" /> The Merits of the Case: October 2007 Archives

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October 29, 2007

9,150-ish

…That’s my new favorite number, since it is the number of votes that put me well into first place and that makes me the winner of the $10,000 Blogging Scholarship.

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And the very first thing I have to do is to thank YOU.

The reason I won is because of the immense outpouring of support from all of you--friends, family and complete strangers all over the world. This award could not have come at a better time for me and my family, and we are all deeply grateful. I plan to use the money to pay some of the principle and interest on my student loans. As one commenter said recently, although $10,000 is a drop in the bucket of law school debt, it’s a pretty good drop nonetheless. And every drop helps!

I know that many of you have been sitting in front of your computer screen watching the votes and comments roll in over these past three weeks, and I appreciate your company. It has been astounding for me to watch it all happen, and is far, far beyond anything I expected or could have predicted.

I came upon a post somewhere about the scholarship accidentally one day a month or so ago just a few days before the application deadline. Later that evening, I sat on the couch, composed my essay, and then submitted it to CollegeScholarships.org as required. I mentioned to Randy in an offhand comment that night that I had applied for the scholarship, and then I forgot about it for a few days. You can imagine how excited I was when I opened my e-mail in-box on October 8th and found out that I was one of the 20 finalists for the scholarship.

That morning I composed an e-mail message which I sent out to 50-75 friends and family and to about 25 “cyber friends” thinking that maybe with their help I could get a couple of hundred votes. I had no idea what it would take to win or if I even had a chance.

And then it started. You all took it and ran with it. You sent it to the people in your address book, they sent it to the people in their address book, and then they sent it on. Some of you posted it on your blogs, and then more people posted it on theirs. I have received hundreds of e-mails from people all over the country telling me their stories and offering encouragement and support. I was surprised and encouraged by the initial reaction, and then I was stunned at the power of the internet and of word of mouth as the days progressed. The $10,000 pales in comparison to the amount of support I have received from all 9,150 of you in the last three weeks while watching all of this unfold.

Shelley Batts and Jess Kim, the second and third place contestants in the contest, will both receive $1000 and the remaining 7 of the top 10 contestants will each receive $100. I had the pleasure of exchanging e-mail with both Shelley and Jess during the contest and think they are both very intelligent and kind young women who will go far in their chosen fields. Both of them have excellent blogs and I encourage you to visit their sites, as well.

Daniel Kovach, the man behind the money, has invited me to come to the Blog World and New Media Expo in Las Vegas next week to accept the award. Thanks to some of Randy’s left-over points from his travelling days and help from our parents, we are going to be able to go and to spend a couple of days there, as well. It will be one of the most slow-paced, conservative visits to Las Vegas ever since I get tired so easily and can’t walk far, but it will be nice to get away for a couple of days.

Thank you all. My gratitude knows no bounds.

October 28, 2007

I Need Your Vote!

I haven’t written much about the financial aspect of cancer, but as you can imagine it plays a very big role in all of this. We are very lucky that we have private health insurance that so far has covered a large portion of my medical expenses. And the costs are astronomical. Insurance hasn’t covered it all, however, and we have had to make major adjustments in our spending and budgeting in order to keep our heads above water. We have dipped into and used most of our cash savings and have had to resort to other sources of funds such as college and retirement savings in order to make this work. People don’t talk about this part of it very much because as a society we don’t talk about money, but it has caused me a very high level of stress throughout the entire ordeal. I can’t even imagine how people who do not have insurance deal financially with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

I am going to law school to fulfill a dream, but there are practical reasons for my choice, as well. We always knew that in order to send three kids to college and to be able to eat when we retire I was going to have to return to work at some point. Right now I am on track to graduate from law school the same month that Karly graduates from high school. That means that in 2009 our mailbox will contain both my new paychecks and new tuition bills. Perfect timing. In addition, I will have to begin making payments on my student loans, which will be in the range of $80,000-$100,000.

Not long ago I stumbled upon a link to a website that was offering a $10,000 Blogging Scholarship to a post-secondary education student blogger. Since I fit the application profile I thought I would go ahead and submit my blog just to see what happened. What happened was that my blog was nominated as one of 20 finalists for the $10,000 scholarship. Needless to say, this scholarship would be an immense help to my family and to me right now.

While I am amazed and ecstatic that writing these posts for you has garnered such a nomination for me, I can’t win it without your help. Twenty blogs have been nominated, but it’s up to the voting public to choose the winner. That’s right…$10,000 will be awarded to a winner chosen by the internets. It’s kind of like American Idol but instead it’s Blogger Idol.

So I am asking for your help and for your vote. Voting is open from now through midnight on October 28, 2007. In order to vote, you can click on this link. On the webpage that comes up you will see a list of 20 names with radio buttons next to them. My name is 7th on the list and you can see that I have some serious competition. Will you vote for me, and will you ask your friends to vote for me, too? Thank you.


Genetic Update

I met with the geneticist on Friday and she didn’t talk me out of the genetic testing so I decided to do it. She gave me a testing kit which will allow me to have the blood drawn (just one small tube) during my (last!) chemo treatment on Thursday. After that I will pack it up and send it off to the lab myself and then will have the results in a couple of weeks.

