Thursday, June 27, 2013

How I'll Spend My Summer Vacation

Last summer, precisely at this time I was blogging about the upcoming CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) via Confreda Farms and Gardens. I was all hyped up about all of the fun and interesting produce I was going to prepare and eat. I spent each Tuesday opening up a big box of bounty, "Oohing and Ahhing", and then photographing it all with my kids. And when the kids weren't looking, I'd put some of the veggies in precarious positions and amuse myself.

This summer, I will be blogging about a different kind of CSA.  Same letters, different topic.

Cancer Sucks Ass.

Yep.  Who knew? My Breast Cancer diagnosis came in May, followed by a partial mastectomy and now we are faced with 4 rounds of chemo, starting tomorrow.  Come October (ironically, Breast Cancer Awareness Month), I will be having a double mastectomy with reconstruction. My house is going to look like the Pepto Bismol Invasion! Pink Pink Everywhere! Damn, it's a good thing I like pink.

So here it is, a full turn from corn, lettuce and zucchini to nausea, mouth sores, and diarrhea! If I were you, I'd find a happier blog to read.

I was trying to come up with something lighter and fluffier for CSA, like Cancer Sails Away! But let's be honest, Cancer really does suck ass. Even if you've never had Cancer, I know you know someone who has had it, and you know from their experience, it sucks, right? Sure, you can say Cancer brings you many gifts and changes you for the better and makes you stronger! Blah, Blah, and BLAH.

But it still sucks. I'm as ready as I'll ever be and just want this first treatment under my belt. The nurse gave me an option to wait another week and I was like, "Uh, no! Sign me up NOW before I go all Shirley McLaine on your ass!" (Well, I didn't say that exactly because her name was Heather and she is a "Nurse Navigator", and anyone who can help me navigate Cancer is ok in my book! (Ooops, I almost typed BOOB instead!)

Whew. No time like the present, right?

Hence, my Pre-Chemo To Do List:

1. Get a haircut like Nurse Jackie 

2. Go wig shopping with my posse and hopefully laugh instead of cry. (We will probably get kicked out.)

3. Research chemo side effects and proper nutrition. (Check, and dOnE!)

4. Wonder if, when my hair does fall out approximately 14 days after my first treatment, if my bald head will make my neck look fat. Will there be a 666 tattooed on there like Damien in The Omen? And how will I hide my flaky scalp? 

5. Buy false eyelashes and figure out how to draw on eyebrows so I don't look like Uncle Leo in Seinfeld

6. Research apps that show what you would look like bald. Call me crazy but I really don't want my kids freaking out when the time comes so that's what I did.  Check, and DONE, thanks to my overzeolous 10 year old, we've all been "Baldified". Will spare you the pictures until the real thing happens, if I'm THAT brave.

7. Set up my Caring Bridge support site so that family and friends can help us through with meals, transportation, etc. ChEcK and dOnE! (Ps. My family and friends rock!!)

8. Get my Pink Big Girl Panties on cuz it's gonna be a wild ride!

Thanks friends for all your words of encouragement and please share this with someone you love!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Thank You Sisters, Pink and Brown

The last 2 weeks have kind of sucked. Remember when I said long ago in a prior post that I was not bitter or angry? Well, I think I lied, but not on purpose. It all started to hit me; the diagnosis, the upcoming battles, the unknown, PMS, and the wretched thing FOLLOWING the PMS. Seriously, God, why do you not give women a break? I have to believe that there is a special heaven for women because there is just too much shit we have to go through. (Don't get me started on the whiny men on Facebook complaining about their damn sniffles!). Can you tell I'm in a mood?

So, my mood has not been good. Usually, when I find myself in a funk, I can snap out of it in a day or two, but these last 2 weeks have found me getting down with my bad self, but not in a good way. I'm constantly anxious and tired, and the anxiety keeps fueling itself, creating more anxiety. I've been crying a lot more too, which is probably a good thing because I haven't really cried much since this all began just 2 short months ago.  I mostly cry at night, when I am alone in the bathroom, where there is a big fat mirror staring me in the face.  (And to my mother, stop crying this minute and go eat a Zeppole!) Sometimes I talk to myself and have some spiritual Stuart Smalley time. I am so sure I have reached beyond the point of over sharing and to my friends, family and neighbors, if you are reading this, don't freak out.  This blog is therapeutic for me and I know someone out there understands exactly how I feel.


