A Mother and her Two Daughters

29 November 2010

Moving Ahead with Radiation Therapy

The end of this long road is near - I hope.  Other than the five years of taking Arimidex each day, my final cancer treatment plan will be 25 to 28 rounds of radiation therapy. 

Today I met with Dr. Kenneth Gardner, M.D., the CARTI/UAMS radiologist who will oversee my treatment.  What a lovely man, brilliant too with a wicked sense of humor.  If it’s possible, Dr. Gardner and his very pleasant team seem to be the best candidates for making radiation therapy a bit more fun, and certainly very interesting.  I learned much today. 

In my particular case, radiation therapy is referred to as Adjuvant Therapy – designed to reduce the risk of cancer returning by killing cancer cells that may still be lingering in the body undetected.  Some friends have asked why I need to continue with this step – “If you’re cancer is gone, why would you have more treatment that might make you temporarily feel unwell to treat cancer that you don’t have?”  That’s what adjuvant treatment is all about.  It’s very similar to an insurance policy. When you pay your premiums to the insurance company, you’re recognizing a potential risk to your home or your life that may or may not.  Like insurance, radiation treatment will just increase my chances to close the door on cancer. 

The name for this overall treatment approach – chemotherapy combined with radiation therapy – is often referred to as Combination Therapy. As Dr. Gardner explained to me today, two studies have shown that combining chemotherapy and radiation dramatically increases the survival rates among women who have had mastectomies. The first study, from Denmark, found that cancer grew back in only 9 percent of women treated with both therapies compared to 32 percent of women treated with chemotherapy alone. The other study, from Canada and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported equally impressive results: After 15 years combination therapy patients had 33 percent less chance of the cancer coming back and 29 percent less chance of dying from breast cancer. 

I think you would agree – this combination therapy is a no-brainer for me, especially since I’m at a higher risk for recurrence.  As Dr. Makhoul and Dr. Gardner have explained, my higher risk is due to three factors: 
·      First:  I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a very aggressive cancer with a high recurrence rate.
·      Second:  My mass was larger than 4 centimeters.  Mine was actually between 6 and 7 centimeters.
·      Third:  My breast cancer had also invaded the lymphatic system. 

So, next Monday I’ll return to CARTI/UAMS for some special measurements, and then have the infamous blue dot tattoos placed on my right breast and neck area.  WOW, my very first tattoos!  On Wednesday, I’ll begin my daily radiation treatments, five days a week for about six weeks. 

All of this is to say, as each month passes, I feel more and more confident that I’ve whipped this cancer for good.  And while IBC recurrence rates are high, modern medicine and brilliant physician care are gradually lessoning my chances for this nasty cancer to rear its ugly head again.

And all of this makes me smile!  

27 November 2010

Mayhem & Management from One Tiny Pill – Living with Arimidex

Last night was one of the worst.  It started at about 2:00 am.  Bone pain in my feet and legs so horrific that even the bed covers draped over my legs caused terrible discomfort.  I try very hard not to take prescription pain pills as I’ve taken so many the past six months, so I did my best to endure it with meditation and over-the-counter meds in hopes that the throbbing would go away.  Nothing seemed to work.  So at noon today I finally broke down and took the power meds. 

Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) have quickly become standard treatments for women like me - postmenopausal with estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer.  Searching for answers today on how I can get this pain to go away, I happened upon a study launched by Breast Cancer Action in 2005, with the final results released in 2008 – Side Effects Revisited:  Women’s Experiences with Aromatase Inhibitors.  The majority of women (83.4%) reported that they were taking an AI like Arimidex for the same reason as me - to reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence.

The results, taken from 1,200 women who took Arimidex (also known as anastrozole), are enlightening, especially when you’ve been up most of the night with this terrible pain:
·      64 percent of respondents complained of bone pain,
·      Almost 60 percent had muscle pain,
·      48 percent indicated “mental fuzziness” as a side effect,
·      Over 40 percent had weight gain,
·      31 percent experienced depression, and
·      The number one side effect (67%) was hot flashes.

Ninety-six percent of respondents complained of at least one or more of the 38 total side effects listed in the study.  One woman who participated in the study said, This is quite a difficult choice to make between quality of life and fear of recurrence! Help us please find another way.”  Another respondent said, “Severe joint pain. Extreme fatigue.  Hot flashes. Felt like I was 80 years old rather than 43.”

