Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Gift

One year ago today marked the start of my fight against breast cancer. On this "anniversary," I'd like to thank the many friends and family members who supported me through the year. One person in particular helped me get through the challenging times with relative grace. The following is the (very much abridged) story of my last year and the gift I was given to help me through it.

My Journey

I went for my annual mammogram, fully expecting the usual, "all clear." The call came later that day asking me to come back to take more images of a suspicious spot. They couldn't get me in until after Christmas, and I spent the next week with a niggling worry in the back of my mind but did my best not to dwell on it.

On December 26, the doctor sounded optimistic as he reviewed the more detailed images of the suspect spot. However, just to be safe he wanted to do a sonogram. I observed the monitor as he honed in on the site...then watched as his entire demeanor changed. He took several pictures as he adjusted the view to various angles.

I knew before he said the words. I needed a biopsy.

The biopsy was done on the morning of January 2. I was leaving two days later to go on vacation to San Francisco and Hawaii. I would get the results while away.

San Francisco was lovely, but when I landed in Kauai I had a message on my phone. It was from my gynecologist. Not from her nurse. And she gave me her personal number to call back. I knew the news wasn't good. Welcome to paradise.

On February 3, I had a lumpectomy. The mass was small. It hadn't spread. The margins came back clear, so my surgeon felt that they got all of it.

On April Fools Day, I started radiation treatments. One every weekday through May 19. The first was frightening. The thought of radiation aimed at my breast scared me. I was shocked at how they sapped my energy and made me ache. And yet I felt powerful and determined to win the battle against breast cancer.

On August 13, I had my first follow-up mammogram. I don't know why, but I wasn't scared. Turns out there was no need for fear. The mammogram came back all clear. Mission accomplished.

The Gift

As I look back over the last year, I'm amazed at how well I handled this journey. Had it happened earlier in my life, I'm not so sure it would have gone as smoothly. Cancer was always my biggest fear because it took my mother's life when she was quite young.

What I've come to realize is that I was given a gift. A heartbreaking gift, but one that got me through one of the more difficult periods of my life. You see, I lost my niece to cancer in February of 2013. She battled it for several years, but it just kept coming back. Through her struggles, she showed amazing courage...but even more love.

Even as her body failed her, she fought to give her family and two young sons a normal life. No matter how tired, ill, or in pain she felt, she took them on walks, to the park, to fun classes, or on play dates with her circle of friends and their children. Every single day, until she couldn't do it any longer.

She took many vacations with extended family and made a point to travel often to see the people she loved. She never made a big deal of her cancer or the treatments she had to endure. She squeezed every single drop out of life that she could get as cancer did its work to rob her of it.

Watching what she went through helped me to realize just how lucky I was to have found the mass so early. I had every reason to be optimistic. And I had a shining example of how to face cancer and tell it to go to hell.

Thank you for that, Eva. You are an inspiration. We all love and miss you.

Patti


Monday, November 17, 2014

Back on (the) Track

Jogging and exercise are my anti-cancer drugs. Well, my natural anti-cancer drugs. I have to take a prescription to prevent the return of breast cancer, so I'm exercising to improve my odds against it coming back. Period.

After an unplanned, unwanted and yet necessary (long) break from the Couch to 5K (C25K) program, I've been at it again. It's harder this time because I'm still healing. But it is something that I'm doing to create an extended and more active future.

I could use some advice, so please hang with me as I explain.

I've created a holding pattern at a 20 minute workout. It's what my body can handle at this time without wanting to consume the entire contents of both the pantry and fridge, and live on Aleve. But I'm ok with that, as is my doctor.

I recently discovered that treadmills make me dizzy. Not while running, but immediately following. This makes me very unhappy because 'tis the season when the weather is turning toward the need to make the treadmill my go-to workout option if I want to jog. And I do.

I suppose that's a first world problem, so I'm trying not to let it stop me. I've taken to using my recumbent exercise bike in order to keep my fitness level up while maintaining my equilibrium. Literally.

So for the next few months I plan to make due with my recumbent exercise bike and an occasional date with a treadmill. Until the weather breaks and I can embrace the outdoor track again, or manage the post-treadmill vertigo.

(Is it too soon to say how much I look forward to spring?)

Since I'm fairly new to this fitness thing, I could use some suggestions for strategies I can use to find my treadmill legs. Or keep my post-treadmill equilibrium.

Have ideas? Hit me up in the comments, if you would.

Thanks for reading!

Patti






Friday, July 18, 2014

What Nobody Tells You about Getting Older


I've become expert at ignoring the things I don't wish to acknowledge. It's a gift.

For a brief time, I'll set aside this gift to share another list of things that nobody tells you. Getting older is both amazing and frustrating, and someone should talk about the following that I had to discover for myself.

