Posts from November, 2010

Ann’s Diary: Cancel My Casket

The only dead body I’ve ever seen that shouldn’t have been dead was in a snow covered alley in Lewiston, Maine.  I was covering a story 15 years ago about a man who’d been drinking who got into a fight with a man who’d been drinking, and one of them punched the other one and left him in the street overnight.  The first man died of exposure.

The next day I got sent to cover the story and let me tell you I didn’t want to go.  Some reporter I was–half the time I wanted to help the people I was sent to get the interview from.  The other half of the time I was wishing I’d called in sick–because murders, assaults, arsons–all of that made me sad.  But the absolute worst– the sight of a dead man, or woman, or animal for that matter–made me ill.  If I could have squeezed my eyes shut and stuck my fingers in my ears singing la-la-la-la-la-la until the whole thing was over, I would have.   But it was my job to stay there and cover the story.

So I did it.

The only other dead bodies I’ve seen have been at wakes.  I understand the religious purpose behind that and it makes many feel good to see and say good-bye to someone they love, but the first dead man I saw was my grandfather and I was 8 and I was petrified.  He looked strange and not human, deflated and flat lying there in the funeral parlor–and at one point my elementary school imagination kicked in and I swore he moved in the casket.  I was freaked that he’d sit up and yawn.  I didn’t sleep for days after that.

So I was reading a few of these anti-cancer books I’ve bought recently to help me get a grip on what other things I can do about this recurrence I’m in, when I got to a part I hadn’t read before.  It said something like “and they were twice as likely to reach the 5 year marker as those not doing” blah blah blah.  It wasn’t the thing they were eating that I focused on:  it was the time frame.  5 years?  That’s all?

Is that what “they” say I have left?

I know anything can happen.  I know I don’t have to be a statistic.  I know I can survive this with a lot of information, education, hope, faith, medicine and family/friends.  I know that.

But let me say that in addition to all of those wonderful reasons I plan to not be just a “twice as likely to reach” cancer survivor is the fact that I do not plan to be lying, sitting, standing or yawning in any casket any time soon.  Look, I’ve seen my share of dead bodies.  I’ve seen them frozen solid and I’ve seen them flat and lifeless and that’s not going to be me.  I have way too much more life to live for that.

So the next time I hear or read some time-ticking statistics about my “chances” of making it through this, I’ll be the one with my eyes squeezed shut, fingers in my ears, humming la-la-la-la-la-la.  Because regardless of the scary statistics and the breast cancer fear in my life, it’s now my new job to hang in there and stay alive.

And I will do it.

Posted November 28th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary: Cancel My Casket
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Ann’s Diary: The Survivor Misnomer And Why We Need It

A week or two after I heard that the breast cancer I fought off 6 years ago was back, I found myself meandering through the girls section of Marshall’s trying to forget about my life for awhile.  As I felt the velvet and ruffles of a cute little jumper my text bell went off.  I looked down and it was a dear friend  of mine from the mid-coast area.

“Any news?”

She was waiting to hear–as I had been–whether this was my original breast cancer returned or a new cancer that had developed.

“It’s my original bc.”

Her next text came from a confused place, a place I’d been too, as well.

“So the same cancer can come back to a new location after you beat it?  I’m sorry it’s hard for me to understand.”

My response began with “join the club.”

Before I got this recurrence, I never liked the term “survivor” of cancer for this very reason.  It’s a misnomer to say you’ve survived cancer because the reality is you don’t ever beat it.  You get it under control.  Cancer is a devil–it can hide out in tiny molecules that the best of diagnostic tools can’t detect.  The docs can get what they think is all of it, and tell you that, but really–you know you’ve beaten it when you die of something else.  How’s that for a prognosis?

Yet as I looked at this text I actually realized something:  we cancer people have to believe we are survivors.  I mean, if you’re not a survivor what are you?  You’re a victim.  You’re a target. Or you’re dead.  And we are not dead.

We are still here, we are alive, we are working, walking, loving, living– we breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer  ETC “recipients” as I’ve been known to call us, we ARE.  And we are fighting off this hidden beast with everything we’ve got.

If that isn’t the definition of survivor, I don’t know what is.

Posted November 23rd, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  The Survivor Misnomer And Why We Need It
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Ann’s Diary: Top Breast Cancer Blog Award

Many thanks to licensedpracticalnurse for including Project Pink in the “Top Breast Cancer Blog” Awards.  We are all in this breast cancer thing together!

