Saturday, January 14, 2012

Antiperspirants and Flycasting

You know how it is when you fail to do something, and the longer you wait to rectify the situation, the harder it is to actually take the step. That's me - right here, right now. I have missed writing this blog; it is a great outlet for thoughts, feelings, impressions, opinions. But first I didn't have much in the way of update, and then when I did have something to write, I couldn't seem to grab the time.

Today's the day. I am not going to tread back through the last few months, except to say that all is well. I continue to read and research information about how to reduce the likelihood of cancer recurrence, and I find myself in "high dudgeon" over the lack of regulation of personal care products. Earlier in this blog I mentioned the good work of the Environmental Working Group, and once again I encourage folks to take a look at their website This site provides a wide range of excellent information for people trying to clean up their personal environment.

The latest news on the questionable safety of some personal care products came to me today via The People's Pharmacy, an informative radio show out of Durham/Chapel Hill. I receive their email newsletter, and today's special alert featured new information about parabens and aluminum compounds. Parabens are hormone disruptors with estrogen-like qualities, and the aluminum compounds have been found to change the way breast cancer cells divide. I'm not scientist, but just the basic information about those two chemicals makes me want to steer clear of them. I mean, how smart does one have to be to know that rattlesnakes are dangerous and therefore, learn to identify and avoid rattlesnakes?

On a happier, lighter note I want to give some attention to a terrific organization, Casting for Recovery. I attended a weekend retreat in October which was organized by this group. All my expenses were paid for a fall weekend on Lake Logan in western NC where I learned to fly fish along with other women who have breast cancer. The setting was incredibly beautiful and restful, but these women who run the retreat are SERIOUS about fly fishing, so I came away with some basic knowledge of casts, reading the water, flies, equipment, etiquette, and the like. The volunteers, some of them breast cancer survivors themselves, were warm, encouraging, organized, and helpful. The weekend involved not only sessions on fly fishing, but also on the emotional and medical aspects of breast cancer survival. I found that the experience of being on the stream, in the quiet, trying to focus only on the placement of the fly, took my mind to a completely new place. I understand now why people can get "hooked." This weekend retreat certainly counts as one of the BOUNTIES which came with breast cancer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another Alligator in My Dreams

I guess I was getting complacent. I know that I have fallen down on the blogging job. There just hasn't been much news on the breast cancer front, which is a good thing, and I have been ultra busy, doing things like taking a vacation to Nova Scotia and having to have my hair cut about every other week to keep these curls (that's a polite term) under control. Anyway, life has been zipping along, and I have slept well, with no reptilian visitors. Until last week.......

Truly, I cannot give very many details of this dream. When I woke up, I tried to hang on to them, but most of it wafted away on the morning air. My brain did, however, retain the clear image of the alligator. In the dream, I was on the banks of a river with a number of people, both male and female, familiar and unfamiliar. The edge of the river was quite muddy, and a couple of us were slogging along in the sludge when I realized that what appeared to be a muddy log with spread branches was actually an alligator covered in the muck. He was quite still, mouth closed; and no one else recognized what was at our feet. I was able to warn everyone away from the critter. And then I woke up. In all of this, I felt not one iota of fear. I felt completely in control of the situation, and was glad to be able to keep the other folks from stepping on this ugly fellow.

I'm not sure what to make of this dream. The messages hidden in the previous ones were easier to dig out. Maybe, just maybe, I can interpret this one this way: Since I have a clear idea of what it's like to have cancer, to go through treatment, and to live on the "other side" of the experience, I am equipped to help others "avoid the alligators."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dribs and Drabs

Life as a breast cancer "survivor" - (that's the only word I can come up with, even though I do not like it) - is pretty dull these days. So, instead of posting several paragraphs with my thoughts on a specific topic, today I am just going to list a few items or facts that have flitted across the screen of my daily life this summer.

  1. In July, I was so blase about my health that I FORGOT a three month check-up appointment with my oncologist.

  2. In August, I went to the rescheduled appointment, and was pleased but not surprised to learn that all seems to be well with the state of my health, in so far as that is ascertainable.

  3. Having waked up several nights in recent months with my nightclothes soaking wet with sweat, I looked up some articles on the web about tamoxifin, the anti-estrogen drug I am taking, and its side effects. One interesting British study (2008) found that the women who experience night sweats on this drug are significantly less likely to have a cancer recurrence. So, I say, bring 'em on!

