Monday, October 24, 2011

Me and My Blog

I wrote the following post yesterday morning, in the last blissful, ignorant moments before my husband and I had to rush our beautiful dog, Goliath, to the vet for the last time.  I am too sad, too swallowed up by the emptiness of the house around me to write about Goliath now and all he meant to my husband, my boys and me.  


His rough start in life and his fierce determination to overcome adversity was the inspiration for my blog's name. I'm publishing yesterday's post exactly as I wrote it and dedicating it to Goliath, for if it weren't for him, the blog wouldn't be what it is and I wouldn't be better for having both.


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I don't commemorate cancerversaries.  Suspicious Ultrasound Day, Biopsy Day, Diagnosis Day, Mastectomy Day and all other days are uncomfortable to remember and may possibly always be.  It's certainly easier to look back with some perspective, more than two years later, but I'm not sure anything is gained by marking those days as an anniversary.  To me, it's more the whole journey that matters and how far I've come overall.

However, there is one milestone I'd like to mention.  Bringing Up Goliath turned one last week.  As my five year old likes to say, "That's cool, right?"

When I started this blog, I never considered how long I'd keep it up.  I went in thinking "one day at a time," because honestly, sharing intimate details with the cyber world seemed a bit crazy, not to mention a dangerous misuse of privacy, but looking back now, it was never the world I was reaching for, but one person that might relate to my experiences.  Maybe I'd find someone else going through the same crap and we could support each other.

At the time, about 16 months after diagnosis, my brain was still so cluttered with all things cancer, I'd lost the ability to go about my days.  How to be truly present in my life, my children's lives or my relationship with my husband.

It was one thing to have a calendar full of appointments, a million never-ending questions, pain from expanders, then implants, but it was quite another to talk about it all the time.

Who wants to listen to it?

Even those closest to me needed a respite once in a while.  Which, I totally understood, but that didn't change the fact I was on overload, my emotions consistently raw.

I realized I needed an outlet.  A way out of my own head, some breathing room from those oppressive walls of cancer.

I remember feeling totally alone, envisioning the void beyond my laptop, the first time my blog went live.  I was writing extremely personal stuff, things I might never mention to friends face to face, yet there it was, heading out to...where?

Somewhere.

I was hoping someone might find it, but knowing no one was reading, made it easier to keep going.  Writing about the day cancer changed my life or how exposed I felt at the hands (literally) of my surgeons or the difficulties keeping my children a priority, was very liberating.

As I started discovering and commenting on other blogs, readers started to comment on mine and each comment that said I was understood, justified and among friends, lifted my load bit by bit until some where along the way, I got my brain back.  It was no longer jam-packed with thoughts of cancer, but slowly, the real things that make up my life filtered back in.

Would that have happened simply with the passage of time?  I don't think so.  Sharing freed me from cancer's hold.  Discovering and connecting with an amazingly supportive and caring online community did that and more in ways I never thought possible.

I learned so much about breast cancer.  How very different we all are, despite sharing similar experiences.

I had my eyes opened to the shameful inequity in fundraising.

I've come to know very little progress has been made in finding a cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer and early detection is by no means, a cure.

I learned I'm far from alone.  I learned I could care about people I've never met and with that, I gained something I never imagined -- the return of a childlike wonder for the world around me, so foreign to my own New York City suburbs.  Beyond my house are places I now want to explore because someone in our cyber community has brought it to life.

I want to watch a marching band walk the football field at a Midwestern college.

I want to share the excitement at a Cornhuskers game in Nebraska.

I want to look for antiques in the Ozarks.

I want to ride a bike in the hot Texas sun.

I want to walk a couple of dogs along the Jersey shore.

I want to visit a town in Ireland, or England or take in the steamy sights of far off Myanmar.

I'm grateful for the blogging friends that have stopped along the way, read my words, shared their own and broadened my small world.  Who would have thought writing about cancer could do that?

Happy Blogaversary to me!  Sharing personal crap on the Internet turned out better than I ever hoped.

But, that doesn't mean I think cancer is a gift!   I don't!



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Not Leaving Yet

My dog, Goliath, my buddy, my first boy, nearly died last night.  He is a German Shepherd and he experienced Bloat.

Bloat is a serious condition that affects large breeds when too much air is taken into their bellies, usually by eating too fast or exercising before or after a meal.  The stomach expands and after a while, twists around, like a wet rag. There is a small window of time to relieve the pressure, otherwise, it is quickly fatal.

As I've written here before, I'm very aware of the passage of time with every glance at my old dog.  He's 13 now. As recently as March, he weighed his usual 100lbs, but on Monday, he was down to 76lbs.