There are many days that I do feel physically exhausted, especially if I've really pushed myself with a terribly busy schedule that requires lots of physical participation, and I mean simply walking, standing, etc.  I always suffer later.  But days like today, and nights like last night are the worst.  I can endure exhaustion, but pain is another story.  So, it’s easy to understand why some women choose to quit the Arimidex treatment regime.  

One women in the survey said, I wanted my life back. My family said I had lost my spirit.”  In the waiting room at the UAMS oncology clinic, I recently met another breast cancer fighter who had just thrown in the towel on Arimidex and is now taking Tamoxifen.  Again, I can understand.  

But here’s what I know to be true:

The results of an 8-year multinational study called the Arimidex, Tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination (ATAC) trial involving over 6,000 women, showed that women taking Arimidex had better outcomes than women taking Tamoxifen.  

The study worked like this - following breast cancer treatment with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these primary treatments, the patients were randomly allocated to receive Arimidex, Tamoxifen or both drugs for 5 years.  The results showed that 5 years of Arimdex is better than 5 years of Tamoxifen for:
·      increasing the time before the cancer comes back
·      reducing the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body

How do you define quality of life?  Well, for me, it IS life.  If Tamoxifen is not as effective at reducing the cancer recurrence risk, I’m staying with Arimidex.  For me, the benefits of life far outweigh the discomfort of bone and muscle pain, even if this will be my destiny for the next five years. 

My next search . . . effective pain management techniques.  Any and all suggestions are welcome, especially from Arimidex veterans.   

25 November 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 – with many thanks . . .

During Thanksgivings past, I’ve always taken time to give thanks for my many blessings – the blessings of family, friends, my community and for living in this wonderful country we call America. 

But this year, as I sit here reflecting on another Thanksgiving day, an inventory of life seems embedded in my mind.  This year I am much more keenly aware of my many blessings.  I’ve often said that this has been one of my worst years, and one of my best. 

I am so grateful for the love of my two beautiful girls who have given to me so much of their love and themselves, without “the ask.”  Allyson and Anna-Lee have had to endure much this past year but have shown incredible strength and the ability to truly pass along powerful love to their old momma – love that will forever be cherished and always remembered.  As all parents feel, to describe the love we have for our children is almost impossible.  This year it feels like “times ten.”  How truly thankful I am that God graced me with these two extraordinary young women.

Tim is always top of my mind.  What would I have done without him, without his always-steady demeanor, his encouragement and positive outlook, and his support for my occasional break-downs.  Not to mention how many dinners he has prepared, my home he has helped me to manage, the countless doctor appointments he’s been to, and the numerous procedures, chemotherapy treatments and three surgeries where he has always been right there by my side.  What a lucky woman I am to have Tim.  His stoic strength has been my gift. 

Mom and Dad, brother Mike and Aunt Alice – their unwavering optimism and support have made this time much more bearable.  Whether it’s been countless errands and driving me around town, helping me keep the house clean, a dinner outing or dropping me off a delicious take-out meal, taking care of Abbey and the kitties, or taking care of my girls so I could focus on the cancer and treatments – they have been extraordinary, and I couldn’t have done this year without them by my side. 

I give thanks for brilliant doctors – Suzanne Klimberg, Issam Makhoul, James Yuen and so many others on my cancer team at UAMS.  Not only have they given me compassionate care and their very best, they have eradicated cancer from my body and made me feel whole again.  I am also grateful for the many nurses who have cared for me with immeasurable tenderness and sincerity; nurses like Nurse B, Michelle, Carla, and Dot Bonner.  It was Dot who made me truly realize that we are all connected – never forget that.  Everyone at UAMS has treated me as Stacy, not breast cancer patient #999.  For all of my team at UAMS, I will always love you. 

I am grateful for friends who so unselfishly give of their love when I was in abject need of support.  Friends who call, who visit, who send cards and text messages in the middle of the day to offer comfort.  Dinner parties and birthday celebrations, lovely gifts and scarves and hats and wigs (some serious and some not so serious) - I'm grateful for their unwavering optimism in the face of fear and their good cheer and reassurance during physical pain and sometimes heartache.  Among my friends, we have always given much to one another.  This year, they have expected nothing from me in return.  And for this I am very thankful. 

