A Mother and her Two Daughters

29 September 2010

Cancer with a Twist of Humor

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” 
                     – E. E. Cummings

All of us were born with the gift of laughter.  And while some choose to use the gift more than others, laughter is considered by many in the healthcare community to be medicinal.

Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses.  The evidence is so strong that many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illnesses like cancer and heart disease. 

Research by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack.  It has also been found to reduce stress, boost your immune system and enhance brain chemistry. 

Did you see the movie Patch Adams?  Dr. Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams still practices medicine today in the Washington, DC, area where he continues to utilize laughter therapy as an integral part of his patient treatment.   

So, in the spirit of good humor, here are a few laughs for the day . . .


Yesterday I met up with my oncologist for the first time in weeks.  You might remember my anxiety when I realized how long I would go without seeing him.  When a man like Dr. Makhoul has been a constant caretaker and your premier cancer healer, it’s was a bit scary to sever myself from the very frequent visits to his clinic. 

When we finally saw each other yesterday, here’s how the conversation went:

Dr. Makhoul (in his beautiful Syrian accent):  Oh my goodness, look at your hair.  Your hair looks so beautiful. 

Me:  Thank you, Doctor.  It feels good to have hair on my head again.

Dr. Makhoul:  Really, it looks so good.  You must love it. 

Me:  Yes, I do, other than the fact that it came back gray. 

Dr. Makhoul:  Oh, darn it.  I forgot to put the hair dye in your chemotherapy. 

Last week I posted my favorite new photo, the one of me and my girls on my 50th birthday. 

Today I’m going to post my new favorite t-shirt.  I even stopped by the UAMS gift shop to see if they could find me one.  This is completely appropriate considering where I am right now – restoring my shadow. 

We’ve all heard that laughter can be the best medicine.  And I agree.  A good belly laugh keeps my spirits high and helps me feel so happy wherever I am.  I thank my lucky stars that I grew up in a family where laughter was a big part of each day.  Thank you Mom & Dad, and Mike too!  It’s a contagious emotion that has long brought me closer to others and lets me feel more alive!  

Here's to tickling your funny bone and having a good dose of laughter today!  

28 September 2010

Restoring My Shadow

During my the third grade year, I can remember going to the cafeteria for a special performance of shadow puppetry, probably a demonstration from the nearby University.  The only thing I can actually recall is that there was an Asian flair to the show, not knowing then that shadow puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling that originated in China. 

Still a form of entertainment today, master puppeteers use the illumination of shadows to create heroes and villains, animals and clowns, to tell tales that have been told and retold for thousands of years.  In Ancient China, the court magician created the first shadow puppetry show using a small flame and a cloth screen. 

It would be many years later that I would be reminded of that show so long ago when seeing another demonstration of shadow puppetry at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, France. 

Well let me just say this . . . since wrestling with the myriad of mastectomy issues, I’ve told my reconstruction surgeon that I just want my shadow back.  For me, it’s my gift to myself after the heartache of cancer, the process of restoring my silhouette to what it once was.  As I explained to one male colleague in the office, if you had your ears surgically removed and weeks later the doctor told you that you could get replacement ears, what would you do?  Naturally, my colleague said he would want new ears.  And such is the case for me.  I want my shadow back. 

So today I will begin the process of recreating my shadow, or restoring the shape of the breasts after a mastectomy is performed.  The process involves saline injections once a week into the artificial chest wall, or the tissue expander, until the desired shadow is created. 

Because I was unable to have the reconstructive surgery at the same time as the mastectomy, this takes time due to the process of expanding the skin that has since tightened since July.  So it’s a gradual process that takes several weeks.  While plastic surgeons use the same breast implants for cosmetic augmentation as they do in breast reconstruction after mastectomy, the surgical process and outcomes are very different.  After mastectomy, the damage to and healing properties of the chest wall are quite different than for a person who hasn’t undergone prior breast surgery.  That means the potential complications and outcomes are quite different. 

The sisterhood has told me that the saline injection sessions can be quite painful, and also the days that follow.  Let me tell you, my tolerance for pain is tenfold what it was prior to cancer, so I will survive and get through this treatment chapter too. 

