Monthly Archives: October 2012

Celebrating milestones in mommyhood and cancerhood

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of completion in cancer. There is the day you finish your first round of treatment – for me, chemo (July 26th). The day you – hopefully – find out you are cancer free (for me August 21st). The day that you have finished with all the disease oriented treatment rounds – for me, yesterday, October 29th.

But cancer is a funny thing – even with each milestone, each completion, there is always something else – there will be more PET scans, more medicine, more surgeries even for me who is considered a success story. When people ask if I’m done I can honestly say – mostly. And yesterday and today, that is enough.

I got confetti-ed at radiation. My best friend in attendance along with my array of supportive and amazing nurses. I had to see the doctor before I left and I honestly couldn’t listen to a word she was saying. Something about when I would feel totally better, when my skin would be totally healed, when I needed to come back. All I wanted to do was run out of there – I almost ran out in my hospital gown. I probably would have if Christy hadn’t gently pushed me back to the changing room. (A friend said the same had happened to her!)

The relief is overwhelming. My gratitude immense. My happiness complete. I find myself already with more energy – placebo effect I’m sure – but who cares? I feel like I’m on the upside of a very dark and twisted year.

I had a moment of reflection yesterday – that one year ago I was battling a 12 week business travel commitment by Davis, a trip to Dubai for our family. It all ultimately led to the mammogram in January, the biopsy in late January, the diagnosis on Feb 13th. And what has been a trying but ultimately beautiful year for us – watching our children grow and blossom, strengthening our commitment to each other. Being proud of each other for the burdens we bore.

One thing this whole journey has taught me is that even if you think you are making the right decisions, if you think that you are tackling the important questions every once in a while life will pull the rug out and say – see, this is what really matters. Life matters. Joy matters. Children matter. Friends, family, strangers matter.

And of course, to top off the day of happy chaos we had a crazy soccer practice for the twins team where I was coach (Davis out of town) – parents versus kids, a few rounds of knockout with the kiddos keeping the balls from their parents, and a team celebration at Luby’s. But because of this week and because of this year, it wouldn’t have been complete without a few surprises – Carter losing a tooth at soccer practice. Emmy having her American Girl doll arrive, Henry having a stellar report card sent home.

Yesterday at least, the Universe said “You did good Wards. I may trip you up again, but enjoy this time. Celebrate each of these moments. They are what matters.”

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The Week That Was Survival Epitome

It is a good week – a week full of celebrations. In any family a birthday week is a big deal, and any parent will tell you your kids’ birthday week is always a big deal. And, when you have twins, it is twice as much effort – or at least in our house – because each is special, individual, and needs their own piece of cake (literally – Carter wantsvanilla and Emmy wants chocolate).And when they are five it’s a BIG deal. They get it, they love it.

We also had a first lost tooth this week – another biggie in any family. A midnight visit from the tooth fairy and the requisite grandparent calling and teacher telling. Carter’s first – only six months after Emmy – after a month of reluctance to let go of the tooth that finally popped out on his way home from soccer practice on his birthday. Double the wow.

We also went with happy – a Chuck E Cheese birthday party with 30 kids and 3 kids hosting and 1500 tickets won by our family in the ticket booth. There was beer for adults and sundaes for the kiddos and happy.

It was a big week with all this alone and then there is my willingness to participate as an active member of my school community and understand the impervious cover issues associated with an addition to our elementary school – my first time public speaking at a school district meeting (but certainly not my last I’m sure).  And participating in all the fun at school – crazy hair day, crazy hat day, etc

That is a faux haux in case you were wondering. (My hair gel has come in handy for Henry at least!

So the regular life is exhausting, and the radiation is exhausting and I’m tired of being tired. I have had naps and rest every day. The good news is I have one left. ONE.

One more time of laying on the gurney – trading in my clothes for the medical gown. The radiation making my skin so red I started wearing concealer to cover my neck and I spend as much time as possible braless in loose cotton clothes resting.

This week things got more complicated on the treatment side – scar booster sessions that are allowing my skin peripherally to heal and to peel and to itch but the scar area has gotten hard and uncomfortable and raised and makes wearing anything just plan wrong.

So I toast tonight the week behind – the week ahead (Halloween, school pictures, and the END of radiation).