The good thing about the appointment was the chance to learn bit more about how all of this works genetically. There are three possible results for the blood test: positive, negative, and variant of uncertain significance which basically means “inconclusive”. One interesting point is that even if the test is inconclusive or negative, it doesn’t mean that there is not a genetic element to this. The test today only tests for BRCA 1 and 2, but doctors and researchers believe that there are more than just those two genes…they just can’t test for them. Yet.

Another important aspect of this, for me, is the fact that they don’t do the test for people under 18 because they require informed consent. I have to admit that I was relieved when the doctor told me that, because it gives me time to think about all of this before I have to even consider having Karly tested. If my result is positive, insurance would probably pay for her to be tested, as well. However, as an added comfort the doctor suggested that she really wouldn’t need to be tested for another decade or more, and pointed out that by then we will know so much more about breast cancer and about the genetics of all of this that it will be a different process. That also made me feel better. I don’t know if we will wait that long, but I do know that the older she gets the more say she will have in whether or not she wants to have the test done. We will just cross that bridge in the future when we come to it.

Some of the same questions remain for me, such as what to do with a positive result. I am pretty sure I know what I will do with a positive result, but I am just going to glide for these next few weeks and try not to even think about any of it until I actually receive the results. If it’s positive, I’ll figure it out then and then my mom/sister/cousins can also decide what to do with the information.

October 25, 2007

Six Degrees of Separation

Not that I’ve been watching the vote count or anything, but my vote totals have been skyrocketing today. That’s what happens when all the famous people start blogging about you. And it’s not only them, of course. It’s all of you. I have no words to tell you how stunned I am at how all of this has played out over the past couple of weeks. I am humbled by your support and willingness to help, and I can’t quite believe how many people all over the entire world have voted for me. More on that soon. For now, I want to tell you about a few of the amazing things that have been happening this week.

Last night I was checking my site stats to see who was visiting and from where, and I noticed hundreds of hits coming from this website and from this YouTube video. Curious, I visited the site and watched the video, only to hear my name mentioned by someone I had never seen or heard of before in my life. It was a little eerie and so I e-mailed him to thank him and to try to find out the connection. As it turns out, it wasn’t so mysterious—John is a good friend of a friend of mine from school. So I guess I am officially a nerdfighter now. And proud of it, I might add.

I keep thinking that this whole word-of-mouth vote-getting that has been going on is a little like six degrees of separation. With so many people getting in on all the fun, it seems like eventually someone is going to get the e-mail from more than one friend or from friends from two different circles or something like that. This evening my sister called me to tell me that she has been telling her friends and co-workers and some of her customers about the blogging scholarship. Molly said that today she told one of her customers about what was going on and the customer said that she had already voted for me this morning…but had no idea that I was Molly’s sister. She said she was reading the blog of one of her favorite authors, Jen Lancaster, and came across Jen’s plea for votes for me. So she followed the link and voted, having no idea that the person she was voting for had any relation to anyone else that she knew. Talk about a small world!

I also discovered that there is an English teacher at a Catholic high school (I think) somewhere in Canada (I think) who has come up with an excellent way for his students to practice structured writing. He has a blog where he posts writing topics and it seems that he has set up a blog for each of his students where they can write their responses and then turn them in by tracking back to his blog. One of his recent assignments was to have his students look at the blogs listed on the blogging scholarship website, choose a blog to vote for, and then to write about why they chose that blog. I think that is such a brilliant use of 21st century technology for a bunch of English students, and I have really been enjoying reading their essays. Mr. Sader’s assignment post is here and you can read the students’ essays by clicking on the list of trackbacks at the bottom of the post.

My Favorite Pair of Genes

Tomorrow morning brings yet another appointment with yet another new doctor—a geneticist.

Only 5-10% of all breast cancers are genetic, but because of my age (young!) and because my first cousin, Jenny, had breast cancer when she was very young, all of my doctors have recommended that I consider genetic counseling. The purpose of the genetic counseling is to help me decide whether or not to have genetic testing done to determine whether my breast cancer was caused by a gene. (Jenny had the test done, but I won’t share the results of the test here unless she tells me it’s okay.) I have already decided to have the genetic testing done, so tomorrow I will just be looking for reasons that I shouldn’t do it.

Genetic counseling is required before the test because there is a lot that must be weighed in making the decision. I have found that most people’s gut reaction is to have the testing done, but there really are some valid reasons not to do it. Genetic testing is controversial because the results can follow you for the rest of your life. For example, if it turns out that I am BRCA1 or BRCA2 (the name of the breast cancer gene, which also has been found to cause ovarian cancer) positive, those results will have an effect on my insurability for the rest of my life. In addition, I have to decide what I will do with the results. If they are positive, that means the risk of the breast cancer returning is significantly higher. So then I have to decide if I am going to have a prophylactic mastectomy (preventive removal of the breasts). And if I do, will I have one breast removed, or both of them? Or neither? And if I’m not going to have one or both removed, why get the testing done? What about my ovaries? Do I have those removed, as well?

Then there are questions about sharing the information with my family. If my results are positive, what does that mean for my sister? My mom? My cousins and their children? My potential future grandchildren? And what about for Karly? Do I have her tested? And what if her results are positive? Do I share that with her now or do I wait until she’s 20 or 21 or 25? What kind of burden would it be to be sixteen years old and to know that you carry a gene that may very well cause you to contract breast or ovarian cancer? What does my sister do with the information? Does she get tested? If it’s positive, does she have a prophylactic mastectomy?

