Tag Archives: medicine

The New Year’s Blog – 2014 and cancer-free … for everyone?

I had thought this would be the year our family escaped the cloud of cancer. Unfortunately we enter with a diagnosis hanging over our doggie – thymoma – cancer of the thymus gland. However, it is operable, and we hope he will have a successful surgery and long and happy recovery. THANK GOODNESS. The best news possible given the situation.

The parallels between our diagnosis are striking to me. We had virtually no symptoms, had a chance scan, and discovered a massive lump. It makes me very thankful for modern technology, but also concerned in general -what else are we missing if we don’t pay attention?

Although … one major difference … I was not bounced for my scheduled CT scan because there was a zebra with an abdominal wound in need. Yes, a zebra, in College Station.

After the rollercoaster of emotions the past few days, we enter 2014 with profound relief and gratitude – that our dog has the capability to live long and happy – that we have the time and resources to tackle his cancer and my recovery. That we are surrounded by a loving and caring community who loves my “Nicky Minaj pink streaks” and our giant frog dog.

These are the times when I remember why 2012, and 2013 both didn’t suck.

  • I grew to a first name basis with my insurance company and reached my out of pocket maximum. Two years running. Cool thing is – nice tax break. Now that I’m working again, I can be so thankful for our cash flow and the fact that we had amazing insurance through IBM. $300K paid in total for me the last two years. Now that we are paying out of pocket for the dog, I realize the true magnitude of that gift.
  • I realized how amazing my husband is – that support I had planned to give him was returned a hundredfold as he took the reins of family control, family CEO, shrink, Mom and Dad. He was – and is – amazing.
  • I got to see what my body is capable of in terms of healing – and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
  • I’m no longer vain about my appearance. Not that I really ever was, and yes, I do wear makeup and earrings. But there are some bits here and there that aren’t what they used to be and hey, that’s OK. I mean, I’m also missing bits that should be there so I figure it all sorts out.
  • I get to have perky Barbie boobs – OF MY OWN CHOOSING! – for the rest of my life courtesy of insurance. Those of you without having nursed three children may not realize the importance of this. And yes, picking out a size is both weird and exhilarating. Then, there’s the tatooing process – something else I never would have imagined, and in some ways I feel empowered because I am now “edgier” – right?!
  • I’m a little less inclined to sweat the small stuff – or even the semi small stuff. This year’s Christmas cards were wonky, the presents were wrapped by my six year olds ( and yes, they bought me two pillow pets and a bathmat for Christmas), – and NO ONE CARES! And I’m happy with my pillow pet! It turns out that a lot of the stuff you thought was important just isn’t.

A friend asked me last night about resolutions. For the first time in many years, I don’t have any. I have hopes – that we get and stay cancer free. That my kids continue to be as happy and curious and excited as they have been. That our puppy continues to entertain, love and grow. That our family and friends have success and happiness and all the good things there are in 2014. I will try to walk a little more, eat a little better, (I did get a fit band for Christmas!) and take care of myself. But, all of that is gravy.

I resolve to live more in the moment than before. We have always been planners of the maximum variety and I think the edge has been dulled. Let’s go on that trip we put off (yes, I got to go to New York to see Christmas lights with JUST DAVIS  this year as a present!)

Our new motto: go with happy. And if that means three kids out at 37 degrees on their new scooters, then that’s just what it will be.

I wish everyone a happy HEALTHY prosperous new year, and joy every day.

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And now the dog has cancer

I am overwhelmed. The frivolity and happiness of the new puppy muted by the terrific disappointment and anguish of the dreaded C word again reappearing in our lives.

Like before, out of the blue. Like before, no real symptoms. Like before, fear and pain and sad.

Our 10 1/2 year old first “fur baby” Cameron didn’t eat his kibble the last day we were gone. When we came home, he was less than enthusiastic. But it could have been that we brought along a 10-week-old puppy. I mean, we knew he wouldn’t be thrilled by that addition in general, but this was downright weird. He is totally and completely food motivated.

We saw him breathing shallow, and thought – maybe there’s something in his mouth, on his neck.

Imagine our shock and surprise when we found out that based on the Xray, he had a “mass” – likely cancer.