The good:
  • Some indulgently mature adults speak more freely and confidently than their younger colleagues. This often happens because they no longer care what others think of them...which can be awesome for the more mature adult, but the situation may vary for those around him/her depending on his/her level of pomposity and rational thought. Ok, so I may have been thinking of someone in particular as I wrote this...
  • Accumulating life experience can give an elevated level of confidence in making decisions. The well worn phrase, "Been there, done that," illustrates this confidence while annoying the young. Double bonus points!
The marginally good:
  • Society's expectations change as one matures.  Loan officers no longer expect that you'll default on your loan or wreck your new car. Your friends no longer expect you to stay out partying until 3am on a weeknight. The both up- and downside...attractive young adults no longer expect you to flirt with them.
The sometimes good, sometimes not:
  • As the body ages, adults begin to sleep less. Whether this phenomenon is good or bad may depend on any number of factors such as health, well being, stress, happiness, or addiction to Twitter.
The odd:
  • Think back to times when colleagues complain about an annoying song they have stuck in their heads. And it gets stuck in yours. And then music accompanies the remainder of your day. Get used to it. Embrace it. It gets more insidious. 
  • Hair will begin to grow in places where it has never grown before. Not light, thin peach fuzz. Oh no. It is dark, thick, and often curly. Related: you'll need to buy specialized gadgets to cut or shave it, and get really, really good with using a mirror to observe the areas particularly hard to see or reach.
The not so good:
  • Your skin will begin to look as if an alien landed on it. Random dark splotches. Dry patches. Wrinkles. Saggy parts. Don't get me started...
  • Grey hair. Who looks good in grey hair? About two humans, that's who.
  • Old eyes. This phrase is much too gentle for the level of frustration this affliction causes. To need glasses in order to read any damn thing gets old. Fast. Much faster than the aging process.
  • Your feet. They get wider. And hurt more easily. And your shoe options get uglier and uglier until you find yourself in the Grandma section.
  • Bowel movements. Either too often, or not often enough. And you begin to talk about it with your contemporaries. Good grief, what is happening?
  • Denial. Oh wait, that's good...all things here considered.



Patti

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Nobody Tells You

Someone should write a book or a website titled, "What Nobody Tells You," update it every month, and make it required reading. Including a version with millions of subjects, searchable based on the user's current needs.

Ok, that may be a bit ambitious. However, over the last couple of years, I've often wished for such a thing.

For instance, the subject that would have helped me the most recently?

What nobody tells you about radiation treatments in 6 easy paragraphs:

  • When breast cancer requires weeks of radiation treatments, forget about modesty. You will have to expose yourself to male and female technicians on a daily basis. They will "adjust" you in whatever contraption or position is needed for the beams of radiation to hit the same areas at the same angle every single day.
  • You'll get tattoos, whether you want them or not. Single dots of grey ink that look so unnatural that, although they are the size of a mole or freckle, no one will mistake them as such. These are used to help position your body and your breast for treatments every day.
  • Radiation burns your skin and it will peel and itch, sometimes for months after treatments have finished. Those cute little sundresses with slim straps or lower necklines may have to wait until you heal and your skin normalizes. Like, until next summer.
  • A few weeks into treatments, you'll notice a tiredness that takes over your life by small degrees until getting out of bed in the morning feels overwhelming. You'll wake up feeling exhausted, and the fatigue gets more insidious as the weeks of treatments progress. When you first notice this side effect, the weekend off of treatments will help you to rejuvenate. By the following weekend, the cumulative result of the treatments will simply wipe you out. Need to work a full week? Good luck.
  • And the aching. It seems to originate from the sunburned skin, but that's an illusion. It feels that way because the sunburn is worse in the areas where the treatment is more intensely aggressive and the tissue damage is greatest. Painkillers will take the edge off of the ache, but don't try to sleep on that side or the pain will wake you...if you are able to get to sleep at all.
  • Don't celebrate too much when the treatments are done. The pain and exhaustion are far from over. It can take months to regain normal strength and vigor. And the aching remains and can worsen due to triggers as simple as sitting at a desk for long periods or strenuous walking.

I can only speak from my own experiences. From what I'm told, I got off easy because I didn't need to be hospitalized. Nor did I have some of the more intense side effects such as mouth sores, digestive problems, and unsteadiness and difficulty keeping my balance. For this I'm immensely thankful.

I'm also grateful that I didn't need to have chemotherapy. I'm keenly aware of how much more difficult my treatment could have been.

I'm not sure what subject I would have liked to have known next, on the list of things that nobody tells you. So many subjects come to mind. Perhaps I'll explore a few in future posts.

