Friday, December 26, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 16

Now that I'm sitting here accessed, bagged, and dripping for (hopefully) the last time, I'm kind of at a loss for words. This is the end of chemotherapy for me, but I still have a course of radiation to complete.

I've lamented that I've done better than some, and not as good as others during my course of treatment, and I'm not going to miss this experience at all. Truth be told, I am grateful for having gone through it, because chemotherapy has taught me many things about myself. When life gets rough, you learn just how much resilience you have; when you think you've squeezed the last bit out of yourself, lo and behold you manage to find some more. Now, that doesn't include the time spent balled up in the fetal position under the covers, or the fits of tears and rage. Those are a given, and no amount of pharmaceuticals or pep talks can help you avoid them. That also applies to shitty life events that might not include a cancer diagnosis or other health crisis. Unfortunately, I've been through both.

The main thought in my mind currently is, what if this comes back? I know I shouldn't be thinking that, but the cynic in me can't help herself. For months I've read all manner of stuff about cancer, breast cancer, metastatic disease, and people's experiences with them. I've made friends on social media with women who have been treated for breast and other cancers, and I'm sorry to say that I'm keeping vigil for someone who is in the final stage of bile duct cancer. You never realize just how many lives cancer touches until you've been through it yourself.

One positive aspect of this experience pertains to what I do for a living. Somehow, some way, I am going to move forward as a writer who writes about what matters and gets paid for it. No more writing just to pay the bills. I did that for five years and it's time to move on. Just as I've found a level of resilience I wasn't aware I had, I've also found a level of determination that I've decided is going to  guide me through the rest of my life. It has to, because things cannot go back to being as they were before this happened. I don't really believe the whole "things happen for a reason" rationale. Instead, I believe that life is a series of roads we travel, and we have to pay attention to the interchanges and where they are taking us. Notice how I didn't use the word "exit". I'm ignoring the exits for now, and concentrating on where the next interchange is taking me. After all, I decided to refer to this as a journey, one that will continue for a very, very long time.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 15

I think I've reached the phase of chemo where I just don't give a damn about what I say or do. Hence the image of Britney Spears's first album to signify that I have only one treatment left after today. Actually, Brit is an appropriate metaphor for this experience because a few years after this album was released, she lost her mind and shaved her head. That's pretty much what's happened to me over these past few months.

I have a confession to share about the chemotherapy experience: No one, and I mean that literally, can tell you exactly what it will feel like and how horrific it will be. It is an experience that you cannot begin to imagine until you go through it yourself. Any number of well-meaning doctors and nurses will tell you, "Oh, it's not that bad", but the truth is, it is that bad.

Before I had my mastectomy, I admitted to my surgeon that the thing that frightened me the most was undergoing general anesthesia, since I'd never experienced it before. He told me that he'd never been put under himself. My reaction was, "Are you kidding me? Don't you people practice on each other in med school? Don't the anesthesiologists and the surgeons put each other under and remove superfluous organs like tonsils, appendixes, and spleens?" He laughed at me and explained that that's not how it works. I knew that, but I think it should be the way it works. If you're going to cut off people's body parts, you should have some idea how it feels to be on the receiving end of a scalpel. The same goes for chemotherapy; not that I'm wishing cancer on the medical professionals who have taken such great care of me, but they should at least have some idea how it feels to be pumped full of toxins and how they make you feel. I mean, servers eat the food at the restaurants they work in so they know what to recommend; oncology nurses and doctors should undergo at least one treatment so they have some idea what the patient is likely to experience. That way they can say, "Yeah, that sucks; I totally understand what you're going through." Or, "I can't recommend Adriamycin; the stuff will drain the life right out of you."

I realize that last paragraph is completely ridiculous. You have to understand that chemotherapy is cumulative. I've said that before and it bears repeating because the longer it goes on, the more your brain malfunctions and you start to think really bizarre thoughts. If there were television commercials for chemotherapy drugs, the side effect list would be enormous, and the first symptoms you'd be warned about are insane thoughts and crazy talk. I guess the same could be said about celebrity. Let's not forget that Britney Spears volunteered for the job; I didn't ask for cancer.

So, one week left. After that, I really hope my brain returns to normal, along with the rest of me. Sixteen weeks of this shit is just about all I can handle. At least I don't have to shave my head.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 14

The countdown has officially begun: after today's treatment, only two remaining. I am relieved and a little frightened because I've been consistently told that chemotherapy has a cumulative effect on the body, and that any side effects you experience might grow worse over time. I am sorry to say that's been the case for me over the past few weeks, and the odyssey of fatigue, neuropathy, and other assorted maladies keeps growing.

Last week, I regaled everyone with my "accident". This week, the emesis spewed forth from an orifice located further north on my body. I experienced a bout of random puking today, and lucky for me, I found myself in close proximity to my kitchen sink when it happened. Even luckier is that I have a garbage disposal, which meant I didn't have to clear a clogged drain when I was finished. Too much information again? Too bad. This is the only time I've puked since my chemo began in August. I consider that a triumph. If it continues, however, I will not be pleased. You know the saying: It's always darkest before the dawn.

I wish I had more amusing anecdotes to regale you with, but when you get this far into it, you just want it to end as quickly as possible. It's tough not having enough energy to do things you normally take for granted, and it really sucks when your life revolves around being close to a toilet or other receptacle in case your body decides to "surprise" you. Moreover, I don't even have the wherewithal to be pissed off anymore. I've accepted it, and just want it to end. I don't even want to think about radiation yet. There's time enough to contemplate six weeks of roasting like a rotisserie chicken.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 13

I'm up to treatment number 13, and there are only three left. And yes, I am triskaidekaphobic. I cringe whenever there is a Friday the 13th in any month, and do my best to avoid any bad luck. Call me crazy (and possibly obsessive-compulsive), but this is how I've always been.

I debated whether or not to share a bit of bad luck I had yesterday, and in the spirit of not holding back, I thought, why not? During a week that has seen various celebrities posing in varying degrees of undress, along with other distressing events, I can be self-effacing enough to share an unfortunate incident that occurred as I was driving home from running a few errands.

