A Mother and her Two Daughters

31 August 2010

Beginning the Transition to Survivorship

I had my follow-up appointment today with the very brilliant Dr. Yuen, the UAMS specialist in oncology reconstruction.  Not only is his surgerical work artful, I’m amazed at how well my body is beginning to slowly take back form.  He will be in charge of this process for the next two to three months.  There is still much ahead - one more surgery and then radiation treatments - but we’ve sure come a long way since February 17th

Today as I left the oncology clinic, the nurse made my next appointment for September 28th.  WHAT???  That’s FOUR WEEKS AWAY, the longest time I’ve been away from my UAMS healing team since we began this challenging journey together.  Is my sense of panic what they refer to as the "transition to survivorship?" 

When I walked out of the Cancer Institute, my feelings were very mixed.  Prior to February, I didn’t even know Dr. Makhoul or Dr. Yuen, and Dr. Klimberg was a brilliant physician I admired from the sidelines.  But after six long months of medical tests and findings, treatment plans and pharmaceutical options, eight tougher-than-nails chemo treatments and body-blowing side effects, two surgeries and three hospital stays, sharing tears of fear and celebrating milestones, I've grown to admire, trust and love my medical team.  And while I'm only one of the many patients they treat, all patients agree that we are cared for as if we are the only person on the planet that day, not only by the physicians but the outstanding nursing staff like B, Michelle, Carla and the rest.  The doctors and nurses, technicians and receptionists, and the volunteers too - they have become incredibly important and special in my life as they all represent healing and new life to me.  

Can I make it for four weeks without them?  Of course I can.  The bigger question is this:  What is it that creates the special doctor-patient relationship, the bond that is developed, mostly by the patient, when a doctor has given you life? 

Feeling extremely confused, and a little bit silly, I came home to explore this crazy feeling of detachment from my super docs.  Isn’t this what I had hoped for – moving on to healing, the final finish line, and ultimately on to survivorship? 

And then my phone chimed, a text message from my youngest daughter.  It read simply this: “I wanna come home.” 

It was then that I realized -- like my daughter who is feeling a little homesick after her third week away at college, I'm already feeling a little homesick for my healing team. 

"Home" is where we are made to feel comfortable and relaxed, where love is openly shared each day among a circle of people who gift to us a sense of confidence, spiritual empowerment and hope for each day.  And while UAMS may not be my real home, it has become a temporary home-of-sorts that has sheltered, comforted, healed and cared for me since February.  UAMS has come to mean a team of people who have fought as ferocious FOR ME as I have for myself.  And during this time that I've been under their constant care, they have found a special place inside my heart.  And for that, for all of them, I will be forever grateful. 

Feeling homesick for your healing team is obviously a survivor issue that I must explore.  Otherwise, it will be necessary to (1) enroll in medical school so I can change my employment to UAMS, or (2) build a large compound and invite my doctors and their families for communal living.  Working through this separation anxiety is obviously a much better plan. And in the meantime, I'll find a way to CELEBRATE LIFE, CELEBRATE PROGRESS.  My prognosis can only be great if I'm to go for four weeks without a Cancer Center appearance.    

Update about myself:  I’m beginning to feel much better since yesterday, have reduced my pain medication by half, was able to get out of the bed this morning by myself (huge accomplishment!), and felt like a new woman after leaving the clinic with my drains removed.  Dr. Yuen said that I am healing nicely – and that’s the best news he could deliver. 

Oh yeah, P.S.  Anna-Lee will come home Sunday and stay through Tuesday morning.  It will be nice to have her home. 

30 August 2010

One Woman’s Plight: Body Work at the Body Shop

I remember when I was a little girl, about 6 or 7 years old, riding with my Daddy on Capitol Avenue.  There was a large sign on a whiteboard building that said, "Body Shop."  I asked Daddy what that shop was all about, what did they do there.  His reply, without blinking an eye:  "That's where you go if you want a new body."  

That memory came back to me this weekend so very clear.  

Because a mastectomy means the removal of a large amount of skin and tissue, there is usually not enough volume to accommodate a prosthetic breast implant. Therefore, in order to allow for the placement of the implant, the skin and tissue must be expanded or stretched. This is done by placement of a tissue expander under the remaining skin and chest wall muscle.  After the expander is surgically placed inside the chest wall, the skin is then closed without tension and allowed to heal for several weeks.  This was the surgery I had on Friday.  

