Seven Years by Mary Beth

April 29, 2013

Shortly after midnight on Saturday my daughter and her friend gave me this beautiful card case to hold my business cards.

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Sunday was my seven year anniversary as a Breast Cancer Survivor. On Friday, I ordered a cake for myself to celebrate this day.  I don’t really drink, I don’t do drugs and I have never smoked and I still got cancer… so yes I eat sugar.

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I asked my closest friend in California, (who was literally the first person to hear the news as the Doctor called me at work) to come over and celebrate with me.

The day started out a little later than I had planned, I was running late for church and the chapel that I attend is very small and difficult to sneak in late. I decided to go to the church that we belonged to when we first moved here (and during my treatment) as their mass starts 15 minutes later. This parish had been talking and planning and raising money to build a new church when we became members. I do believe things happen for a reason and as I sat in the church I became very reflective on the past 7 years. I sat in the old church and prayed to heal and survive when I was sick. Now 7 years later I sat in this new church and so thankful that I am still here.
Cancer changed my life forever, not all bad, but changed nonetheless. I am healed on the outside, but sometimes the emotional side still creeps up on me. A few months back I had a “touch-up” procedure done. Before I left work for the appointment I looked at myself in the mirror and thought outwardly, most people that I meet now, have no idea that I am a cancer survivor. My hair has grown in and they can’t tell that it is much thinner than before. My eyebrows and my eyelashes have grown back and my eyelashes hold mascara again. My scars are not visible when I am dressed. People cannot see the effects of the aromatase inhibitors. But as I lay on the table with the greatest leopard hospital gown on… the tears started streaming down my face. I was back 7 years ago as they wheeled me into the operating room to remove a part of my body. I have learned we must allow ourselves to honor these moments as part of the healing process too.

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Today the tears streamed down my face again, so many emotions. Happiness that I am still here, gratefulness for all of the people that supported, prayed and helped me. Sadness for many of the people that I met because of the cancer that are not here anymore. I wrote and delivered a note to another close friend at that time, who had helped me with the kids. Our lives have now taken us in different directions. I sent a thank you text to Lou for supporting me during my treatment. We were close to divorcing in 2006 and then I was diagnosed. We decided to stay together. We tried for another 5 years, but it just was not meant to be.
After honoring those few moments of tears and emotions I was off to enjoy my day. I walked my favorite island and visited my friend who is still recovering from a freak illness. He congratulated me and then asked “did you think you would be sitting here 7 years later?” “Honestly, I was not sure, but my Doctors were.” was my response. They told me it would be 12-18 months of hell and then I would have a greater risk driving on the freeways.

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I treated myself to one of my favorite childhood candies while relaxing for a pedicure.

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My friend and her daughter came over and we celebrated our friendship… and the girls ate CAKE!

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The only part missing in the day was seeing my Dante. This was his weekend with his Dad and his future Step-Mother. Other than that…
I am a survivor.
I am alive.
I have so many amazing people in my life that care about me.
It was a great day.

cross-posted at marybethvolpini

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A new Year a New Hair Do

January 4, 2011

After getting my hair cut really short on The Wednesday before Christmas my hair continued to fall out after my chemo on Thursday. The day after Christmas I decided it was time and I shave it all off. It came out so easily I barely had to even touch it with my razor. So I’m bald again. I never thought I would be here again. I even gave away all my scarves a year or so ago, thinking I would never need them again. I gave them too a friend in my support group. Everyone came through and I have lots of new scarves and hats and got my old ones back. I am all stocked up. It’s a bit colder being bald in the winter, wooo! So no more flying under the radar, now I look like I have cancer. I was really enjoying my hair and not looking like I was doing chemotherapy. It was nice I felt like I was incognito. Mow not so much, we went shopping at the mall the day after I shaved my head and I got stares and smiles, people being nice to me just because I have a scarf on my head. That is something I never get used to. I tied my wig on the other day and I still hate it. It’s itchy and ugly and I just don’t like  it. If I do get a new wig I am going long and bright! It’s hard to get used to being bald again, I see myself in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself. Today was my first day back to my regular routine, picking the kids up at school. I waited until the last-minute to get out of the car, not wanting to talk about it and avoiding all the Mommies. I felt guilty about it afterwords. They all think I am so strong but I don’t feel that way inside. I feel like a sacred little girl not wanting to be noticed and be different from everyone else. I guess that doesn’t change as we get older. We just don’t realize it until something happens.

