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Life, has been busy! And really, that’s a good thing. I happen to like that my life is so focused on something other than cancer, that I have not written a blog post in over three months! Although I must admit I have had the best of intentions, because I know some like to be updated. But my job has really had me engrossed in psychology, IB, and US History. Nonetheless, here is a little story from cancerland.

About a month ago, I went in for my 6 month scan. In July, I tried to talk the PA into waiting until December, but she said that she felt better if I got one in September. I have never gone more than 6 months without a scan, so she thought it wise to continue with this plan. So, I agreed and scheduled the scan for the afternoon. I am trying to take as little time off of work as possible, and this allowed me to go after work. The only problem is not being able to eat 8 hours prior to the scan. Not eating all day while sitting around the house is one thing, not eating while working a full day is another. I made it through the day and off I went for yet another scan.

It never really gets any easier. The anxiety, the anticipation, the “what ifs” that go along with being scanned. What if a new spot of cancer shows up? What if it moves into a vital organ? What if I have to go back on chemotherapy? I thought after 10 or so scans, these worrisome thoughts might decrease, but no such luck.

The scan was on a Thursday, so I promised I wouldn’t bug the doctor until AT LEAST Monday. I did manage to wait patiently, but, finally, Monday afternoon I emailed the office and requested a copy of the scan report. It took until Wednesday, but I did get the report. I am reading through it and it sounds like good news. Nothing new, all known spots are stable, and then I saw IT! Thrown in, almost at the end of the report, was the phrase “new suspicious mass on adrenal gland.”

As I let this sink in, questions started popping up in my head. Which side? How big? What is the SUV uptake? All of this information usually accompanies news of a new location of spread. But, it said nothing other than that one phrase. It really bothered me, but I had to go with what the report said. I started googling adrenal gland information and looking at treatment possibilities. You know me. I am the “information is power” kind of person. Ultimately, I had to wait until my appointment on Friday.

As we sat in the oncologist’s office, I admit I was pretty nervous. Not that anytime is a good time for the disease to progress, but having just started teaching in a new building, I was extra nervous about what this could mean in terms of treatment, time off, etc.

My doctor pulled up the scan and we looked at it together. We looked, and looked. He asked me if I saw anything. (like I would know????) He said he didn’t see anything. He suggested that maybe it was a mistake. Really? a mistake? Is that even possible? I think he sensed my frustration and knew I was not going to be able to rest easy unless we had actual confirmation that it was indeed a mistake. So, he pulled out his cell phone and called the radiologist who read the scan and wrote the report. Of course, this person was unavailable and we had to wait. In the meantime, I headed to the infusion room for my Zometa.

While getting the infusion, my oncologist came to the room to inform me that the scan report was indeed an error. It was supposed to read “NO suspicious mass on adrenal gland” as opposed to “NEW suspicious mass on adrenal gland.” The following week he even emailed me an amended copy of the scan report.

Now, overall, I am relieved. The mistake was in my favor and I am certainly glad that we caught the mistake. BUT…..and this is a pretty big BUT…….I couldn’t help but wonder what if it had gone the other way? Are mistakes like this common? My oncologist seemed to think so. I have to say that I have a lot less faith in the scan reports. It never really occurred to me that mistakes like this are common. We are talking about health. Not just health, but situations that have serious implications. Life and death type of implications.

I have always felt that I am lucky to receive excellent medical care. I hear the horror stories, but really never have encountered anything like this before. I guess in my situation, one is bound to have an experience or two, or more come up in which mistakes are made. Perhaps I’m lucky to have gone this long without such an experience.

So did I learn anything from this? Well, yes actually. I learned that ONE word can make a huge difference in meaning. I learned to question medical professionals, because they are human and can make mistakes. And, even though this isn’t new, I learned that you must always be an active participant in your health care. That is the best advice I can give to anyone when interacting with the medical community. Question, confirm, and even annoy until you are satisfied. It can make a huge difference!

My next visit to the oncologist will be in early January. Unless, of course, there are symptoms or problems that would require an earlier visit. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to see them until January. I do not know when my next scan will be, but this one has left me with a few more gray hairs. I am in no hurry to go back, but, with a stage IV diagnosis, there will always be a next time.