I had an accident, the likes of which I had never before experienced. Yes, I'm talking about that type of accident; the one people don't usually talk about because it is so demoralizing and humiliating that you normally can't help but keep it to yourself. But, since I've been spending the past few months being pumped full of poison, there isn't much I'm not willing to share. After all, my accident was a side effect of chemotherapy that happens to many patients. If it's not coming out of one end, it's coming out the other. Yes, that's disgusting, but true.

I will spare you the gory details, save for the fact that I took a shower with my clothes on for the first time in my life, and spent the remainder of the day feeling like an overgrown infant who had yet to be toilet trained. Hey - shit happens, but when it happens to you, the humor is sometimes difficult to come to terms with. We joke incessantly about bodily functions, but when you find yourself in such an unsavory situation, it can be thought of as bad luck instead of a reaction to outside elements that can sometimes cause your body to betray itself. It can be questionable food from questionable sources in foreign countries; too much alcohol; a virus; medication, or maybe even bad genes. Regardless of the cause, you just want to eradicate the evidence and move on. Unless, of course you're a writer like me who has no shame.

Keep in mind that you could just as easily be looking at naked pictures of celebrities, pregnant or otherwise. But those images are likely manipulated. Here, the shit is real; literally.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 12

It's the day before Thanksgiving as I receive my twelfth chemotherapy treatment, and I guess I should be gushing about how thankful I am for all the good things in my life. I do have many things to be thankful for, but right now, I'm tired and grumpy, and thinking about so many other things I'd rather be doing than sitting here yet again, accessed, bagged, and dripping.

Let's get the gratitude out of the way just so I don't feel like a selfish bitch who wants the world to feel sorry for her because she willingly hacked off her boobs and submitted to aggressive post-surgical chemotherapy. Remember, I still have six weeks of radiation to look forward to, and I'm sure there will be plenty to bitch about when that gets rolling.

I am grateful for the excellent care I've received from all the doctors and nurses I've encountered. I'm also grateful for the Affordable Care Act, without which, I never would have known that there was cancer in my body.

I am grateful for the people who now populate my life, both in person, and in the electronic void. I have never experienced the kind of support and empathy I've gotten from people whom I know only within the confines of my laptop. There are many theories floating around about how social media can make you feel loserish when you view too many carefully curated, "shiny, happy" posts and photos in your news feed. Personally, I have never felt more embraced and cared for than right now. It just goes to show that the people you are tied to genetically don't always turn out to be the individuals capable of offering the love and support you so desperately need when you go through something like this. It is at once fascinating and a little sad to come to terms with that. Ultimately, once you manage to put convention aside, you feel damn good knowing there are people out there who care, even if they're not with you physically.

Lastly, I am grateful for one person who has stood by me through all this, with love and humor, the likes of which I've never experienced before. I haven't been the modeliest of model patients, and this person has put up with all manner of crap I've dished out since this all started. I won't name names, but that person knows I'm talking about him/her. Things would have been exponentially more difficult had I not landed in this person's life when I did. 'Nuff said.

Tomorrow I'll be cooking a turkey breast and various other things to express the gratitude I feel. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that to "give thanks" has taken on an entirely new meaning. In years past, there was a facade of gratitude in my life. This year, that gratitude is genuine. And it has nothing to do with football, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or anything material. It's all about taking life one day at a time and trying to live it the best way I know how. I wish more people would feel that way, and I know it is something many of us must come to realize in our own time. It shouldn't take a life-changing event to adopt that mindset, but unfortunately, one is usually involved. Either way, some of us get there, and some of us never do.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 11

I'm coming into the home stretch with only five treatments left after today. I met with my oncologist before today's treatment, and he confirmed that I will be getting about a four week break after chemotherapy before beginning radiation. I'm actually kind of miffed by that, now that I've been thinking about it for an hour or so; I was hoping to be done with everything by the middle of February. It looks like I won't be starting radiation until the end of January, and that won't conclude until the middle of March.

I'm sure my body will be grateful for some much needed recuperation during the break between chemotherapy and radiation, since this journey began at the end of May with the panicked phone call I received from my family doctor six hours after my first mammogram. That will make it about ten months once all is said and done. I know there are cancer patients who have to endure much more than ten months of treatment, but I must confess that by March, I'll be ready to jump out of my skin.

One of the hardest parts about this is the all-encompassing effect it has on your life. It takes over like the "blob", or more realistically, all that horrific lake-effect snow the poor people in Buffalo, New York are enduring. In many ways I feel snow-bound; trapped in treatment and unable to do much else besides submit to it.

On a lighter note, I forgot to put on one of my cherished beanies before leaving the house today. Luckily, I only got about ten feet from the door before I realized I was sans headgear. The fact that my head was freezing was an indication that my baldness was visible. No one saw me, thankfully, but there is another example of chemo brain at work. The day I forget to put on underwear is the day I give up. Until then, I'm slogging on, resigned to the metaphorical snowstorm I am stuck in the middle of.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 10

Today is my tenth chemotherapy treatment. Six more left, and it can't be over with soon enough.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and did not need chemotherapy or radiation as part of her treatment. We talked about how much we've learned since our respective diagnoses, and how ignorant we were about breast cancer before it changed our lives. For example, we both thought breast cancer always meant you had a tumor, or tumors, in your breast(s). She had them, I didn't. Moreover, neither of us completely understood how serious lymph node involvement is, and how it affects the treatment scenario after surgery. Her cancer hadn't spread to her lymph nodes; mine did, which is one of the reasons why she didn't need chemo, and I'm sitting here, accessed, bagged, and dripping.

Over delicious hamburgers and a shared salad (I know; fresh veggies are a no-no while getting chemo), we discussed how knowledge factors into your health, and how acquiring knowledge and being an informed patient can make the journey, especially the cancer journey, a little bit easier. For one, it can assuage the fear you feel about what you're going through, and it can make your relationship with your doctors and healthcare professionals more congenial. In my opinion, there's nothing worse than being intimidated by a physician. I understand that not everyone has the wherewithal to be assertive when it comes to speaking up, but when it concerns your health, it is an absolute necessity. You must take an active role by researching your condition and asking questions.