OUCH!  DOUBLE OUCH!  I never realized how much we use our chest muscles until after Friday’s surgery.  I don’t remember crying after the mastectomy, but Friday afternoon my dear friend Rebecca said I was not crying but actually wailing.  And since that time there has been only some minor relief.  This has been very painful, even more so than the double mastectomy.  I’m not sure why, but it’s the truth.  Maybe it’s because there is such a large foreign object inside called "silastic"; maybe it’s because it’s the second time in a month that major surgery has been performed on one part of the body.  I’m inclined to call it breast “redestructive” surgery versus reconstructive, even though the former is not a word.  In time, I’m sure I will feel differently. But right now, reaching for a glass in the cupboard, plugging an electrical cord into a wall socket or even trying to pump soap from a soap dispenser hurts like crazy! 

Following this surgery, for approximately two to three months, there is a series of injections through the skin, into the tissue expander. This is done over a period of several weeks using a small needle through the skin until the expander is filled. The expander then can be removed and the permanent implant placed beneath your skin and behind your chest wall muscle, meaning under the pectoralis muscle. 

With all of this said, let me say “thank you” to several dear friends.  Rebecca who stayed with me Friday night at the hospital; Ellen and Dale who hosted Abbey in their home during my hospital stay; my dear friends Mary Lou and Jaymie who came over this morning to help me bathe (NOTE:  A bath may seem like a simple thing to you, but not for me.  With two drains from my chest and my upper body wrapped in gauze, this was a huge effort, one I tried on my own yesterday and I just couldn’t make it happen.)  And Jordan and Angie who are bringing dinner tonight.  Goodness, I must be the pitiful one right now, but it’s great to have so many good friends who are making this recuperation a little bit easier. 

I apologize for taking so long to post to my blog.  But the simple tasks of life have not been so simple the past several days.  I will see Dr. Yuen tomorrow and I’m certain I will be feeling much better soon. 

Thank you to so many dear friend for all of your love, your notes and good wishes.  My love back to you!  

27 August 2010

Surgery Update

This is Rebecca Tennille reporting live from UAMS.  Stacy had phase 1 of reconstructive surgery today.  All went well.  She is very grateful to her surgery team, her attending physicians, the nurses and staff at UAMS and modern pain management.

There's a slim chance she will be released tomorrow, but it will most likely be Sunday.

Her spirits are high, no surprises there.  But the next few days might be a little less than rosy.  So send good thoughts her way.

I'm sure she'll update you all tomorrow.

26 August 2010

Cancer Sucks

While I have spent this week getting ready for tomorrow’s surgery, I have also spent the week hearing about and worrying about more friends who have been hit by this dreadful disease called Cancer. 

My friend Johnson was sent home by the Mayo Clinic, was told that they could not operate on his bile duct cancer.  Well, fortunately the miracle workers at UAMS have told him that YES, surgery can be done.  The ups and downs of cancer are so great, but this is the second story I’ve heard in only a few months where Mayo has sent an Arkansan home without hope, and where UAMS has said, “Let us cure you.”  We are extraordinarily blessed to have the Rockefeller Institute right here at home. 

Last night I learned that the ugly breast cancer has struck again.  I ran into a dear friend from West Memphis whose daughter will have breast cancer surgery next week.  I will keep her in my prayers and hope for a positive diagnosis.  This is yet another family of friends who could be looking down the long road of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and much more.  There can be a cure for cancer, but it is such a tough journey with no assurances either. 

I say no assurances because of my friend Pam, a long ago friend from my teenage days.  Pam went on to marry and have her own beautiful family, including her son Josh.  At the young age of 17, Josh was diagnosed with testicular cancer, the same cancer that Lance Armstrong has battled.  After his surgery and chemotherapy treatments, Josh was pronounced “cancer free.”  

The unfortunate truth for all of us left hanging with a cancer diagnosis - it is not possible to guarantee that a person who has completed cancer treatment will never have their cancer come back. Even though the oncologist may tell you that your cancer is gone, the fact remains that there is always a chance that some cancer cells are left in your body and survived, even though they cannot be seen or found with any test used today. Over time, these cells can begin to grow and cause the cancer to recur.  In Josh’s case, nine years later, cancer has returned with a vengeance. It has metastasized to his lymph nodes, lungs and liver, and he has only been given a few months to live.  The only thing that we can wish for Josh is courage, peace of mind, and the ability to live out his remaining days surrounded with a great sense of love.

