" /> The Merits of the Case: January 2008 Archives

« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

January 28, 2008

60 Miles in 3 Days

One of my college roommates, Courtney, sent me several e-mails last year over the course of my chemo treatments. In one of them she planted a seed that has since taken root and begun to grow. She asked if I was interested in walking in the Breast Cancer 3-Day this year. I said yes, and we have decided to move forward with that plan.

This past Saturday I attended a Get Started meeting and registered for the Chicago walk which takes place August 8-10, 2008. The walk covers 60 miles in 3 days and the money raised goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the National Philanthropic Trust. I also signed up to be a team captain and so far Courtney, my sister Molly, and my friends Cheryl and Alison have agreed to be my teammates.

In the next few weeks I’ll be posting more information about the walk here, and I’ll be contacting many of you soon begging asking you to sponsor me in the walk. (Consider this fair warning!) I’d also like any of you who are interested to let me know if you would like to walk with us.

But today I need your help coming up with a name for the team! If you have a moment, take a look at the choices listed below and let me know what you think.

January 26, 2008

86 Days

I snapped a couple of new hair regrowth progress pictures this morning and then decided that today was a good day to share the post-chemo images that you have been asking about. I previously took pictures 1 day post-chemo and then again 51 days post-chemo. Today is 86 days post-chemo. I haven’t looked at the 1 and 51 day pictures since I took them.

I added the 86 day pictures today and then looked at them all in order, side by side. These photos were supposed to chronicle the regrowth of my hair, but my reaction to them caught me totally off-guard.

I have spent the past month and a half feeling so great and so healthy, and every day I feel like I am recovering both physically and mentally from everything that I went through last year. Looking at these pictures, however, brought it all back. When I look at the photo of me with no makeup on that first day post-chemo it makes me cry. The picture makes me feel frightened to my very core about the idea of ever going back there again.

Every day, no matter how good I feel, there is always a tiny place in my heart that can’t forget about the cancer. That little place is constantly wondering if there are any cancer cells left in my body and if there are, how and where and when they might manifest themselves. That tiny place worries that maybe there is more cancer somewhere else. I am certain that these feelings are common to all cancer survivors—they are just part of the cancer package. And most of the time they don’t bother me. I plan to live my life fully and without undue worry as much as I possibly can. Looking at these pictures, however, pulls that tiny worry right to the very front of my mind. When I see these images of myself looking like this I feel everything that I went through—all the sadness and fear and grief and pain and weakness. While I am glad that I have documented the journey through photographs, I have a feeling that I won’t look back at them very often. Maybe it will get easier with time, but for now it isn’t something that I want to revisit.

At the same time, when I look at the picture of myself that I took this morning I can see how far I’ve come and how far I am from all that I experienced last year. That picture gives me great hope, because if I look like that 86 days after my last treatment then it can only get better from here.

Day 1 Post Chemo-Nov 2, 2007 (No Makeup).JPG
Day 1 Post Chemo (November 2, 2007--No Makeup)

Day 1 Post Chemo-Nov 2, 2007 (With Makeup).JPG
Day 1 Post Chemo (November 2, 2007--With Makeup)

Day 51 Post Chemo-Dec 22, 2007 (With Makeup).JPG
Day 51 Post Chemo (December 22, 2007); This is the first day I was able to put mascara on my microscopic short little eyelashes!

Day 86 Post Chemo-Jan 26, 2008.JPG
Day 86 Post Chemo (January 26, 2008); The eventual color of my hair is anyone's guess. There are a lot of dark strands, but there are also a lot of blonde strands. (And they are all just as straight as they can be. So much for curly hair.) It looks like it is going to be very close to my regular untreated oh-so-lovely shade of dishwater blonde. If that's the case, as soon as I hit the 6-month safety mark I'll be at Suzy's house getting highlights!