Cancer is not just something that happens to your body but it really effects your mind as well. I lay in bed and wonder about all kinds of things. About my girls and how they are taking my second battle with cancer. I worry about my husband and all the extra things he has to worry about. I worry about my parents and them worrying about their child with cancer. I worry about my siblings, and how they handle it. I worry about everything at 3:00 in the morning. Every night before bed I pray that I sleep. That I will not wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to turn off my brain. It’s hard having cancer, going through treatment. I never imagined in a million years that I would be doing this all again for a second time. The stakes are higher this time and it scares the crap out of me.


a week off of treatment, by Judy

December 2, 2010

I’m doing much better, emotionally and physically, after a week off of treatment. Since my treatment would have fallen on last Fri., and the oncologist’s office was closed on Thurs. and Fri., she decided that I could skip a week.

It would have been my “easy” week anyways (of Herceptin only), but it was nice not to have to go in at all. I had a great Thanksgiving, seeing most of both sides of our families. In addition, Energy Boy stayed at Sister #2’s house for the weekend. I know he missed us and we missed him, but I think it was good for him to get away from our house and so much cancer-stuff there . . . even when we don’t talk about it, I feel like it’s in the background of everything we do. I hope he doesn’t see it that way or doesn’t notice it, but I don’t know — he’s pretty quiet about this stuff.

I’ve been trying to prepare him for what’s about to happen. Tomorrow I get my head shaved. I seem to have strong follicles and my hair hasn’t fallen out yet (according to nurses and literature, it should have been gone by last Fri.). The same thing happened the last time; it took longer than they said for it to come out. But I’m also doing the same thing that I did last time — getting my head shaved before it comes out. I just feel better doing that. The thought of big chunks of my hair coming out just makes me feel horrible. I much prefer doing it this way. I have symptoms that my follicles are weakening even if my hair hasn’t fallen out — much more comes out when I brush it, and if I give it a little tug, several strands of it come out.

I’m not happy about this, but I feel like I’m as ready as I’ll be.
So tomorrow afternoon I’ll visit my hairdresser and she’ll shave my head. I already have a wig and I still have most of the hats and scarves from last time. I’ve found most of the scarves. I don’t know where the hats are. I can’t even remember if I gave them away. Chemo Brain!

I also have an appointment with my oncologist, Dr. Funky Glasses (Dr. FG) tomorrow. I have to write up my list of questions so I don’t forget. It seems that once I’m in that examining room, all the questions I have just go out of my head.

So, onward. I just have to focus on the end result — getting rid of the cancer and especially being around for Energy Boy. That’s my goal.

Thanks so much, everyone, for your incredible support. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.
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Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


What do I have in common with Crystal Gayle?

August 25, 2010

I’ve made a decision about my hair.  Alright, I made it a long time ago, but I’m just now coming clean with you.  The day Jeremy shaved my head was the day I knew, when and if it came back, I would grow it forever, and I mean forever.  I’m working on a two-year bob right now.  I’m a secret wanna be Crystal Gayle.  Not the “I never trim the ends” wanna be, but the ridiculously, past my hipperoo’s, wanna be.  When I’m thinking with a clear head, which is very rarely these days, and I look at a picture of Crystal with her uber long hair I think “who in heaven’s name told her that looks good?”  It has to be some really warped reason I’m sure…..like maybe she was one of those kids that didn’t grow hair till they were 10 and she vowed when it came in she would never cut it.  Or maybe they couldn’t afford bath towels when she was growing up so her hair was an easy remedy to a perplexing problem.  I dunno. 

