A Mother and her Two Daughters

28 February 2011

Waiting for the Big D – A Complete Pain in the Legs

This week I was back under the care of UAMS and CARTI.  On Tuesday I had a follow-up visit with Dr. Gardner, my radiologist.  All is good, my skin irritation from the radiation treatment has almost totally healed, so I was officially released from CARTI’s care.  While I love all the folks at CARTI, I am most pleased to be discharged and hopeful that I will never have to return. 

On Friday I was in touch with my oncologist who called with the results of my blood work from last week – and it’s still not good.  Vitamin D levels continue to be a challenge for this cancer-stricken body. 

For many years, most of us received adequate vitamin D levels by drinking milk, a dose of exposure to the sun, and possibly taking a multi-vitamin each day. However, new research revels that most of us, as many as 85%, are vitamin D deficient. 

What is it that makes vitamin D so important?  In a nutshell, the big D gives each of us a better chance of preventing many major illnesses including cancer.  Other diseases – heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, chronic pain, depression, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, premenstrual syndrome, muscular weakness, fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune Illness

I’m anxious to get this D-train on track as I’m a patient-in-waiting for Reclast, a once-a-year infusion to help correct the osteoporosis, a result of the chemotherapy.  Pain in my bones remains, especially the legs, even though bone density tests show I’ve suffered bone loss in my hips and lower back too.  They don’t bother me – the legs do, however.  Reclast has been billed as the new wonder drug for legs like mine, supposedly the answer to get back them feeling better and stronger.  But Reclast will not properly absorb into the bones unless the body has sufficient vitamin D levels.  That means my bones still hurt while I await for the this dang vitamin to do it’s job. 

Compound all of this with the fact that a deficiency of vitamin D or an inability to utilize vitamin D leads to further weakening and softening of the bones, which equals MORE bone pain. 

Goodbye Cancer!  Hello chronic bone pain! 

Let me put this dilemma into more of a medical perspective.  Most people who take a vitamin D supplement consume 1,000, maybe 2,000 units a day.  For me, I’ve been taking 50,000 units each week, every Monday, and my vitamin D levels are still terribly low.  So as of Friday, the good doctor has bumped me up to 100,000 units a week for the next two months.  And yes, there are side-effects from taking such a large dose of vitamin D.  

Waiting, waiting, waiting. . . . I don’t do this very well, and I’m ready to get my bones back to normal.

HAVE YOU HAD YOUR VITAMIN D LEVELS CHECKED LATELY?  If not, get it done.  Call the doctor this week!  Take care of yourself. 

21 February 2011

The Ongoing Perils of Chemo Brain

It’s been written about, discussed by many, and a topic of this blog on several occasions.  However, the other day I realized – I still suffer from chemo brain.

This is not fiction.  Chemo brain, sometimes called “chemo fog” is real.  It’s the much discussed, but poorly understood side effect of chemotherapy treatment – misunderstood by everyone who has NOT taken chemo.  For those of us who are chemo graduates – we understand it all too well. 

It’s been described as an inefficiency of certain cognitive functions related to cancer treatment – i.e. chemotherapy. The primary symptom is inefficient memory retrieval, specifically losing your train of thought, a mental block on words or names or numbers.  It can mean being distracted or having trouble multitasking.  There also seems to be a reduction in how much information a person can process at one time, similar to attention deficit disorder.  Those with chemo brain are slower to do things and it takes more mental effort to do almost everything.

The good news:  Reasoning, problem solving, basic skills and talent are not affected.

How has chemo brain affected me?  It’s usually words.  They are on the tip of my tongue.  I know what I want to say, it’s right there on the tip of my tongue.  Honestly!  I can almost feel the word, touch the word.  But I fail.  I have zero recall. 

Today I could not remember the name “mouthwash.”  I could only come up with dishwashing detergent.  As we all know, they are not the same.  

Last week I went completely brain dead trying to remember the last name of a longtime acquaintance.  His first name was easy.  I could see his face and knew everything else about him, but I could not remember his last name without the help of Tim.  He and a few others, especially work colleagues, have become like seeing-eye dogs for me, except they help me with my memory lapses. 

