The first slap

The first slap
This photo was taken the day after I was diagnosed, and it is my first bitch slap at cancer. I'm the one with the icepack symbolically placed on my boob. My teammates changed our team's uniform to pink at the last minute, and I came off the soccer field that night with one goal and a whole lot of love. Several of these women are my close friends, but they are all warriors, and they all helped me set the tone for this fight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

No Token Thanks Here

As some of you who I interact with regularly or who see my Facebook posts may know, my MammoDiagnosaCancerversary recently passed. That was November 13th. While I didn't let that date go by unnoticed, neither did I mark the date here on my blog. I thought about it, but to be honest, I just didn't have the time. This fall I have been crazy busy with things completely unrelated to cancer. And for this, I am very grateful.

In the U.S., we often let our expressions of gratitude collect through the year like little treasures quietly stowed away until November rolls around. Then, on Thanksgiving, we unleash them explicitly and joyfully in a shower of gratitude for things big and small: Health, happiness, puppies, seat warmers in the car, financial stability, our partners and spouses, spectator sports, chocolate, neoprene, coffee, hair, grandchildren, opposable thumbs, trade winds and piña coladas, the smell of pine trees, flannel sheets, my children's caring and thoughtful teachers, british accents, Craig's safe return from China, modern medicine... The list goes on, and I'm sure yours does, too. Thanksgiving is truly about more than food: It is a wonderful explosion of good feelings, warmth, and hope. But if it's so warm and fuzzy, why do we wait for a special day to give thanks? Maybe it's because we need the regular reminder. After all, our daily lives are often fraught with shitty things big and small, that take on more urgency than the things we love and are grateful for.

Sometimes, during our Februaries, Junes, and Augusts, we do remember the things that make us feel grateful or fortunate. But what would it take to make every single day a day of giving thanks; a day of gratitude? I'd like to think it doesn't take a cancer diagnosis. But I do know that not one day has gone by since last November that I have not been immensely thankful for someone or something. Some days I almost tear up with thankfulness and relief for simply being here, for Craig's kindness and love, and my ability to play soccer with a bunch of other middle aged men and women. Other days, it's more mundane stuff: gel nail polish, for example, or large sized non-stick bandaids for the cuts on my knees from soccer. Cancer sucks, but in a very bizarre way, I'm grateful for how my cancer diagnosis made me more aware of all of the little beautiful things. They're there. All the time. Right in front of us.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'm going to share here a post I made here on my blog last May titled, simply, "Grateful." Happy thanks-giving, everyone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cleaning the garage
Taking care of the soccer carpooling
Feeding the pets
Emails and text messages from friends (even if I don’t respond, I read them all)
Load after load of laundry
Fixing the towel rack
Cleaning up dog barf
Dinner
Pulling weeds
“You have a nicely shaped head”
Fixing the kitchen chair
Doing the grocery shopping
Hats
Getting the tire on my car fixed
Running a meeting for me
Mowing the lawn
Chocolate
Going out for coffee with me
Walking the dog
Driving the kids when they have to get to school early
Offers to shave and polish my head
Filling the bird feeders
A new pair of sweats for my horizontal days
Helping me plant the garden
Little notes in my box at work
Making sushi with the kids
Thoughtful cards in the mail
Cleaning out a birdhouse
Hand sanitizer everywhere
FMLA
Doing the dishes
Getting gas for the mower or my car
More dinner
An origami bird in my box at work
Presenting a paper for me
Squeezing me in last minute at the doctor’s office
Co-teaching with me
Fixing the doorknob
A vacation for the kids
Nurses who know my name without having to look it up
More laundry loads
Taking me out to watch a soccer game
More dinner
Listening to me talk about cancer and chemo
Remembering that sometimes I like to talk about things other than cancer and chemo
A snuggly child
Cleaning the coffee maker
Helping a kid with their homework
A Facebook message
Letting the dog out first thing in the morning
Flowers
A new book
Scooping dog doo from the yard
Helping me understand my treatment
Driving me to physical therapy, doctors’ appointments, and chemo
Ordering and picking up take-out
Jump starting the battery
Going to the kids' games and cheering them on
Fixing a loose part on a table
More dinner
Phone calls
Getting a kid a meal on the run
Picking up a prescription
Hugs
Health insurance



I could go on and on, but you get the picture. So many people giving me (and us) so much. Thank you, all.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Love-Hate Relationship with Pink Ribbons

Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer last November I’ve been pondering this blog post. Upon diagnosis, I immediately developed a heightened awareness of pink ribbons. They're everywhere. It’s like I was flung full force into a scary 3D version of the game Candyland, only it’s called Cancerland and there are both beautiful and terrifying encounters to be had: Welcome to Cancerland—here’s your pink ribbon! Pertuzemab is your friend, but beware of the Taxol Forest, and steer clear of the Metastases Swamp! Oh, and don’t forget to use your FMLA “get out of work free” card!

I’ve never liked pink much in part because I’ve always been a bit perturbed by its prissy associations. I have never been a girly-girl, and I have always resisted gender stereotypes. So why do I have my current Facebook profile picture set to the following?


Perhaps it is an indication of my love-hate relationship with pink ribbons. Let me explain.

First off, let me just say that I am a direct beneficiary of pink ribbon campaigns. In the last few years, treatments for breast cancer have advanced in leaps and bounds (Jump ahead four spaces and enjoy a bright red chemo cocktail!). These advances are due in large part to the funds raised for breast cancer research, and I am grateful. I believe that if it were not for pink ribbons and breast cancer awareness, I would have likely become mired in the dreaded swamp never to emerge from Cancerland. So, part of my love of pink ribbons is directly tied to money. And those pink ribbons signify more than money and research to me. They have become little beacons—a flash of a pin on a stranger, a pink bumper sticker on a car, or a friend’s Facebook post showing support for breast cancer survivors—that help me locate myself within a new and bizarre terrain.