My hair is coming back, my eyelashes too.  And today I’ll begin to restore my shadow.  While some may not think my shadow was very perfect to begin with, I’ll be quite happy to get back to where I was.  It was mine, I was used to it, and I miss my old shadow. 

Wish me luck! 

27 September 2010

The Power of Sisterhood & Survivors

My friend Ellen, a nine-year Inflammatory Breast Cancer survivor, told me to get ready to join the sisterhood, to share my cancer journey each year around October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I had mixed feelings about that as I’ve said many times that I don’t necessarily want to be identified as the lady with cancer.  I’m so much more than that.  But the truth is, I am now that too.  And if sharing my story about fighting and surviving cancer can help other women know more about IBC, or help other cancer patients endure the physical and emotional impact throughout treatment, or provide a sense of awareness for families and caregivers, then bring it on.  I’m happy to share with the world that wants to listen all the good, the bad and the ugly about cancer. 

So last night, I served as the Honorary Survivor at a very special dinner at Ashley’s Restaurant to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  To be honored as a survivor feels much more than uplifting.  I cannot even describe it.  Even though I know that all cancer patients are declared a survivor at the time of their diagnosis, to see my name in print as “Honorary Survivor” sent goose bumps up my spine. 

Sherrye McBryde, Amy Treadway and Judy Phillips did a masterful job of coordinating this elegant dinner – warm goat cheese salad, catfish with turnip greens and hull peas, roast duckling with peanuts and sweet potatoes, crème fraiche panna cotta.  Pink wines – and not the cheap varieties you’re thinking about – accompanied each of the five courses.  Instead, Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé Champagne, Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé and Buoncristiani Rosato.  Arkansas native and legendary performer Lawrence Hamilton performed two beautiful songs for the crowd of 200.  And among that crowd included my special friend Tim, my parents, two aunts, some very close friends, and all of my girl cousins who flew in from Texas.  WOW!  What a wonderful surprise.  It was a very successful event that raised more money for the Arkansas Komen Affiliate. 

My first acquaintance with the Susan G. Komen Foundation began in 1995, only three years after the Arkansas Affiliate was incorporated.  I was hired by the Arkansas Hospital Association and others to help pass the much needed Breast Cancer Act.  But only three years old, it was the Komen Foundation that provided the necessary leadership we needed to pass the legislation with a groundswell of citizen lobbyists.  So while I battled the halls of the State Capitol, it was the Pink Warriors of Komen that made phones ring and letters mailed to the 135 members of the Arkansas legislature.  In the end, we won, defeating the powerful tobacco lobby to fund much needed early detection and treatment services for low-income women.  

In my 18 months working for the breast cancer coalition, I learned so much from the collective spirit of the Komen women.  They were fearless, loyal, committed and always united. 

Today, they remain all of those things while serving as the leading expert and resource for breast cancer in Arkansas.  Among their many accomplishments:
·      They have held 16 Race for the Cure events.
·      Distributed almost $10 million in grants in Arkansas for educational and information programs that promote breast health. 
·      Provided breast cancer-related programs to women like me who are fighting the good fight, including the New Outlook program that provides wigs at no charge for those in chemotherapy treatment.  Komen also provided almost $100,000 to the UAMS Digital Mobile Mammography program that takes mammogram services to counties that have no fixed facilities. 

Hats off to Komen!  And thank you for my lifetime membership!  Your sisterhood is very powerful, and your vast network of programs is much appreciated for a cancer kickin’ woman like me. 

And by the way,  the Susan G. Komen Arkansas Race for the Cure will be held Saturday, October 16th.  If you haven’t yet registered for this event, consider racing or making a donation by clicking here. 

23 September 2010

Runway for a Cause

Today was an inspiration – that’s the best word to describe it. 

Runway for a Cause is a luncheon and fashion show here in Little Rock to benefit the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), St. Vincent’s New Outlook program and Baptist Health.  And today marked my very first time to ever model at a fashion show.  While I wasn't excited about modeling, how could I say no to the cause.  But it quickly apparent that this was a different kind of show, as all 40 models were breast cancer survivors – none of us being professionals at this gig. That's what made it fun. 