But Josh will not be the loser.  In the end, cancer cannot follow him beyond the grave.   I am reminded of the beautiful words of the Rev. John Workman, a United Methodist minister, now retired, but once a weekly columnist for the Arkansas Gazette newspaper.  Rev. Workman had this to say about death in a column entitled “Members of the Funeral.” 
  • Death cannot take away the love that parents, children, family members, and friends have for their lost loved one.  Such love remains.  It survives the apparent final victory of the grave.
  • Death cannot take away the contribution a person has made, no matter how briefly or how long that person may have lived.  Death cannot erase the beauty of the life, the dreams dreamed, the love given and received, the good done, the hopes and plans nurtured.  Such realities remain, immune to the finalities of physical death.
  • Death cannot take away the ultimate commitment to life that’s the gift of those who remain.  That commitment is perhaps the greatest honor that can be paid to the deceased - for the surviving to take up life and live it with vigor and joy and purpose, to keep on keeping on.  Such a response is perhaps the grandest memorial a deceased loved one could receive.

 When my husband passed away in 1987, my dear college friend Betsy Singleton passed along Rev. Workman’s words to me.  I kept these words in a bedside table drawer and read them often.  I pass it along to Pam and others like her who will lose a parent or child or dear friend to this terrible cancer beast. 

Like the kids say today, Cancer Sucks.  I’m ready for some brilliant group of researchers to find, not a cure, but a preventive vaccine – like polio and the measles – that will take away this unnecessary physical tragedy in the lives of far too many good people. 

Dear God, please Bless Josh and his family.  Give them peace and free them from the illusion that this is the only world.  Amen.

23 August 2010

Super Docs and more medical updates

Yes, it’s been a week since making a new blog post, but the past ten days have been unusually busy for me.  Activities were many - preparing for my company’s leadership retreat, Anna-Lee’s first week at the U of A, and THREE half-days spent at UAMS meeting with the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.   Seriously, here is my most recent health update and what I learned last week from my Super Doc medical team. 

On Tuesday my appointment was with the great Dr. Makhoul, my oncologist.  This was our first official appointment since the news of my pathology report, so we spent the first ten minutes just hugging and crying and celebrating.  Isn’t it wonderful to have a brilliant physician who can cure you AND is also capable of making merry!  I will continue to be under his care for the next five years, and it’s comforting to know that he maintains a hand in all that is decided about upcoming cancer prevention procedures.  (click here for another great UAMS story about Dr. Issam Makhoul).  

The medical reality for me, at this time, is this – curing cancer is one thing.  Now the job is to keep it from recurring.  IBC has a high recurrence rate so the next several months, ongoing care is still on the radar screen and will be for the next five years. 

To that point, my appointment Wednesday was with Dr. Kenneth Gardner, my new radiation oncologist.  Dr. Gardner joined the CARTI/UAMS team three years ago and comes highly recommended by Dr. Klimberg.  His clinical interests include breast cancer and he seems to be very much up-to-date on the most recent studies regarding IBC and how radiation therapy treatment can reduce the chances of recurrence.  He has a lovely approach to patient care and was very informative about the radiation therapy regime that lies ahead.  Once again, the UAMS team, along with the CARTI staff, continues to amaze me with their passion for healing the whole patient.  As I stated earlier in this blog, the radiation regime will mean 5 treatments each week for five to six weeks – a total of 25 to 30 treatments.  Dr. Gardner explained that his target will be my chest and the lymphatic system (i.e. neck and under my arms, too).  Between now and then, I can only dream about my beautiful radiation markers. 

And finally, on Thursday I met with my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. James Yuen.  He has been at UAMS since 1993 and has performed hundreds of surgeries, most of them involving cancer patients.  Along with his very kind demeanor and a gaggle of students who are always following to learn his specialty, he is also a wound specialist, and has been a godsend to me treating the infection I developed.  This Thursday will be the first of two surgeries by Dr. Yuen to recreate my body back to the way it used to be.  The first procedure will include placing an expander, a hollow sack, in front of my chest muscle.  The expander is equipped with a valve, through which saline can be pumped. Over the course of a several weeks, more and more saline will be pumped into the sack, gradually stretching the skin back to shape. When the skin has been stretched enough to accept a permanent implant, the sack is then surgically removed, and the permanent implant put in its place. Dr. Yuen is truly brilliant about this specialty.  I only wish I could transcribe all the details he has provided, but I'm simply not smart enough.  I will just say this - his descriptions about the various procedures ahead make me in awe of modern medicine.  