The other day I was introducing two friends – one who recently moved to Little Rock from Texas, an education specialist.  The other was a college friend who’s returned home from Florida, taking a new position at the UAMS Center on Aging.  As I tried to give some background about each of them to the other, I had a complete memory lapse – completely lost my train of thought. I could not remember Dennie’s specialty, which is MEMORY!  SHE IS A MEMORY SPECIALIST!!!!   If it hadn’t been so tragic it would have been hysterical.  Well, it actually was as the three of us burst into uncontrollable laughter!  Thank you, my dear friends, for laughing with me, not at me. 

Surely nobody with chemo brain is proud of this after-effect from cancer treatment.  In fact, if patients are not honest about this post-chemo syndrome, if they try to hide the challenges faced by the lack of memory recall, it could have a negative impact on so many lifestyle matters, including employment. 

For me, the answer to chemo brain has been this – tell those who love me, who I trust to take care of me as I continue to make brain progress. 

How long does it last?  Chemo brain usually goes away.  However, there are a few who seem to be plagued with it forever. In studies with breast cancer patients that required chemotherapy, half of them had gotten better one year after treatment had ended – about half had not.  So, the answer is:  physicians cannot say how long this condition lasts.  It just depends on a variety of factors, especially high-dose chemo versus standard-dose. 

I’ve done some reading, two very good books on the market today:  ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind (Ellen Clegg) and Your Brain After Chemo (Dr. Dan Silverman, M.D., Ph.D.). 

It appears that there are several things that can contribute to ridding the cancer survivor of chemo brain – energy conservation, good sleep, mental stimulation and physical exercise, all of them a part of my daily agenda.  Let’s hope I’m successful in making these things happen each day.  

So remember . . . If a family member, or a friend or a colleague has had to take chemotherapy drugs, be kind.  Those who have endured chemotherapy can retain their functionality, but there's a cost and effort when it comes to memory and recall.  

19 February 2011

Learning More About Breast Cancer Risks & Ongoing Research

My church, Pulaski Heights United Methodist, has a wonderful ministry called Cancer Friends.  It’s a support group led by lay members of the church who have either had cancer or have been through the cancer journey with a loved one.  Members support one another with prayers, telephone calls, notes and cards and other assistance.  Cancer Friends is for church member, and non-members too; in other words, anybody is welcome to join.  Programs include a monthly support group for those battling cancer, and a regularly scheduled luncheon that features an informative guest speaker. 

This past week Dr. Suzanne Klimberg, my breast oncology surgeon at UAMS, was the guest speaker at the Cancer Friends luncheon.  And was she ever informative.  Dr. Klimberg is Director of the Breast Cancer Program at the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Institute at UAMS.  She’s the best of both worlds – a brilliant physician committed to healing, and a patient mentor who provides emotional support along the way.  I could not have been more fortunate to be under her care throughout my own battle with cancer. 

I’m going to try to recap a few things she shared with us this past week, as it was very good information for all women to know regarding breast cancer risks, prevention and new treatments.  

About Risk Factors for Breast Cancer:

According to Dr. Klimberg, there are several major risk factors that can increase the chances of getting breast cancer – life-style related risk factors vs. genetic or physical characteristics that cannot be changed.  The top lifestyle risk factors Dr. Klimberg discussed should be top-of-mind for every woman. 
  • Alcohol consumption: The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The risk increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. Compared with non-drinkers, women who consume one alcoholic drink a day have a very small increase in risk. Those who have 2 or more drinks daily almost double their risk of developing breast cancer.  As Dr. Klimberg said, if you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.  
  • Hormone therapy after menopause: Dr. Klimberg clearly believes the research linking hormone replacement therapy with an increased risk for breast cancer.  While HRT used to be the standard, she said that women should consider alternatives to HRT such as new medicines that can help with hot flashes or bone density issues.  It was quite obvious that she is not a fan of hormone replacement therapy.  
  • Being overweight or obese:  Being overweight or obese has been found to increase breast cancer risk, especially for women after menopause. Before menopause your ovaries produce most of your estrogen, and fat tissue produces a small amount of estrogen. After menopause (when the ovaries stop making estrogen), most of a woman's estrogen comes from fat tissue. Having more fat tissue after menopause can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by raising estrogen levels.  In addition to body weight, evidence is growing that physical activity in the form of exercise reduces breast cancer risk.