Wednesday night was our “rehearsal” – which is very necessary when you have 40 models who are not regulars on the fashion runway.  It was a three-hour practice with food, wine and new friends – strong and courageous members of the sisterhood, many of them longtime survivors, some of us who have just joined the ranks.  But we all knew what was inside our hearts and minds, even if we were only meeting for the first time.  Yes, it is possible to meet and become soul sisters within an evening – I learned that last night, as I now have many new “sister friends” 

Fast forward to today . . .

I’ve been to fashion shows before, but this one was quite different, in a good way too.  It was much fun wearing two different and fabulous outfits, one from B. Barnett and the other from Beyond Cotton.  As each of us walked the runway, the packed crowd of mostly women cheered, applauded, and shouted out to us – a sister-to-sister connection I’ve never felt before.  And the music was so uplifiting:  I’m Coming Out, I Feel Like A Woman, You Sexy Thing, Celebration, Pretty Woman, and Isn’t She Lovely. 

And the finale – Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, where all 41 models come on to the runway one at a time holding a poster card with their name and how long they’ve been a breast cancer survivor.  In my mind, I was there as a volunteer to help raise money for the cause, at least up until the finale, which was very emotional for me.  The crowd was on their feet applauding the survivors as if we were rock stars – and emotionally I just lost it.  You could feel the support, could hear friends calling out your name – even if the runway lights kept you from seeing their faces.  It was high energy times ten – and a total of $135,000 was raised to benefit the various community breast cancer programs.  

The most inspiring story of the day was a 96-year-old survivor and model who has kicked cancer's butt three times in her life - two of them being breast cancer.   She was a beautiful woman, a proud smile on here face, a true inspiration to all of us. 

This blog entry is about to end as I sit her with tears streaming down my face.  This was a very emotional day for me, feeling good about my progress, and very sentimental about this beautiful community called Little Rock that is filled with lovely people who make this town feel like one big family during times of challenge.  What inspiring women, what beautiful friends.  Today was another great day.  

22 September 2010

More Awareness About Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Today one of the featured columnist with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writes about Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  While the article is very informative, I cannot help but somewhat scoff at the mention of a 90% recurrence rate.  In my own case, my medical team has indicated that my complete response to the chemotherapy treatment is a very good sign, and will likely reduce my chances of recurrence - by what percent, I'm not quite sure.  In addition, my upcoming six weeks of radiation therapy is an effort to reduce the recurrence rate even more so.  I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not going to hold on to a 90% recurrence rate.  I've beat the odds before and I fully intend to beat them again.  

I've said this before and I'll say it again - when Dr. Klimberg told me that I had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, I had never heard of this type of cancer before.  So, read up ladies, and then consider passing this article along to your family and friends.  This is a very rare but very aggressive breast cancer, and the likelihood of beating it largely depends on how quickly it is diagnosed.  Remember - not all breast cancers present themselves as a lump, and IBC is seldom found with a mammogram.  

Here is the excellent article by columnist Cathy Frye.  Thank you Cathy for making more women aware!  


Cancer red flags not just lumps
By Cathy Frye – Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

I’d like to discuss a type of breast cancer many of you probably haven’t heard of: inflammatory breast cancer, known as IBC. 

It is sneaky and also the most deadly. 
Yet while we are reminded regularly to check ourselves for lumps, most of us don’t know the signs and symptoms of IBC. 
I found out about it several years ago, completely by accident, via a blog for mothers I had just started reading. 
The author, Susan Niebur, is an astrophysicist living in Maryland. She has two little boys, one of them only 3 years old. 
At the time I tuned in, she had just given birth to her youngest and was grappling with what she thought was an annoying case of mastitis, an infection that sometimes affects nursing women. 
Even as she suffered from pain and worry, Susan was busily researching IBC because her mother-in-law had just been diagnosed with it. 
“As I read through the symptoms, I had the strangest feeling, scoffing, ‘Well, I have that. And I have that. Hmmm, I have that too,’” she said later. 
Susan returned to her doctor, who sent her to a specialist. That’s when Susan learned that she, too, had a disease she had previously never heard about. 
Because Susan is a scientist, she researched her treatment options meticulously, armed with a little more knowledge than your average patient. 

