“Hope is like a bird that senses the dawn and carefully starts to sing
while it is still dark.” ~ Anonymous
I awoke this morning to an e-mail from a college student named “Sam”. She was writing to remind me that one year ago her mother, Charlotte, found me on the internet. Charlotte and I designed a pair of necklaces together which would serve as mementos for her and her daughter as Sam went off to her first year of college. Sam is the eldest of three children and her mother and she had a very special bond. Her mom reached out to me at a time when she was struggling with letting her first bird leave the nest. I guess I was a “seasoned” college mom.
Well, unknown to me, Charlotte began reading this blog last fall. I began these writings months after our internet transaction. She found strength and inspiration here which would become a source of power in her own fight a few short months later. She developed stomach cancer earlier this year and endured months of chemo and radiation before finally losing her battle in June, just 2 months ago. She left behind a husband, Sam and two younger children.
I am humbled and saddened this morning. I grieve for a young woman whose life is now forever altered by the loss of her mother, and a family broken and hurting. I am all too aware that this could could easily be my family, and yet it is not. Cancer is an indiscriminate and evil thief, who without warning will strike its next victim. I think that some days I am oblivious to the statistics and the stories, never believing it could happen to me. I don’t think that anyone with cancer ever truly believes it could be them or their loved one.
Sam wanted me to know that this blog had helped her mom during her darkest days. It helped her fight. Today I hope that Sam can see that in spite of this pain, God has a tremendous love for her that will be ever present in her as she remembers her mom. I pray that as another school year begins, that Sam will see hope in her future, and that she too will sing in the dark.
Women know. It’s the single most identifying feature of us all….our hair. Straight, curly, permed, highlighted, low lighted, we have done it all. Women pay big bucks to have the looks they desire for their hair, and they do it often and without remorse. They feel entitled. It comes with the territory of femininity and fashion. It’s just what we DO. We also cry about our hair, call our girlfriends about our hair and here’s a new one, BLOG about our hair! Ha ha!
I have never done THIS before, and it feels very, very foreign. Sprouting a new head of hair isn’t like growing a garden. No Miracle Grow for hair exists. It comes in at its own sweet pace, and it comes in with no idea of where to lay down. No part, no cowlick…just WILD, funky and uncontrollable hair. Mine came in very gray a few weeks ago but I finally couldn’t take it anymore and decided to color what little I have to its original medium brown. Even still, looking at myself in the mirror is not something I have gotten use to. I still long deeply to have my old hair return, to be able to twirl it between my fingers and to brush its long strands, to twist it up into a claw clip or to rope it off into a pony tail. Instead, I have wavy, spiky sprouts, each with a mind of its own. The day can’t come soon enough when I will have something that can actually be trimmed and styled. Until then, ball caps and bandanas cover up my crazy locks when I go out in public, and I do a double take when I pass by a mirror in the hall. Who is that person? I still can’t believe it’s me. I watched a hilarious video about a woman’s history of hair, and I thought you’d enjoy it too. So here’s to our hair, ladies! Enjoy what you’ve got! “Every day with hair is a good hair day!”
A fellow breast cancer survivor wrote to me today and said something that struck me…she said, “Use this time as a gift”. I am trying to find God’s gifts to me in breast cancer instead of the many curses a disease can bring. I am sure years from now I will look back and wish for these moments of reflection, days of thinking about what matters most in life, and counting the many blessings in my life.
(This video is courtesy of Brian Walsh who write’s My Wife With Cancer‘s blog at blogspot.com. His wife Karen is battling breast cancer too. Karen is about 6 months behind me in her treatment. )
I just love the Disney movie Finding Nemo, don’t you? And my favorite quote from the movie is “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming…” as Dori tries to encourage Nemo to not give up. Can’t you hear her singing it now?
This week will mark my 25th infusion of Herceptin. I will have 6 more after this on Wednesday, ending on December 9th. We often say where did the year go, right? Well, this is one year that seems to be dragging on forever. I have to keep telling myself to “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that the end WILL come to all the drugs pumping through my body. One of the listed side effects of Herceptin is fatigue but I have never read of anyone experiencing the fatigue I feel now, and in fact they all seem to say that they notice virtually no side effects from it. I guess I am one of the few who do. I have the constant drippy nose and feel like I must lay down for a nap often during the day. I survive on caffeine! The doctor says it could also be a result of the Tamoxifen I am taking, an oral daily drug that blocks estrogen from feeding any lurking cancer cells. I am suppose to stay on this drug for at least another 9 months but something tells me I would opt for quality of life over this. That has led me to researching and reading all kinds of information about treatments for breast cancer and has me questioning the common sense of some of the standards of care given to women in my situation. The fact is that doctors don’t know what else to do.
