Friday, December 19, 2008

Free Food--the beauty of receiving.......

In joking with my friends, I tell them I like to go to various events and meetings and even parties because of the free food. And, I do love the free food...but, this isn't really the whole story. One of the perks of being a cancer survivor is the many organizations that offer services and support, as well as the free food. And I am fortunate enough to have found very good support throughout the course of my cancer treatment both pre and post care. So, the support group that I attend through the CEW was having it's annual holiday luncheon and we were invited. You know, for some reason, I didn't understand the entire scope of the organization until the luncheon, so when I walked into the Waldorf Astoria, I was blown away. Yes, I said the Waldorf Astoria!

The CEW Foundation 2008 Beauty of Giving Luncheon - benefits it's program Cancer and Careers . They support employees with cancer and the people who support them-companies, coworkers, caregivers. They do this through community outreach programming, the Elizabeth Jerrett support group for cancer survivors and interactive online career coaching for employees with cancer. CEW also funds their Managing Through Cancer Pioneers program which helps employers face the challenge of cancer in the work place. This year's major sponsor was Self magazine; the event honored the Estee Lauder companies. There were of course many other sponsors too numerous to mention on this blog, but if you click on the link to the luncheon you will see them all mentioned.

There were well over sixty tables seating ten people each. It was beautifully decorated. Everyone looked great. The speeches were short and to the point, yet very well done. Get away vacations seemed to be the theme for the live auction, which was a hoot to watch in action. Finally, the video promoting the organization--on huge screens in the four corners of the room. http://www.rawdigital.tv/downloads/cew/cew12508.mov. And now we are all stars! Much more important than the free food, don't you think!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The C Word 5

On Thursday November 20, 2008, I had the good fortune to attend The C Word 5, an annual event at the Center sponsored by the Lesbian Cancer Initiative, sub titled "Coming together Around Cancer". This was the second time I went to this event. This forum is a great opportunity to come together for the purpose of community building and networking.

There was a lovely buffet dinner for us complete with hor d'oeuvres, sandwiches, dessert and beverages with an opportunity to socialize. During the socializing and networking part of the program I was able to visit some of the organizations who provided a table. Besides the Center CARE group and the Lesbian Cancer Initiative, The Cancer Advocacy Project of the City Bar Justice Center, The Creative Center, Creative Healing Plus, God's Love we Deliver, the Research-recruitment and minority outreach project of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, The St. Vincent's Comprehensive Cancer Center, You Can Thrive!/Flatiron Acupuncture and Team Survivor were represented. I got a hat, a key chain, a bag, an umbrella, some pens, some buttons and ribbons, as well as alot of literature about these groups.

Jenny Saldana, a Dominican writer, actor, producer, speaker and breast cancer survivor read from her short stories about breast cancer. Her stories were touching and moving and sometimes funny.

And then, we saw a movie called "A Horse is not a Metaphor", an autobiographical avante garde film about ovarian cancer by feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer. It was brilliant. The music was composed by Merideth Monk. It will be shown in New York in February at MOMA. This film was very moving for me.

The keynote Speaker was Dr. Jenny Romero an oncologist from the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention. She spoke about cancer and what we now know about prevention. She seemed to link many cancers to smoking and drinking. She also answered questions and it was quite interesting.

And what was the cost of this evening of socializing, networking, gathering information, eating and being entertained? Nothing. It was absolutely free to lesbians, bi-sexual women and transgendered people and those who love and care for us. I felt very cared for.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prop 8

If you have a chance, check out the following video on you tube; Keith Olberman gives a compelling reason and Ashton Kutcher gives a compelling response as to why there shouldn't even be a Prop 8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVUecPhQPqY&feature=related

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And, more doctors..................

The Pelvic Sonogram: On August 25th, I had a pelvic sonogram. My decision was based on the ct/pet scan from September of 2007. The ct/pet scan last September was to see if I had any cancer anywhere else in the body besides the right breast. As it turned out, the only other activity was in the left ovary. At that time, my doctor didn’t think this was any big deal because I was pre-menopausal. He figured it was just the follicles at work. But, the doctor didn’t tell me the radiologist recommended a pelvic sonogram and I didn’t get a copy of the report until May of 2008 and didn’t read it until July. So, as this year comes to a close I am trying to dot my “i’s” and cross my “t’s”.

Nothing here in New York is ever easy, though. I think I can just make an appointment and have the sonogram done; but, no. Even though I have a PPO and this report from last year I still need a prescription from my primary care physician. Who knew? This wouldn’t be such a big deal, but I had a ton of water sitting in my bladder when they told me I had to come back another day.

