Posts from December, 2010

Ann’s Diary: Blizzard of 2010; A Perspective

I traveled this holiday and I got stuck in the blizzard of 2010 that blanketed the east coast, causing air flights to be cancelled from Bangor to Berkley. I was one of the lucky ones whose first flight got out on time–but I did have to stay overnight in a hotel in a state many states from my own in order to wait and hope that the next morning I would get back. And I did.

So I know people got stuck this holiday–I saw it first hand when I arrived at one mobbed airport and heard a woman shrieking at a travel agent “you’ve been lying to us all day!” And I know that it’s so awful to sit in an airport with screaming kids or a sick aunt or no luggage or no snacks. And we all know how much I love spending five dollars on a bottle of airport water–NOT!

But as I sat there listening to that angry traveler ream out the ticket agent I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I wish that was my biggest worry of the year–whether or not I’ll be home tomorrow or the next day.”

As someone battling recurrent breast cancer, I am terribly shaken by what may lie ahead. Will I be here to see my son graduate high school? Will I be able to help my daughter through her first heart break? Will I see 50 years? I just don’t know.

Not to be completely detached from the mess and madness of lost suitcases, long lines and flights to nowhere, but as far as major life headaches go, I’d have traded places with any one of those upset folks in any of those airports this holiday season–in a heart beat.

Posted December 31st, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  Blizzard of 2010; A Perspective
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Ann’s Diary: The Avastin Debate

Here’s my problem with the Avastin debate–

it doesn’t take into account the people for whom the drug works.

It’s the same argument that In 2009 led the US Government Task Force to advise that women not have mammograms until they are fifty and to forget self breast exams all together.  In studies the incidents of mortalities did not change with or without the exams, it said.  Yet, that does little to shed light on the individuals for whom breast cancer self exams and mammograms are the reasons they are alive today–like me.

I remember watching Nancy Snyderman on the Today show when that bomb was dropped.  She was in the hot seat trying to explain the seemingly outrageous advisement.  She called the stories of hope, the ones where people could actually trace their lives back to an SBE or a mammogram, “anectdotal” stories.  I’ll never forget that–I know what she meant but all I could hear was that she called my life “anectdotal.”

Sure I may not live as long as you will, but I know I am here today because 6 years ago during a self breast exam I felt a lump.  My kids have memories of me that 6 years ago, at ages 4 and 1, they never would have had.  Ask any psychologist the long term effect of a child losing a parent, and a mother specifically, at such a young age and they’ll roll their eyes with that look of “it ain’t pretty.”  And I know, my mother lost her mother when she was 8–not to breast cancer, to something else–but she’s never been the same since.

There’s a lot still to consider in this debate, most notably the cost of this drug–which is outrageous.  And this country is in no position to dole out drugs that studies say do not produce the kind of results that make the debt worth it.

But out there are women who credit Avastin with giving them another day to hug their kids, check their email, see their next patient, or file that motion for dismissal.  So if the FDA is now recommending to disapprove its usage for breast cancer patients, then I can assure you anyone interested in the incidence of “anectdotal” lives lost to this decision has a guaranteed study in the making on their hands.


Which means this is a sad day for sick people everywhere.

And I hope you never become one of us.

To read today’s New York Times article on the Avastin decision, click here.


Posted December 16th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  The Avastin Debate
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Ann’s Diary: What Gets Me Through

This week I had a down day.  Goodness knows many others did too, I assume.  Down days are a part of life and there’s no real way to avoid them.  You just have to get through them.

So in my down day I did what many others do–I tried to boost myself up.  I watched a funny movie.  I got a latte.  I worked out with a dear friend–exercise AND support, the best!  And above all I kept moving, moving through it–to the next place.  Like Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.”

Later in the day I got a call from a good friend.  She wanted to get together.  I thought about not responding, which is how I felt–I even let her phone call get picked up by the answering machine–I just didn’t feel like talking.  But honesty has always been my best policy and besides, I realized I wasn’t afraid or ashamed of how I was feeling.  It was just how I was feeling.  So I emailed her and told her–I said I wasn’t up for talking but I thanked her for reaching out.  She emailed back saying she understood, and was here for me–and that made my dark day brighten a little.

And that’s where I am today–grateful for the people who lighten my load with a quick email, a brief call, a text, a cup of tea, a voicemail, or a wave from a street corner as I drive by and see them biking their kids home from school.  Some days that’s all I need–a whole bunch of those to make the blue day shift from navy to royal and then eventually–to bright sky blue.

