Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When October Goes

October is a long month. Not just because it has 31 days. It is also a month that seems to be filled with events. The best thing to happen in October was seeing my cousins. Another good thing about October is that several childhood friends have birthdays. Thanks to social media we have reconnected and I was able to wish them “Happy Birthday” on their special day.

The end of the month brings sentimental memories of my father. He would have been 76 on October 29. Then there are the life occurrences that disrupt my routine, like doctors’ appointments and a sick cat. Of course the daylight hours are getting shorter and I love sunlight.

This year October brought both an earthquake and hurricane Sandy to our area. We were fortunate here in Massachusetts. Yes, trees came down, tides were extra high and some sections of town are still without electricity. But that is nothing compared with the mid-Atlantic. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all affected.
As much as memories of my father and lack of sunlight make me sad, I still like October. In fact, this is my favorite Barry Manilow song:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What I Choose to Become

"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become." - Carl Jung
I have been thinking about victimization lately. A few years ago I bought a box full of pink ribbon pins. I handed some out at work and among my girlfriends. I put some in a bowl that I kept on my desk. As people stopped by, friends, co-workers, and students, they were welcomed to take one (or more).

One day a student came by to meet with me. She asked about the pins and I offered her one. Then she asked, “Are you a victim of breast cancer?” I was both shocked and offended by her question, but I hope my face did not show it. Instead, I quietly asked if she would mind a “teaching moment.” She had the time and settled herself into the chair. (Our financial aid discussion was over).

It was in that moment that I found my answer; the answer for which I had been searching, for myself. There are no victims. There are survivors and there are those who lost their battle. I am not a victim. I refuse to be victimized. I am strong, and stubborn, and determined.

When I learned I would have to undergo chemotherapy treatments I became determined to take the bar exam and graduate with my class even if I were bald. Yes, I did both. When I began to learn more about breast cancer I became determined to share my knowledge with others. As friends and colleagues have begun their own battles with various forms of cancer I became determined to do what I can to fight this disease.

Along the way my determination has blossomed into dedication. As an educator I want to share my knowledge with others. I like to think of sharing opportunities as “teaching moments.” So I dedicate myself to learning, teaching, supporting others, and doing what I can to support organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Avon Foundation. Organizations that do so much by way of support services, treatment, and research.

Yesterday I gave my last pink ribbon pin to a co-worker. She seemed genuinely happy to receive the pin and said she would proudly wear it. She does not know my story; at least not from me. I know the time is coming when I will share that part of my life with her. For now, I need to order some more pins. And I will continue to share with and support others when God puts me in the appropriate situation. I am what I have chosen to become.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The following is the Apostles’ Creed. It is the basis of some Christian denominations’ doctrine. According to the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, it is the basic creed of Reformed churches. I am encouraged when I say these words, and trust that I can recite them with confidence in God’ grace.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

I believe that Christ fulfilled God’s purpose for his life when he was here on Earth. As for anything else that has to do with Christ’s life? Well, I’ll leave that up to God to sort out.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

How To Give A Cat A Pill

Beautiful Maria has been suffering from an intestinal upset. I won’t go into detail except to say that it has been frustrating for all parties involved. The vet said it was stress. Stress? Really? How can she possibly be experiencing stress? She lives in a beautiful home with numerous places to sleep, enough food and water, plenty of toys with which to play, and one lap per cat.

On the last visit to the vet, Maria received a shot and I was given some prescription pills with the instructions to give her half a pill twice a day for 10 days. The ability to give a cat a pill goes something like this:

Maria does seem to be doing better so we are hoping the medication works and all will be back to normal in another five days.


Thursday, October 18, 2012


Chemotherapy is not an easy topic to discuss, let alone write about. I never gave it any thought while I was undergoing treatment. I never thought about what it was doing to my body. I never thought about what it meant to “need” chemotherapy. And I never thought about how my treatments might affect others.

When I was first told I should have chemotherapy I did not think of myself as “needing” it. Rather, I viewed chemotherapy as preventative medicine. I had Stage I cancer which means there was no cancer in my lymph nodes or other parts of my body. So there was no need for chemotherapy to kill cancer or put me into remission. Once I’d had my surgery I was cancer free.