It is really quite staggering that even with all the increase in breast cancer diagnosis in the last 50 years, why they have yet to figure out a definative cause or cure. Surgery, radiation, chemo and hormone therapy are still the only arsinal we have. Thirty years ago 1 in 30 women got breast cancer. Now that figure is 1 in 8 women. Scary, isn’t it? So what has changed and why hasn’t treatment changed? On a positive note, researchers HAVE discovered what FEEDS 80% of breast cancers and that is estrogen and progesterine. So where are all of these hormones coming from? Why are our little girls developing into young women at age 9 now, instead of 12 like it was years ago? Why are we allowing our dairy farmers to inject our poultry, beef and milk with these hormones and why aren’t doctors warning women of the dangers of taking birth control pills (that was me for 13 years but NO doctor EVER warned me) and hormone replacement therapies? It all boils down to economic and political reasons. It is no coincidence that in cultures where women consume mostly a vegetarian and seafood diet the risk of developing breast cancer is substantially lower. But in America we thrive on convenience and financial gain all at the expense of women’s health and lives. It’s time that something changes for women in America. It won’t start with our government or our drug companies. They have too much to lose. It starts with women. Women who have had breast cancer and know more than they ever wanted to know and educating other women so that they don’t have to walk in our shoes. We have already lost so much – and we have nothing else to lose! And so I just keep swimming and getting the word out there along my way. I hope that others will spread the word too.
This week I went to see my oncologist about the extreme fatigue and weight loss I have been experiencing for the last 4 months. My weight has been dropping about a pound per week and I am not even trying! My appetite is just w-a-y down from what it use to be. I didn’t have a net gain OR loss during chemo, but now it seems my body is just wiped out from everything. I wanted to make sure no stone was going unturned in my cancer battle.
The doctor ran tests for thyroid (though normally a sluggish thyroid means weight GAIN), and he tested for anemia, which I am slightly , but not enough to treat it clinically with infusions. He is waiting on some other tests to come back next week for various other things that could be contributing. He said that it can take over a year for chemo patiets to recover from therapy and that even the Herceptin infusions I am still getting for another 5 months could be a factor. He also said it could be related to the hormone blocking drug I am on, which throws a woman into menopause but generally these women expereince weight gain as well. SO in short, he doesn’t know why I feel this way but there was no “smoking gun”, as he put it. We will monitor things for now.
I joined the local gym and started exercising in hopes of building back some muscle tone and working my heart to build it’s strength up too. The first day I was nervous about going, since I am and never have been a gym rat! I didn’t know the first thing about the machines or equipment, but my friend Brenda was there and it was her first day too! Together we did the eliptical machines and chatted for about 30 minutes. It sure was nice to know somebody there. My second visit I ran into two other friends who go there regularly and agreed to help me try a class or learn the weights. Thanks Maggie and Jaime! So my new activity is going to the gym at least three times a week, and maybe even getting the body I’ve always wanted! There are certain things about my post cancer body that I can’t change now, but this is something I CAN do and achieve. At the very least it should help give me more stamina during my days and help me feel more energized.
Tim and I enjoyed 3 days away at the beach in North Carolina last weekend. A much needed get away for just the two of us! But even while completely relaxed, I felt very tired. Summer is winding to a close now and the kids will go back to school in
the next few weeks. It was one year ago that I got that fateful letter saying to return for further views on my mammogram. What a year! Thank you for your continued prayers!
This video was created by Jane and A.J. Ali on their cross country road trip celebrating the survival of cancer! Listen to this song’s inspirational words and message by clicking the arrow in the box below. Jane and A.J. are educating and inspiring women and men all across America with their message, bringing awareness to all who they come in contact with. You can find me celebrating my own survivorship at their web page http://survivorcelebration.com and search “motherspreciousgems” in the search box in the upper right hand corner.