The big advantage of doing reconstructive surgery before radiation treatment is this . . . the presence of radiation is like a bad sunburn, making it very difficult to stretch the very dry and sore skin after treatment.  The down side of doing this surgery at all – the process of expanders is fairly uncomfortable, and it involves additional surgery, to replace the expander with the permanent implant.  However, I’ve made the decision to return by body back to normal, and that’s the end of the story. 

With all of that said, my new timeline looks to be:
  • Reconstructive surgery #1 – this Friday
  • Reconstructive surgery #2 – mid- or end of October
  • Radiation treatment – to begin mid-November or early December

 All in all, my cancer journey looks to be a yearlong adventure.  But when I hear the many stories about others who have battled these vicious cancer cells for years, I plan on being among the fortunate ones.  Today my personal goal is to park cancer on the 2010 shelf and begin 2011 with a new life, a new attitude, and enormous appreciation for those who have blessed me with this gift.  I continue to wake up every morning, look out my bedroom window, and give thanks to God and my UAMS medical team for the new day. 

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I know there are plans ahead for me.  And I promise to live up to those expectations. 

17 August 2010

Flying Hats: Welcome Back Hair

"I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I've bought a big HAT. I'm all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"    - Dr. Seuss (with some liberties . . . )

Things are looking up, and hats are flying off! 

The hair on my body is returning – on my head, eyebrows and eyelashes!  Last week I was even able to locate enough eyelashes to hold a little bit of mascara.  And I’ve shaved my legs THREE TIMES since surgery!!  Who in the world would ever think you might celebrate such a silly thing.  But this is a full-fledge hair party for me!

It’s no secret that hair loss during chemotherapy can be devastating.  The reality of cancer is tough enough, but the next step is facing the realities and side effects of the blessed chemo cocktail.  It is much to deal with in a short period of time.  

I can remember 5 months ago, the clumps of hair falling from my head, and Beth coming over to cut my hair off.  This is what some say brings a feeling of "chemo control."  Quite honestly, I just felt bald.  

In the beginning of this chemo journey, the hats became my costume-of-sorts to hide my naked mole rat disguise.  But for the past several months, beautiful hats became my only fashion statement. I’ve grown a bit attached to all my beautiful hats, most of them gifts from lovely friends.  To remove them from my head was a little scary, a bit like losing a close and protective friend.    

Getting back to normal has been a transition of its own, even though the transition continues. 

Next Friday I will have more surgery, this time for reconstructive purposes.  And after that, we’ll begin six weeks of radiation therapy.  I have three appointments at UAMS over the next three days – with the oncologist, the radiologist and the surgeon.  By Thursday afternoon, I should know more about the schedule ahead. 

P.S.  A week ago Friday, Tim and I enjoyed a birthday dinner with friends, also attended by our Governor.  When my Governor tells me that I shouldn’t wear a hat anymore, that I look strong and healthy the way I am – well, I took it as an Executive Order and I haven’t worn a hat on my head since.  So, here’s a photo of me taken this Saturday celebrating the wedding of friends.  No hat, and feeling good.  There's a ponytail in my future.  

13 August 2010

Say A Prayer for the Babies

For more than a week now, some very dear friends have been forced to deal with the disturbing news of cancer.  But in this case, the tragedy is compounded by the fact that cancer found its way to a three-month old child.  Even though her life has only just begun, she is now fighting a tough battle – suffering from Neuroblastoma .  Last week was the diagnosis followed by surgery; on Monday this sweet child will begin four months of chemotherapy. 

Even though it is always a tragedy to hear of a new friend with cancer, we have become all too familiar with the many cancers that strike adults each year.  Unfortunately, cancer not only strikes adults, it is the leading cause of disease-related deaths among children in the United States each year.  Another disturbing fact – childhood cancer rates are increasing at a rate of approximately 1% each year; 223 incidents per million infants born. 