  4. It interests me that every day, I am aware of breast cancer, but not in a bad, scary way. When I walk the dog, I think about how fortunate I am. In fact, when I do almost anything that is routine, I am frequently conscious of the pleasure of the ordinary. And, of course, having read stories written by other folks with cancer in their lives, I know that this mental state is itself pretty ordinary. What I am experiencing is nothing new, but I am so pleased to be able to live in this state of grace.

  5. Living with cancer offers a chance to live in an exquisite balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

  6. I continue to learn about ways to stay healthy. My dietary program keeps me busy, because I usually don't just "grab a bite" for lunch; often, I actually stop to cook vegetables to go with a lean protein. Very few sandwiches for me these days. I am grateful, also, to have good food easily accessible - grocery stores, farmer's markets, places to get organic meat and produce. Also, I have made my own non-toxic all purpose cleaner, as well as a fruit and vegetable wash. It makes me laugh that I use Borax for numerous cleaning jobs these days, remembering the tv show of my childhood, "Wagon Train," and Ward Bond announcing, "brought to you by 20 Mule Team Borax." We never should have moved on from the old tried and true.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Few Things They Don't Teach You in "Breast Cancer School"

Every time I think I have written all that is possible on this blog, I'll be walking along, minding my own business, and another post will come to mind. This morning, I was walking the dog and slapping my right armpit (more on that later), and I realized that there were a number of things about cancer, cancer recovery, cancer side items, etc., that no one ever mentioned to me. Worthy of a blog post? What the heck.

First of all, the armpit slapping. Since I had lymph nodes removed under my right arm...9 of them...I have scarring and major numbness under that arm. In the year since surgery the feeling has been returning to that area gradually, but the accompanying feeling is like an interior itch that I cannot reach to scratch. I never have had a broken bone, but I imagine that this itch/burn/zinging sensation is a bit like the itch that you cannot scratch inside the cast. The itch isn't constant, thank the Lord, but seems to come in spurts which last anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. I am in the middle of one right now that started last evening at bedtime, continued through the night, and is still going pretty strong. Slapping the area seems to ease the sensation better than actual scratching. Maybe the slap does something to deaden the nerve endings. Who knows?

Second thing I didn't know was that brassieres could be considered "medical necessities." I had a pleasant surprise when I visited what I call "the fake bosom store" last week to purchase a new bra to remedy the "wardrobe malfunction" which I mention in an earlier post. Come to find out that Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC will buy 6 bras per year for me, and new "fake bosoms" every other year. In my whole life I have never purchased 6 bras in one year, but now my insurance company will pay for them. Also, some other clothing items, like camisoles designed to hold the breast prostheses, are also considered "bras" for insurance purposes. Interesting?

The third thing I have learned about is the decidedly job-like nature of "not having cancer." Having surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were simple, scheduled, straightforward, and finite options for saving my life. They did not require much thought or investment on my part; I just had to show up physically and tolerate the protocol. Now that I am living in a post medical intervention period, I find that I must invest a tremendous amount of time, thought, and effort in the work of staying cancer-free. (I know some people just do the "medical thing" and then live their lives as if the cancer never happened, but that is just NOT ME.) So almost every day I spend time thinking about what will be beneficial to eat; how I am sleeping; whether I am taking time to relax, pray, meditate; how I am improving/cleaning up my environment; whether I am getting enough exercise; and so on. I realize how fortunate I am to have the time and the financial resources to focus on my health in this way, and I pray that in some future world, the care for cancer patients will include some clearly delineated path for post-treatment self-care, such as what I have designed for myself. No one told me to do it this way, so maybe my experience is rare. But for now, I wake up each morning feeling that I have a job to do, and it sure takes a lot of time. But BEING ALIVE and HAVING TIME are good things.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Friend Kent

My friend Kent Doty Wolfe died this week.

Kent died as a result of having breast cancer which metastasized to her liver and bones. I mentioned her in a post this winter, right after she had gotten the word about the spread of the cancer, in the same week that Elizabeth Edwards died. It was NOT a good week. And this one has been even harder. I am not particularly more scared for myself, but I just cannot wrap my head around Kent's being dead, and so quickly.