Posted November 21st, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  Top Breast Cancer Blog Award
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Ann’s Diary: I Will If I Have To

The trick about this new cancer I face is that I don’t know what else to do to stop it.

I did everything, I mean EVERYTHING, to get rid of it the first time:  bilateral mastectomy with no reconstruction, dose dense (double strength) chemotherapy, radiation and tamoxifen for the recommended 5 years.  Other than walk through a radioactive nuclear plant in my bathing suit or drink chemo from a juice box, I’m not sure I could have done any other medical thing to help myself.

I always ate right–organic when I could, lots of fruits and veggies, limited alcohol and attempts at cutting down on sweets.  But like the average Joe, I also partake of the nectar of life.  I sneak cookies that my sister Joan bakes (which should be in bakeries across the country they’re so good), I enjoy a good bottle of JR Cohen cab when invited by friends, and I LOVE my Dunkies coffee.  Does this make me unhealthy?  I never thought so–and clearly, none of the other regular folks out there who enjoy these treats of life alongside me are facing recurrent breast cancer.

So what’s the deal with me?

I don’t know–but clearly I need to find out.  Time is of the essence.  Who knows how much I have left?  I’ll tell you one thing:  I’ll be damned if I’m going to find out.

Do I want to give up the fun things in my life?  Before when I had breast cancer, the answer was no.  In fact, hell no–because what else did I learn from my scare but that life was too short–so enjoy it while I can?

But now, it’s different.  Now I am running for my life. And I am not running away as much as I am rushing toward something–anything that may save me.

I read books, I scan the internet, I take advice from people, but to be honest, it’s overwhelming.  Avacados–good!  Avacados–bad.  Coconut oil–good!  Coconut oil–bad.   Dairy–bad.  Soy?  We’re not sure yet.  I’m going crazy deciphering what may help me, Ann Murray Paige, starve off this breast cancer in my body and make it go away for good.

But I’m on the hunt. I will figure it out.  But yes it drives me nuts (Nuts–good!) to feel so lost in the grocery store of my life. To offset that, I search for the bright side.  Like–I don’t have to have another bilateral mastectomy—good!  I don’t have to have chemotherapy immediately (there are hormone therapies that work for breast cancer)–good!

And let’s not forget the best bright side of them all– I didn’t have to walk through a nuclear plant in my bathing suit–good!

But I will if I have to.

Posted November 18th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  I Will If I Have To
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Ann’s Diary: Holding My Breath

A good friend wanted to know, “how did you find out the cancer came back?”

I find myself holding my breath as I write this.  I haven’t talked about that until now. Some days, I hate allowing the cancer any space at all. Some mornings I wake up and pretend for as long as I can that I don’t even have it. Other days I figure if I don’t talk about the C, it will have less oxygen to survive inside of me. Or maybe it’s the more verbal oxygen I give it, the more it lives on?  Either way, these wandering thoughts are a look-see into the spinning  mind of a recurrent BC woman–me- and today I decided to get past the superstition and jump on this cancer’s back and spit it out.  Spit out all that it’s trying to do so that in exposing it, I knock it down and out.

So here’s how it went:  my oncologist, on a routine visit, felt that she couldn’t hear as much air whooshing through my left lung as she could my right.  Since my left breast is where the breast cancer started, she got worried–and sent me for an x-ray.  The x-ray showed a thickening in that lung area, so she sent me for a pet scan.  The pet scan revealed the cancer.  Weeks later a test confirmed that it was not a new cancer, but the old cancer come back.

At the same time I had some pain in my back, I wasn’t really able to lie down flat to sleep and I was scheduled for an MRI to find out if my hereditary back issues were flaring up.  After the pet scan showed what it showed, I realized that my back was reacting to what was happening in my lungs.

So there it is: the beginning of this next part of my life.  After a few weeks of mind-numbing fear and confusion over which pills to try first (and a few trips to the ER) I am on Tamoxifen again plus ovarian suppression.  We’ll see if it’s working–and here’s the tricky part–in 6 to 9 more weeks.  Yup, I have to wait that long.  It takes that long for the medicine to show that it’s working–3 months in total.  That’s a lot of breath holding.

So if you see me walking down the street purposely not talking about cancer, you’ll know why. I’m either starving it of oxygen or else I’m pretending it’s not me who’s up against this beast again.  Either way, give me a smile or a hug and know that whatever happens I’ll keep writing.

There’s no lost oxygen in that–except what I’m breathing in for me.

Posted November 15th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  Holding My Breath
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