Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year

I am glad this year is coming to a close. The reconstructive surgeries took a bite out of my life that I can't get back. I had wanted to have my final surgery this year, but for various reasons, I'm having it on January 6th, a week from today. Then, that's it. My brother has been struggling with the knee replacement surgery he had two weeks ago at Mass General Hospital in Boston. He went into the emergency room last night because they couldn't find a pulse in his leg.

Yeah, so long 2009, I'm glad you're coming to a close.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

I have to confess, the holiday season isn't my favorite time of year. I realized this about 10 years ago when I became aware of how frustrated and upset I got around Christmas. The pressure to buy gifts among massive crowds, wrap the presents, send cards, decorate, cook, etc, etc. It all seemed like the presumed joy of the season never came because it was overshadowed by the pressure of what I was expected to do.

I've threatened several times to hop on a plane and bow out of Christmas on some remote tropical island, but of course it always seems I'm crunched for cash this time of year so it never works out. I honestly don't think I would mind Christmas if could simply get together with family and friends for a pot lock dinner, have a good time without the exchange gifts. It would also be nice to skip cooking Christmas Day and work at a soup kitchen feeding the homeless instead. I've asked my nephews if they would do this with me on a few Christmases, but it didn't seem to excite them--for them Christmas is all about getting gifts.

As for me, I wouldn't mind getting any gifts because it's a crap shoot as to whether or not I would like the gift, and returning something I don't like is just one more hassle on the long list of things to do during this time.

I just want to get away from the commercialism of the holidays. I want to spend quality time with the people that matter to me--gift-exchange free. And I want to give back to those less fortunate than me. I want to spend a day with my mom and friends in New York City, take pictures of us under the Rockefeller Christmas Tree. I would love to see the Nutcracker ballet with someone I love.

I want to create wonderful Christmas memories like everyone else. Just take the commerce aspect out of it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God Bless My Life

The kick-off of the holiday season has begun. I'm watching the lighting of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center on TV. I remember my days at Accessories Magazine when I attended the annual Hot Sox party at their corporate offices looking down on the Rockefeller skating rink. Everyone stood at the windows overlooking the live Christmas event. The performers even popped into the party afterwards and mingled with us, like Cyndy Lauper and her husband. There's no place like NYC to get into the Christmas spirit. I miss those days.

I feel grateful for having experienced such wonderful times--especially in New York City--during my life. Now that my health is comming back, I am looking forward to more good memories. I will admit that the last few years haven't been great, but there's no reason that I can't look forward to better days.

Today I choose to be happy and blessed, even though things aren't the best. I am cozy at home with my three cats. I have a job, I have a family and I will be fine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tips for Coping With Breast Cancer by Lorraine Murray

I came acroos this piece online. It was written by Lorraine Murray, a breast cancer survivor. Since it is fitting for this blog, I would like to share it with you. Marcy


Tips for Coping with Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is by turns frightening, overwhelming, and exhausting—but a few deceptively simple tips can help women cope with the emotional and physical challenges they face. Collected here are some coping techniques from survivor Lorraine Murray, author of Grace Notes, a book about her spiritual journey. You'll also find help with wigs, conquering fear, dealing with finances, and moving on with life.