Day 86 Post Chemo-Jan 26, 2008b.JPG
Day 86 Post Chemo (January 26, 2008)

January 24, 2008

Changing Focus

As you may have noticed, the frequency of my posting has dropped off in the past couple of months. Part of that is due to the craziness of the holidays followed by a week of intensive school, but part of it is because I am at a point in my cancer journey where changes don’t happen every day. New news happens less often, thank goodness, and I no longer feel as if I need to journal every ache and pain. Mainly because I don’t have any aches and pains. I know that there are a lot of people still reading, however, and I want to keep writing. This means that I have to figure out what direction to take this blog and to come up with something new to write about. I will continue to update my progress, of course, but I hope there won’t be much more to write about other than the clean bills of health I will receive at each future doctor’s appointment and a documentation of the return of my locks.

One of the focuses of my life in the last nine months has been health. As you can imagine (or as you know if you’ve been down this road), a cancer diagnosis forces you to look at your health in a more critical way than you ever have before. One of the first questions I asked after my diagnosis was “why me?” The focus of the question was not “why is this happening to me?” but “why did I get cancer?” As a young, healthy woman, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that made these cells proliferate in my body. Was it something I did? Was it something I didn’t do? Something I ate? Something I was exposed to? And the biggest question of all was—and still is—“what do I need to do to keep it from coming back?”

As part of the large amount of reading and research I have done about cancer, I couldn’t help but read about the many ways that food and exercise and environment affect the rate of cancer in any given population. There is a lot of information out there and much of it is confusing. Is red wine good for us or bad for us? Does exercise help prevent cancer or does it not make any difference in cancer rates? Do food additives cause cancer or is it just a completely random run of bad luck?

The American Cancer Society has said that women have a 1 in 3 chance and men have a 1 in 2 chance of developing some kind of cancer in their lifetimes. With statistics like that staring us in the face, my question is what can we do to lower our risk of developing cancer?

My plan is to share some of what I have learned. I will break it down a little at a time and share what I have found and what I am doing to prevent a recurrence. I don’t know if any of it makes a difference, but I feel as if I need to do whatever I can to prevent a recurrence of breast cancer or to prevent some other kind of cancer from developing. Improving my diet and my overall health makes me feel like I am being proactive and taking control whether or not that is true. And it certainly can't hurt.

January 17, 2008

More About Hair

My trial practice intensive last week was, as the name implies, intense. The days flew by, but a lot of the time it felt like I was out of town. I didn’t spend much time at home and the time I was there was spent studying and getting ready for the next day. But it was a good way for me to take a class…one week of intense work and family disruption means I don’t have to take it spread out over an entire semester. And it was a great class.

The worst moment came on Monday night. I had been at school all day on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and Monday was the first day back to school for the kids. On Monday night I went in to say goodnight to Matthew and he informed me that I had forgotten to pack his lunch that morning. I told him that I thought he was buying lunch on Monday, but he reminded me that actually he had planned to take his lunch that day. I asked him what he ate, and he told me that he just had some apple juice because he wasn’t able to get anything else. I felt awful and figured that probably clinched my loss of the Mother of the Year award. And it was only January 7th! Needless to say I made sure I had the whole lunch thing figured out for the rest of the week.

Regular classes started this week and while my schedule this semester is very manageable, the days I have classes are going to be pretty hectic. But no matter how hectic it gets, this semester is going to be very different from last semester. I have thought many times over the past couple of weeks about how appreciative I am to only have to handle classes and my regular daily life for the next few months without having to fit in chemotherapy and sick days.

During my trial practice class we had to wear suits to school every day. By the end of the week I was getting sick of trying to coordinate scarves with suits and of trying to look professional with the additional accessory on my head. I have been tired of wearing something on my head for a long time now, but I have needed to continue to cover my head for the sake of warmth. I wore a scarf to class on Tuesday, as usual, but when I got home that evening I took it off and decided that I am done with scarves. I have enough hair that I no longer look bald (although I don’t really have enough to keep my head warm yet) and I think it is high time to be finished with head coverings. So today, for the first time since I lost my hair, I spent the entire day at school with nothing on my head. Except hair, of course.

I will post pictures soon so you can see for yourself, but my hair is super, super short. To me, it looks more like post-cancer treatment hair than a fashion choice. But despite my interpretation of it, two separate people came up to me at school today and told me that it looked “cute.” I don’t think either of them realized how very, very happy I was to hear them say that or how good and normal and healthy it made me feel. It has been a long time since anyone said that my hair was cute! Another friend told me that she thought it looked like I was hip and cool and had made a conscious decision to wear my hair this way. I feel far from hip and cool these days, but I appreciate the sentiment and hope that I can pull it off while it’s growing out.