I know what my answers to most of those questions would be, but having the test done isn’t all about me. Suddenly, with just one or two vials of blood, the rest of my family and future family is directly involved in a way they haven’t been before. I hope that the results are negative.

October 23, 2007

Getting Up...Slowly

This weekend followed the pattern of the weekends following the previous two Taxol treatments with a lot of pain on Saturday and lessening pain on Sunday. This time I’ve had more trouble recovering from the treatment, however. Yesterday I was glad that I didn’t have class because I never would have made it there and back. I felt bad…run-down, weak, sick. I made it to class today, but it was rough.

There are moments when the fact that I only have one more treatment sounds great, and there are moments when I’m not sure if I can do it one more time. I know that I can and I will, but I wish that last one would just disappear.

Side-Effect Update

I’ve mentioned before that Taxol can cause neuropathy…nerve damage in the hands and feet. I have had some numbness and tingling in my hands and feet, but it usually goes away before the next treatment. Hopefully that will keep happening. I’ve been taking 300 mg of vitamin B6 a day, which some doctors say helps to lessen or prevent neuropathy.

I have now lost all but about 5 of my eye lashes. While it’s not quite as traumatic as losing the hair on your head, it’s really unnerving. My face looks so white and moon-like now…even the kids have commented on how much I look like a cancer patient.

I continue to lose my ability to taste after my Taxol treatments, but it only lasts for a couple of days and then it seems as if I’m able to taste things fully again.

Another common side-effect of chemotherapy is early menopause. Most women go into premature menopause and some stay in menopause while some do not. As I understand it, the closer you are to your natural menopause the more likely you are to stay in menopause. I thought I was getting away with something when I didn’t go into menopause right away. Unfortunately, however, a few weeks ago I did indeed begin to go into menopause, complete with hot flashes and everything. And I hate it. It seems unfair to have to deal with this on top of all these other chemo side-effects.

October 18, 2007

Uno!

As difficult as it was to go to chemo today, I went. And it was difficult. Sherry made the perfect analogy in her comment on this post. She said that at the second to last appointment it's like being a marathon runner who sees the finish line but is running on pure spirit. It was hard to keep running today. But I did and now it’s over. I just have to make it through the next few days and I can officially celebrate having only one more treatment.

I took a movie to watch again this week (The Queen), but it was relatively short so I also got some chatting in. The room was full today, and I was lucky enough to sit between two women who wanted to talk as well.

The woman to my right was Jen. (I got permission to use her real name.) She is my age (a few months younger than me, actually) and was also a breast cancer patient. She had Stage II cancer with no lymph node involvement, but she had two tumors in one breast. The second tumor was discovered by an on-the-ball ultrasound technician who looked at her whole breast on a hunch and not just at the original tumor. She was on her second Taxotere treatment today.

Jen and I started out talking about my scarf because she is just starting to lose her shoulder length blond hair. She seemed much less angst-ridden about the whole thing than I felt when I was losing mine. Jen was delightful to talk to…very upbeat and positive. At the beginning of our conversation I was receiving Benadryl, and at one point I warned her that I might fall asleep in the middle of a sentence—hers or mine—because of it. Jen told me that she was also receiving Benadryl and that she too was worried about falling asleep. We finished up that part of our conversation and then we both took naps.

The woman sitting to my left was Jane. I met her at my very first chemo appointment and at the time she was a week ahead of me. We’re on the same schedule now so she actually had chemo today instead of just a blood test. Jane is an eighth grade math teacher and has continued to teach throughout chemo. We talked quite a bit about how difficult the AC treatments had been for us. When I was having those rough Tuesdays at school she was having rough Tuesdays, too, standing up in front of five classes a day full of 13 year olds, teaching math, no less! I am so impressed by her ability to do that. Jane is also very positive about this whole experience.

Jen and Jane and I discussed everything from hair loss and breast reconstruction to the discoveries of our lumps and the involvement and support of our friends and family. Talking to other cancer patients who are going through the same things that you are going through at the same time is quite powerful. People who are in the middle of this understand exactly what you feel without you even having to say a word. Jen summed it up well when she said that as much as she doesn’t like coming to the chemo appointments, she loves making all the new friends that she meets when she comes. I couldn’t agree more.

October 17, 2007

Writer's Block

One (of many) interesting result of this blogging scholarship contest is the incredible increase in traffic to my blog. Before Monday morning, October 8th, around 8,500 people had visited since May. As of today, almost 19,000 unique visitors have stopped by from all over the world. It’s amazing. And a lot of pressure. I suddenly find that I have a serious case of writer’s block. How can I possibly write things that are interesting and smart if there are that many people waiting to read what I write?

I once saw Alice Sebold (author of The Lovely Bones) interviewed and she said that she thinks there are two kinds of writers; those who think they are geniuses and those who think everything they write is awful. I fall firmly into the second category, and this little fifteen minutes of fame I’m experiencing doesn’t help. I suppose the best thing to do is to continue to write about the things that garnered me the finalist position in the first place….breast cancer, motherhood and law school. I have to make an effort to silence the editor in my head and the thought of all of you reading over my shoulder or else I’ll never write anything again.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to treatment #7…the second to last one. While I am happy that it’s almost over, I am also filled with dread about the upcoming weekend. I have been unconsciously pushing all thoughts of Thursday and the weekend to the back of my mind. It’s been easy not to think about since I’ve been feeling so great for the past week or so. Today, though, reality came crashing in as I realized I’d be making that old familiar trek to the doctor’s office tomorrow morning. I have found myself wishing that my doctor would call and say that I’ve been such a good patient that I don’t have to come back for the last two treatments. I know that’s not going to happen, but a girl can dream, right?