About ongoing research and improvements in breast cancer care:
  • Preventing Lymphedema:  Klimberg and her UAMS team, with funding provided by the Tenenbaum Breast Cancer Research Foundation, have developed a new surgical method (ARM, or Axillary Reverse Mapping) to prevent lymphedema after breast cancer surgery.  Oftentimes described by women as worse than the mastectomy, it is a swelling that is difficult to treat and caused by faulty drainage of the lymph nodes.  Some studies report the incidence rate of lymphedema in the arm and hand as high as 56%.  The new technique evaluates the ways in which fluid drains through the lymph node system in the arm using an injection of blue dye. The dye is used to map the drainage of the arm.  Mapping the drainage of the arm decreases the chances of unintended disruption of the lymph node system during surgery and reduces the risk of developing swelling in the arm," Klimberg said. UAMS was the first to study lymph node drainage in the arm and it is now using the ARM procedure as standard procedure for breast cancer surgery.  Dr. Klimberg now conducts training seminars on the procedure for breast centers throughout the country. 
  • Spit for the Cure:  The brainchild of Klimberg and Dr. Susan Kadlubar, Ph.D., Spit For The Cure is a breast cancer research study conducted by UAMS and the Fay Boozman College of Public Health that hopes to identify factors that put women at increased risk for breast cancer. They also hope to find out more about why some women respond to treatment and others do not.  In partnership with the Susan G. Komen Arkansas Affiliate, there are now more than 10,000 Arkansas women who are helping to pioneer this research through the simple donation of spit to provide DNA samples.  If you want to contribute to your own saliva samples for this important research, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes of your time.  More information can be found by clicking here. 
  • Tears for Life:  Tears for Life was created in September 2008 as collaboration between researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and MBA students at the University of Arkansas' Walton College of Business.  The partnership has an exclusive license for a patent-pending technology from UAMS to develop an innovative, non-invasive, and convenient screening tool that can detect breast cancer using proteins found in women's tears.  These protein patterns create a multiple marker "barcode" that accurately identifies the presence of breast cancer in the body.  Our vision is that the test will make breast cancer screening easier and more accessible for women, resulting in higher screening rates, earlier diagnosis and treatment, increased survival rates, and reduced treatment costs for patients and insurers.  You can find out more information about this research by clicking here. 

There is amazing progress being made and research going on with breast cancer prevention and treatment, especially at our own UAMS.  The presentation by Dr. Klimberg made me feel much more optimistic about the future. 

For anyone living in Central Arkansas wanting more information about PHUMC’s Cancer Friends program, click here.  This is yet another wonderful cancer support opportunity right here in our community. 

17 February 2011

My Cancerversary. I’m a One-Year Survivor!

Today is my cancerversary! 

A year ago today my doctor called, and it was not the expected “you are fine” phone call.  Instead, it would become the day “cancer” would come into my life – a terrifying moment, a day every cancer survivor forever remembers. 

In the cancer community, you typically say that you’re a survivor from the day you received your diagnosis.  So, I am counting today as my anniversary date – or my cancerversary as some say. 

I know, I know!  It’s the five-year celebration that allows you to really take a deep sigh of relief.  But this one-year celebration lifts my spirits immensely. 

Today I will celebrate enduring one of the toughest years of life - living with, through and beyond cancer.  A little champagne tonight, with a toast to my medical team, family and friends, colleagues and new acquaintances who lifted me up and surrounded me in care and love and immense support.  They helped make this tough year much more bearable.  

