Thursday, October 31, 2013

Throwback Thursday

Today is Thursday, October 31. That means it is Throwback Thursday on Facebook. A day where you post pictures from the archives that are reminiscent of days gone by. It is also Halloween. A day where even the adults get to be children once again. Halloween also marks the last day in October, making it the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. (Though women and men should continue to pay attention to changes in their body and overall health, no matter what month it is). So, in honor of all three occasions, I bring you this photo from February 2008.

During treatment I had chosen not to wear a wig, so as a joke my husband bought me this wig. My skin was jaundiced from the poison that is chemotherapy and I’m a bit bloated from being hopped up on steroids. As a throwback this is a reminder of where I was and a celebration of how far I’ve come. For Halloween – well, it’s Elvira. And while the wig is not pink, it is a statement for Breast Cancer Awareness and education.
Be well.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rabbit Hill Inn

Rabbit Hill Inn is one of our favorite places in New England. We discovered it years ago when looking for a weekend get-away at a Distinctive Inn. While we don’t get to Vermont every year we go quite often. And over the years we’ve become friends with the Inn Keepers. What started as a weekend get-away for rest and relaxation has turned into our choice of destinations for birthdays, anniversaries, and other celebrations.

It is also the place we went to heal.

In November 2007 I had surgery for triple-negative breast cancer. I am one of the lucky ones; my cancer was caught early and was Stage I. Because triple-negative is an aggressive, fast-growing cancer it is most often diagnosed at a later stage with poorer outcomes.

In December 2007 we retreated to Rabbit Hill Inn. I was still recovering from surgery, had just finished law school, and was facing chemotherapy. My hair was still long because I refused to face the reality that I would lose my hair in another month. It was right before Christmas and the Inn was decorated for the holidays. It was an occasion for quiet time together. We spent time in our suite, sitting before the fire, reading. Dinner was a five-star feast at the Inn with wine and candlelight.

It was June 2009 before we returned. This time it was another time of recovery, but with better news. In May I had undergone a surgical biopsy on the same breast for a possible new cancer. (A new cancer is not a recurrence of the original cancer. It is a different cancer, with a different pathological diagnosis). Fortunately, the tumor was benign. And my hair had grown out enough that it just looked like I’d had a haircut.
We never told Brian and Leslie what had happened. There have been times at our various stays that I considered it, but the timing never seemed right. There was a recent visit where we wondered if everything was alright with Leslie, but we dismissed it as her being tired. Now we know. And they know.

Brian and Leslie have always been two very special people in our lives. They have welcomed us into their Inn with warmth and love. And during our time of need they provided us with a haven; a home away from home where we could escape, love and be loved, and heal.

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Gone L.O.C.O.

Last year I wrote about my girlfriends and how much they mean to me. This year I’d like to highlight one very special group. The LOCOs. (Ladies of Commander Owners).

My husband and I recently returned home from our annual get-together. This year’s destination was Fredericksburg, TX and the Hangar Hotel.
September 2008

This particular fly-in was especially meaningful for me. You see, we were in Fredericksburg five years ago. Just after I had finished my cancer treatments. And my hair had just started to grow back. Now here we were five years later, celebrating friendship and life.

These ladies are my sisters. We add to our numbers and connect over shopping, early morning coffee and afternoon tea. We come and go as we please, gathering together for a cocktail or soda at the end of the day before dinner. At any time I can find a group of these friends; we can sit and share stories or go off on some adventure together. Depending on who is around, the group is always different. Yet it is the same.

Our commonality is our husbands and their planes, but we have found that we share so much more. We have a similar sense of humor. Nicknames have been given. This year we started an impromptu dance party. We even get in trouble. (Sometimes I think we create more fun than the guys). And this year we were recognized at the Awards Banquet. Yes, even the pilots recognize our unique bond.   

We are each other’s support system and playmates. We are sisters and friends. And because we mean it, we never forget to say “I love you.”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Keep Your Bra On

October 13 is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. It is not “No Bra Day.” It is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.