But while I find a sense of identity and comfort in those pink ribbons, I also have significant concerns regarding the uptake of breast cancer awareness relative to other cancers and diseases. To cut to the chase, I think the public’s embrace of breast cancer awareness is tied to the fact that women have boobs, and most men really like boobs. Boobs are also tied to notions of motherhood and nurturing. Why WOULDN’T we all want to save the ta-tas? Isn’t saving ta-tas the same as saving Mom and Apple Pie? Maybe. At least, I think that’s the intention. But this makes me a bit uncomfortable, because really, when it comes to having cancer, I don’t give a flying rat’s ass about my boobs. I’m more concerned with saving my life, with or without the boobs. I think the save the ta-tas idea is subtly tied to boobs and women’s bodies in general as sites of exploitation. Of course, I don’t think people with a “save the ta-tas” bumper sticker or a pink ribbon are directly exploiting women. However, I think there is a connection between the historical and pervasive tendency to exploit women’s bodies and the breast cancer awareness frenzy. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a cammo ribbon for testicular cancer, or someone wearing a t-shirt that said “save the gonads”? And to my knowledge, every single person in the world has a colon, but you don’t see people walking around with dark brown colored ribbons, running 5Ks with dark brown tutus, or shouting “save the guts!”

So what does it mean that the discursive and symbolic means of generating funds to save women’s lives are part and parcel of a set of discourses and ways of thinking about women’s bodies that are tied to exploitation? Perhaps it’s a form of interest convergence. Derrick Bell (1995) argued that school desegregation and the Brown v. Board of Education decision happened because at that moment in U.S. history, the decision benefitted both white people and black people. (It boosted our credibility abroad amid criticisms that the U.S.'s campaigns for democracy abroad were hypocritical given domestic civil rights abuses.) The notion of interest convergence posits that public policy decisions benefiting black people or other historically marginalized groups will not occur unless those decisions also benefit whites, or those in power. Is it possible that pink ribbon campaigns are taken up so widely and are successful because the interests of women converge with those of men in some way?

I don’t have an answer to that question. As I weave my way through Cancerland (a space that I may always occupy despite the fact that I am now cancer-free), successfully avoiding many of its more frightening elements, I will continue to mull this over. But it is worth noting that as I write this, I’m sitting in the chemo suite at Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana, semi-boobless, getting an infusion of Herceptin (trastuzemab) (once again, thank you to the Gods of Science!), and wearing a pink pin with a ribbon icon on it that says “Fight like a girl!”
 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The buzz and flurry of Normal

It has been over a month since I have posted to this blog, and this passing of time should be read as a blessing. In more ways that one, my life is returning to normal. Travel with the family, gardening, running a 5K, the presence of hair. You know, the simple things. I am also resuming full time work, teaching a regular load of classes at Illinois State University in, you guessed it, Normal, Illinois.

Tomorrow I will meet my students and begin teaching my classes, two of which are an introduction to literacy and literacy instruction in elementary classrooms. I will be asking my students (future elementary, special education, and bilingual teachers) to introduce themselves, but I'll be asking them to do so through poetry. It is crucially important for Language Arts teachers to write, even if they find it uncomfortable or don't yet view themselves as writers. This is because teaching, like writing, is inseparable from who we are. They are both human endeavors.

In their book Authors in the Classroom, Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy suggest a writing unit on Affirming the Self, in which Eoise Greenfield's poem "By Myself" is used to prompt and inspire students' own "I Am" poems. So in the spirit of embracing the human endeavor of writing, of poetry, and of good teaching, I have written an "I Am" poem, which I will be sharing with my students tomorrow before asking them to write their own. Here it is:

The Buzz and Flurry of Normal

When I am by myself
And I close my eyes
I am cancer free,
Without demons,
And without trepidation;
Serene.

You see,
Last winter I was a deer,
Surprised and paralyzed
In the headlights of fear.
My mind raced and my body stood still;
Infiltrated and mutilated,
Intoxicated and radiated.

But I sent those demons packing.
Exhilarated, elated,
Now I am rejuvenated;
Grateful to the gods of science
And the buzz and flurry of normal

When I am by myself
And I close my eyes
I am happy
Just to be here.

    -Inspired by Eloise Greenfield’s By Myself






Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An A+ in radiation

Time is flying by, perhaps because radiation is a piece of cake compared to chemo. At this point I only have eight more treatments left! Many people have asked me what it's like, so I found a YouTube video that gives an idea of what the room and the machine look like, as well as a basic explanation of how the machine works. I'm having trouble embedding it, so I'm just sharing the link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nuqmt7aF2FA. The room, machine, and the table the patient lies on in the video are just like in the facility where I go (Mills Breast Cancer Institute in Urbana, IL).

As I said, radiation is very easy. The most difficult part is lying still and not scratching the inevitable itch on my chin or eye for the 30 minutes or so that it takes to get the treatment. I've also had minimal side effects so far; just some mild redness, like a sunburn, on the radiated area (which includes the upper chest where my right breast was, the armpit, behind the arm on my shoulder blade, and the lymph node area just above the right collar bone). But at my weekly visit with the radiologic onocologist yesterday, he said that my skin looks great--perhaps the best he's seen at this stage in treatment. Naturally, I gave a vigorous fistpump and exlaimed, "Yessss!!!" I asked, "Does that mean I get an A?" An he said, "No, an A+!"

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my hair is VERY slowly beginning to rejuvenate. It's still hyper short, but it's downy soft, and so far it appears to be growing in dark rather than gray. To most people I probably still look bald, but as I went for a bike ride yesterday evening I could feel the wind blowing through it.  Simple pleasures. :-)
 




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A prayer to the hair goddess

Dear Hair Goddess,

First of all, let me just say 'thank you' for nose hair. Yes, nose hair. Who could have imagined its virtues prior to chemotherapy?! For seven months I dealt with a nose that ran constantly, which I attribute at least in part to the loss of precious hair helping to hold back the flood. That constant drip has now subsided due to your generosity, and my nasal passage and I are thrilled.

And let me also say 'thank you' for the simple pleasure of not having lost 100% of my head hair during chemo. I'm not sure why that made me happy; after all, except for a few short whisps, my head was pretty much an oversized cue ball. But I suppose I feel an odd sense of pride that some of my hair was resistant to the toxic cocktail my body was subjected to. So for that, I am grateful.

I am also pleased to see that some of my hair is beginning to grow back. But if I may ask, why the rush to replenish my leg hair? I haven't exactly missed shaving my legs. And I am curious as to the significance of my once-again-plentiful chin stubble. Is my face really considered a priority zone for new hair growth? Again, I appreciate what you've done for me. But if you hadn't noticed, I'm pretty much bald on top, and getting a bit of my head rug back would be nice. It need not be a lot, and I'm not too concerned about the color or texture. Gray and curly would suit me just fine at this point. Hell, make it purple for all I care. But this cue ball thing is getting a bit old.