When I came back the following week we only did the trans-abdominal test because neither the technician nor I could get the wand in for the trans-vaginal test. It was frustrating and embarrassing to say the least. But, I now have the name of an internist who I am going to try and make my doctor.

For a really great explanation of the pelvic sonogram process, go to Radiology Info .

The Gynecologist: On September 16, I saw Dr. Shefer (formerly Dr. Shapiro) of the New York Methodist Hospital system. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, sure there were lots of us lined up outside before they opened the door and yeah, the alarm system was being worked on and oh by the way, the computers were down so we all had to wait until they could get the computers up before we could see the doctor because they don’t know the schedule without the computer and for some reason when the computer came up it wouldn’t take the secondary insurance because the codes had changed or something. But, otherwise, it was business as usual, for me-the annual pap exam.

Dr. Shefer, another very good doctor, was able to get the results of the pelvic sonogram and the report came back positive for the most part; there is some thickening in the uterus which is normal for women on tamoxifen. However, I still have not been able to get a report from the gynecologist on how the Pap smear went. The first time I called, the nurse assured me that if there was a problem, the doctor would call. The second time I called they told me they didn’t know how to pull up the report from the computer and I would have to wait for the doctor who is only there Tuesday mornings until noon and won’t be returning until November!

The Plastic Surgeon: I saw Dr. Scheinman for the last time on September 26. We spent about five minutes together, so all goes well in that area. I’ll miss him; he’s a nice guy and I would definitely recommend him. But I am also glad to have one less doctor to see on a regular basis.

The Oncologist: None of the complaints I have regarding the tamoxifen are unusual or worth talking about, I guess. At least that seems to be the conclusion from my conversation with Dr. Reitshel on October 1st. But, I can take a multi-vitamin, drink green tea and take a magnesium pill for my muscle cramps if I want, which is quite a big step for the doctor. She also tells me I should have the internal pelvic sonogram and recommends a doctor. I seem to be one of those patients who is doing quite well. It is going so well, in fact, that my appointment with her was cancelled twice prior to this one. Both Natasha (my very good friend and super health care advocate) and I like Dr. Reitschel allot. So, I try to make the appointments towards the end of the day and then after waiting thirty minutes past the appointed time (which is good for Maimonides) we finally see her. And we laugh and laugh. She’s a very to the point kinda gal—which can be off putting if you don’t have a sense of humor. And, because we are there at the end of the day we can spend lots of time with her. Besides being around the same age and having gone to the same type of Ivy League schools and both from Germanic tribes, she and Natasha seem to have a karmic connection of some type. At one point I feel a little ignored, but I decide to let this go because I am so grateful for both of them in my life.

The Mammogram Follow-up: About two weeks after my mammogram I got one of those scary follow-up notes. This one said I should call my doctor right away to schedule an additional test. Apparently there are new tests. I finally reached Dr. Borgen and he said that two tests were plenty and that I am fine. In the meantime, the radiology department lost all of my films from the 90’s.

The Dentist: Dr. Sarji always sees me when he says he will, never cancels an appointment, doesn’t over charge me and always does a good job. He is in the process of putting in a cap for me.

The Energy Healer: So often people do not hear me when I say things like I feel pain, so I am seeing an energy healer, Philip Marden, just to make sure the cancer is out of my body. Why not.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Not the Doctor, again!

Wednesday I had my first unilateral mammogram! There isn't anything really new here, except that at Maimonides Breast Center they use the new digital imaging mammogram which is supposed to be better somehow. It's still stand, squeeze, ouch, hold your breath, and, hurry up and wait. No getting around that. But the "good" news is that now that I have plastic on the right side, I only have to have a mammogram on the left side. When I asked, "Well, what test do we use to see if cancer returns to the right?"--the technician looked at me with a blank stare and said "Oh we don't do anything."; like duh, it can't return. Not. Well, god willing and the creek don't rise, not. And, I do have faith, but I almost always like to err on the side of caution....

On further conversation, it looks like an MRI will be unavoidable for me in my future. Maybe you like having them, for me, it is the most humiliating of experiences. Naked, on my stomach, my breasts hanging through some kind of template, with my arms over my head, resting on a pad, so that I look like superwoman flying through the air, my face looking at the floor, my body shoved in a cylinder, in a cold room with a loud machine, again having to be very still for what seems like forever while strangers who won't remember my face, let alone my name, chew gum and take pictures! The MRI biopsy was the least fun....but I digress...and really in the scheme of life there are worse things..........

