Friday, July 23, 2010

Kelly Corrigan, My New Breast Cancer Mentor

I am now reading a wonderful book by Kelly Corrigan called The Middle Place that more than one of you sent me. It is a heartfelt memoir of her breast cancer diagnosis/treatment journey and I couldn't let another day go by without writing about it and HIGHLY recommending it to all of you that have or had breast cancer or know someone who does/did. I feel as if am connecting with her on a very deep level as I read her very personal account of what she went through and how she handled it with such grace, humor, and the occasional meltdown supported by her wonderful husband, friends and family. I had read a brief synopsis of her story in O Magazine but this book took me so much deeper into her world.

Kelly has taken it a step further with a website called the Circus of Cancer where she posts videos, pictures, tips for how to help your friend with breast cancer. And it is this last piece I feel most compelled to write about today.

I think Kelly must know you all.

She somehow saw that you all flooded my inbox and mailbox with cards, letter, emails, phone calls, texts.

She must have listened in on our phone calls as you asked about David and called him too knowing he was going through this right along with me.

She has to have watched as you sent me referrals of doctors, survivors, websites, books, resources, connected me with college buddies who are now breast surgeons or functional medicine MDs and were there to answer my every question any time I needed another opinion.

She certainly laughed along with me as you sent St. Peregrine medals and lucky charm necklaces right off your own necks, funny old photographs, gifts of your own handmade art including sculptures with hopeful words on it like Success, Abundance, Love, and Hope, a cute stuffed dragon names "Scorch", a pink ipod shuffle loaded with the King Singers, a whole set of silver and pink jewelry and a giant box of pink stuff - bags, notebooks, journals, pens, toothbrushes, pink linen tops that buttoned down the front, soft t-shirts, pashminas, pretty slippers, aviator sunglasses with pink rims .... all with funny post it notes about what each item was for including a pink ring that said "you may want to wear this on your middle finger." The picture of me above is me in the hospital waiting room with my sister Cindy between procedures wearing or holding as much of it as I could.

She was there as you offered help of all sorts - from making dinner to celebrating the small victories with champagne to taking in our mail or watching our dog when we were in Boston, to weeding our garden, doing laundry and cleaning up when I couldn't lift things after surgery, tips on what to eat/not eat, sharing your own stories or simply just listening to me without ever once forcing a cancer conversation or pushing advice.

And she must have felt it when you visited me, hugged me, sent me positive energy, let me know you were with me every step of the way.

So thanks for channeling Kelly Corrigan and doing all the things you're supposed to do when your friend has cancer.

I get "mapped" on Monday with tiny tattoos to guide the beams and radiation begins the following week at St Peter's hospital in Albany NY. They say I might be a little tired like after an all day visit to a beach but I am not scared of this part of the treatment at all. It will be inconvenient for trips to the city for work but is coming at a time when things are slower there anyway as clients and colleagues take much deserved vacations.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I'm all clear!

Bottle of champagne
My re-excision pathology came in all clear, as expected! Dr Troyan called the minute it came in with the good news. Now that's a great surgeon! One of my survivor friends called her the cadillac of breast cancer surgeons and I totally agree. She invokes confidence that she knows exactly what she's doing, she gives you as much time as you need when you meet with her, and has a bedside manner and rapport that makes you forget you are not her only patient. I see her for my post op visit on Monday and hopefully this will be our last visit. It was not a surprise to me as my gut tells me I'm cancer free but it is nice to have scientific proof.

I'm feeling great and barely remember I even had surgery. We had friends over this weekend to celebrate with a little bubbly, a great BBQ, and did a little retail therapy at Macy's where there was an amazing annual sale going on. Of course most of the things I bought weren't off the sale rack but I did balance them out a little with a few real bargains. Other friends came by with a freshly baked batch of local blueberry muffins and hugs.

Now all that is left for me is the 6 weeks of radiation and a five year regiment of tamoxifen. I've met with Dr. Gasson at St. Peter's just two days after my reexcision and am scheduled to be mapped on July 26th and start the preventative daily treatment on August 2nd.