Too many women know exactly how I feel. And that brings me down too. So many, so much younger than me who haven't even gotten married or had kids, are dealing with too much, too soon.  (And what the hell.... right now I'm listening to Pandora radio and "Live Like You are Dying" is on, like really?)

ANYWAY! Friday night I had the chance to go out with my best friend and meet up with a bunch of high school friends. Or, I had the chance to go to a Young Survivors Breast Cancer group where I would know not one person. It was a cookout at a friend of a friend of a friend's house. We connected on FB just this week. 

I chose the party where I would know no one. I just knew it was the right thing to do. I didn't have the energy to put on a "Happy Face" at the other event, although I'm sure no one would expect me to. Another recent and unexpected feeling lately is one of isolation, not because there are not enough supportive people around me. Trust me, I have love, family, and friends who would drop anything for me. But lately, I have been feeling like an outsider looking in and I can't relate to the world. Everyone says this is normal and will pass with time. 

So I went to the Survivors party. Nicole, the hostess, literally welcomed me with open arms. We hugged and kissed like we were sisters.  I consider her my Pink Sister, having endured 2 tours of duty with Cancer, chemo, and numerous surgeries. To Hell and back and now Cancer free for 7 years!  She is a trooper and an inspiration to me. One day I hope to help other women the way she is now. 

Meeting the survivors and hearing their stories, feelings, anxiety, and mostly their "happy endings" was what I needed that night. I am so happy to have found some local Pink Sisters to balance out my life with my "Brownie Sisters" (They know who they are!) Who said women can't have it all?

I really am blessed to have perfect strangers welcoming me and all my woes, AND family and friends who still love me, even though my left armpit, thanks to the absence of deodorant, now smells like hot wieners.

Lucky Me!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Becky's Big Decision: Make Mine a Double!

It's been 3 weeks since my lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. Since then, I have seen a plastic surgeon, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. My scar is healing nicely and my third boob is shrinking (see previous blog), thank God. 

The goal of the surgery was to get what they call in the Breast Cancer world, a "clear margin". My doctor removed the 2 tumors he was going in for and then found 2 others in between that had not been detected on the other tests. He got his clear margin by removing a good chunk of tissue (6 cm on an A cup girl) in the surrounding area, meaning, it was cancer free.  Sounds fantastic, right? Well, there's more, meaning, there's MORE. Just outside of the margin is another issue called DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ), which is more cancer waiting to happen inside the milk ducts and it's spread around in 2 other locations. Also, out of the 3 lymph nodes removed, 2 were negative and one tested positive for micrometastasis. 

So, here are my options.  Go in for more surgery to remove the DCIS and then do radiation. Or, do a mastectomy with no radiation. Chemo is also on the table and a very high likelihood due to the aggressiveness of the tumors and the lymph node issue. 

Based on the amount of tissue already removed, I have had what is really called a Partial Mastectomy and not what a lumpectomy is (no more than 10% of breast removed). Now, to remove MORE tissue and then to radiate it, will leave this already sad breast in a deep state of depression. 

My breast surgeon doesn't know it yet, but I decided he's going to be doing a bi-lateral mastectomy on yours truly. This decision did not come easily but for me, it's the only one that makes sense. My female radiation oncologist completely agrees that to further destroy the breast and then try to rebuild it makes no sense. And even though I tested negative for the gene, I have a strong family history and there could be another genetic component to this we don't know about. I have an option to do a single mastectomy with reconstruction, keep the "healthy" breast and have it augmented to match the other one. However, I will need to have mammograms every 6 months on that side. And to be honest, I have major trust issues with the mammograms, considering my experience. This does not mean you should not have a mammogram. Don't misinterpret what I am saying. 

My feeling is, I do not want to go through this HELL ever again. I am living in a constant state of anxiety already. I do not want to have a future of more biopsies, more needles, more waiting, more living in a holding pattern, more living appointment to appointment. More feeling like I'm living in constant fear of an act of terrorism. I'm not exaggerating. If you have ever experienced something like this, you will understand. It is no way to live. And the sad thing is, there are millions of women who feel like this every day and keep on going. You may not know the angst they are feeling, but believe me, it's  there. But they try to put on a happy face. When they do get some alone time, they are falling apart inside.

So, enough of that. My Pity Party is coming to an end. 