I was only at Maimonides Breast Center for about two and a half hours the other day-and that is very good. Arriving at 9:10 (I am always early it seems) for a 9:30 appointment, I was ushered into the radiology changing room at 10 am. This is one of the ways they make you feel like you are being serviced-move you from room to room! The good part of this, though, is that I got to meet some other women who have had breast cancer and it is interesting listening to their experiences. And then there are the women there for their routine mammograms and I want to assure them that everything will be fine and they are in good hands. There is much anxiety and fear flying in the room, so a little humor goes a long way............

Anyway, after having the mammogram and not finding anything in my very fibrocystic breast, the diagnostic-radiology doctor, Dr. Ilona H. Hertz, decided that being a "high" risk person, I should have a sonogram too. And, so I did--two of them. Why? Because they couldn't find one of the small nodes at the 3:00 position that was in last years sonogram. Well, could it be the chemotherapy that shrunk it? If it did, it probably was cancer, right? And if the node is still there hiding among the fibers, the technician couldn't find it. Well, this is the problem with women who have fibrous breasts. And there are new tests that could be used. But, the doctor tells me tests are just that-tests. They are only tools and tools do not always predict the future. But, apparently she can, and she assures me that she has only ever lost one patient to cancer in the 30 some years she has been doing this.............

Very assuring, indeed..............

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tamoxifen

Interestingly enough, Tamoxifen is a drug that was developed in the sixties as a fertility drug! Today it is primarily used to treat pre and post menopausal women whose cancer was estrogen receptor positive. It is what is known as a SERM-selective estrogen receptor modulator. In very simple terms, it blocks the estrogen in the breast. The thinking behind this is that the breast cancer is caused by an over production of estrogen in the breast and blocking it will keep the cancer cells from growing again. After about five years it loses it's effectiveness.

I must tell you that because of the many side effects--blood clots, vision, liver damage, uterine cancer, stroke to name a few-I was hesitant to try this. It seems from what I've read, there is only a small percentage of effectiveness anyway. But, because I know that I can't do a completely vegan diet nor can I purchase only organic food. I'll do it for two years and then that's it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Day After

The surgery went well yesterday. We arrived at 6 am and discovered we were not the first people there that morning! There were already several people in the waiting room. There must be numerous operations in the naked city!

The doctor was on time; the operation began at 7:30 am; the anesthesiologist was great and I was awake and out of surgery by 9:30. I fell asleep and was in and out of sleep until about 11 am; home by noon. I have to say that I am very pleased with the results so far and think that Dr. Scheinman did an excellent job! The results of this plastic surgery much exceeded my expectations. Except for a little pain and being tired, I'm feeling really good.

I had a great many reservations about plastic surgery going into this. The biggest obstacle for me is having to have a continued relationship with the medical establishment. Don't get me wrong, I like my surgeons and my oncologist a great deal and feel fortunate to have them on my team. But, as we all know, the bureaucracy and inefficiency of our insurance carriers and/or the incompetence or overwork of the hospital billing staffs make part of the experience very exhausting. The whole insurance travesty creates a host of problems for the doctor's offices, as well.

And, because of the implant I will need more MRI's in the future and that will no doubt be expensive and time consuming. My least favorite test is the MRI. Also, if something should go wrong, I will need more surgery and right now I am very tired of surgery and have a genuine concern about how strong my heart will continue to be. But, in talking with other women who have had breast cancer and who did not choose reconstructive surgery, there will always be a continuing presence of doctors and tests in their lives no matter what. There is no hiding any more.

Someone asked me if I was going to continue my blog after this. There are still tales of Tamoxifen and tales of insurance companies and billing departments and nutrition and exercise to be told. And, then there are all my many friends, relatives and neighbors who supported me emotionally, physically and financially throughout this time who still need to be thanked. Because of them, I have continued to live my very charmed life. For that I am truly grateful.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Reconstructive Surgery Set For July 16, 2008

Early Wednesday morning I'm going to the Ambulatory Surgery wing of Maimonides Hospital Center to have the final phase of the reconstructive surgery. There are two basic types of reconstructive breast surgery being done these days. One type is called tram flap surgery and the other type is called implant surgery. Within each category there are several options available. I chose the implant surgery.

I had what they call a "skin sparing, nipple saving" mastectomy. In order to do this, at the time of the mastectomy I needed to decide whether or not I wanted the reconstructive surgery at all. So, even though I was already overwhelmed by the fact of having a mastectomy and tired of all the previous surgeries and the chemotherapy and the imposition cancer and cancer treatment placed on my life, I was faced with yet another decision. As you may recall, I hate making decisions, but I also don't like anyone telling me what to do. What a dilemma!