I toast with an Ambien because I no longer sleep as I had. I diet to get rid of some of the extra pounds prior to the tamoxifen fun, And I recognize that we can’t make every committment and we can’t make every day but soon there will be healing and less fatigue and the worst that will be over,

We have gone with happy this week – with the support of friends, family, small steps, big preparations … for this time next week I will be treatment free and will take a moment to celebrate  (or at least until the next time I need a drive home!)

I also find myself crying this week – am I crying because it’s almost over – tears of relief, tears of joy? I am also crying because the enormity of it all hits when you leaves expect it … this must be the post-chemo-treatment-post radiation-post surgery … post all of this crap depression. Which is weird but with all the hormone fluctuation doesn’t make me too surprised.

My quotes of the week: William Ernest Henley:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

AND, from my oncologist – my goodbye message –

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway, – John Wayne
One more, and then time to heal …

 

 

 

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Single digits in radiation treatment, string bikini dreams

You know it’s bad when your nurses avert their eyes. Luckily I haven’t seen that glance of pity very much throughout this ordeal – even in chemo there were some others whose side effects clearly worried the nurses with their frailty, their color, their breathing, their weight. Now, it’s me – a big pile of radiation sunburn peel. In my armpit.

I use sarcasm a lot because I don’t know how else to say things, and people that are around me tend to get it. By fabulous I mean the complete opposite. And that’s the case right now – voice dripping with unshed venom – this is fabulous.

Now there is a silver lining. Because of my surgery some of the nerves under my armpit are dead or gone so it’s not as bad as it looks. And there’s the fact that hanging out naked with a washcloth in my armpit does seem to help the symptoms. It’s just finding time to hang out naked that’s the challenge. Not really a look I go for on a regular basis. OOOH. I should find my string bikini from my honeymoon – maybe then I could lounge in the family room with the rest of the crew. That is a hilarious mental picture. Sorry, I just snorted in my brain.

And on the more good news front, I found out that I only have four more radiation sessions of the whole area – and by the whole area, I mean the upper left quadrant of my front – up to and including part of my neck. I am glad that it’s starting to get cooler here in Austin so I can wear collars and not feel more than the warm I already feel all the time. Next I will be moving to the “scar only” treatment which means the rest of this red mess will get a break.

I just went on a date night last night with Davis. I can have beer! It doesn’t make me sick or stay up forever and I like it! We saw the movie Argo – which was my favorite movie thus far this year – and it made me realize the scope and nature of things. There are people – real people – in that movie that made decisions that would cost their lives if they were discovered. Real people that were under extraordinary pressure and chaos and responded with humor and strength. When we stress daily over little things – weight, time, even money, this journey has told me that there is a bigger picture. I hope I can carry that – and impart that  – to others.

I am also in the single digit rank for number of radiation treatments out: 9. Number of treatments with the skin cringing bolus: 2. Girls night planned for toasting the end of this round: 1.

Lauren, you just beat cancer, survived radiation and a double mastectomy and chemo, what will you do now? A Disney cruise (priceless!) OH and start working. I know – crazy right? But, that’s what I want to do, to be a plus in a year of minus. Let me know if you are in need of a writer/marketer/business development/strategy consultant. Resume and references available upon request. I bet my oncologist would be a good one.

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Getting Greedy During Survivorship

I am getting greedy. Today my blog was featured on WordPress Freshly Pressed which means I have a lot of new visitors – Hello Visitors! It also means I have a lot of new emails, new supporters, and new stories. Dude, email going bonkers!

I guess people handle cancer and stress in different ways but I feed on the strength and the words of others. And, I feed on the fact that I can make a difference in the life of others – through my words, through my story. Is that like an emotional vampire? Maybe (though I would not be Team Edward), but I do know that I’m loving that feeling – of making an impact, a difference. If I can help just one person, or save just one woman I thought that would be enough. Nope.

I am a huge movie buff and get quotes stuck in my head. One of my favorite quotable movies is Scrooged with Bill Murray. I often tote my children around and gasp “Oh! Feels like boating a Marlin!” But, here’s one of my favorite quotes and sentiments:

If you give, then it can happen…then the miracle can happen to you. It can happen every day..you’ve just got to want that feeling. … And if you like it and you want it you’ll get greedy for it…you’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you.