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Tough

On July 6th I went in for my oncology check up. I saw a physician’s assistant instead of my doctor who was on vacation. All of my blood work came back good with the exception of my vitamin D level. So it was a pretty boring appointment and routine infusion. As part of my examination, the PA asked me several questions. She asked me if I was in any pain from the cancer itself. We had already discussed the aggravating side effects of the medication I am on for the cancer, but this was a different question. I told her I was not in pain from the cancer, and really never have been. She looked at me and said “you must be one tough cookie!” This got me thinking.

What exactly does it mean to be “tough?” Am I tough? I looked up the definition. It defined tough as “capable of great endurance; sturdy; hardy.” Now this can of course refer to some sort of inanimate object or material, but I am thinking in terms of people. What exactly makes a person tough?

Having cancer does require a certain degree of endurance. I continually endure numerous medical tests and procedures to determine the current status of cancer’s residency in my body. I endure multiple needle sticks while having blood drawn and getting infusions. A curse of having veins that are hard to locate. I endure the crappy side effects of medication that is necessary to control the disease. I endure the uncertainty of my health, my physical abilities, and of my future. I endure watching my family deal with my disease and all of the messy details that go along with it. Yet, despite the things I endure, I don’t think this makes me tough. There are too many others that endure a lot more.

Here are some examples of people I think are tough:

Hunter Treschle. Hunter lost his arm to a shark last month at just 16 years old. Just weeks after this horrific event, Hunter spoke of deciding that his life would go on and still be great, even without his arm. Now that’s tough!

Aron Ralston. Aron was trapped while rock climbing in Utah. In order to survive he had to amputate his own arm using a pocket knife. Even then he had to make his way through a canyon and rappel down a 65 ft. cliff in order to reach safety. So yeah, that guy is tough!

Malala Yousafzai. Malala was shot because she was attempting to become educated. Educating females in some countries is considered a crime. Malala recovered and became a human rights activist. Her story is widely known and her work continues. This, my friends, is tough.

Many other nameless and faceless people are pretty tough.

Holocaust  and other war survivors. People who were starved, beaten, tortured because of their beliefs and their faith.  Those people are tough.

Victims of natural disasters. It seems all too common that we hear of people who lose absolutely everything to a tornado, fire, hurricane, or flood. Yet, for every tragic story, there are many more stories of people who overcome their difficulties and move on. They become closer families, better neighbors, more appreciative of what they have. That’s pretty tough.

Single parents. I can honestly say that parenting is the hardest job in the world. Raising children without the support of a partner and making decisions that effect the lives of  children all by yourself. That’s incredibly tough.

I could go on and on with examples of people in various walks of life who have shown to be “capable of great endurance.” There are so many I could probably fill books with examples, not just a simple blog post. Maybe some people do consider me to be tough. In some ways, maybe I am. But I have to say that I don’t personally consider my capability to endure to be anything in comparison to what others go through. I know it’s not a competition, but really, I truly couldn’t imagine surviving what I have seen others survive.

I think we all have to play the cards we are dealt in life. We all have to endure at various points in our lives. I can think of very few people who haven’t had to endure circumstances that they do not choose. Our circumstances are a combination of decisions, fate, and luck. There is simply too much that we can’t control. It reminds me of quotes by Marvin J. Ashton….

“WE CAN’T ALWAYS CONTROL OUR CIRCUMSTANCES BUT WE CAN CONTROL OUR ATTITUDE.

WE MUST BE MORE CONCERNED WITH WHAT WE DO WITH WHAT HAPPENS TO US THAN WHAT HAPPENS TO US.

HAPPINESS DOES NOT DEPEND ON WHAT HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF YOU BUT ON WHAT HAPPENS INSIDE OF YOU.”

Perhaps the real definition of “tough” is someone who understands these concepts, embraces them, and uses them when the circumstances call for it. And maybe we as humans are all tough or can learn to be tough. We just don’t know how tough we are until we have no other choice.

 

 

 

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The Fine Line

As I have shared many times previously, the worst part of having cancer is the uncertainty. You never know from month to month, day to day, even hour to hour, whether or not your health status will remain stable or drastically change. Every little symptom, ache, pain, twitch, hangnail, etc becomes a moment of panic. Everyday problems and issues that can be easily dismissed as muscle aches, stress head aches, bug bites, and problems that accompany the aging process cause anxiety and worry over whether or not they could be somehow related to the cancer. It’s not a fun way to go through the day, but like many other aspects of this diagnosis, you learn to live with it. It is also a blessing in the sense that it motivates you to appreciate every “ordinary” day and do what you can to recognize the ordinary as extraordinary.