My friend and I are both originally from the east coast of the United States, where it seems the landscape is chock-full of doctors and medical professionals who can be arrogant and dismissive toward their patients. Another favorite Sopranos episode of mine, "Second Opinion" from the third season, makes a powerful commentary on the doctor-patient relationship when Uncle Junior is diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his stomach, and is totally star-struck by his surgeon. His surgeon, in turn, is arrogant and dismissive, and treats Uncle Junior like an inconsequential cadaver, instead of a sentient human being with fears and concerns. Uncle Junior and his caregiver, Bobby Baccala, were not well-informed or well-treated by this doctor, and that point was driven home by the scene where Tony and Furio confronted the doctor on the golf course, threatened him, and demanded that he show Uncle Junior "the respect he deserves."

I don't have to remind you that threatening your doctor on the golf course is not advisable in the real world. And, there will always be the occasional personality clash between doctor and patient. Doctors are not gods, and not every patient is going to pull his or her weight by being an informed participant in the care being administered. The latter needs to change. That's why I used a tree of knowledge image at the top of this post, to drive home the point that knowledge is there for the taking by everyone.

Remember that your doctors and nurses have invested vast amounts of time and money to obtain extensive education and training in order to help people. True, some of them might be in it for selfish reasons, but the majority of these individuals genuinely care about their patients' well-being. Do your share by helping them help you. In the end, you'll be glad you did, and you'll be grateful for the knowledge you've acquired.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 9

I've chosen an image of Niagara Falls this week, because apparently I am dehydrated, which is causing some annoying side effects like nose bleeds and vertigo. It seems that with each chemo treatment, the chemicals build up in my body to wreak more havoc, giving me the bed spins and causing torrents of blood to pour out of my nose. In response to these side effects, I am sitting here with a large bag of saline dripping into my body, in addition to the usual cocktail of medicines and poison. That made me think of Niagara Falls, mainly because I have good memories of visits there, and the thundering sound of water is a reminder that I need to hydrate in order to alleviate the latest round of maladies currently plaguing me. 

When I was 35, I had a bout of kidney stones that I was told were caused by dehydration. At that point, it was the most serious ailment I'd ever experienced, save for when I was 14, when a fall from my bicycle left me with a broken wrist. I was lucky because I managed to drink those stones right out of my body, conveniently when I was stoned to the bejeezus bells on Vicodin. I must have drank two or three gallons of water over a period of several hours, and when the painkiller wore off, I no longer felt like I was about to give birth. Ironically, several female friends told me that the pain a woman experiences when she has kidney stones can be worse than labor. Since I've never had children, I can't compare the two experiences, but I will say that the pain was very intense.

The kidney stone experience stayed with me for a very long time, and I made a point of drinking at least two liters of water a day in order to avoid ever going through it again. Thankfully, I never have, but the experience scarred me for life; until now. 

Before I started chemotherapy, I was told various things by people who have been through it, as well as by medical professionals who administer to people like me who must endure this ordeal. It's always good to be informed before embarking on anything new, but the problem with chemo is that everyone reacts differently to it. I like to think that I'm having harder time than some, but an easier time than others. Overall, though, this is never a pleasant thing to have to go through no matter how you react to it. 

Speaking of reactions, my main activity through this ordeal has been food shopping. Under normal circumstances, a trip to the supermarket isn't my favorite activity, but I've come to relish it since I don't do much in the way of activities these days. Yesterday, as I filled my cart with necessities, I stopped cold in the soup aisle, and stood helpless as a wave of chemo brain washed over me. I stared mindlessly at boxes and cans of stock, thinking that I should put two boxes of chicken stock into my cart, but instead I walked away without the item I wanted and needed. This is a perfect example of what poison can do to your mind, since I generally use a lot of chicken stock this time of year. 

So, what prevented me from plucking a couple of cartons of chicken stock off a supermarket shelf? I have no idea. I shared this because I wanted to give you some idea of what life has been like for the past few months. In the larger scheme of things, who hasn't forgotten to grab an item or two from the supermarket on occasion? I certainly have, and I'm sure you have, too. But when your entire body is reacting to poisons coursing through it, the act of forgetting tends to annoy you more than it normally would. Yes, these poisons are for my own good, but that doesn't mean I'm enjoying what they're doing to me. 

I'm now a little more than an hour removed from my treatment. I had to regroup in order to finish this up. That, and I couldn't think of a suitable ending. Maybe I should go buy some chicken stock.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 8

I'm receiving my fourth Taxol treatment today, which is my eighth total chemotherapy treatment. That means I've reached the halfway point, and I have only 8 more treatments left. 

It's funny how time seems to simultaneously fly by, yet stand still, as I've gone through this process. My week centers around Thursdays, when I have my treatments. Thursdays seem to come quickly, but the rest of the days of the week are a haze of fatigue, chemo brain, and lately, diminished sight. I'm not going blind, but I've noticed that my eyesight is a bit off, making it difficult to read things; not that I've been doing much reading - chemo brain has affected my concentration to the point where I can't read more than a few words at a time without going back over them. Writing these blog entries has become an hours-long commitment to going back and correcting my grammar and typos after compulsively re-reading my words to ensure that what I'm writing makes sense. You're not getting my best work to be sure, but at least I can articulate my points without sounding like "Mama June" Shannon as she attempts to deny that she's dating a registered sex offender who once molested one of her daughters. Talk about a case of chemo brain...

The realization that the remaining number of treatments is down to the single digits has lifted my spirits. There is a clear end in sight to this, and that is a positive. My mood, however, has been pretty low of late. I detest not being able to work, and hate the fact that I have very real physical and mental limitations. True, they could be much worse, but they still take their toll on my psyche. My biggest fear is that I will remain in a fog of befuddlement, unable to string together the words necessary to form coherent sentences. I have images of days spent prone in a recliner, watching hours of bad reality television and home shopping channels. I know that won't be the case, but when you can't remember your phone number, or whether or not you've flushed the toilet, it can be pretty unnerving. 

I'm going to keep it short today, mainly because I'm not feeling up to writing more. I leave you with this thought: Despite all the side effects and various other things I bitch about, there are cancer patients who have it much worse than I do. I feel for those people, and wish that their journeys could be easier. I show up at the chemo ward every week with my laptop and my lunch, like I'll be spending a few hours in my local Starbucks posing as a tortured writer. The truth is, I schlep my laptop and my lunch because it makes me feel "normal". We could all use a little more normal, whatever that might be for each of us. Sitting around while poison drips into your body is definitely not fun. Anything we can do to distract ourselves from that is time well spent. 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 7

Taxol treatment number three today, in what is an extremely quiet chemotherapy ward. I was just chided by my nurse for using the word "quiet" because as we all know, if you talk about something, the exact opposite usually occurs. 

