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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Overheard in NY: Cancer Edition

Me, talking about my recent stress eating: I'm sad, and then I go and eat five cupcakes.

Therapist: Is eating five cupcakes necessarily a bad thing? I think it depends on the context.

Best. Therapist. Ever.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Nothing to Worry About

Sometimes, I don't know how scared I am of something till it's over. Sometimes hearing that right now,  I'm okay is was makes the tears run hot.

So I had surgery Friday. Routine-ish -- more fat grafting to help heal the tissue damaged by radiation, with hopes that in a few months it will finally be ready to stretch again.

But the story goes back a bit farther. Two weeks before, I felt a telltale pressure under my skin on my left chest. I'd had a seroma (a collection of serous fluid, common post-op) there for months, and it seemed to be back. I went to see my surgeon, and he drained it in the office. We chatted about patients who have no boundaries (um, hopefully not me) while I kept my eyes carefully trained on the ceiling and not the giant needle he was using to drain pocket of fluid under my skin.

When he finished, he asked me if I'd hurt myself. I shrugged. 

"You didn't fall or anything?" There was blood in the fluid.

I remembered that I fell in February (and December and January, and probably March -- I fell around seven times this winter. Thanks Effexor!). Flat on my face. I toppled like the statue of Saddam, was how I described it later to Matt. I told my surgeon.

"That's what it is, nothing to worry about."

So when the seroma reappeared a few days later, I didn't worry. I showed my surgeon in pre-op, he said they'd address it in the O.R. I walked in, got on the table, stared at the ceiling, tried to remember to breathe and imagine the place I wish I was, and a while later I woke up and Matt was telling me the fluid in my chest had been sent for cytology. To see what it was made of. To see, I deduced, if it was not good news.

"Oh," I said, casually. Then I asked for pain meds and nausea meds, and got a bunch of fentanyl and fell back to sleep.

In the following days I spent some time with Dr. Google trying to figure out what could be happening with that fluid; mostly I found clinical studies from before I was born, saying awfully scary things, but not relevant to me. 

Side note: I feel grateful that I now have the knowledge base to separate the relevant from the not relevant. That part of my brain has become stronger than the anxious little imp in there, and that was no easy feat.

So mostly I just waited, and told no one. And today when he texted me and told me all was good, I smiled and texted back "Yay!" and he said "It made my day," I stopped smiling and cried at my desk. Because he was worried, even if only a little, and I realized how scared I'd been without knowing it. Sometimes you don't realize the narrowness of the ledge, the length of the drop, until you take three long steps back.

And you realize, again and again, that it's pure luck, and not because you're special or did anything better than anyone else, that you didn't slip, that the ledge didn't crumble, and that for a moment the air was still. It's pure fucking luck.

I know someone who didn't get that tonight. She didn't get ideal conditions, and now she's facing a whole new drop. Send her your sweetest comfort, loves.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Did somebody say "Ssuurrggeerrryyy?!?"

I'm  in the little changing room, listening to talk about running out of robes.  I'm in slipper socks, but they're XXL for some reason.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Whose Cancer Is It Anyway?

What do you call the person who holds your hand during a cancer diagnosis? 
What do you call the fiancé who picks up your medication, the friend who makes your favorite meal, the sister who changes the dressings on your surgical incisions?
Traditionally, these people are called caregivers. An odd blend of nurse, parent, therapist, cook, workhorse, and peer, caregivers play an integral role in a patient’s recovery from cancer. A caregiver can improve medication adherence, nutrition, quality of life, and more.
As part of the upcoming Ken Burns series Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies (trailer below), PBS has released a number of short videos on One video features actor Ken Jeong (of The Hangover fame) speaking about his experience caring for his wife, Tran, during her treatment for breast cancer.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Ride to Conquer Cancer: 150 mile bike ride for the Cancer Research Institute

You already know that I'm NOT doing any 150 mile bike ride, so don't worry. :) 

But I am working crew for The Ride to Conquer Cancer this June, and raising funds for the fantastic Cancer Research Institute, the organization that I'm proud to now be a part of.

CRI funds research for cancer immunotherapy. 

"But what the hell is that?" you may find yourself saying. Well, I'll tell ya.

Immunotherapy falls under the umbrella of precision medicine. Unlike blunt treatment likes chemo and radiation, which kill everything in their wake, immunotherapy uses the body's immune system to target specific parts of cancer cells to shut them down and kill them. 

Please enjoy this video of T cells killing cancer cells:

To me, the various types of immunotherapies (and there are many!) are the best shot we have at curing many types of cancer. Matt and I both received a monoclonal antibodies (a type of immunotherapy) as part of our cancer treatments. I'm currently enrolled in a trial for a vaccine to prevent my cancer from recurring. The monoclonal antibody I received, Herceptin, is solely responsible for a 37% increased survival rate in patients with my type of breast cancer. In cancerland, that's huge.

Immunotherapy is the next big thing, but CRI needs help funding more scientists. It's a great organization -- 88 cents of every dollar goes to programs, and we receive an A rating from Charity Watch Dog.

If you can't donate right now, please consider sharing the following link on your social networks: