Fear and darkness
Overtake the night
Loneliness sets in
Like a comfortable friend
Old sounds comfort
New ones excite
While searching for answers
Which come with time
Yesterday is the same
As today and tomorrow
And a friend will stop by
To ease the burden
Saturday, September 29, 2012
I recently went on a trip to French Lick, Indiana. My husband and I take an annual trip where we meet a group of friends who are from all over the world. Yes, it’s a club; similar to a cycling club or car club. We got together for the first time because of a mutual interest and hobby. Now it’s like a family reunion without the crazy uncle. Well, actually, there is a crazy uncle or two but we love them just the same.
Over the years the ladies have become a close-knit group of our own. I often hear the men wonder what the women will do while they are off on their own adventures. It really doesn’t matter because where ever we are, we make our own fun.
We laugh together, and play, and gossip. And we know each other’s secrets. We embrace the here and now. We celebrate who we are today and who we are together. These women have become my sisters.
Soon after my return home I had a visit from a dear friend. We’ve known each other for 20 years, but had not seen each other in four. There was a lot to catch up on. Like several of my lifetime friends, distance (whether time or geography) does not change the friendship.
These two events got me thinking about my girlfriends. There is a special bond among women who are true friends. All of them have been there for me in my time of need. I could pick up the phone or send an email to any one of them and they would arrive at my doorstep as soon as humanly possible. I am blessed to have a life full of such special friends.
So today I stop, and pause, and say “thank you” to my girlfriends who are my love, my life, and my family.
Friday, September 28, 2012
I haven’t written much in September. It’s not because I have nothing to say. In fact, a lot has been on my mind. So much so that I started a folder in “my documents” named “To Write.” So stay tuned. The truth is, I’ve been busy. Busy with family, with travel, with friends, and with daily living. It’s all been good (and a source of “To Write” inspiration). And I’ve learned some things along the way.
Of note is that each month, except for August and December, features cancer awareness. September is cancer awareness month for:
· Childhood cancer
· Gynecologic cance
· Multiple Myeloma
· Ovarian cancer
· Thyroid cancer
· Prostate cancer
I started a Facebook page. [Warning: shameless plug here]. It has the same name as my blog: The Reluctant Survivor. You can find me at http://www.facebook.com/TheReluctantSurvivor?ref=hl. Whether you are a cancer survivor or know someone who is, I invite you to join me. During September I featured information and news articles about the different cancers that are part of the September awareness. Beyond that I share information on health and wellness, food, music, and quotes that make me smile. I also invite those on the page to share their story, as well as anything that brings joy.
So while I’ve been a little quiet in cyberspace I have not forgotten my friends here. And there is a lot more to share.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
She has long, blonde hair
That curls around her face
And bright, blue eyes
That sparkle in the sunshine
Soft, pink lips surround her laughter
While her smile fills the universe
She likes worms
And delights in dragonflies
Sticks and dirt are her playground
She eats strawberries two at a time
She eats strawberries two at a time
I think Julianna is part monkey
As I watch her climb the rails
She loves lavender soap
Because of the way it makes her skin smell
The cats thrill her
They let her play with their toys
She is joy personified
But most of all, she is a gift from God
Given to her mother
At an unexpected time
Sunday, September 9, 2012
I have a cat who never grew up. Granted, she has the stocky build of her Persian breed and weighs in at 12 lbs. every time I take her to the vet. But this cat really, never has become a cat. She has the kitten curiosity and often expresses a puzzled kitten look. She plays and sleeps and cuddles. So, you’re probably thinking, she’s a cat. But, like a kitten, she doesn’t understand about edges and often unexpectedly rolls off the bed or sofa. I’ve watched her fall up the stairs. And she still puts her feet in the food dish to eat. Occasionally I hear a “thunk” and realize she has fallen off something and landed on her side or back. She is still my baby kitty even after (almost) four years.
Kitten Kiwi came unintentionally into my life. We had lost Horatio in August 2008. I was so broken hearted there was no way I was going to adopt another cat, leaving Beautiful Maria an only cat. My husband insisted that I call Maria’s breeder and place an order for Maria’s baby brother. [The breeder is a humane breeder who raises her cats in her home, without cages]. I understood his desire for Maria to have a companion, so between tears I made the call. No male kittens available, but litters on the way. We had first choice.