According to the doctors, most women who elect the plastic surgery are more positive and able to return to their lives and to work more quickly than those who opt out of reconstructive surgery. As Dr. Borgen http://www.maimonidesmed.org/body.cfm?id=1073 my breast surgeon and Dr. Scheinman, my plastic surgeon also explained, reconstructive surgery begun at the time of the mastectomy is a simpler process for both the patient and the surgeon. It requires fewer surgeries than waiting several months or years before deciding on an implant; and, depending on the cancer, the skin and the nipple can be spared.

During the mastectomy surgery, after the breast surgeon removes the the glands and the ducts and the fatty tissue, the plastic surgeon places a "tissue expander" and expands it slightly with a saline solution. A tissue expander looks like a plastic pita bread with a magnet. In the area of the magnet is a small hole to inject more saline slowly over time, several weeks or several months depending on the desired size and patient's temperament, to expand the tissue of the breast skin. Then, the exchange surgery-exchanging the tissue expander for the implant- can be done as an out patient procedure with less anesthesia.

Because it was difficult for me to make a decision and because I am fortunate to live in a country that allows me the opportunity to even have this option, I chose reconstructive surgery rather than having a simple but elegant scar with a tattoo. I chose implant surgery rather than tram flap because it seemed to me it is less invasive, requires less recovery time and can always be removed if something goes wrong.

For more information about reconstructive surgery options, go to http://www.breastcancer.org/ and put in a search for "reconstructive surgery".

Monday, June 9, 2008

Traveling to Vienna for Erin's Graduation


My niece Erin graduated from high school this year. She lives in Vienna, Austria with her family; her mother is my sister, Terry. Over the years I've had the opportunity to attend many family functions with my family in Michigan, including christenings, communions, graduations, holiday and birthday parties and a few weddings, too. Because Europe is a long way to go for a party, I haven't been able to celebrate many milestones with my sister and her family. It'd been in the back of my mind for several years that I wanted to go to Vienna for this. At one time I also thought about bringing my mother and taking her on a side trip to Belgium where she is from. Well, as you know, I got sick; I ended up shortening my plans. Terry had some very generous friends who helped pay for most of my ticket, for which I am very grateful. I would gladly have put it on my credit card and left it at that just to be here, but they made the trip much less stressful for me through their generosity.

In honor of Erin's graduation we attended a sports banquet at her school, the American International School, for which she won MVP for her volleyball team-second year in a row, I understand. Then there was the Senior dinner at the Borse--a catered buffet--with placards and floral arrangements on every table designed by my sister and her friends. My niece created the slide show-a collage of pictures of each graduating senior-that ran throughout the evening. The graduation was the following evening at the Palais Ferstel. Erin gave the keynote speech and won an award. Sunday the festivities culminated in a graduation picnic at the beach where we all played volleyball and ate much good food. A great time was had by all.
Here follows her speech:

Melting pot
Noun.
1. A pot in which metals or other substances are melted or fused.
2. A country, locality, or situation in which a blending of races, peoples or cultures is taking place.

Now, in terms of AIS, I think I am referring to the latter. It has been a surreal experience walking through the halls at AIS. I’d pick up a conversation in Hungarian or overhear two girls excitedly chattering in Korean and then I’d round the corner and see young adults from multiple backgrounds conversing in their united English. I say young adults, because that is who AIS graduates. Young adults pooling their experiences from this international background, ready to face the challenges of this world.

Over the past seven years I have had the privilege to live in a melting pot. Living overseas, we often hear the term, “Third Culture Kid,” and as seven-step-seminar as that sounds, it is ultimately very true that here at AIS we have established a third culture. AIS is the world in miniature, representing at least thirty-four nations in the class of 2008 alone. As International students, we are not coping with preexisting differences, but by growing alongside each other we have moved past those differences into new territory. We are not simply conducting daily business meetings and trying to strategically find a middle ground. We’ve shared life together, and so are able to see beyond face-value.

Our class has passionately discussed Marquez’s genius in Mrs. Zlabinger’s English class. We have hiked through Austria’s mountains on our grade retreats together, exchanged knowing glances, and comforted each other in the midst of IB stress. We are the class that was feared by most teachers as we advanced through AIS. We were the only class to be strategically moved to the principal’s hallway during our eighth grade year; we helped the administration tighten their security after a mischievous 9th grade retreat and were faced with the challenge of negotiating our own senior privileges this year.

My point is that amidst opposition we have developed true camaraderie as a class, which can only enrich our relations with others in the future. If the future of International relations looks anything like the present of the class of 2008, then I have high hopes for the world. In these intimate settings we have learned to really listen and remain open to different points of view.