In addition to currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, I am also a type 2 diabetic. Unfortunately, that condition runs rampant through my family, and I was not able to escape its wrath. I was officially diagnosed almost three years ago, and was given medication to regulate my blood sugar levels. I attribute this condition to a number of factors: one, I have a long family history of it; two, stress and certain life events worked in concert to corrupt my health; and three, I have a serious penchant for things like cupcakes that look like hamburgers (not to mention other culinary delights). 

I usually never refer to myself as a "diabetic", mainly because I've been hearing that term all my life. For me it has a negative connotation; I watched my grandmother shoot insulin into her thigh when I was a child, and I had to listen to my mother recall on countless occasions how she "had sugar" (otherwise known as gestational diabetes) when she was pregnant with me. Jewish women of a certain age love to complain about their ailments, and I've heard my share of kvetching. I kvetch on occasion as well, but when it comes to "sugar", I'd rather not talk about it. 

The reason I'm making this confession today is because the medications I've been getting supplemental to the chemotherapeutic agents have wrought havoc on my sugar. Steroids are known to sweeten you up rather dramatically, and they certainly did that to me. As a result, my family doctor raised the dosage of my medication, and my oncologist reduced the dosage of steroids I'm getting before my weekly treatments. Hopefully, the adjustments will not leave me feeling chronically nauseous, and my glucose levels will drop. 

Diabetes is a notoriously fickle condition, requiring most people to constantly check their glucose levels. For me, that would be like stepping on a scale half a dozen times a day. I'm reticent to do it, much to my doctors' dismay, and I am prone to ingesting the occasional "treat" which certainly contributes to the fluctuations. Again, I have clear memories of the urinalysis sticks my grandmother used, and today, we have television commercials to advertise glucometers that pharmaceutical companies try to pass off as cool "gadgets" everyone needs, kind of like smartphones. Maybe my decision to simply pop pills and hope for the best is a bit of a head-in-the-sand approach, but I've got other plans for myself. I don't want to mention them at this time, because, as I said earlier, when you talk about something, the exact opposite situation might rear its ugly head. 

I could go on about how the American food industry is poisoning us with processed foods and the seemingly unavoidable inclusion of high fructose corn syrup in everything we love to consume. I am guilty of consuming more than my fair share of crap, and maybe it contributed to my present medical condition, but I'll never be sure. 

The only thing I can do now is deal with my present situation and work to make it better in the future. Breast cancer was a much more startling wake-up call, because I always thought I would be the one who wouldn't be stricken. Unfortunately, cancer, like type 2 diabetes, is ubiquitous, and in my case, a double whammy. I'm doing my best to fight both, and I am hoping to emerge victorious. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 6

 After today I will have 10 more chemotherapy treatments. In order to avoid redundancy, I'm not going to grouse about side effects unless any really odd ones crop up, which I'm hoping will not.

So far, Taxol hasn't been as brutal as the stuff I was getting, but rest assured, it's no picnic. To feel like "myself" has become a foreign notion; I'm assuming that I will have to get used to a new normal going forward, and that makes me sad. I haven't felt the need to mourn the loss of my breasts or my hair, but I used to be someone with no chronic health issues, save for the occasional ache or pain associated with getting older. Now, I think that phase of my life has ended. Chemotherapy will leave an indelible mark on me, sort of like a tattoo, but one that only I will know is there.

Speaking of tattoos, I was watching LA Ink on Netflix before it was yanked off the Web site without warning. I've noticed that tends to happen. One thing that would improve the service would be to warn subscribers how long the content is available for. That way, chemo patients like myself can budget how much time we need to devote to binge-watching before our chosen programs up and disappear. Believe it or not, it's important, especially for someone like me. When your livelihood is compromised by cancer treatments, you need to find other ways to occupy your time. Netflix has been a godsend. In other circumstances, it would be a gross dereliction of duty to spend so much time watching old TV series, (notice how I didn't refer to it as "procrastination"), but right now, I've got nothing but time on my hands.

Back to the tattoos. While watching LA Ink, I noticed that many people get tattooed to commemorate survival of a cancer diagnosis. I've toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo for a long time, and I came really close to taking the plunge about 4 years ago when I was living in Toronto, but for various reasons, I never pulled the trigger. Now, I'm thinking seriously about it again because, as I said, I am a different person, both physically and emotionally.

The question is, what sort of tattoo do I want to get to commemorate my own journey? It will for sure not be a pink ribbon or anything to signify any awareness of breast cancer. I've been thinking about a symbol of transformation like a butterfly or a moth, or maybe something more spiritual like a Ganesha, the Hindu god of success, pictured above. I haven't quite worked out the details, but I'm certain I'll have plenty of time to think about it.

I've written this while undergoing treatment, and right now, I feel like I've had one too many during happy hour. It's not the poison, but the antihistamine I'm being given to prevent an allergic reaction to it. The one thing you always have to remember during chemotherapy is that it might be killing you, but it makes you sleep like a baby; at least for a few hours.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 5

My tango with the Red Death has ended, and now I've moved on to Taxol, which is supposed to be a chemotherapy drug that is better tolerated than what I received during my first four treatments. It still comes with some interesting side effects, which might include tingling and numbness in my fingers and toes, along with fatigue, which I was told won't be as bad as what I've experienced, and the possibility of a rash or other type of allergic reaction. I'm not exactly jumping for joy, but if the next 12 weeks will be easier than the past 8, I will be profoundly grateful. In the mean time, we shall see. 

I've noticed over the past week or so that my chemo brain has gotten more noticeable; I feel like I have to concentrate very hard on doing things I normally take for granted. I don't feel 100 percent confident while driving, and I'm forgetting things. Moreover, I'm officially done with working for the time being, because chemo brain and writing for money don't mix. It doesn't mix well with reading, either, which is even more annoying because fall is the time when all the good fiction comes out. For now, I'm stuck with bad reality TV and a few quality shows. Could be worse; could be raining (Young Frankenstein fans should be laughing out loud or at least giggling at that one). 