The frenzy, the questions started anew. Where do we go for another opinion and soon? Where do we go to get the best care? What can we do? Will he die?

I cried more than when I was diagnosed. Somehow this felt worse – I was powerless. I have been a red ugly raw all weekend.

We still don’t know – a trip to the Texas A&M emergency room netted us a a 10am slot on Monday morning for a CT scan and diagnostic follow up with specialists – the best in the country. He will have a CT guided biopsy (eerily familiar to those of us who have undergone the X ray guided biopsy – at least he will be asleep!) The earliest we could do here in Austin – surprisingly – was the 15th of January.

It has been the longest and shortest two days in the last year. Going from ebullience at puppy cuteness – she chases her tail! she walks sideways! she has a white spot on her chest! To the recognition that our other dear dog, my therapy dog, might instead be lost this week.

We told the kids, this time avoiding the term cancer bugs – Davis was concerned that it would echo too much on their minds to my battle (cancer = death??) We told them there was a mass that wasn’t supposed to be there and there might be drugs to get it better. Dad and Cameron will go to the best doctors in the country on early Monday morning for the tests that will allow the doctors to see his body better. But, there might be a chance Cameron doesn’t come back. There might be a chance that he would die.

Henry said “Well, Mom, you’ve been through lots of surgeries and have been fine – I’m sure Cameron will be fine.” I am sure of it too, because this time around, like last time, the other option is unthinkable.

You may think me sappy or sentimental for being so attached to our dog, but I point you to my last two years and the net that was my constant support – Cameron amongst. And, now I am granted the glimpse into the world of those around the cancer patient – the frustration, the grief, the overwhelming sad. I feel what so many felt for me.

I guess the good news is that Cameron doesn’t know the fight he faces. But the rest of us do, and we see the end in sight. Much closer than we expected. As is always the case.

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Why NOT a puppy?

There are times when I find my journey has changed my outlook. Holidays are certainly one of those times. I was always a Christmas girl – my grandmother was literally Mrs. Claus on her stocking and it rubbed off. Last year, this year, more special – cramming as much fun and frolic into the season. The elf, bon bon parties, extra big live trees, etc. This year, a puppy.

Yes, a puppy.

Just about everyone thinks I’m crazy. I have been working on Davis for over three months, but I desperately want a puppy and we are getting her on December 26th.

I was thinking today about why.

Cameron is a great dog – my therapy dog and companion in all of this and in all of our last ten years. He is such a good dog with the NOTABLE exception of the counter surfing – only one place in the entire kitchen is safe – a three foot square plot of land at the back of the range. But he’s getting old. I want to spare my family the pain of losing a dog and having a void. I want our new dog to enjoy his company, to teach him, and for him to have a burst of puppy energy.

But I’m sure there’s some Freudian reason for my desire – a cathartic rebirth, seeing my mortality reflected in the eyes of my dog, an existential crisis.

For me, it’s the pursuit of happiness. What’s a few hours of sleep missing, a few chewed fingers, an extra mouth to feed, when you consider the joy and love that will come. Of course I say that now before we are inundated with housebreaking and a pouting septuagenarian.

This week, this holiday, may your gifts be merry and bright, and may you be 10% as excited as my kids are about the presents that await them. And 1% as excited as me.

 

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Thank goodness for healthcare

I am pausing from pre-Christmas prepping – which for me is a VERY fun marathon and sprint and 5K rolled into one – to complain just a little.

These days everyone has a position on healthcare – or at least on Obamacare. I try to be apolitical online and will refrain from too much proselytizing BUT I just got my statement of account – count it the thirty third – as related to my reconstruction adjustment end of August. So, to clarify, this is one bill, from one procedure. (I counted recently that I have had 8 surgical procedures thus far with the big C – this was #8)

For those of you who have been playing at home, I popped a stitch out of my radiated reconstructed left boob while cruising the lazy river with my family and friends. Because of the fear of infection from the oh-so-clear Hyatt Lost Pines pool I had emergency surgery on August 21st. Today I got a bill from Seton – the hospital where I went for aforementioned surgery.