And how could I go through this day without being forever grateful to my team and colleagues at CJRW.  WOW – they have been phenomenal by stepping in to support me, my love for the work, my passion for getting it right.  They share that passion and have made this year so much easier for me at the expense of their own time to be home with their families.  But in addition, they have shared meals, planted flowers, weeded the beds, vacuumed the carpets, drew funny cartoons, played the guitar and sang me beautiful songs.  I don’t think all cancer patients are fortunate enough to have colleague like mine.  Wayne and Shelby, Bucky and Mr. C, Rebecca and Jordan, Denver and Jay, Jennifer and Teresa, Brenda and Darryl and Sam, all of them!  They are the best and will always be remembered. 

And last, I give thanks for hair, albeit a new shade of salt & pepper.  I promise to never complain about my hair – every stitch on my head, and my eyelashes and eyebrows too.  Hair is good, especially when you’re a woman! 

This year the world, my own world, has rendered me speechless and almost incapacitated with humility.  The love of family, friends, doctors and colleagues, and even strangers has been overwhelming.  I truly believe that it is this love that has given me an optimistic spirit, the courage and strength and incredible will to kick cancer’s butt. 

Today I know that I every day will be my own Thanksgiving.  Yes, I will celebrate the holiday with family.  But as I’ve told you before, for many months now I wake up each morning and give thanks for yesterday, today, tomorrow, and all the days ahead. 

What a blessed year!  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  Now, on to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! 

P.S.  I really felt better writing this reflection of thanks – a new tradition to do each year.  You might think about writing your own list of all that you are thankful for. 

18 November 2010

Women and their Post-Menopausal, Post-Cancer Bones

One of the silent side effects of breast cancer treatment is something that is not typically seen by the patient—bone density loss (or osteoporosis). Causing the bones to become fragile and thin, bone density loss can lead to bone breaks, loss of height, severe back pain, permanent disability and even serious spinal or vertebral fractures.

Yesterday I had my first bone density scan.  It’s one of the easier scans I’ve had, as it’s painless, non-invasive, requires no preparation or drugs or radioactive fluids to drink, and you don’t even have to undress.  You simply lay on a very comfortable cushioned table for about 20 minutes, and the scan passes over your body, taking several x-ray readings, in critical areas like the spine and hip joints, to measure the amount of calcium in the bones, to determine if your bones have thinned.  This is what they call your actual bone mass. 

Keep in mind – estrogen in women protects the bones.  So, if you're post-menopausal or you no longer take estrogen, bone density in women is always a healthcare issue.  The test I had yesterday is the common procedure used to determine if someone has developed osteoporosis, a disease most common in post-menopausal women.  I’ve been in this PM category since I was 40 after having a hysterectomy, but for ten years I took estrogen replacement therapy to prevent bone thinning like this.  Because I no longer take estrogen replacement, bone thinning is now my new health care issue. 

There are two other causes for bone density loss in breast cancer patients: 
  1. The effect of chemotherapy on bone marrow blood cells. As chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cancer cells, it also damages blood cells in bone marrow tissues and prevents new ones from forming.
  2. Taking aromatase inhibitors, such as Arimidex, the pill I’ll be taking for the next five years.  Now I know why the nice technician at the bone density lab said, “see you again soon.”  This will obviously be a regular test for me. 

My good news yesterday is that all my blood levels are in normal range for all the key components they test– all of them, 100%!!  My bad news – I have experienced bone thinning in my lower spine, and one other area too.  After a closer look at my Vitamin D levels, Dr. Makhoul will determine the next course of treatment.  In the meantime, I’m doing my research on a drug called Reclast that the good doctor seems to think will serve me well.  And while it is a once-a-year injection that helps treat bone loss, it has its own set of side effects, so I’ll continue my research.  

As I left UAMS last night, it really hit home:  For those who survive cancer, life is never the same again.  It’s a whole new ballgame with new health issues and concerns, new problems and things to watch out for.  And while we could lament for the rest of our days about cancer and chemotherapy’s more permanent side effects, I'm just not up for that.  Surely it will be a much more joyful life to remain grateful each morning that for now, we have won the cancer battle. 

As for me, I remain in the very best hands with my outstanding medical team, and my circle of love continues to surround me.  I fully intend to wake up these tired bones each day and do what I need to get done, and also squeeze in some great fun!  Without a doubt, there is still much to be thankful for. 