In many ways this is true. I think of my chemotherapy treatments as destroying any “free radicals” just in case the tests missed something and a cancer cell had escaped into my system undetected. But there was more to it than that. Yes, chemotherapy is a treatment to fight systemic cancer and works to put patients into remission. It is also the only known treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. There is no other treatment available (yet) that works to keep the cancer from recurring. Breast cancers that are hormone positive are treated with hormone blockers. Breast cancer that is Her2 positive is treated with Herceptin – a drug that specifically targets the protein that the cancer cell feeds on.

Now that I know more about triple-negative breast cancer I understand the need for chemotherapy. And I remain eternally grateful that I was diagnosed at Stage I. However, the effects of chemotherapy remain with me. I am fortunate enough to have received a newer treatment cocktail with fewer long-term side effects. And I only needed four rounds of the poison.

People are aware of the side effects of chemotherapy. The most obvious one is hair loss. There is also nausea, changes in appetite, water retention, and chemo brain. Maybe you’ve heard of chemo brain. Symptoms of chemo brain include memory loss, trouble paying attention, trouble finding the right word, difficulty with new learning, and difficulty managing daily activities. According to CancerCare® patients “often notice these problems during chemotherapy treatment. Within one year of treatment, many people find these difficulties greatly improved or no longer exist. However, for some people, chemo brain can continue for years following completion of treatment.” Of course, many of these symptoms are synonymous with aging.

When I was undergoing chemotherapy the most striking impairment was my inability to button buttons. I remember standing in my bedroom, dressing for work and having difficulty buttoning my blouse. I felt like I was five years old and learning all over again. I slowly and methodically made myself think and act through the process. Eventually I reached a point during treatment that I gave up trying. I simply asked my husband to button my blouse for me. He never said a word.

Symptoms lasting more than a year after treatment are something that I call an after-effect. I’m not a doctor. I am not medically trained, and I’ve never discussed this directly with any of my doctors. But I am aware of the occasional after-effect that was never there before chemotherapy. While I have surgery scars that are a daily reminder, I can once again button my blouse in the morning without thinking. My hair is long again. The swollen ankles are rare. I still have “trouble finding the right word” and that started at age 43 with chemotherapy. In my case, this particular after-effect is mild and I am fortunate enough to live and work in an environment that has allowed me to learn to compensate. I guess I’m one of those people who “find these difficulties greatly improved,” and in most cases they no longer exist.

However, if you are a cancer survivor and are continuing to experience the after-effects of chemotherapy, I would encourage you to talk with your doctor.

RESOURCE: CancerCare® @

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oscar the Cat - Or Living With Dementia

I recently read Making Rounds With Oscar. The Extraordinary Gift of An Ordinary Cat, by David Dosa, M.D. While the title and cover flap purports that the book is about a cat it is really about dementia. It is a book about living and dying with the disease. It offers insight into how caregivers cope with losing a loved one; not in death but by watching them disappear into their minds. Here are some highlights that I took from the book:

·      Age really has nothing to do with memory, and problems with memory are never normal aging. People assume the two are related because memory problems become more common as we age. Yet memory impairment is always abnormal and should be [evaluated]. 

·         You have to learn to play a role and distract a person with memory impairment. “We could never bring our mother back to our reality. We had to go to hers.”

·         Many doctors don’t consider hospice until the very end because they don’t understand the concept. Hospice care isn’t limited to the end of life. It can be can indispensable resource, a [type] of support. Hospice can provide the necessary custodial care and nursing support needed to keep patients at home.

·         Imagine the anger and irritation of constantly confronting a college-educated [person] who can’t figure out how to button [their] shirt or turn on the television. You would get angry. Unlike a child that is learning, a patient with [dementia] is “unlearning.”

·         A doctor can give you a label but it’s not about that. There’s nothing in the name. You want to know how to deal with the disease; what it’s going to do to you. Ultimately it ceases to be about the name of the disease; it’s about the need to maintain a normal life, to be able to live life fully and in the moment despite the diagnosis.

