smiling can’t cheat death (by laurie)

September 1, 2011

I’m a reasonably happy person. And I believe that concentrating on the half full part of the glass has helped me to cope with many aspects of my life, including breast cancer. However, there have been times when a good wallow or a raging tantrum have been just as necessary and cathartic.

And I don’t, for even a second, think that people who worried too much, or got mad or who didn’t have a positive attitude brought cancer or their own deaths upon themselves. Nor do I believe that temperament or attitude is what causes one person to go into remission and another to succumb to the illness. I find the belief system that blames the patient to be repugnant.

In many ways, cancer is a crap shoot. It helps to have excellent medical care, good nutrition and the resources that help you cope with the disease and the treatments’ side effects. But luck plays a big role in survival as well.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and so it appears have other women. Yesterday, I stumbled on a great post at Uneasy Pink, by Katie, who, in turn, pointed the way to Coco, guest-posting at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. These women really tell it like it is.

Last week, Canada lost Jack Layton, a leader who was, by all accounts active, optimistic and happy. And we lost him way too young. Many media reports used the common phrase “lost his battle with cancer.” Jack didn’t lose a battle – there was no failure on his part – he got cancer and died. No amount of positive thinking could have changed that.


(Shout out to my friend Sharon, who first used the phrase “tyranny of positive thinking” in my presence. She has kindred spirits out there, too).

Cross-posted to Not Just About Cancer.

Hmm…. a rambling update of sorts (by Lyn)

August 20, 2011

I just want to first comment on the recent posts from these lovely ladies.  I can relate on so many levels to it all though I am in a different phase currently.  There was a time when I was first diagnosed with IBC that I wanted to talk about death, all I could think about was life in a spiritual fashion because I didn’t know if I would beat it.  My mother had just passed away a year before from cancer and I watched the last breath leave her body, so the heavy thoughts of the seriousness of IBC weighed heavily on my heart.  Then I remembered HOPE, and my fighting spirit kicked in and I focused on beating it.  Not necessarily on living a well rounded life at the time, I was too scared for that I think, but I did have hope and I did feel like a warrior.  A lone warrior LOL.  My life quickly changed from average life working full-time with a 2 year old and 3 year old happily married to unemployed, very sick, and noone around me understood.  The people that were supposed to ‘get it’ turned into confused weak aliens and my new support system was a world of women online that I had no idea even existed and most of whom I still haven’t met in person.

I actually had to shut out family members who weren’t positive.  I simply said, if you can’t support me as much as some stranger I’ve never met, don’t talk to me at all.  Fear is a powerful thing, and when I’m scared I am sort of like a feral cat backed into a corner and if you’re not a friend you were an enemy.  Right?  No.  Necessary?  Possibly.  There’s a lot that I look back on and regret from the first year of my cancer diagnosis, but I have to be very gentle with myself because my support system wasn’t good.  We had no guideline or role model to show us what to do, how to help each other.  The growth I’ve experienced is that it isn’t their fault.  It wasn’t their fault.  The desire to support me was there, but it wasn’t coming in the way that I wanted or needed so I couldn’t see it.  Now that time has passed I have since found understanding and reconnected with said family members who were more than happy to come help me at my recent surgery.  I vowed this time, to recognize the intent behind people’s actions and go off of that.  I’ve learned to have understanding for others looking in at me from the outside.  I probably scare the shit out of them.  A 30 year old with 2 small kids going through everything we warriors do, and doing it independently and fiercely.  Yes, I’m sure looking back they saw me as pushing them away and their own fear stopped them from meeting me where I was, and my own desire for survival on my terms stopped me from including them in my battle.

Needless to say I have learned a lot about myself and about others since my diagnosis.  Life, the meaning of life, the ‘right’ way of life is something I think about all the time.  I have yet to find a place where I am comfortable just being.  It seems like I keep pushing through pain to find the space where there is no more pain and it won’t come.  Sometimes I ask myself why me, why now, why not.  Lately I’ve been looking to the future a lot, praying a lot, begging the universe for some release.  Then I remember that I have the power to focus on hope, healing, and happiness.

