Friday, May 11, 2018

Breast Cancer Survival Rates--The Good News


If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and are understandably in a "why me?" state of mind, consider this: breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates of any cancer. About 83% of breast cancer survivors are still alive and kicking after five years. Those are odds pretty good if you ask me.

Even prostate cancer--which is a highly treatable cancer among men--doesn't have as favorable a prognosis, with a 76% survival rate after five years. Skin cancer is the best cancer to have with global survival rates of 85%. Lung cancer patients, however, are not so lucky. Those diagnosed with this aggressive disease only have a 10% survival rate after five years.

Here is an excerpt from Disabled World News breaking down survival rates by cancer type.

Survival percentages"In the past, cancer was considered to be fatal. However, nowadays it has come to be recognised as a curable illness", Chirlaque points out. "Testimony to this is the results shown in this study, which indicate that of every four people who suffer from it (with the exception of lung cancer), more than three overcome it".
  1. Breast cancer, the most common tumour in women, presents a high survival percentage: 83% of patients have survived this type of cancer after five years.
  2. Lung cancer is one of the most aggressive tumours and survival after five years is very low: only 10% of patients diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm survive for more than five years.
  3. Colorectal cancer (of the colon and rectum), the most common malignant tumour if we group men and women together, presents an average survival rate of 50-55% five years after diagnosis, meaning that half the patients survive this form of cancer.
  4. Prostate cancer, today the most common tumour in men, has an increasingly favourable prognosis, with a global survival rate of 76%, which is higher in young adults.
  5. Ovarian cancer presents a very varied prognosis depending on age: whilst 70% of the group between 15 and 44 years survives this form of cancer, this is the case for only 19% of those over 74 years-old.
  6. Testicular cancer, a rare malignant tumour that mainly affects middle-aged males, is the tumour with the best prognosis, with a 95% survival rate five years after diagnosis.
  7. Skin melanoma displays one of the highest survival rates, reaching values over 85%, although there are European countries where recovery exceeds 90%.
  8. Hodgkin's lymphoma displays high recovery with survival greater than 92% amongst young people, although amongst elderly groups it fails to reach 50%.


The point of this survival rate suvey is to remind all of us breast cancer survivors that it could be a hell of a lot worse. A former colleague of mine, Melissa, was only 26 years old at the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago--only six months before my breast cancer diagnosis. As I write this, Melissa is laying in the ICU unit of Yale Smilow Cancer Hospital with a breathing tube stuck in her mouth. Her twin sister Lindsay is heartbroken as she implores everyone on her Facebook network to pray for her ill sibiling.

Today I am running around with a full head of hair, 100% percent back to normal. But Melissa is struggling--with every labored breath she takes--to stay alive. Her cancer spread to her brain five years ago too. She has had so many radiation treatments on her head, much of her hair will never grow back again. Melissa has been wearing wigs the entire time she has been sick. Just so you know, Melissa was not a smoker. Lung cancer just happened to choose her.

So if you just found out you have breast cancer, look at the bright side. More than likely, you will survive. And please say a prayer for Melissa who was not so lucky.


Bibliographical reference:
 Chirlaque MD, Salmerón D, Ardanaz E, Galcerán J, Martínez R, Marcos-Grágera R, Sánchez MJ, Mateos A, Torrella A, Capocaccia R, Navarro C. "Cancer survival in Spain: estimate for nine major cancers". Annals of Oncology; 21 Suppl 3:iii21-29, May 2010. DOI: doi:10.1093/annonc/mdq082.

Citation: Disabled World News (2010-07-15) - The probability percentage rate of surviving different types of cancer: http://www.disabled-world.com/health/cancer/cancer-survival-rate.php#ixzz2Ca4Z5grj

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Autumn Breeze

It came. The news said it was arriving on Thursday, September 22nd at 10:21 am. I watched as the numbers rolled to that moment on the bottom right hand corner of my computer and gave a sigh. That was it. No more summer. Autumn had arrived.

The beginning of fall always brings up mixed emotions in me. That episode in Sex And The City when Carrie gets up in the middle of the night to cover herself with a blanket because she realizes the heat of summer is giving way to the chill of fall really nails the feeling. In that show, she breaks up with yet another boyfriend and at the very end, she looks up at the sky and sees a singular leaf fall upon her landing at her feet. An ending has come, which means there can only be an unknown, new beginning from that moment forward.