The bill says patient name: Ward, Lauren. Statement date: 11/28/13, admit date: 8/21/13 (only 3 months behind – if I ran my family finances that way?? really??)

Discharge date: NONE. Meaning I didn’t stay the night. At all. Important for what comes next.

Total charges: $23,687.75

I’m sorry, but WTF? I was in an operating room for an hour, woke up in the room next door an hour later and it’s more than a car?

AHHH but it gets better:

Previous Balance $4576.12 – which implies that A – I either owe the hospital more than we pay for five people to go on vacation for a week AND DIDN’T KNOW IT or B – that I have received sufficient bills from aforementioned hospital that I just ignore them at this point and/or C – they are just making this SH(&T up as they go.

Now transaction dates and description

9/10/13 HMO ADJ – A      $18,198.62

9/10/13 HMO ADJ – A     -$18261.97

9/20/13 I99/Aetna(178209)    $.00

9/27/13 I99/Aetna(178209)    -$4,278.19

I have no idea what any of that means. Literally, figuratively, completely. Other than another really?! How mixed up are we that someone who is or was seriously sick now has to decipher a bill that looks like the WWII Enigma code books in Henry’s history project?

I recognize adj as either adjective or adjustment. Which do you think? Aetna – thank god for Aetna – is also familiar. Though I’m not sure what any of that means. Listed twice. Some positive. And with SUCH precision. AND ninety seven cents. Because that last cotton ball was two extra cents.

Then at the bottom with a big blue arrow: PLEASE PAY THIS AMOUNT: $238.68

I can’t really describe how I feel – frustrated that I have no idea what any of this means. Happy that we have this money in the bank and I can pay it. Pissed that I have to pay for something that was completely NOT my fault at all on so many levels. Sad that others receive these bills and can’t pay for it. Relieved and exhausted by reading the entire bill so that the final total seems like – WHEW dodged a bullet there.

Maybe that’s the strategy – overwhelm with paperwork, bills, numbers and codes. When did healthcare become so unhealthy?

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The More Things Change

An exhilarating and exhausting October is behind me – the first since recovery, and therefore the first fundraiser (and success!) the first big speaking opportunity, the first month of remembrance for fallen sisters, the first real Halloween in a long time

I had my first girl’s night out with soccer Moms, drank too much at Halloween – sorry if I was a little bit loud fellow trick or treaters!), listened to my 8 year old son read an entire page of Chinese characters.

I am almost numb with gratitude. I realize that I was so lucky to have found it when I did. To have the support I do, To have my children the age they are. To have my husband. My family. Money.

There are days where cancer doesn’t even enter into my thoughts for hours. Where I live as though it was time before. But then I have a hurt back and I wonder – is that bone pain or muscle pain? Or I get a comment about Dubai – weren’t you going there? from a Duke interviewee. Or I look in the mirror and realize my bangs are longer than my hair used to be.

There are always shadows and some people it would forever alter in a bad way.

For me, I am altered and I haven’t sorted good and bad yet.

I went to a Pink Ribbon Cowgirls luncheon last week and it was hard – to go back to that raw place where even sneezing the wrong way can get you sick. It was humbling because my patient navigator addressed the fact that so many people had recurrences in October: statistically there is a massively higher rate of recurrence in the first 3-5 years after NED (no evidence of disease). We still don’t know why.

There’s a danger to being almost smug when you hear each individual story – one woman had it come back with a vengeance after a lumpectomy (I’m so smart I had a mastectomy on both sides I would crow!)one person had ovarian cancer come back and I think I’m so glad I had gene testing so I knew whether to do that or not.

It’s both a sense of empathy and a sense of relief. Profound relief.

At the end of the day – more than relief. Joy. Happy healthy kids. Happy healthy me. Biggest (real) worry is getting everyone to school on time, doing the best I can at my amazing job, helping my friends when they need me.

Biggest perceived worry, though … that will forever be different after cancer.

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I Don’t Know How She Does It

There have been a lot of comments about the similarities between the main character in the book and movie about the working Mom who does it all … and I have to admit I have been doing a lot. Between the hot pink hair dye party, speaking at a Komen event, hosting a party for 21 kids, making sure to please my children on their 6th birthday and prepping for Halloween, it’s been a busy two weeks.

