A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why Pursue BRCA Testing

Have a close relative who has battled breast or ovarian cancer? If so, you may want to check into being tested for the BRCA gene. It's a no-brainer. See August 1, 2008 posting.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Great News for BRCA Gene Testing!

New legislation helps with BRCA gene testing. See Nov. 3 posting.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Life as it should be lived

When you've stared death in the face twice before the age of 50, you get a few things in order. 

One of the chief realizations through my battle with cancer is the brevity of life (no big shock there, I know) and the importance of living out your dreams, if possible, rather than putting them off for "one day" that never comes.

Despite depleting my life savings account, I'm embarking on my dream of taking my two nieces (ages 15 and 22) to Paris.  Since they were little girls, I've talked about taking them to Paris, even using this as a ploy to get one of them to expand her culinary tastes beyond, "eew, yuck, gross." 

So, with map and credit card and a French-American dictionary in hand--and a suitcase packed with nothing but black--we leave today for a week in Gay Paree, exploring the touristy sites, visiting the local markets and eating nonstop. 

It's a dream-come-true for me.  I hope to give my nieces a memory for a lifetime.  I'm so mindful in light of cancer that what's important to me are people and experiences - and I want to fill my time with those two things.

Au revoir.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Two Year Mark

I know why they call it the Terrible Two's.  I recently marked 2 years post-surgery and find myself constantly throwing tantrums like a toddler. 
Even after all this time, I'm still building back my life physically, emotionally and mentally.

Physically...I'm trying to build abdominal muscles and stretch tissues that are too tight because they were cut. 

So, MY ADVICE before you go under the chopping block: get details in writing from your surgeon and then go see a physical therapist, your new best friend.  Because this surgery affects your entire core, from top to bottom: muscles, tissue, ligaments. 

My recommendation after surgery: Get a doctor's referral to a physical therapist, who specializes in pilades. 

In addition, you'll need to do the following:

* Pilades (for core)
* Yoga for flexibility.
* Weight training to build muscle strength.
* Water aerobics and swimming for all the above.
* Lots of martinis for everyone who has to put up with your mood swings.

See you at the gym.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Lesson on Healing

Today, I ventured out for my first official errand since surgery...a trip to the farmer's market.  The market is a real treat since it carries all sorts of organic produce, wild Alaskan salmon, exotic spices and freshly baked breads, among other things.

Following doctor's orders to "ease back into things" and the "no lifting over 10 pounds" rule, my goal was to make a quick trip, buy only a few items and return home safe and sound.

Walking into the market was like entering a Christmas wonderland.  Colors and textures and aromas.  Oh, my!  Flaming red beets and orange turban squash and purple potatoes and rich green brussel sprouts.

Yes, I stayed too long, bought too much and wore myself out.  And, I discovered an interesting fact:  healthy food weighs a lot.

The Way of Love

In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman spells out the different ways we express and want to receive love: Words of Affirmation (You're wonderful!), Quality Time (Up for a drive in the country?), Physical Touch (Well, yeah...), Receiving Gifts (Americans specialize in this)...and Acts of Service.

Although we can appreciate each of these expressions, there tends to be one that speaks to us most, in which we deeply feel loved. Unfortunately for my husband, I feel most loved by Acts of Service.  If only I could be bought off with a ring.  But, no, I prefer him hauling barrels of compost to my garden beds each spring, which he loathes.

I bring this up because during the cancer treatment process--or, I should say ordeal--people have been amazing in showering me with love.  I've received cards and books and warm pajamas.  I've been sent dozens of cards with touching sentiments.  People have told me how special I am and how I've impacted their lives.  All of these things have greatly moved me.

In addition to these gifts, the Acts of Service have carried me through the most difficult times, and I can't emphasize enough how vital it is to have people lend a hand -- and be able to accept their generosity graciously. 

I've pretty much been on the giving end of the equation, in which I was control, I was the strong one, I was capable.  I suspect this is true for most breast cancer patients.

Being on the other side, in which I was the vulnerable one, the weak one, the dependent one...well, that was hard to accept.  And a lot of that has to do with pride. It's hard to admit to yourself that you're not the all powerful, invincible super-woman you thought. You're mortal like the rest.

Once again, during this last surgery, I had friends who took the time, trouble and effort to sit at the hospital during surgery, drive me places, bring me homemade soup, walk my dog, run my errands...lend a hand anyway they could. Of course, my husband and my parents were there for me along the way.  But having friends to give them some relief was an enormous gift. They are the super-women.

Throughout my experience with cancer, I've learned many things, but one of the most crucial lessons is this: you simply can't get through cancer without the love of others.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Reconstruction, Rebuilding, Rebooting

It's over!  I went through my final surgery and have been resting and healing this past week. 

Looking back over this process, I ask myself--based on what I know now -- was reconstruction worth it?  For the most part, I would say yes.

I love the results of what my surgeon did.  I think about how terrified I was upon hearing the words, "double mastectomy."  All I could envision was being butchered.  I never would have dreamed I could go through this and end up with a body that, frankly, I liked better than when I began.

However, I would tell anyone who is considering reconstruction that you have to be physically and emotionally up to it, because it's a long haul, requiring a lot of work and patience. 

I've been frustrated in having to accept my limitations.  I've been exhausted, not having the same stamina as I did before. I've had to dedicate long hours to rebuilding muscle that was cut.  My abdominal muscles swell when I put too much pressure on that area, which can make clothes extremely uncomfortable.  And when I'm stretching or doing some sort of exercise, my muscles can cramp, which is painful. You have to think of it like rebuilding Dresden...one stone at a time.   

It's far more involved than you realize going into it.  But worth it?  Yes, you could say that.  But, I understand now why some women don't choose the reconstruction route.  It's hard.  There's no right answer, but what feels right to you.

So, now that surgery is behind me, I will be taking it easy over the next six weeks -- no strenuous activity -- and then back to exercise...and then tattooing.  The fun never ends.