Sightseeing in Austria


Traveling in a foreign country if you don't have a plan and don't know the ropes or language can be a little stressful, especially if you have a limited amount of time. Even when you take your "TimeOut Vienna guide", there are still things you may not understand. If you have all the time in the world, you can just chalk up it up to the learning curve and call it the "discovery tour". But, if your time is limited following are my suggestions.

Our first day out we tried to rent a city-bike. This is a great idea that just didn't work for us. There are bikes located all around the city that you can rent and return to any location. There is a small first time fee, then the first hour is free. After that the per hour fee increases. This could become expensive, but, if you leave the bike at a city-bike location for an hour, the next time you get on the first hour is free again! All you need is a credit card or a city-bike card. So we started out at a location near Karlsplatz. Unfortunately, I was the only one with a credit card and you can only rent one bike per credit card at a city-bike location. After many attempts at trying to use the kiosk, we finally went off to find the city-bike office; from there you can purchase as many city-bike cards as you want with one credit card. By the time we figured this out, our day had come to an end and it was time to head back to my sister's house.

We also went to the Naschmarkt. This is a great big farmer's market that also includes some dining venues. On Saturdays there is a great big flea market in the parking lot there. Many eastern Europeans ply their wares here.

There are three major castles in Vienna, the Belvedere, the Hofburg and the Schonbrunn. My niece and I went to the Belvedere to see the gardens--which are currently under construction and being replanted! It pays to know before you go. For my money I would take a day and go to the Schonbrunn. Start early and spend the day. The castle is open to the public--for a fee, of course, and the 420 acre grounds are free. Pay for the trolley and hop on and off all day. This way you can cover more ground. 40 rooms of the castle are open to the public-buy the admission that gets you into all 40 rooms; it's a self guided tour and you can do it at your own pace. There is even a bakery on the grounds; watch the apple strudel being made and then eat it. The gardens are lovely--it was definitely worth the trip.

There are many gardens in the inner circle of the city--all free. The day my niece and I went, we discovered that the Euro 2008 was going to happen in the city soon and the gardens were being closed off to the public so the happy revelers couldn't trash the gardens!

We also went to Prague for a day! If I had it all to do again, I would start at the castle on the top of the hill; view the gardens; grab a slice or something quick on the way down the hill; head over to the Charles bridge and then take a boat ride.

Cookie and I spent some time checking out gay Vienna, which is kind of like the gay scene in small town America. Nothing to write home about! But we are glad we had a chance to do that, anyway. We met some very nice women. Cookie also went to Mauthausen--a concentration camp in Austria. She was able to find her way there all on her own and even made it back before nightfall.

One of the easiest things for us to do in Vienna was to figure out the U-Bahn and the bus system. I think we rode on all five of the U-bahn lines. Cookie was a great help to my sister in terms of shopping and by the end of the trip she could take the u-bahn to any major shopping area--no problem!

If you are going to travel, it always pays to do a little research ahead of time, have a flexible plan and start early!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Rainy Day in Vienna

It's Thursday already. We've been here a little more than a week. The time flies by. The weather has mostly been sunny and warm, sometimes humid even. But, yesterday morning and today it rained. This cools the weather off somewhat. My companion is a late night person who watches bad American tv on British satelite tv until the wee hours of the morning. So we never do really leave here much before noon. Which is often fine with me, since all I really want to do is sit and relax, drink coffee, eat sacher torte and read a book. I'm still a little tired after all.

My sister is a generous host. If we aren't off to a party we are eating home cooked meals every night. My niece is also a very good cook. And Terry's husband does a great job on bbqing. Mostly we put our own breakfast together; so, Cookie has taken to making oatmeal (with milk). There is usually some kind of fresh fruit, cut up --watermelon, canteloupe, mush mellon, and also raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and cherries. Sometimes I eat a little cereal or oatmeal too. And there is always coffee or tea and some kind of funky Vieniesse fruit juice. One morning Cookie and I ventured out to the Franz Josef hotel where they made a pretty decent to order omlette for Cookie. Lunch is often eaten out and on the run--falafel sandwiches at Erin's favorite take out spot; bratwurst on buns from a take out cart; shishkabob at the Nashmarkt or tuna on toast here at Terry's house. Dinner has been awesome--the first night bbq prawns, last night healthy salads with beef or chicken topping, italian with meat sauce another night and another night Terry's famous chicken fajita's from her cookbook for Erin. Several nights we have eaten out--at various events.

