a big box of tissue.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What Are The Odds?


If I do nothing, the odds of the cancer coming back is 40%.  It seems incredible with all that I have done that it could be this high but alas, cancer is a tricky little bugger.  Greg, Ali and I met with my oncologist at Northwestern last Thursday.  Dr. T is a lovely woman and I am glad that she is the one that was recommended to me.  She is compassionate, intelligent and made us all feel comfortable.

She told us that her job is to get that percentage as close to 0% as possible.  She is going to start me with a cocktail [I wish it was the yummy kind] of two different chemo drugs.  And yes, my hair will fall out, there is no question to that.  There are other not so great side effects but she will try to minimize these as much as possible.

I find it some things funny, and most women I know will easily relate to this;  why is our hair the nicest just before it needs to get cut?  We have periods where we cannot stand our hair, and yet, as soon as the appointment with our hairdresser nears, our hair seems to know and styles and behaves just the way we want it.  I know that within the next three weeks I will begin to lose my hair and as would be the case, my hair has been behaving for me, even in this sweltering humidity we have been having.  

After Ali had taken me to the plastic surgeon for a follow up just a couple days before we met with my oncologist last week, we stopped at a place in Chicago that helps mastectomy patients.  I tried on several wigs and we did find one that we both liked on me.  I hesitated ordering it but now, well, I need to place the call. :O(

There have been so many of you that have emailed, sent cards, Facebook posts and even on here supporting me through the anxiety of meeting with the oncologist and I wish to thank you.  It means allot that you care and are concerned.  Thank you from all of us.

P.S.  Also, just to update you, Amanda is starting her third week at Leadership Training for ROTC and is getting great marks from her Lieutenants.  She was selected to be a color guard for the graduation ceremony that Greg will be attending on the 3rd of August.  She sounds exhausted when we hear from her but she is really enjoying what she is doing and is already planning a six week program at the base in Germany next summer specifically for critical care nursing.