I find myself so very angry that cancer can also invade the blessed babies, the innocent children who are too young to speak, understand, reason or fight for themselves.  How can you explain the pain of cancer to an infant? 

Please pray for this family and the heavy burden they now face, the frightening road they must travel.  Would you also say a prayer to provide guidance to the genius cancer researchers who are working for a world free of cancer?  

09 August 2010


One of the many things I like about social media and networking is learning new things from other people.  For example, on Facebook, every member has their own information page where they can document their families, education and careers, favorite movies and television shows, and make a list of favorite quotations. 

This morning I received a Facebook message from a friend.  I decided to take a look at her information page, and this wonderful quote by Rev. Charles Swindoll is what I found: 

"I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me, my circumstances, or my position. Attitude keeps me going or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my attitudes are right, there is no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, no challenge too great for me."
What a powerful quote to begin the week.  I will hold it dear.  Maybe you will too.  

08 August 2010

Learning and Holding On to Life Lessons

One of the very important lessons learned from cancer is about the spirit of the fight. Cancer patients endure surgeries, chemotherapies and radiation treatments for one reason only – to have more days added on to their life.  For that reason, every day is a celebration of new memories, and should be honored for the gift that it is. 

During the four months of chemotherapy treatments, Tim and I spent many Saturdays on some kind of grown-up field trip.  After spending most of the week at home resting or working from home, it was always a bit of paradise to have an excursion away from home, something special to look forward to.  The planned outing was always dependent on how I was physically feeling.  Like during the Taxol treatments, when my legs were in so much pain, the trips were limited to something that didn’t require much walking. 

When we don’t have responsibilities for children, the Saturday outings have now become a regular part of our weekend agenda.  Yesterday was no exception. 

The day began with Tim’s colleague and our friend Sarah stopping by with bags of peaches, tomatoes, okra and black-eyed peas – along with a tub of homemade chicken salad.  We then took off for an afternoon trip to Conway to see The Village at Hendrix, the new mixed-use urban community directly across from the college campus.  WOW!  After driving around The Village and a visit to the new bookstore, we enjoyed iced coffee and smoothies with friends Jon & Diana (it’s great to catch up with longtime friends!); then off to the Conway TJ Maxx, one of my all-time favorite discount stores.  Before we headed back home, we feasted on beef, pork and chicken tacos at La Pena Taqueria on Oak Street – another great taco truck to add to our growing list.  It was another special Saturday for creating new memories.  

I’m so thankful that Tim has a spirit of adventure, that he enjoys planning and carrying out these outings as much as me.  Thank you Tim for another wonderful day!    

I’ve long believed that our lives are similar to a novel, each including a series of chapters, some chapters better than others.  That still holds true for me.  I will continue to create my life story with the hope that each new chapter just gets better and better. 

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  

06 August 2010

Celebrating 18 Years with Anna-Lee

Yesterday I celebrated the beautiful life of my youngest daughter Anna-Lee, who graced us with her lovely self 18 years ago.  I can remember the first moment I saw her sweet face as if it were yesterday.  And today, she has grown into a young woman who makes us all quite proud.  

As a young child, Anna-Lee was terribly shy with strangers, not one to venture far from family, but very cuddly with those she loved.  Eventually she moved away from her shy temperament and transformed into a young girl with a passion for creating a better world for the oppressed, especially those without a friend or a voice.  Many unlikely people have been the target for her Godly heart.  Orphans in Honduras and Guatemala, low-income families in Mexico and the Mississippi Delta, Haitian children in Eluethera – all of them have been touched by the love and compassion of Anna-Lee.  I think she knows she is good at what she has chosen to be good at – sharing herself with those who are often tossed aside in this world. 

Here is a story about Anna-Lee recently written by her sister Allyson:

Anna-Lee genuinely cares about the well being of other people.  I remember one Christmas when she waited last to give out her Christmas presents to our immediate and extended family.  She came out with two big trash bags and presented each of us with a warm blanket.  Before any of us had a chance to say anything, she started to speak.  She told us of the statistics of homeless individuals in the Little Rock area.  She explained her time at a nearby soup kitchen and how these people wore clothes with holes in them, and lived in boxes underneath the bridge, even during below freezing weather.  She said that she had given each of us a blanket in hopes that we would return them to her and allow her to present them to these people on Christmas night.  That was one of the best Christmas experiences I have and it's all thanks to Anna- Lee. 