Kent was not just a friend with whom I had bonded over our shared breast cancer diagnosis; she was a friend from my childhood - a year older than I, but part of "the High Street Gang," which included lots of children who were around the same age as my brother and I. Her parents were friends of my parents, and she lived an easy walk from my house. The smartest dog in town and my personal trusty sidekick, "Flirt," was the offspring of Kent's dog "Flip" and the disreputable "Whitey" (usually greenish-brown, from rolling in fresh cow manure, NOT white) who belonged to the Ravenels, another component of the gang. My memories of Kent include the iconic early teenage scene of sneaking cigarettes and smoking in her room, as well as the more bucolic picture of our camping with our mutual friend Margaret, at about ages 9 and 10, burning up in the July pine woods of South Carolina and resorting to stripping down to our underwear for the hottest part of the day.

Kent possessed a great wit, and a joking response to every situation seemed to be her stock in trade. Every time I spoke with her about our common diagnosis, she was very off-hand in her approach. Whereas I was looking for a damned answer, she was just rolling with the punches and telling funny stories. She claimed to be unable to even remember the staging of her cancer; I can give you chapter and verse about mine. Now I am wondering if that position wasn't just her way of handling the experience, rather than being evidence of a lack of concern.

The shocking part of Kent's death was how quickly she went from being "on the mend" to being deathly ill. She was very tired from this second go-'round of chemo and radiation, but I had not gotten the vaguest sense that she was close to death. She entered the hospital rather unexpectedly on Sunday with severe nausea, and she died on Wednesday morning.

What more can I say? I had hoped that Kent and I would be able to look back together at years of living from scan to scan. We would compare notes about our hair loss, our underwear challenges, our terrific husbands. Even though her cancer had moved to her bone and liver, I fully expected that she would live some Stage 4 folks do....and that we would have many more good laughs together.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Wardrobe Malfunction

Buying underwear has never been high on my list of favorite pastimes. And I would never darken the door at Victoria's Secret even when I HAVE to shop for unmentionables. In fact, my underclothes are so boring that they ARE mentionable. Say "cotton," "plain," "opaque, not see-through." In fact, I'll go ahead and say it: "Hanes Her Way" cotton underpants along with the least expensive bra I can find which will make my clothes fit.

Since my mastectomy, I have had to purchase my topside underclothes at a specialty shop for women in my condition. The store offers quite a wide array of styles, but I have been muddling along with a few "plain Jane" bras for my oh-so-lovely silicone inserts. I have not bothered myself with any special designs; just the basics is all I have thought about.

Picture my surprise and chagrin a few weeks ago, as I rushed to get ready for a fancy dress evening, when I discovered that the dress I was planning to wear....and the only thing I own that was really appropriate (I also do not shop for dressy clothes until backed up against a wall of necessity)....would not work, so to speak, with my meagre selection of undergarments. The bodice of this dress features a square cut neckline, and the bras I own did not accommodate this cut. Not a good look...a couple of plain white bra straps sloping across my upper chest, under a very chic black cocktail dress.

My brain flew into overdrive, and I decided that I could just pull an old trick from early teenage years, and stuff one of my old "leftover" bras with some tissues. But when I frantically began to scramble through my lingerie drawer (I use that term loosely), I remembered that I had donated all my old bras to Goodwill last year. What to do?

I wish I could report a wonderful MacGyveresque story (remember the TV show?) about my improvising an appropriate bra out of a couple of belts and a castoff tennis shoe. Wish I could, but, no; I just made a very dull choice and wore a "Sunday-go-to-meeting" dress which could sort of pass as a cocktail dress.

The moral of this story is "just because you don't have anything to put in them, doesn't mean that you shouldn't own a wide array of brassieres." Live and Learn.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mark Twain

"I am able to say that while I am not ruggedly well, I am not ill enough to excite an undertaker." Mark Twain

George Will used this quotation a week ago in an editorial about his turning 70; I thought it was a marvelous quote, and I just had to use it. And in fact, it does speak to where I find myself right now.

Where I find myself is in between the end of treatment and possible recurrence down the road somewhere; in between blithe disregard for my health and stupid worry; in between life as usual and life forever changed. I don't want to become one of those people who never gets over having a particular experience. On the other hand, I do want to keep the freshness of the cancer terror somewhere nearby, so that I can use it for motivation to remain committed to a healthy life....defined by low stress, good-for-me food, laughter, plenty of exercise, and love given and received.