I am greedy to make a change in this world. There is so much negativity now, so much uncertainty, but we need to remember that our strength is within and without. Humor and compassion.

One of the major advantages of social media is sharing – share my story (while I go nap) … tell your friends. I am greedy and I make no apologies for that fact. I want to help. I need an agent for my book writing adventure – tell your coworkers. And, Christy has her heart set on having Jennifer Love Hewitt play her in the movie version of this year. We wouldn’t want to disappoint.

On a side note, one of the other major advantages of social media is making you laugh until you snort during televised debates. I highly recommend watching a twitter feed during the next debate – regardless of your political affiliation it is darn amusing. You have to admit between the Biden laughing gas and the Ryan refillable water glass there was some humor last night behind the rhetoric.

Perhaps all of us need to learn to laugh a little more at the hilarity of life, and to get greedy for that moment when it is happy, when it is light.

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New Side Effects, New Sizes, New Fashion, New Season

Radiation is not fun. Now, on the spectrum of not fun things this year it’s probably not as bad as chemo, but in some ways it’s more insidious than the surgery. With surgery each day was an improvement, now I slide downhill. After surgery, the pain was moderate (when asked what my pain threshold was a friend answered for me – DUDE, she took tylenol a day after her double mastectomy). But, this is uncomfortable, painful, and daily.

I have never had that wonderful skin that bronzes beautifully and glows happily in the sun. I have been blessed with a fair complexion that freckles and burns and makes keloid scars for even a mole removal. Ironic that I thought skin cancer would be my bane. I like my skin in general, but all of a sudden, a curse – red as a lobster on impacted areas, tender from swelling on areas where I would LIKE to wear a support undergarment and rosacea of the face somedays. My doctor proscribed daily rinses – “so it won’t peel” – great, not even a chance of a sun tan after all this? I find myself daydreaming of times naked in one of Davis’ old shirts.

So much has changed – I find shopping therapeutic in ways it never was before. Part of it is I keep trying to find things that flatter my new strange-to-me-shape. I try to find things that work in pixie haircut land. Accentuate the positives, right? Just when I feel like I have a little wardrobe for summer it turns 50 here! I scramble – no pants! Which sweaters? What shirts? I have discovered the magic of tunic shirts and leggings.

I finally took everything out of my closet that I can’t wear right now. It was exhausting but so was the feeling of looking at it every day and wishing I could fit into it again. I’m realistic – there is likely a chance I will, but there’s also a chance I won’t – my five year dosing of tamoxifen may impact my body into fat hoarding.

Regardless I have to say I am thoroughly confused when I do shop – I can figure out what size to get for tops, but is it just me or are the sizes for bottoms crazy? I can’t find something that fits my waist – and my bootie – without falling off my thighs or being two inches too long. I am going to -ack- actually go shopping for jeans and try on different sizes and shapes and models. Does anyone like doing that?

Though I have won the battle against cancer, the war continues – and I want you to remember this. When we are cancer free, we are not always treatment free. When we are done with chemo the hard part is not always over. Hug your survivor friends, love them through and past the first battle because the hits keep on coming., You like your hair – sorry. You like your waist? Cancer will take that too … and forget about the silhouette. How about your metabolism? Mood? Skin sensitivity? Ability to get to sleep? Now I’m left with my sparkling wit and personality. Good thing I have a fantastically supportive husband. Along with adoring friends and family and three amazing children of course.

There it is, the thread back to happy.

And, the news that only 13 more treatments of radiation. 6 of those with the dreaded bolus. In radiation therapy, bolus is a material which has properties equivalent to tissue when irradiated. The bolus is laid on my skin to  increase the skin dose – yup that’s right, to make my skin MORE red. Run cancer baby cells. You cannot hide.

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The Controversy around Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This month we head into pink-ageddon. Everything will be pink – yogurt cups, beers, football gloves, socks, purses and balloons. Interestingly, in the actual breast cancer community there is sharp division about whether the corporate takeover of awareness is a good thing. Many of my survivor friends turn three shades of hot pink when asked their opinion – they hate it. It’s a manipulation of the true message, a way to cash in on loved ones lost, and the money goes crazy places – if it goes anywhere at all.