14 November 2010

My Family of Faith

One of the conveniences of membership at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church is that the Sunday worship service is televised.  So, if you’re home recuperating from surgery (or absent due to a variety of other excuses), you can tune in and capture the pastor’s message for the week.  I have long called this “moo moo church.”  My grandmother used to wear moo moos each morning as she frolicked around the house making breakfast, tidying up the house – real fancy ones too, moo moos I’ll never forget.  Even though I don’t actually own a moo moo, I can sit on the sofa and watch the church service in my pajamas.  I’ve done much of that this past year. 

Today one of the lay leaders at PHUMC delivered a beautiful address about the spirit of giving through the eyes of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.  She began by talking about the letters of Rev. Wesley, and his message to the Christian community (one of my all-time favorite passages):

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

She went on to talk about Wesley’s three simple rules:  Do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.  Wesley advocated practices or "disciplines" to keep our relationship with God vital: participating in worship, studying the Bible, prayer, meditation, receiving of the Lord’s Supper, and sharing our faith with others.  Wesley believed that consistent practice of these disciplines kept those who wanted to follow Christ in close touch with the presence and power of God.  As Wesley said, staying in love with God will effect everything. It will decide everything. It provides the strength, the guidance, the joy to live faithfully.  

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.
            John 15:9

John Wesley’s three simple rules, and the gift of faith, have helped me get through a time of great heartache and uncertainty this past year.  It makes me wonder – how do people with no faith hold on to any semblance of hope?  Even when bad things happen, God has always been there to give me hope, even in the face of sickness and death. 

The cancer journey has been much easier because of my faith journey – the everyday presence of God’s love, shown through the support and inspiration given to me by my doctors and nurses, family and friends, and my church family.

Today I celebrate my church family.  I have been a PHUMC member since I was nine or ten months old, and my church family consists of some I have known almost all my life and others who I have just recently come to know.  But the family of faith is strong, and during this trying time, my church family has visited me, prayed with me, sent cards and letters, reached out with encouraging calls, and brought food and books, fortune cookies and beautiful hats.  I also have a prayer shawl made by a special church ministry, a shawl that I've wrapped around my arms for many months to remind me of the power of prayer.  All in all, my PHUMC family has loved me, supported me, inspired me and shared their own stories of crisis and sorrow and hope.  Their ministry to me has confirmed that our faith in God, and our connection with the family of faith, makes the journey much easier, for we are never alone.  I have felt the warm embrace.  

I was in the very capable hands of Dr. Yuen on Friday, and the surgery went very well.  I’m at home recuperating, and will be here for about a week.  So many lovely friends have stopped by for short visits, and that has made the weekend more special.  Many thanks to my longtime friend, Dennie.  She has been the best babysitter a 50-year-old woman could ever have! 

I shared with friends today how much my spirits have been lifted just knowing that this is my last, my final surgery!!  Wow, that sure makes a cancer patient feel good!!  All is well and my life goes on.  Next stop – radiation therapy.  Bring it on!  

12 November 2010

Life's Been Saved. Today Body Restored

From February 17th (D-Day, a.k.a. Diagnosis Day) through July, the name of the game was “saving life.”  It was about a rigorous chemotherapy regime leading up to a double mastectomy on July 19th.  But today, and the past two months, the game is all about restoring my body – breast reconstruction.  Today will mark my third surgery in five months. 

I’m an Inflammatory Breast Cancer Survivor.  Even though there are no good cancers, IBC is a terribly aggressive kind of cancer – high mortality rates, and not so good news regarding recurrence.  However, in my case, I feel saved.  I’m one of the lucky IBC patients who actually had a complete response to the chemotherapy -- with much credit to the brilliant oncologists at the UAMS Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  Dr. Makhoul believes that my complete response has decreased my chances of recurrence significantly.  I’m laying a bet that this supposition holds true. 

Originally my UAMS medical team told me that reconstructive surgery was not in my future – possibly a year or two out from the double mastectomy.  And that was fine with me, as long as they cured the cancer.  When my post-mastectomy pathology report came back with no cancer cells, I then became a candidate for breast reconstruction, which I’ve been doing for the past several months.  Because of the many questions about how this works, I’ve decided to write about the entire process.   Like most of my friends, I had no idea what all was involved.  So here it goes: 

Note: This post is not for the faint of heart.  With thanks to the Internet and YouTube, I’m able to show actual photos and videos of what all this entails.   