The first phase of this treatment is a cocktail of a steroid I was taking in pill form, Zantac, which is an over-the-counter antacid, and Benadryl, an antihistamine. As I am attempting to write this while Taxol drips into my body, I feel slightly hung over, and in need of a nap. I still marvel at the drugs used to help offset the poison. Common over-the-counter medicine cabinet staples are ubiquitous in the world of oncology, and it's starting to remind me of new-age-y chefs and their quest to find ways to incorporate mundane ingredients to create new and exciting dishes. Chef David Chang comes to mind; he's on a never-ending journey to re-invent ramen noodles. If only a big bowl of ramen could cure what ails me...Yes, I am that into food, in case you're wondering why it keeps coming up in my posts. I have had some pretty hardcore cravings since starting chemotherapy. There might be a post to be written about all that. Stay tuned...

Pinktober is progressing, and it seems people are beginning to unpack the whole "awareness" message for what it really is. Social media is certainly helping on that front, with many articles written about the reality of where the money goes when we buy pink ribbon products, and donate to breast cancer charities. Two articles that come to mind are one about the ridiculously paltry amount of money that actually goes to research and education from the NFL's "A Crucial Catch" campaign, and the most outrageous one to date, The Susan G. Komen Foundation's "Doing Our Bit For the Cure" partnership with Baker Hughes, which is an oil drilling outfit that commissioned pink drill bits used for fracking. Many people thought the drill bit campaign was a hoax, but it does exist, much to the amazement of anyone with a brain. Fracking has serious environmental consequences that put many people in danger, and you'd be an idiot not to believe that environmental factors don't contribute to the occurrence of breast and other cancers. Why would a high-profile charitable organization like Susan G. Komen choose to partner with a company to pinkwash, of all things, drill bits? Ponderous, man...freakin' ponderous.

I'll leave you with this bit of advice: Think long and hard, and do your homework before you decide to donate to a breast cancer charity. I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but cancer is serious business. It makes many people rich, while it makes many more sick, and ultimately takes the lives of many more who succumb to it.

Somewhere along the way, we have forsaken what finding a cure really means. It's not about getting rich off good intentions; it's about helping people get through the challenge of dealing with an often fatal disease. Yes, science is finding ways to keep us alive, but there are still too many people whose bodies do not allow them to conquer the evil cells that can be relentless. No one should profit from the suffering of so many, and breast cancer should not be a capitalistic tool to churn profits for corporations throwing pink paint on anything and everything. I never thought I'd say this, but many charitable organizations are becoming as smarmy as used car lots and televangelist preachers who prey on vulnerable people who think God will help them if they open up their wallets.We need to re-engage with reality and be smart about how and where we choose to be charitable.


Friday, October 3, 2014


Since 1985, October has been Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was established by the American Cancer Society and a now defunct pharmaceutical company that was absorbed by drug behemoth, AstraZeneca (thanks, Wikipedia). The "awareness" portion of the message has morphed into a marketing juggernaut, with so many pink ribbon products and charitable events claiming to donate money to breast cancer research, that critics have dubbed the month "Pinktober", and refer to the countless marketing campaigns as "pinkwashing". To use a popular euphemism, you can't swing a dead cat without seeing pink this month. I wish no harm, of course, to cats or any animals.

In years past, I did my share of pinking. I wore ribbons, I bought products, and I donated to charities. It felt like the right thing to do. Now that I am actually a victim of breast cancer, my attitude has changed. This is a familiar tune, because last week I wrote about how Joan Lunden's People cover attempted to make breast cancer seem like it's all about going bald. Turns out, the same holds true for all that pink stuff out there. A very small percentage of all the money spent on pink ribbon products, and raised by charities, goes to actual research and education. Moreover, many of the most high-profile marketing campaigns send the wrong message: Women are practically clubbed over their heads and lead to mammography machines by these campaigns, without any focus on what causes breast cancer, or what improvements can be made to current treatments. While it is true that regular screening is important in many cases, it is the misguided message of prevention that gets the most attention, not adequate medical care, or the mysteries of the disease science isn't anywhere near close to cracking.

Joan Lunden's diagnosis has had a polarizing effect on Pinktober. On October 2, the Huffington Post published a blog by a woman living with metastatic breast cancer who was recruited by NBC to appear on the Today show to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The one requirement was that she had to be bald, as this seems to now be the universal signifier of breast cancer. The producers of the show were looking for women rendered bald by chemotherapy to gather on the set in pink solidarity.

The author was told that she couldn't appear because the current photo she sent in showed her with short hair, not with a perfectly smooth bald dome, a la Joan, who has become the poster child for women in "warrior mode" fighting the disease. She and others wrote outraged e-mails to NBC, telling the clueless producers that not everyone loses their hair during cancer treatments. In fact, many of the drugs used to treat metastatic cancer do not cause any hair loss, something the knob-heads over at NBC didn't even think about. Like I said last week, this is all about appearances, not the reality of living with cancer and what the treatments actually do to you physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. In the end, NBC relented and allowed women who were not perfectly bald to appear in the segment. But, the damage has been done.

Charity is supposed to be a virtue. To help is a mitzvah, or a good deed. I still believe in good deeds, but I don't believe in buying yogurt, shoes, cosmetics, ribbons, and pins in the name of charity. Nor do I believe in putting a happy face on something as horrific as cancer. Like the woman who wrote the blog said, you might not want a side of metastatic cancer to go with your morning coffee, but we don't want to romanticize breast cancer by showing images of plucky bald women swathed in pink to make it seem like it's an invitation to a debutante ball. Our outrage about pinkwashing is just the beginning. We need truth and action. Thirty years of awareness has run its course.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 4

Well, I've reached the final dance with the "Red Death" and will move on to the drug Taxol in two weeks. There will be 12 weekly treatments of that to look forward to.

I've been told repeatedly that the road will get a lot smoother from here, but I've got a healthy amount of skepticism about that, considering that my overall health and well-being has gotten progressively worse over the past six weeks. It will be a pleasant surprise to not feel completely debilitated and sick, so I will do my best to maintain a positive outlook going forward.