October 16, 2007

Think Before You Pink

Sitting on the window ledge above my kitchen sink is a little clay dish that Matthew made in art class a few years ago. For the past couple of years, from October until December, the dish has been filled to overflowing with pink Yoplait yogurt lids which get dutifully mailed to the company sometime in December. Why do I mail used yogurt container lids to Yoplait, you ask? Because they have promised that they will donate 10 cents for each lid they receive up to $1.5 million to the Susan G. Komen foundation as part of their Save Lids to Save Lives campaign. Until last week, I was just washing the lids and putting them in the dish and that was about the extent of my thoughts about the campaign.

Recently, however, I stumbled upon a website called Think Before You Pink (maintained by Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based company that provides educational information about breast cancer), and suddenly I’m looking at that Yoplait lid campaign—and all of the pink breast cancer awareness marketing out there—in a whole in new light. The gist of the Think Before You Pink website is that with the deluge of pink marketing going on throughout the year, it’s not a bad idea to think about where the money from those pink ribbon products is actually going.

Think Before You Pink hopes that before you open your wallet to buy these product you will ask yourself six questions. These questions are:
1. How much money from your purchase actually goes toward breast cancer?
2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
3. How much money was spent marketing the product?
4. How are the funds being raised?
5. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
6. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?
This page on their website goes into detail about what kinds of answers you should look for to each of those questions.

After finding this website, I read a little further and found that those innocuous Yoplait lids stacked up on my kitchen windowsill led me to some answers to those questions that I wasn’t so excited about.

For example, take question #6. It turns out that Yoplait makes its yogurt with milk from cows treated with rBGH, a bovine growth hormone that has been linked to an increase in breast, prostate, and colon cancer. I knew about this connection and have been buying milk from dairies that do not use rBGH, but I never thought about our yogurt containing the same hormone.

Think Before You Pink calls this practice “pinkwashing,” and applies the term to companies that market a pink ribbon product for the benefit of breast cancer research or awareness while manufacturing products that are linked to the disease. Other pinkwasher companies in Think’s spotlight include BMW (chemicals in car exhaust have been linked to breast cancer) and Estee Lauder (parabens used in cosmetics have been linked to breast cancer). Kind of puts a whole new spin on pink ribbon marketing, doesn’t it?

What do we do with this information? The Think Before You Pink website lists possible actions we can take to help combat pinkwashing. For example, they suggest buying non-rBGH dairy products and they even provide a link to an artificial hormone-free product guide broken down by state and published by www.foodandwaterwatch.org. The website also suggests letting the companies you patronize know if you feel strongly about their responsibility to keep their products safe.

While I appreciate any and all efforts to educate people and to find a cure for this disease, I think that the pink marketing has gotten out of hand. We are swamped with pink, especially in October, almost to the point of numbness. I think the Think Before You Pink campaign can help us all to be more educated, savvy consumers and to make sure that any dollars we spend on pink marketing are actually going to the breast cancer cause and not just to the coffers of some large corporation.

I want to make it clear that I support the desire of large corporations to donate to charities and I have no problem with marketing campaigns designed to highlight their charitable works, as long as the campaigns are transparent and the companies are really donating substantially to those causes. I still plan to send in my Yoplait lids, because 10 cents is better than no cents. (I have also donated directly to the Susan G. Komen foundation which is a much more direct way to get funds to them than just by eating yogurt.) But donating millions of dollars to breast cancer research doesn’t excuse Yoplait—or any other company— from their responsibility to produce a product that doesn’t harm consumers. My next trip to the grocery will almost surely involve a stop at the yogurt case where I will be looking for a new brand of yogurt for my family to consume that does not contain rBGH milk.

October 14, 2007

Time Travelling

I’ve mentioned that I had a blog before I started posting about my breast cancer journey back in April of this year. It was a completely anonymous blog where I wrote about being a mom and about being a mom in law school. I started it in November 2003 and took the whole thing “off the air” in August 2006.

I initially began writing about my law school experience because when I was in the process of applying to law school there was only one other law school-related blog being written by a mother (From Engineer to Lawyer, who was pregnant at the time) and one blog being written by a lawyer who was a mom (Angry Pregnant Lawyer). I desperately wanted to know how other moms were handling the whole experience and thought that maybe I could help someone else by sharing my experiences. As I became more and more worried about the potential negative effects blogging might have on my future legal employment, however, I made the decision to take the blog down. Most of you never knew about that blog, although there are quite a few people reading who remember me from “the old days.”

Since I am blogging again, I have recently been tossing around the idea of re-posting some of those old posts on the off chance that maybe some other mom applying to law school might find them helpful. Today I looked through the old posts and found one that was written exactly three years ago today— the day I officially became a law school applicant. I will start out by posting that one, since it was essentially the beginning of my official path to law school (although the path itself actually began a long before that when I first thought about the possibility of becoming a lawyer). I will pre-date the posts with their original posting date, and hopefully will have some time to add more over the next few weeks.