Now, three years after her diagnosis — and after battling a recent recurrence — Susan is cancer-free. 

She’s a fighter, yes. But Susan also was determined to survive for her two boys. She couldn’t bear the thought that she might die before they were old enough to remember her. 

So, what exactly is IBC? 

There is no lump. The cancer forms in sheets, or nests. Susan describes it as having a bird’s nest of cancer growing within your breast. 

The earliest signs may resemble mastitis, a bug bite or sunburn. 

Here’s a more specific list: 
  • Swelling, usually sudden, and sometimes more than a cup size within a few days. 
  • Itching. 
  • Ridges and thickened areas of the skin. 
  • A pink, red or dark-colored area, sometimes with texture similar to an orange. 
  • Nipple retraction or discharge. 
  • Breast pain. 
  • The breast may feel hot or warm to the touch. 
  • Change in color and texture of the areola. 

 Susan probably puts it best when she says that this cancer causes the breast to swell and turn red as if in anger. 

The prognosis is grim. Only 25 percent to 50 percent of IBC patients will survive five years. Still, it’s an improvement over earlier statistics, when only 1 percent to 2 percent of women lived that long. 
Ninety percent will have a recurrence, like Susan. 
So please, be aware that a lump isn’t always the tipoff. Tell your friends. Ask your obstetrician/gynocologist to pass the word, because what makes this cancer even more deadly is the silence that surrounds it. 
For more information, visit research.org. 

20 September 2010

Learning to Dance in the Rain

Today a longtime friend, who actually lives far away in Hawaii, sent me this nice story.  Of course, we intellectually know that attitude is everything, but being able to carry it out is a whole different ball game.  I like this story, and I'll carry it with me always.  So, I'm sharing with you today.  

Attitude is Everything

There once was a woman who woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and noticed she had only three hairs on her head.  "Well," she said, "I think I'll braid my hair today?"  So she did and she had a wonderful day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and saw that she had only two hairs on her head.  "H-M-M," she said, "I think I'll part my hair down the middle today?"  So she did and she had a grand day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that she had only one hair on her head.  
"Well," she said, "today I'm going to wear my hair in a pony tail."  So she did and she had a fun, fun day.

The next day she woke up, looked in the mirror and noticed that there wasn't a single hair on her head.  "YEA!" she exclaimed, "I don't have to fix my hair today!"

Attitude is everything.
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.
It's about learning to dance in the rain.
                                    - Anonymous

This story reminds me of a sign that caught my eye Saturday - "Learning to Live with Plan B."  What do you do when life doesn't present itself the way you thought it should, or had hoped it might?  I guess we move on to Plan B.  

Plan B in business and life can be two completely different worlds in terms of the emotional stake and the timeline involved.  It took me over two years to be able to embrace a normal life following the death of my husband so many years ago.  In that case, Plan B was learning how to live without him, finding peace with being a single parent, learning to forgive, and much more.

Over the weekend a dear friend asked me to be honest with her:  "How is life different than it used to be?"  I'm sure some of my answers were anticipated, others were quite strange.  

  • I very much appreciate each day like never ever before.  That may sound cheesy, but it's so true.  
  • No doubt, today I would take a bullet for my family and friends and special relationships.  These special people have helped me to see sunshine in the rain.    
  • I live in fear that when I leave this grand world, my family will cuss my name as they pour through decades of keepsakes and miscellaneous junk.  My new passion - to clean out this place.  Even though it's slow, I'm making progress.  
  • My energy level is much lower than it was, making me prioritize the day's options, learning to say "no" more frequently than before cancer.  
  • I sleep more than ever before, even though this might be a good thing for someone who had long grown accustomed to sleeping only five hours each night.  
  • My upper body is either sore, in pain or completely numb - very little in between.  But the sore and pain will go away sometime soon.  The sisterhood tells me I'm  probably stuck with the numbness, especially in and under my right arm.  
  • Will the muscles in my legs ever be strong again?  Chemo sure took its toll on the legs.  
  • Overall health is much more on my mind.  Next Monday I'll begin a new path of physical fitness to get my body more in shape, hopefully regain some strength in my legs, arms and upper body.  
  • I want to join "the sisterhood" and hopefully provide strength and courage and honesty to other women facing this unfortunate journey.  And I want more women to know about Inflammatory Breast Cancer - that not all breast cancers present themselves as a lump or can be detected with a mammogram.  
Yes, my life is somewhat different.  But I'm learning to live with Plan B, I'm learning to dance in the rain.  It will all be okay, because I have life, even if it's not exactly the life I had planned for.  It's still very good and I very much love it.  