·         Today there are over 5 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s and hundreds of thousands more with other forms of dementia. The tragedy of dementia is not measured by the number of patients directly affected. For every patient with dementia, there are many more caregivers whose lives will never be the same.
Dr. Dosa & Oscar
My great-grandmother suffered from dementia. Maybe "suffered" is not the right word because I don't recall her suffering. She was quite happy. I can remember visiting her with my cousins and our parents would remind us that Great Grammy may not know who we were. It never seemed to matter to me. I knew she was my Great Grandmother and I loved her. And I knew she loved us; at least she loved having a visit from children. That’s all that really mattered.
A dear friend of mine died of old age at 91, having suffered with dementia in her last years. My greatest joy is that whenever I visited her she knew who I was. She might ask me where I lived, not remembering my home of 20 years but it didn’t matter because she knew my name.
My mother is aging and we are fortunate that she is not dealing with dementia. Yes, even she admits to slowing down and feeling tired, but her mind is sharp, her heart is young, and she remains active in her community. (Plus, she follows my blog, so I have to watch what I write). Seriously, as I write this I think of my mother, and my aunt and uncle. It is important for me to keep these notes in mind as I watch them age.
Love you, Mom!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Strawberry Cake

Family dynamics are an interesting thing. In my family the relationship among the cousins is fierce. Growing up it was just the six of us; my father was an only child and my mother has one sister. Between the two of them there are three boys and three girls. We thought of ourselves as one big family with six siblings. Six kids in eight years. We even have a set of twins! (Though their birthdays are ten weeks apart).

We were inseparable. And while we would squabble among ourselves we would fight to the death if anyone tried to tear us apart. In many ways it was “us against the world.” There are many reasons for this family dynamic and I’m sure not many second generation relationships are so close-knit.
I guess we thought we would always be together. But we grew up and life took us away from each other. Five of us are married. Two have grandchildren. Most of us remained in New England. One moved to Seattle. The last time we were all together was 25 years ago at our Nana Ryerson’s memorial service. Each one of us has a story to tell about events in our lives over the past two decades. Our journeys seemed to take us in different directions but in truth we all made decisions based, in part, on our shared experiences.
This past weekend we had a family reunion. Scotty and his wife came for a visit from Seattle and we gathered together for a Saturday afternoon. (Though one of us could not make it). Scotty and Mark baked chicken, and macaroni and cheese. Cary’s daughter-in-law brought salad and homemade corn muffins. She also made strawberry cake because she knew it was a favorite. We each had a taste; even if it was a bite of someone else’s piece. The flavor took us back to the memories of what bind us together so tightly.
We are now the ages that are parents were when we were graduating from high school, going off to college, and becoming young adults. Before the reunion we agreed among ourselves that the weekend would be about us; the here and now. It would be about six cousins who share a strong bond. We have all learned to live in the moment. Yes, we discussed the aging of our parents and we did some reminiscing with the Aunts and Uncle. But mostly we focused on us. Who are we now? What is life like now? Why do we follow our particular passions? The connections are still strong and we easily fell back into the comfortable family dynamics.
What I discovered was that we are still devoted to each other and will give anything in the world to be together. Our relationship is still fierce. But now it is not about survival. It is about peace and serenity. And strawberry cake.

L-R: Mark, Priscilla, Scotty, Heather & Cary Sue

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Today's Smile

I love to laugh. And I love to read. A friend of mine is currently reading a lot of Dickens. Which reminded me of this.

Enjoy the laugh.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wishing You Away

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Last year I wore a pink ribbon pin every day. And I handed out pink ribbon pins. Last year I was bold.
This year I do not feel brave. This year, I wish the month did not exist.
In December 2007 a colleague and friend gave me a journal to write in. She said it was important for me to write about my journey. The front cover of the journal has this proverb: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” I thought she was crazy. Why would I want to write anything about what I was going through? But I wrote.
I started reading my entries a couple of days ago. (Ironic that my first doctor’s appointment was in October). What is most interesting about my early entries was the positive attitude. Everything the doctors told me was “yet more good news.” Really? How can triple negative breast cancer, the worst diagnosis you could possibly receive, be good news? The good news was it was Stage I and not the usual Stage III diagnosis.
I have worked as a college financial aid administrator for over 20 years. Professionally, I am an advocate and a mentor. I advocate for students in need; I mentor colleagues on federal rules and regulations; I assist institutions with issues of compliance. How could my two lives possibly fit together?
Since my diagnosis I have known that my story has a purpose. As I wrote back in June, I am a reluctant cheerleader. My heart tells me that I am called to tell my story. I wonder how. Wearing a pink ribbon pin and handing out pins certainly shows support. However, I find myself being a friend to those newly diagnosed. I share statistics and knowledge. I post links to news articles. I am an advocate and a mentor.
So I will continue to share my story. I will continue to support research and the foundations that provide services to uninsured and underinsured women and men. I will promote awareness in my own way. And I really do not wish October away; I just wish there was no need for a Breast Cancer Awareness month.