In case it helps my cause, Craig has made a special sacrifice to appease your bouffant highness by shaving his formerly thick mane to resemble my stubbly chemo head (see photo below). I hope you will accept his locks as a token of our devotion and appreciation.

Your faithful but still largely hairless follower,
Lara



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Relay for Life with a One-Eyed Dammit Doll

As many of you know, I participated in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life yesterday evening in Champaign. Actually, I didn't walk all night with a team, but I did walk the survivors' lap. Craig and Nate both joined in, walking the caregivers' lap with me after the survivors' lap (Evan was away at a soccer tournament). What an awesome event! It is definitely inspiring to see so many people working so hard to raise money for cancer research and support. I didn't even sign up for the event until last Wednesday. But within only two hours of signing up, friends and family had already donated over $300, and in end, I raised $1,200 (well over my initial goal of $200)! Thank you to all of you who donated or helped spread the word. And for those of you who would like to donate, but either didn't know about this or haven't yet had the chance, you can do so here: http://www.cancer.org/.

To be honest, Nate was not very excited about being there. He was happy to do it, and understood the significance for me, but there wasn't a whole lot for an 11 year old kid to do there prior to the kick-off of the event at 6:00. Besides, he was missing the England-Italy world cup game! There were a few food vendors, and we could stroll around the tent sites of the different teams. Each team was selling something (typically food) to raise money for the ACS, and we found some cookies and brats to call dinner.

At one point, Nate said, "I wish they sold something other than food. They should be selling little dolls that represent cancer that you can stick needles into or something." I thought it wasn't a bad idea, and sure enough, after walking around a bit more, we came upon a team that was selling "Dammit Dolls." A Dammit Doll is designed to be whacked around while shouting "dammit!" when feeling frustrated or angry. Each one comes with a poem explaining its purpose (see photo lower right). Of course we had to buy one. I picked one with a pink ribbon, and then promptly stuffed in my purse as the survivors' lap was about to begin. And when we pulled it out a bit later, we noted that it was missing an eye. This gave it a sort of rough and tumble look, arguably more appropriate for its intended use (see photo at left)




A particular highlight of the event for me was meeting a woman with a diagnosis virtually identical to mine, but who is a few weeks ahead of me in treatment. I actually recognized her from the chemo suite, and it turns out that our treatments have been identical. I swear, I just gravitated toward her, as I realized that it was the first time I've actually talked with someone going through exactly what I've gone through at the same time. It was incredibly therapeutic to talk with her and to share stories. And what's more, her head hair is beginning to grow back! The only hair I've had growing back so far is my leg hair and my nose hair. I'll take it I guess, but it's not exactly the regrowth I was hoping for at this point.

Anyway, I've posted a couple more photos from Relay for Life below. And here is a link to the Champaign-Urbana's newspaper's online photo gallery from the event, which includes one of me and Nate ringing the Survivor Bell together:
http://www.news-gazette.com/multimedia/photogallery/2014-06-14/relay-life-2014.



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Radiation as stealth bitch slaps

So, with the onset of summer I'm moving forward with treatment. I had my first (of 30) radiation treatments today. I have sort of been looking forward to radiation, knowing that it will be so much easier on my system than chemotherapy. What I wasn't expecting is how uneventful radiation is.

I'm not exactly sure what I was I thought it would be like, but at a minimum I guess I was thinking a little light might come out of the radiation gizmo hovering over me, or perhaps there'd be some buzzing sound coming from it, like when you get an X-ray. And at most, I was imagining it might be a bit like lying in a tanning booth (although I've never done that), or in some Star-Trekky table thing with blue neon lights surrounding me. But no, it's pretty much just lying really still in a plain old medical room with a machine over me that apparently sends radiation into my body in a way that evades my sensory perception. The only sounds I heard other than the conversation of the technicians was the Norah Jones music playing on the sound system. While I love Norah Jones, I'm almost disappointed! I mean, this is the beginning of the last major portion of my treatment, so something more explicitly bitch-slappy would seem to be in order, like the Violent Femmes.

But really, I can't complain. Radiation is easy-peasy. The most "severe" side effects would be a bit of fatigue and some sunburn-like skin changes on the radiated area, but if those happen at all it wouldn't be until I'm a few weeks into the process. So I'm running with it, and reconceptualizing this process as stealth bitch slaps. Any remaining cancer cells won't know what hit them. In fact, they all just kiss off into the air!


Monday, May 19, 2014

Major Medical

What would you do if you didn't (or don't!) have health insurance and all of a sudden you became "sick" or injured, your ailments falling into that category of "major medical?" And note that it does happen all of a sudden. In fact, all at once, you can become "sick" even when you feel "normal" and "healthy." That's how it happened for me last November when I was diagnosed. It's bat-shit scary, and that's before taking into account the potential financial hit.

I've taken a while to write about this only because I've had other things to say and simply haven't had the energy to get to it until now. But earlier this winter or spring, Craig was looking at statements and bills, and noted the cost of just one of my chemotherapy infusions from chemo course #1 (prior to surgery). This was when I received Taxol on a weekly basis and a cocktail of Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta every three weeks. The cost for one of these cocktails? About $50,000. We've all heard about the exorbitant costs of healthcare in the U.S., but seriously--$50,000 for one episode of chemo?

So what's going on here? That's actually a serious question, because I really don't know. I imagine it's partially the super-high price tag slapped onto new and innovative drugs like Perjeta (which, along with Herceptin, is made by Genentech), which has only been on the market for a year or two. But an article in Pharmacy Times lists the cost at just under $5,000 per dose (http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/health-system-edition/2012/August2012/Pertuzumab--Perjeta). And according to a Wikipedia article, Herceptin can cost about $70,000 for a full course of treatment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trastuzumab). Even if we included Taxol, these numbers don't add up to $50,000 for one infusion of Taxol, Herceptin, and Perjeta. Sure, I would also get Benadryl, Zofran, and saline, but still...

According to an article in today's New York Times, the primary source of healthcare costs is not healthcare workers or physician's bills. Rather, it's executive salaries in the medical business world: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/sunday-review/doctors-salaries-are-not-the-big-cost.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=OP_MTE_20140519&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=2. This includes CEOs of health insurance firms and hospital administrators, who make much more money than general physicians and nurses do. I'm thinking oncologists may make more than general physicians, but still--this article does an excellent job of pointing out where our "major medical" expenses are coming from, at least in part.