I’m not talking about my cancer with the last paragraph.  I haven’t said as much on my blog, but I found out that my husband- who I truly love with all my heart well before cancer- was cheating on me when I was battling for my life.  I found out this year, and it’s been like getting a cancer diagnosis all over again.  Actually I would prefer chemo some days.  So while at first I shut him out, I’ve been allowing him to talk to me and to listen and then I talk.  It just feels like pain.  Healing, sure.  Cleansing, sure.  But pain, more unnecessary pain that I don’t think I deserve and that makes me angry, which makes me frustrated, which makes me sad because I can’t control it.  More and more I learn about myself and at the same time about others’ limitations.  He has stepped up to the plate at taking my punishiment and wrath and making it right but will it ever be enough?  I don’t know.  I can’t say, I can’t control how I feel.  I would give anything to be nonchalant and flippant and not care.  I would trade anything for that.  But I’m stuck here in the pit of I give a shit and also, responsible for what happens next.  Do I want to risk getting IBC again and not have him in my life- this man who I love and is remorseful- or is it – do I want to risk getting IBC again and be still married to a man who betrayed me when I needed him the most.  Or is it, do I take yet another leap of faith and trust (but verify!) that this person has grown himself, found his own love, and will never hurt me again and jump in with the hope that IBC will not come knocking on my door again but if it does my marriage will not be an issue of it.

I don’t know.  It’s too much, it’s overwhelming.  The gift and the curse of cancer is that we know how precious life is.  How much time can I waste on anger or hurt- even when it hurts so much all the time?  That becomes the question.  I imagine that if I was a normal 32 year old without cancer or parents gone, and everything was fine I would walk away with my head high and my hair flapping in the wind giving him the middle finger for not seeing how awesome I am, not caring what he might have been going through or what led to it.  But now… now I know unfortunately that life is bigger than me.  It’s not all about me, even when it should be.  Ah well… that’s my rant.

Physical update, I had a double latissimus breast reconstruction 4 weeks ago.  Last weekend I ended up with a bacterial infection and almost got admitted again.  Every day this week I have had to go into the plastic surgeon’s to have my back drain tube wound opened and drained and packed because it was fluid that collected there that caused it.

My left cancer side ‘frankenboob’ is not doing well.  It’s failing and the surgeon says we have to do another surgery in a few weeks when I’m better this time taking fat and skin from my stomach.  Hopefully it goes better this round.

I am NED still according to the pathology reports from the samples the surgeon sent when he did the reconstruction.  So I have that to be thankful for, and I am.  It is possibly one of the main things that keeps all the pain balanced, the physical pain and the emotional pain… that no matter what I’m still for now NED and still have a chance to see my kids grow up.  Anyone else sometimes feel like, is this really my life?  I know I do, but thanks to cancer, I’m thankful for most of it and the parts I don’t like I have hope I’ll figure that out in time.

On Hope (by Judy)

August 14, 2011

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.
~ Anne Lamott

You know, for all the talk about dark times, death, and whatnot on this blog, you would think I’m a pretty morose person. However, I’m really not. In my day-to-day life, I’m typically an upbeat, hopeful person. I write about the heavier, darker stuff to work through it. The regular ol’ day-to-day stuff? What’s to write about, to work out?

I can, though, blog about things other than dark stuff, and one of those is Hope.

Hope is a wonderful thing. Hope is probably my favorite word, in fact. Well, I like the word whimsical too . . . but I digress.

I have fear, but I also have Hope — by the boatloads, in fact. If I didn’t have Hope, I wouldn’t be able to get up each morning, get dressed, take my chemo pills, go to appointments every week to get my INR checked, work, and come home and be with my family. If I didn’t have Hope, I wouldn’t be at church every week, worshipping the God who has given me this wonderful life even though it has its difficulties and limitations. If I didn’t have Hope, I wouldn’t do the hard work that Anne Lamott mentions, the work of getting up and getting on with it. If I didn’t have Hope, I wouldn’t have the belief that my friends going through difficult times would eventually get through them also. If I didn’t have Hope, my life would be very bleak indeed. I have Hope; I love Hope. Hope gets me through so many things.

While I need to talk about the tough stuff like death, I also need to remember — and talk about — things like Hope: the Hope that this third chemo is healing my cancer, the Hope that I’ll be here for a long time for my family, and the Hope that my life has meaning.

God gives me Hope. My faith gives me Hope not only that I’ll experience healing from this cancer, but that sometime, some way, somehow, there will be some meaning in my going through all of this. My belief in God Himself is hopeful.

God. Hope. Faith. I do have these, and they are just as important as the so-called “darker” topics like death.

I don’t know what life has in store for me. I don’t know how long I’ll have on this earth. I just don’t know these things. It’s not my place to know them, though. I’m not God so I can’t predict, foresee my future. I can just Hope that it’s one that I love as much as the life that I have now.

I have Hope that it will be.
Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.

