Monday, January 24, 2011

Missing a Friend, Daria Maluta

A friend of mine that I met through my/her blog passed away this weekend. Today is her birthday. I cannot say that I knew her well personally, yet I did. Living in Canada, her words traveled across the continent and synced themselves with my heart. Through Living With Cancer, Daria bravely recorded the good and the bad, documenting the raw truth about surviving cancer.

I wish could remember how I met her. How are friendship first came to be. I know that we were blogging friends first, then Facebook friends. We commented back and forth on blog entries and Facebook posts. She was wise. Her kind words always resonated with me.

In one of her last posts, she writes:
Since Thursday’s appointment with my Onc I’ve really been doing a lot of thinking. It’s made me very melancholy. It makes me wonder how much time l have left on this earth?...I am feeling ever so rushed to get things done knowing at any time I could be rushed to the hospital never to come home again. And then there are times I think I might have months to live....
Sometimes, I feel the same way. I think A LOT. I feel rushed A LOT. I am not putting myself in the same boat as Daria, or even the same ocean. She fought for a long, long time. I fought for one year. However, her's was a recurrence, starting as breast cancer 2000 and ending up in her bones, liver and lungs. My biggest fear.

As I type this, I cry. My emotions unchecked. The sick feeling at the pit of my stomach adds to the anxious feeling that has plagued my afternoon and the tears just flow. I tell myself that I am not crying from fear. I will not allow myself to ponder the thought that our cases and treatments were similar. My outlook is much too positive for that.

I DO cry because I have felt her unease. I DO cry because I know that she questioned every health decision that she ever made. I DO cry for her husband who has been lovingly updating her blog to let us all know about her last days and her funeral services. But mainly, I cry because the "breast cancer sisterhood" that I am privileged to be a part of (backwards as that may sound) just lost one of our dearest members. A shining light among the stars.

R.I.P Daria.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


This was first published on Writing, Writer, Writest but I liked it so much, I wanted to publish it here, as well. I hope you like it!

This time last year, I had many decisions to make. Breast cancer was swiftly spreading amidst the healthy cells the right side of my chest, each day, slowly surrounding them a little bit more. Though, I could not feel any physical change, my nightmares included young, brave cells battling monsters, their body armor tattered and worn. Chemo had taken hold of every aspect of my life. I was four treatments in....and while I was still smiling, my skin was ashen and every ounce of my being was fatigued and sore.

Little did I know that this would be the easy part.

My mastectomy trumped chemo. They were not able to complete a skin saving mastectomy on my right side - so everything had to go. Flatter than a pancake, I still smiled. I had no hair, but figured out how to wear scarves and hats to hide my battle wounds. I could handle it.

My eyebrows fell out shortly after my mastectomy. I still smiled like it was all part of a well-planned strategy. I always had trouble with those buggers anyway. Always. And with the birth of each of my children, my eyebrows took a vacation, too. I was used to it.

However, the day I lost my last eyelash, I crumbled. I cried a silent tear. I wondered if I would ever be well again. I wondered if I was being punished for being vain. I hoped I would be able to mask my sadness with a good coat of make-up. I cried alone, too afraid to let anyone know I was crying over eyelashes. I wanted to throw something. I wanted to crawl back in bed and give in to the darkness that plagued my heart and my mind. I did neither. Remembering that I am a mother and wife first, I took a breath and hid my sadness.

The decisions that plagued the weeks following were the most challenging of my life. After my surgery, I was cancer free. Chemo was complete. What would come next?

The options on the table were 1) whether or not to have radiation treatments; and, 2) whether or not to have a prophylactic mastectomy on my left side.

I wanted to run away. I wanted to win the lottery and buy a lifetime of health and wellness. I pretended the prank was short-lived and I was the joker that orchestrated it all. I did not want to face the fact that my cancer would never be “in remission”.

Decisions. I had to make them. I had to decide what would buy my life the most time. Which decision would help me best on the craps table? Do I play the hard 6? Or do I play the line? And depending on how the line was interpreted, I was sure that I could go either way.

The reality was that an abnormal cell could be anywhere in my body and at any time decide to divide, as cells do, and metastasize. That was the gamble. Radiation and the prophylactic mastectomy were the best shots I had to rid my body of abnormality. They both had serious risks and traumatic side effects of their own. Not to mention, I had already put my body through a boot camp like no other. I was not sure what I had left.

I did have a couple of tricks up my sleeve. My brother and his wife were in charge of deciphering reports that talked about outcomes and life expectancy. That, I could not face. I could not live in the “what if’s”. And words like “long-term outcomes” only served to frighten me in deepest crevices of my soul, leaving me shivering and unsure.

So, I thought and I thought. I listened. I rebelled in words and in my mind. I understood the recommendations. The implications on what I needed to do were fairly clear. However, when these decisions were on the table, it was not difficult to find another cancer survivor who made both options work.

For those of you who have been following my story, you know the decisions I made. I had six weeks of radiation treatment and a prophylactic mastectomy. And I did so with grace, dignity and a smile. In my heart of hearts, I knew that I would. I knew that my best chance of surviving stage four breast cancer was to use every weapon in my arsenal. And I did. And I won.

What you would not have read is my daily battle with myself to try to avoid radiation and the prophylactic mastectomy.That private talk show ran through my head at least once an hour. Life served more like the commercials on some days. Distracted and torn, fear was the show host and my future was the only guest.