But that’s not why I haven’t written.

I am scared to face a reality. My breast cancer could come back at any time. In any place.

Why on earth would I be worried about this in the middle of all this fun chaos? The lovely woman, Courtney, who wore my art bra last year (Hooter for those of you keeping track) to the event … who just got married … who is 33 and exercises like crazy and eats paleo and everything … found out her cancer is back last week.

And, for those of you who don’t know, when you have a bilateral mastectomy, breast cancer can come back – that’s why they don’t use the term remission – because it never really is ever totally gone. At five years they start breathing a sigh of relief – Courtney was a year 2.

And, when it comes back, it comes back in another part of your body – because, yes, you have no more breast tissue really so instead it comes back in your bones and liver and brain. Courtney now has breast cancer tumors in her liver.

And, when breast cancer comes back in another part of your body – because where else could it at this point, right? – it’s Stage 4. relative survival rate of 20% for 5-years. In and out of chemo, just trying to hold it off as long as possible.

Everyone thinks I’m brave, and yes, I had courage to fight something every day but I knew that it would work.

I am in pain right now – physically and emotionally for Courtney. I am scared for myself and my other survivor friends. I know I can’t dwell on it every day, but it is there in the shadows, and with Courtney’s diagnosis, I find myself thinking about it at least 5 times every day. at least.

When my mind wanders, it’s there. SO I don’t let my mind wander, I make pirate themed art bras for Davis to wear in front of total strangers. I host the soccer team end of year party with two hours notice, I pitch in to help with the Doss Chinese Immersion Advisory Council.

Even tomorrow, when I will fly to California to celebrate my Mom’s 70th birthday, I download three movies and two books because if there’s too much quiet time, I will slowly go mad. Or sad.

This last day of Pinktober, and Halloween, I don’t mean to scare you. I just mean to share – there are bigger things to fight. There are real things to be scared of, and there are also real heroes.

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The Two Part Post: Fundraising and the Last Step

Many of you already know, but for those of you only connected to me through my blog, I have been supported throughout this process by an amazing set of women at the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas. They run a support group for young women fighters/survivors called the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls and they have been AMAZING. My patient navigator, Runi … the effervescent and positive Robin, and of course my amazing supporters and friends in PRC.

I am fundraising for them this October. In an effort for people to think before the pink – BCRC founded #locallypink which is an opportunity for people to give in Austin to the organization that directly impacts people’s lives – my life was made better, stronger and certainly with more purpose because of these ladies and this organization.

They helped me create a fundly page: https://bcrc.fundly.com/team-ward-pink

All your donations go directly to people who need them. As you can see, I have already hit my 2nd stretch goal with the generosity of friends and family, but to quote Scrooged:

If you give, then it can happen…then the miracle can happen to you. It’s not just the poor and hungry, it’s everybody who’s got to have this miracle!! 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 believe in it now! I believe it’s gonna happen to me now, and I’m ready for it. It’s great!

So let’s keep on giving.

Now, the second and certainly lighter side of this post – next week I have my final reconstruction surgery. Nipples. Yup, I said it. I have no nipples and will next week. And is it weird that I’m so excited?

I feel like I have been hiding my body completely for over a year – not like I wander around naked or anything, but imagine being afraid that if your swimsuit falls down, you not only will embarrass yourself and the people around you with your wardrobe malfunction, you might permanently and irrevocably scar your children. I wear a bra all the time for fear there might be a non-nip slip. I just coined a new phrase.

I embrace my new figure and I try to encourage the same with the kids – Henry has an overbite, Emmy is tall, Carter is still missing his top teeth. I tell them everyone is different and special and some people have moles and some have freckles and some have innie belly buttons. BUT I just don’t want them to know that I don’t have nipples. Is that somehow wrong?

And last week I wondered, if I was on TV, would I be censored? I mean, I don’t have nipples and that seems to be the line that is drawn. Would there have been such an outcry if Janet Jackson looked like Barbie, nice and smooth?

By the way this is covered by insurance but we still have to pay out of pocket. I can’t wait to itemize next year. AND the next step – tattoos. More on that later!

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