We attended a going away party for Paco and his wife at a Heuriger, which is a traditional Austrian dining establishment. Paco and his wife are from Mexico originally; he works for a Mexican cement company here that is opening operations in Poland; so now, besides speaking Spanish, English and German, Paco will also speak Polish. That is quite an accomplishment in itself, I think. The fare at the Heuriger is usually schnitzel, potatoes and beer served by women in traditional Austrian garb while listening to a couple guys in leiderhosen play the accordian and the violin. The guys in leiderhosen are usually from Eastern Europe and they will play American musicals for a buck. But, this party was catered and served buffet style, so there were cold salads of traditional fare, fancy potatoes, lentil salad, ham, schnitzel, chicken and very fancy vienisse desserts with cheese.

Another evening we went to a poluck dinner with Terry's bible study group atop a tall apartment building overlooking the water and near the International Center. Now there was some very awesome homemade food.

On Tuesday we went to Erin's sports banquet for the American International School she attends. The food was served buffet style and was pretty much the same. I wish I had remembered to write it all down. It was great to spend time with Erin. And the best part is that she was voted MVP for her volleyball team.

Tonight was the fancy Senior dinner at the Borse. More on that later...............

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wien

Today I am in Vienna with my friend and helper, Cookie. We took the Wednesday early evening flight out of JFK and arrived here around 11:00 Vienna time on Thursday morning. The flight was great. Cookie was on time at every check point along the way. The choice of food on the plane was chicken or beef--both ok meals. Cookie had two dinners! And the movie was "The bucket list" with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Very sweet and poignant. We connected in Dublin for the Vienna leg of the trip. Let me tell you how easy it is to switch planes in a country that speaks the same language as us!

After the plane landed we walked down the steps to a bus that took us to the main terminal building. We walked down a hall to the customs guys who were very nice to us and stamped our passports. Then we walked down a long hall to the security checkpoint where they ex-rayed our carry on baggage. And then up the stairs and into the terminal. The airport is very easy to get around too. There is a very nice food court off the beaten track in the airport. And, of course, lots of stores--for people who like to shop. The trip from Dublin to Vienna was uneventful too. The big difference is that if you want food, you got to buy it!

We slept alot yesterday, watched tv and had a great dinner of bbq prawns, asparagus and rice for dinner. Terry and Bill are great cooks. Terry and I took the dogs for walks last night and this morning. And now that we are clean and showered, we are going to hit the sights in Vienna with my nephew Nick. So far we are having a great trip.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Numbers Game

In the process of doing my 2007 income tax return, I realized between June 1st and December 31st I went to the doctors a minimum of 31 times. This included numerous tests including a mammogram, 2 sonograms, 3 MRI's, four biopsies, a cat/pet scan, 2 chest x-rays, an ekg and a muga scan. There was surgery on my birthday to place a port for the chemotherapy; and a sentinel node biopsy on that day to determine if there was cancer in the lymph nodes. Then there were 8 cycles of chemotherapy over the course of 16 weeks. The day after each cycle it was back to the cancer center for a shot of nuelasta. And of course, there were follow up appointments with the doctors. It all averaged out to about once a week over a six month period, but really, I saw the doctor once in June and once in July.

Since then I have had three operations, all requiring pretests and anesthetics and more consultations with the oncologist, the breast surgeon and now the plastic surgeon. Then there is the five years of tamoxifin to look forward to.

I tell you this, not so that you'll feel sorry for me, but so you will begin to understand that it is a long and often tiring process, even for the lucky ones like me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lately

Lately I haven't felt much like writing. I don't even really know if anyone actually reads my blog anymore. But for anyone interested in what is happening on a medical level, I had the mastectomy a couple weeks ago and I seem to be healing fine. I also agreed to the reconstructive surgery and I am not 100% sure this is the right choice for me. I just keep plugging along. There doesn't seem to be anymore cancer and that is good. And probably no radiation in the immediate future for me and that is good too I think. Oh, and that 8 centimeter tumor--now the doctor thinks it was never really 8 centimeters--but rather a bunch of little cancer cells spread over an 8 centimeter path. What else can I tell you?

A diagnosis of cancer is not fun. It is in fact scary because you could die from cancer and the unknown is always more frightening than what is known. But what is cancer, really? From everything I've read, cancer is basically cells gone wild. A cell, as you must remember from high school biology, is the basic building block of the human body. Everything is composed of cells. There is a mechanism in each cell that tells it what it's going to be. Sometimes a cell doesn't turn into anything and remains at a primitive level. Usually the immune system through the lymph nodes and the lymph system carry those primitive cells out of the body. But, not always.