Last Friday, Randy and I went to dinner with friends at a restaurant that we all frequent. Our “regular” waitress waited on us and greeted us all warmly when she came to our table. After the initial hellos, she looked at me and said, enthusiastically, “Oh, look at your hair! It looks good! I should do that with mine!” I didn’t explain why my hair was this short, but instead told her that having it this short made it really easy to “do” in the morning. We all laughed about it after she left the table because it is quite funny that people think this is a deliberate hair style.

Now that I’ve completed yet another post about it, I have to say that I can’t believe how much I have written about hair in the past nine months. If you would have told me a year ago that I was going to be this obsessed with hair this year, I would never have believed you. Shoes…maybe. But hair?!

January 04, 2008

To Be Continued....

Just a warning that things will probably be quiet here for the next week or so. Spring semester starts tomorrow with a week-long trial practice intensive. I'll be in class every day from tomorrow through next Saturday from 9:00-5:00. Add my daily 5 hours of commuting to that and you get little time for posting....or anything else! The laundry is done, the family schedule is semi-organized, and the pantry is stocked with quick and easy meals for the family. Let's hope we all make it through the week.

January 03, 2008

Book Review: The Middle Place

A couple of weeks ago I received a review copy of another book, The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. (The first link will take you to the book on Amazon.com, the second link to Corrigan’s website and a gorgeous picture of her and one of her daughters.) The book will be published in just a couple of days on January 8, 2008, and this is one that you might want to pre-order. I will be recommending it enthusiastically to all breast cancer patients who are mothers, to the people who love them, and to all women my age who have a parent dealing with cancer or another illness.

I haven’t mentioned it here before, but my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the beginning of last year. He’s doing well now, but the diagnosis gave us all a scare. My cancer diagnosis came just a few short months later and I remember thinking a lot about my roles as a daughter and a mother dealing with cancer…both my own and that of a parent. When the publicist sent me an e-mail describing this book, it sent a little wave of recognition right through me and I couldn’t wait to read it. Kelly Corrigan is the mother of young children and was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 30s. Shortly after that, her father was diagnosed with cancer. Her book is about her experience in straddling what she calls “the middle place—that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap.”

That introduction does not do the book justice, however. Corrigan is a very talented writer who finds the words to describe in detail what it is like to be a mother with cancer and to be a daughter whose beloved parent has cancer. She describes her own heartbreaking and yet hopeful experience, but she is also describing the emotions of all of us who have lived through one or both of these experiences, and she does it in a way that is humorous and poignant and lyrical and compelling.

I loved reading this book from the very first page. I found myself wanting to call Corrigan and invite her on a coffee date because she knows exactly what I have experienced in the last few months. As I read, I marked pages and underlined passages to come back to because there are moments when it is as if she is in my head, pulling the words right out. At times I felt as if I was in the middle of a Southern Baptist congregation, saying, “Yes! Sing it, sister!” as she struck some particularly perfect chord.

An example of her ability to capture the details of any given moment comes when she describes her inadvertent discovery of a lump in her breast, in many ways very much like my own inadvertent discovery. She was doing something else, just going along in the middle of her normal routine, when her hand brushed against her breast. It is a split second…such a tiny little moment in time and you can hardly wrap your mind around what your hand seems to telling it. Corrigan says, “I touch it once, pressing it lightly with the open palm of my hand, and then, after a flash of shock passes through me, I force my full attention to bathing the girls.” That sentence alone captures so much of what it is to go through this as a mother with children at home. You can’t stop and investigate, and you certainly can’t show your utter fear and terror. You can’t deal with it at that precise moment because you have to finish bath time and get everyone dressed and ready for bed and make sure teeth are brushed and stories are read and then there are children to be tucked in. Your kids need you…you are their mother. You are supposed to be strong and to know what to do and to be able to protect them from the bad things in the world. There is no room and no time for lumps.