Stage One – Surgical Placement of Tissue Expanders:  On August 27, my reconstructive surgeon, Dr. James Yuen, surgically placed two tissues expanders into my chest area.  Here’s a photograph of what these expanders look like.  The material is made of part plastic, part silicone.  I must tell you that these expanders are not the most comfortable things ever inserted into your body.  Let me just say that after the expander surgery, they sent me home with more pain medication than after my mastectomy.  Does that give you an idea? 

The last time I slept through the night without waking up was certainly before expanders invaded by body.  Before that time, I would fall asleep in my bed, on my side and wake up wherever and in some random position, usually on my back.  After the expanders were inserted, I woke up every time I made the slightest position change.  These things are not comfortable!   To get a better night’s rest, I now sleep on the sofa, hence, not allowing me to have much movement.  Sleep has been a bit easier, but I’m looking forward to getting back to my bed. 

Stage Two – Expanding the Breast Tissue:  If you look at the expander photo, you’ll notice a silicone bubble or balloon that is used to accept a needle for injection.  One month after the expander surgery, on September 28th, I began what would become a weekly visit to Dr. Yuen and his reconstructive team for a series of saline injections into the expanders.  It reminds me of being pregnant, how your skin gradually expands throughout the pregnancy.  This is exactly the same process – gradual expansion of the breast skin over time.  Pain?  Not so much in the beginning but I’ve had quite a bit of pain the past several days, since the last injection.  If you are interested, click here to watch a YouTube video that shows exactly how the injection/expansion process works. 

If you click here, this is another YouTube video of a woman who took photographs of her breasts four days following her mastectomy through her entire expander process.  It’s a bit graphic, so only watch if this kind of depiction does not bother you.

Stage Three – Removing the Expanders/Permanent Implants Placed:  Today’s surgery involves removing the tissue expanders and placement of the permanent saline-filled breast implants.  As I told Allyson last night, today’s surgery is one I’m actually looking forward to, as I’ll soon feel relief once the expanders are removed. 

If you click here, this is a rather long and very graphic video of an actual surgery removing the tissue expanders and placing the permanent breast implants.  At 1:40 is when this surgeon removes the tissue expander, and at 6:40 is when he inserts the implants.  Again, only watch this video if surgical procedures doesn’t bother you. 

I’m told that after today’s surgery, most patients can resume their normal routine in about a week.  That’s good since I have much on my plate to take care of – getting my holiday shopping and wrapping finished, getting ready for my girls to come home for Thanksgiving, planning an Inaugural Ball, etc.  But more importantly, when I leave UAMS tonight or tomorrow, I’m excited about being ME again.  I’m calling today’s procedure my “party favors” after the heartache of breast cancer.  The masterful Dr. Yuen has restored my shadow, and hopefully there will be no more surgeries or disfigurations to my bodily appearance.  Only six weeks of radiation therapy lie ahead, and I can handle that for sure.  While it’s still surgery, I think today will be a good day. 

09 November 2010

Dancing with my New Hairdo

 I’m in terrible pain right now, and it’s all in my legs.  Late Saturday night they started to feel like noodles.  But since Sunday, they are in full-fledge pain.  And I mean the kind of pain that is making it terribly difficult to even walk.  Last night I took a muscle relaxers and an analgesic tablet, but I’m not sure that really helped much.  One of my girlfriends tried to get me to call my doctor last night.  Yes, my five-year pill partner (Arimidex) causes bone and muscle pain. But I’m much too embarrassed to tell my doc the real reason my legs hurt so intensely.

The truth:  I danced my hairdo off Saturday night at a wedding in St. Louis, and now my legs are experiencing a terrible hangover!  Never mind all this pain.  I had a wonderful time.  I haven’t danced like that since the Little Rock Haiti Benefit Concert in early February, or maybe the CARTI Tux 'n Trees Gala last December.  But the mood was just right and the dancing felt so good.  Yes, I would do it all over again.  Here’s to celebrations with good friends and dancing with your man until your legs fall off!!  HA!