A Little Fight with Myself by Mary Beth

July 9, 2011


I am a cancer survivor.  If you were to look at me I do not think you would be able to tell that I have had cancer. I do not wear any pink ribbons, or survivor pins. I am not sure why not…I think it has to do with cancer defining, consuming my life for the time it did and I guess that continual spot in my mind. But sometimes I wish I did wear a ribbon or something to let people know that I too am a survivor. A little sign of hope.

What do you do when you see a person that is obviously fighting cancer? Do you go up to them and give encouraging words? Do you stare in disbelief or with pity? Do you look away?  I find myself having a little fight in my head with Should I go up to them and tell them I too am a cancer survivor or do I just not say anything, look away and say a small prayer?

I found myself having this fight in my head on the plane back from my niece’s wedding. Sitting a row ahead of us and on the other side of the aisle were two women. One was all in pink with a hat and the other woman was healthy. It took me back to my treatment days. I sat there thinking of what to do. It is kind of awkward. You don’t want to assume, yet I never know what to say… Are you in treatment? Are you a cancer survivor?  So after quite a mental struggle .. I went to the restroom and on the way back I found my courage. I leaned over and told her that I was a five year cancer survivor and I wished her all the best. She looked up with a smile on her face and told me that she was diagnosed stage 4 breast cancer in 2009 and was now in her brain. They were on their way to Las Vegas to visit a friend. Gail told me that she thought about not traveling, but really wanted to go. I assumed that it was her daughter sitting next to her. Ann handed me a pen and told me of an organization that she started to raise money for Gail. The organization is called Right Side of the Dirt… explaining that the goal is to keep her on the right side of the dirt. Very Creative. The three of us had a nice little chat and I told her I would be thinking and praying for her.

I sat down and felt so good that I made the decision to say something. When they were exiting the plane, I noticed they were pulling a dark green suitcase with the words Elderwood Senior Care embroidered on the bag. That was the company that I used to work for when we lived in Williamsville, New York. I worked for the company for 9 years and each holiday the employees would received a gift with the company name on it. I have a blanket, cooler, duffle bag, umbrella, folding chair and I am sure a few other items. I must have left before the suitcase!

When I got home I emailed Ann to ask her if it would be ok that I write about our meeting and link to her site. I received a response from Ruth, Ann’s sister. As it turns out Gail was their younger sister, not their Mother. Cancer can ravage a person and really takes a toll. Gail had worked for Elderwood since 2001 in their corporate office. I worked for Elderwood until 2003 in a satellite location. I am sure that we must have met each other in that two years.

It really is a small world isn’t it?


cross-posted at marybethvolpini

Survivor! (by Judy)

June 13, 2011

This is what the face of a cancer survivor looks like.

According to the article “Cancer Survivor” in Wikipedia:

A cancer survivor is an individual with cancer of any type, current or past, who is still living. About 11 million Americans alive today—one in 30 people–are either currently undergoing treatment for cancer or have done so in the past.”[1]

I have to stop thinking of myself as a cancer patient and start thinking of myself as a cancer survivor.

I AM surviving. I’m living my life, though it’s a different life than I would have if I didn’t have cancer. I’m still working except for “treatment days” or days I don’t feel well enough to work. Thankfully, since my chemo changed to Navelbine and Herceptin mid-Feb., I feel better than I did with the previous chemotherapy cocktail (Taxol, Carboplatin, and Herceptin). Tomorrow I have a CT Scan which will show if/how much the new protocol is working. I’m nervous, yes, but I hope and pray the Navelbine and Herceptin are doing their jobs and shrinking the tumors in my liver.

But I’m surviving. I’m went on a wonderful vacation with my family. I get up and bathe every day. I’m not typically depressed. Sometimes the ongoing treatments wear me down physically, emotionally, and mentally . . . but I tend to pick myself up at some point.

I go to church whenever I can. I keep touch with friends whether via FaceBook, email, text, phone, or in-person. I still have thank you cards to write from my April 16 fundraiser. I don’t get much housework done because I’m exhausted from my days at work, but that can wait. That will always be there . . . unfortunately. 😉

I laugh. I cry. I think, ponder. I do what I can do with the energy that I have.

I’m a Survivor. I’m Surviving with cancer. I’m Living with cancer. It’s still there, but I’m trying to Live with it in my life as well as I can. Sometimes I feel like I fall short, but that could be because I just can’t do as much as I used to. Cancer is certainly a way of stripping out the extraneous stuff in your life and getting down to basics.

But I’m surviving, and I’ll be surviving until I’m no longer here.

That’s the face of a Survivor, folks. 🙂


Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.