What I want to discuss in this post is the proliferation of breast and other cancer tales told by celebrities and the pertinent details that are left out of those stories. The latest tale is being told by Joan Lunden, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, which is the kind that is not driven by hormones (I have the hormonal kind). Lunden's form of cancer can be quite aggressive, and she is likely undergoing a treatment protocol that is equally as aggressive - as you can see by the image of the People magazine cover I've posted. She has, of course, decided to go public with her battle, and like other celebrities, she is doing so with a smile on her face, a perfectly airbrushed bald pate, and flawless makeup. There was a time in my life when something like this would not have bothered me, and I would have thought, "Good for Joan; she's fighting the good fight." Now that I am going through something similar, my attitude has changed.

Having cancer is not pretty. It is downright ugly both inside and out. Celebrities, public figures and even health care professionals try to dress it up and make it more palatable, but the reality is, it's profoundly awful. No amount of technology or cosmetics can hide the fact that if you have cancer, and are undergoing treatment, it sucks to be you. Being bald and not having breasts is the least of it; the obvious signs of the disease pale in comparison to what the treatment does to you in the effort to eradicate it.

Instead of reading about hair loss making her feel "less feminine, pretty, or desirable," I want to know what's going on beyond the superficial side effects. What I've learned since embarking on my own cancer journey is that what happens in addition to hair loss is what really tests your mettle. When those side effects present, you want to know that you're not the only one having such an horrific experience. For example, how tired is Joan? Is she able to get out of bed for extended periods of time after her treatments? What does her food taste like? How is she coping with chemo brain? Does she have any gastrointestinal distress that makes it impossible to be more than ten feet from the bathroom?  Does said gastrointestinal distress make her sob on the toilet on occasion? I don't see Joan, or any other famous person addressing any of these, or similar questions.

What bothers me is that as long as it looks good, the ugly stuff can be swept under the carpet. We need to pick up the carpets and talk about the stuff lying underneath them; the vast majority of us don't land on magazine covers where the world can read about our warm and fuzzy warrior tales. Mere mortals like myself are the ones who can't get out of bed for too long and sit sobbing on the toilet because our stomachs are killing us. Maybe if a celebrity told it like it is, we wouldn't feel so bad about going through all this. Instead, we feel bad because our heads aren't perfectly bald, our skin isn't flawless, and we don't really feel like warriors. We feel like shit.

I have three more months of chemotherapy to get through, followed by six weeks of radiation after that. With four treatments already under my belt, the journey is a bit less daunting, but the road ahead is still a long one. I wish Joan Lunden well, as I do other people who are dealing with this disease. I also hope that I will read more of the "real" stories people have to tell, rather than ones that are made up of fluff and feathers. Let's try to keep it real; the realer it is, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the more we can do to remove the scourge of cancer from our lives.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chemo Brain and the Nose That Took Over the World

If you've been reading this blog faithfully, you've seen me mention the term "chemo brain" on occasion. The best way to describe the feeling is a general state of befuddlement, coupled with a sense that you aren't quite sure where you are, or why you are for that matter. It's not a pleasant state to be in. Moreover, for someone who earns a living as a writer, it can be downright prohibitive. No one really expects anyone undergoing chemotherapy to be able to work, but writing is not always working; taking away a person's ability to string words into coherent sentences can be tantamount to taking away one's ability to breathe. 

Speaking of breathing, there is one rather pernicious side effect to the "dark days" of chemo: your sense of smell goes absolutely haywire. This too can be hell on the psyche, mostly because anything and everything smells terrible.

Like many other experiences I've been having since my cancer diagnosis, I find the smell issue to be rather ironic. In a former life, I had quite an extensive perfume collection accumulated over many years, which was unethically disposed of by someone who did not appreciate the art of a fine scent. I've harbored a slew of bad feelings over that event, and having to endure everything smelling like a cess pool at high noon has regurgitated them in a most unpleasant way. When you must lie in a dark room with the door closed in order to avoid even the most innocuous of odors assaulting your poisoned senses, your thoughts take over, and you can't avoid wishing that the world looked and smelled a little rosier. If the smell of fruit-scented hand soap, freshly brewed coffee, and even freshly laundered clothing makes you retch, life is most certainly at a low point.

My chemo brain, my altered sense of smell, and the rest of me are not happy campers these days. Try as I might to find humor in all this, I wonder if I will ever see a time when cancer treatments will not involve vile chemicals that reduce one's physical and emotional states to rubble. Or even better: let's figure out how to prevent or maybe even cure this insidious disease.

What I'm learning is that the outward side effects of chemotherapy are really the ones that are the easiest to digest (pun intended). I can deal with being bald and pasty, but I can't deal with a malfunctioning brain and everything smelling like shit.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 3

Here I am for my third chemotherapy treatment; round three of the "Red Death". Yesterday, after getting my blood work done, a physician's assistant told me that if I was hoping my profound fatigue and other side effects were going to improve, I would be sorely disappointed. I normally appreciate it when people don't bullshit me, but if there is anything I wish I could stick my head in the sand about, it's this ordeal. Instead of noxious chemicals dripping into my bloodstream, I'd much prefer something along the lines of a rich Cabernet and a liquified Porterhouse steak. Then, the only side effects would be a bit of indigestion. But I'd feel damn good; of that I am sure.

What's interesting about today's treatment is that it is taking place on September 11. All day, I've been thinking about what I was doing on that day, as well as where my life has taken me in the 13 years since. Not once during that time did I ever think I'd be diagnosed with cancer (really, who thinks that?), but I watched other people suffer with the disease, and a few lose the fight. On September 11, 2001, many people lost their lives, and I can't help but think about how their lives would have gone had they not been on those planes and in those buildings on that fateful day.

Going forward, I am desperately trying to stay positive despite what's been going on in my life for the past few months. As I said in my last post, many friends have gotten together to help me through this, sending me hats and other things, and offering loving words of support and encouragement. Without them, this would be much, much harder than its been.

I'm finding it hard to string together many words today. I keep wondering whether it's ironic or apropos that I am undergoing chemotherapy on this day, since it is one of somber reflection and remembrance. I hope that one day, I will look back on this experience and be glad that I went through it, but my mind will always come back to this date and never forget what happened in 2001, and where I was on that day, and on the same date in 2014.


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Beanie Brigade

In three days I will undergo my third chemotherapy treatment. My time since the last treatment has been spent trying to come to terms with the fact that there have been more bad days than good, and that this scenario will likely continue.