My day ended with another good friend–a call just to say I’m thinking of you.  The call barely lasted 2 minutes but the meaning and the sentiment went all all through my night–and into this morning.  I am so grateful for my friends–or as I like to call them, my “people.”

Some days they are the one sure thing that gets me through.

Posted December 15th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  What Gets Me Through
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Ann’s Diary: Holiday Lights

One of the things I love most about the holidays is the lights. Chanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever the celebration, the more bright bulbs I see adoring doors, trees, houses, roofs, office desks and windows, the better.

Blue, white, red, green, yellow, and even those wanna-be-yellow-but-look-blue-to-me LED lights that save electricity give me a cozy feeling inside that defies explanation. It’s a tiny scientific reaction encases in colored glass no bigger than my fingernail for heaven’s sake–why the fuss?

I guess it’s because those lights somehow talk to me, saying “stare at me! Put down the nightly dishes, ditch the laundry. Forget what you were thinking about, or worrying about, or doing–just come sit and stare.” And as often as I can, I do. 

I have a lot to worry about this holiday season–recurrent breast cancer, aging parents, teaching kids to enjoy the holiday and not the gifts, and bills bills bills. But I have a lot to be grateful for, too–

my husband, my family, the positive turn my present battle is taking (I feel really good and we find out how the meds are working next month–stay tuned), a New England Christmas on the horizon–

and the love of everyone out there who’s reading this and who has in some way reached out to let me know that they are there for me during this difficult time in my life. I am so very thankful.

For some reason I remember all that goodness as I stare at those little tiny lights shining brightly through my window and on all the doors and roofs and trees this holiday season. They encourage me to put down the laundry, the lunch box and the worrying–and for one peaceful moment simply enjoy the colors, the shine and the feeling of family and friendship that’s wrapped up in each little electronic color burst dotting the dark night. 

And I do.

Posted December 13th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  Holiday Lights
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Ann’s Diary: Fear Itself

I have fought off the fear demon all day today, the day I got the news the Elizabeth Edwards, estranged wife of former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, died yesterday of her recurrent breast cancer.

UGH.  Some days are just like this.

I know what you’re thinking–that her case and my case are nothing alike. Just because she got her diagnosis in 2004 and so did I;  just because she had surgery, chemo and radiation like I did (though not the same kinds of them), and just because it returned like mine has, doesn’t mean our cases are the same.

I know all that. Cerebrally, I do.

But honestly, this kind of thing is all it takes for this smart, strong, take-charge breast cancer person to have the emotional wind knocked straight out of her.  I literally had to yoga breathe (remember lamaze class?  Breathe! 2-3-4.) so I didn’t hyperventilate during my day.  Elizabeth Edwards couldn’t make it. Oh God, what does that mean?

I am doing many different things in conjunction with traditional medicines to change my body so that the cancer in me can’t survive.  I am starving it, as I like to picture in my head, by cutting out sugar and dairy and taking supplements and eating whole grains, tons of veggies and fruits.  I envision the little sucker getting smaller and smaller, like the witch melting in the Wizard of Oz after Dorothy soaks her with a bucket of water.

Still, the headlines of today have thrown what amounts to a bucket of liquid emotion on my beat-cancer enthusiasm—-fear.  I know I won’t be like her, I’m sure I won’t be like her, but jeez, it’s awfully scary–and I have to admit it.

And that’s where I am right now–admitting some fear.  That’s an unfortunate part of this journey.  I can’t be Wonder Woman 7 days a week–every now and then the magic lasso twists around me and the truth comes out–today I am freaking terrified.

So I inhaled and exhaled my way through my Wednesday of Tension and wished it was this past weekend again, when Elizabeth Edwards wasn’t dead and I was back kicking cancer’s butt.  Then I thought of what I did this weekend–I’d seen a local production of Annie with my kids. At one point the character of Franklin D. Roosevelt, facing the terror of the Great Depression, shouts out, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” And as I breathe!-2-3-4‘d my way to pick the kids up at school I realized the old politician was right.  I was not fearing the cancer, I was fearing the fear of cancer. Now I just gotta do something about it.

Like I said, some days are just like this.

Posted December 8th, 2010 by
Ann's Diary:  Fear Itself
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