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I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin & a best friend. I am a poet, a lawyer & a survivor. I've learned that God will give you a second chance.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Laser Therapy . . . For My Cat

I’m tired of cancer; tired of friends dying from cancer, tired of reading about cancer, and tired of thinking about cancer. I lost a friend to lung cancer yesterday, and with the “Angelina Jolie news” I feel as if I’m on cancer-news overload. As I’ve mentioned before, I never wanted to be “that person.” You know the one. Where everything is about cancer; cancer research, cancer treatments, the latest in cancer-whatever. But here I am. A breast cancer survivor and it is part of who I am. How I live with this invisible identity is my choice. And what I have chosen to do is to share my story with those who want to hear it, to be a friend to those in need, and to be a resource when someone needs advice or even statistics.

My (4½ year old) kitten has been struggling with some health issues of her own. Actually, given her behavior we never would have known something was wrong. The only reason we became aware of her condition was because we “caught” her having an accident on the dining room floor and her urine was pink. She was scheduled for a bath and a shave the next day and because she was not in distress the vet said she would take a look at what was going on when we brought her in. She had an infection and was given a shot of long-lasting antibiotic.

Fast forward to ten days later when we discovered a new accident in the kitchen. I called the vet on Monday and was instructed on how to obtain a urine sample from one cat in a two-cat household. I’m happy to report that Kiwi performed for us and I was able to get a good sample to take to the vet the next day. As the vet suspected, it was not an infection – the antibiotic had taken care of that. However, Kiwi had a lot of red blood cells, and even a few white blood cells, in her urine so I was asked to bring her in for an ultrasound so that Dr. Cooke could figure out what was wrong.

As you know, I have no children of my own, but in many ways I felt like a mommy. On Thursday, I dropped my baby off at the hospital (the vet’s) so that she could have an ultrasound done. I had two personal appointments that morning, so I called the office later that afternoon. I was given a pick up appointment so that I could go over the findings with the doctor. Knowing that she did not have an infection, of course my mind went straight to worse-case-scenario. What else could cause bloody urine other than cancer? She must have a tumor somewhere; her liver or kidneys.

It turns out her bladder is inflamed and she has a stone in her bladder. Fortunately, no stones in the kidneys and girl cats can actually “pass” urinary stones. However, we need to reduce the inflammation in her bladder but cats are not good candidates for anti-inflammatory drugs. For whatever reason, they do not react well to things like Advil or even steroids. So Dr. Cooke put her on a limited-time prescription diet (which Maria can also eat, so feeding will not be a problem) and six sessions of low level laser therapy. Modern medicine for kitties!

Treatments are done on an out-patient basis with her on my lap. Dr. Cooke is kind and gentle, and genuinely loves Kiwi. She has had her first two treatments and seems to be responding well. I have my cuddle-kitten feeling better, and best of all it has nothing to do with cancer.


If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on FaceBook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Culture of Fear: One Survivor's Perspective

When Angelina Jolie announced that she had a preventative double mastectomy I became angry. I was angry for several reasons. I’d like to think that I’m big enough to not question her motives, but I do. She wants to encourage every woman to seek out information and medical experts who can help them make informed choices. And I know she has a heart for the less fortunate of the world. As my new friend, AnneMarie pointed out, if Ms. Jolie hadn’t gone public with this information someone would have leaked it to the tabloids (while breaking several federal laws, I might add) and then where would we be? We would be in the midst of a media frenzy with no good information. So I’ll hold back judgment on her motives and watch her actions. What does she do with this new status? How does she go about trying to affect change?

The majority of my anger, however, is aimed at what I call a culture of fear. Thanks to the breast cancer awareness movement we are aware; very aware. If you are a woman, you have breasts and you’ve thought about breast cancer. (Admit it). But the media only presents sound bites, and as a result a woman hears the word “cancer” and immediately thinks “mastectomy.” In fact, there is a concern among the medical community that women are having unnecessary mastectomies. According to the Mayo Clinic ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) “is considered a precancerous lesion,” which means it is a risk factor. It is not yet breast cancer but could become breast cancer if it goes untreated. (Similar to colon polyps; if they are not removed they will turn into colon cancer). However, women who are diagnosed with DCIS are having mastectomies.