Let some things go.
At least once a day, say, “Who cares?” and let go of old rigid ways of living. If the house isn’t in tip-top shape, say, “Who cares?” If you forgot to floss your teeth, just let it go. This technique helps reduce stress.
Let your hair down.
Right after the diagnosis, it helps to confide in someone who can handle whatever emotions you may express. Find someone you feel completely safe with – a sweetheart, a friend, a sister, a minister or rabbi, a counselor –and really let it all out.
Find people to hug.
Initiate a hug whenever you feel the need for comfort. People will respond warmly -- and you’ll feel better.
Tap into your faith.
Every religion offers comfort to help endure life’s trials. You may want to join a prayer group at your synagogue or church if you belong to one. It can also help to read inspirational books and/or scripture. Find favorite prayers and say them often.
Be patient with yourself.
There will come a day when your diagnosis is not the first thing on your mind when you wake up in the morning. For the first few months, though, you may find yourself dwelling on the diagnosis and reliving the events of surgery and other treatments. This is perfectly normal.
Give yourself time to cry.
You may find yourself grieving as if you’d lost your best friend. This is the result of shock and is also perfectly normal. You may cry often for a few months, and it may help with emotional healing. But if crying is not your way of handling stress, that’s fine too. Everyone is different.
Take naps.
Naps are immensely therapeutic, especially if you’re undergoing radiation or chemotherapy. Even 20 minutes can make a big difference in your mood and overall sense of well-being. Even long after your diagnosis and treatment, naps can help.
Set limits.
If you are feeling overwhelmed – by work duties, household tasks, social commitments – it’s time to make some changes. Make a list of what you have to do each day and figure out what can be postponed – or what can be delegated to someone else. It’s okay to say “no.” It is also okay to pare back on volunteer activities and social commitments.
Ask for help.
If you have small children and many commitments, enlist a friend or relative to help you. You’ll find that people are eager to help. When they ask you what they can do, have some specifics in mind, like “Could you watch Johnny on Friday afternoon when I go to the doctor’s office?” or “Could you pick up some groceries for me?”
Get the support you need.
A nearby support group for women with breast cancer can help considerably. Or you may draw emotional support from family and friends. One-on-one support is available from breast cancer survivors through the Reach to Recovery program.
Do nice things for yourself.
So often we equate being nice to ourselves with buying things. But you can treat yourself without running up your credit card debt. Check out books from the library, rent a funny video, feed the ducks at the lake, ask your sweetie for a foot massage, take a hot bath. And if you need to sleep 10 hours a night, give yourself permission to do it.
Forgive yourself.
You may forget a dentist’s appointment or neglect to send Aunt Martha a birthday card. You may not feel like returning phone calls. It’s okay. People will understand.
Don’t blame yourself.
No one knows what causes breast cancer. Don’t try to figure out what you did to bring on this illness. There are no answers.
Finding a wig. Check mail order suppliers such as the American Cancer Society's “tlc”, which has an online catalogue. They also feature breast forms, “pocketed” nightgowns and other products for women going through cancer treatment. Or call your local American Cancer Society office for stores nearby.
Handling financial issues.
Your local hospital or clinic will have a social worker, who can help you manage financial issues and deal with private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. You can also find the ACS I Can Cope program in your area, which offers free educational classes for people with cancer, their families, and friends. Sessions include, “Taking Charge of Money Matters.”
Specifics on your disease.
Bring your questions to the health professionals who lead the I Can Cope courses mentioned above. The program covers cancer development, treatment, side effects, new research, relieving cancer pain, nutritional well-being and more.
Sex after breast cancer treatment.
The physical changes made by surgery and/or breast reconstruction don’t have to cause problems in a woman’s sex life, and ACS offers practical advice practical advice on how to continue a fulfilling sexual relationship. Research shows most women with early stage breast cancer have good emotional adjustment and sexual satisfaction by a year after surgery. They report a quality of life similar to women who never had cancer.
Remember that you are not alone.
There are millions of women who are making this journey with you. And millions of women have survived breast cancer for many years. You are a survivor too.
_________________________________________
Lorraine Murray is a freelance writer living in Decatur, Ga. She was a contributor to A Breast Cancer Journey: Your Personal Guidebook, published by the American Cancer Society.
More Breast Cancer Awareness Month Special Features

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Listen

I had surgery on Wednesday to put a drain in my abdomen that will hopefully get rid of the water there once and for all. As I got prepped for surgery, I looked up at Dr. Ott and said: "I'm so sorry I didn't listen to you about wearing the girdles everyday. If I had, perhaps we wouldn't have had this complication." She nodded understandably and said: "That's alright. You're the kind of person that likes to go, go, go, and that's when things like that happen."

She's right about that, but I still feel I was negligent on my part simply because I deluded myself into thinking I can continue doing things like I was completely normal healthwise, when I'm not yet. My mom and dad always said, Marcy you don't listen. And that's one trait that has set me back throughout my life. One of the reasons I don't listen is because what I'm advised to do isn't what I FEEL like doing, it's usually harder, it requires delayed gratification.