One year later:  I’ve endured four months of chemotherapy and twenty-five radiation treatments – medical miracles that can truly obliterate cancer cells.   In four months I went under the knife three times – once to remove my breasts, twice to give me what I call “my party favors” from UAMS for having to endure the heartache of breast cancer.  Pain in my legs persists from the osteoporosis created by the chemotherapy, and next week I’ll see a lymphedema specialist to help me with the swelling in my right arm.  My hair is quite short, and a new shade of gray – but hey, I have hair!.  And each morning I swallow a handful of pills, one of them to be my medicine of choice for the next four years.

The end result – I’m alive, I survived and I don’t have cancer!  My UAMS and CARTI teams have kicked cancer’s butt! 

Last night’s fortune cookie:  "Times long ago will present a special treasure to you.” 

Obviously that treasure is life, and I will celebrate the gift each day, along with 12 million other survivors in the USA.  

Here’s to one year, and counting . . .

13 February 2011

Making The Moment Count

This past week I wrote about doing something fun for YOU every day.  A few days later a friend writes to me and says she just doesn’t have the time to do something fun each day.  Like me, she works, has kids, very involved in the community, and has a pretty jam-packed life of responsibility.  She challenged me to redefine what I meant by this. 

Well honey, I meant what I said, so let me say it again:

“Keep loving life.  Do SOMETHING every day that makes you smile and feels good.  If this hasn’t been your routine, then change it!  I did!  Do something fun for YOU each day while you have cancer – and make a list of everything you want to do when the cancer is over.  And when that day arrives, keep on doing the fun stuff.  That’s what life is all about.”

Doing something fun doesn’t require having cancer or surviving cancer.  And it doesn't require plane tickets or an expensive shopping spree.  It’s the little things that can be fun, if you know how to fully embrace and celebrate the moment. 

When I was in meditation training years ago, we learned how to eat with mindfulness – recognizing the food we were about to eat, appreciating its color and texture, savoring each morsel, really tasting what it was inside our mouth, expanding the food palate.  That may sound strange, but it was the art of practicing enlightenment, appreciating what is before you, finding joy and happiness in every moment.  We practiced with an orange, then moved on to a complete meal.  

A few things I’ve done lately, reminding me that each moment can feel extraordinary . . .
  • Enjoyed a wonderful dinner with friends at the new French bistro in my neighborhood. 
  • Cancelled an unimportant meeting, and instead watched a Christmas move – the 1938 version of “A Christmas Carol.”  It was terrific, even though it was February. 
  • Found a new recipe for one of Tim’s favorite food groups – Gruyere cheese.  Today I’m making it for his birthday – a caramelized onion cheese fondue
  • Enjoyed the winter weather.  I relished being stuck at home, took tons of photos of my puppies playing in the snow, and kept a fire in my fireplace for a week.  What a treat! 
  • Researched and created a detailed itinerary for a history trip through Virginia.  That's half the fun.  The other half will be making the trip!  
  • Worked on my genealogy and discovered that my ggggg-grandfather was the first republican chief of the Choctaw Indian Nation.  WOW!  I’m now wondering . . . is there an organization like Daughters of the Choctaw Nation?
  • Went to a small gas station outside of town and had lunch.  Very good home-cooked food!  
  • Stopped at a new bakery on Kavanaugh Boulevard.  Bought a sugar cookie and a cup of coffee, then sat down and enjoyed ten minutes of time with myself. 
  • Mailed a copy of a book – There’s No Place Like Hope – to a friend of a friend who is battling Inflammatory Breast Cancer. 
  • Enjoyed a coffee outing with another friend battling breast cancer.  We shared bad hair stories - but laughed about each one of them.   
  • Read through a great food blog by a young woman who was once my summer intern. 
  • Celebrated with colleagues after a long but successful week of work. 
  • Created a terrarium for a dear friend.
  • Discovered a new musical combo – Sweet Talk Radio – and downloaded their songs.
  • Visited with another longtime friend by phone, wishing she lived closer, but so thankful we’ve stayed connected for all these years.
  • Went to a cooking demonstration at my favorite neighborhood kitchen shop.
  • Organized my laundry room so I can become a committed recycler.
  • Read a book by one of my favorite authors – Joan Anderson. 
  • Made plans for some upcoming special events at the Contemporary Art Museum/St. Louis, Allyson’s new employer. 
  • Scanned some old family photos, and then had prints made. 
  • Listened to my repertoire of songs from my favorite musical group, Over The Rhine. 
  • Enjoyed a late-night dinner at Tim’s favorite health club – International House of Pancakes.  Took Anna-Lee and her friend McKenzie with us.  Too much fun! 
  • Every day I’m enjoying a walk with my puppies.  Rollo may be a blind corgi, but he’s super on a leash and loves his daily walk. 
  • Yesterday I had a haircut and consult on what to do with short gray hair. 
  • Went through all my Christmas cards again.  Saved the ones with photographs.
  • And much more . . . 