The past six months, Anna-Lee has unfortunately had to grow up quite a bit.  From the beginning of this cancer diagnosis, I told her that she would never be expected to serve as my caretaker.  Instead, the expectation was for to continue to be a 17-year-old high school senior, to keep her focus on school, friends, church and her many activities.  Somehow Anna-Lee managed to squeeze me into her life with movie nights, cooking extravaganzas, girl chats and shopping sprees to get her ready for college.  Every moment has been special – except maybe the summer standoff about cleaning her room. 

Yesterday and today and for all days, I will celebrate this Godly child who celebrates life, understands what’s important in the world, and shares her heart and smile with those oppressed and vulnerable. 

Thank you God for sharing Anna-Lee with us.  And Happy Birthday, Anna-Lee! 

04 August 2010

Post #2 for today: Hitchens on the Topic of Cancer

A very well written article in Vanity Fair by journalist Christopher Hitchens, about his recent encounter with cancer. (Click here) For anyone battling or caring for someone w/cancer, I highly recommend this short read.  

"Working back from the cancer-ridden squamous cells that these first results disclosed, it took rather longer than that to discover the disagreeable truth. The word “metastasized” was the one in the report that first caught my eye, and ear. The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located—had been located for quite some time—in my esophagus. My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist."

"The oncology bargain is that, in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery. So here’s the wager: you stick around for a bit, but in return we are going to need some things from you. These things may include your taste buds, your ability to concentrate, your ability to digest, and the hair on your head. This certainly appears to be a reasonable trade. Unfortunately, it also involves confronting one of the most appealing clichés in our language. You’ve heard it all right. People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer."


Regarding my day, I think I'm going to build a marble shrine to the Visiting Nurse Association.  This is a top-notch organization, very handy for the faint-of-heart like me. I'm very thankful to add them to my medical team.  

This morning Dr. McDreamy called me, I mean Dr. Makhoul.  This is the first time I've been able to speak to the good doctor since receiving my wonderful pathology report.  Of course I oozed with appreciation, and I might have even promised to bequeath to he and  my fine china, fur coat and terrarium collection in exchange for giving me long life.  However, this gentleman tries to turn the tables and give me credit.  Honestly?  What a fabulous oncologist he is!  Arkansas and UAMS are so fortunate to have him here treating tough cancer patients like me, and so many others.  Here's another story about another successful cancer patient under his treatment plan.  (Click here)

Here's to my very own Dr. McDreamy - I mean Dr. McCool, I mean Makhoul!  

Five Steps Forward & One Step Back

Never, not one day in my life, did I want to be a doctor or a nurse.  The thought of dealing with bodily things doesn’t set well with me – never has.  So, when my surgeon gave me instructions two weeks ago about how to dress and redress my surgery wound, I should have known better than to trust myself. 

Yesterday I returned to UAMS and the news is this:  I have officially flunked nursing. 

There will be no surgery this week, and probably not next week either.  My failed nursing skills have resulted in an infection in my surgical wound that will prevent it.  Instead, yesterday I had to have a “procedure” at UAMS to remove infected skin, and resuture my incision.  It wasn’t a terrible day, but it wasn’t my best day either.  Yes, I’m a bit sore and have gone back to pain pills too. 

After the procedure was complete and the surgeon explained what I would need to do to clean, treat and redress the wound each day, I came clean.  I admitted my squeamish nature about these things.  I’m just a PR chick with little ability and no desire to play doctor. 

So, today will be my first daily visit by the Visiting Nurse Association.  Thank goodness for home healthcare and for insurance plans that cover this service.  This is a good thing for medically timid folks like me. 

I’m going to be okay, but just need time to get rid of this infection.  There is a window of time to have my reconstructive surgery before I begin radiation treatment.  In other words, I cannot postpone the radiation treatment for too long, so it’s important to get this infection taken care of quickly.  But I’m optimistic that we’ll make it happen and all will be fine.  

In the meantime, Anna-Lee is finally home from her week in Eleuthera, another very successful and gratifying mission trip working with low-income youth.  It’s good to have her back home.  For the next two weeks, we’ll spend our time getting her ready for the big college departure and getting me back on the road to my recovery plan.  It’s all going to be good. 

