Friends

This has been an amazing weekend. On Friday I gathered several friends and we celebrated the end of my harsh treatments. Eight non-artistic academics gathered to paint. It was amazing. The scientists and the historians had very different approaches to painting. It was incredible to be surrounded by the positive energy. Saturday I met a friend to run a 5k. My friend does not run so I knew that there was something strange but I was met by several colleagues and former students who drove 90 minutes to join me in a race. It was incredible. It was my first 5k in almost a year. I actually ran the whole thing which I would not have done without all the support.

I am still overwhelmed by love and support. People can be amazing, caring, and giving. I have such an improved appreciation for life now. We must use our time wisely because you never know how much of it you have left.

Speeches

A week ago I was asked to speak at a kick-off event for a local relay for life event. I agreed and thought that I would have no problem speaking. As it turned out, I cried throughout the whole thing. But, I do believe that I made an impression and people were ready to raise money. Here is what I said:

I appreciate the invitation to speak today. Not once did I think that I would use the word cancer in reference to myself. As a neuroscientist, I had considered my probability of ending up with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease but never cancer. Cancer was for other people not me. I have no family history of breast cancer, I have been an avid runner for 25 years, I enjoy yoga, I love vegetables, I have a healthy weight and I have never smoked. So, when I was told on October 1 2013 that I had breast cancer, I was in complete disbelief. When I was told on January 14 2014 that I had stage 3 micropapillary invasive breast cancer, I burst into tears. I had originally intended to hide my diagnosis from everyone. That did not work out. However, I have realized that I have nothing to hide.

So, why should we help the American Cancer Society? Because we need more research. Our government has drastically reduced funding to the sciences including funding cancer research. This money is needed for several reasons. We need research to improve treatment and quality of life for individuals with cancer. I endured two major operations (and I am not yet done), six months of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation. While I am incredibly grateful for the medications and treatments that I have been given, there must be something better. I lost my hair, my eyelashes, and my appetite. I spent days curled in a ball in a reclining chair feeling nauseated, watching life pass me by. Watching my children carry on – stopping briefly to hug or kiss me before heading out the door to school or their activities. I had excruciating bone pain, my fingers and toes were numb, I lost toenails, and I had incredibly dry burned and irritated skin, yuck. There were days that I walked slowly up and down my street or on my treadmill because the bone pain was more manageable when walking that sitting. I chanted to myself “mind over matter; mind over matter” with tears from the pain running down my cheeks. Those of you who know me well are aware that I carried a bottle of Purell wherever I went. I was terrified of germs due to low white cell counts. I couldn’t snuggle my daughter when she came home from school with a high fever which is one of the worst feelings for a mother. Fortunately, grandma was there to hold her. In fact, I still have lower white cell counts than most people and I need to remain cautious even though I finished chemotherapy three months ago. So, I encourage everyone to donate money to the American Cancer Society for research into cancer treatments. There must be a better way. Scientists need the resources to develop new treatments that can target cancer cells effectively and leave healthy cells alone. And we need to save good people from cancer, like my dear colleague Andy who recently left us.

And what about the Relay for Life? I have been involved with the Relay for Life for a few years as a member of the Psychology department team “Psyched for Life” captained by the wonderful XXXXX XXXXX. The first time that my two children and I came to the campus event, my daughter thought that it was an actual race and spent a good 10 minutes “warming-up.” She likes to run. She was a bit disappointed but did an amazing number of laps, played games, and ate a good number of treats. This past year was a very different experience. Both of my children raised over 100 dollars individually for the event. Their mother had breast cancer and had completed one round of chemotherapy. We were not at the event long because I was too tired to stay. But the event had completely different meaning for them and they are planning on raising money again. So, why do we need the American Cancer Society? Why do we need the Relay for Life? We need money for research, research into causes and prevention. I will know in November if I have genetic material that I passed on two my incredible children. We need money to help prevent cancer in all of the children in this position, those who unfairly have an increased risk of cancer. I would do anything to prevent my children and other children from going through this experience.

But there are some positives. I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of my family, friends, students and the general SMCM community. I believe that my family and close friends now have healthier lifestyles in response to my situation. I have learned to better appreciate the things around me: this beautiful campus, my incredibly supportive husband, my sensitive son, and my daughter’s wonderful giggle. I am happy to still be here and able to experience another fall. I am pleased to still have the opportunity to teach students. And I am delighted to be running again. Nothing can stop me from running.

This morning, I donated money to the American Cancer Society and I encourage all of you to increase awareness of cancer, cancer prevention, cancer treatment, and cancer research. I hope to live long enough to see additional research progress that comes directly from the support of people like you, and like me who have worked through the American Cancer Society to make things better.