October 13, 2007

Desperately Seeking Reality

I had never watched a single episode of Desperate Housewives before last Sunday night. I was left alone in the family room with the remote control and the dogs all to myself that evening, however, so that the testosterone laden members of my family could watch the Chicago Bears game on the big screen in the basement. Given the choice, I decided not to subject myself to first downs and field goals and began looking for something else to watch. Pickings were slim, so I ended up watching the show.

I had been told that one of the characters had breast cancer and I was hoping that would be part of the story because I was curious about how it would be depicted. After doing a little bit of research this week, it appears that Lynette, the character with cancer, actually has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, it sounds like the type of cancer she has hasn’t been mentioned in the script since the end of last season, so viewers seem to be a little confused about exactly what kind of cancer she is supposed to have.

Now, I understand that this is a sitcom and that it is about as divorced from reality as it can be, but having a character deal with a cancer diagnosis seems to me to show some little attempt to ground the plot in some semblance of real life. I had several problems with the whole cancer storyline, however, and I’m not quite convinced that the writers were really attempting to show a cancer diagnosis rather than just using it as a vehicle for the treatment of other plot goals. I have to admit that I know very little about Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or about how the treatment for those cancers is similar to or different from the treatment for breast cancer, but from what I can tell Hodgkin’s patients and survivors are as flummoxed by the reality of the cancer storyline as I am.

During the course of Sunday night’s show Lynette had two chemotherapy appointments. She kicked her husband out of the first one because he was being insensitive and then asked her friends to accompany her to subsequent appointments. As far as I could tell, though, the show only covered a couple of days. Why was she having chemotherapy so often? And if she was having treatments that frequently, why was she feeling so great? Yes, she was wearing a scarf on her head. But she had eyebrows and eyelashes and she looked completely normal.

And it wasn’t just her hair...she’s battling an awful disease. Where was her suffering and pain and nausea and bottles of drugs to combat the side-effects? What about all the time out of her life for treatments and blood tests and other doctor’s appointments? Where were the oncology nurses and why was she drinking coffee and eating lemon meringue pie right after her treatment? When her friends saw her outside walking around right after her chemo treatment and asked her how chemo was going, her response was, “It’s not that bad.” Huh?! I want her treatments!

I am not saying that it’s all suffering all the time or that a one-hour sitcom could possibly depict all the difficulties of having cancer, but it would be nice to see a little more reality injected into the whole thing. It’s so much more than just being hooked up to an IV for a couple of hours. My descriptions of the experience on this blog are at about 43,000 words so far, so I think it’s safe to say there is a little more to it than that.

The good thing about it is that I know this is a popular show and that there are millions of people seeing a woman walking around in a scarf every week on TV whose friends are upset about her diagnosis of breast cancer. That’s something, anyway, and maybe in some way Felicity Huffman’s character will make it more mainstream to see a cancer patient on the street. But maybe the producers need to remove the scarf altogether and let her be bald.* And maybe they need to write in a flashback showing her reaction when all her hair falls out or an episode where she experiences a drop in her white blood cells and an infection and a subsequent trip to the hospital for antibiotics. The reality of cancer is so much more than sitting in a vinyl chair hooked up to an IV. In fact, that might be the easiest part.

Yes, I know, it’s Desperate Housewives. Maybe I need to stop looking for reality in black comedies and instead give in to watching the Bears beat the Green Bay Packers. Now that’s reality TV.

*I’ve been told that she did remove her scarf in the season opener to show her bald head. I still think the producers should let her be bald for more than just one scene.

October 12, 2007

Feeling Like A Winner

When I received the e-mail on Monday morning telling me that I was a finalist for this blogging scholarship, I decided that I would post the information on my blog and that I would send out an e-mail to my family and to a few friends in order to try to drum up some votes. I envisioned that maybe I would be able to get a few hundred votes, but had no idea how many I would need to win or if I even had a chance to win. I was so happy with the supportive responses I received from those family and friends and I was grateful when they told me they were going to tell their friends. I never expected the incredible response my little vote request has received in the past few days, though. As this has gathered momentum it has grown and grown and it just takes my breath away.

You can read the comments I have received on the blog, but what you can’t see is the hundreds of e-mails that have also flooded my in-box. I have heard from people whose mothers or sisters or friends have had breast cancer. I have heard from many breast cancer survivors and from some incredible student mothers. I have received e-mails from friends I haven’t seen in months or years and from so many more people all over the country and the world, both people I know and people I have never met.

Many people have posted a link to my blog or to the voting page on their own blogs, including complete strangers. I am continually astonished at the number of people who have gotten behind this, even if they don’t know me.

For the first few days I tried keep up with all the comments and e-mails by responding with at least a thank you, but I am now so far behind that I don’t know if I will ever catch up. I am still hoping to be able to respond to all of you, but it may be awhile before I get through all the e-mails.

I don’t know how to begin to thank all of you for this amazing outpouring of support. My family and I are so grateful to each one of you for your efforts to help me win this contest. Your response has been quite stunning and I don’t have the words to tell you how it makes me feel. With or without this scholarship, just knowing that there are so many people willing to rally around us at a time like this makes me feel like I have already won.

Thank you.

October 11, 2007

Addressing the Haterz

Thank you for coming to my defense against the negative commenters here and on the scholarship site message board with your own comments and supportive e-mails. You all are incredible.