I'm older now, and I feel like I can't afford NOT to listen, because the consequences are just too great. It's harder to bounce back from a mistake at 53 than it is to bounce back at 25 years old. I've finally surrendered to the fact that I don't want to keep doing things the hard way. And now that I hold my health precious, I'm not going to ignore the doctor's orders so flippantly. Someone once told me, if you push yourself while recovering from surgery, you're only taking two steps backward. Guess what?
They were right.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Mammogram Guidelines--Bad News

I must say that it came as a shock to me when I heard Katie Couric announce on the nightly news that the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force now recommends women wait until they are 50--instead of 40--to receive their first annual mammogram. I was told by my doctor that breast cancer had begun manifesting in my body in my late '40s--years before it had been finally detected when I was 51 years old. What's more, the doctors discovered I had Stage 3, locally advanced breast cancer--a far cry from early stage diagnosis.

The statistics cannot be ignored. The survival rate for women with breast cancer has steadily risen--due in large part to early diagnosis. Hail to the women who have faithfully had annual mammograms throughout their 40s. There are countless stories of lives saved because of it. I myself am guilty of skipping my mammogram in the year 2006 and 2007 and it has cost me dearly.

By the time I got around to my 2008 mammogram, the picture wasn't so pretty. That was the year I turned 51. I remember thinking, if I had just had that 2006 and 2007 mammogram, I wouldn't have felt like I was a day late and a dollar short. Like Sheryl Crow's early detection, maybe I could have gotten away with a mere lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation. Instead, my recovery has dragged out two years--when you include the breast reconstruction part.

Just think how different my journey would be today, if only. This new recommendation is taking options away from women. If their insurance companies refuse to pay for their mammograms in their 40s and they have to pay out of pocket, there will be a lot more women saying, if only. That's jut not fair when we've come so far beating breast cancer.

The U.S. has always been a world leader, because we've lead by example in so many areas. This is a giant leap backwards for preventative health. In light of this pending health care reform bill. That's truly a tragedy. Somehow, someway, we have to fight this. Every woman should have the health care system on their side to prevent the advancement of breast cancer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bear Pain Privately

Let's just get this out of the way. Battling breast cancer means you will have to cope with the side effects of treatments for a cure, which can make life miserable. Everyone's response to chemotherapy is different. Some women--armed with a battery of meds--will sail through chemotherapy, while others will face a series of infections, trips to the emergency room and violent bouts of vomiting and diarreha. Most of us sit somewhere in between.

You doctor will warn you and arm you appropriately for the journey. When your first bad day comes, make note of what your going through and what you did to make it better. For me, it was always the second day after chemo. That's when exhaustion and nauseau would overcome me, so much so that I would have to pull over at a rest stop if I was driving and sleep for a half an hour. I felt like I had a very bad tequila hangover over the next 24 hours. Soon, I learned the drill, and made sure I was comfy at home on that second day. I rode it out, knowing this too shall pass, and it always did.

Complaining to those caring for me about my agony only made them feel helpless and even more sad about my predicament. At the end of the day, it didn't do them or me any good. Now if something unusual comes up, that's another story. But if you've figured out how your body handles chemotherapy, keep the pain, the details to yourself. Just remember, it's only a temporary situation. Your family, friends and doctors will appreciate your stoic stand, because it will make it that much easier to help you in ways they can. Now that's what I call battling breast cancer with class.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Don't Take Your Health For Granted

Yeah! The CAT scan showed that I had water in my abdomen because the drain had accidentally fallen out too early last summer after my last surgery.

So, I have to go into Bridgeport Hospital next Wednesday and have another drain put in for two weeks to finally get all this water out. Thank God it was just water. I was thoroughly convinced I had liver cancer. And to be fair, I didn't do what my doctor said and wear the Spanx girdles everyday to keep the water from building up.

Lesson learned? Always do what your doctor says, otherwise complications arise. Now I have to go through yet another minor surgery because of a setback that I'm partly responsible for.

