for Orit (by Laurie)

July 14, 2012

photo: Andrea Ross/Mark Blevis

As of Saturday, June 30th, I have been in remission for five years. This is a huge milestone and I’m very fortunate to have the chance to mark it.


But I really didn’t feel like celebrating.


Just a couple of days before, my beautiful friend Orit passed away, leaving three young kids, a loving spouse and a large group of family and friends in deep mourning. I spoke to her husband Sean early on the day she died and afterwards posted on Facebook what was for me an unusually vague status update:

“Warning: This would not be a good day to tell me that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes wrong stuff just happens. And sometimes life is terribly unfair.”



So much about cancer is a crap shoot. Some get cancer, some don’t. Some walk away, others live with the illness forever. Some live for a long time and some die way before they are ready to go.


Orit had strength and determination and a great love for her family and community. She had access to the best health care and, prior to being diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, was healthy and fit. She never stopped fighting to live and she most definitely did not lose a battle.


Despite the fact that we lived in the same neighbourhood, I met Orit less than a year ago, not long after her cancer diagnosis. Our illness brought us together but we soon found that we had so much more than than cancer in common. We both found humour in the world around us, sought to nurture our creative selves and wore our hearts on our sleeves when it came to those around us. I had the privilege of watching her face light up when her husband got home and the clear eyed love she had for each of her kids. We had the chance to talk about being in cross-cultural relationships and about the values we hoped to share with our kids. We talked about petty grievances and big ideas. And we shared our fears, hopes, sorrow and anger at facing the scourge that is cancer.


One evening, as we were yarn bombing our local community centre, Orit and I sat on the pavement sewing a 6 foot tube of yarn onto a bike rack. As we took turns holding the piece in place and passing the needle, she suddenly said. “I really wish that we had the chance to know each other before. We would have been such good friends.”


I felt my heart break as I struggled to find an appropriate and truthful answer. But I knew it would be wrong to say “We will get to be friends for a long time” or even “It’s going to be OK.” Instead, I said swallowing the lump in my throat, “I agree. I wish I’d met you sooner as well.”


The last time I saw Orit, we had tea on her front porch while she knit. She had been in the hospital the night before because of unmanageable pain. That morning she seemed fine, if weak. She talked about convincing her oncologist to try one last course of treatment and her profound grief at the thought of leaving her children. We both cried.


And then I left for a yoga class, borrowing a t-shirt before I left. It didn’t occur to me that I would not see her again.


A few days later, she was hospitalized. And a few days after that, she died.


I wish I had told her how amazing I thought she was. That I thought she was a great mother, an interesting person and inspiring in a way that transcended her illness. I wish I’d said how beautiful she was.


I’ve struggled for two weeks to write this blog post. Orit’s family have been so kind, loving and generous to me but I can’t help thinking how grossly unfairly life has treated them.


Which is why I haven’t felt like celebrating.


I am very lucky to be alive and I hope to be around writing blog posts in another 5 years. None of us knows when our time will come. We need to live bravely, love fiercely and hold on to the things that matter. We need to tell those we care for how much they mean to us and to do those things we always wanted to do. No matter how long we have on this earth, we need to truly live.


I, for one, plan on doing a little more yarn bombing. I have Orit’s last piece of knitting so a little bit of her will be there as well.


Care to join us?

video: Mark Blevis


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!


Grave matters

November 23, 2011

This post is cross-posted from ‘Get Out Gertrude’

A week and a half ago, I took YD to visit the graves of her Poppa (OH’s dad) and her godfather K, both of which had passed away in 2000.  It had been one of the things on the list of things we had written earlier in the year of things she wanted to do when she came home for the weekends but we hadn’t got round to it until now.

I had a little bit of ulterior motive taking her this time, with the progression of the tumours in my liver and no guarantees that the last couple of chemos we have got to try will give us control for much longer, there has been more thought, and talk, about the virtually inevitable outcome to this story.  As YD lives away from home in a residential supported living environment to a certain extent she has been shielded from the worst of the chemo side effects and we have been able to keep the whole ‘cancer’ thing a little less scary for her.  But this means that she doesnt know , unlike her two older sisters that this is likely to turn terminal at some stage in the future.