Everything Continues

I have not written for awhile. I’m delighted that I finished radiation treatment last week. Sleeping an extra hour in the morning is wonderful. But while I continue forward others do not. Yesterday I lost a wonderful colleague to lung cancer. He and I did chemotherapy around the same time last year and we exchanged various emails about our experiences. It seems so unfair that one person can move forward and the other does not get that option. It seems so unfair that the world just continues. It is just unfair. I will miss his warm smile and kindness but I’m glad that his pain is gone. Although the cancer is different, it is difficult to not think about the end. Where is my end?

New Challenges

Well, it has been awhile since I entered a post. It is because we have been busy going back to school and with evening sport activities. I’ve actually been feeling fairly good. Three weeks ago I started radiation. The month before I had really started running again and managed to run 7.5 miles the day before radiation. I went back to work too. I uncovered my head and showed everyone my new hair which is darker and has more gray than before. It even has some wave to it. I am starting to feel the fatigue of radiation toward the end of each week…. Thursday and Fridays are tough. However, this weekend I ran into something new. It is now pretty hard to swallow. My Dr. warned me that this might happen although she described it as maybe a little scratch and that I might not even notice it. Well, I can certainly notice it. Yesterday, I thought that I was choking. In fact, it still feels like there is something stuck in there. Yuck. What I don’t like about this is the discomfort, obviously, but the unknown. How long do I have to put up with this? Will it get worse? I can also feel the depression that comes along with new health issues. Every time that I start to feel better something else comes along. It is hard to deal with sometimes. I don’t want any of this anymore.

Ups and Downs

This has been a hard week. Last week I had my PET scan and lymph node ultrasound. I didn’t expect to learn anything during or immediately after the procedures and was in a complete panic when the ultrasound tech told me that she would be right back with the doctor. While I was waiting on the table I realized that I did not want to learn anything. I only wanted to speak with my oncologist and nobody else. Interestingly, the tech returned doctorless and said that she needed to take more history. My heart sank. I looked for my phone and silently wished that I had brought my husband with me. But I had come alone. She asked questions about my family history of various cancers and with each question my anxiety increased. She left again and told me that she would return with the doctor. A few years later, or maybe it was just a few minutes, she returned and told me that there was nothing of concern and that I could leave. I think that she also held up her hand so that I could give her a “high five” but her hand was in such an awkward position that I ignored it. Instead, I bolted out of that room as quickly as possible. I know that they do these tests all the time but when you are waiting to hear if you have cancer or not, it is a bit scary. Obviously, I was pleased to hear that there was nothing of concern but I still had to wait on the PET scan.

On Tuesday, an unmarked envelope arrived with my name on it. I opened it and it was the best piece of mail that I have ever received. The envelope had the results of the PET scan and the ultrasound. Both reports indicated that there was nothing of concern and there was no evidence of cancer. Oh the tears – there were so many of them. It felt incredible. My husband and children were ecstatic. To celebrate – we all went out for a run!

Well, I falsely believed that my PET/ultrasound results would save me from having to do radiation. I was wrong, again. I was confident that I didn’t have cancer so why would I need radiation. So, the doctor explained, probably again. She probably told me all of these things before (months ago) and I didn’t want to hear them so I didn’t. The mastectomy was a major surgical event and it is therefore possible that the blood flow to the lymph nodes on my left side was limited and therefore may not have received all 8 hits of chemo. I also had a large mass and it is impossible to remove all breast cells so I therefore did not have clean margins on all sides. It really sucks that you can’t remove all of the breast tissue. It sure looks like they did but I understand the point. Additionally, the microscopic examination of my mass showed lymphatic involvement and the primary flow of my lymphatic system is to my chest wall (rare compared to most women). Because of the lymphatic involvement, the standard of care is to treat the lymph nodes to remove any microscopic disease that the PET and ultrasound just can’t see. Completing my radiation treatment will reduce my risk of re-occurrence by 5-9%.

It is so hard to be repeatedly told that you have a disease. It is hard to repeatedly hear that this is hard and that you have suffered… but you still need to do this. As I laid in the CT scanner, crying, so that they could align the beams for my future treatment, all I could think of is that I am not weak. Stop telling me that I am weak. Stop telling me that I am sick. I am not. I will not lose. If anything, I will become stronger. I will run. I will do yoga. I will work. I will be a mom. I will be a wife. I will be a friend. I will be a mentor. I will be a scholar. I will win.

Also…

I want to teach yoga in the future. There, I have said it. Now I have to find a way to do it.

Nervous

I’d be lying if I said that I was not nervous. Today I head in for my PET scan and ultrasound. It should have been yesterday but there was an equipment problem. I assume that my PET scan will be clean since it was before chemo. If it is not, well, I’m in trouble then. But I really hope that my lymph nodes look good. They were hypermetabolic on my first PET scan but that was right after my mastectomy. How they look now will determine the radiation plan. I don’t want radiation. I don’t see how I can fit radiation, work, and life together. Radiation is 30 min from my house and 45 from work. I keep telling myself that it will all work out. Everything will work out. What else is there to believe?