Additionally, recent studies indicate that lumpectomies and partial mastectomies might actually be healthier for an early stage breast cancer diagnosis. So why are doctors continuing to let women have a mastectomy when it is not warranted? The answer: to help the patient feel better. How about better “awareness” and information? How about accurate reporting by the media?

If I have learned anything it is that each diagnosis is unique. No two women (or men) are the same. And while two people can have the same general diagnosis, (say Stage I breast cancer), that does not mean they will receive same protocol or treatment plan. Once someone has cancer, of any kind, all factors must be weighed to make the right decision. Sometimes that means a double mastectomy.

As for preventative mastectomies, I don’t know. My reaction is quite negative. After all, would you cut off your finger if you got a hang nail because it might get infected? I feel as if the message is the same. You are a woman. You have breasts. Therefore you might get breast cancer. So, you should have a double mastectomy to ward of the possibility of something that is statistically unlikely.

In the end, Ms. Jolie’s decision was personal and nobody’s business. But because she is a celebrity it is everyone’s business. Shame on us for intruding. But more to the point, shame on those who continue to promote a culture of fear.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on FaceBook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Family: Christine, Part 3

Some would say that Christine’s Aunt Cindy is my best friend. To me, she is family. It is often quoted that “family is not flesh and blood,” but who we choose to stick by through everything life has to offer. Our story started long before our parents were even married. You see, Cindy’s uncle and my father-in-law were college roommates 25 years before Cindy and I shared an apartment together on that same college campus. Our families are friends. I love her brothers as if they were my own brother; which includes the teasing. Her older sister is, in many ways, my older sister.

I held Cindy’s children when they were just hours old and have watched them grow up into the beautiful, responsible teenagers they are today. But beyond sharing vacations and birthday parties, Cindy is an ever-present part of my life. Helping me through the difficult times, as well as celebrating my successes.
Christine has been part of my life, like her cousins Kate and Megan. I met Christine’s mother, Ami a few years before she was born; when her sister Caroline was only months old. Over the years we have shared family parties, Thanksgiving Dinner, and her graduation from college. I have had the privilege of watching her grow into the beautiful, strong, intelligent young woman that she is today. It breaks my heart to watch her struggle and there is nothing I can do. She and I have a lot in common and have shared some “pains” of growing up. I see so much of myself in her, and while our diseases are so very different I have a sense that we now have one more common bond. In so many ways she is a role model and gives me strength.

Her Aunt Cindy (my friend and “other” sister) is matter-of-fact and practical. She tells it like it is, in the middle of all the drama. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I knew that I had to tell her in person. A phone call or an email just wouldn’t do. We went back and forth a bit on “when” we could get together until I simply stated, “I need to see you.” When I broke the news her first words were, “I’m not going to plan your funeral until you tell me to.” Now that may seem odd to some, but those practical, matter-of-fact words were words of comfort and love. In some ways, only family can talk to you that way.

When Christine got sick, Cindy dropped everything to be there for the family. She did (and does) what needs to get done. She doesn’t obsess about what “might be.” For her, it is about the here and now. A philosophy of: We do what we have to do now to get through this, and we don’t make plans until you tell me otherwise. That’s when you know she’s got your back. That, is family.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rhymes of a Harried Housewife

My father wrote the following poem. I am always reminded of it on Mother’s Day. So, while this post is a bit late – Happy Mother’s Day!

     ~ William L. Boyd, Jr.

A juvenile husband
Five kids, three cats and a dog
The things my wife contends with
Leave her drifting in a fog
Clean clothes fill the hamper
Her flour bin’s full of nails
There’s dirty paintbrushes swimming
Upside down in the favorite pail

She does crayons in the dryer
Her bookcase holds a log
Once in a moment of madness
She washed an innocent frog
Morning spent freeing the washer
From fish line and used dental floss
Dirty clothes hide under the bed
What else has a mother to wash?