19 September 2010

A Very Good Life

This is my new favorite photo, taken at my 50th birthday party.  A few wonderful friends put together this celebration to coincide with the Single Parent Scholarship event on Thursday night.  My girls were home (and Jeff too) so it was the perfect night for family and a few friends to celebrate much more than a 50th birthday.  We celebrated life and hope, fight and defiance, courage and friendship.  Take away anything from me, but don’t take away my family and friends. 

True friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient.  It’s about being there when it’s not.

As you can see, my hair is coming back, and so is my strength.  While my energy level is nothing compared to what I had before cancer, it is returning and I appreciate every moment when I feel good enough to cook a meal, attend a meeting, run errands, or have dinner with friends.  In time, it will get better, but the new part of my life is to honor the need to rest.  Rest is good, and I don’t shy away from it anymore.  

It’s not whether you have cancer; it’s whether cancer has you.

This is a photo of my new but very dear friend – Ellen.  She typifies what I’ve long heard as the breast cancer sisterhood.  The “sisterhood” involves other women who have been though this tough journey, who are there by your side to make this life chapter a little easier, to help you cope, provide you with inspiration and guide you to a new place of strength and purpose.  Ellen and I didn’t know one another before my diagnosis, but we had many shared friends.  Ellen is an almost 10-year survivor, like me diagnosed with 3B Inflammatory Breast Cancer.  At the time she was 33-years old, with two daughters – ages 3 and 5-months old.   Because my two daughters who can manage the laundry room, cook a meal, empty the trash and can tell when Mom needs a nap, it’s difficult to imagine how challenging this must have been for her.  Ellen has been an inspiration for my fight during this journey.  She has been by my side, and the girls too, during this entire ordeal.  Ellen always tells me, if she can do it, so can I.  Do you believe in lucky charms?   Well, I’m convinced that Ellen has been mine.

 The girls are both home for the weekend.  In fact, Anna-Lee even surprised me Thursday by coming to the Single Parent Scholarship event – which was a magical night on so many levels.  We raised over $100,000 to continue our work to provide college scholarships to single parents who need a second chance to complete a college education.  SPSF’s graduation/retention rate is 90%, so there are many who believe we are a solid investment, that we’ve found the silver bullet to get a single parent and their children out of poverty. 

About the SPSF event was lovely, a night I will never forget.  Jim Argue’s comments, the testimonials from two of our students, the letter Anna-Lee read from her and her sister – it was all so meaningful, not to mention having my family, CJRW colleagues, SPSF warriors and so many friends.  And the icing on the cake (no pun intended) was the beautiful blue cake of my sweet puppy Abbey. 

Truly, truly – the past several days have been quite magical, another reminder of my very good life. 

16 September 2010

Putting Loss in Perspective

I’ve been thinking about the whole process of loss.  It’s only natural because yesterday morning, Tim and I had to put our lovely little kitty to sleep. 

Atticus Finch came into our lives in April 2009.  At the time we were a volunteer foster home for a local rescue organization - Feline Rescue & Re-home.  Atticus was only two-days old when we took him in, abandoned in an attic by his feral cat mom, thus the name Atticus. We bottled fed him for weeks, tended to his every need, took him with us everywhere we went.  Those in the veterinary and foster care community didn’t give him much of a chance.  But not only were we determined to get him through these critical early weeks, Atticus was a high-spirited little fighter who seemed to be destined for life. 

I can remember taking this tiny infant kitten to soccer games, the office, a Mother's Day weekend trip to Eureka Springs, even feeding him with a kitten bottle while attending a chamber of commerce meeting.  We assumed our responsibility of caring for his every need very seriously.  Atticus’ digestive system was very compromised and his kitty constipation would cause him to have fever and dehydration.  Atticus was hospitalized twice and was a regular patient at the veterinarian.  The vet eventually taught me how to give him a kitty enema (seriously!), which made life for him and for us much easier. 

