Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sisters and Girlfriends = Good Medicine

My sister, who has lived in Florence Italy for the last 25 years, emailed this to me this morning. It made me want to hop on a plane so we could hit the gym, do pilates, hike the Tuscan hills, then relax with a smooth bottle of Sangiovese!

Life isn't about surviving the storm; but how you dance in the rain.

They teach this course at Stanford:

In an evening class at Stanford the last lecture was on the mind-body connection - the relationship between stress and disease. The speaker (head of psychiatry at Stanford) said, among other things, that one of the best things that a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman whereas for a woman, one of the best things she could do for her health was to nurture her relationships with her girlfriends. At first everyone laughed, but he was serious.

Women connect with each other differently and provide support systems that help each other to deal with stress and difficult life experiences. Physically this quality “girlfriend time" helps us to create more serotonin - a neurotransmitter that helps combat depression and can create a general feeling of well being. Women share feelings whereas men often form relationships around activities. They rarely sit down with a buddy and talk about how they feel about certain things or how their personal lives are going. Jobs? Yes. Sports? Yes. Cars? Yes. Fishing, hunting, golf?
Yes. But their feelings? Rarely.

Women do it all of the time. We share from our souls with our sisters/mothers/daughters, and evidently that is very good for our health. He said that spending time with a friend is just as important to our general health as jogging or working out at a gym.

There's a tendency to think that when we are "exercising" we are doing something good for our bodies, but when we are hanging out with friends, we are wasting our time and should be more productively engaged—not true. In fact, he said that failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking!

So every time you hang out to schmooze with a gal pal, just pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for doing something good for your health! We are indeed very, very lucky. Sooooo… let's toast to our friendship with our girlfriends. Evidently it’s very good for our health.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cancer Conversations: Out of the Mouths of Medical Staff

Stupid Interesting things are said and or shared with you as a cancer journeyer. And not just from the layperson. No. Actually, some of the more inane eye-blinking comments come from medical personnel. Case in point: I was doing the phone intake with the scheduler at Scottsdale Medicial Imaging for my upcoming chest MRI. It was late in the day, and she was definitely a perky little thing. Sounded like someone good for work-day distraction around the water cooler.

Okay TC, let me pull up your information so we can get you scheduled. We have seen you before, correct? Ah. There you are. You popped right up. Let's go through the questions...blah, blah, blah...any history of cancer?

~ Yes.

What type.

~ Breast cancer. Metastatic.

Oh yes. There it is. July 2009. Oh honey, look at you surviving over two years now! You go girl!

~ Um. Yay me!

The rest of the conversation is just commentary.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't Panic...It is only random thoughts


What the strag [ a non-hitchhiker] will think is that any [person] who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a [person] to be reckoned with. ~ Douglas Adams

Sometimes the vertigo associated with standing at the edge of the cancer precipice can overtake a person, psychologically as well as physically. I find myself in such a place right now. It is the unknown. All those who embark - willingly or reluctantly upon a journey, however, can only truly expect the unknown. I suppose it should also be anticipated to feel a bit travel-fatigued at times. I will again find my towel and my footing, as well as thumb, and be a stalwart fellow traveller once again.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Road Less Traveled...or, Looking for My Very Own Towel


If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there. ~ Lewis Carroll

I have never been part of the "in crowd".

Not in my school-aged years ... The nuns at the parochial school I was sentenced to would strike me on my backside or palms of my hands with a yard stick for having the audacity of questioning the unquestionable. The kids looked at me askew because of my oddity, fragility and grotesquely thin frame. A result after having spent nearly a year in a full-body cast after surviving being struck by a drunk driver, clocked doing 80 mph when he hit me. That, and my fascination with both the Kato character from the Green Hornet series (shame on Seth Rogen), and Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows (anticipating Johnny Depp & Tim Burton's interpretation) set me apart.

Not in the teen years. ... In junior high I was the scrawny, underdeveloped, introvert. Quiet and studious. In high school, I stayed under the radar locking myself in the dance studio; writing for "above" and "underground" school newspapers; engaging in self-destructive introverted behavior as an alternative to "battling the adolescent beasties."

Not in the transition years when I opted, by default or circumstances, for a first "real boyfriend" who was seven years my senior. A boyfriend who was already the antithesis of who I wanted to become, and who ended up not being much of a boyfriend.