I would really love to know what those of you who work in the healthcare and biomedical industries know and think about all of this. Although I have no answers, I do know this: I am extremely fortunate not only to live in a place with quality healthcare, but also to be fully insured. I honestly cannot imagine what this whole experience would be like if I did not have that kind of security. And thus, I find it very very difficult to imagine why so many people would want to keep so many people from securing the same peace of mind. Obamacare ain't perfect, but neither are our bodies.

The Average Wholesale Price of pertuzumab (Perjeta) is $4890 per 420-mg vial. - See more at: http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/health-system-edition/2012/August2012/Pertuzumab--Perjeta#sthash.8451ACmy.dpuf
The Average Wholesale Price of pertuzumab (Perjeta) is $4890 per 420-mg vial. - See more at: http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/health-system-edition/2012/August2012/Pertuzumab--Perjeta#sthash.8451ACmy.dpuf

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's alright

Last night I had a dream that my mom and I were shopping for hats and earrings, lost track of time, and missed today's doctor's appointment and my last chemo. The feeling is a bit like those dreams that I (and many people) have of missing the school bus or a final exam. Hmmm... What does it all mean? Well, I'm not 100% sure what it all means, but here are a few thoughts. First of all, I must make public that my dreams have shifted from really scary things to milder turmoils; from "oh shit, I have cancer" to more mundane little fears like missing appointments and school buses.

And significantly, today is my last scheduled chemotherapy infusion. As usual, I'm not looking forward to it (sort of like I wouldn't look forward to a final exam), but I am at the same time thrilled to be able to put this behind me. While my other infusions have been accompanied by the knowledge that I would feel like hell for a week, then good for a week, and then like hell for another week, this time I get to look forward to constant improvement in how I feel; a gradual but continued emergence from the nausea, fogginess, and sluggishness. This is in addition to other side effects that have been taking hold as the chemicals build up in my system: Fingernails breaking like nobody's business, a greenish tinge to my complexion, dark circles under my eyes, continued hair loss, mild neuropathy in my fingertips, and exhaustion even beyond my post infusion week. (As I've said before, I think the EPA would shut me down if they knew what was flowing through my veins.) But after today I will be over the biggest hump in my treatment, and it should be smooth sailing from here on out, with a steady process of detox, until...

RADIATION! That should start on June 4th, but it's very localized with minimal side effects. I should feel more like a person, my hair will start growing back, etc. But in celebration of finishing up chemotherapy and in anticipation of the last major stage of my treatment, here's a song for you all: The Beatle's Here Comes the Sun. The video is admittedly over-flowing with hyper cute little baby animals, but on the other hand, meaningful milestones and awesome songs will do that to people. And the sun theme seems fitting given my upcoming radiation. :-) One of the things I appreciate about this song is the gradual move from sweet and quiet anticipation of good things over the horizon to an emphatic exclamation point of those good things to come, and the knowledge that while things have been difficult, it's alright. Present tense. Indeed, it's alright.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Grateful


Cleaning the garage
Taking care of the soccer carpooling
Feeding the pets
Emails and text messages from friends (even if I don’t respond, I read them all)
Load after load of laundry
Fixing the towel rack
Cleaning up dog barf
Dinner
Pulling weeds
“You have a nicely shaped head”
Fixing the kitchen chair
Doing the grocery shopping
Hats
Getting the tire on my car fixed
Running a meeting for me
Mowing the lawn
Chocolate
Going out for coffee with me
Walking the dog
Driving the kids when they have to get to school early
Offers to shave and polish my head
Filling the bird feeders
A new pair of sweats for my horizontal days
Helping me plant the garden
Little notes in my box at work
Making sushi with the kids
Thoughtful cards in the mail
Cleaning out a birdhouse
Hand sanitizer everywhere
FMLA
Doing the dishes
Getting gas for the mower or my car
More dinner
An origami bird in my box at work
Presenting a paper for me
Squeezing me in last minute at the doctor’s office
Co-teaching with me
Fixing the doorknob
A vacation for the kids
Nurses who know my name without having to look it up
More laundry loads
Taking me out to watch a soccer game
More dinner
Listening to me talk about cancer and chemo
Remembering that sometimes I like to talk about things other than cancer and chemo
A snuggly child
Cleaning the coffee maker
Helping a kid with their homework
A Facebook message
Letting the dog out first thing in the morning
Flowers
A new book
Scooping dog doo from the yard
Helping me understand my treatment
Driving me to physical therapy, doctors’ appointments, and chemo
Ordering and picking up take-out
Jump starting the battery
Going to the kids' games and cheering them on
Fixing a loose part on a table
More dinner
Phone calls
Getting a kid a meal on the run
Picking up a prescription
Hugs
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. So many people giving me (and us) so much. Thank you, all.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Getting ready to bloom



Well, okay, the plum tree is already in bloom, and I still have two more chemo infusions left. But still.... I'm trying to rush things, and why wouldn't I? This spring has been painfully slow in coming, and obviously I'm not just talking about the weather. Who can resist the urge to usher in little blossoms and flowers?

I keep a close watch during spring, searching the tulips, daffodils, and blossoming trees a few times each day for any new micro-moves toward bloom: A bud here, a new shoot there, a bit more color popping out of the Redbud. Might simple and diligent observance nudge them a bit further along in the process? Maybe not; the blooms will come in their own sweet time. But each little step is celebrated, and I'm glad to be witness to them.

**************

Today is a good day. A vertical day. Not only that, for the first time since before surgery, I ran. Actually, I went for a run/walk combo out on the trails out on the prairie--two minutes walking briskly, two minutes slowly jogging--for about a half hour. That's my kind of therapy, my own little micro-moves toward full bloom.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Going with the flow

I'm sitting here in the chemo suite this Wednesday morning, port accessed and awaiting my pre-meds: Zofran, dexamethazone, Ativan, Aloxi, and Emmend. Quite a cocktail, and those aren't even the chemotherapies (Adriamycin and Cytoxan). A few minutes ago, my friend Cathrine emailed me the following image, which I love:

Note that the red beverage matches the red drug Adriamycin. I love this because it illustrates both humor (an absolutely essential component of treatment) and confidence in the power of the drugs. But it also conveys the potential celebratory aspect of chemo. I say "potential" because I doubt that many think of the infusion of highly toxic chemicals into the body, and the accompanying nasty side effects, as cause for celebration. However, I do believe there are things to celebrate in this process. The obvious things, which those who are adept at seeing the silver lining in such experiences may note, include the knowledge that treatment is working, and that every infusion amounts to a fairly significant bitch slap against the disease, as well as the continued joy in all aspects of life outside of Cancerville. But it is also worth celebrating the resiliency of the human body and mind as they undergo chemotherapy.