Today is for doing the baking
Cleaned rooms and beds all made
So here comes ‘Hus with a wicked leer
“Hey kid, you want to get laid?”
She says she’s going bananas
And no doubt but what it’s true
A cat just ate the grapefruit
And the dog upchucked in her shoe
The wife is far from lazy
And she’s certainly not a slob
But she’s home all day with nothing to do –
Maybe she needs an outside job







Friday, May 3, 2013

From the Inside Out: Christine, Part 2

[WARNING: This post is a rant against the pill-popping society that we’ve become]
My grandfather was a hypochondriac. According to him, he suffered with many aches, pains, and illness. There was always something wrong with him – and a pill to fix it. He was a pleasure-seeker, so he was always looking for that “next thing” that made him feel good. It was often found in prescriptions.
This is not a fond memory. The fact is, there was a lot wrong with him due to mental illness, but this particular symptom has had a lasting effect on me. You see, I don’t want to be like him. I don’t want to take a pill for every little ache or pain. The irony is that if you have an illness or ache while at my house I probably have the OTC medication in my bathroom cabinet to help relieve your symptoms. I just don’t take them. I often live with a mild headache or pain in my joints rather than take an aspirin or a couple of Advil.
You see, we have become a society of the quick fix. Every day there are ads on television about the latest drug that will help with whatever ails you. Feeling a little blue? There’s a pill for that. In fact, many of these drugs have more than one advertisement because they “help” more than one problem. Did you know that Cymbalta® is indicated for both mood disorders and some types of arthritis? www.cymbalta.com. I became aware of this when I saw one ad for Cymbalta® as a supplement for depression and then later in the same hour I saw another ad for Cymbalta® as relief for fibromyalgia. Of course I had to go and look it up.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are people with serious, clinically diagnosed, physical ailments, like fibromyalgia, arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. And I’m not saying medication should be avoided if you have a potentially life-threatening health issue. But there is a rising trend with pharmaceuticals that promise to fix whatever bothers you, and that is my objection.

I grew up in the ‘70’s. There was no such thing as attention deficit disorder. If you misbehaved in school you were punished. You had to stand in the corner or received a detention and could not play at recess. The real trouble makers were sent to the principal’s office. But we learned to behave, and I don’t remember a lot of serious offenders in elementary school, though there were a few. Today, parents don’t want to take the time to discipline their children. And they refuse to let school teachers provide appropriate structure in the classroom. Instead, a child, acting like a child, is labeled and given drugs to control their behavior.
When I was a senior in high school we had a particularly disciplined English teacher. She was structured and demanded the best out of us. She had a reputation for being stern. We all fell in love with her. On the evening of our Senior Prom a group of us all went to dinner together. The conversation eventually came around to her class. One of my classmates began to sing her praises. His date said, “But she flunked you?” His response, “Yeah, and I deserved it!” Back in 1982 there were consequences for our behavior and we learned from the discipline and structure that was imposed. Today, behavior is excused and children are given drugs.

You’re probably wondering how this is related to Christine and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. I do not know what caused Christine’s allergic reaction. I don’t know if she was taking a prescription drug, if it was an infection, or if it was a reaction to an OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – all of them common culprits from my research. It may have been a combination of things. And Christine is not the type of person to take a pill just for the sake of taking a pill. But her condition got me thinking about my own reaction to taking medications (of any kind) and how I’ve become an advocate for whole foods, organics, good nutrition, and exercise for healthy living to help ward off sickness and disease. Christine has been burned from the inside out. And she needs to heal from the inside out.     
As you know, I underwent chemotherapy treatments. I have learned a lot more about my diagnosis as I’ve researched the details of my pathology report. I have never thought that I needed chemotherapy to “cure” me, but rather it was preventative medicine. I still believe that, and I am convinced that it was necessary given my diagnosis. But I’ve also learned things that I can do to help prevent cancer. Anyone can do these things. Stay at a healthy weight, for one. As a result, I am on a “diet” to get my weight into a healthy range. I am also conscious of what I eat. I would say that I am 80% organic now. I say that because I refuse to become obsessive. I buy and eat as much organic as I can. However, I still go out with friends, eat in restaurants, and go to dinner parties at other’s homes. I’m also known to enjoy a dessert or glass of wine. The adage “everything in moderation” comes to mind.

