Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer: A Symposium

November 26, 2011

Lombardi ConferenceIf you live in the Washington, D.C., area and are interested in national health care issues, from health care reform to navigating cancer care: what every patient needs to know, please consider attending the FREE symposium next week at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center: “Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer: Linking Policy to the Patient.”  It’s a great lineup, and the speakers are top-notch, from Senators, to Law professors to pharmaceutical companies, researchers, doctors, nurses, and pallative care.

Check the schedule, and see if you can attend all or part of this amazing opportunity at Georgetown.  And please – spread the word!


Neutropenia and motherhood

February 23, 2011

Neutropenia is a common but yucky side effect that affects about half of cancer patients on chemotherapy or treatment with a biological agent (like Nexavar).  When a cancer patient is neutropenic, it means that her white blood cell count is low and she is much more suceptible to infection.  She is given direction to avoid possible sources of infection, to stay away from crowds, to wash hands and insist that others wash hands before coming into contact with her, and to change her diet to avoid the risk of infection from food. 

All foods must be freshly cooked.  None can come from restaurants or uncontrolled sources.  Bread must be bagged and not homemade.  Cutting boards must be changed between preparation of meats and other foods.  No deli meat.  No deli cheese.  No hand-packed or soft ice cream or froyo.  No soft cheese.  No popcorn.  Nothing from a bakery.  No raw veggies, fresh fruits, except those with a very thick skin (oranges and bananas), or dried fruits.  No spices, salad bars, buffets, or restaurants.

I’m pretty sure the guidelines would say no contact with little children who bring home infections from preschool, but what can I do?  I have two who need me, and one is home sick today.

Originally posted at Toddler Planet, February 22, 2011


The kids

February 23, 2011

I worry about my kids.  I worry a LOT about my kids.  How are they making it through this crazy time?  How do they deal with hearing my name listed among the sick that we pray for at church every Sunday?  How do they feel when they hear me say, “No, honey, Mama can’t” wrestle or swordfight or take them for a walk? 

Are they ok?

Are they going to be ok when they’re teenagers, or all grown up?  Will this time be a defining moment for them, something to point to in future therapy sessions?  Will they be ok?

But yesterday, my oldest brought home a drawing from school that made my heart sing.  They drew pictures of snow globes, and, out of anything in the world, he chose to draw himself playing with two friends.  He drew friends.

He didn’t draw the dark scary place that I was in.  He drew the happy, kid place that he was in.

And he’s going to be ok.

Today, he came home with simple homework:  write three words that describe who you are.  We waited to hear what words he’d choose, and, after his bath tonight, he told us:

Happy.  Nice.  and then he asked his Dad what word he’d use to describe him, curious what he would say.  Dad said, “curious.”  Widget smiled, and there the words were, all out in the open.  WhyMommy’s oldest boy had fulfilled her deepest hopes, all at the age of 6.  He is happy.  He is nice to others and his friends.  And he does ask “Why, Mommy?” just like I dreamed, well before he could talk.  They’re still the sweetest words, next to the last ones I hear every night, as I turn off his light and kiss his forehead as he goes to sleep:

“I love you too, Mommy.”

Originally posted at Toddler Planet, February 9, 2011


Saying a novena

February 23, 2011

My friends/church are saying a novena for my healing, starting tonight.  Being a new Catholic, I’m only starting to learn about formal prayers like this, but I welcome it.  Colleen will lead us through what to say and what it means over here (or you can download the printable version).  All are welcome. 

It is true, I have prayed for healing before, and so many prayers have been said on my behalf.  I know it gives me strength and hope.  I have faith that if it is God’s will, I will be healed.

When we arrived home from the grocery store this afternoon (stocking up on milk and bread before this evening’s storm), there was a hang-tag on the door that said that flowers had been left at the neighbor’s for me.  Surprised, I checked on a family down the street, as they shoveled their driveway with children in tow, and then walked across to her house.  She met me on the snow-covered lawn, holding these daisies in her hands and saying, “They’re beautiful.”

Well, of course they were, and of course we lingered to chat.  We’re two who could easily be good friends, if not for all the things that separate us, not least the six children, mine all boys and hers all girls, that span the ages from newborn to nine.  And yet we hardly ever see each other, and our houses keep each other company while we remain almost-strangers.