Some might think this is a very uneventful list.  But for me, the small things have become very meaningful moments in my life. Call it whatever you may - a new lease on life, a new appreciation for the small stuff.  But I’m finding extraordinary value in the small nuggets provided to me each day. 

Distraction can be your enemy.  Don’t let the present slip away.  Don’t wait for disease to hit before you savor the moment. 

When every moment counts, I feel like the queen, a woman of real purpose.    

I love this photoshopped print of Queen Elizabeth with one of her Corgis.  I do love my corgis!  

10 February 2011

Advice For Fighting The Beast, Whatever the Beast Might Be

Yesterday a dear friend called.  This past week one of her employees was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is a strong woman, but very frightened.

Breast cancer is now stalking another remarkable woman. 

My friend asked for some advice regarding a few good books, and a few nuggets of wisdom to pass along.  So here it goes . . .  

My own advice for fighting cancer: 
  1. Fight the beast with every ounce of energy that you have.  As Winston Churchill said, Never Give In, Never, Never, Never.” 
  2. Keep company with family and friends who make you smile.  Their love will bring you a sense of calm and keep your spirits high.  Conversely, put out the “go away” doormat for brainless morons who bring you down or who have little regard that you are in the battle of your life.  Make them go home and keep them far, far away. 
  3. Laugh and laugh hard.  Yes, cancer is serious business, but laughter is very serious too.  It is a deeply spiritual emotion that may very well carry you through this terribly tough time.  Watch funny movies, read funny books, and stay close with funny friends. 
  4. Always remember – a disease like cancer does not have to take away your soul.  It is only a physical malady and it should not consume who you are inside.  Remain true to your core.
  5. Even when disease inflicts havoc on your body, mental strength can carry you through. Beating a life-challenging disease requires a Herculean spirit.  If strength is a challenge, seek out The Mighty who can help you unearth it.  It can likely be found in a posse of other survivors and cancer warriors. 
  6. Hang with God every day for He will provide comfort and stability.  "The Lord will guide you continually." 
  7. While God is good, it will be wise doctors who heal.  Make sure your cancer doctor is the best.  If she’s not, get rid of her and find a better doctor.  This is your life and it’s no time to worry about hurting the feelings of a physician.  You and your life deserve the best.
  8. Learn to meditate.  I used to close my eyes and imagine myself at a beautiful lake I once saw at the top of a lovely mountain in Colorado, in the summer.  In times of fear or panic, it was that lake that would bring my heart and mind back to tranquility. 
  9. If you live alone, find a good dog.  There is nothing that will give you love and companionship like a loyal dog. 
  10. Keep loving life.  Do SOMETHING every day that makes you smile and feels good.  If this hasn’t been your routine, then change it!  Do something fun for YOU each day – and make a list of everything you want to do when the cancer is over.  And when that day arrives, keep on doing the fun stuff.  That’s what life is all about. 

These were just my own rules – maybe yours will be different.  A friend asked, so I'm sharing.  

If you’re fighting cancer, or heart disease or depression, a lost job or a divorce, create your own "rules to live by" for getting through the tough times.  Without a mantra for life, the beast can take control, whatever the beast might be. 