Two weeks ago, one of the nurses in the chemo suite advised me to "go with the flow" with respect to the exhaustion and the body's need to sleep, and that was excellent advice. This is also the case with the mental fuzziness, or chemo-brain, that accompanies this course of treatment. I have no need to fight these side effects. Although there is a teeny part of me that worries about the work I am not getting done, my body needs the sleep, and sleep is an extraordinary restorative process. It is, counter-intuitively, a beautiful thing to witness from the inside out what my body does to heal itself; to remain as healthy and functional as possible in the face of toxicity. Now I'm not "going with the flow" with the nausea as much. Instead, I am doing what I can to counteract it through both medication and diet. And yet, nausea too is a sign of my body's automatic processes of managing the assault of chemotherapy. It is not fun, and it is not pretty; it is in fact rather shitty. But when we view that as the response of an otherwise healthy body, it can also be viewed as a sign of resiliency and strength.

Emotional resiliency is tougher to achieve, but I am finding that recognizing and embracing the ability of my body to manage the physical side effects helps me shift my frame to one that is more psychologically manageable. Drugs help, too, no doubt about it. So in some ways, going with the flow with respect to the emotional and psychological toll of this means embracing the fact that getting the help of anti-anxiety medicines and occasional sedatives is not a sign of weakness, but rather can indicate strength. (See my post on strength and grace.)

In addition to my body's automatic responses that indicate resiliency, I am celebrating a very good second week post-infusion. I was able to eat regularly, and actually exercised a few times, albeit lightly. What gifts! These are things to celebrate. And now, as I wrap up this post, the Ativan is taking effect, and I am beginning to fade into loopy-land. I will be going with this flow with humor, confidence, and as celebratory a tone as I can muster.

Cheers, Y'All!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Update on chemo effects

Several people have asked how I've been holding up since I started chemo last Wednesday, so here's an update for you all. Nausea was the news of the day on both Wednesday night and all day Thursday. Some you know that I really do not do nausea well, so that was really unpleasant for me. On the flip side, I never actually got physically ill, so the word on the street is that I have been handling this well as far as sour stomachs are concerned. Note that I am on stronger anti-nausea medications this time around, so I shudder to think what this would be like without those. We can all thank the gods of science for Emend and Aloxi (not to mention Zofran)!

What has probably hit me most is tiredness... no, exhaustion. Exhaustion pure and simple. On both Thursday and Friday I took three naps, and one of them actually took me by surprise. The kids had gone to school and Craig had left for work, and I had (apparently) sat down at the end of the sofa to figure out what I might do next. About an hour and a half later I awoke from a fairly substantial slumber, head nestled on the arm rest of the sofa. This exhaustion has been coupled with a foggy-headedness that I've never experienced before; just a complete feeling of "wha? huh?" swirling around me, and even some occasional lightheadedness. While my tiredness has persisted, it has gotten better as the days have gone by, and I'm not taking daily naps anymore. I'm feeling somewhat weak physically, and a little on the pale side, and Dr. Dad is pretty sure I'm anemic from the chemo. The foggy-headedness is still present, but not too severe.

Aside from the nausea during the first two days, perhaps the most annoying side effect has been a bitter and metallic taste in my mouth that won't seem to go away. I'm hoping that also subsides between now and my next treatment (April 16th), but we'll see. Hard candies help temporarily, but it also affects how things taste to me. This makes wanting to eat a bit more of a challenge than normal for me, but my appetite has improved since Wednesday, so I'm not too worried.

So that's pretty much it. This is not a recipe for productiveness at work, but on the other hand, that's not the point of all of this is it? It's been important for me to remember that when I'm drooling in a stupor on the couch or feeling "urpy" (as the chemo nurse put it the other day), those are symptoms not of disease, but of big-ass bitch slaps. While the first course of chemo and the surgery knocked the cancer out for the count, this is now a process of kicking any remaining cells while they're down.

No mercy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Back in the chemo suite

Well, here we go. As I write this I am beginning my new course of chemo, and from what I understand, it's a doozy. The meds this time include Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide (a.k.a. Cytoxan), and will be administered four times, everyone two weeks (8 weeks total). The list of side effects is enough to make one nauseated by itself: hair loss, mouth sores, lowered white cell count (with increased risk of infection), diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, decreased apetite, lowered platelet count, skin changes, and my favorite--red urine. This last one is because Adriamycin is a Kool-Aid red colored agent (see photo below), and so that shows up in your urine when you pee. Lovely.

I'm a bit nervous going into this. I'm glad to have it underway, I guess, as the sooner it starts, the sooner it will be over. I'm nervous for the side effects, but also because I'm being treated with antibiotics for cellulitis on my chest--a minor complication from the surgery. The antibiotics could make the digestive side effects of the chemo worse, and if the infection starts to get worse (if the antibiotics aren't really working), then I'm at risk of a more serious infection given the likely effect of lowered white cell count. However, 24 hours after each infusion it is standard to get a shot of Neulasta, which boosts white cell count. So we're hoping that will help prevent any major infections.

I also worry about the nausea itself, as it is likely to be worse than what I experienced in my first 12-week course of chemo. I've been told to just eat whatever sounds good or tastes okay, even if it's only sweet things or salty things for a whole week.

At the very least, this should be interesting! And it's important to remember that this course of chemo will constitute quite a major bitch slap in this whole cancer treatment trip. I'll end with a photo of Grace and Patience N. Hope next to the syringe of Adriamycin.

Starting my new course of chemo with Patience and Grace.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A boob in my pocket


Wow—time sure flies when you’re... um... recovering from surgery. I can’t say that’s been much fun, but it’s nice to have it behind me. Note: Some of this post includes me talking about my breasts, so if that’s TMI or makes some of you uncomfortable, you don’t have to read any further.

A few weeks ago I posted a link to an NPR story about a book that NPR reporter Madhulika Sikka wrote about her experiences with breast cancer: A Breast Cancer Alphabet. It is a wonderful book, which I highly recommend if you’d like some insights into someone else’s experiences with this disease and its treatments. Reading her book made me gasp and cry with connection and understanding—so many of her experiences mirror my own, from the confusion and craziness of diagnosis, to her desire (and my own) to dismantle dominant assumptions of how people might deal with it all. The one place that I find my experience to be quite different from hers is the emotional impact of mastectomy. Don’t get me wrong—this has been an emotional roller coaster. However, the source of my difficulties dealing with the surgery are, I think, different from hers. She discusses the emotional toll of losing a part of her anatomy that is emblematic of womanhood. I get that, particularly for women who, unlike myself, are well-endowed in the chest region.