Two days following the last chemo I decided to do away with my swiftly disappearing hair. I can't think of anything more disconcerting than watching your hair fall out rapidly and in abundance. I know there are men out there who understand what that's like, but that type of baldness is a progression, not an instantaneous event like what happens when your hair follicles decide to revolt en masse as a response to poisonous agents coursing through your body. To say it was disconcerting is an understatement; watching your skin melt off your body is the only worse thing I can think of.

So in response, I decided to do the cut/buzz: My remaining hair was chopped off, and the rest buzzed down to fuzz until the chemicals decide to eradicate it entirely.

As a knee-jerk reaction, I went to the Web site of my favorite department store and created a wish list of knit beanie hats that I wanted to purchase to cover my bald (not to mention freezing) head. I have many Facebook friends who are into fashion, accessories, perfume and the like, so I made the list public and shared it on my page.

What happened next came as a complete shock to me: a group of friends decided to purchase most of the hats on the list. In addition, one other friend sent me a selection of hats, a scarf and other goodies just because. I was awestruck by the outpouring of love and generosity these friends displayed; some of whom only know me online, or met me only briefly in real life. The day all the hats arrived was one of the good ones, and I will remember it always. In my former life, I would have been the beanie-buyer; now, I am the beanie recipient. It is an interesting role to fill, and from a spiritual perspective, it makes me feel grateful, and well-loved.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I've been knocked around a bit by people I thought loved me and cared about me. I used to call those people "family". Now, my "Beanie Brigade" is my family, because they joined forces from all over the country to lift my spirits and make me feel better. Going forward, my poisoned hair follicles will be fashionably covered in love, and some very snazzy hats.

My love and thanks to all of you.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 2

Today is my second chemotherapy treatment, where I am getting the drugs adriamycin and cytoxan. During the week between treatments, I had to have an iron infusion because I was anemic. The combination of the chemotherapy drugs and the iron left me profoundly fatigued and questioning the need for all this fuss. After all, the PET scan I was given before the treatment started showed that there was no cancer left in my body. But the oncologist was very emphatic about making sure there was nothing left that could potentially turn into more nasty cancer cells. So, I must endure 14 more of these treatments.

I've noticed a distinct chemo "culture" in the short time I've been receiving treatment. In each chair in the long, expansive room I spoke of last time, there is a story. Each person sitting in that chair is receiving treatment for some form of cancer, or possibly for a condition related to cancer. Many people brave the treatment by themselves; others bring friends and family members along for support. The room is like a giant Starbucks, with the nurses in the role of baristas, administering poisonous cocktails of medications to resigned patients. It's too bad a caramel macchiato or a soy vanilla latte can't cure what ails you; it would be a hell of a lot more enjoyable if coffee cured cancer, rather than the vile substances that make you feel like a half-dead slug. And that's on a good day.

Today, there is a woman sitting across from me who brought two friends with her. They are knitting, discussing literature, cooking, and a variety of other topics. Their conversation has been innocuous, and not in the least disruptive. I, on the other hand, brought my trusty laptop, but the hospital's WiFi service leaves much to be desired. I am managing to get a few words down, but streaming U.S. Open tennis matches is out of the question. Wireless Internet is a courtesy; the treatment I am getting will supposedly save my life. I keep repeating that to myself as I try to keep my brain functioning through all this.

Speaking of my brain, the case protecting it, otherwise known as my head, will soon be devoid of hair. As if on cue, clumps of it began falling out yesterday. Pretty soon, I will be bald, like so many other people I have seen. No wigs for me; many hats are in my future.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Could This Happen?

I am one week removed from my first chemotherapy session, and the title to this post is something I asked myself on a few occasions during that time. I don't lament in the "why me?" sense, but more in the I-don't-have-a-genetic-predisposition-for-breast-cancer-so-how-could-this-happen? sense. Also, the line reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of The Sopranos. 

Logic tells me that nobody can provide a cogent answer to why I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but my sometimes irrational head wants to know what forces combined to create cancer cells in my body, and what I could have have done to prevent their formation. Were they caused by stress, lifestyle choices, bad decisions, geography? I'll never know. What I do know is that I have an image in my head of James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano sitting at the hospital bedside of his nephew Christoper after a couple of his imbecilic Paisans decided to use him for target practice, muttering, "How could this happen?" Viewers of the show know full well how it happened, but Tony, in his blind disregard for the lifestyle he leads, can't seem to figure it out.

When you submit yourself to chemotherapy, your choice of activities during treatment becomes somewhat limited. Thankfully, in this age of technology, I have access to countless television shows I can stream on my laptop while lying in bed. One of those shows is The Sopranos. I've seen every episode in the series numerous times, to the point where lines like the one I've quoted come to mind when certain situations crop up in my life. This wasn't the first time, and it sure as hell won't be the last.

Even if you're not undergoing chemotherapy, The Sopranos is always worth another look; especially if you've already binge-watched everything on Netflix and are experiencing withdrawal. The episode I'm talking about is "Full Leather Jacket", the eighth episode in the second season.


Friday, August 15, 2014

The Sad Reality, One Year Later*

 *I originally published this essay on May 15, 2013 on another blog I write. Little did I know that one year later, I would be in the same position.

Over the past few days, the Internet has been abuzz with Angelina Jolie's revelation that she had a preventative double mastectomy because she was at an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, Ms. Jolie, according to sources, is planning on having her ovaries removed, because she is also at high-risk for developing ovarian cancer, the disease that her mother succumbed to at age 56. I commend Ms. Jolie for her proactive choices, particularly because she is a mother of six, but also because she made informed choices based on genetic testing. While we can never be sure of our fates, it is sometimes a good idea to not tempt that very fate by doing nothing.

Conversely, what Ms. Jolie has done is not an option for the vast majority of women. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing she underwent costs more than $3,000, according to her New York Times op-ed essay. She did not mention whether or not the tests were covered by insurance, instead stating that those tests are an "obstacle" for many women in the United States. That obstacle is what I want to talk about.

Ms. Jolie has evolved since entering the public eye in the mid-90s. At first, she was the quintessential "wild child," but has since become a United Nations ambassador, and a dedicated humanitarian, who advocates for the populations of underdeveloped countries. She has adopted children from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. She has given birth to three biological children. She is an Oscar-winning actress, and an accomplished director. Oh, and let's not forget about Brad Pitt. But, what has she done to advocate for American women?