Since this is my blog and I get to have the floor whenever I want to, I want to take just a moment to address my own reaction to these people. I have chosen to ignore them (other than this post), and you all should do the same. Your time is much, much too valuable to waste responding to their vitriol! I have the ability to delete their comments, but thought I’d leave them up for my own and your entertainment.

I knew when I hit the submit button for this contest that I was opening myself up to the possibility of such negativity. I knew when I applied for the scholarship that public voting was a part of it and that it meant that whatever anonymity I had left would probably be stripped away. (I had no idea that your response was going to be as amazing as it has been, however!) I have been reading the blogs of some of the other finalists, and many of them have experienced similar kinds of negativity. That is to be expected, though. After all, there’s a lot of money on the line, and the promise of cash seems to bring out the worst in people sometimes. It’s interesting that it’s not bringing out the worst in the other finalists, though, but instead in other people who are not even in the running for the money.

Please rest assured, however, that these comments don’t bother me at all. There’s too much that’s positive in my life right now for me to find them at all hurtful. I actually think they’re kind of funny and as Mieke said, those commenters get my pity vote as much as anything. To take the time to come to my blog, read some posts (if they even read any of them) and then to leave a comment about the ways in which they think I am undeserving of this scholarship tells me that they definitely have too much time on their hands. How bereft of love and happiness must their lives be that they feel they need to express their opinions about a complete stranger in that way? It’s really sad, truly, and I think they deserve our pity more than anything else.

That said, I’d like to respond briefly to their comments.

Dear robo man, I hope that no one has you tied to a chair in front of a computer screen displaying my blog, forcing you to wade through the “wasteland of uninteresting content” day after day. Short of that, one great thing about living in the United States is that you don’t ever have to subject yourself to my writing. You have a choice, and can avoid reading what you don’t like by not visiting my blog. Just close the screen and move on. Seriously, dude, it’s no skin off my back.

And Chone, sweetheart, I’d like to set the record straight by pointing out the fact that the Blogging Scholarship requirements listed on the CollegeScholarships.org website required applicants to be current students in a post-secondary education program. Whether or not you want it to, law school does indeed fit that description. If the decision-makers thought that my blog was not eligible for the scholarship, they probably would not have chosen me as one of the finalists. In addition, I am not the only graduate student finalist. And although I don’t owe you any explanation, I’d also like to let you know that I am planning to practice public interest law after I graduate. That's not exactly a lucrative area to work in as an attorney. I can predict my eventual income within a few thousand dollars and it will be a mere fraction of that of many of my law school classmates, although my student loan balance will be exactly the same as theirs. It sounds like you might be a little jealous of the supposed earning power of the legal profession, in which case I suggest that you enter it yourself and take advantage of what you see as easy money.

And my dear friends, thanks again for your support and for your wonderful defense of me and my blog. You guys are too cool.

October 10, 2007

I Am Not My Hair

I know, I know…another post about hair. Well, what can I say? I’m a bit obsessed with hair right now, seeing as I don’t have any.

My friend Rachel recently gave me India Arie’s most recent CD. (I love it, by the way, and highly recommend it!) I like the messages in her songs and the music is incredible. A little more than half-way through the disc is a song entitled I Am Not My Hair. The first time I heard it I thought about how appropriate the song was for me right now. And then she started singing about a woman who had breast cancer and lost her hair because of chemo, and I cried. The chorus of the song says it all, and it goes like this:

I am not my hair,
I am not this skin,
I am not your expectations, no.
I am not my hair,
I am not this skin,
I am a soul that lives within.

I think that losing my hair has given me a glimpse…albeit a minor, temporary glimpse…of what it must be like to lose a limb. I imagine, based on my own experience, that someone who has lost an arm or leg must think about arms or legs all the time, their own missing one as well as those of other people. I wonder if people who are missing a limb look at people who have all of theirs and think about their unashamed lack of appreciation for those limbs. You hear stories about people who have lost a body part feeling a phantom body part in its place and I have even experienced that. There are times when I find myself reaching up to sweep my bangs out of my eyes or to tuck my hair behind my ear, only to find that there is nothing there to sweep or tuck. It is a strange feeling to touch air where my subconscious expects to touch hair.

I have been super-conscious of the hair of other people since I lost my own. I look at the hair of both men and women with admiration and longing and jealousy. I am frequently struck by the fact that people don’t seem to appreciate their hair the way that I appreciate their hair.

WhyMommy wrote recently about having dinner out with her husband and watching women walk past the place where she was sitting, touching and worrying about their hair and their appearance. As I read her post, I felt like she was reading my mind. As I have watched women deal with their hair and clothes and makeup over the past several months, I always think about how beautiful they all are and about how they don’t even realize it. I am frequently awed by the millions of colors and textures and styles of hair in the world in a way that I have never been before.

I often reminisce about the days when I felt like my hair looked simply awful. It wouldn’t do what I wanted it to or the weather prevented me from styling it in a certain way or a hair cut was growing out and it looked hideous to me. If I could go back to one of those days and give myself some advice, I would point out that the worst hair day imaginable was better than having none at all. I think that I will never have a “bad hair day” again for the rest of my life.

