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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Perhaps another day I will feel like a longer post, but for now, let's just say that there is "joy in Mudville." The PET scan for metastasized cancer was negative.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

PET Scan - Hoping to be a cool cat, not a hot dog

This morning at 7:45 I casually arrived at the Forsyth Radiology Center, dressed appropriately in clothing without zippers, snaps, or other metal fasteners. As if it were an ordinary day, I smiled at the nurses and technicians, chatted amiably, presented my left arm for IV insertion, received the dose of radioactive glucose, and grabbed up a couple of magazines to peruse while the stuff pumped through my vessels to reach all the important brain, my bones, my liver, my lungs. I spent a very pleasant hour, lounging in a recliner under a warm blanket, waiting for the stuff to do its duty.

As I understand it, the radioactive glucose travels around the body, and since cancer cells LOVE sugar, they will gobble it up greedily and show up on the scanner as a "hot" spot. I am hoping, of course, to find that there are no such spots anywhere in my body.

The time in the scanner is short...maybe 20 or 30 minutes, and since I was covered with another warm blanket, I think I slept a bit. Unlike an MRI machine, this scanner is quiet, and except for an occasional shift in or out of the open ended tube, I couldn't tell there was anything happening. The staff is so professional, yet nonchalant, that one could forget that this two hours on a Wednesday morning was an "edge of the cliff" kind of experience for me. Most of the time, I wasn't thinking of the outcome; but when I came out of the machine, the thought washed over me that the answer was waiting on the monitors in the next room. But I am going to have to wait a whole week before finding out whether I am a "cool cat" or a "hot dog."

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I've had vulnerability in my mind a lot lately. (This is not nearly as much fun as having "Carolina in my mind" - apologies to James Taylor.) About two weeks ago, I was feeling pretty much on top of the world, eating right, exercising, working outside, planning things. In the midst of that I realized that breasts can be a big hindrance, and that, in many ways, without them, I feel like the powerful, almighty, invincible pre-teen girl that I was 52 years ago....breastless and glad to be.

Growing up in the rural South, I spent a lot of time outside in the summertime, and, until I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was allowed to go "bare-breasted" in the warm weather. There was a sense of equality that came with that shirtlessness. Then came the horrible day when my mother insisted that I was too old to go shirtless. It was a real downer for me. Breasts make a woman vulnerable. Their growth on her chest brings attention, and she cannot hide them. For an uncertain pre-teenager, breasts are just one more differentness to have to deal with. They are easily bumped and bruised, and become one more reason that girls must be treated differently.

Don't get me wrong.; I understand the utility, even the fun, of having breasts. But my memories of my years without noticeable mammary glands are decidedly positive ones. The minute the darn things started sprouting, I began to experience a differentness that was not altogether welcomed. No more tackle football, more closely monitored after-school activities, changed expectations about relationships, etc.

I know breast cancer is not the number one killer of women; I believe that award goes to heart disease. But cancer is still a big and ugly plague on womankind, and it does seem particularly cruel that the part of a woman's body which has made her vulnerable and visible as a woman since puberty should be the very part of the body susceptible to this crappy disease.

This rambling post has not "come together" as smoothly as I would like. The bottom line, I guess, is this: doing without breasts has reminded me of how powerful I felt as a girl and how some of that power faded when I entered puberty, perhaps because I felt more vulnerable. Now, I am really enjoying that feeling of freedom again, going breastless (and sometimes braless) into my future.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Alligators Again

About two weeks ago, I was out of town and had another alligator dream, which I want to note in this blog, just for the record. At the time I woke up, the dream was quite vivid, and I should have written a few notes at that time. But I didn't, so what I have left are a few shreds of images and some thoughts about meaning.

In this dream, which was in vivid color, I spend a lot of time running.....I think to help someone. At least one of the times, I believe I am somewhere near my hometown, out in the country. In each dream sequence, my running takes place on rather narrow strips of solid ground between watery canals. And in those canals guessed it....ALLIGATORS. The water is clear enough to see the gators swishing along under the surface, although the dominant color of the water is rusty brown. Or really, more like the color of iced tea.