 But somewhere in my warped post-chemo, “I can’t escape cancer” brain of mine, I think.

a.  I really want hair.  I missed it so much when it was gone I want it and I want LOTS of it.  I want to feel it on my shoulders, tie it in knots like lady gaga, and let my girls learn to french braid on it. 

 b.  If I were being totally honest, I’m probably waiting for the day they tell me I need chemo again… but THIS time I will be ready.  It’ll be so long I’ll be able to make my own wig, or maybe glue it back on my head if a wig costs too much.  I’ll be the ultimate comb-over, but I don’t care because it will be MY HAIR! Let me say it again because it sounds so good to type it…..MY HAIR.  I even like to type MY EYEBROWS, but that’s a whole nother post about someone with a wicked uni-brow and I’m not going to take it that far.  (At least I don’t think I will.  Oh that’s right, my eyebrows don’t meet in the middle, so scratch that idea.)

 c.  And the final reason is because when you’ve lost 2 items of “sexy” as a woman, the hair is a logical place to turn.  Especially when 2 items of sexy will never really return, they can try for you but they will ultimately never ever return…..and we’re not talking “complaining after nursing they won’t return,” we’re talking never again will you feel. anything. period. return.  But the hair most likely will return, and this is good.

 And so Crystal Gayle, tonight I’m not raising a glass of wine to you (although you might think I’ve been drinking with my ludicrous ramblings) because that might mess with my hormones and I don’t want cancer to come back, but I do have my feet up with a bowl of popcorn and a diet pepsi, and so here’s to you and your hair. 

I love hair.


The Iceburg of Cancer

May 1, 2010

By Lorri Steer

Monday our local paper ran a cover story about a play that the local community college is presenting this week. It’s called “At Wit’s Start” and was written by a young doctor who found herself battling stage 4 ovarian cancer. It’s based on her Pulitzer Prize winning book. I can’t wait to see the show but I had issue with how part of the article was portrayed. My letter follows.

This is for all the women who are currently going through chemo and dealing with hair loss. I know your pain.

Thank you for your cover article on the upcoming Front Range Community College play “At Wit’s Start.” As a young women living with advanced stage cancer myself, I very much look forward to attending the show.

While Mr. Rochat’s article is well written, I take issue with one point. The caption on the “If You Go” photo reads: “Stephanie Roscoe has to shave her head every other day for the role of Dr. Vivien Wit.” (italics mine.) She chooses to shave her hair to add an authentic feel to character. A sacrifice for art? Perhaps. The same unwilling “has to” hair loss chemotherapy patients endure? Not at all.

I’m bothered by the implication that there is any kind of likeness in choosing to shave one’s head for a play and loosing one’s hair (including eyebrows, eyelashes and all bodily hair) in a medical gamble to save one’s life from a killer disease.

Please don’t draw parallels between the baldness a cancer patient endures and the shaved head of an actress. Cancer’s suffering runs deep and a bald head is just the tip of the ice burg.


My cross to bear (by Stella)

November 4, 2009

Dr. Wendy Harpham of On Healthy Survivorship poses a great question to cancer survivors last week.  She wants to know which stage of cancer was the most challenging?  Diagnosis?  Beginning treatment?  Ending treatment?  Some time in the middle? 

For Dr. Harpham it was those limbo days between initial diagnosis and treatment beginning.  I know what she means.  For me, it seemed an exceptionally long time.  I was diagnosed on December 22, 2005 – the Thursday just before Christmas.  Most every healthcare professional was heading out of town.  Certainly no one wanted to take on a new patient over the holidays.  Consequently, I didn’t meet with my new Oncologist until January 3, 2006 and began chemo the next day. 

Those 13 days were beyond horrible.  There was a cancer inside me thriving at my expense.  It seemed to grow bigger every day!  I could feel it.  I swear, I could hear it whisper dark promises of an early death and motherless children.