I have been fortunate to be connected with several breast cancer survivors this week who also had their treatment in Albany - one who went to my very same radiology oncologist and loved him. They were glad to hear that I am keeping the power over what is done to me and researching options over and above what the MDs are telling me is best. One of the women found a place in Schenectady that does IGRT - a technique that preserves healthy surrounding organs more than the traditional method. I am looking into this and will let you know what I discover. For now though, I am happy with where I've landed and ready to complete the final treatment steps to keep cancer at bay.

I am also exploring Traditional Chinese Medicine to assist with whatever side effects might befall me. This I would have done anyway as I am nearing that age where you don't need Radiation or Tamoxifen to get hot flashes.

I've gotten lots of suggestions for books to read about breast cancer (Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book) and how others have dealt with it gracefully (Kelly Corrigan's The Middle Place) which are now sitting by my bedside but the one I'm devouring right now is the old favorite The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup. There are so many wonderful tips in it for foods to eat/not eat, herbal options including Chinese medicine for easing the symptoms and maximizing the power of the rewiring that is happening inside our bodies at this time. We are all scared of this menopause thing but Dr. Northrup maintains that this is a healing time when women stop thinking about others and can finally focus on themselves ... in a real brain-to-organ physical way. Unresolved issues may manifest themselves in maladies (like breast cancer) but in the healing of the disease we have a chance to heal the underlying issue.

For me one issue that has resolved itself through this process is my unhealthy fear of hospitals. When I was 2 years old I was hit by a car when sledding at a relatives house and spent two weeks recovering in a hospital. My mother was in another hospital in another city having my sister Karen so the trauma of being in a hospital over night alone was compounded by not being able to see my mother during the day. The result was that walking into a hospital ever since has spiked my blood pressure and anxiety levels.

Now my sister is calling Brigham and Women's "my hospital" and my husband is telling me what a good patient I am. I don't need to hold anyone's hand or have an entourage go with me for my doctor's visits. I write down all of my questions ahead of time and get what I need to out of each visit. I find out just what I need to about procedures that will be done yet I know when I've had enough and don't need to hear the gory details. I even chose to have this last surgery done with a local anesthesia and would do it again.

I hope that my story can help others deal with their diagnoses. Each of us handles this stuff differently and there's no one way to do it. But knowing others have come out the other side in tact and that there are options can help ease the anxiety. We have the power to heal ourselves, I truly believe that and it's more than just the healing of the medical challenge. One of my wise friends on learning of my journey said "you know a new level of courage and joy these days, don't you?!" She is so right!! Menopause? Bring it on!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Emerging on the other side of breast cancer

My "second carving" is over and was a piece of cake. I showed up at 6am at Brigham and Women's hospital yesterday for my 7:30am surgery, was headed home by 11:30am and climbed into my own bed back in Ghent at 3pm. I was as calm as could be, especially after the versed and other goodies they put in that IV. The pink hospital slippers, pictured here, from my friend Kathy McSweeney Kelly cheered me up as I recovered. Much better than those boring old brown ones they gave me at the hospital!

Today I am feeling like I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and ready to get back to work - emotionally anyway! I was going to take the week off but instead am working from home taking full advantage of technology like instant messaging, conference calls, blackberry to reintegrate into my job while letting the stitches fully heal.

My surgeon, Dr. Troyan from Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said that things went as planned, she got what she needed. She'll call when the pathology results are in to scientifically confirm it was enough clear margin to move on but basically she gave me the "all clear." This was considered minor surgery so they were able to use local anesthetic plus IV sedation leaving me fog free within a few hours instead of a few days.

I summoned all of your good wishes and positive thoughts to keep me calm despite the difficulty they had in finding a viable vein to use for the IV and the strangeness of feeling aware - and actually talking to them - as they wheeled me in and out of that operating room. At some point I must have gone out because I heard them asking me if I had a nice nap and a lot more time had passed than I thought.

It feels great to be on the other side of breast cancer. Radiation and tamoxifen are next but those are simply to guard against future cancers. Today, for the first time, I feel truly able to celebrate my cancer free status without caveat. I didn't realize how heavily the second surgery was weighing me down until it was over yesterday.

David and I will be married four years on August 11th and planning a semi-local romantic adventure to celebrate. We feel very blessed, are appreciating every moment on this earth just a little bit more and finding it easier to be fully present in each and every one of them.