At first, you would think that American women do not need help from the likes of Angelina Jolie. But, the sad reality is, we do indeed. The United States might be the leader of the industrialized world, but we are sorely lacking when it comes to taking care of our health. While the women in the countries Ms. Jolie fights for have much less than we do, we are still woefully ill-informed, and dangerously unprotected when it comes to managing our health. That is something someone with a high profile needs to do something about.

It is very easy for celebrities, and people who are financially secure, to tell their stories about genetic testing, preventative mastectomies, and other procedures that will potentially save their lives. But, the sad reality is that the majority of the population in the United States does not have access to the same choices as the wealthy and influential. Why? Because those choices are not covered by your average health insurance policy. If a nondescript American woman in Ms. Jolie's position (a woman in her late 30s, married with children, and a history of breast and ovarian cancers in her family) wanted to make those same choices, you can bet that those choices would involve much greater financial hardship and sacrifice. It's all well and good to talk about it, but who is stepping up to the plate to do something about it? Yes, women in places like Haiti, Guatemala, Tanzania, and other parts of the world need help, but the sad reality is, so do women here in the world's richest nation.

It is very easy for me to sit here banging out blog entries to bring attention to this dilemma. But, the sad reality is, my influence does not stretch beyond a very small corner of the Internet. Someone like Angelina Jolie has a global voice; when she speaks, people pay attention. The same goes for other women who use their celebrity in ways that help people all over the world. Here in America, that help is forsaken, because it is assumed that we don't need it.

Here is what I would like to see happen: I would like Ms. Jolie, when she is fully recuperated from her surgeries, embark on a campaign to stop the healthcare insanity in this country. Someone needs to snap Congress out of its bipartisan bullshit behavior, as well as stop the insurance behemoths from denying coverage to women for the important procedures they need access to in order to protect their health. That is a monumental, almost insurmountable task, but it at least needs to be attempted. This country needs to learn to take care of its own, instead of indulging in rampant paranoia about having its rights compromised by the likes of "Obamacare." We need to stop paying astronomical insurance premiums for shitty coverage, and find some way to provide healthcare for each and every person in this country. Obamacare is imperfect; that is a given. So are the government healthcare plans in many other countries. But, the difference is, EVERYONE HAS ACCESS TO THEM. You don't have to live in fear of losing your insurance along with your job. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that is a great feeling. Unfortunately, that is something we know nothing of here in the U.S.

Since I returned to the U.S. from Canada, I have no health insurance. I have no access to the care I need, as a 46 year-old woman, to protect myself the way Angelina Jolie has done. As a freelance writer, I cannot afford to get a mammogram, let alone pay a visit to a general practitioner. Yes, as a Canadian citizen, I can still cross the border back into Canada to access healthcare, but why should I have to? Why should I have to leave the greatest country on earth to seek healthcare someplace else? Why should anyone? Why should it not be available to each and every person in this country? It's great that I am asking these questions, but really, who is listening to me?

There is much that needs fixing here in the U.S. and the healthcare system is one of the major broken cogs in American life. Hillary Clinton tried to fix it 20 years ago; Barack Obama is attempting to once again. Instead of working something out that will benefit everyone, politicians are crying Armageddon, while insurance companies are running scared, thinking that their multi-billion dollar policy scams might dwindle away to nothing. Pharmaceutical companies are terrified because they might not be able to charge $50 a pill for some of their best-selling drugs. Oh, the humanity. Yes, humanity is suffering because of all this.

I just re-read what I've written and noticed that I used the phrase "sad reality" a number of times. I thought about editing a few out, but I realized that from a health perspective, our reality is very sad. And that speaks volumes about what life in this country is really like. We might appear to be a shining city on a hill, but when you peel back the facade, most of us are really suffering. Some of us are even dying because we lack the wherewithal and the means to gain access to the lifesaving options people like Angelina Jolie have access to. We don't want to just hear about them; we want to use them as well.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chemotherapy Leg Part 1

I am sitting in a very comfortable Naugahyde lounger in the hospital's medical oncology department. My nurse is about to begin "pushing" the first round of chemotherapy drugs into my system. Two jumbo syringes full of a cherry Kool Aid red-colored liquid will soon be coursing through my body, helping to eradicate any microscopic specs of cancer that might still be hiding. Then, it's on to a large intravenous bag of clear liquid that will take about half an hour to drip through the line.

It's fortunate that I am a freelance writer because chemotherapy and all the subsequent visits to the hospital are almost a full-time job. Having a bilateral mastectomy was quick work compared to everything that comes after. This is only my first treatment, so I'm thinking this will all be routine before too long.

It is hard to concentrate on writing about the experience; there is so much I want to say, but words are failing me. I'm too busy trying to eavesdrop on other patients in my immediate vicinity in this expansive room. Talk of alternative treatments and side effects; nurses bustling to and fro; family members wandering around looking both bored and shellshocked. It's a lot for the brain to take in, especially since I've never been here before.

My treatment is almost complete. I will remember the perfume one of the nurses has on, and likely associate its aroma with this experience going forward. The kind, concerned faces and their interest in my welfare are a comfort, as is knowing that I'm doing what is best for my health. It might not be pretty at the moment, but it will benefit me in the long run.

Coming up: How did I get here, and answers to other pressing questions. I am currently dealing with some mild fatigue and queasiness as time passes.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Medias Res

Starting at the beginning is not always appropriate. When I went back to school, I was taught the term in medias res, which is Latin for "in the midst of things." Many authors are fond of starting their novels this way, and I think it's best to start off my blog in this manner, too.

My breast cancer diagnosis came during what is deemed "middle age." None of us knows exactly how long we are going to live, but the term generally refers to a person in his or her late 40s. It officially came one month and five days after my 47th birthday.

In the description of this blog, I described my breast cancer as a "journey." Where that journey will end is just as baffling as trying to figure out what age I will be when I die. What is certain is that I am a writer, and as a writer I am compelled to write about it, regardless of the outcome.

I hope you will accompany me on my journey. Like I said, it will be a different one, devoid of pink ribbons and the usual metaphors that correlate breast cancer with epic battles. Some journeys can be fraught with danger; others can be nothing but clear skies and calm waters. I don't know what kind of journey this is yet, but I know where I've come from.