Kelly Corrigan has quite a story to tell and she does it so well that I think this book would be a comfort to other mothers going through the same thing. She evokes a mother’s all-encompassing love of her children and how painful and poignant that love can feel when you find out you have cancer. At the same time, she describes how difficult it is to come to terms with a parent’s illness and how you can be a grown-up mom and a little girl all in the very same moment, switching roles almost from one breath to the next.

I give this book two thumbs up and five stars. It would make a wonderful New Year’s gift for a mother who has been diagnosed with cancer, whether that is yourself or someone you know. I wouldn’t limit my recommendation to cancer patients/survivors, though; it is so well-written and deals with so many universal emotions that I think any mother would enjoy it. I hope that we will hear more from Corrigan very soon.

January 02, 2008

Hair Today, More Hair Tomorrow

I am reveling in my return to normalcy these days, and thankfully I have lots of things to revel in lately. I enjoyed every taste of wine and champagne and beer and cookies and lasagna and ham and candy and potatoes and garlic and all the other lovely holiday treats that crossed my palate throughout the past couple of weeks. I thought a lot about those days during chemo when I couldn’t taste a thing and I was thankful at every meal that I wasn’t going through treatment during the holidays. I am savoring everything that I love about good food more than ever before and hoping that all this gastronomical love doesn’t appear on my hips and thighs, as well.

Remember the tube of mascara I bought just before Christmas? It’s been opened and used. I have eyelashes that are long enough to put mascara on and they grow a little bit longer every day. I have eyebrows again, albeit thin ones, but the combination of brows and lashes means that I have been using less dramatic eye makeup lately and that feels great and so normal.

The hair on my head is still growing, of course. Not fast enough for me, but fast enough that my family has been amazed every time they have seen it over the past couple of weeks. I no longer need to keep my head covered in the house for warmth, though I still have to wear double layers on my head when I go outside. I might actually have to comb it soon, and I can’t wait.

The hair on my head is not the only hair that is growing, either. All the other hair is coming back. I even shaved my legs the other day. These seem like such small things, I know, but they make me feel like a girl and I’ve missed feeling that way.

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

My plan is to spend some time cozying up with my computer today in order to get caught up with some posts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of weeks. These holiday weeks have been a whirlwind of family and friends, visits and parties and lots and lots of cooking and eating, and have forced me to leave any writing by the wayside. Now I have four days of vacation left before school starts so hopefully I will have some time to get my thoughts on paper…or in this case, the screen...before it all starts over again.

I actually had time to write one sentence on December 27th…"I met with the radiation oncologist last week." He assessed my progress physically and we talked about how things were going. His diagnosis is that I am doing well and I am on track to see him again in six months. It felt strange to say goodbye and to know that I wouldn’t be back for such a long time. His office has been one of my favorites. Obviously I’m happy that I don’t have any medical reason to go back, but I will miss the doctor and nurses there nonetheless.

A week later I was scheduled for my post-treatment diagnostic mammogram. I scheduled it for mid-day on December 26th and in hindsight that was the right way to do it. I was so busy in the days leading up to the appointment that I hardly had time to think about it, which was good because I was much more nervous about it than I wanted to admit. I was afraid that it would hurt since my tumor site is still rather tender, but I was also terrified that they would see something else, that maybe there would still be cancer there. The last time I was in that office was right after I found the lump back in April and the news wasn’t good.

The nurse was kind and chatty and told me all about her ovarian cancer scare as she bustled around taking pictures. Her attitude put me into cocktail party conversation mode, so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to think about the last time I was in the same room. And it didn’t hurt any more than a regular mammogram. The worst part was that she had to keep taking some of the images over and over and over again because of the amount and depth of scar tissue in my breast. Apparently it is difficult for them to see what they need to see because of it, and this is something that I will always have to deal with.

Once it was over I left the hospital and put it all out of my mind. I knew there was nothing else to do but wait for the results and I didn’t want to spend my time worrying about what they might be. I didn’t have long to wait, however, because Patty from the oncologist’s office called me a day or two later to let me know that the results were good. There is no cancer indicated on the films. According to all the available technology of the day, I am truly cancer free. And I think that’s a great way to end the first post of a brand new year that I am hoping will bring nothing but clean scans, good health and blue skies.