New England Autumn
Therein lies the rub for me. I have had a long history of endings and beginnings that happened to take place in the fall. It feels as though a hot cauldron of all those memories gets stirred up inside my heart. Flashbacks of the past--both good and bad--rise to the surface of my psyche. The gentle breeze carrying those first falling leaves remind me of what I want to treasure and what I would just as soon forget

That's when I ground myself in the moment. Everywhere I turn there is an upbeat, celebratory frenzy. Because hey, if you live in New England, during this season this is the place to be. Everyone is going crazy apple picking, going to The Big E or other fall fairs and festivals. The smell of pumpkin spice is laden everywhere-in food, coffee, candles, you name it. The weather is ideal--holding in the 70s with no humidity. As they say, sweatshirt weather. And the fall foliage? Spectacular. Our signature rolling hills just magnify the impact of all those colors. As I tell visitors proudly: Out of anywhere in this country, New England, does fall best.
Looking out from my deck, Fall 2015

I know it's true because I have friends that have moved from Connecticut to Florida. A few have confessed that come fall, they miss their former home state the most of all. Of course, once winter hits, that home sickness passes. If I followed my friends and left this state, I wonder if fall would still have the same impact on me that it does today?

Then I realize that if I did leave Connecticut to be closer to my aging mother and re-connect with friends in Florida, there is no doubt that I would miss this time of year. I would be pining for those Sunday mornings drinking coffee on my deck and looking out at a magnificent vista of orange, gold and red. I know that even among palm trees, fall will always be bittersweet for me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

After The Flood Was Gone...

Bedroom under construction
It has been four months since that fateful chilly April night when water blasted through my home like a flooding river. Even though the remodeling to repair all the damage officially finished the end of June, my place is still not completely in order.

For one, a lot of  things were destroyed. Now I have empty spaces where furniture once stood. Because that furniture stored a lot of stuff, there's no where to put it. I decided the most logical strategy to get things in order was to focus on one room at a time. Since my bedroom took the biggest hit when water burst through the ceiling like a waterfall, I started there. 

I had three pieces of old, abused furniture that I collected from a flea market and Craig's List sitting in my garage for about two years. With no furniture left to speak of in my bedroom, it seemed a great opportunity to finally tackle the refinishing projects I had planned for these pieces--all scratched, dusty and tangled in cobwebs.

Refinished campaign furniture that I bought on Craig's List
I wanted to do a  professional job. So I bought an electric sander, which had a life of its own. Every time I turned it on, I couldn't get it under control. It just kind of flew everywhere. I finally opted for a simple, manual block sander instead. Applying the stain and white paint on to the furniture had its own set of challenges. Now I know why contractors wear bandanas on their heads. If you don't, your dripping sweat will ruin the finish you are working on. Finally, I pulled out some artwork and accessories I had stored and collected over the years, and voila! I got a whole new bedroom.


Refinished bureau and chest from the Elephant's Trunk flea market


It felt really good taking those sorry-looking, old furniture pieces and giving them a second life. Plus, my car now has plenty of room in the garage. I could have gone out and bought a bunch of new furniture spending way too much money, By opting to exert a little elbow grease and creativity, I did my part to protect the environment by not throwing the furniture in a landfill.. The whole process has given me a new sense of confidence in my resourcefulness. Now it's on to the living room and kitchen!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two Graduations And A Wedding

June. The season of dads, grads and brides. This particular month, my oldest nephew received his Master's Degree from Yale University and my youngest nephew graduated from Kent prep school. Then there was my boss's wedding, which I attended last Saturday night.
Wedding celebration with my co-workers

These life celebrations helped lift me out of a dark mood that has stood like a cloud over my head since April. The upheaval that has gone on in my home for more than two months has opened my eyes on many levels. It has been sobering. I realized that I turned my back for way too long on things that needed to be updated and repaired. I had to come to grips with the infestation of clutter that kept growing.

To make amends, I spent week nights painting doors and trim with super-white glossy paint.  I purged my kitchen cupboards and refrigerator with expired food and condiments. I got rid of scratched pans and chipped cups and bowls. I brown-bagged clothes that were more than five years old. I made Goodwill runs almost every day.

My nephew graduates from Kent School
But all this extra work wore me down after awhile. Where had the fun in life gone? Two graduations and one wedding helped me get my happy groove back. It is amazing to see my two nephews step into adulthood armed with such great education. The Yale graduate will continue towards his PhD at Yale in mathematical engineering (whatever that means). His girlfriend is studying at Yale to become a doctor. I have always been amazed by Alex's high IQ and drive, but it is a pleasure to see how it has transformed into solid economic security for him since he works at Yale, too.