Recently, I was reminded in powerful ways that the uncertainty really does not apply only to cancer patients. Every person is really one breath away from their lives drastically changing or even ending! First, I found out that a former student, just 31 years old, was diagnosed with stage iv ovarian cancer. She passed away after a two year battle with the disease on May 11th. She was a 2002 graduate and is the mother of a 6 year old and a 2 year old. Everyone is aware that cancer does not discriminate based on age. Everyone, even children, are diagnosed with cancer. But, it becomes real when it’s not just random people on the St. Jude’s commercial on television. It is much different to actually KNOW someone who’s life has been stolen from them.

Another sudden tragic death of an amazing man occurred on May 2nd. A JCEA colleague, just 44 years old, died of a heart attack. He left behind a wife, daughter, parents, brother, and hundreds of former students and co-workers. It was sudden, unexpected, untimely, and it was incredibly painful. It leaves me wondering if perhaps a long illness isn’t a better option. At least you have time to plan and to say goodbye.

I attended both funerals, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Needless to say, it was a difficult weekend and left me with a lot of thoughts and reflections about death. But, here is the “ah-ha” moment for me. As I looked around the rooms while at the services for both of these individuals, I realized that I am really not so different from anyone else in the room. Yes, I live with a life threatening illness that will, at some point, likely lead to my death. But, every single person in both rooms, will eventually come to the same end. We are all going to die. I think that is a secondary reason why people hate funerals. It is a reminder of their own mortality.

I tried to convince myself that attending funerals as a person living with cancer has got to be more difficult. But really, it is not. Never did I imagine that these two people would depart life before me. And as I looked around, I wondered how many others would go before me, and how many would go after me. The simple truth is that no one knows how many days we are meant to walk on earth. We do not come with expiration dates stamped on the bottom of our feet. Believe me, being the “planner” that I am, I have looked, and sure enough, there is nothing there!

So I am left to ponder the senseless and untimely deaths of two young, vibrant, energetic, people. I guess, just as life is not fair, neither is death. The lesson is the same for everyone, sick or healthy, old or young. Live your days to the fullest. Embrace the ones you love every chance you get. Don’t put off until tomorrow, what can be accomplished today. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone! We all walk the fine line between this life and the next.

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Cancerversary and Cellulitis

No, I have not traveled to west Africa recently.

No, I have not traveled to west Africa recently.

Hospital Selfie

Hospital Selfie

Cancerversary is another one of those made up words from cancer land. It is the anniversary of one’s cancer diagnosis. I celebrated my 3 year cancerversary yesterday. It was March 9, 2012 that I found out I had metastatic breast cancer. Some say that is not an occasion to celebrate, but, I beg to differ. I feel pretty darn lucky that I have lived and thrived with this diagnosis for 3 years now. So many others are not so lucky. It hasn’t been easy and it surely has had a few bumps in the road, but I could not be more grateful for the facts that I am still working full time, still going on vacation, still watching my son quickly become a man, still sharing good times with friends and family. I hope to be celebrating many more cancerversaries in the future.

Now, with that being said, there was another “bump” in the road recently. Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night and had the most horrible chills. I could not get warm. At 2:00 am I stood in the shower with hot water pouring over me and still had goose bumps all over my body. I managed to drag myself into work for the morning. I taught a class, made some sub plans and got out of there. I had diagnosed myself with the flu. By now I had all of the classic symptoms…..body aches, fever, head ache, chills.

I called the doctor cursing the obvious futility of my flu shot and asked for that new Tamiflu medication that I have heard so much about. They gladly, based on my symptoms, wrote me a prescription for it over the phone. So by the afternoon I was curled up on the couch and ready to take a nice long nap, knowing that the upcoming weekend was probably a bust and I was going to have to spend it feeling awful in bed. Until, I woke up.

I drug myself upstairs to change and as I did I noticed a large, bright red, hot to the touch splotch on my left arm. My arm was obviously swollen because it hurt to even bend and/or extend it. I showed Mark and we both looked at each other with the same thought……infection……ER time.

The good news is, the ER was empty and I was seen right away. There wasn’t much question that it was an infection, but exactly what it was and how it happened were a mystery. Many of you may remember that I had this same diagnosis a year and a half ago when I had cellulitis on my stomach. I think the definition of cellulitis must be….”a fancy name for an infection that doctors have no clue about.” The only difference is that this time it’s on my arm. I was admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics.

This infection seemed more stubborn than the last. In 2013, I spent two nights in the hospital. This time around I spent four nights. I was on two separate IV meds and then switched to oral antibiotics on Sunday. I was just released yesterday. There is still some redness on my arm and I am very nervous that it is going to come back. After already missing three days of work and having life turned upside down, I really don’t want to start the process all over. I am praying that the oral antibiotics continue to kick the infection to the curb.

The really fun part is the permanent consequences of this could be ugly. My left side is the one missing 20 or so lymph nodes. It’s a wait and see game at this point but trauma to the left side, including infection, could bring on what is known as lymphedema. It’s a permanent swelling due to excess fluid that your lymph system can’t handle. It requires physical therapy, compression sleeves, and comes with an increased risk of further infection. I was warned of this way back in 2001 after my initial lumpectomy and node dissection. But, up to this point, I haven’t had any trouble. I am careful not to get blood pressure, blood draws, or other procedures on my left side. I have always been attentive to cuts and hang nails and cleaned and treated them promptly. It’s become a habit of the past thirteen years.

I have heard the stories, but always thought I had escaped the dreaded reality of lymphedema. I guess it’s just another ugly side effect of an uglier disease. Perhaps I will be lucky, the swelling will subside, and I won’t deal with it ever again. I guess we’ll see.

A special thanks for all of the notes, messages, and gifts while I was in the hospital. It was clear to me that there are many people who care about me…….yet something else to be grateful for!

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A Love/Hate Relationship

Now that the holidays are finished (almost) I thought I would take some time to sum up my feelings about the holiday season. I was particularly reflective this year throughout the whole season. I am not sure why, but hopefully it’s all worth sharing. If you get bored, you can always stop reading and play a game on Facebook.

I love the holiday season for many reasons, and I hate the holiday season for many reasons. I will alternate between the loves and the hates in order to be true to the title of my post.

First, decorating the Christmas tree is the best experience ever. I usually do this solo while my husband and son are outside putting up the lights. Decorating the tree is a walk down memory lane and I love every minute. Each ornament is a memory of a year gone by. I look at the yellow Teletubby ornament and remember when Nick was just a toddler and loved the show. I see our “Just Married” ornament from 2004 and wonder how it’s been almost 11 years now. I see the soccer ornaments and remember the days when soccer practice and games ruled our schedule for many months per year. I guess I prefer doing this alone because I can go as slowly or quickly as I like. I can put my favorite ornaments on the front of the tree and my not so favorite ones on the back.

But, I hate the time and effort put into decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, and celebrating for only one month. It takes an entire days, sometimes longer to get everything set up and ready. It seems like a lot of work for only four short weeks of enjoyment. The month of December seems to go by quicker every year and before I know it, it’s time to take it all down and put it all away. It is a let down to say the least.

I love that people seem to be nicer to one another during the holiday season. It truly feels like hearts open up and give and give from Thanksgiving to New Years. There are heartwarming stories on the news and numerous events that allow ample opportunity for people to dig deep and help those that are less fortunate.

But, I hate that the spotlight on neediness is brighter for only six weeks. For some reason, it feels like people are so generous for a short time and then forget about it the rest of the year. I myself am guilty of this for sure. I am guessing that the neediness isn’t any greater during the holidays, however, the giving dwindles greatly from January-October. It is quite shocking to hear of food drives, toy drives, and donations outside of the holidays. Why aren’t those bell ringers out in front of the grocery store the rest of the year?

I love the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Everyone wants to get together and be together during the holiday season. Some of the best family memories and stories seem to come from holiday gatherings.

