Friday, January 28, 2011

Army of Women Calls for Help

There's been so much talk lately in blogs and on Twitter about support for breast cancer patients, no matter where one might be on their journey.  The consensus is that our online community wins hands down.

I love that we have it.  I hate that we need it.

Please help the Army of Women in their work to discover the causes of breast cancer. Let's help insure women in our future never need a breast cancer support group.

A current study, "Project Care" needs your help.

Who Can Participate? You are eligible for the Project CARE Study if you match ALL of the following:
• You are a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer (any stage, including DCIS and metastatic disease)
• This was your first diagnosis of breast cancer
• You completed your chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery within the last 6 months
• You do NOT have a history of other cancers (basal cell skin cancer is OK)
• You self-identify as Black/African American
• You are over the age of 21
• You are able to speak, read, and write English fluently
• You live in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area



If you match, please use the link below to RSVP.  If you aren't a match, please pass the info to a friend who might match or know someone that does.  Either way, you're helping the Army of Women in their quest to end breast cancer and put an end to support groups everyone.  

Project Care


Thank you!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Get It Where You Can

About a year ago I was in my breast surgeon's waiting room... waiting, for a follow up appointment a few months after the mastectomy and noticed a woman holding tight to her mammogram films and a thick folder, as I had once done.  Everything about her screamed first timer.

It was scary how desperately I wanted to talk to her, to ask what was happening, where she was on this path or how much she knew.  I wanted to tell her I had been exactly where she was and that she'd get through it.  I was practically bursting to say those things, but I didn't say anything.  I just let her sit there quietly, holding tightly to the proof cancer exists within her.

Would it have helped her if I, some stranger, invaded her privacy at that very private moment?  Interrupting whatever scenario was playing in her head?  I didn't really think so.  She wasn't asking for an ear to listen and I doubt I would have made her feel better, but I sensed it would have made me feel better.

Suddenly this was about me...again. That's when I realized I needed more than I was getting.  I had to find others I could talk to.

This is a recurrent theme in my blog simply because it's so true.  I needed to share breast cancer with someone that would understand it.  Which is the whole point of this very blog, but at the time, I didn't have it.  I just made my way through each day the best I could and since I was on the verge of harassing an unsuspecting stranger, it occurred to me, that maybe my best wasn't so good.

I was coming from a bad place.  The several people I knew with breast cancer had died.  My own prognosis was good, but as the blogger, ChemoBabe (www.chemobabe.com), so eloquently wrote, the sword was hanging over my head.  I had a fatalistic attitude about the whole thing.  Yeah, maybe things were fine today, but there's always tomorrow.  My history had taught me that and it was a hard lesson to shake.

REACHING OUT

I called an organization founded by and comprised of breast cancer survivors, several times and they never failed to get me through my lowest moments. These women always made me laugh, an unexpected bonus, and they always made me feel less alone.  They suggested I try their monthly young women's group.  Maybe hearing other women describe their cancer intrusions would be beneficial somehow.

I went soon after, unsure of what I was looking for.  Afraid I hadn't the right to attend a support group without having endured the rigors of chemo.  Who was I to complain when others had it so much worse?

If I could have tiptoed in on little cat's feet, I would have.  Honestly, I don't know why I even went through with it.  Some force propelled me into that room where I sat and listened to  women sharing stories, talking openly about their problems, no matter how personal. The concern and support given each other was palpable, whether they knew the woman speaking or not.  We all had something in common.  I felt  welcomed by each and every one.  I belonged simply because I had been diagnosed as they had been.

The fact is, our diagnoses varied greatly.  The names, the stages, the tumor sizes, the treatments, how we found it... all different.  No two women there even came close to being similar.  As physically diverse a group of women might be, is how different breast cancer was in that room that night.

What made us the same and unlike other people on the planet was hearing those words.  Being told we have cancer.  The words that change everything.

I know group support is not for everyone, but I liked having a place to go where I could just be one of the girls in the room.  I didn't have to say much.  It was understood, but after going a few times, I wanted to explain my situation, my history and why I still live each day glancing up to the sword.

It's a year later and I still go whenever I can, but not so much for myself.  I have this blog now and my awesome blogging Twitter friends for support and sharing everyday stuff, but going to group lets me check in with the women I've come to know, and more importantly, be there when a first timer shows up.  I might be able to help.

Support, get it where you can.