These thoughts about the beauty of hair lead effortlessly to thoughts about the standards of beauty in our society. I have spent a lot of time over the past several years talking with all three of my kids...especially my daughter…about the ways in which beauty is depicted in the media. We have talked about air-brushed photographs and the wiles of advertisers. I have pointed out the ways in which the people in our lives don’t look like the characters on TV and in movies or like famous actors or models, and about how the people in our lives are quite beautiful nevertheless.

Despite these conversations and my convictions about the problems in advertising and the media, I have found that it has been necessary for me to redefine everything I thought about beauty over the past several months. To look in the mirror and see a stranger…someone who doesn’t conform to her society’s standards of beauty…and to accept and to love that stranger as me has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. To face that person everyday and to see what truly makes her beautiful has been very difficult and at times heart wrenching.

In this constant assessment of my own beauty, I have found myself assessing the beauty of complete strangers in a different way. I look at someone who doesn’t meet society’s standards of beauty and wonder why people don’t see him or her as beautiful. I saw a woman at the train station yesterday who was not especially skinny and who was wearing rather frumpy clothes. Her makeup was slightly garish and her hair was a dull, over-processed blond in an out-dated style. That entire description, however, is based upon what most Americans consider “beautiful” and “stylish.” Most of you would not have thought of her as either of those things.

But she is beautiful. She may be a wife and mother, and I’m sure her husband and kids think that she is beautiful. She is definitely a daughter, and I’m willing to bet that her parents think she is beautiful and amazing and that they love her more than anything. She may be a brilliant banker or lawyer or professor, and I’m sure her clients or students or co-workers appreciate all the beauty of her mind and her talents. Or maybe she works in a retail store somewhere downtown and her customers appreciate her kindness and attention while her co-workers appreciate her hard work and willingness to take on the difficult jobs at work. Although her blouse seemed rather plain and frumpy to me, she probably took great care in choosing it when she got dressed in the morning. Her hair may have been over-processed, but she apparently likes the color and style, and had obviously spent some time getting it that way before she left the house. She is a woman, just like me, and she laughs and loves and desires and plans and talks and cries, just like me. She is not her hair, she is not her skin, she is not your expectations. She is a soul that lives within.

So this cancer diagnosis has given me something else. I like to think that I have always been able to see beyond the surface of people and to see who they really are underneath their hair and makeup and clothes. Being unceremoniously stripped of a feature that I took for granted as a part of what made me beautiful, however, has turned my assessment of true beauty upside down. I will never again look at my own appearance in the same way, and I will never again forget to look beyond the appearance of others in order to truly see the soul that lives within.

October 08, 2007

On the Road to Recovery

This past weekend was another rough post-Taxol weekend. Everything happened exactly as it did the first time, and there is some comfort in that; it’s good to be able to predict how I’m going to feel on any given day. The discomfort began on Friday afternoon, and by Friday evening it had turned to pain. This time I took pain meds before I went to sleep which helped me make it through the night. The meds didn’t seem to lessen the pain, but they knocked me out and allowed me to sleep through it. By Saturday morning I was in a lot of pain.

The best way to describe it is to say that it is like that all-over achiness that you sometimes get when you have the flu. (I think. I actually never get that achiness so I’m just guessing it feels like that.) However, it’s more painful than mere achiness. Every single inch of my body hurt on Saturday. It hurt if I pressed a finger against my arm or my chest or my scalp or my leg. My bones hurt, my muscles hurt, and even my skin hurt.

By Sunday morning the pain began to lessen, and by last night it was mainly just in my hips and legs. This morning my legs and hips hurt, but the pain continues to lessen bit by bit. If things continue as they did last time, I expect to still have some discomfort through Wednesday but it will be a little bit less each day.

As for other side-effects…there aren’t too many. My ability to taste was off a little bit on Friday night and Saturday, but gradually returned throughout the day yesterday. I still can’t taste fully, but it is not nearly as bad as it was with the AC. I am also still very tired, but I have come to the conclusion that I’ll be dealing with that until I’m finished with all of this. I also experienced a bit of numbness in my hands and feet this time, which is a common side-effect of Taxol. It seems to be getting better today, but I will continue to monitor it.

But here’s the good news. My hair is coming back. A week or so ago I began to notice very fine, thin hairs growing in the completely bald patches on my head. At first, I chalked it up to my imagination. I thought that because I wanted it so badly I was probably just seeing hairs where there weren’t really hairs. As the week progressed, however, more of those little baby hairs have appeared and now I only have one completely bald patch left on my head. (And even that has a few hairs covering it.) I’m not sure if you would even be able to see the hairs unless I pointed them out to you, but they are definitely there. They are dark blond as far as I can tell…we’ll see what happens as they fill in.

There’s more good news, too, which I will share with you in a separate post.

October 04, 2007

Treatment #6

¾ of the way through. 75% completed. That’s how far along I am officially after today’s treatment. It isn’t the end, but it is finally starting to feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Today’s waiting room music was quite different. I think the station may have been some kind of a pop station…the song was 1234 by Feist. I can’t find anything particularly symbolic about that one, but it was a good change of pace.

I am tired tonight, but I am feeling good so far. The last time the pain didn’t start until Friday night, so I’m hoping I’ll make it through the day tomorrow before it I have to deal with it this weekend. The doctor told me today that if I rested more during the bad part, I would probably have any easier time next week. I will definitely try to take his advice.