To keep it simple, the tumor forms when it is dividing so rapidly that the immune system cannot carry it out. It could be a break down in the immune system, it could be hormonal, it could be related to how the body metabolizes food sugars; because the cells are primitive they eat all the sugar in that area of the body quicker than the other cells. And that is why it is important to eat healthy foods and exercise and try and keep a positive attitude.

To be honest with you, I always wonder just how much cancer I really had in my breast and was it really necessary to go to this extreme. And, I will never know the answer to that question............

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Surgery Monday 31, 2008

For those of you who interested, the mastectomy is Monday 31, 2008. Maimonides is 4802 10th Ave near 48th St in Brooklyn. Hopefully I won't be there too long. You can call my home number to get more info.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

saw doctor again yesterday

Saw dr again. Surgery again soon,

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Everybody lies" or "Nobody is Interested in the Truth"

I haven't written in awhile and I am sorry. I just haven't had anything good to say lately. And what do they say? If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all.

I was reading other women's blogs the other night and I was struck by their honesty. Touched by it really. And, I was also struck by their courage and grace. To receive a diagnosis of cancer is a very frightening thing. The most frightening aspect is that you are truly dependent on the pathologists opinion. So, lets hope s/he is having a good day. Because, everything else snowballs from there. So what do we know?

What we know is that everyone has cancer in their body. How do we know that? Because cancer is simply a cell that has gone wild. It is a cell that hasn't decided what it wants to be when it grows up. And, so, it never grows up. It remains in a very primative form. The immune system is supposed to carry this stuff out. But, it just doesn't always do that because of various break downs and sundry reasons along the way. We also know that cancer is a rapidly dividing cell--so what the heck does that mean? It means bunches of cells can develop quickly. Estrogen plays a role in breast cancer--too much could cause a cancerous environment. Insulin resistance can also contribute. But how do you get this stuff under control?

You let them cut off your breast and give you a plastic breast, because that is how they "cure" cancer. Then they give you lots of scarey drugs and if those drugs cause problems, why, they cut something else off and give you more scarey drugs to control that. If you are intelligent and have lots of faith in yourself and aren't so scared, you look for alternatives. But, me, I am scared of dieing of cancer--altho, why? We are all going to die of something. And, if you could look into the future and see your body failing as you get older and older and more and more feeble, would you really choose to fight for life on this mean and nasty planet?

And cancer, my friend, is an industry; it is big business. It keeps people employed.

Thus, the title of the post. Years ago when I was still quite blunt with the self righteousness of youth and on the never ending quest for absolute truth, I had yet another disagreement with one of my bosses about something I can't even remember now. What I do remember is that I was frustrated because I was right and yet getting nowhere. And, I said to her, "but it's the truth". And, her being equally frustrated by me, simply said, "Noone is interested in the truth, Denise".

And, I'm going to guess that she is probably right for the most part. I'm also guessing that my graphic description is probably not comfortable for most people--but it is the truth!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thursday

I have decided to do the wider excision on Thursday after all. Let's all pray for the most positive outcome. Deni

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Deal or No Deal

As my friend Natasha, partner Linda and I were watching the popular television show, Deal or No Deal, the other night, I was struck by how similar my life feels to this game of chance right now. The basic premise going into the game is that the contestant has a 50-50 chance of winning a million dollars. There are 26 suitcases—13 cases with the million dollar amount and 13 cases with varying amounts adding up to the million dollar mark. With each pick of a suitcase the odds of winning the million dollars changes; so, every now and again the contestant is offered a cash amount to get out of the game. At this point they can continue to play for the million, “no deal”, or take the money, “deal”, and run. The risk, of course, is that they could walk out of the game without the million dollars and in some cases nothing at all.

In my mind this whole ordeal, like “Deal or No Deal”, has been a game of chance with risky choices to make along the way. At the beginning I had a 50-50 chance of being cancer free with my lymph nodes and my body in tact. This was the million dollar prize for me. What that entailed was starting with the sentinel node biopsy, suitcase number one, followed by chemo therapy, suitcase number two and then suitcase number three, a lumpectomy. Suitcase number four was to be radiation. Now, none of the doctors I saw ever ruled out a mastectomy; that was always the “deal” I was offered along the way.

A few weeks ago I was walking down Broadway, crying mind you, trying to decide between the wider excision and the mastectomy with reconstructive surgery, asking for a sign. What to do? What to do? If you know me, you know I hate making decisions. So, out of the blue, I ran into my friend Samantha, who I hadn’t seen in months. Her mother had a double mastectomy eight years ago and she is fine. My friend also told me about several of her mother’s friends who had lumpectomies only to have the cancer return. Every where I go, I seem to run into someone who has had recurrent cancer.