But, I hate the unrealistic expectations put on so many over the holidays. I hear many complaints of families who nose dive into turmoil over where to spend the holidays, who to spend the holidays with, and even trivial details over what to eat and when to get together. There are a couple of lessons I have learned over the years. One, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Festivus, or whatever the celebration, doesn’t have to be on the EXACT DATE! Coming from the wife of a firefighter who has worked the last 3 Christmases straight, it doesn’t matter! Celebrate when you can. Two, be flexible! Especially if you’re a parent with adult children. If I ever get the opportunity to spend the holidays with my son as an adult, I will allow him to choose the time and place that works for him. The best gift you can give for the holidays is freedom from guilt! One of the MANY reasons I love my mother is that she never pressures us to fly thousands of miles to Florida for Christmas. She also never caves to my pressure to get her to Colorado for Christmas.

I love having two weeks off!

But, I hate ONLY having two weeks off! It is a long haul from January to June. When I was going to school, winter break was 3 or 4 weeks at least! Whatever happened to that idea? I am never quite ready to head back to school right after the new year!

I love celebrating the birth of Jesus. It’s so amazing to me that so many people celebrate this around the world. It transcends geographic location, gender, class, race, and culture. It unites humanity in a way that no other celebration seems to do. Not to leave out those of other religions. Non- Christians may not believe that Jesus was the son of God, but many still acknowledge his existence as a prophet. Even though historical records point to Jesus Christ probably being born somewhere in the month of April (yes, the history geek in me emerges), we all love the story of Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph, the savior of the world being born in a stable on a cold winter’s night. It is a story that has been told for thousands of years and an event celebrated for just as long.

I hate that my birthday is two weeks after Christmas. I just can’t compete with Jesus and by the time my birthday rolls around, people are birthday-ed out! I know, I know……I shouldn’t complain. After all, I was actually due on December 25th. I should just consider myself lucky not to have to share the actual day with Jesus, but, I somehow, still feel ripped off. Mark my words, in my next life I will be born a summer child!

Last, I love the beginning of a new year! It feels like another chance, a new opportunity to live my best life.  It sounds cliché, but having cancer has taught me not to waste time with regret and worry. I admit, I am better with not having regrets than not worrying. Those who know me well will tell you that I still worry more than I should. I guess I could make a resolution to not worry so much……BUT…….

I hate New Years Resolutions! I don’t think I have kept one in my entire life! I have stopped making resolutions and started setting goals. Goals are good if they’re realistic and reachable. A resolution, well, just the name makes it sound way too difficult for me.

Thanks to everyone who kept up with me and my blog during 2014. I know I don’t always write about my cancer and health, which was my original intent when I started this blog. However, I guess I thank my lucky stars to be in a position to write about things other than my cancer. It’s really a good thing when your health is too boring a subject to warrant an entire blog post! But, a quick update:

I saw the oncologist and received my infusion on December 22nd. I requested to NOT have a scan until March since there are no new symptoms or indicators in my blood work that would send me running to the PET Scanner. The doctor agreed to wait. I hope I don’t regret the decision to not push for a scan, but I think I just needed a break from the scanxiety and worry. I am still suffering some uncomfortable side effects from the new medication. I have arthritis like symptoms that are mostly tolerable, but do give me some bad days here and there. Otherwise, I lead a completely “normal” life! Normal is good!

 

 

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Be Careful What You Wish For…….

Time passes so quickly. I had planned to update my blog shortly after my last scan and checkup, like a month ago. But, work has ruled my world and kicked my butt so far this year and I just haven’t gotten around to it. So, finally…..here’s what’s up in cancerland!

I had my last PET/CT scan on September 8th and it showed things were stable. I saw the oncologist on September 15th. Stable is great when you’re stage IV! It’s better than great, it’s awesome, terrific, time to celebrate! Sort of. I have a confession and it’s a tough one. There was a small part of me, just a tiny part, that was actually hoping I wouldn’t be stable. This very small part of me was actually hoping for progression. But, there is a good reason.

This new medication that I started in June is MUCH harder on me physically than the Tamoxifen. It took several weeks for the side effects to start, but when they hit, they hit hard. The new medication is called anastrozole, it’s a generic drug for arimidex. It is not a chemo. It too is an anti hormonal, but works differently than tamoxifen. I won’t get into the actual details, because they’re kind of boring unless you love science or are a cancer patient and have a reason to be interested. The main difference for me, has been dealing with the side effects. Tamoxifen had very few side effects. Maybe a few headaches and some fatigue when I first started taking it, but those symptoms quickly went away after taking the drug for a couple of months. The side effects on anastrozole are VERY different.