But for me, the difficulties have stemmed more from the physical imposition of the surgery—having lymph drain bags hanging from my side for 10 days; the limited range of motion in my right arm; having a compression wrap around my arm to prevent lymphedema; and of course, the pain. It just plain hurts, whether it’s arm pain, soreness at the incision site, or even phantom boob pain—a pain that feels as if it’s in a part of my body that is no longer there. This has been emotionally difficult, but less due to the change in my figure (which is not that significant given that I’ve always been fairly flat chested), but more to the limitations in my movement, particularly my ability to exercise. I figure it can only get better from here, though, which brings me to prosthetics!

In another month or so I will get measured and fitted for a new boob—a silicone prosthetic to match my left side. You’d be amazed at how many choices there are in terms of material, shape, size, drape, color, etc. It makes buying a drink at Starbucks seem simple. For the time being, however, I am using a basic generic breast form; a starter boob, really. It's a relatively inexpensive mail order thing made with micro-beads inside a nude-colored triangular piece of fabric. It is very lightweight and similar in size to my left breast, but I must say that it aches having it on my chest, as I am not yet fully recovered from surgery. This is not a problem much of the time—I just go about my day not wearing it, but when I go out I do tend to wear it.  On occasion I’ve found myself discretely trying to rearrange things, and even removing it all together. Sometimes this is easy. Last weekend we went to see the film Divergent, and in the dark theater it was no trouble to just reach in, yank it out, and stuff it in my pocket. But while I’m not a shy person, I stopped short of doing that in the middle of a College committee meeting at work today. Instead, I just dealt with the dull ache. I’m assuming that as time passes it will improve, but in the meantime, if you see me at work or walking down the street with a boob in my pocket, you’ll now know why.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

It’s just me, cancer free


Today I had my first follow-up appointment with the surgical oncologist, and my pathology report just came in. The doctor prefaced the results by saying, “This is as good as we could have hoped for.” The pathology showed no cancer in the lymph nodes, none at one of the tumor sites, and “residual poorly differentiated invasive ductal carcinoma” at the other tumor site. It measured .8 x .7 cm, and 6 mm “from the deep margin” (which I believe means margin from the chest wall). The doctor is extremely pleased by this report, and he said that I should feel as if I “just won an Olympic medal.”

Have I mentioned that I like to be thorough? Well, I do. I am supposed to be in a very celebratory mood right now, but I must confess that my joy is somewhat measured. I had hoped to be in the 45% of people whose tumors disappear all together. I mentioned that to the doctor, and he said, “Well, it all but has disappeared.” Okay. But this thoroughness-loving get-the-job-done perfectionist wanted more! I wanted it all the way gone. *Sigh* Of course, as I’m writing this, I am reminded that it is all gone now, thanks to the surgery. I am now essentially cancer free, and if that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is! Regardless of the fact that there was residual tumor, it and the “demon boob” (as my friend called it) are both gone, and that teeny bit of residual cancer was removed with a nice wide margin around it.

Despite these excellent results, I still get my remaining treatments under the rationale that they will serve as “insurance” against any undetected rogue cells floating around my body. In other words, the course of chemo coming up in April and May is not intended to kill any tumors because I now have no tumors to kill. Rather, it is meant to clean up any remaining microscopic bits that may have survived the first course of chemo and the surgery. Same thing with the radiation that I’ll be getting in the summer.

Beyond the path report, I am healing well from surgery. I am mostly off narcotics now, and the swelling is receding. It’s funny. I am now cancer free, but never have I looked more like a cancer patient: No hair, missing a boob, a big scar across my chest, my right arm wrapped up to prevent lymphedema, lymph drain bags hanging from my body. Oh well. While all of that is clearly a pain in the ass (the drain bags, in particular) it doesn’t bother me too much, as most of it is temporary. And no, I don’t miss my right breast. At first I thought I might. Last Thursday, before surgery, I wished it good riddance, and I meant it. However, I was unsure how I would actually feel after the fact. But, honestly, looking at myself in the mirror and seeing it gone does not feel weird. In fact, it feels oddly normal. Having cancer and knowing that I had tumors right there in my breast felt much weirder and scarier to me. So while I probably don’t look like myself to those around me, I feel like myself. This is not a “new, cancer-free me” talking, or even a partially boobless me. It is just me; cancer free.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Post surgery report

Hey Everyone, Craig here.

Just letting you know the surgery went very well (according to the doctor) and Lara is doing great--a little groggy with Norco and Ambien but overall doing well.  She gets to have her arm and chest wrapped in a compression bandage for a while which can be a bit uncomfortable at times. Hopefully she'll be home tomorrow night if all goes according to plan.

Right breast is apparently in some biohazard bin on the 2nd floor--good riddance.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A goodbye letter to my right breast


Dear Right Breast,

You and I, we’ve been together a long time. What’s it been now? Forty-five years? The memories swirl through my mind: Our first bra, nursing the kids, and a zillion other escapades that need not be detailed here... Good times.

But over the past few years you’ve changed. You became unstable and unreliable, making it difficult to discern your true intentions. A sore lump here, a mysterious “calcification” there (or was it DCIS? I’m still not sure). I stopped counting the number of mammograms and sonograms you drove me to, not to mention the tears and anxiety. And things really took a dive this year, when you went rogue on me. Let’s be honest: We both know you’ve been trying to kill me. But cancer? Seriously? And as if that wasn’t enough, you had to drag the nodes into this. Was that really necessary? I’ve always known you were dense, but this is pure desperation.

So it’s over, Right Breast. You’ve had your fun. While I will continue to enjoy life’s treasures for many years to come, tomorrow you’ll meet your brutal end, filled with medical dissection and testing in a cold sterile lab before being discarded for eternity. And you’ll get nothing from me; no sympathy, and no more tears. All I have left for you are five words: Happy Amputation Day. Ta ta!