The bottom line is, I have to make the decision which will give me peace of mind and no regrets down the road.  When I tell people about this decision, the response is a resounding,"Good for you!" That, and a sigh of relief and a, "I was hoping you would do that!"  Now, I am not saying  that my decision is what every woman with breast cancer should do.  Breast Cancer is so complex and no 2 cases are the same. There are phenomenal treatment options which include preserving the breasts with good prognoses.  

Thanks to research, technology and a bunch of wicked smart people, there are so many options available and Breast Cancer no longer means a death sentence. I plan on being here to harrass you all for a VERY long time. Don't worry. My new knockers may require a change in my blog site to "Becky's Big Boobs".  Stay tuned.....

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's My Cancer and I'll Laugh if I Want to

"Laughter is the best medicine."
"Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you cry alone."

"Cancer is probably the most unfunny thing in the world, but I’m a comedian, and even cancer couldn’t stop me from seeing the humor in what I went through. — Gilda Radner

Call me crazy, but I have never laughed so much in my life. I discovered that throughout this journey, I like laughing a lot more than crying. Don't get me wrong, the fears, the tears, the insomnia and the depression all take their turn. Sometimes, one has to stand in line while the others skooch to the front. And often, all four of the above are body slamming each other like Sumo wrestlers. 

I have come to accept that this is ok and every day is different. I find that making time for these emotions is a good thing, but I try hard not to let them overcome me and ruin my day.  Life still goes on and I don't want my household to feel like a dark and dreary place. Thankfully, I am surrounded by comedians and my family and friends all understand my twisted sense of humor and know just how to make me laugh. Thank you!

Endless doctors appointments, needles, biopsies, surgery, pain. All not fun or funny. Take, for example, my post lumpectomy body. No one really prepares you for the "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" moment. Now, even though my breast is still in tact, it looks like a victim of a hit and run (and the guy did not have insurance so I'm not sure how my dents are going to fix themselves!) There is a 5 inch scar which is healing rather nicely but then there is this area between my armpit and breast which is swollen up like an orange. It's puffy, still numb and I can't get comfortable so if you see me walking around like I'm doing a salute, then you will understand. 

My husband affectionately calls this, my "Third Boob", or as I like to call it, "My Big Fat (sometimes) Hairy Armpit", coming soon to a theater near you.  See, that's funny, right?

And then there is the most exciting fashion accessory ever invented for post Breast Cancer surgery. 

The Tube Top. Or I call it, the Boob Top. I feel like a sausage in its casing, but it's my saving grace!

Other things are not always "Ha Ha" funny. Like the time I called a doctor's office for some crucial test results. I had been waiting the alotted time, very patiently. The front line office gal answered the phone and I spent approximately 82 seconds explaining my need for the results, I was borderline sobbing. After I finished my dissertation, her best, immediate reply was, "WHATCHYERDATEOFBIRTH?" Yes, this is the best she could do. 

Really? Someone is crying on the phone and that's all you got? You can't acknowledge this person's fears and say something like, "Oh dear, this must be a tough time, let me check on this for you." That's all I really needed to hear. Not, "WHATCHYERDATEOFBIRTH?"  Are you an EFFING robot? 

At that moment, I was furious and annoyed. But now, I find it very funny that someone is that ignorant and really has no other weapons in her arsonal. I discovered that "WHATCHYERDATEOFBIRTH" is the universal pat response from every health care professional just trying to do her job.  "Funny, Ha Ha"?  Not one bit. In fact, that's another blog all together.

Finding humor in dire situations has been one of my best coping mechanisms so far. If laughter is the best medicine, then my Cancer is going to be cured sooner than I thought!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Strangeness of Kind People: A Cancer Etiquette Guide

Before I talk about the odd things that people say in response to your Cancer diagnosis, let me first say that I was probably one of those people who responded with an inappropriate, but well-meaning comment before I, myself was diagnosed. I think that people really do care but sometimes, just don't know what to say. Nothing kills the mood more at a party than telling someone you have Cancer!

I am no expert on Cancer Etiquette but I am quickly realizing there are just some things you should or shouldn't say. 

In the category of things you like to hear:

"Oh my God, I'm so sorry to hear this news! Are you ok? Do you want to talk about it?"

"I will pray for you. Is it ok if I put your name on a prayer list at my church/synagogue?" (I always say YES to this one. The more prayers, the better!)

"I can help you if you need a ride to an appointment, I can cook you a meal, help with the kids, etc" (Be  specific in what your useful skills are to help the person out. One friend offered to clean my house but instead I asked her to come over and give me a manicure as that is her trade. Plus, I really look forward to some girl time that doesn't make me feel like a "patient").