06 February 2011

Quality of Life - The Benjamin Franklin Way

A friend just sent this to me in an email.  I’m still laughing so hard I can hardly stand myself. 

Dear God, My prayer for 2011 is for a fat bank account and a thin body.  Please don't mix these up like you did last year.  AMEN!!

I am so relating to this, as 2010 was my year of little activity, lots of steroids and packing on some pounds.  With the marvelous new anti-nausea medications, I only had two days of eating issues – and I think one of them was non-cancer related, just a stomach virus. So eating throughout cancer was never a problem for me.  

While cancer treatment requires a huge commitment of body and mind, being a survivor also means making lifestyle adjustments as well.

With more than 12 million cancer survivors living in the United States, much attention is being given to increasing the survivor's quality of life and reducing the chance of recurrence.  Historically, those who survived cancer were told to go home, rest and avoid activity - be gentle to yourself.  Not true today.  Clinicians have discovered that survivors should embark on an appropriate exercise program following treatment, akin to cardiac rehab for heart patients. 

So in 2009, the National Cancer Institute convened a panel of 13 research experts from the American College of Sports Medicine to develop exercise guidelines for cancer survivors.  The report was released this past July, and it’s really quite fascinating.  In the end, the panel says that some of the psychological and physiological challenges faced by cancer survivors can be prevented, treated and rehabilated through exercise. 

For me, that means that 2011 is going to be my year of getting my body back into some kind of shape. 

So today I’m joining Little Rock’s Jim Dailey Fitness & Aquatic CenterI toured the facility recently and it’s going to work well for me due to the proximity to my home (War Memorial Park), the extended hours of operation and the indoor pool.  The pool was an especially big factor for me, allowing me to ease into exercises that will strengthen my right arm.

My physical workout goals are this:
  • Increase my body strength, especially in my legs;
  • Reduce the threat of lymphedema with regular exercise of my arms, especially my right upper arm, which is still very numb;
  • Improve my energy level by reducing my fatigue; and
  • Hopefully just feeling stronger and fit all over.  
I'll keep you posted on my progress.  

Unfortunately, I've never been a real workout buff so this will be a new adventure for me.  As they say, "no pain, no gain."  

I always thought this was a phrase attributed to Jane Fonda in those horrific exercise videos she produced in the 19080s.  Not true. In his well-known essay “The Way to Wealth” published in 1734, Benjamin Franklin wrote about the axiom “God helps those who help themselves.”  In this work found in Poor Richard's Almanack, Franklin said, “There are no gains without pains.” 

For me, 2011 will hopefully be living life the Benjamin Franklin way. 

03 February 2011

Life with A New Purpose

Every day is a new day for me right now.  And I'm loving it!  

Last weekend was spent with both of my girls celebrating Anna-Lee's initiation into her sorority - Chi Omega at the University of Arkansas.  Allyson drove from St. Louis to meet us, and Mom even joined the festivities.  It was great fun, a very special weekend.  After a year of few travels beyond a five mile radius of my home, a short road trip along with a hotel room and my family was memorable and felt good.   

I spent yesterday working with my colleagues until about 7 pm.  Smart people at my office, and the work we do together feels so good. 

After leaving work, I joined longtime friends for dinner.  We delighted in outstanding French cuisine, superb wine and the never ending fun stories of life – creating new memories too.  Being out with dear friends felt very good. 

Today will be spent at Philander Smith College.  I serve on the college’s board of trustees and have enjoyed working alongside Dr. Kimbrough and other board members for over two years now.  My body feels energized getting reconnected to the things that mean much to me – things like education.  Finding my way back to the pet projects from my old life feels really good.  

A friend told me last week that I look good.  Hmmmm . . . I question whether this gray crew cut really looks good.  However, I am experiencing a renewed sense of strength each day, and feeling better than I have since March.  Next week I’ve scheduled a “hair consultation” to determine the options of vanity when it comes to style and color.  This gives me something to think about over the weekend - short or long, my new natural gray or a splash of hair dye?  Big decisions coming my way.  