Speaking of dancing my hairdo off . . . Saturday was a big day for this cancer lady.  I also had my first haircut since January.  My mother had been encouraging me to get it trimmed up.  But I kept thinking – "I have so little hair up there.  Shouldn’t I just be letting it grow longer each day?"

Then my friend Cissy sent me a message – “You're just about to need a haircut.” 

When we met up with the girls in St. Louis, they both said that my hair might need a little trimming.  At this point, I'm definitely feeling as if there is a haircut conspiracy going on here.  So when I asked Tim his opinion, he was non-committal, which meant he agreed with them all.  Tim soon spotted a nice hair salon in the hotel lobby.  Imagine my embarrassment, with so little hair, to seriously ask for a haircut appointment.  

It was kind of like baby’s first hair cut.  I must admit, there wasn’t much to cut, but what little trimming she did made my hairstyle look a bit neater, more in proportion.  

So, here’s a photo of me with new hairdo, with my two favorite girls, at a wonderful wedding for very dear friends. 

Life is good, and me and my short gray hair are gonna keep on dancing! 


UAMS called yesterday.  They’ve rescheduled my surgery for this Friday.  While I had planned on having the weekend to get a few things done (mainly my Christmas shopping finished), I’m anxious to get this behind me and start (and complete) the radiation treatments.  So this Friday, surgery it will be.  And hopefully this will be the last one!  Three surgeries in one year – it’s about all this woman can handle!! 

05 November 2010

The Science & Research of Life

One of my very best and longtime friends, a former Hendrix colleague, now lives in Los Altos, CA, where he serves as Vice President of Development at Stanford University.  

Last week Stanford Institutes of Medicine dedicated the largest stem cell and regenerative medical research facility in the nation - the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research CenterFive hundred and fifty researchers will be housed in the centre's 33 laboratories to allow for a wide range of stem cell projects focusing on medical conditions such as cancer, spinal cord injury and cardiovascular problems. 

Scientists there also teach. Already 100 students, postdoctoral fellows, physicians and researchers have learned how to derive and care for stem cells.  The new facility will expand this training program, possibly offering the first Ph.D. program in stem cell biology in the country.

The Stanford effort is supported by $75 million donated by philanthropist Lorry Lokey, $44 million in state funding from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and $200 million from private donations and university resources.

About the Philanthropist: 
Lorry Lokey graduated from Stanford in 1949 with a B.A. degree in journalism.  He then went on to work for United Press International and a string of west coast newspapers before going into the public relations field.  In 1961, Lokey founded Business Wire, a news release service I’ve used too many times to count in my own PR career.   The company would later become an international wire service with 30 offices around the world.  In 2006, Lokey sold Business Wire to Warren Buffett for $600 million.  Lokey is one of America’s leading philanthropists, named in 2006 as one of the top ten philanthropists in the US by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.  I had the privilege of hearing Lokey speak to a Public Relations Society of America conference many years ago in his role with Business Wire.  If I had known then what I know now about this very generous man with a vision for research and modern medicine . . .

About the Politics of Stem Cell Research:
 Since 1997, after the first mammal “Dolly” was cloned, the study of embryonic stem cells has been subject to fierce debate resulting in a myriad of Congressional efforts to block or allow it, without one piece of legislation signed into law.  In 2001, the research was halted by the Bush administration; and in 2009, the Obama administration lifted the research limits.  But a new lawsuit left the field more restricted than ever when in August, a Federal District Court issued an injunction blocking the research, with that ruling now on appeal. 

The debate becomes even more complicated by differing opinions on the definition of when human life begins, even though stem cell research has quickly moved beyond the need for using discarded embryos because of new work in the field.  Then throw in a mass amount of public confusion over human cloning.  Hollywood has helped compound the imagination of evil with an army of clones found in a recent “Star Wars” movie, or the fear incited by films such as “The Boys of Brazil” or “The March of the Clones.”

However, California’s Proposition 71, approved by voters in 2004, cleared the way for stem cell research insulated from federal influence.  As Bob Klein of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine declared at last week’s dedication of the Lokey Stem Cell Research facility, “The stem cell revolution has been launched in California, where science will be served by patients, not politics.”