I do not object to the Pink Ribbon campaign. I even like the silly team names at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. What I do not like is trivializing someone’s pain and suffering. Here are some things you need to know about metastasized (Stage IV) breast cancer:
  • Metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread to a vital organ.
  • Breast cancer metastasizes to the bones, liver, lungs, and brain most often, but can spread to any region of the body.
  • An estimated 155,000 Americans are living with metastatic breast cancer and approximately 40,000 people will die this year from metastatic breast cancer.
  • Treatment for metastatic breast cancer is lifelong and focuses on control of the spread of the disease and quality of life.
  • Approximately 6% to 10% of breast cancer diagnoses are Stage IV right from the beginning.
  • Metastatic breast cancer can occur up to 15-20 years after the initial diagnosis.
  • Of those diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, 20% -30% will develop metastatic breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is not just a disease of post-menopausal women. Young people and men can be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
  • There are different types of metastatic breast cancer. Treatment choices are determined by the type of breast cancer, location and extent of the metastasis, and previous treatments.
  • While metastatic breast cancer is not an automatic death sentence, most people will ultimately die of their disease.

I rarely get riled up about an issue, but I had a colleague die from metastatic breast cancer. I have a friend who is currently living with and being treated for metastatic breast cancer. I don't see how going braless shows support; especially on this particular day. So do me a favor and KEEP YOUR BRA ON.
If you enjoy my blog and would like to follow me on Facebook, I can be found at The Reluctant Survivor.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's Not About Pink Ribbons

On October 11 I posted the following status update on Facebook:

Six years ago today I had my annual physical where my doctor found a lump that she did not like. And so my story began.

As I wrote those words I realized I had so much more to “say” but there were too many words for a status update. (Status updates should be short and sweet so people actually read them). My thoughts went from Breast Cancer Awareness month to Pink October to what does it mean to me to what is it that I really want to communicate. You see, in the breast cancer community there is a rebellion against the pinking of October. Survivors object to the commercialization, the fact that many companies slap a pink ribbon on their product to make money but do not actually donate money to research, if at all, and that some companies give their money to foundations that do not support research.
I understand that sentiment. It is one of the reasons I support both the American Cancer Society and the Avon Foundation. Their money goes to research to find a cure for cancer. A victory for one type of cancer is a victory for all.
How do I feel about the pink ribbon campaign and Breast Cancer Awareness month? Awareness is a very good thing. But awareness is not about silly slogans, hearts on social media sites or going braless on Metastatic Breast Cancer Day. Awareness is about education. I wear a pink bracelet every day during the month of October. It was made for me by one of my friends. It reminds me of her love, as well as all the love and support I received (and still receive). It is also an opportunity for people to ask. And when there is an opportunity, I share. I share my knowledge as well as my story.
Part of my story is the fact that my doctor, my primary care physician, felt something she did not like during my annual physical. You see, not all breast cancer is found by having a mammogram.

[Having said that, if you are a woman over the age of 40, go get your annual mammogram!]

Breast cancer is found by doctors, by woman and men who notice a change in their breast, from mammograms, and from education. You need to know that not all breast cancer is the same. It is not a one-size-fits all disease.
The most common types of breast cancer are invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma. Some less common types are inflammatory breast cancer (there is no actual lump), triple-negative breast cancer (which is a diagnosis), Paget disease of the nipple, Phyllodes tumor (found in the connective tissue of the breast), and angiosarcoma (the cancer starts in the blood vessels or lymph nodes). Source: American Cancer Society.

There are risk factors associated with breast cancer. Some you can change. Some you cannot. Your age is a big factor. Only one in eight invasive breast cancers occur in women under the age of 45. We’ve all read about the gene mutation factor. Other risk factors you cannot change are a family history of breast cancer, your own personal history, your race or ethnicity (white women are more likely to develop breast cancer while African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer), having dense breast tissue, and certain benign breast conditions. My friend Leslie wrote about dense breast tissue and her message is a very important one if you have dense breast tissue.

There are also lifestyle-related factors like having children, birth control, hormone replacement therapy and breast feeding. Now, I do not recommend having children just to avoid breast cancer because there is no guarantee, but if you want children you should know that studies have shown that women who have had no children or who had their first child after the age of 30 have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. Other factors that you can control are alcohol intake, being overweight and your amount of physical activity.
As for the pinking of October I wrote about my feelings on the subject earlier this year in Think Pink. I do not object to the pink ribbon pins, but remember that Pink October is about getting the word out. It’s about education.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Outside My Comfort Zone

I have friends who like to post inspirational and motivational quotes. I have one friend who believes you should strive to work outside your comfort zone. In fact, his advice is to do one thing a year that is outside your comfort zone. Well, the San Francisco Avon Walk weekend certainly was outside my comfort zone.