Below is a link to the wonderful non-profit group I just wrote about. They did not ask me to write about their organization.  I did it because every woman should have a warm, supportive place to turn to when overwhelmed by her disease.  All services are free of charge and open to all breast and ovarian cancer patients across the country, no matter where they are on their journey.  


www.supportconnection.org


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Big Thank You

Thank you to everyone who took the time to look at the photos I posted here of my mother and a really big thank you for the beautiful comments, both here and those sent to me personally.  It all means very much, not only to myself, but to those without a blog that loved my mother, and they know who they are.

My mother was very private, but also very social and she would have enjoyed the community of supporters I've been lucky enough to join.  She was a great friend who wouldn't hesitate to share her story with others if it helped ease their worries.  It saddens me to think she missed an opportunity simply because the era's protocol kept breast cancer in the shadows. She ended up carrying much of her burden alone.  To be fair, my father was her staunch ally, but as we who choose to be in the breast cancer blog world know, it's not the same.  It's not enough.

It's been nearly eleven years since she died, but every now and then, it feels like yesterday and I find myself suddenly falling into the void she left behind. Knowing the comments left here exist, will no doubt help pull me up.

I'm happy you were able to see her as we remember.  She'd like that.





Monday, January 17, 2011

Remembering

For my mother on her 77th birthday.

Born:  January 18, 1934          Died:  March 11, 2000

These photos help erase memories that still linger, erase visions of a life's end.

They bring forward vibrant images of a woman before breast cancer took her. 

We remember what we've lost.

We celebrate a life well lived.

We remember the woman, as she would want to be remembered, not as a scarred fighter losing her final battle.

But, as the daughter of a burly, pickle man and his tough cookie,



a sister, 



an eager student, 



a trusting friend,  






a young mother of three, 









a wife of 40 years,













a grandmother of six.









We miss you, Mom, and as surely, as the cardinal brightens the gray sky, we remember.




Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nature vs Nurture

My son wants to be a guitar player in a "bando."  He wants to be an Olympic swimmer, or skier.  Either one, or both.  He's ready for the pro bowling tour and the New York Yankees will be calling any day now, but mostly he loves his guitar.

I'm in love with his enthusiasm for all possibilities, along with his belief that if he says it, then it has to come true.  He hasn't experienced enough of life to know that's rarely the case.  He still holds faith the world is waiting for him, and isn't it?  My hopes are high and I can't stop wondering who he'll grow to be.

A very different path was paved for him the day he was adopted out of a Russian orphanage.  If life is pre-ordained, was it meant to be he'd come and live with us?  I like to think so, or have we disrupted some sort of cosmic order?  Will he still be the man he was destined to be?

We were told at the orphanage, even at 9 months old, he loved music.  He would pull himself up on a chair and move his little body in time to a piano. I remember thinking how sweet that was.

Over time it became obvious, he didn't just love music, he thrived on it.  He would "blabble" all the time.  He'd bang his hand or toy against his mouth and make blabble sounds over and over.  He was making his own music.


As he got older he'd watch with fascination, musicians of all genres on TV and mimic their movements, whether it was playing an imaginary instrument or instinctively moving his body in ways good dancers are taught.  He couldn't get enough.

When he was barely three, he marched determinedly up to my husband and declared he had a guitar in his brain.  Maybe he does.

Where does he get this?  I can't say this love of music was nurtured by me. We don't have a piano here, thousands of miles from his birthplace, and I'm not particularly musical.  I can sing a lullabye or two and play some good music in the car, but aside from a brief encounter with a mediocre, toddler music class, that's been about the extent of it.

Air guitar in ski helmet with Snowy
It must be in his nature.  He carried this passion with him across the sea to my house and even though, I haven't been very musically nurturing, he never let go of it and it never lost its hold on him.

What if from here on out, I don't nurture this love? Will his passion survive?  On the other hand, what if I encourage it?  Where will it take him?  Will music play a strong role in his life forever since it's so clearly engrained in him?

If nature and nurture exist so strongly for some things, what about us, the breast cancer thrivers?  Are we destined to live out our lives only one way due to the nature of our genes?

Are we messing with destiny when we base decisions on BRCA testing, prophylatic and necessary surgeries, radiation, chemo?  Are we altering what nature dealt us or are we simply nurturing a bruised body to the best of our ability?

We can wonder if the mutations found in our cells are part of our natural biology or were they nurtured by the carcinogens in our environment.  We can question whether we truly have control over our choices or is our destiny already etched into our DNA, regardless.  As my boy's love of music seems to be.