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.  And my life goes on . . . and it feels good.  

01 February 2011

Life as my Teacher – Not Cancer

In 1989, the famed SNL comedian Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer at the age of 42.  While battling her own illness, she openly shared her story of disease with those who cared to learn.  Radner’s answer to cancer was healing the body with mind and heart. 

Before her death, Radner would say, “If it wasn't for the downside, having cancer would be the best thing and everyone would want it.”   Following her death, her husband Gene Wilder would say, “That might be true, if it wasn't for the downside.”

Cancer and the after-effects of cancer treatment are life changing, totally rearranging the game of life.  For me, breast cancer has been about a body completely void of hair, bloating from steroids, exhaustion never experienced, vanity that steers you away from mirrors, industrial-strength chemo that has lifelong side effects, the total numbness of my chest where natural breasts used to be.  It’s about a myriad of emotions – from absolute fear to a feeling of weakness never before experienced.  And even today, I know that my level of activity must be curtailed, as I simply don’t have the energy or stamina I once had.

But today I am well, I’m cancer-free, and this yearlong journey has taught me a few lessons along the way.
  • I’ve learned that self-confidence and a sense of femininity have nothing to do with your breasts, your eyelashes or your hairstyle.  A sense of loss (even your breasts) can be overcome, false eyelashes were invented for a reason, and there are some very beautiful hats that can cover a bald head.
  • Tim taught me over and over again, “The only way to survive this cancer is to deal with whatever the day dishes out – the good, the bad and the ugly.”  I’ve also learned that no matter the circumstances of life, a sense of humor can make everything, even the ugly, feel a bit more tolerable.   
  • I’ve learned the difference between being strong and having strength . . . A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey, but a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become strong.
  • Today I know that cancer kills too many people. I remain mindful that there were those I shared the oncology clinic with, those who sat next to me during chemotherapy treatments, who lost their life to cancer.  With 1 in 4 Americans ultimately be diagnosed with cancer, we must speed up this scientific mystery and find a way to prevent cancer from ravaging our bodies. 

A long time acquaintance told me this past year that cancer could be a gift if I knew what to do with it.  Are you kidding me?  A gift from who?  I say “HOOIE” on that. I never asked for cancer, I never liked cancer, and I was never glad to have it.  But I’m confident that the biggest lessons I learned DID NOT COME FROM CANCER.  Instead, they came from living life my way.

Shelley Lewis, a veteran broadcast news producer said during her own cancer battle, “Cancer didn't teach me lessons that changed my life—my life taught me lessons that changed my cancer experience.”  I could not agree more. 

Cancer did not give me a sense of comfort or assurance.  I was given this gift from God when I lost my husband to a drunk driver when he was 30, and only three weeks after the birth of our daughter Allyson.  For the past 23+ years,  I have felt Him in my life and have turned to Him for help in the midst of life’s storms. Life Lesson: God is good

Cancer did not teach me that mortality is real, and that death for us all is imminent.  I’ve known that since 1987 and have tried to be mindful that today could be my last day or your last day here on earth.  Life Lesson: Mortality is real.

Cancer did not teach me that the comfort of family and friends  sustains you through the tough times.  I’ve known that my entire life.  People give me energy – they always have, long before cancer.  It has been the love and emotional sustenance of family and friends that keep my spirits high every day and every year.  And yes, their love the past twelve months has been especially meaningful.  Life Lesson: Authentic love is the most powerful gift we can share with one another. 

Cancer did not teach me that every day is a special gift from God.  I’ve long known that.  Yesterday I shared the elevator with a woman grumbling about how she hates Mondays.  I thought to myself, “I love Mondays, and Tuesdays, and Fridays and Mondays, and every waking day of life.”  Yes, cancer put it back into perspective, and every morning I am thankful for the sun and even the rain, and I give thanks for the new day.  Life Lesson: Every day can be a good day. 

While I’ve learned a few things from cancer, rest assured, I’ve learned much more from the lessons of life.  And they have served me well throughout this journey. 

Life Lesson:  LIFE is good. 

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