His youngest brother, Davis, has grown into a polished young man thanks to attending Kent for two years. Davis is also driven to make his dreams come true as a hockey player.

 I have had the privilege to witness how my company supported my boss, who is gay, when she became engaged. Management hosted a wedding shower for her at the office. I was one of nine people from work that attended her wedding. It was a wonderful experience to see 185 family and friends celebrate two women in love and share their joy--without condemnation.

I expect the flood renovation to be completed in about two weeks, which means I will finally be able to bring my house back to order. It's been a tough go over the last two months.  So thank you June, for bringing some joy back into my life.



Monday, May 30, 2016

...And Then Came Summer

It's so typical, the way spring arrives here in New England. We wait and wait for the first signs of this fickle season because it's pretty much unanimous among all of us that winter lasts way too long. One day the weather will be completely on point.  Warm, sunny. All you need is a jacket or sweater. You see the buds on the trees, the grass greening. When you look up at the sky, you can feel the warm beams of sun on your face.

But then the next day, it's back to the same old weather--cold, damp, gray. Not for nothing, many New Englanders joke that spring lasts all of two weeks. It usually gives us these short bursts of seasonally-correct teases and then, bam! Summer arrives. This year, summer was perfectly timed by kicking off during the start of Memorial Weekend with 85-90 degree weather. Ten days ago my heat was still blasting and now the air conditioning is running round the clock. That's how things roll around here this time of year.

The inconvenient part of summer arriving, is that I can't access most of my warm-weather clothes since they are buried in the back of the garage that houses all my earthly belongings. It has been two months now since the flood, and construction lingers on. I'm still crammed in my tiny guest bedroom with my resilient cat that is clearly handling the whole mess better than me.

The white dust that stubbornly hangs in the air and covers everything, everywhere is concerning me. As soon as I get in the house, my throat constricts, I get a dry cough and  my voice gets hoarse. What to do? The foreman of the renovation assures me we are coming to the home stretch. The demolition, the rebuilding of the walls and ceilings, and even the painting is all done. What's left is some electrical work, and finally, the installation of hardwood floors. I am betting this will take another two weeks.

In the meantime, I continue to shuffle mounds of stuff around. I am always searching for something. Most likely, whatever I am looking for is in any number of heaped garbage bags. They are scattered everywhere. The things I am looking for no longer have their usual place. It pushes me into this low-level panic mode. So I try to create order however meagerly--like keeping the kitchen  and bathrooms spotless. Then I convince myself that this is nothing more than a major spring cleaning that is long overdue. Lighten up! This too shall pass.

But then I get pissed because summer is unofficially here, my favorite time of year. Do you think I want to spend this fleeting season trapped in my house decifering through all me shit, putting all the pieces of my domain back together again? Hell, no. That will be scheduled for rainy days and after daylight hours.

I refuse to let this minor catastrophe ruin my summer. I will go to the pool, go to the beach, enjoy sitting out barbecuing, and generally having a good time outside
The mess will have to wait, because yay! It's summertime.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Celebrating Life & Eight Years Cancer Free

Today marks eight years since the day I found out I had breast cancer. I vividly remember the call I received from my doctor telling me I had the "garden variety" of breast cancer--carcinoma. That was the good news. It wasn't an aggressive disease like triple-negative breast cancer.

The bad news is that the lump in my left breast was over five centimeters--the size of a golf ball--which indicated it had probably spread to my lymph nodes. That indeed proved to be true. After the biopsy and scan results came in, the breast surgeon announced my ultimate diagnosis; Stage 3 locally-advanced breast cancer.

The implications of that diagnosis made me realize that if I had waited six months to get my annual physical, the cancer would have probably evolved into Stage 4 breast cancer in which case I most certainly would have been dead by now.

Doing what I love at The Elephant's Trunk flea market
I know what you're thinking. How could I not have felt such a large tumor?  The fact is I had large, dense breasts. When my doctor showed me where the lump was, all I could feel was a subtle, ridge. buried deep into the underside of my breast. Honestly, I had no clue. That illustrates how insidious breast cancer can be. You feel perfectly fine, Then comes this suspicious lump. I will admit it, I never bothered checking for lumps regularly and I did miss getting a mammogram the previous year.

