Tag Archives: radiation

To my kids – read when you are 18

Maybe you should wait to read this until you are a parent which hopefully won’t be at 18. Not that I’m prejuding your choices (yay if I’m a grandma already I guess!), I totally support you! But parenting is hard and I hope you don’t have to handle its delicate balance until you are at least 30.

So here it is – your Dad and I have perpetuated many untruths on you. You are 5 and 7 and so I somehow justify it by thinking it’s above your paygrade, and I hope that doesn’t scar you for life.

I’ll go with the low hanging fruit: Christmas. There is no Santa Claus. That was us. Filling up your stockings, wrapping the presents that you whispered into the stranger’s ear at Barton Creek after being coached. No magic reindeer either. So that food we put out? Swept away by Dad.

While we’re on the magic subject – the Elf that showed up at our house last year that you named Little Red? The idea was created by a brillant marketer. His mischievous acts? Dad and I after you go to bed. We found ideas on pinterest and in an effort to one up each other, parents all over the country participate in this ritual that some nights was relatively stressful since we had to pretend Santa Claus was coming and hide all the presents we would wrap each night. They are hidden in the guest room closet if you were wondering. Every year.

Dispelling myths? That means no Easter Bunny and no Tooth Fairy. Both us, too. We sat up until 10pm filling up a hundred eggs for you this year so that you could all have the same amount and fill up your baskets. The tooth fairy is a figment of someone’s imagination in the 50s to celebrate your move into big kiddo realm. Of course, we weren’t expecting sister to lose 5 teeth in two weeks and we had to make a special trip to the bank for the $1 coins. Ironically, you seem not to notice anything other than the “cash money” $1 bill. Did you know that each time the Tooth Fairy comes your Dad and I go through all of our foreign coins we accumulated on our travels to find two interesting ones for you? Maybe soem day you will care about that.

Um, and babies don’t always come out of bellies like you did, but you probably know that by now. Which means there is no deer doctor that runs around performing C sections.

And the part of the Daddy and part of the Mommy that get together? I’m still not prepared to answer how.

There were also some major tragedies this last year that we didn’t share. But you are kids, you don’t need to know those details. For you, things are safe and happy and it’s summer. SO, if you ask we say some people got hurt, some people maybe died, and the perpetrators made “bad decisions.” Even our tension with North Korea was answered that way … Henry, no more reading the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

So those are some of the big ones. I will admit that most of those were to keep up with the times – and to perpetuate our joy at your joy. We love the look on your faces when the magic happens. I wish we could keep that forever.

Now, the last year there have been some half truths as well – I didn’t, couldn’t tell you all about the cancer battle. Cancer bugs as well call them? Incredibly malignant cells that can proliferate all over your body. It was serious although I will be fine now. Although thechance will always be there that it will come back. I have done everything possible – the chemo medicine, the laserlight (radiation) and my surgery to get out the cancer bugs. But breast cancer does not have a remission it just has a “gone for now.”

I’m sorry we didn’t get to go to Dubai, and that I had a year where I lost my hair, was tired, and couldn’t play with you the way I wanted. I’m sorry that we glossed over the surgeries, but there was no way that I could tell you that I had drains coming out of my body, or that my breasts were gone. And now, as I enter into my last major surgery, I have told you that they are fixing some muscles. They are actually giving me my very own new set of boobs.

And I don’t have nipples so I kinda look like the barbies you played with yesterday in the pool.

I’m not ashamed of the half truths because they keep me going. I like to pretend that this is all no big deal too.

And, after you go to bed, your Dad and I watch super fun TV shows without you … and sometimes we go see movies and even go out with our friends and drink alcohol and eat breakfast tacos at 1 in the morning. But you can’t do that until you’re 21. Sorry.

.emmynoteeth

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The Plus Side of a Mastectomy

This is going to be a very personal post. I will tell you right now it may also make you squeamish. It certainly has made me, but I figure the more that we can demystify this process and this disease, the better we will be at communicating and supporting each other.

I have been pretty flat since my mastectomy with my nice perky Nordstrom’s ladies strapped on each day. I skittered by the mirror with clothes clutched tight, no interest in seeing the giant lines that were my cancer bugs, that was my figure.

Last Monday I had plastic bubbles – for lack of a better  term – the scientific term is expanders – put under my skin and muscles and sewed into place. I had enough extra skin that they were filled over halfway with saline – in a usual procedure they are only filled a third of the way. Which meant that as soon as I was awake enough I had the chance to see a shape and a sight that I have not seen in six months. And that many of you ladies take for granted – cleavage.

I am small, but skin complains – stretched thin over the expanders it is shiny with the extra effort. It is more than I expected in terms of profile change. It is pretty uncomfortable as that skin moves against the plastic, against the stitches.

I am exhausted too because I am used to sleeping on my stomach – instead I now sleep on my back with a nightly advil run. This process will continue over the next few weeks. I will be pumped full of saline until we all decide I look like the right version of myself. Should I stay a medium? Move to a large? C? B?

But it’s such a weird conversation to have with anyone outside of this blog – friends and teachers asking me today how i was feeling said “I looked great” I know that means they looked at my chest. For so much of our lives that’s considered taboo. Is it still?

My male friends ask how I’m feeling – should I say that it feels like i have an extremely tight push up bra on all the time with some pain in the armpits. Instead I just say good, but tired. My body is exhausted after the last year and this is the last straw. But it’s also the first step up the end ladder. Toward the newest normal imaginable. At a size made to order.

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Reasons My 2012 (and Cancer) Didn’t Totally Suck

I find myself with January – and 2013 – approaching with excitement, appreciation, and sure, some apprehension. I mean, last time this year our family was packing away Christmas to move to Dubai as we sent Davis halfway around the globe. I was getting the dog microchipped, faxing reams of applications to International Schools, networking for a live-in Indonesian nanny, and starting to build an expat community. My resolutions were to embrace life and take chances. To not be scared, to give myself to my children and create memories and opportunities for their joy. And, to love and support my husband in his new life.

My what a long strange trip it’s been.

Many would argue that our year was awful – devoid of redemption. I mean what good could possibly come out of a year consumed with cancer? I will admit it was not the path we had chosen, but it’s been a helluva ride and there are many reasons why the year didn’t totally suck. In no particular order (because even though I’ve been thinking of these over the past few weeks I don’t have the capability to really do much beyond stream of consciousness – ha!):

  • I lived out every Mom’s fantasy of sitting on the sofa, catching up on Downton Abbey and eating chocolates sent to me by friends.
  • I tried my hand at doing almost nothing – turns out it’s not a great fit for me. So I wrote a children’s book, started a Duke alumni club, created an art bra, became a published author, and found a topic fo the book that I’ve always wanted to write.
  • I discovered the good in people – the amazing capacity of people to help and build community in times of crisis. I learned to experience the human spirit in ways I never thought possible – and yes, your 194 cards were part of that beautiful and monstrous effort. My well wall fell down. Literally.
  • 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 grew to a first name basis with my insurance company and reached my out of pocket maximum. I’ve still got two days – fingers crossed!
  • I got to be with my kids a lot. And, they learned that sometimes Mom needs a nap.
  • Duke went to a bowl game. In football. They didn’t win, but getting there was half the battle. I figure this alone would be worth a mention although I will also be obnoxious and say that my children are running around telling everyone that Duke is number one in basketball and I like it.
  • I got to do some stuff with Duke and as a parent of three children I have to say that being on their radar isn’t all that bad.
  • I took a lot of naps – like every day for the last year.
  • I learned what my scalp looked like under my hair. As a friend once said – didn’t you always wonder? No, but now I know. And, I also got to see what I would look like with a pixie cut. And I got to shave my head although it wasn’t at all like that empowering GI Jane scene.
  • I got to hear my kids say “Mom you have less hair than Daddy!” and “Mom you have more hair than Daddy!” all in the same year.
  • I learned that when you lose your hair in chemo it’s not from the parts you want.
  • I became part of an amazing sisterhood and now fully embrace the color pink as part of my color wheel.
  • I gained 20 pounds and ate a lot of french toast.
  • I got to see what my body is capable of in terms of healing – and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
  • I learned about hormones and all the wonderful things that they have control over in your body – like temperature regulation, mood, sleeping ability, weight gain, nail growth and more! I am totally psyched about menopause!
  • I’m not vain about my appearance. Not that I really ever was, and yes, I do wear makeup and earrings now (especially dangly ones) 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. But, even my Nordstrom ladies are making me quite happy and buxom. And yes, picking out a size is both weird and exhilarating.
  • I’m a little less inclined to sweat the small stuff – or even the semi small stuff. The Christmas cards were wonky, the presents looked like they were wrapped like five year olds – even the ones I wrapped – and NO ONE CARED! It turns out that a lot of the stuff you thought was important just isn’t. And that’s a zen lesson I plan to take with me.
  • Don’t tell Davis but I find myself living a bit 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 get to go to New York to see Christmas light with JUST DAVIS next year as a present – woot!) If the house isn’t perfect for the party, who really cares?
  • Our MBA training turned out to be a great thing because we had a rainy day fund. And we have used it. Now I’m ready to get back to work.
  • I have a blog. And I like it.

So there you have it. My reasons that this whole experience didn’t suck, and in fact, was a great part of our journey. I didn’t know if I could make it, and how it would impact our family, but truth be told, we survived and are thriving. Thanks to all of you for your love and support. To those of you facing the journey, keep your chin up. Have your days under the covers. Surround yourself with people who understand and insulate yourself from people who don’t. And, for goodness sake, stop weighing yourself and eat that last cookie.

What’s the worst that could happen?

 

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What Forward Means to Me

Whether you talk about elections or families, there is always a tendency to hyperbolize – the watershed moment, the pivotal conversation. And, of course there is the Monday morning quarterbacking – or name calling or whatever. As a winner in this particular stage of the race I can sit smugly on the sidelines and provide critique and say “I told you so” as people proclaim their pride at my accomplishments. I know there is a lot of that going on this week. On both sides, in all battles.

But there is also the regrouping, the realization that everything has not really changed and that both the country and I are still faced with the same issues as Monday, the same uphill battle, the same challenges to overcome.

People ask me about how I’m doing and I’m doing well, but tired. People say “I’m sorry.” Is that the adequate response? Or should it be, “That’s OK.”

One of the challenges of survivorship is you maybe look OK on the outside – or at least better than at other points on the journey – but your body is roiled by chaos. My hormones are amuk, my body shape is off – even my ribcage appears to have grown! – and my emotions are all over the place. Just last weekend – after surviving the twins birthday, Davis gone a week, Halloween on my own, and two soccer games and requisite soccer parties, along with my last day of radiation … I spent a day under the covers. I find myself in the afternoons finding solace in silliness – Modern Family, Nashville, Castle, Law & Order: SVU.

People underestimate the power of a good procedural where the bad guys always get it and no one cracks a smile.

I am moving forward in my own way – watching what I eat, walking around the blocks, and becoming a Mom again. Oh, and there’s the little matter of being completely validated by outsiders based on my resume. I have two more conversation/ interviews on Tuesday.

One company called me the afternoon after I was done with radiation to come meet with the partner the next day. It normally wouldn’t be something I would accept right away – I don’t want to appear too available, do I really have the time, etc? But, after this year, what the hell. It took me an hour and a half to find an appropriate interview outfit – nice and formal but comfortable, chic but covering problem areas. I felt great and I guess it showed.

Talk about weird interviews … “What are you looking for in a job?” “Well, I would love to work but probably only part time. You see, yesterday I had my last day of treatment for breast cancer. I am a survivor as of August 21st.”

“You’re kidding me. That’s F(*&$# -ing awesome! Can I shake your hand?”

I hope to have  landed a steady gig with a super cool media & marketing consulting  company here in Austin. The day after I finished radiation.

It’s time that cancer stopped making decisions for me, and I started making decisions for myself. Forward, onward, change you can trust. Etc.

 

 

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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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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 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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Crispy on the Edges

I’m not going to lie. I know this is going to be another NOT fun month. I am trying to keep up with the fun stuff (the soccer, the kids, Halloween decorating) but the radiation has already started giving me the burn. And by the burn I mean a full on sun burn over the upper left quadrant of my body front and back.

Yes, I was warned. Yes, I have meds – aquafor, Nivea, specialized aloe, miderma. But I am purposely going each day to lay down and get sunburned. Each day. My days haven’t been as good because tummy sleeper that I am it has suddenly gotten complicated at night. Uncomfortable.

The radiation websites say to “wear loose clothing that doesn’t touch the areas impacted” and to “avoid contacts with binding materials.” UM HELLO. Are we not supposed to wear a bra during this six week thing? Stay at home in bed with an old T shirt on? I did that yesterday but I couldn’t today. And what about kids? I know they are trying to be helpful but there should be a guide for “how to cope with radiation when you HAVE to wear a bra because your boobs are in it and you have three young children you don’t want completely freak out” Now that would be helpful.

As it is, I nap just about every day now – and we are only entering week three – the little bump in energy I had from getting over the surgery is moving downhill. I’m sure if you polled my cells they would be growing increasingly disenchanted with the “state of my body” – probably foreign and domestic both.

And why do they weigh you in every time you go to the doctor? I am sure that I have changed body shape – I am back to a medium sized top consistently, but not my weight number … and I am not a medium on the bottom. It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you put on your 6 foot three inch husband’s shirts and they no longer swallow you up.

But, October 29th is in sight. The end of this part of this leg of this journey. Then a break from treatments and surgeries until at least 2013. Small victories after large ones. I went shopping and got some new jewelry and makeup and get constant comments on that. Along with my fabulous haircut. Gennifer Goodwin totally copied me.

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