During the dream, I focus on the need to get somewhere fast, rather than on the alligators. However, I am conscious that they are next to me, and that a foolish step to one side or the other will put me in the water with them. I watch them very closely as I run.

The rest of the dream is lost in that place that dreams go. However, the alligators in the canal have stayed with me. Here is my interpretation. Right now I am on a pretty narrow path toward health, and I am running as hard as I can to save my own life. As long as I can maintain the pace and keep to the narrow path, I have a chance to evade the alligators. I know that one of them can decide to crawl up out of the canal; but, at the moment, they seem content to stay in their place without bothering me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Chew, Chew, Chew Your Food

Some things are best left to the imagination. So, get your imagination revved up to figure out what happens when one begins to eat a minimum of two cups of cruciferous vegetables each day. Cruciferous vegies are things like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. You got it....things that, when they are cooking, smell like a grammar school lunchroom , and can smell worse at another point in their life cycle. And they require a healthy digestive system to get them all happily processed.

I learned, via my Naturopathic doc, that I really need to chew my vegetables very thoroughly in order to avoid the unpleasant side effects of this assault on my digestive tract. Because there are enzymes in saliva that "kick start" the digestive process, there is less work for the old stomach and gut to do. So, it seems that my mother was right; I do need to eat more slowly. And, guess what! It really works! No more concern about being able to leave the privacy of my own home after a meal!

Amazingly, I find that I never get hungry between meals on this regimen, and my weight is staying steady at my "pre-cancer-diagnosis-optimum-weight." Although weight control was not at the top of my list of concerns when I decided to attempt this dietary re-make, the pleasure of eating plenty while staying slim provides great positive reinforcement for staying true to the diet. Plus, I just like the food.

In closing, here's a little ditty to help you remember this important information:
Chew, chew, chew your sprouts,
broccoli and kale;
If you chew just like a cow;
Chew it then and chew it now.
You'll not produce a gale.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eating Like It's My Job

Over fifty years of shopping for food and preparing food in certain ways creates some deeply ingrained habits; and changing habits requires focus, dedication, determination, and a belief that what you are doing is worth the effort. I am hip-deep in changing lifelong habits, and I am finding that it is incredibly time-consuming. Those who know me well, and who know how much I love food, will find it hard to believe that I actually do NOT like thinking constantly about what I am going to put in my mouth; but it's true. I will be glad when some of these changes become habits, so my brain can be freed up for other thinking about what time I can take a nap.

Right now my goal each day is to eat nutrient-dense meals. Before this, I thought I was eating a healthy diet....and by most standards, I probably was. For instance, I haven't eaten "fast food" in decades, unless you count an occasional salad at Subway or an indulgent 6 pack of chicken strips at Chik-fil-A as "fast food." However , I have discovered that I really have been robbing myself of a great way to fill the tank by not filling up on fruits and vegetables, but that it takes planning. In short, I have been including so many more vegies and fruits in my daily diet, that it is consuming big hunks of time just keeping them on hand, not to mention preparing them. The up side of all this is that I am seldom hungry between meals.

The best thing I recently have discovered is that some frozen vegetables, like cauliflower and brussel sprouts, turn out very well roasted with olive oil. Previously, I had roasted only fresh vegetables, which I love; but frozen ones are so much cheaper, easier to keep on hand, and entirely acceptable as a side item with lunch. I might still serve fresh to guests, but for my daily servings of cruciferous vegetables, frozen works just fine.

And liquids. Lord have mercy. I am floating, but still not drinking enough on most days. Of course, because I am taking additional vitamins and supplements, sometimes between meals, I do try to drink a significant amount of water when I am washing them down. And I know that soon my body will want more liquid as it gets accustomed to being supplied with more.

All in all, I feel so pleased with the steps I have taken toward better health. Whether or not this effort prevents a recurrence of breast cancer, only time will tell. But in the meantime, I feel much happier with myself for having taken charge of this part of my life. Plus, I know that I am healthier in general, with more energy and a positive outlook. And if the cancer does recur, I will still be ahead of the game in my physical and mental well-being.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Naturopathic Approach to Health

Where to begin? First of all, my mood is back in the normal zone. I am feeling even more hopeful and energized than I was when I wrote the last entry. My appointment with Dr. Jillian Sarno Teta at the Naturopathic Health Clinic went very well, from my perspective, in that she offered easy positive steps which I can take to strengthen my immune system, cleanse that old workhorse - the liver, and get rid of excess estrogen, which is the baddie which can fuel the cancer. As soon as I left her office I felt better, mainly because I regained some control.