When it came time to find him a home, we simply couldn’t deal with the thought of losing our dear Atticus.  His health was still so fragile and who else would or could care for him like us?  So, Tim officially adopted him.  And for the past 18 months, Atticus happily lived with Tim and became his best friend roommate.  This was one very loving, affectionate and attentive kitty, a personality unlike most felines I know.  And Tim was the very attentive and doting kitty father.  They were quite the pair. 

Unfortunately, about two months ago, he was diagnosed with a fatal, incurable kitty virus called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP).  Yesterday morning little Atticus Finch went to cat heaven, where he's now climbing trees and chasing butterflies.  We are feeling an incredible sense of loss right now and will miss Atticus terribly. 

A very good friend, but not a terribly big fan of pets, said to me yesterday, “You need to put this all in perspective.  Your cancer is in remission.”  True, and I’m a big believer in putting things into perspective.  However, my cancer status does not take away from losing Atticus, which is why I’ve had this heavy subject on my mind. 
Loss is loss.  Tragedy is tragedy.  Misfortune is misfortune.  And like the old “the grass is always greener” adage, you can always find somebody else with a more tragic or misfortunate circumstance.  But that doesn’t translate into feeling better about your own unhappy event. 

I remember a few months after my late husband died, reading in the newspaper about another tragic automobile crash in Arkansas where the mother survived, the husband and two children were not so fortunate.  Was this terribly tragic accident supposed to make me feel better about the loss of my own husband?  Well, it may have made me feel fortunate to still have my Allyson, but it certainly didn’t make me feel better about our own circumstances. 

Several months later, I found out about two friends, married for several years, who were experiencing relationship problems, ultimately a divorce.  I asked my friend, “Why didn’t you share this with me?”  He said that his marriage problems seemed pale in comparison to my own loss.  But he was my friend, and I loved them both, and cared for their happiness very deeply.  The loss of this marriage was still a terrible tragedy. 

Several years ago, a friend of mine suffered from breast cancer.  She had a lumpectomy and then went on a five-year regime of an oral chemotherapy.  Recently she said to me that she was embarrassed to say she was a breast cancer survivor after watching my own battle with chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, upcoming radiation and the rest.  I said to her, “You hold your head up high because you too are a breast cancer survivor.  There is no cancer that is an easy cancer.  It’s all bad and it’s all tough!” 

Two weeks ago a beloved colleague lost his son.  And this week, another friend is at her son's hospital bedside in ICU as he fights a fierce pulmonary infection.  Both of them, very different circumstances, are feeling a terrible sense of pain right now.  

Whether it’s the death or grave illness of a grandfather or child or a beloved pet, Stage I or Stage IV cancer, recovering from major surgery or a home fire, unemployment or denial from your dream college, the feeling of misfortune and loss is very real for all of us, no matter the circumstances.  A tragedy or misfortunate doesn't require being a 10 on a scale of 1-to-10 in order to feel as if your world has been turned upside down.  I hope that I never find myself in that place that everything has to be put in such “perspective,” that I lose my sense of compassion for life and love and the people and pets and experiences that we cherish most in our lives.  Who wants to be the kind of person?    

So right now, I will remember Atticus, mourn the loss of this precious little kitten who taught us much about hanging tough and fighting for life. 

That is how I will put all of this in perspective today.  

13 September 2010

Ramblings @ Survivorship & An Invitation to Participate in Survivor Research

For the past 20 to 25 years, many in the oncology community, along with their patients, have attempted to describe the stages that cancer survivors typically experience. Most break it down into some version of the three stages outlined below:

Living with cancer refers to the experience of receiving a cancer diagnosis and any treatment that may follow. During this time, patients will undergo various kinds of treatment and may be asked to join a clinical trial to study new cancer therapies. During this treatment phase, patients and their caregivers may be offered services to help cope with emotional, psychological and financial concerns.

Living through cancer is the post-treatment period in which the risk of cancer recurring is relatively high. Many patients are relieved that treatment is over, but anxious about no longer seeing their cancer doctor on a regular basis. During this stage, patients typically see their cancer doctor two to four times a year depending on their circumstances.