About the Science of Stem Cell Research:
Despite the turmoil of politics and confusion about the science, Stanford will now forge ahead with aggressive and pioneering research to better understand life-threatening diseases.  The millions of cells at Stanford continue to grow, living in flat plastic dishes, inside warm incubators where they multiply by the minute.  They are a diverse collection, some from donated embryos; others are mature cells and tissues donated by sick or dying patients.  The research goal is simple and admirable:  to find the cause and cure for genetic and chronic disease.  More specifically, to understand cell growth and development, to advance new drugs and medications and develop medical therapies that might cure serious diseases and disorders. 

The many stem cell projects at Stanford include building tissues to correct damaged hearts, creating insulin producing cells to cure diabetes, finding a way to heal the damaged spinal column of quadriplegics, finding a cure for cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, cancer, birth defects, Parkinson’s disease, and much more. 

As my friend Martin said, “While for some people stem cell research has a negative connotation, the life-saving potential that could emerge from this research is awe-inspiring.”  While the debate will no doubt go on, brilliant scientists at Stanford Institutes of Medicine will continue their effort to research the prevention and treatment of life-threatening disease that effect so many of us and those we love. 

At last week’s dedication, Lokey, now a jovial 83-year-old multi-millionaire with a passion for education, said he was excited by the potential of stem cell research to improve health and extend longevity.  He told the crowd, "This life is too rewarding and too good to leave it early."

I agree with you, Mr. Lokey.  Life can be very good and rewarding!  Many thanks to you, and to Stanford University, for your tremendous contributions to the science of life.  

04 November 2010

Restoring My Shadow - Check!

In most cases, breast reconstruction is performed at the same time as the mastectomy, referred to as Immediate Reconstruction (IR).  However, for some of us, the type or stage of the cancer doesn’t allow reconstructive surgery to be an immediate option.  This is known as Delayed Reconstruction (DR), meaning the opportunity for reconstructive surgery is delayed for weeks, months or even years.

For women who aren’t able to have immediate reconstruction, the physical appearance post-surgery can be devastating, a real blow to your self-confidence and body image.  For me, not only was the surgery painful, to look at myself was almost impossible.  If you think about it, your body is the only real possession you will ever truly own.  To forfeit a piece of it, the part that makes a woman different from a man, is rather difficult to endure without some heartache.  I’m sure the same is true for those who lose an arm, a leg or some other body part. 

Since February, I’ve met several women who have chosen not to undergo breast reconstruction surgery for a variety of reasons, and I can understand that.  As for me, I’ve never seriously considered any kind of cosmetic surgery, never considered myself a candidate, and actually went into my mastectomy not sure what I would ultimately decide. 

At the time of my diagnosis, I was told that reconstructive surgery was not going to be in my future for at least a year, as Inflammatory Breast Cancer typically does not have a complete response to chemotherapy, requiring further chemo treatment.  However, following my cancer-free pathology results, my UAMS medical team made reconstructive surgery an available option, but only if we moved very quickly so radiation therapy could soon begin. 

I ultimately made the decision to “restore my shadow,” a gift to myself following the heartache of cancer.  And for two months now I’ve gone to UAMS once a week for saline injections in my chest area to get my silhouette back to where it used to be.  Today will be my last day for these injections, and I’m glad. 

I’ve been very fortunate to have Dr. Yuen as my reconstructive surgeon.  A bona fide plastic surgeon, he’s been at UAMS since 1993 and has performed hundreds of surgeries, mostly involving cancer patients.  He’s not only brilliant but reminds me of an OCD artist - a stickler for sanitary condition and fine detail. 

About the great Dr. James Yuen:  At a recent gathering of  survivor friends, there was hands-down agreement that Dr. Yuen was a the most masterful reconstructive artist in the region.  Hooray!  Lucky for me!  So glad to hear it, and now experience it.  His masterful work has helped me realize that I’ve not only survived this nasty cancer, but I’ve also begun to heal from the physical remnants of mastectomy.  And while some women make the choice not to endure breast reconstruction, this magical process has put the physical scars of cancer behind me. 

My timeline has been updated.  Dr. Yuen will finish this reconstructive process during surgery scheduled for November 15th.   In mid-December I’ll begin daily radiation treatments for six weeks, hopefully completing my cancer treatments by the end of January.  The end will come only two weeks before the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis. 

No doubt, this will go down in my personal history book as a very long year.  I will forever consider it one of my worst and best years.  But it feels very gratifying to finally see a light at the end of this very long tunnel. 

Web Statistics