I’m very fortunate in that there is no lymph node involvement and there is no cancer anywhere else in my body; unfortunately, there is cancer still in my breast. So, I’ve decided to take the “deal” and get out of the game.

In the end it’s really an emotional decision, isn’t it? I don’t want to have a mastectomy; but I sure don’t want to have cancer either. And, while the risks are also low for recurrent cancer for people who have lumpectomies, my “lump” is not so clear cut or easily defined. The one factor that is variable is me and we really don’t know what’s behind this suitcase. That’s where the risk is and that’s why I’m taking the deal.

Of course, I’m disappointed that I’m not a bigger risk taker, but I’m also relieved to have made a decision. Thank you all for your continued support, good wishes and prayers

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Memorial Service

Linda's dad--Raymond Grunthaner-- passed away on Friday, February 8, 2008. A mass is being held in his memory this Saturday, February 23, 2008 at St. Dorothea's Roman Catholic Church in Eatontown, NJ at 11:00 am. Instead of flowers they ask that you donate money to the MS society. http://www.stdorothea.com/

Friday, February 8, 2008

This week

This week we, Natasha, Linda and myself, met with the surgical doctor, the oncologist doctor and their entourage. More of the same and me having to make the decision. I was prepared to have the mastectomy but the doctor seemed to think the wider excision could be just as successful. So yesterday I was convinced that was the way to go. This morning I wake up thinking, "oh, let's just get it over with". I don't want to go through all this again down the road. Certainly I don't want metatastic cancer; and, so I don't know what to do. I am terrified of the operation for the mastectomy and being in the hospital does not appeal to me at all, but neither does dieng of cancer that has metastasized. Of course, until this week, it never even occurred to me that I could die of cancer. I've always assumed I will be ok. And Linda's dad is critically ill and in the hospital and that is very upsetting right now too. We are having our share of tragedy at the moment. But, this too shall pass.......

Friday, February 1, 2008

Yesterday

Yesterday my friend Natasha and I met with Dr. Borgen and his entourage. I wish I could report great news, but for me it was a little disappointing. They did find some miniscule cancer in both biopsies and so now I have more decisions to make. I can either have another lumpectomy--which is basically what they call a wider excision--going to the sites that they took the tissue and taking what they call a "wider margin" and then more biopsies. And more decisions. The other choice seems to be a nipple saving, skin saving masectomy. Radiation is not ruled out either, but the doctor seems to think that doing more surgery and then radiation would be a more successful way of dealing with the cancer. We'll talk to the doctor and his team next week for more consultation on these options and we'll go from there. So that is all the news that is fit to print.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Right Breast Lumpectomy

I had a right breast lumpectomy yesterday. This was to determine how effective the chemo was and to see if there was any more cancer. I will have the results next week. In the meantime, I'm a little sore and the breast is swollen. But, right now all is well in my world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Update on Treatment

An MRI was performed at Park Avenue Radiology on Thursday January 3, 2008. This was to determine whether or not the chemotherapy was effective and if and how the tumor changed. A doctor Marc Liebeskind, MD signed off on the results on Jan 4, 2008. On January 10, 2008 Natasha, Linda and myself met with my surgeon, Dr. Borgen, for additional information regarding treatment. At this meeting we talked about the results of the latest MRI. The news is very positive thus far.

Dr. Liebeskind's impression was that no residual measurable mass could be seen in the right breast. He could identify only patchy progressive phase enhancement at the location of the tumor. Dr. Borgen explained that this was probably hormone activity. There is no chest wall abnormality or evidence for left breast malignancy at this time.

However, let the buyer beware! While the best case scenario is that there is no residual cancer and only some radiation will need to be performed, there is always the possibility that a lump may exist. If this is the case there will be a lumpectomy followed by radiation. It is also still possible that there may be cancer in other parts of the breast and this would result in a mastectomy. So keep those prayers and good wishes coming.

The next step, then, is to do a procedure to find out if there is still cancer in the breast. This operation will occur on Wednesday January 23rd at Maimonides. And after that there will be another consultation with Dr. Borgen. Dr. Borgen assures me that this will only take about 15 minutes. He must be a better sticher than I am! In one of my former lives as a seamstress, I don't think I could cut anything up and sew it back together that fast :-)!

I plan to travel to Michigan this weekend to see my family. And, then I plan to take next week Wed, Thursday and Friday off of work
If you are curious about Park Ave Radiology here is there link: http://www.parkavenueradiologists.com/