For now, I'll think I'll just go find some ibuprofen, take a nap and look forward to the day when I can wake feeling refreshed. To think that I used to take that for granted.

Thanks for reading!




Patti

Friday, May 30, 2014

A New Normal

This post is especially difficult to write. In recent months, I've had a particularly hard time finding the right words, so I haven't said much. Today, I will attempt to do better.

In December, a routine mammogram found a small mass in my breast and a biopsy later confirmed it was cancer. I was given a very encouraging prognosis. We found it early. It was still small. It hadn't spread. And the lumpectomy appeared to have removed all of it.

Despite all of this good news, I've been exceedingly reticent to divulge the diagnosis to any but a few close friends, colleagues and family members. At first I didn't understand why. After a while the reasons became more clear.

I don't want to be defined by this disease, which I've seen happen to other women all too often. I don't want anyone to be fearful of using the word, "cancer" in my presence. Then again, I don't want people to look at me and only see cancer. I don't want friends, colleagues or acquaintances to avoid me or be afraid to talk to me. I don't want this illness to be held against me in the workplace. And I don't want anybody to automatically think that I'm special because I'm battling the same disease that millions of women face every year.

Throughout the treatment process, I've wanted to tell my story. One of physical, mental and emotional struggle as well as personal triumph. But the words just wouldn't come. I still haven't figured out how one is supposed to go about breaking this kind of news.

I'm thankful that I faithfully go for an annual mammogram. Otherwise, the situation could have been so much worse. I couldn't feel the lump. My gynecologist wasn't able to detect it, even though she had the mammogram results. The follow-up mammogram wasn't even definitive. It was a sonogram done, "just in case" that indicated that I needed a biopsy.

I'm happy to say that my final radiation treatment took place on May 19. On that last day of treatments, I had a red, itchy, sore, swollen, aching, and sunburned breast. Now I have a tan, peeling, sore, swollen and aching breast.  I'm still exhausted. I continue to hurt. But the treatments are done…and I'm only somewhat worse for the wear.

This fight will soon be behind me, and I couldn't be happier that I can now fully concentrate on healing and finding a new normal. A normal that I will define.

Thanks for reading!




Patti

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Try Try Again

Planning makes me feel happy. Powerful. In charge. It helps me to succeed at work, at home, and at play.

Sometimes, even the best plans can go awry. The last several months, I've watched helplessly as some of my very finest projects unraveled. The ones that were important to me. Life-changing, even.

So, I'm regrouping. Letting go of disappointment and finding new strength in updating my goals and aspirations. Taking measure of life and what it means to be happy and fulfilled.

I had planned to write regularly in this space about my adventures in running. Some recent health issues dictated that I go on hiatus from the Couch to 5K (C25K) program, and I'm not able to go at it full speed just yet. I had to go back and begin again at a slower pace, for now. I will complete the program and maintain a healthier lifestyle. It is a present I am giving to myself. It will just take a little longer, and I'll finish quite a bit later.

But that's ok. What's important is that I still do it, and that I can.

The lesson I've learned? Don't let life's many roadblocks stop you from fighting for what you want. You must be relentless...or stubborn. Whatever works.

Thanks for reading!




Patti

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Surely the Ice Age Cometh

Have you felt it? That weird shift in the balance of the universe and the slow creep of chilly undercurrents as hell has begun to freeze over? I can give you some insight into the cause. I've begun the Couch to 5K (C25K) program.

Yes, you read that right.

C25K could have ended up like every other exercise program I started and quickly abandoned. However, for the first time in my more than 50 years, I planned ahead and set myself up for success.

First, I had myself fitted with appropriate running shoes. Ones to support my stride and help me avoid the shin splints I was experiencing on long walks.

Second, I searched for good locations for jogging. Places that are relatively level. Where I could park nearby. And backup locations for times when my favorite spot (a local track) was not available.

Third, I planned ahead by looking at my calendar and figuring out when I could fit the workouts into my busy schedule. Every week for the duration of the program.

Forth, I downloaded a great C25K app onto my smartphone then created a music playlist of upbeat songs. I linked the two in order to help me through the rough times during my runs.

And finally, I set a date and a time to start and I stuck with it.

It may not sound like much but taking each of these steps was crucial to being successful. The surprise was that after I got past the initial tiredness (to call me a couch potato would have been an understatement), I reached a turning point. I started to like it. It felt good. I felt strong. I became powerful.

I'm not quite half way through, but I hope to describe some of my experiences here...in part to help others. But also to remind myself, if and when I hit a bump in this new road, just how positive this has become for my life.

Care to join me? Read all about the C25K program at http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml.

Hit me up in the comments if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading!

Patti