He's shrinking right before my eyes.  My once, strong, handsome boy is old.  He struggles to stand.  He can barely walk up the driveway.  The dog who used to pull me down the road as if he were walking me, now lags behind, gingerly trying to keep up.

We question the dramatic weight loss.  Is pain from arthritis hampering his appetite or is there a bigger issue we're not seeing simply because we don't want to know.  Are we refusing to face the inevitable?  Afraid to prepare ourselves for the awfulness of saying goodbye.

I'm convinced whether or not we want answers, we need them, to do right by Goliath.  He deserves that.  I think of his quality of life and believe it's there.

He loves being outside, laying in the grass snapping at flies or bees or whatever comes his way.  He still races by with a biscuit in his mouth, eager to devour his prize, for fear someone might get a piece of this deliciousness.  He inhales the affection shown through belly rubs and ear scratches and shows his appreciation by dropping his heavy paw in the lap of the lucky giver.

And if that's all he gets these days, then I need to believe it's enough. Quiet times leading to a peaceful, unavoidable end.

But not last night.  An hour after his dinner he started to writhe in agony, gasping for air and foaming at the mouth.  It was after hours and the nearest emergency animal hospital was 25 minutes away.  Leaving our boys with my mother-in-law, who was thankfully here, my husband and I took him.  Driving faster than speed limits allow.

I sat in the back with him, holding his head, listening for each raspy breath, while his skinny body trembled.  All I could think was, "Don't die, Goliath.  Not in the back of a car, in this horrible, torturous way."  After all our years together, this can't be how it ends, but any other conclusion seemed impossible.

My husband spoke of doing things differently when Goliath gets past this.  I don't know where he gets his faith or maybe it was denial.  A deep refusal to believe his beloved best friend was leaving us.  Maybe he was being naive. I was glad he wouldn't face the worst case scenario alone.  I was the one used to the sad ending, not him.  I would be there to hold his hand as he so often held mine.

The minutes and highway exits slowly passed and by some miracle, Goliath was still alive when we arrived.  The vet managed to relieve the air pressure before the stomach twisted completely.

I was in awe of my husband's composure.  He never believed life with our dog was over.  To him, it just wasn't an option.

I was proud of Goliath.  He summoned his strength when he needed it most.  Maybe he knew he was loved. Maybe, it just wasn't his time.  Maybe, things don't always need to be so tragic.

Amazingly, my dog is home now.  Laying calmly at my feet, as he should, with only a paw print bandage to show for the night's excitement.




Thursday, October 13, 2011

Surrounded

It amazes me there are people on this planet who don't think about breast cancer every waking moment, or at the very least, once a day.  It's inconceivable to me that such a life exists.  I seem to be surrounded by it constantly. Even if I wanted to, there's no getting away from it.

So, it came as no surprise to see The Huffington Post piece by Fran Visco, President of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, state breast cancer kills someone in this country every 14 minutes.  I personally know each and every one of them.

Well, it feels like that sometimes.

I often like to think I've had my share; mother, aunt, sister-in-law's mom, the young wife of a good friend -- all gone. All died after their cancer metastasized.  How many people do I need to know before it leaves my life for good? No answer as it reaches out to bloggers and just the other day, an old high school friend of the same sister-in-law, succumbs at the ripe old age of 46.

I'm 47.  My mother was 49 when first diagnosed.  I feel like I'm walking among land mines and it's harder and harder to step safely, because in spite of my early detection, I don't believe I'm cured.  I fear I'll be walking around one day, only to have my whole life blow up in my face.  Where's the good in early detection when nearly 25% of early stage breast cancer metastasize and can't be cured?  Does awareness matter if the outcome is the same?




See the girl in the puffy blue jacket, 4th from the right?  That's me.  See the red haired girl next to me?  That's Dina. We're about sixteen.  When Dina was 34 years old her physician was sure the lump in her breast was a cyst.  It couldn't possibly be breast cancer.  She was too young and Dina believed that.  Why wouldn't she?  In 1998, breast cancer awareness wasn't the groundswell it is today and every product on the market had yet to turn pink.

When her lump was still there 10 months later, the same physician told Dina to alert her gynecologist during her annual exam.  Which she did...two months later.

One year after initially telling her physician about a lump in her breast, Dina was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. The cancer had metastasized to her lungs, liver and bones.  She didn't stand a chance.

The girl next to me in that photo, holding my hand, died of Metastatic breast cancer.  We had no way of knowing our fate on that day.  I'd learn all about breast cancer, up close and personal, three years later when my mother found her lump, but Dina wouldn't learn for nearly twenty years when her own lump was finally biopsied.

Too late.

Ironic, really.  Two lives, starting on the same path, only to split off in very different directions.  At 19 years old, breast cancer became a huge part of my life and I've lived my years thinking about it, watching it's effect on loved ones, almost waiting for it to touch me.  I knew its power because I had witnessed it first hand, several times over, but Dina didn't.

Would the outcome differ if Dina had known more?  Who can say?  Sometimes knowing...isn't enough.  Many times, in fact, as Stage I inexplicably morphs into Stage IV.  Awareness may have helped Dina for a short time, but it wouldn't save her from Metastatic breast cancer and MBC isn't curable.

It is my hope Metastatic Breast Cancer becomes a household term the way "Awareness" has.  Maybe if MBC can find a foothold in the minds of those that can do something.  Anything...talk about it, blog about it, raise funds for research on par with education and awareness campaigns...

Then maybe we won't need a Stage IV, or any Stages.  Maybe people will stop dying every 14 minutes and maybe future generations can grow up wondering what all the fuss was about.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let There Be Cheerleaders

For the past few days, I've been trying to write a post about Sunday, but it's October and I'm distracted.  Everywhere I turn I'm overwhelmed with pinkertising while not even looking for it.  But, there it is.  In my mailbox, in my supermarket (chicken sausage, anyone?), at my gym and even in the dentist's chair adorning the paper bib used to soak up spit.  I was informed by the hygienist, these bibs were specially purchased to help raise awareness.

Oh, it's working.  I'm totally aware.

My brother asked if I'm anti-pink.  Not exactly.  Like so many these days, I'm against what "pink" has come to represent. The happy-go-lucky, early stage, still having fun, never sick, all is right in the world, let's get coffee with perfect hair and makeup, cancer survivor.  My skin prickles at this unrealistic vision created by major marketing machines.

All is not well in the land of breast cancer.  For if it were, there would be no need for last Sunday.

It's been nearly thirty years since Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen organization and began work to end breast cancer.  In those years, Komen and other cancer organizations succeeded in shining a light on what was once a shameful, embarrassing, deadly disease.  A disease, no one dared speak of louder than a whisper.

How far they've come.  I can't step outside my door, or power up my computer without being assaulted by a litany of companies all promising to aid in the fight.  All promising their donated dollars will put a stop to it.

The thing is, it hasn't worked.  Thirty years, no cure and more questions than answers.  The promise most of us grew up with, has yet to come true.  We're still being told we have breast cancer.  It's that failure in finding a cure which inspired thousands of people on Sunday to turn out for a small organization, named Support Connection.

The crowd didn't show to raise money for research.

They weren't walking for education and awareness.

It wasn't about the cure.

Their purpose was to acknowledge the remnants of unfulfilled promises -- The people left in cancer's wake. Those of us actually living with breast or ovarian cancer.  The day was simply a way of ensuring this organization would continue to provide its free support, information, counseling and hope through stories and experiences of women who had lived it.

That kind of help is sadly, still desperately in need.

All these years without answers created the urgency for such a place.  As the reign of breast cancer lingers, Support Connection exists for the approximate 200,000 women who annually find themselves newly diagnosed.  It exists for those with advanced stages of breast cancer, which continues to occur since no one has discovered how to stop Stage I from becoming Stage IV.

Without a cure, we are left to fend for ourselves, but if we're lucky, we'll find the support needed to heal...needed to just face our day.

It was a beautiful Sunday.  Many participants walked together as teams.  Many brought dogs. Cheerleading squads and local high school bands performed along the path and at first, I couldn't understand why they were cheering.

This wasn't a race.  No one was awarded a prize for finishing first.  We were here for each other.  That's why they were cheering.  For the thousands of us, everywhere, directly affected by society's failure to eradicate this disease.  We're still dealing with cancer, everyday.  We live with it, die with it and carry each other along the way.

Many walkers wore signs claiming "In honor of" or "In memory of" some loved one.  Many were walking to commemorate their own triumphs.  I didn't pin on any signs in the name of those I've lost.  I also didn't walk for myself.  I walked for all the ladies and men I've never met who will one day hear the words, "You have cancer" and need a  place to turn. Support Connection provides that and with the generosity of donors, will continue to freely give services until they are no longer needed.  When the promises of all the pink finally, hopefully, one day come to fruition and breast cancer becomes a thing of the past.

Sorry, Support Connection, your doors will have to close.  Fundraising walks will go by the wayside and your toll-free hotline will quietly shut down, but those cheerleaders... They'll really have something to yell about.  What a welcome sight that will be.