It’s hard to describe. To make a long story short, I have joint pain. But it isn’t that simple. Some days I wake up and my entire body aches. Flu like aches and pains. Once out of bed, the aches begin to subside slowly. This happens a couple of times a week. Other days, I wake up and feel great. No pain…..until I start to move around. Then, it’s like body part by body part, hour by hour, my body slowly succumbs to the pain. It usually starts in my right hip and works it’s way down the leg. By the end of some days, I am sore and achy from the shoulders down.

Some of the pain is constant. For example, the tops of my feet. I know, weird. But I feel like I am constantly walking around with bricks on the tops of my feet. My knees are very shaky on stairs. They don’t hurt when just walking, but going up and down stairs, they scream in pain.

My oncologist encourages me to try and stay ahead of the pain. But that is difficult when it is so unpredictable. I don’t want to take meds that I don’t need, but I don’t want the pain to interfere with my activities either. It’s a tough situation to try and balance. But, 4-6 pills (over the counter) is an everyday necessity. I hate it, but you have to do what you have to do.

So, back to my confession. That small part of me that was hoping for progression was hoping that this medication would be deemed a “failure” and we could try a new one. Many people ask why I can’t just try a new one anyway. It’s a fair question, but the answer is this: you don’t give up a medication that is working. Even if the side effects suck, you put up with them because the number of meds is finite. You want to try and stay on a med for as long as possible. The quicker you go through the various medications, the quicker you get to that dreaded doctor visit in which they give you “the talk.”

“The talk” is the doctor saying that you’re out of options. That treatment is ending and everything from here on out is to keep you comfortable. I want that “talk” to be as far in the future as possible. So, I tolerate the side effects as best I can. I have been trying some various pain control options such as acupuncture, glucosamine, fish oil, etc that others have suggested help with joint pain. Since I can no longer tolerate exercise that impacts my joints, I have joined the recreation center. I am going to work with a trainer to help me establish an effective, no impact workout that my body can tolerate.

I hope this all works out and that it becomes more tolerable. I know I am grouchier than normal and definitely not as active as I was. Pain is a potent thing. It not only effects you physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I am certainly more fatigued than usual. I think just tolerating the pain each and everyday takes it out of you.

My next appointment is in December. No scan, hopefully. After three scans this year, I say we put the next one off until March. We’ll see if the doctor agrees.

In other medical news, I had another round of genetic testing. They are just positively stumped that they cannot find a genetic mutation in my DNA. They are going to keep looking though. Maybe they will make a new discovery with me. I had a “bump” on my arm that was cut off just a few weeks ago. They weren’t sure if it was a wart or squamous cell carcinoma…..a less serious type of skin cancer. I was expecting the cancer diagnosis, but shockingly, it was just a wart. Who knew something non-cancerous could grow on my body!?

Pinktober is almost over, thank goodness! It seems to get worse and worse each year. I think the most shocking for me this year was an oil and gas company that painted their fracking equipment pink in “honor” of breast cancer awareness month. Yes, I’m sure a drill bit painted pink will most certainly lead to the cure for breast cancer?????? I will be making a donation to Metavivor and Stand Up 2 Cancer. Remember that these organizations put 100% of donations received into real scientific research. This is the only hope of changing the staggering statistics. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. It is second only to lung cancer.

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Friends in Low Places

Has it really been 24 years since Garth Brooks released his hit “Friends in Low Places?” Man I feel old. It seems like just yesterday that he was inspiring us with his tale of showing up at a fancy schmancy party and making a spectacle of himself in front of all those rich snobs. I still love this song even today. The irony is that he probably made enough money off of this one song to have as many “black tie affairs” as he would like and then some. But, I digress. This is a blog about cancer, not country music!

So how does “Friends in Low Places” relate to cancer? Well, I am so glad you asked! You see, people with cancer experience some major “lows.” Financial lows, for sure. But also, emotional, mental, physical, and social lows as well. Being a cancer patient, you tend to get chummy with other cancer patients. It’s only natural. People who like to sew hang out with other people who like to sew. People who like to fish, hang out with other people who like to fish. People who have cancer, hang out with other cancer patients. No matter how good of a support system you have in place, and I have an unbelievable one, no one truly understands cancer unless they themselves have it or have had it. Only someone who has had the experience truly “gets it.”