In years past I saved my yogurt lids and made a choice to buy the pink packaging if it was offered, but I didn’t know the consequences of my choices or the real message of October. This is about awareness – and frankly, I too believe the real message has been lost. October should be about bringing awareness to women about this disease. Awareness to my generation who remains virtually ignorant to the fact that it can impact us. And, it should bring awareness of the remarkable strides that medicine and doctors have made. (Some survivors will dispute that – I tell you, this is a fraught topic).

I think we all agree that there is an issue with corporations profiting off a disease. A movie was just screened here in Austin called Pink Ribbons Inc – a documentary on the disparity between profits and donations and the true message lost. To that end if you are going to make choices this year on donations and purchases, make sure that there is an actual organization designated.

This year, and forward, my money and time will go to two organizations that made a dramatic difference in my attitude, support, and care: one is the Breast Cancer Resource Center here in Austin, TX which is the home of the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls. My young survivor network of over 500 women. They have been my Q&A group, my friends that I talk to about things I don’t even put on the blog, and the organization that provides Austin with individual, amazing support.

Here is their donation page: https://secure.commonground.convio.com/bcrc/october2012/

The other organization which you will hear more about is the Duke Cancer Institute. I am clearly biased (alma mater and all) but they are trying to create disruptive therapies – funding truly cutting edge young research on this disease. You will see much more as I become their first Alumni Ambassador – attending Board meetings and speaking there next year, as well as becoming part of their support community – as founder of the Blue Devils Vs Cancer alumni organization.

Here is their donation page: http://dukecancerfund.org/get-involved/

More than that, I think my new mission is also to educate and empower my generation about this disease. It is curable – especially if caught early. It is detectable using mammograms and thermography and ultrasound. Here’s what else you should know:

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. However, breast cancer can strike at any age, and is the most common cause of death in women aged 35 to 54. The number of young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer is on the rise, with scientists unsure of the cause.

Most importantly – you need to get to know your breasts. Usually, the first noticeable symptom is a lump that feels different from the rest of your breast tissue. More than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered by touch, by you or your doctor. You need to get to know your breasts in circular motions, horizontal and vertical. And don’t be afraid to palpate deep—many breast cancers are close to the chest wall.

You also need to feel under your arms—lumps found in lymph nodes in the armpitscan indicate breast cancer. Other symptoms include density changes, one breast becoming larger or lower, a nipple changing position or shape, or swelling around the collarbone. If you have any of this—regardless of your age—get to a doctor and discuss it.

I never was a pink girl really, but now I’m proud to wear pink ribbons, bracelets, T-shirts, and hats. Don’t just think pink this October, do pink. And recognize and respect the true meaning of the month.

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The Definition of Courage: In Life and In Cancer

I spent a lot of time thinking of what to write on this blog. It’s October first and the beginning of breast cancer awareness month, but my focus on that will have to wait. We lost a member of our family this weekend – Davis’ grandfather, Robert Emerson Kircher. Emmy’s namesake. GrandBob as he was known to our family and friends was an amazing intellect and with wonderful curiosity – learning how a computer worked by peeling one apart piece by piece. He had a fantastic sense of humor – the first time I met him he hit on me, and it became a running joke. He was also a national her – a Silver Star recipient for WWII. He was a PT boat captain and went back under enemy fire to rescue over 20 sailors.

His passing had me thinking a lot about choices and courage. I have always thought people threw around the term hero lightly – to me, to my family. But everytime that comes up I think of people like GrandBob who knowingly put themselves in harms way and do something special and terrifying at the same time. I actually looked up the term courage today:

cour·age/ˈkərij/

  1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
  2. Strength in the face of pain or grief.

Under this definition we are all courageous – in the decisions we make that challenge us. In the way we handle bad news. To me, courageous was Davis sharing with the children that we had lost GrandBob. He voice choked as he shared the news. The children were curious – where was his body? Where was his soul? Henry said “I know everything’s OK because he’s in heaven but I’m still sad.” And Davis said, tears shining, “it’s OK to be sad.”

GrandBob and the men and women involved in World War I, II and subsequent conflicts are heroes. We display courage daily – my Pink Ribbon Cowgirls friends, their families, my friends.

But, GrandBob, our friend, our family, will recieve a hero’s welcome to Arlington. Where, as the children said “we can go visit whenever we want.”

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