"I want to say something positive to you but I don't even know what to say". A mom at school actually said this to me and I responded, "You just DID say something positive by showing me you care." If she had stayed silent and never spoke to me about it, I would have felt she didn't care. Don't be afraid to speak to me. I won't break! I may cry, but that is ok. I'm probably due for one anyway.

"I am here for you and I will keep sending you positive thoughts and energy".

"You are very strong and I know you will get through this. We are all here to support you and you won't get through this alone."

In the category of things you don't need to hear:
"How did this happen to you? You're so healthy and do everything right!"

"Well, they caught it early so you'll be just fine." (You don't know this for sure. Cancer lives in the body for a long time and everyone's case is so unique. Don't be so flip.)

"My cousin had Cancer in his testicles and he did great!" (Yup. Boobs, balls, all the same).

"My sister in-law had half of her esophagus removed and then had chemo. You'll be fine, just like her!"

"Cancer is a gift!"

"I swear there is something in the water! You are the 2nd person this week to tell me this."

"Wow, I've had this growth on my leg, can you look at it?"

And the prize for the stupidest comment to date:
"I think you are cursed"

So, there you have it. My first Cancer Etiquette Guide, from me to you.  Share it with anyone who suffers from diarrhea of the mouth. 

Don't Let Fear Destroy Your Life and Your Health

Since my Breast Cancer diagnosis just about a month ago,  I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of women about their own issues and self-detection. As I previously wrote about my own detection, I just knew something was wrong in my gut, but there was something else that happened in February that I forgot to include in the "announcement" blog. 

My husband and I took the kids to the Boston Museum of Science and they had a phenomenal section on Breast Cancer. They actually had a "Touch and Feel" section of 2 different breasts that were sort of rubbery. One had a Cancerous tumor and the other had just a benign cyst. I remember feeling the one that was Cancerous and having that "Ah-HA!" moment. It felt just like mine did and that moment stayed with me until I finally brought myself to the doctor 2 months later.  Again, I think I was in a bit of denial and fear, ha...just a bit. Keep in mind, my mammogram from December was just fine and I was told to come back in one year. I had that information in my head, trying to rationalize that I didn't need to go to the doctor because the mammogram wouldn't lie, would it? 


It can make or break you. In my case, I faced it and took care of it. I didn't prolong it any further. However, many women are so paralyzed by fear and denial, they never go for mammograms, Pap smears, or physicals. They may take very good care of their roots, their nails, their makeup and their body hair. But the insides of their bodies are totally neglected.  

And at this moment I am going to quote a very wise BFF, nurse, and overall superb human being:

"We do not live in a third world country and there is no excuse for ANYONE to NOT have a mammogram." (Just Google "Free Mammogram" if you don't believe me.)

She is absolutely, 100% correct. She and I have heard stories of women bragging about not having a mammogram for 5 years, and being "just fine". Well, you know what Missy? You are just lucky, that's all. 

Having a cavalier attitude about your own health can destroy your life. And if you neglect it for so long and then expect your body to bounce back, you are sadly mistaken. Do not take your body for granted. Please! 

One out of eight women are diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  Look within your circle of friends right now. Do you know someone in that circle who has Breast Cancer? I looked inside my own circle a few month ago and realized I did not have a friend with Breast Cancer. Well, what do you know? I have just fulfilled the quota within my circle.

I'm not trying to invoke more fear. That will just paralyze you. I am trying to get you to take the action you need. I want you to talk about your checkups with your girlfriends, aunts and mothers. I want you to be the one to start that conversation about health and wellness. I want you to pick up that phone and schedule those exams, like you schedule your weekly nail appointments and your Girls' Nights. 

I am the girl who never smoked, drank, or used drugs. I cook mostly everything I eat, I stay within a healthy weight range, have yearly physicals, mammograms, etc. I am not perfect. I eat too much sugar. I don't sleep enough and probably could exercise more. I didn't think I would get Breast Cancer but I did, even after leading a healthy life. I don't dwell on why or how I got it, that is not very productive at this stage of the game. I see people all around me destroying their bodies and they don't have Cancer, but I do. I am not bitter or angry. What makes me angry though is people who think they are invincible to disease and don't take charge of their bodies and full advantage of the superb health care we have in this country.

"We do not live in a Third World country".

Remember that. Please.