When I was diagnosed the first time around back in 2001, I sought out other breast cancer patients at the advice of my medical professionals. There were many support groups for women with breast cancer and I even went to a few meetings. But I had a problem. There was a huge disconnect with most of these women. I was the youngest by at least 20 years. I would listen to them worry about the cancer interfering with their retirement plans and lamenting that they might not get to see their grandchildren grow up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I felt really bad for these women. Their fears and anxieties were very real and certainly valid. However, I sat there, a 29 year old single mother of a three year old, just hoping to live long enough that my son might remember me should I end up dying of this dreaded disease. I just couldn’t quite relate and I don’t think they knew how to approach me with anything other than pity.

That’s when I got lucky. A friend of mine, who was a surgical nurse at the time, spent many office visits with post lumpectomy and mastectomy patients and she asked if she could give my name and number to a younger woman who was a post surgical patient of hers. She felt that we might have a connection because she too was a younger woman.

S called me a few days later and we really hit it off. She was 9 years my  elder, but still the youngest woman I had met to date who was going through breast cancer treatment. S also knew other younger women who had gone through or were going through breast cancer treatment. It wasn’t an official support group, but they got together once a month for dinner and to share war stories. I started joining them shortly before my chemotherapy was to end and radiation was to begin. S was about 3 months ahead of me in her treatment. She even went with me to my first radiation appointment. She offered to go with me to subsequent appointments as well…..but I think that’s because she thought my radiation oncologist was good looking.  Although the group disbanded after a couple of years, S and I stayed in touch.

In October of 2011, I received a message from S saying that she had been diagnosed with a new primary tumor in the opposite breast. It was devastating and disappointing to think that she had to start over after ten years. However, the new primary was caught very early and turned out to be quite insignificant. She had a double mastectomy and reconstruction and they sent her on her way. No chemo or radiation this time around. Now fast forward five months to March of 2012. Yep…..my turn for round two! She wrote to me after I told her the news and she joked “Why do you insist on following in my footsteps?”

My round two was quite different from S’s round two. As you all know, I not only had a new primary cancer (in the same breast) but also had spread to my bones. Which put me in the exclusive stage IV/terminal club. S was so positive and supportive and helped me tremendously at the beginning of this long and scary road. I am so grateful that she was with me through all of that. After 10 years, I no longer knew that many cancer patients and had to start networking all over again.

After I made it through the major surgery and treatment got underway, S and I would talk occasionally over Facebook, but just as non cancer patients don’t always understand the experience of cancer patients, non-stage IV patients need to lean on other stage IV patients. S was not stage IV. I kept her up to date and we messaged on occasion, but my major support group was now my friends on the discussion board exclusively for stage IV breast cancer patients.

At the beginning of July 2014, S sent me a message that began “God obviously wants us to walk this path together…..” Yep, S had been diagnosed with cancer that spread to her lungs. She has since found that it is also in her brain. Bottom line, she is now stage IV. Have I ever expressed how much I hate this f*$%ing disease? If not, just for the record, I hate this f*$%ing disease! It’s so unpredictable, unrelenting, and unfair! Okay, rant over. Moving on now.

I have no doubt that S will fight round 3 with as much strength and will as she has the previous two rounds. She is one tough woman and now, hopefully, it’s my turn to be there for her.

Like I said before, cancer has it’s “low places.” But I truly believe that having others to walk the road along side us, lifts us up. Not that I would wish this on anyone, but considering the statistics, there are and will be many companions. It’s predicted that cancer incidence will increase by approximately 45% between 2010 and 2030. Stated another way, there were 1.6 million Americans with cancer in 2010 and by 2030, there will be 2.3 million!

Sometimes it’s hard having so many friends with cancer. Watching those you grow to care about suffer through the trauma of diagnosis and treatment is hard. Dealing with the emotional, mental, physical lows of cancer is hard. Losing people way too early and often is hard. But, I wouldn’t trade my relationships for anything. People with cancer   know that time is precious and life is short. They don’t waste their time worrying about those insignificant and unimportant everyday worries. They never pass up the chance to laugh with you, cry with you, or simply just be with you when you need them most.

So, just like Garth, I will keep my friends in low places. We’re not big on social graces…….think I’ll slip on down to the oasis…….oh I got friends in low places!

I dedicate this post to S. I love you sister!

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