Living beyond cancer refers to long-term survivorship. While two out of three survivors say their lives return to normal, one-third report continuing physical, psychosocial or financial consequences. During this stage, most survivors go back to the care of their primary physician with a long-term health care plan developed by the oncologist.

The good news – with ongoing research and medical advances, people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis.  In fact, nearly 12 million Americans are alive today after being told they have cancer.  With so many patients ultimately living beyond cancer, the issue of survivorship is becoming more and more of a critical and well-researched issue. 

Cancer survivors often face physical, emotional, social, and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Cancer treatment centers and public health professionals are striving to address survivorship and quality of life issues that might impact the long-term cancer survivor – effective follow-up care, behavioral risk for recurrence, ongoing coordinated care, patient-provider communications, support services, etc.  In light of these concerns, the oncology community continues to research the long-term effects of treatment, and helping survivors understand healthy behaviors that might prevent recurrence. 


I remain marveled at the broad networking opportunities created through the power of social media.  As family and friends know, I started this blog to communicate timely medical updates without having to fuss with countless telephone calls or emails.  In the meantime, this blog has taken on a life of its own for me - somewhat of a journal about my journey.  It also seems that friends have passed along this blog to many others – not just in Arkansas but all around the country, and even a few foreign counties too.  The highest complement - being named one of the top ten cancer blogs by BlogHer Publishing Network.  I admit that it means much to know others are finding help and hope through the writings of this blog.  

With that said, this past week I received a message from the Director of Stanford University’s Patient Education Research Center, who has asked me to post information about an online research project for two-time cancer survivors.

Here are the facts:  Stanford is conducting a 6-week online workshop giving people who have survived cancer 2 or more times the skills needed to regain their life back and take control of their health after cancer.  It appears to be an enriching workshop that only requires 2 to 3 hours a week.  Participants will also connect with other cancer survivors. Go to http://cancersurvivors.stanford.edu/ to learn more and sign up.

Participating in research is exciting.  I’m participating in two research projects – one about Inflammatory Breast Cancer and the other about lymphedema.  More and more people with medical problems are actively seeking to participate in research studies.  If you qualify as a two-time cancer survivor, I would encourage you to participate in this study.  Or, consider passing along this information to a friend or family member who might qualify.  It is through research like this that we might realize a world without cancer.  

10 September 2010

A Very Happy Birthday!

Yesterday was my birthday, and a big one at that.  I’ve now been on this planet for fifty years doing all the normal things, acting out all the typical scenarios that make up life.  But yesterday I woke up and realized that I was really here to celebrate another year of life. 

As I do each morning, like I have for the past several months, I immediately thanked God for the day, and for giving me my brilliant medical team who has spared my life.  And because of them, I am celebrating another birthday. 

Without a doubt, this birthday was enormously special.  Instead of just celebrating being born, in a way I was actually giving praise for being reborn.  It may sound very strange to some, but this cancer journey has definitely transformed my life in many positive ways.  I’m certain other cancer survivors feel much the same way. 

My first birthday since cancer reminded me of the struggles overcome and the triumphs made since first hearing that ugly word “cancer.”  I was reminded of how much I’ve grown since my last birthday, and I reflected on the many new doors that have been opened, the beautiful new people that have graced my life.  And while I may not have welcomed this cancer experience, right now I know I can be tough as a nickel steak, filled with grizzle, if need be. 

This year, my fiftieth year, while I may have become a cancer patient, I also kicked cancer’s butt.  I’M A SURVIVOR!  I have proven myself to be a worthy opponent for this dreadful disease.  And because cancer is a chronic disease that never leaves us, I am even more determined to fight this battle and forever be the victor. 

So to my family and friends and those fighting and surviving cancer, join me in celebrating life, and what it’s all about – struggles and challenges, tenacity and new directions.  Throughout the duration, it’s up to each one of us to rebirth our own spirit, put on our Superman cape, and run, not walk, through whatever barriers come our way. 

Thank you God and doctors, thank you family and friends and prayer warriors for giving me strength and courage and high spirits to help me get to this beautiful day.  I am forever grateful. 

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