On the other side now, I have no regrets. I still have some decisions to make. However, I am happy that my healthy cells have their armor back. It is still in need of a shine, but it is far from the tattered and worn state of last year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Road to Reconstruction

I went to see my plastic surgeon this week to review the last details of my surgery and receive the last fill of my expander. I have requested that my surgery occur in March but also listed my preference as after March 15. This will better coincide with Steve and the kids' Spring Break.

My doctor also added another 100 cc's to my expander, which now contains 450 cc's. For the first time, it hurts. I guess, I should not say that it hurts, but it is fairly uncomfortable. I know that I can have cc's taken out to relieve the pressure. However, I am reluctant to do so as I am a bit tired of going to doctor appointments. Having cc's taken out would add two more appointments to the docket--one appointment to take fluid out and one to add it back.

In case I have not explained the process, my expander is held in position by muscle, its purpose being to expand the muscle and skin slowly in order to hold the future implant. They add anywhere between 50-100 cc's of saline to the expander with every visit, spacing my visits about three weeks apart. It feels a bit like getting your braces tightened.

Unlike many friends that I have met on my journey, these expansions have never bothered me. Watching my the expansion on my chest grow into something that looks like a breast has been kind of like watching Christmas presents multiply under the Christmas tree as Christmas approaches. Now, fully expanded to the size of an actual breast, I am excited but yet feel more like that pregnant mother whose baby is two weeks overdue.

It think what bothers me the most is the combination of its size and hardness. The thing is as hard as a rock. I move, it does not. When I sleep, the only way I can get comfortable is on my back--and I am a side sleeper. That being said, I always wake up in the middle of the night sore, having rolled onto my side while sleeping.

I suppose, this will all get easier as by body adjusts to this most recent expansion. However, I know it is not getting any softer. My plastic surgeon has assured me that by new breast will feel nothing like its current substitute. Thank goodness!

That being said, I am just keeping my eye on the prize and trying not to think too much about the actual surgery itself because I am really not looking forward to adding another scar to a different part of my body. But this is another blog entry, altogether.

I really do not mean for this blog to sound negative. Actually, I am in a fairly good place right now. I am busy with work and the kids, enjoying most aspects of the crazy, busy lifestyle we have made for ourselves. The kids sports are gearing up as they usually do this time of year, with their participation in soccer, baseball, softball and gymnastics, all running at the same time. They are growing and learning so fast, I do not want to miss any of it. Work is busy but rewarding, as I continue to adjust sans a more hands-on supervisor. Life is good.

In closing, I am thankful every day that I survived cancer and the only thing I have to complain about is a rock-hard, fully filled expander on the left side of my chest. And what I have not mentioned is my excitment of having a breast on my right side again. No more prosthetic, yay!!!!!  My road to recontruction is coming to a close and I could not be happier.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cruising into the New Year

The holidays were an emotional journey for me this year. A journey full of memories of last year, both good and bad, encompassing how far I have come, both physically and figuratively. Lucky for me, this journey also led me onto a cruise ship for an 8-day trip aboard the Carnival Spirit with my husband and kids.

The trip was planned this past summer, after we were forced to cancel our summer vacation so I could undergo radiation treatments. I desperately needed a vacation on the books. My husband and I knew that a cruise could be enjoyed no matter my state of health, strength or physical ability. And so, it was planned. Booking far in advance, we were able to get a great deal on a great room with a balcony. Pure heaven!

The trip was just as we hoped. We relaxed. I got a massage. The kids made nice friends. We enjoyed the ports of call. We danced. We ate way too much. As I have not had reconstruction yet, there were a couple of moments for me that were less than ideal. However, the money we spent was worth every penny and I relished in every moment of the cruise with heightened sensibility.

As we laughed and played, the thought echoed in my brain, "If the cancer comes back, my kids will always have the memories of this cruise." The thought comforted me like a warm blanket on a cold morning. The context of the thought did not. It was not until I fell in love with a painting at the on-board art auction that I realized why. The picture is of a woman sitting gracefully on a couch gazing directly at her on-lookers. The innocence portrayed by her eyes, body language and even in the choice of colors struck at my core, touching me so deeply that I cried.

I put it into words for my husband when he asked me who the woman in the painting reminded me of. Without hesitation I answered, "Me".

Upon further reflection, I deduced and shared that she represented the innocence that cancer stole from me and my children. The caution that inhibits a cancer survivor. The fear that will live in my children as they are situated on what I envision to be a "most watched list" for signs of cancer. I think back on the days when I was in high school and college. I did not have a fear in the world. I was young and strong. Death and illness was not something I knew or thought about. I did not take my vitamins. I lived in excess of all of those things that young adults live in excess of. Full of potential and free from fear, I celebrated life with the joyful pleasure of the child who knew no different. Now, my kids know different. They understand life as a precious gift that once broken, can only sometimes be fixed. Their innocence is what cancer stole from us. That innocence is what I see in that painting.

I am realistic, too. I expect there will be a many, many times that my kids will choose to ignore that they are at risk for cancer. I know they are not aware of this fact now. Hell, I try to ignore my risk for recurrence myself. However, I know better than to dwell in my fears. I will teach this to my children. As Oprah stated so eloquently, "Live your best life." That is the end game. That is what this cruise was about. And when I look at the smiling faces pictured below, I know that we accomplished just that.

Happy New Year, all!!!