Not in the college years ... I was a late-start freshman, having taken time off between high school and college to work and earn money for tuition -- in an inhospitable Muslim country. I attended a very "preppy privileged" private university. Instead of being the cheerleader suggested by "boyfriend" I choreographed for a small modern dance troupe. Instead of living in dorms, I rented apartments in the surrounding gang-ridden neighborhood. Instead of joining the dominating "Greek" system, I worked 30 hours a week inputting horse racing stats into a computer program for a restaurateur / bookie racing enthusiast; and then as an editorial assistant for the Korean Consulate cultural magazine. In my spare time, I studied martial arts at night in the basement of the neglected PE building on campus; took skydiving lessons at Lake Elsinore; and would disappear to San Francisco - taking advantage of the $28 RT fare specials offered by PSA on their commuter flights between Burbank and SFO.

Neither in the law school years ... I started law school 5 months pregnant with my first child; attended a top tier law school, at night, so I could work for a DC law firm in the day to pay for tuition. Breast-fed while studying at any given hour - first child never slept between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. Fulfilled my duties on as a Senior Editor on law review while confined to bed for 4 months with my high-risk second pregnancy (thankful for the cutting edge technology donated by the law firm...a laptop...this was 1991 and such technology was not available for general consumption).

Not in the "booster club" mom years with my two older children ... I was one of the few moms that was not living vicariously through their children, giving grief to the coaches because my child was not being doted upon as the next Olympic hopeful.

Even as a lawyer, I have been the odd-person out, pursuing "street-law" advocacy over more lucrative professional avenues. Much to the chagrin of my eldest child, and despite cutting my teeth on corporate civil litigation.

This reality has never bothered me.

And it came as no surprise to me that when I developed breast cancer, and didn't find out until the disease had already advanced to stage III, that I could not lock step with the well-developed Pink Brigade.

I agreed to the mastectomy. It was a visceral decision. The cancerous tumor was the only thing giving form, mass and shape to my left breast. I wanted it excised.

I then, however, opted out of everything else. All the cookie-cutter adjuvant treatments that I was besieged with -- offered up with icy portents of fear and dire statistics that if I didn't dive immediately into the toxic cocktails I would be accelerating the inevitable.

I dove instead into the less-chartered universe of naturopathic alternative treatments. Even in the alternative medicine world, most people I met and do meet pursue the naturopathic route only as a complementary addition to conventional adjuvant treatment (radiation and chemo) versus as a true alternative.

My treatment choices since my diagnosis in July 2009 have been very different than most. Certainly not "mainstream." And, yes, I sit here two years later having the invasive lobular carcinoma metastasize into my lymph nodes -- so I acknowledge that I fail the audition to be the poster child for "success." At the same time, I have been learning more regarding alternative medicine, and naturopathic doctors. There are a plethora of choices that I was not aware of previously (my then ND, however, should have known, shared, educated and pushed at me...but Dr. Daniel Rubin, I am trying to let go of my anger toward you <insert twitching eye and gritting toothy smile here>) and are now engaging.

At both stagings of this disease, the conventional medical community has provided me with only dire possibilities with little to nil positive outcomes. As such, it did not take me long to conclude that I deserved to explore other possibilities. After all, at the beginning of this journey the medical community was highly recommending aggressive chemo...despite an acknowledged 4% efficacy. Two years later with METS barking at my heals, the medical community highly recommended aggressive surgery and uber-aggressive radiation (no chemo this time...I guess once you drop under 4% possible efficacy even the med community throws in the towel on that option)...with an admitted only 20% potential for five-year survival if I lock-stepped. I am no mathematician, but gambler??? Hmmm....

If I am going to roll the dice I want better odds. Even if it places me back into the all-too-familiar position of being the oddity.

There has been a downfall to my choices, however. One that has been nagging at me more lately than before.

It is lonely out here on the less-travelled path.

I am used to being alone. I am comfortable (sometimes too comfortable) with alone-ness. But being alone is a different state than loneliness.

And the wisdom of Suzanne Somers is not the panacea I am craving. I have more faith in white mice and dolphins.

I do have access to a supportive blogging community. But even here, I am the odd-person out. I cannot commiserate with the devastating effects of chemo. I cannot commiserate with the hair loss; the lymphedema; the bloating; the chemo-brain. I cannot share dietary tips and recipes in battling the nausea. I cannot suggest topical relief for the inevitable skin damage from radiation treatments; nor hand-hold because I too have experienced the collateral weakening or damage to other organs as a result of the radiation. I cannot laugh and offer alternative "beauty" tips on how to fashionably conceal hair patches and baldness. I cannot offer or seek guidance as what to expect from the "next step."

I have no one to empathize with, no one who has dealt with my particular experiences on this alternative roadway. I have searched and posted on varied cancer support sites. Looking for someone who has or is walking a similar treatment path.

