August 17, 2009

Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer SurvivorsOne of the hardest parts about getting a diagnosis of cancer is the isolation you feel. Sure, I knew there were many, many people who were going through (and still are) treatment for various cancers, many of which were much more serious than my own. Still, there are moments when I felt all alone.

When I received a copy of Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors by Carolyn Rubenstein, I quickly realized it was full of stories of young adults who also felt that isolation of a cancer diagnosis. Perseverance is a collection of essays told by twenty college age kids about how they survived childhood cancer. The essays were compiled by the author, who during her own teenage years founded Carolyn’s Compassionate Children a non-profit organization that provides emotional and financial resources to childhood cancer survivors.

These kids tell their personal stories of scary diseases, long treatments, painful biopsies, surgeries and even transplants. Like Jamie Saunders, who underwent a year and a half of chemotherapy treatments after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma as a high school freshman. Or Rob Dooley, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor the day before his twentieth birthday. These are harrowing stories of hardship some of us will never know and yet these kids have hope for the future.   

Emily Corwin writes about starting treatment for cancer:

“I saw five-year-olds laughing and smiling who were so sick. If they could do it, I could do it.”

Or Henry Choi:

“I now appreciate every single bit of life, and I think of challenges as ways to make me stronger.”

In the end, Perseverance is a book full of touching stories, told in unique voices, and leaves us with the feeling of hope and more importantly, that we as cancer survivors are not alone.

Perseverance is on sale August 18, 2009.

Cross posted over at my book blog Stephanie’s Written Word

Hope is Beautiful

June 9, 2009


I recently received an e-mail from a woman telling me about Look Good…Feel Better‘s 2oth Anniversary. To celebrate, Look Good…Feel Better has kicked off a national search to identify five “Women of Hope is Beautiful” who embody five core values. 

Women affected by cancer are asked to share a personal story of coping with cancer and/or their experience with Look Good…Feel Better in any form (essays, poems, pictures, videos, etc.). All entries can be submitted by visiting their website and will be featured online. In August, five women with the most compelling entries will be selected as the Women of Hope is Beautiful. Winners will receive a trip to New York City, a complimentary make-over and attendance at the annual DreamBall, a black-tie gala and the Look Good…Feel Better program’s largest annual fundraiser. For more info on how to enter click on Women of Hope is Beautiful.

When your self esteem takes a hit

April 28, 2009

One of the hardest part of a cancer diagnosis is the physical change in a person. For the most part, I’ve been emotionally ready for each physical difference a treatment or surgery has made to my appearance.

Last November, on the eve of my first chemotherapy treatment, I was fully aware that my hair would fall out within the next two weeks. I had on standby a bunch of hats I had knitted myself and a few head scarves that I had purchased. When the hair began to come out, I took the bull by the horns and shaved the rest of my hair off myself. As it turned out, the scarves looked pretty good on my very round head and my woolly hats came in handy on cold winter nights. I didn’t mind my bald self all that much and had fun with different colored scarves and coordinating make-up. So many people came up to me and would say “you don’t look sick at all.”

Now though I’ve gone through a different transformation. Last week I had surgery to remove all my breast tissue, both sides. Tissue expanders were implanted and will be slowly expanded over the next few weeks to form hopefully a small C cup breast. In the meantime, I’ve gone from a full C to almost nothing. And since I’ve always carried a bit of extra weight in my middle, I’m totally off balance. Add to the fact that my hair is growing back in what looks like a GRAY color and you have the perfect chemistry for bad body image 101.

I’ve literally gone from a curvy, full breasted, long curly haired women to someone I now don’t recognize. I’m looking for that boost I need to bring me back to feeling good about myself again. I may have found it.

While at the doctor’s office yesterday, my father started a conversation with one of the patients in the waiting room. She is a cancer survivor like myself, having been through the same treatments and surgeries as I have and is now ready for the second reconstruction surgery where the tissue expanders are replaced with breast implants. She then blurted out “I can’t wait for the tummy tuck ” and that’s when I found out that for an extra out of pocket fee, the plastic surgeon can perform a tummy tuck during the implant surgery.

All of a sudden I had images of myself, full breasted, flat tummy, chic new silver euro-hairstyle with a stylish wardrobe, all of which I can wear without a bra. My self image went from blah to smokin’ in a matter of seconds.

Next week, during my first expansion session, I will be meeting with my plastic surgeon to check on my post surgical body. I plan to inquire about the tummy tuck. Since I won’t have the second surgery until sometime mid-summer, I’ve got plenty of time to think about whether a tummy tuck is worth the money. Then again, with the worst year of my entire life almost behind me, maybe I owe it to myself to do something that will make me feel like a total woman again.

Cross posted at C is Not For Cookie

Book Review – The Middle Place

February 25, 2009

The Middle PlaceKelly Corrigan had a good life. In her mid-thirties, she was in a good marriage, had two young beautiful daughters and led a happy existence. Her world turned topsy-turvey in August of 2004 when she found a lump in her breast. She started chemotherapy right away, handling the side effects (including loosing her hair) with grace. Then, right before Thanksgiving and almost at the end of her own treatment, her mother calls to tell her that her beloved father George has been diagnosed with cancer.