Lara

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

MRI results, moving on to surgery

Actually, this post might be better titled "chemo results," as the MRI I had last week was meant to help us see the results of my first course of chemotherapy. But whatever we decide to call it, the results are wonderful: Nothing detectable shows up at all in either my lymph nodes or at the site where the largest tumor was. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. At the site of the smaller tumor, something that measures 2mm appears; however, it is not well defined. Could it be residual tumor? Yes. However, it could also be scar tissue or DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ, a non-invasive form of cancer). If it's the latter, it was likely there before the invasive cancer grew and was just not previously detected or biopsied. It is impossible to tell for sure what it is by just looking at the MRI, and so we'll have to wait until about a week post surgery to find out the pathology of that tiny little mass that is in there. Either way, it is TEENY and will come out with the rest of my breast and lymph nodes in a couple of days. So, I am thrilled with these results! *SLAP! SLAP SLAP SLAP!!!* Can we get a collective WOOT WOOT! from the crowd?

Some of you might be asking yourselves what my oncologist was actually feeling at the site of the largest tumor last week if the MRI shows nothing there. When she had me feel there a week ago, I couldn't feel anything, but she said she could and I figure she's got a lot more practice and skill at feeling lumps in peoples' breasts than I do! So, today she said she might have just been feeling normal densities in the breast, and I do have dense breasts. (Sorry if this is TMI. It's amazing how a breast cancer diagnosis can make someone perfectly comfortable talking candidly about one's breasts, both in private face-to-face conversations and in the blogosphere. Breast breast breast breast breast!) Anyway, I am still holding out hope of being in the 45% who go into a remission after just the 12 week course of chemo.

So my thoughts have turned to this Friday's surgery. Several friends have asked me how I'm feeling about it, and because my feelings are all over the place, it's a difficult question to answer. However, I'm so grateful for those who have asked, as I think it's something I've needed to talk about more than I have been. I'm really not worried about the surgery itself. I've been under general anesthesia before (and it's great, by the way). All along I've said that I'm not bothered by losing a breast. I mean, let's be honest: It is trying to kill me. I have no desire or need at this point to have reconstructive surgery because I just have not viewed my breast as a significant part or contributor to who I am as a person. Also, I'm not a very good candidate for reconstruction or implants. And yet, I have felt very anxious in the past couple of weeks leading up to the surgery. I think that's because regardless of the emotional and physical significance, or lack thereof, that I place on my breast and it's removal, this is still unknown territory. I simply cannot say how I will feel after it's done. I anticipate feeling better; relieved and with a concrete knowledge of what I currently can only vaguely imagine: The absence of a body part that has always been present, at least since puberty. And that's the thing. I still don't know, and so this falls under the frustrating and scary categories in which we file so many things in our lives and in our imaginations: THINGS I CAN'T CONTROL and THINGS I CAN'T YET KNOW. And that's not easy for catastrophist control freaks like me. :-)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Treatment update: Bye bye, Taxol

I'm writing this post as I sit here in the chemo suite at Carle Hospital in Urbana, getting my premedications for my final dose of Taxol. (I can already hear the collective cheer ringing in from family and friends near and far.) I'm feeling good knowing that my first course of chemo is coming to an end. Also, the anxiety that I wrote about last week has subsided (although it hasn't gone away entirely).

This may seem obvious, but I will not miss Taxol. After all, it has done a fairly good job of stripping me of head hair, annoying my immune system, and jerking my digestive tract around. I have to say, though, that at the very least, Taxol has become a known quantity, and one that is also relatively mild on my system. I'm not expecting to be so pampered during my post-surgery course of chemo in April and May, when I'll get Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide (A/C). Here's a link to some general info regarding A/C: http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertreatment/Treatmenttypes/Chemotherapy/Combinationregimen/AC.aspx, which I'll be getting infused every two weeks over an eight week period (four cycles).

In other news, my surgery (modified radical mastectomy on the right side) is coming right up, scheduled for March 7th, and mom is coming for a couple of weeks to help out (yay, Mom!). I know it is considered a big milestone, but the surgery itself is not causing me any particular worry or anxiety. I'm mostly anxious to know to what extent the tumors have shrunk or gone away. I will be getting an MRI in the next few days, which will help determine that. However, the pathology to be conducted on what is removed--breast and lymph nodes, including any remaining tumors or scar tissue--will provide a definitive answer regarding the extent to which the bitchslaps that made up the first round of chemo have done their job. We know that there has been rapid and extensive tumor shrinkage, but my oncologist is still able to feel something at the tumor sites during physical examination. That said, what she feels is very poorly defined, and when I try to feel around in the same locations, I can't feel much at all. So, my doc and I are hopeful that what is still there is scar tissue and not actually the tumors. The MRI will help, but that only goes so far in helping doctors know what's what when things show up in the images. We just won't know the status of shrinkage/disappearance until the post-surgery pathology is complete.

Alright--the Benadryl buzz is setting in fast, so I'm signing off.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I think this book is for me

I have been mulling over several things that I would like to blog about this week, and I may very well get to them in the next few days. But if you haven't heard this morning's interview on National Public Radio with Madhulika Sikka about her new book, A Breast Cancer Alphabet, please listen. I'm not 100% on the same page as she is about her experiences with breast cancer, but that is part of the point: There are particular expectations and dominant discourses about how people deal with disease, and my guess is that very few people are 100% on the same page as anyone else about breast cancer. However, listening to the story made me nod in agreement, laugh, and cry. I'd encourage you to lend this story a few minutes of your day.

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/25/280242097/a-is-for-anxiety-g-is-for-guilt-the-abcs-of-breast-cancer

And if you're interested in reading further about the topic of illness narratives, here's another link for you: http://baybreastcare.co.za/you-wish-you-had-breast-cancer/. Writer Sally Davies has been studying the topic of illness narratives--both those that are constructed and ascribed to cancer patients and those with other medical ailments, and those that are re-written and re-framed by patients. (She also discusses my blog in her post.) There is a lot of food for thought here, but for me it hits home the power and agency of taking at least a bit of control of my own story--of my own way of dealing with breast cancer. I have so much more to say about all of this, but these two links will have to suffice for now.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Anxiety (or, Please Pass the Xanax)

My biggest battle this week has not been against the nasty cold I got, but rather, anxiety. It has manifest itself in my racing mind, improper breathing (heaving the chest, rather than breathing from the diaphragm) and hyperventilation to the point of lightheadedness. It seems odd that I would be consumed by anxiety in this way, as this isn't how it felt even at the most stressful parts of this process so far: Diagnosis, waiting for pathology results, chemo still being an unknown. But I think I'm figuring it out: I had my second-to-last infusion today of my first 12 week course of chemo. Next week will bring that phase of treatment to a close, which means that surgery, a rougher course of chemo (Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide, known as A&C), and radiation are still ahead of me.