I am not foolish enough to believe that I am actually in control of the ultimate outcome. However, I do feel stronger, knowing that I have done everything in MY power to assist my body in throwing off this invader. If there is a recurrence, I will accept it more easily if I have "done my part" in the fight.

Second, the prescription for my health involves some dietary changes, but nothing that has proven to be onerous, and, for me, being engaged with a project has its own set of rewards. In general, I am just eating more lean protein and less fat; avoiding sugar; bumping up my intake of cruciferous vegies; sticking to organic meats, fruits, and vegies; drinking tons of water and other good liquids; making sure that my daily intake of food is nutrient dense; and generally avoiding bad fats, processed foods, coffee, and black tea. The hardest part for me is taking in enough liquid. I feel like I drink and drink and drink, and still I do not meet the basic requirement of one half my body weigh in ounces per day.

Another thing I wanted from this meeting was an assessment of the vitamins and supplements I was taking. Over time, my "bag o'pills" had gotten rather hodge-podgy, and I was beginning to think I didn't really know what I needed. There has been so much press lately about Vitamin D, Calcium, etc., and I just couldn't decide which way to jump. Dr. Jillian helped with that problem also. Of course, she wants me to take the brand of vitamins and minerals that she recommends, because the drugstore brands I was using are not compounded in the most bio-available way. No problem there. I am willing to pay the extra money for the assurance that I am taking good quality supplements in the correct dosages at the right time of day, etc.

Additionally, Dr. Sarno put me on some enzymes. I have read quite a bit about enzyme therapy for cancer treatment, and although it is still looked at askance by the medical establishment, I believe that the day will come when its efficacy will be more widely acknowledged. I mentioned in an earlier post about the research concerning papaya leaf tea, which releases a vital enzyme known to weaken cancer cells. I am still drinking that tea on occasion, but I am glad to be taking these pills twice a day as well.

Finally, as a result of this new diet, I have reaped another benefit: I have lost the last few pounds left over from the gain during chemotherapy. I cannot attribute this loss to any other source because my exercise habits are pretty much the same.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Nothing like a little positive reinforcement to make you "get back in the saddle." I admit it. I have been avoiding this blog, mainly because I have been down in the dumps and didn't want to inflict my mindset on anyone else. Then I got an upper respiratory crud with fever which is going around, and that legitimately curtailed my activities. I actually stayed in bed for 5 days, which is some kind of record for my adulthood.

But, about that positive reinforcement.....this morning I idly checked my last blog entry. Who knows why? And there were two comments, from Michelle and Debbie, which kicked my rear end (in a good way) and made me want to get back to this blog. I know that people read this thing, but getting a written response is like putting fertilizer on a garden.

A quick update on my ideas about reconstructive surgery: I don't have any. What I mean is that I have not found any enthusiasm for researching the options, etc. Thinking about doing all the surgery and recovery makes me tired. Plus, I have concluded that I just don't care that much about having "real" breasts. First of all, they wouldn't be real....not really real. So what's the point? Going flatchested when I exercise works just fine for me, and in fact is pretty darned comfortable. So, there will be no surgical procedure for this post-mastectomy body.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with a local Naturopathic physician to talk about my general health, but specifically to discuss ways to enhance my health, vis-a-vis cancer recurrence. I expect to hear about dietary choices and supplements, along with suggestions for lifestyle changes. I have heard this doctor speak on several occasions, and I have been impressed with how she approaches healthcare holistically, looking at the body as a single unit, rather than as various parts that get treated piecemeal. I do not intend to drop my traditional practitioners, but I am hoping to achieve a productive synergy by looping in some less traditional methods of treatment.

I want to thank Debbie and Michelle again for having given me THEIR thoughts about MY thoughts. I found their words to be encouraging and hopeful. In fact, I believe I could feel a change in my psyche when I read them, as if endorphins had been released in my system. Words are powerful, dynamic, and can be restorative, as they were in this case.