As an aside, I personally think in staging cancers now there is long term survival, control and even sometimes some sort of remission acheived in metastatic cancers (Stage 4).  There needs to be a stage 5 introduced where you have exhausted treatment options and are in palliative end stage.  Stage 4 could be seperated into Stage 4a (control and shrinkage of the tumours as to be negligible) 4b (stable no growth) 4c (progression but still treatment options available )

Anyway, in discussions with L, who is the manager of the houses in the residential service that YD uses, there has been discussion around how much we tell YD and L has suggested we tell YD more.  I feel that at the moment when things are so up in the air time-wise, and while I am still fairly active it would just confuse her to talk about me dying when she deals in very concrete concepts and time-frames.  We have told her with this latest news that the cancer isn’t going to go away and that I have to change medicines and the new medicine will make me lose my hair again.  She was quite blase about the news as to her nothing much has changed then in the last 3 years.

Taking her to the visits to Poppa’s grave on Saturday and K’s grave on the Sunday (they are buried in two different cemetaries, in opposite directions from our house) allowed to us to have a talk about death in general.  She knows that Poppa and K were buried whereas my parents, who died in 2001 & 2004 were ‘turned into dust’ (cremated).  She expressed a wish to be buried herself and asked where she might be buried.  She also asked where I would be buried when I die, which helped me make up my mind between burial and cremation for myself, as she expressed a wish to be able to visit my grave when I die.  So although YD doesnt know that my death is likely to be sooner than she expects, I feel like we have done some preparatory work around it.

After visiting K’s grave on the Sunday we went to a nearby mall that we had not been to for a while. We did some Christmas shopping and surprisingly bumped into people we knew.  Usually when we go out it is when YD gets tired that the outing ends.  This time we left the mall when my fatigue etc kicked in.  YD was very grumpy about leaving and coming home so in the car I reitierated how I feel sick and tired, because she only sees me when I am up to doing stuff with her I dont think she realises just how much my health is compromised.  I have warned I might get more sick and tired and that she can’t expect me to take her out all the time.  I think that is all the preparation I can do for now.


it is what it is (and what it is is ok) – by Laurie

November 16, 2011
Herceptin makes me feel lousy. Or maybe it’s the Demerol they give me from flopping around like a fish with a fever. Either way, after every treatment I feel achy and hungover for a couple of days.
It’s a not nearly as bad as when I also have chemo (and I bounce back more quickly) but I’m still really dragging my butt around, when I bother to get up at all. I’ll go for a walk later but it will take every ounce of the meager willpower I possess to get myself dressed and out the door.
I saw the cardio-oncologist again on Monday and that appointment went as well as could possibly be imagined. My heart was slightly damaged by the Adriamycin but has remained just below normal, since being on the Herceptin. The verdict: I can continue with Herceptin. I don’t need to have heart scans every three months, as I have been. I don’t even need to be followed by a cardio-oncologist unless my ejection fraction dips below 45 (it’s currently around 49) or I experience symptoms of heart failure (um, yeah).

It appears that this whole heart scare was a tempest in a teapot – a reminder that when it comes to treatment of women living with metastasis, doctors are just making stuff up as they go along. They really don’t know the long term effects of the drugs that keep us alive because our being alive and in remission is still so unusual. It’s a bit unnerving but, given the alternative, I’m happy to serve as a human guinea pig.

Cross-posted from Not Just About Cancer.


Stream of Consciousness (by Judy)

November 4, 2011

I was just looking at my notes from the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network (MBCN) Conference that I attended last weekend in Baltimore, MD. I was hoping to find something that would lend itself to a coherent, theme-specific post, but instead I find little bits of information, some of them like golden nuggets that I can stash away until MBCN has the conference and power point slides online in about a month.

I wil share some of these nuggets, though, these little bits of information that, for whatever reason, struck me at the time as important enough to write down.

So here goes a disjointed, fragmented post . . . even though it’s all about metastatic breast cancer (MBC). That’s the thread that holds it all together.

One of the speakers talked a little bit about how the Network first was formed because two women, both with MBC, felt isolated and alone in support groups of people with early stage breast cancer. Things like going pink all of October or celebrating the end of treatment “is not possible with metastatic disease.” I know what she means, what the founders meant. I chave totally different conversations with those with early stage breast cancer (BC) than I have with those who have MBC. The ones with MBC seem to intuitively know what I’m going through, what I’m feeling and even thinking. They understand the very real fear of dying, of leaving this earth before I’m ready. They understand the worry I have for my child, my husband, my little family. They know that talking about death doesn’t mean that I’m obsessed with death or that I think I’m going to die soon. They understand that it’s a deep need to understand what will eventually happen to me with this metastatic disease. They understand all of these things because they live with these things themselves.