I watched a 3-hour movie today during my treatment (Tess—the old one with Nastassia Kinski). The movie was a great way to pass the time, but when I’m plugged into my laptop like that I miss out on chatting with the other patients. In addition, the Benadryl made me really tired so I don’t think I would have been much of a conversationalist, anyway.

Even though I didn’t do a lot of talking, I was able to make some observations. I was struck, once again, by how really incredible oncology nurses are. I think that the woman sitting next to me was there for maybe her second appointment. She had just had a port put in and was going to have the stitches removed this afternoon. The problem was that the area was still really tender and that there were stitches right over the place where they needed to access the port. There were about four nurses standing around her chair consulting and trying to figure out whether they could use the port or whether they would need to access a vein through her hand. They determined that they couldn’t use the port because of the stitches, and the poor woman burst into tears. The nurses were so amazing. They surrounded her, murmuring supportive words, and they knew exactly what to say. One nurse held her while she cried and another held her hand and one wiped her tears. What was amazing to me was that this was not gratuitous or false sympathy in any way…they were absolutely sincere. You could see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. They knew instinctively precisely how to handle the situation. Every other patient in the room was touched by the scene, because we were all so grateful to the nurses for handling the situation perfectly.

Once the woman got herself under control enough to talk she apologized and said that she had been having a lot of trouble with each stage of her treatment so far and that she thought that it was all just getting to her. She also said that she was upset because she just found out that her neighbor had cancer. She stopped the sympathetic murmurs of the nurses though and told them that she didn’t even really like the woman because she was so mean, but that she was still upset about the diagnosis. (This made everyone in the room laugh.) And to top it all off, she then told them that she was also upset because her friend had been in a car accident this summer in which both of her legs and one of her arms were crushed. She lost her arm from the shoulder down, and had spent the summer going through rehab for that.

Another woman came in who did not have a port and the nurses were concerned about using the vein in her arm for chemo because it was bruised from another recent needle stick. They decided to use her hand instead, but had a hard time getting a vein in her hand. They were so patient and gentle with her, as they always are, and they took their time getting her hooked up, but they did it eventually.

I could never do their job. It takes a really special kind of person to be a nurse, and a really incredible kind of person to be an oncology nurse. They are the key part of any oncology practice and in many ways are more important than the doctors. I haven’t met one nurse at my oncology practice who is not friendly and kind and personable and knowledgeable. They always make my visits easier and I am so thankful for all of them.

October 03, 2007

Here We Go Again

Tomorrow brings treatment #6. I am not dreading it in the same way that I dreaded the AC, but I am definitely not looking forward to it. The fact that I have felt great for the past couple of days makes it even harder to contemplate the upcoming weekend. I have been warned that the Taxol effects are cumulative for some women, and that makes it even worse.

I have packed a movie to watch and I’m taking some books to read, but no homework this time. I’m hoping that the time goes quickly both tomorrow and for the next few days. And this time I have promised myself that I will take stronger pain medication if I need it rather than just suffering through like I’m some kind of pioneer woman.

October 01, 2007

Myths About Breast Cancer

Today is the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Chicago Tribune ran an interesting article this morning about a new survey commissioned by the National Breast Cancer Coalition which suggests that “awareness” is not where we should be focusing our efforts. I think that makes sense…everyone is certainly aware of breast cancer at this point. The pink ribbon marketing fever seems to be everywhere these days; the market is saturated with pink. The president of the NBCC says that education is the key, and that education should begin by dispelling some myths about breast cancer that people hold.

Here are a few of the myths listed in the article:

• Most breast cancer cases are caused by heredity.
o FALSE! Only 5-10% of breast cancers are caused by a gene. 90-95% of breast cancer cases are NOT hereditary, even if you have breast cancer in your family.

• Breast cancer can be prevented by eating enough fruits and vegetables.
o FALSE! There is no good evidence that this is true. (Personally, I think it can’t hurt to make healthy lifestyle choices as far as diet and exercise go, even if that hasn’t been proven to prevent cancer.)

• Breast cancer can be prevented.
o FALSE! There are a few things women can do to reduce the risk of developing the disease (such as not drinking alcohol or taking hormones), but the risk can’t be eliminated altogether.

• Self-exams and mammograms prevent death from breast cancer.
o FALSE! Self-exams and mammograms reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer, but they do not prevent death from breast cancer. Finding it early is not always enough to save our lives. In addition, mammography screening is less effective in younger women (under 40) than in older women.

Here are some other facts about breast cancer from the NBCC website:

• More women in the United States are living with breast cancer than any other cancer (excluding skin cancer).

• Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the U.S, after lung cancer.

• Factors that increase a woman's risk of breast cancer include older age, genetic factors, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, long menstrual history, nulliparity (having no children), older than 30 years of age at first full-term pregnancy, daily alcohol consumption, use of combined postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT), postmenopausal obesity, and ionizing radiation. Factors that decrease a woman's risk of breast cancer include breast-feeding and physical activity (exercise).

• Although scientists have discovered some risk factors for breast cancer, the known risk factors account for only a small percentage (~30%) of breast cancer cases. There are few interventions with limited value that reduce risk, and none of them prevent breast cancer.

The NBCC’s website is a great site to visit to learn more about breast cancer. You can read more facts about breast cancer here, and here is their home page.

Click here to read a great post about breast cancer by my friend Ree.

Click here to read WhyMommy's post about IBC.