What bittersweet Holidays that year.  Daddy-O and I had agreed not to tell anyone about my diagnosis until after New Year’s.  Why ruin everyone’s Christmas?  The end result, however, was a great burden on our hearts that we couldn’t share with our friends and family.  Each seasonal tradition was painful beyond belief.  Who would search with loving dedication for just the right gift from Santa?  Who would listen to their babbling, aimless words and sift from them their heart’s desire?  Would I ever read The Night Before Christmas to my little boys again?  Would I ever see their eyes alight with the wonder that is Christmas morning ever again? 

The day I began chemotherapy was the. best. day. of the next 10 months.  No more being hostage to fate!  No more victim!  At last I was fighting back! 

Still, I don’t think that was the most trying time for me…  My toughest day was the day I truly started losing my hair and made the decision to shave the rest off.  Until that day I had not really felt ill despite my first round of chemo.  Until that day cancer had seemed vague and ephemeral; death had been theoretical. 

Roughly two weeks after my first chemotherapy treatment my hair began coming loose from my scalp.  Initially, it was funny.  It’s really the strangest thing.  It doesn’t fall out all over the place.  I didn’t wake up with a scalp on my pillow.  All the hairs still look firmly attached but they’re not.  It’s like they’re all held on with Post-It glue.  One little tug and it comes away in your fingers without so much as a “pip” to indicate the separation.  It’s kind of amusing in a hey-look-at-my-cool-new-party-trick sort of way.  A couple of mornings later and it’s not so funny anymore.  I won’t bore you with the details again. 

Losing my hair took me out of the closet.  I became a walking Poster Girl for chemotherapy.  Every time I looked in the mirror I was confronted with my mortality.  The baldness literally stripped me bare.  I couldn’t walk through the store without drawing stares.  My son would beg me to take off my hat to show his friends my bald head. 

With my hair went my vanity, my anonimity and my delusion that I would live forever.  Looking back I feel very, very blessed.

 Cross-posted to I Can’t Complain Any More Than Usual.


First Cycle: Xeloda & Tykerb (Medical Update)

August 26, 2009

(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo
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The magic number for cancer seems to be 3.

So far, all my chemotherapies seem to be based on 3 week cycles (with the exception of the bone drugs, which are on a 4 week cycle).

Today, I completed the first 3 week cycle of Xeloda and Tykerb (Lapatinib).

Xeloda is taken every day, twice a day, 4 pills each time, for two weeks straight, then one week off.

Tykerb is taken every day, once a day, 5 pills each time, for the entire three weeks.

I meet with my doctor tomorrow to evaluate the first cycle.

I imagine things will continue pretty much the same for the next cycle.

I am super tired, but I do not know if that is from this regimen, or the radiation, or the previous chemo, or the Bar Mitzvah, or having a house full of guests for almost a month, or the beginning of school, or whatever. There are so many possible explanations; I don’t even know how to figure it out!

Besides that, I have the following side effects:

1. Low appetite (not the worst thing for me at this time)

2. Mild nausea (not too bad; no need for drugs)

3. Mild stomach upset — sometimes constipation, sometimes diarrhea (not too bad; when necessary, I take drugs to prevent diarrhea)

I am also very thirsty, but it might just be the heat.

I had a week of migraines, but they might have been because I was not drinking enough.

I keep forgetting things. That might just be because I have a bad memory. I feel like it is getting worse, but I cannot tell for sure.

I am still bald. I am getting used to it, but I still wish my hair would start growing back.

The bald thing is really hard on my kids.

I am in a bit of a slump emotionally. It could be from the whole brain mets thing or from my family leaving. Who knows?

I am so tired of having cancer. I hate the way it sucks up my energy.

For every hour of activity, I need three hours to recover. (There it is again, the magic number)

I just wish I did not have cancer.

I want it to go away.

The longer I live with the cancer, the more I am forced to face the fact that it is not just going to go away.

Tomorrow, I have to start taking all those pills again.

I hate it.

Please pray (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,
RivkA