I could have easily told my teammates “not this year.” I was not planning to walk in San Francisco so early in our quest to walk in each city where an Avon Walk is held. I figured if we saved San Francisco for last I’d be in good enough shape to do it. But the team wanted to walk in San Francisco. We had agreed that it would be a California walk and the San Francisco dates worked best for everyone. So I trained and tried not to think about the hills or the Golden Gate Bridge.
Well, it turned out that the weekend was filled with experiences that were outside my comfort zone. Friday evening two of my teammates and I ended up at a Japanese restaurant for dinner. They both wanted sushi and the first place we tried was out of fish entrees. (How can a restaurant that is rated “high” for their fish be out of fish in San Francisco?). Anyway, we walked down the street a couple of blocks and waited for a table at a small, genuine Japanese restaurant. I’ve have had California rolls before, but not the raw fish that is sushi. Also, I am not a fan of raw (rare) tuna. But here I was with my friends, and since I’m willing to try anything once I said “teach me.”
I ordered a sampler meal that included three types of raw fish over rice balls, three California rolls, and some tempura shrimp with vegetables. Sarah taught me how to use chop sticks. While it was quite amusing, I managed well enough to eat my meal. Susan taught me about the dipping sauces. They both filled me in on what is appropriate for eating both sushi and tempura. They assured me that making it finger food was perfectly acceptable (which is how I ended up eating my tempura).
Saturday the three walkers in our team (one was a crew member giving massages at the Wellness Village) headed out for the first part of our San Francisco Walk. I found that I could keep a good pace and not get winded; unlike the first two Walks in Houston and D.C. The hills were the hills of San Francisco and I did ok. There was only one place where I had to stop to catch my breath before continuing on.
I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge! The lunch stop was after the Bridge at the 13.1 mile marker. The halfway point is usually where I stop, but the route layout for San Francisco day one is shorter than 26.2 miles and day two is 15.5 miles (2.4 miles longer than usual). And lunch is usually at mile 11. Since I’m used to continuing the Walk after lunch, and I knew I had 15 miles on Sunday I decided to keep walking after lunch. I made it to the next rest stop at mile 15.9. A personal best.
Sunday we got to walk back across the Golden Gate Bridge. This time I walked with my teammates and we stopped for some pictures to “prove” we were actually on the Bridge. The truth is, it wasn’t so bad as long as I stayed focused and didn’t look down. I did look across the Bay; it is a spectacular view.

This year the Avon Walk was outside my comfort zone. But there was more than just the famous hills. I ate raw tuna, used chop sticks, walked across the Golden Gate Bridge (twice) and walked 31.4 miles. My comfort zone has just expanded.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Romans 8:28 Revisited

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” ~ Albert Einstein

It was Friday, September 27, 2013 and I was up early to catch a flight to San Francisco to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. As I poured my first cup of coffee my husband asked, “Did you see Leslie’s post?” I immediately logged into Facebook and went to the Rabbit Hill Inn page to read Leslie’s blog post. As I started to read tears came to my eyes. I started crying about half way through the post. I couldn’t believe what I was reading about my dear friend. And today of all days!

I like to arrive at the airport early; it cuts down on my anxiety. I’d rather wait at the gate for an hour than worry that I might miss my flight. We left earlier than we had to but my husband also needed to get to work. I figured I would get through security and go have breakfast. We pulled out of the driveway at 7:25 a.m. I was through security and at my assigned gate by 8:33 a.m. There was another San Francisco flight posted at that gate leaving at 8:55 a.m. I overheard a man asking at the counter if there were seats available; he had a later flight. The attendants said “yes” so I wandered up and mentioned that I was also on a later flight. The attendant looked me in the eyes and said, “No you’re not. You’re on this flight,” as he took my boarding pass and rebooked me for the 8:55. As he cancelled my original itinerary he mentioned that it was a good thing I was on this flight because my flight was showing a three hour delay.
I ended up with an aisle seat (which I like) and boarded the plane. I had enough time to send a quick text to my teammates and husband that I was on an earlier flight. How awesome was that?!?! The flight was uneventful and I was well attended to by one flight attendants. I arrived in San Francisco to a beautiful day of sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s. I made my way to the hotel and met up with my friend, roommate and teammate, Susan.
As the weekend unfolded I learned that the San Francisco Walk is usually held in July, but just this year, for one time only, it was rescheduled to September 28 & 29. Really? It just “happened” to be rescheduled? You know I don’t believe in coincidence. I took Leslie, and all the others I know, with me in my heart as I walked this past weekend.
And if I ever had any doubt about my purpose in walking, my flight experience certainly confirmed that I was meant to be in San Francisco this past weekend.
“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

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