Upon diagnosis and early in this course of chemotheraphy, everything was a mystery to me. Would I have to vomit every day? When will I go bald? Will my fingernails be affected? What will my energy level be like? What if my white cell count goes too low? And most of all: WHAT IF IT DOESN'T WORK? Well, at this point, these questions have pretty much been answered. No vomit so far, not 100% bald (but close enough--see photo below, oh curious ones), my fingernails are slightly more brittle but still growing, my energy has been fine for the most part, my white cell count has dipped slightly below normal (but is close enough to normal to not impact treatment), and SO FAR IT'S WORKING! Clearly, I feel really good about all of these things and that's a) because it hasn't been so bad, and b) the news is good in terms of tumor shrinkage.

So, Lara, why the long face? Why the anxiety? Well, let's all remember: I DO have cancer. But I don't think that's driving the sudden increase in my anxiety. I think what's driving it is a renewed sense of the unknown for treatments that are now just around the corner. I'll be having surgery on March 7th, and while I'm not particularly worried about it, it's still an unknown. And then in April and May I'll be getting A&C--a stronger chemo; a cocktail that, as my dad kindly put it, will make me look like a cue ball. The nausea should be worse, and from what I understand it does quite a number on my immune system. I've been spoiled so far. I've said all a long that I'm not afraid of the treatments (whatever it takes, right?). But I can't claim to not be anxious about them. Very anxious. And what anxiety does is it feeds the night demons, who then instill fears that I thought I'd already dispelled (e.g., WHAT IF IT DOESN'T WORK?!).

So, what now? Well, I'm turning to what has worked for me thus far. Moving ahead eyes wide open (bring on the treatments!), getting out on the soccer pitch, and not being afraid to medicate when needed. This is bad shit I'm dealing with, I'm sick and tired of it, and if swearing and a healthy dose of Xanax is what it takes to get me over this hump, so be it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"Are you afraid?"

One of the awesome things about my job as an educational researcher is that I often get to spend time in classrooms and schools, interacting with thoughtful teachers and students. As some of you know, I'm currently conducting a research project in a fourth grade bilingual classroom, and the classroom teacher is the co-principal investigator of the study. I've been spending one to three hours, two to three days a week, in this classroom since September, and that will continue through the remainder of the school year. In the process, I've gotten to know the teacher and the students fairly well. When my breast cancer diagnosis came down in November, my data collection activities were interrupted as I devoted huge amounts of time to meeting with doctors, undergoing various procedures, and planning out and beginning treatment. And, oh yeah, getting my emotional life under some semblance of control.

I told the teacher I'm working with about my diagnosis right away so that she wouldn't wonder what was going on, and because she has become a professional companion and friend. But I didn't tell her students; at least not right away. I wasn't sure how, and I also just wasn't there at the school as much. I had planned to tell them before the holiday break, but I was only in the classroom for short spurts here and there during December, and the time didn't seem right when I was there. By the time I resumed regular data collection activities in January, I had lost a significant amount of hair, and was wearing hats regularly. The teacher let me know that she hadn't told them yet, and she asked me if I wanted to tell them. Right then, on that day, in that moment. I hadn't been planning on it, and was a bit worried about it. I wasn't worried about whether they should know or what they would do with the information. Instead, I was worried that I would break down in the process. The teacher encouraged me, however, remarking that sometimes it's good for young people to see others' emotions and how they work through difficult things. She was right. So, then and there, she grouped her 14 kids into a circle on the carpet, and sitting down in the circle, I told them. I didn't break down, but I came pretty close.

I actually think I didn't cry because I was so focused on finding the words in Spanish to explain what was going on. (The teacher speaks in Spanish with them in the mornings and English in the afternoons, and it was mid-morning.) But the students helped me out. When I didn't know a word in Spanish, I would provide it in English, and they would then help me learn the Spanish word. This process prompted a few side discussions among the students as they debated the best translations for things like "chemotherapy" "breast cancer" and "tumor shrinkage." What really struck me, though, were the questions that these young people asked: "What is it about the treatments that makes your hair fall out?" "Is cancer contagious?" "What does cancer look like?" "Are you going to be okay?" "Did you cry when you found out?" "Do your kids know?" "Are you afraid?"

It's important to note that these are nine and ten year old kids who know about joy and pain--serious joy and pain. Actually, I think most kids know about serious joy. Like many young people, they have had experiences like having a new baby sister or brother born, or a parent getting married to their partner, or going to their uncle's ranch to go horseback riding, or getting a new dog. But many of them have also experienced serious pain: A father disappearing, parents going to jail, a cousin or uncle dying in an accident, a family member getting deported, or a parent getting sick. And they've written about their experiences. The teacher introduced them to the memoir genre early in the school year, and they wrote down their stories--stories that make you smile, laugh, and cry. Stories that make you ask "Why." Stories that make you wonder what the hell policy-makers are thinking when they want to impose curricula enforcing skill, drill and kill instruction and battery upon battery of standardized tests. In these stories, they wrote about their "moments of change" (momentos de cambio) in their lives. When I told them my news, they knew what kinds of questions to ask because despite their young ages, they'd also had significant moments of change--experiences that have become locations from which to understand the world, understand others, and from which to write and read. And on that day, in that circle on the carpet, they recognized that I, too, had experienced a momento de cambio, and they told me as much: "Maestra, you had a momento de cambio." "I think you should write about it." Yes, I will, I told them. And I am. And it helps.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

News Gazette Article

Everyone gets their 15 minutes, right? Well, today a story was published in Champaign-Urbana's newspaper, the News Gazette, about my experiences with diagnosis and how I'm fighting back:
Giving Cancer a Kick in the You Know What. Many thanks to Julie Wurth for the care she took in interviewing me and writing up the story. How very surreal to read about myself in the paper, particularly along side the words "breast cancer."

We are in the midst of a major snow storm here. It's like the arctic out there, with frigid temperatures and blowing snow. I've already gotten a call from the cancer clinic letting me know that they may be closed tomorrow morning. Hopefully I won't have to delay tomorrow's treatment for more than a day or so. This may sound odd, but I actually look forward to my chemo days, particularly since my treatment is working so well. Sure, the side effects are no fun, but who wouldn't want more of the thing that is reversing the cancer's growth?