So my rant against pharmaceuticals is not that we do not need doctors or medicine. It is not that I can never take an aspirin. Rather, I think about what I am ingesting and why. It is about balancing the need for a prescription medication with letting a cold run its course. For me, it is about not obsessing about taking a decongestant. As much as my grandfather was a bad example (or a good example of what not to be), I have to think that his influence was, in fact, a good thing because I stop and think about what I am taking and why. And I am conscious of not making some pill a habit.

We, as a society, need to get back to what is wholesome, nutritious, and real. We need to heal from the inside out.

If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Life, the Universe & Everything: Christine, Part 1

Three weeks ago I learned that two people who are very dear to me were hospitalized with a life threatening health issue. My world, my everything, had been turned upside down. And there was nothing I could do. I suddenly understood how it felt to be on the “other side” of a life threatening illness. Today, as I understand from updates, they are both on the mend.

Last week I was finally able to see my friend Christine. When I say “finally” it is not because she had any restrictions on visitors. It was timing. Every time I thought I’d go visit something happened to prevent me from getting into Boston. As I told her, I have to believe that there is and was a reason for my delayed visit. I have to trust that all of this was God’s timing. Her response: “You were meant to be here today.” And she wasn’t having a good afternoon.

Christine is hospitalized with Stevens Johnson Syndrome. Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a rare, serious disorder in which your skin and mucous membranes react severely to a mediation or infection. [Mayo Clinic]. Essentially, it is a chemical burn from the inside out.

During my visit there was a parade of doctors and nurses coming into her room. No one seemed to mind that I was there or that the doctors were discussing her personal, medical situation in front of others. The attorney in me dismissed it as implied consent, but yes, I did think about HIPPA. However, Christine wants to have others hear what her doctors have to say, and that is a good thing. When you are that sick it is important to have another set of ears, and for others to ask the questions you might not think to ask. I am impressed with her sister Caroline’s dogged insistence at asking questions and gently demanding answers.

Christine was having a flare-up of symptoms when I visited. Her lips were swollen and she had developed some new lesions around her mouth and on her tongue. I could see the fear in both Christine and her sister; the fear that they were starting all over again. (It seems that the doctors had started reducing her steroids too soon and the SJS hadn’t yet run its course). Behind that fear is also strength. The two of them, working together to make sure the doctors and nurses got a full picture of what was happening. They shared their experience of when Christine first developed symptoms and they didn’t know what it was. Having this shared history helped when the Attending and the eye doctor visited because they were able to compare the beginning of Christine’s illness with her current situation.

The more I have learned about this syndrome, through my own research as well as following a blog that Caroline started to keep everyone updated, I learned both of the seriousness of Christine’s condition as well as the long and difficult recovery she faces. Some would say that the reason she is doing so well is because she is young and (other than SJS) healthy. This is true. But there is more to it than that. Christine has faith and determination. What impresses me most about Christine is Christine.

During my visit we talked; we talked about SJS, her symptoms, and her struggles. We also talked about faith and knowing that this has a purpose for her life. And we took a walk. Christine had been bed ridden for two weeks and had just begun to take short walks to the nurse’s station and back. The day I visited she had hoped to walk four times. While I was there she took walk number three. Walking was not easy, but she wanted to walk a little further and do it on her own. Even when she was visibly tired she did not want the nurses to get her a chair. She was determined to finish her walk.
It is that determination that I recognize and admire. There is a fight within that says “I’ll be damned if this thing is going to get me down.” I know she has her bad days; days of frustration and tears. That is expected. I saw so much of myself in her that afternoon. I was on the “other side” and I didn’t know what to say. I did tell her I was scared for her. It’s important to tell the truth. And by the time I left she looked much better; the swelling was down and she wasn’t as red. Her eyes seemed clearer, as if she wasn’t in as much pain.

As I left all I really wanted to do was take her in my arms, hold her tight, and make it all go away. Isn’t that the ultimate truth for all of us who are on the other side? It is the truth. About life, the universe and everything.