Since the lump in my breast was so big, my course of treatment dictated that I undergo chemotherapy first in order to shrink the lump followed by surgery to remove it. To make matters worse, when I had undergone the MRI to discover how far the cancer spread, they found another pea-sized lump in my right breast. This meant that I had to undergo the most aggressive treatment possible.

Here's how it went down: Twelve weeks of chemotherapy followed by surgery, which included a mastectomy in my left breast and a lumpectomy in my right breast. Eight weeks of radiation. Four months later, the road to breast reconstruction began. Because they were not able to get clean margins in my right breast, I had to undergo another mastectomy as well.

Then there were complications with reconstruction during surgery on my left side due to radiation. I ended up having three subsequent surgeries, with my last "tweaked" procedure done July 2011--more than three years after my initial diagnosis.

It was a long road. After that, life shifted into normal gear--with a difference. I embraced it more. Above all, I sought opportunities to have fun--to enjoy the privilege of being alive. That meant that my passions and interests no longer took a back seat. The things I loved to do during my spare time were explored immediately.

For instance, I have always loved scouring through tag sales and flea markets and I always liked decorating my home, I kicked those hobbies into high gear. I spent more time refurbishing old furniture and updating my home. I am constantly re-painting, rearranging, and revamping everything in my environment. Then I started refinishing sorry, old furniture and flipping them
for profit on Facebook tag sale sites.

The point is, it really does matter that you take time to enjoy life doing the things that you love. After all, you were given a second chance. Don't waste it.




Monday, February 29, 2016

Applying For Disability Benefits With Breast Cancer

Blogger's note:  I an pleased to accept Bryan Mac Murray's article which answers so many questions that women battling breast cancer ask me. Bryan, thank you for being a guest blogger.

Disability benefits are only “automatically” available for breast cancer under certain circumstances. The cancer must be advanced, recurrent, or resistant to treatment. In all other cases, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will need to see additional proof in order to find you disabled by your cancer and/or cancer treatments.
While cancer and cancer treatments are certainly disabling, they don’t automatically meet SSA disability requirements. This is because disability benefits are only available if you have an impairment that causes long-term or permanent disability or if you have a terminal illness.
Medically Qualifying Under the Breast Cancer Listing
The SSA maintains disability listings for conditions that automatically qualify for benefits. Breast Cancer is among these and appears in the SSA’s listing of conditions called the Blue Book under Section 13.01. To meet this listing, your cancer must be one of the following:
  • Advanced, inflammatory carcinoma
  • A metastatic carcinoma that has spread to lymph nodes
  • A carcinoma that has returned after treatment
Other types of breast cancer can also qualify under this listing by closely matching one of the situations listed above.

Compassionate Allowance for Terminal Breast Cancer
Highly aggressive forms of breast cancer and those that are advanced, recurrent, and no longer responsive to treatment fall under the SSA’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program. CAL-designation ensures your application is reviewed quickly and that the medical evidence required for approval is minimal.

Qualifying Without Meeting the SSA’s Disability Listing
If your breast cancer doesn’t qualify through the Blue Book, you may still be able to get approved for benefits. Just be prepared for your application to initially be denied and for your wait for benefits to be longer.
You’ll need to request a second review of your claim and reevaluation of your medical evidence, but you should also be prepared for the possibility that you’ll be denied a second time. If denied again, you can appeal the decision and have your claim reviewed by an administrative law judge.
You may wish to consider seeking assistance from a disability advocate or attorney from the start if you know you cannot meet the SSA’s disability listing for breast cancer. An advocate or attorney can help you build a strong case and can assist in arguing your claim at an appeal hearing, if one is necessary.

Applying for Benefits
Disability benefits are available through two programs SSI and SSDI. Each program requires a separate application process.
  • SSDI applications can be submitted online or at the local office.
  • For SSI however, you’ll need to interview with an SSA representative at the local branch. He or she will complete your SSI application for you.
No matter which program you apply for, you’ll need:
·         details of your work history, education, job training, and previous job duties.
·         contact information for all your doctors and other healthcare providers.
·          financial information, including all sources of income and support as well as any assets you hold.  
Consider taking copies of the medical records you have with you to your local SSA office or submit those copies via mail just after completing your online SSDI application. Although the SSA will have you fill out consent forms that allow them to access your medical records, you wait for a decision can be shorter if you provide medical documentation directly to them at the time you apply for benefits.