Weeks turned into months as one mother lost her kittens prematurely. Another had four kittens, but none were male. As Maria’s grief became more apparent to the point of becoming neurotic, I became desperate. After a day of trying to console her, comfort her, and allow her to cling to my side as I tried to work I picked up the phone and asked, “Do you have any kittens available?” There were three; all female. “I’ll take one!”
Baby Sister came home in November; right before Thanksgiving. She was cute and curious and not at all shy. She was goofy and playful. She wanted to do everything that Maria, the big cat, did, often with hysterical results. One day as she looked at me with a puzzled look, almost asking why she couldn’t jump up on the desk like Big Sister, I laughed out loud and said “You’re such a Kiwi.” So now you know how she got her name.
Beyond that, she brought joy and healing to three shattered lives. She did not know about our loss or grief. She did not know of my recent illness. All she knew was she was in a home with two humans and a big cat who loved her. She brought laughter to my broken heart and helped me see that God’s “other plan” is just what I needed to move beyond the darkness of the previous year.
Every time I look at her I smile. I think about how I had other plans. I remember what a gift she is to me; a gift to me, my husband, and Beautiful Maria in our time of need. I am reminded of God’s grace. And despite her limitations, I do hope she stays forever young.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Mine is a story of healing. And of hope.
In November 2007 I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. The triple-negative diagnosis simply means that the cancer cells tested negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2. Approximately two out of every three breast cancers test positive for hormone receptors. And about 20-30% test positive for HER2 receptors. Triple-negative breast cancer is rare (about 10-20% of all breast cancers) and it is aggressive.
The bad news about triple-negative breast cancer are the many statistics that make it pretty scary. It is typically found in women in their 30’s and 40’s. I was 43. Women don’t start having annual mammograms until they are 40 so if you are in your 30’s it was probably found when you could finally feel a lump. Given its aggressive nature you can go from a clean mammogram one year to Stage III cancer the next. Statistically, triple-negative breast cancer is most likely staged at three, which means cancer is in your lymph nodes. And it means the tumor is more than 2 mm in size. It also has a high rate of recurrence in the first three years after treatment. Thankfully I did not know any of this until after my treatment and my doctors declared “no evidence of disease.”
Given its triple-negative nature, triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapy or Herceptin (a therapy that targets HER2 receptors). Triple-negative breast cancer is typically treated with chemotherapy and radiation; both of which I received. But my story does not begin with my diagnosis and treatment plan. It began months before.
My friend “P” is a very spiritual man. I would not call him religious in the sense of following a strict doctrine of a particular religion. Rather, he is a man of deep convictions and Christian faith that embraces many life style choices of the Buddhist faith. His faith, convictions and prayer life are holistic and consistent. He started praying for me months before the October doctor’s appointment that would change my life.
The most difficult phone call I had to make was the one to my mother. I received the official news on a Friday and did not call her until the following Saturday. About eight days. It seemed like a month. How do you say the words “I have breast cancer” to your mother? [My husband had been with me the whole time so I never had to say those words to him. The fact that he had been with me at that initial conversation with the doctor is another miracle of God’s hand. But that's another story]. My mother is also a very religious person. More than that, she belongs to a church that has the gift of prayer. Well, my mother has the gift of prayer as well. I tell people that if she is praying for you, God is listening!
So after breaking the news to Mom that Saturday morning she went to church the next day and wrote a simple prayer request to put in the prayer box: “For Heather who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.” The church does not care who you are, or even if you specify your need. They pray. And God listens.
My husband’s home church, the one he grew up in, also prayed. They still pray for me and my health. In the end I had dozens of people praying for me; some I don’t even know. God heard voices from all over New England asking that I be healed.
I surely should have received bad news because looking back I realize I had symptoms that I did not identify with breast cancer. After all, it wasn’t in my family history. Also, the symptoms subsided. But I think about those symptoms and the statistics associated with a triple-negative diagnosis and I realize it could have been worse. I was ultimately diagnosed with Stage I cancer.
About 18 months after my treatments were finished I asked P if he had known what was wrong or did he simply know something was not right. He told me that all he knew was that something was wrong so he prayed. Yes, prayers before a tragedy that protected me from the worst possible diagnosis. And prayers during treatment. It should have been worse. Even my doctors are amazed at how well I did. The truth is, it is difficult to write about being touched by the hand of God; even though I have told my story to numerous individuals. But here it is.RESOURCES: www.breastcancer.org; www.tnbcfoundation.org; www.cancer.org