Approximately 30% of people diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will at some time develop metastatic breast cancer, cancer that has spread to organs other than the breast. Breast cancer, if confined to the breast, doesn’t kill. MBC, however, kills. And there’s very little research done on MBC.

One of the reasons that we also may become, in Whymommy’s words, cancer rebels and pink protesters, is that we can’t be happy and pink during October. We can’t join the throngs of “survivors” if we’re not going to survive this disease. We know we’re different, that we’re what they fear the most. How can we join in when we’re the black sheep of the breast cancer movement, the bad girls of breast cancer?

We can’t. We stand out. People get quiet when we tell them that we have MBC. They don’t, understandably, know what to say, although I think an “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry to hear that” is always something you can say to people who are struggling not just with breast cancer but with so many other things that happen to people.

We are the 30%. I am part of the 10%, the percentage that was diagnosed with Stage 4 disease from the outset. I guess that makes me one of the REALLY bad girls of breast cancer. And it makes me unpopular with some people, with people who only want to see the happy stuff, with people who are uncomfortable with my diagnosis, with people who just can’t face the fact that I won’t be around someday, that barring a miracle or sudden death from something else, this cancer will take me in a horrible way.

Trust me, it’s not something I like to think about, but I have to. I have to try to prepare my loved ones that someday I won’t be here, I may be in hospice care, they may watch me die. Believe me, I don’t like that image any more than anyone else does, but the difference is that I can’t pretend that it doesn’t exist, I can’t say, “Oh, you’ll beat it,” because MBC is an equal opportunity killer — it takes fighters, optimists, supplement-takers, vegetarians, the religious, etc., just as much as it takes everyone else.

I will die from this. My husband, bless his heart, still says, “I hope not,” even when I try to talk to him about things that are important to me, that I think he’ll need to know about if it gets to the place where he’ll have to raise our son by himself.

*sigh* It’s a hard life. Even so, I love my life and I have an amazing God and I hope and pray for treatments to extend my life for a very long time.

That, and a good medical team, keep me alive for now . . . .
_______________________________
Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


Saying Goodbye (by Judy)

November 3, 2011

without saying the actual word.

Yes, my friend is dying. She’s a friend I met in May 2011 at Little Pink Houses of Hope first beach retreat week. I don’t know how much of this information her family would want written about publicly, so I won’t name her, but I’ll call her AM.

AM is a wonderful person. A true lover of life and lover of people, she became friends with all of us quickly. Her voice and laughter resonate with me even now. I came to love everyone in my Little Pink family that week; AM was certainly no exception.

So today I wrote her a letter on behalf of her Little Pink family. My heart hurts. It’s hard to write something like that, even when you don’t, or can’t, bring yourself to say the word “Goodbye.” Even when we know . . . or believe, that she has little time left, we still hold out hope for a miracle for our AM, for we can’t imagine our lives without her in them.

I wrote the letter. It’s on behalf of our whole Kure Beach Little Pink family. I was trying to strike the right notes, to tell her how much we love her and miss her without actually saying that dreaded word.

But it’s there, in the subtext, in the ether, so to speak, of the words on the computer screen. It’s there . . . I’m just too scared or too stubborn or too something to say “goodbye.”

Even so, it was a hard letter to write. My heart hurts today for AM. My heart hurts for me. My heart hurts for her husband. My heart hurts for everyone who loves AM.

And now I’m going to be bold and ask for donations for this wonderful organization, Little Pink Houses of Hope, in honor of AM. Even a small amount would help, and I’m sure it would warm her husband’s and her family’s hearts when they see that people have donated in honor of their beloved AM. Little Pink has a donation button on their homepage. I plan to do this myself.

I know AM and her husband loved the retreat week. I know they made lifetime friends. I just wish for a miracle that AM’s lifetime is extended somehow.

I wish for it . . . not just for me, but for her, her family, and her other loved ones.

In the meantime, there’s not much I can do . . . .

but pray.

Saying prayers for you, AM, and hoping for a miracle for you . . .

and for those of us who love you.

________________________________________________

Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


For Those Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer (by Judy)

November 2, 2011

Researchers are surveying people living with metastatic breast cancer about how they make treatment decisions. If this applies to you, please consider taking the survey. Their deadline for the survey is November 11. Thanks so much.

SURVEY
____________________
Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.