Today we lingered, and when she asked, “How are you?” it just all spilled out, how we had gone to get a scan to see the good news that the cancer was gone, but it was back instead, and how I was in a clinical trial and hopeful and positive but still I’d really rather not be here again.  I stopped and looked at her, embarrassed that I had let all that out, for I don’t really talk about it out loud, and she looked at me and said, “My mother has cancer.”  Her mother was just diagnosed with stage 1, a thousand miles away, and she’s suffering through radiation, harder at her age, I’m sure, and pretty discouraged about it to boot.  We stayed and talked, and I don’t think I said anything too special as I answered her questions about radiation, about fatigue, about how to help her mother as she goes through treatment, but at the end, I hugged her, and she clasped my arm and said, “I think the flowers were meant to be.”

As I walked back home, I marveled at how the flowers had indeed already brought me a moment of cheer and friendship, and I hadn’t yet looked at the card.  But when I looked at the card, I was blown away:

Dear Susan, We see the miracle in the beautiful daisies, so how can we not believe that there is a miracle left for you.  We will keep praying as you keep fighting. Love –

And there it is.  Do I believe in miracles?  You bet.  Always have.  Is that incompatible with being a woman of science?  I don’t think so.  And neither did many great men and women through the ages.  I don’t know how it all works together, I’ll admit, but I know enough to know that just because I don’t understand doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. 

At school pickup today, a new friend pressed something into my hands, a relic, she said, and told me to take it, along with her prayers, she said.  “I am praying for you,” she said, and she knows that God hears our prayers.

After three days break from the treatment, ordered by my doctor because I lost sensation in my fingertips and thumbs on Thursday, I’ve started taking the medicines again.  That’s progress.  That’s something.  And the arms I’ve clasped today, the friends I’ve shared a smile and a No Princess Alone buttonhope with, the faith that has been spoken to me today by Catholic and Orthodox Jew, and the very fact that I’m here having a quiet moment with you — well, today has been a very good day.

And as for the princess?  Well, she keeps popping up on blogs, and she and I spent the early part of the afternoon with Little Bear, building a replica of our house.

Originally posted at Toddler Planet, January 31, 2011


Finding the new normal

February 23, 2011

If I were to detail yesterday’s events for you, as I try to when they are relevant to this cancer experience, I would simply break down and cry again, and that would be useful to almost no one.  Let me just say that I met with a lawyer, drew up the outline and contents of my will, asked him to stop joking and saying “if you die tomorrow,” named guardians for my children, considered who to give the power of attorney over my medical and financial affairs, and who could make the decision to withdraw life support, sipped a cup of hot and steamy tea that shook in my hand a little as I played the grown-up to a seasoned professional, and then spent the afternoon cuddled up in the big bed with my littlest one and PBS Kids, calming down and gathering my senses about me again until it was time for my oldest to come home from school.  (He stood in the sunlight streaming in the window by my bed, and I cannot believe it, but when I looked at his feet, I saw that he was standing in rainbows, broken by the glass.)

After a wonderful and distracting evening event at school, I developed a splitting headache, sensitivity to light, nausea, and dizziness from it all and had to lie down alone in a dark room, listening to my husband read the bedtime stories and wishing it were me.  I worried that these were the dreaded side effects and that I couldn’t continue in the trial — and of course that made it worse. 

But there were two redeeming moments to the day that I must take a moment to share with you.  The first was as I was getting Little Bear all snuggled up with me in the big bed, blankets pulled up around us and a freshly popped bowl of popcorn at our sides.  Sherlock Holmes was on the screen, and my baby sighed and said, “Us really lucky, Mommy.”  Well, yes, baby, we are.

And this afternoon, my oldest was in my office (when he shouldn’t have been), and he asked me about the lego figure I keep at my computer, the Princess-Who-Can-Defend-Herself, complete with eyeglasses and sword, and he smiled with recognition as he responded, “I know!  She’s you!  She’s inside you, fighting the cancer!”

And so she is.

And so I will simply say that the rest of the day was a day horriblis and leave it at that, and leave you with the image of a very tiny and very strong lego girl inside me, fighting the cancer with her minature sword, side-by-side with the new medicines that at once starve the cancer cells of estrogen and deprive them of their ability to grow and divide.  She is fighting, and I will fight, and my little ones will not crumble, but cheer me on in this new trial.  No, we will never be back to normal.  But we are finding our way to the path of the new normal, and we will do it together.

Originally posted at Toddler Planet, January 22, 2011


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