Corrigan’s memoir is the story of her own journey to becoming a breast cancer survivor and it is also a love letter to the man who shaped the woman she became – her father. Each alternating chapter Kelly writes about her childhood in Philadelphia with her mother, two older brothers and her loving, bursting with personallity father George “Greenie” Corrigan. The Middle Place, which the title references, is the time in which the author found herself a successful wife and mother of two and the fearful, childlike daughter of George and Mary, right between adulthood and still being someone else’s child.

And that’s what this whole thing is about. Calling home. Instinctively. Even when all the paperwork – a marraige licence, a notarized deed, two birth certificates, and seven years of tax returns – clearly indicates you’re an adult, but all the same, there you are, clutching the phone and thanking God that you’re still somebody’s daughter.

It was easy for me to relate to Ms. Corrigan, since there are a number of similarities between her own life with cancer and mine. Both virtually the same age at diagnosis with the same type of breast cancer (Invasive Ductal Carcinoma) I also have two young daughters and have had to adjust to life with cancer as a young woman and mother. I started this book early one morning and devoured it within the day. I just couldn’t get enough of the loving way Kelly wrote about her father, or how she explained her honest feelings about having cancer.

There were many passages in the book that were touching, funny and very sweet. Like when Kelly told her mom that she had cancer:

I know her job is to keep me from harm. After all, I am a mother now too. I know what it is to want to safeguard your children. It starts with the first prenatal vitamin and it never ends. Safety gates, life vests, fire drills, swim lesson, CPR. And still, one day, the kids you’ve been so careful to protect might call to say she has cancer.

Or when she decides to send out an e-mail to her friends and family about her progress with treatment:

I send out an e-mail, tinkering with every sentence. It has to be upbeat so people won’t worry too much and funny so they won’t be scared to write back. It’s a big job, being the first person your age to get cancer.

I could have written that paragraph myself. Or maybe this paragraph, which brought me to tears, talking about her friend Jen who had just lost her mother (have just lost my own mother last year, it was especially touching):

 When I called Jen to check on her, she told me that people were swarming around doing what people do: flowers, food, cards, calls, favors. She said just about everyone said something like, “Your mom had a good life. She had a lot of happiness. She was so uncomfortable. Now she’s at peace.” Well, yeah, okay, good for your mom. But what about you? What about your peace? Your comfort? Who’s gonna remember what you were for Halloween that year or the name of your fifth grade teacher? Who’s gonna loan you money to buy your first house or cry when your baby is born? Who’s gonna sit in the front row of your play?

Lastly, the author writes about her reaction when told by her oncologist that her treatment would put her in early menopause, therefore unable to bear any more children:

They talk about cancer like it was something to get through, to treat, to beat. They never said it was going to change everything, all my plans, and take things away from me that I have wanted since I was a child. They said it was going to be a bad year. So doesn’t that mean that when the bad year is over, when you do everything, when you do everything you are told to do – and with a goddamn smile, no less – you get to go back to the life you had?

The Middle Place has been released in paperback recently and you can find out more about the book and the author at her website.

Cross posted at Stephanie’s Written Word

Book review -Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips

February 3, 2009

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips (Crazy Sexy)Even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I picked up a copy of Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. I was going through various tests, including a biopsy and felt that I should be prepared for what might actually come my way by reading about cancer. I am glad that I found this book.

The author, Kris Carr, is an extremely lively, take the bull by the horns type of gal. Carr wrote Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips as an informative book that deals with the situations and problems facing younger women with cancer and she hits the mark perfectly. The book starts off with the Carr’s own cancer story. Carr was working as an actress and photographer, living a health conscience lifestyle and WHAMMO, she was diagnosed with an extremely rare type of cancer and was propelled into the world of hospitals, doctors and medical tests.

A couple chapters are filled with “tips” (hence the name) that range anywhere from the very important (#22. create and maintain a medical binder) to the more superficial and fun (#27. Bring tons of trashy, fluffy magazines to help you escape). The book also includes stories of encouragment and advice from Carr’s “Cancer Posse” which includes thirteen women with various cancers. She also focuses a lot on nutrition and alternative healing techniques.

Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is written as Carr speaks and even though the hippy-ish jargon is not what I am used to reading, it added a certain charm to the book. Carr’s upbeat attitude is also contagious. She writes with an intense zest for life and a great sense of humor.

I hate using the G-word – you know, cancer is a “Gift.” Yuck. It isn’t! There is no return receipt, and it certainly isn’t a present I’d give to you. “Happy holidays! Ooh, just what I wanted, cancer, you really shouldn’t have.”

I also appreciated the fact that she is honest about how she sometimes doesn’t feel so upbeat and this makes her come across as someone you would like to know. The book is also visually attractive. Between the typeface used for chapter headings to the many photographs used throughout, it really is a good looking book.

Was this book worth my money? Yes! I do have to say that Carr’s new age way of living isn’t for everyone. If your elderly neighbor is diagnosed with cancer, this probably isn’t the perfect reading material for her. But as a newly diagnosed young women, I found the content refreshing and helpful. On a side note, after reading the book I rented Carr’s TLC documentary, Crazy Sexy Cancer and found it a nice companion to the book.

cross-posted at Stephanie’s Written Word