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will remember my two college girlfriends, Sue and Dian, who sent me pink boxing gloves for my breast cancer fight.  A few weeks ago, Dian was diagnosed with breast cancer and yesterday she began her own chemotherapy treatment.  Would you please say a prayer for Dian, and the thousands of other women who are beginning their own breast cancer journey at this time? 

I love you Dian!  

01 August 2010

Battling Honest & Complex Thoughts about Cancer Survivorship

In her book, There’s No Place Like Hope, the late Vicki Gerard states that illness can bring back the small child within us. 

On Friday night, it was hot, I was tired, but I also was trying to finish up some of Anna-Lee’s college shopping.  After we left Bed Bath & Beyond, we had dinner at my favorite Mexican restaurant; after that, a quick trip to Barnes & Noble.  I was doing my best to enjoy a normal evening.  But it just wasn’t working.  My body simply felt very battled. 

I can hear my friends now – “She should be resting.”  “She tries to do too much.” But the truth is, most days it makes me feel good to enjoy something beautiful in the world, experience life as it is, do something normal, to stay on course as a mother of two daughters.  So making this trip to shop for Anna-Lee’s upcoming departure was very important to me. 

As we drove back home, I felt terrible exhaustion, my chest and under my right arm hurt immensely.  One breast cancer sister described the feeling under your arm after lymph nodes have been removed: “It’s like having your underarm dragged across a hot asphalt parking lot.”  She was right. 

Before February, I’ve always had the energy of a squirrel, the nocturnal habits of a vampire.  When will this come back?  Will it ever?   

Lance Armstrong talks about the forever fear that stays with you after diagnosis and successful treatment – the anxiety of the dreaded recurrence.  He talks about how a pain in his toe can send him reeling into a mind-swirl of doubt.  “Has cancer returned?” 

As many survivors share, life is never the same after a cancer diagnosis.  Yes, I understand that now. 

Even with all my good news this week, I felt battled and bruised.  I remembered the many stories of courage that were told on Friday that involved a battle of many years.  My longtime friend Carla’s mom was one of the 40 survivors participating in Friday's Cancer Institute grand opening, a beautiful and brave woman who has been battling cancer for thirteen years.  There was the recognition of a very young man who has battled testicular cancer for seven years.  Each of these people could tell us their own stories about when they thought they had reached the finish line too, only to be told that cancer had snuck back into their bodies. 

Thirteen years?  Seven years?  Could it be possible that my story might end at only six or seven months?   Might I be so fortunate?  Or will this continue, and for how long?  Is it possible to celebrate still feel afraid at the same time?  

Quite honestly, the dream of going to bed and never waking up again sounded like an option.  I remember this same feeling after my husband passed away.  The feeling was an intense déjà vu.  Forever sleep or continue to face more surgery, pain and recuperation, radiation treatments, oral chemotherapies for five more years along with additional side effects, more tired days and the forever fear of recurrence. 

I felt like a child, just wanting to go to bed and have a big cry.  It was my full-blown pity party, without the friends, cake and party hats.  How selfish of me!  Wake up, Stacy!  Enjoy your big-sized bite of great news this week!  

So on Friday night as I went to sleep, I gave thanks for a wonderful week with positive news.  I couldn’t help but ask, “Why me," when there were many others who did not receive good news about their own cancer this week?

This weekend I’ve been getting my big girl panties back on, doing my best to grow up and face the week ahead, even though it means more surgery, another hospital stay, more pain pills and additional discomfort on top of the current discomfort. 

I can do it!  And I will do it!  Maybe I just needed to be a child again, have my pity party and dream about the days when there is no more discomfort and a semblance of normal again. 

I’ve often said that life would be much easier had I been born a moron – just come home at night, get into my easy chair, eat a can of Beanie Weenies, watch mindless television and believe that all in the world is fine – never worrying about the hungry, the homeless, the disadvantaged, education, climate change, abandoned animals, oil spills, economic security and the like. 

But most of us are not morons.  And for the cancer survivor, life just becomes a bit more complex.  I’m adjusting to all of these  thoughts, some of them contradictory; my mind is racing, and I’m hoping to I figure it all out very soon.  I am thankful to all the many cancer survivors who understand and help me move forward, who wrap their arms around me as I seek answers, or at least become more settled with this challenging life experience.  

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