The universe is silent.

I have yet to find a fellow traveler who understands my reference to the "rumbling dryer" sounds that permeate by head when hooked up to a high dose vitamin C IV. The uncontrollable shaking. The "spaciness." The taste of the vitamin C within minutes of hitting my veins. The frontal headache and dry heaves. The ache and fatigue that washes over me for the remainder of the day after a treatment.

No one to bounce concerns off of ... is it a reaction to the supplements or indications of disease progression? Do they feel the same daily fatigue? Do they feel the same aches, crunches, pains? Have they felt the restless lethargy that I battle? Do they too get so very tired of the regimen, the scheduling, having to write all your own warning labels?

No one else to b*tch with as to people's reactions and responses: "But you look good...." "You would never know...." "You think you are tired...."  "At least you have your hair .... "

Would I make different choices, now that I have been on this path for over two years? Travel the more defined roadway? A roadway that sadly is becoming a congested highway as our society becomes more "advanced"?

Absolutely not.

I am too much of a coward to travel the conventional adjuvant highway. I studied that dog-eared road atlas and found it far too harrowing. I do not have the mindset.

But alas, even the Hitchhiker had his towel. A comforting and useful object. At this juncture, most days I feel that I just need my own towel.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have 'lost'. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a [person] to be reckoned with. ~ Douglas Adams

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th ... Nothing New

My last post was about the redundancy of restarting; resolutions; and renewals.

For the last two weeks, I have been the poster-child for redundancy. The December before my initial diagnosis I was laid up for a few weeks with a bout of pneumonia. That was December 2008. December 2009 I found myself plagued again with pneumonia - a slightly worse case. December 2010, I was in bed for over 3 weeks with pneumonia. I could not move. I could not read. I could not watch movies. All I could do was stare out the window and doze intermittently between fever-induced hallucinations.

December 2011 came and squeaked by and I thought...YAY! Dodged the pneumonia bullet this December.

January 3rd I was inflicted again. What is with my lungs?!

I have managed to stay out of bed this round. In fact, I haven't even been able to sleep for nearly 8 nights. I finally got an ozone treatment on Wednesday and had my first night sleep since January 3. (Thank you Dr. John) I have been walking. Not talking...much. And keeping up...sort of.

I have found myself bogged down with lethargy. I am so frickin' tired! All the time. Everything is an effort. Including, but not limited to, breathing.

Through this, I have been acutely aware of how I am so inundated with cancer. I am not referring to my body (though with cancer wheedling its way through my lymphatic system...) but I refer to my "world."

I reconnect with an old dear friend, and I find that she has lost a friend to breast cancer; and has just had another diagnosed at stage I.

I check my morning emails and find the journal of a colleague who is about to undergo a protocol of radiation (and anyone who has followed BooBeeTrap knows my personal feelings about conventional treatments) ... and I bite back my opinions. Treatment paths are personal paths to be I manage to curtail my tourette-like comments to myself.

I pick up our local newspaper and read an announcement about a neighborhood garage sale to benefit a single mother who is having difficulty keeping up with her bills while she is going through debilitating adjuvant treatment.

I turn on the news and barraged with extended ads for SGK's 3-day run. (OY! this helps, how?...but I digress to my usual pink-questioning...)

Redundancy. Sad. Heartrending. Overwhelming. Life-cycle. Predictable. Redundancy. Even this post.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Variations of Redundancy

I have just spent morning tea-time perusing Facebook and my blog lists. Not surprising is the plethora of New Year's acknowledgments; predictions; hopes; reflections. Peppered through all is the undercurrent of New Year resolutions. In the spirit of being a crowd-follower, I decided to add in my proverbial "two-cents" to the saturation of New Year-speak.

My "two cents" (adjusted for recession/inflation/global economic woes) are varied questions on the theme:

Why do we feel resolutions are necessary with the advent of a new year?

What is the human drive to "clean the slate" and start least every 12 months?

How is it that we proceed consciously through our lives on a society-created timeline only wanting to "leave certain things behind" at the striking of a clock?

Why do we wait for milestones (anniversaries, births, deaths, divorce and disease) to make vows to "change"/"recreate" ourselves? 

I am familiar with the laws of time & physics that restrain us from going backwards. Our only option (therefore, not a choice) is to move forward. As such, what I grapple with as a bemused participant is, that despite being confined to the realities of the space-time continuum we still find ourselves living in the moment, compelled regardless to move forward, yet looking backward to release ourselves from the choices we made at the time?

Which then leads me to the most puzzling of questions: why is there such redundancy in how we move forward?