These questions are way too big for me and though, lately I've been giving all of it a lot of thought, I'd really rather not.  I try to control some things.  I can choose to exercise because it's good for me.  I can give up drinking a Friday night beer with my husband because I heard the yeast used to brew it is dangerous for estrogen-positive cancers.  The same for soy.  Now, I'm hearing almonds, peanuts, and chick peas after believing for years, those were healthy options.

Confusion is reigning over my choices, which ultimately leads me to accept, I can only do the best I can.  There are still so many things I can't control.  The natural aspect of our genes are what they are.  The mutations will win or they'll lose, but where we win is in the way we nurture our emotions.  We can think positively and set our sights on a future we've chosen to believe is possible. Just like my little guy when he dreams of being in a "bando.".






Monday, January 10, 2011

On the Box Again

I don't usually type directly onto the blog.  I usually agonize for days over the littlest word or if my tenses are correct, but there's no time for that now.  This is just a short visit to spread the message one more time in case anyone missed it in the past.

Today, for the second time in two years, a friend told me her mammogram was "suspicious."  An ultrasound was recommended.  I can't stress this enough, so I'll do it boldly.

GET THE ULTRASOUND!

Early detection is not some lovely idea made up by corporations, or physicians.  It's real.  Early detection saves lives.  Do not linger, do not dawdle, run to get the ultrasound.  Request it along with your mammograms.  

I am a prime example of early detection and I am proud to be obnoxious about it.  

It's true, I always promote the great work being done by Dr. Susan Love and the Avon Army of Women in search of the causes of breast cancer, in order to ultimately prevent it and no thought makes me happier, but until that day occurs....

GET THE ULTRASOUND!

I'm done for the moment.  I feel better.  Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Turning Point Day

I've been at a loss lately regarding the blog.  I absolutely love doing it and my intention is to continue, however, for the first time since it began, I'm not sure what to write about.  I'm stumped, out of ideas.  Is it possible my well has run dry after less than three months?

Initially, I had lots to say about cancer, so I used the blog to say it.  I told stories of how it all played out, how it affected me, not just individually, but as a wife and mother.  I knew few people like me.  I personally knew very few survivors and even fewer that I could share the load which was crowding my head, forcing me to think of nothing else.  I loved blogging for giving me a chance to unload all that cargo I was carrying around.

I had a million ideas to share and once I did, I discovered something very freeing.  Cancer no longer held a steel grip on my daily thoughts.  What was once a brain overrun with my breast cancer experience was now able to give due to life's other moments.

Interesting stuff, but now what?  Where does that leave me?  Have I said all I have to say about life with breast cancer?

I don't know.  I have declared myself a breast cancer blogger, but could I write about other things?  What else do I even know and would my new breast cancer blogging friends care to read it?  Would they want to know about the trials and tribulations of getting my son to the potty in time? Or question, as I do, why ten minutes isn't long enough for a 4-year old to put on mittens?  Will they wonder along with me if my dog, Goliath, purposely waits until he's alone to pee on the floor?

This is the kind of stuff that consumes much of my days.  Would anyone reading want to know about it?  Probably not and I don't blame them.  I doubt they're looking for a mommy blogger and I have no desire to be one.  I like writing about motherhood, but only from the perspective of a mom with breast cancer.  To me, that's much more intriguing.  Lucky for me.

I had been pondering these many questions when I realized something about yesterday.   I went to see my primary care doctor.  Just a regular old visit simply because of a cold I couldn't shake.  I hadn't seen a doctor for something so normal in years.  The thing is, I should have gone three weeks ago when a raspy cough first started to linger.  But I didn't.  I didn't, because I was positive I'd hear bad news which would ruin the holidays for everyone, at the very least, me.  Why take that chance?   I'd already had one vacation ruined with the pronouncement of bad news.  I couldn't let that happen again.

Thanks to my sharp internet research I knew all the potential ailments a persisting cough might indicate and it wasn't pretty.  I managed to talk myself into every horrible symptom I came across.  Finally, I resolved to face my fear and get it over with.  This was a turning point day.  Fine or not fine, just like the day back in 2009 when I was waiting for biopsy results.  Which way would it go?

The thing is, it was simply a cold gone bad.  A prescription for antibiotics and I was out the door.  I never should have obsessed about it this way, but as a breast cancer survivor I'm conditioned to turn everything into drama.  Things can go wrong, turn out badly, but sometimes things are just what they seem and every once in a while, might actually turn out well.  I still need to retrieve that frame of mind.  And here I was convinced I didn't have anything left to write about.