Which leads me to the theme of the day, once you get cancer, don't take your health for granted. After days of anxiety before I received news of the CAT scan result, I vowed to myself that I would start exercising regularly again. The cancer treatments and reconstruction surgeries have seriously set back my fitness level, because my legs were too numb to get on a treadmill. All I've been able to do is walk and ride my bike. I want to get physically strong again.

Also, the food list Dr. Zigo , of the Center for Natural Healing, gave me has hardly been referenced. She told me to cut out the meat, eggs and dairy and ramp up the fruit and vegetables. I've pretty much ignored her advise. Shame on me. Since I haven't been feeling well for the past month, I've lost weight but I feel fragile, not strong, because I've lost so much muscle tone over the past year.

About the only thing good I've done is sleep alot. On weekends I'll sleep maybe 10 hours. Okay, enough about me. What I'm trying to say is, when you get a second chance, you owe to yourself to take care of yourself, to honor your broken body and restore it back to health.

I promised myself that I would do this last spring when I layed in the Intensive Care unit of Winthrop Hospital for four days. I remember thinking, never again do I want to be in this place, never again. So it's time to spring into action.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It's All Good

I started reading this book, The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, which brought back teachings I learned when I attended The Landmark Education 3-day seminar more than 2 years ago. Now it comes back to me, the past is useless, the future is an illusion, but the present--that's where all the power to change is, baby! So I made a decision not to project about the results of my CAT scan on Tuesday, and simply enjoy a beautiful Sunday. It was a good decision.

I also came upon the journal I had kept last year as I went through my cancer treatment, reading the entries I realize how angst ridden I was about losing my hair. And here my hair is today, all grown in, blonde as ever! Now why did I waste so much time worrying about that? Knowing hindsight is always 20/20, I've decided to share some of my journal entries from last year on the blog. Clearly there's many of you feeling the way I did back then. Maybe when you read an entry, you'll identify and not feel alone. Here goes:

4/07/08
It's spring, my favorite time of year, and I have breast cancer! I just don't get it. My father walks around, smoking like a chimney at 76 years old. He's survived two open heart surgeries, an operation for an anyerism, and half the time he's out of it. But does he get cancer? Hell no. The guy's like that robot driving around Mars that was supposed to run out of power five years ago but just keeps on driving round and round the planet like an Engergizer bunny. The NASA Control engineers in Houston stare at the screen of Mars as they watch this machine soldier on relentlessly and scratch their heads in confoundment. It's the same way my relatives and parents' friends look at my dad. He's an anomoly.

The daffodils are blooming, and all I have to look forward to is chemotherapy, which, hello, I begin on my dad's birthday. It's not fair. I have friends who have partied like there's no tomorrow, boozing it up, sniffing, smoking, and generally abusing their bodies--and they're older than me! And do they get cancer? No, they just keep carrying on with their crazy lifestyle--even if they look a little harder for the wear.

Now mind you, I could have done better. I like to eat, but honestly, I always exercised like a fiend. No sense dwelling on the what a, could a should a. It's been said that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. So I suppose, as I go through this cancer treatment I'll get stronger by default. Maybe that's a good thing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chin Up

I gotta tell you, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease--at least that's the way it working out for me. After being sick last weekend, I was left with a dry hacking cough. And on Monday I was really coughing badly. I took a lot of vitamin C and it the coughing calmed down as the week progressed. But then I realized my lower abdomen was seriously bulging out.

I thought it was just fluid, since I had a revised tummy tuck last summer, the drain fell out too soon, so the plastic surgeon had to expirate the fluid. I went to the surgeon yesterday and showed her my stomach. The first thing she asked was: Have you been coughing alot? I told her yes, especially last Monday. She said the protrusion wasn't fluid but probably a hernia, plus the inner stitches may have come undone!

I have to get a CAT scan on Tuesday, but if she's right, I may have to have my abdomen operated on again. That would be the third time! I just don't want to have to go through this again. All this surgery I've had has been to put the pieces of my body back together after all the damage that was done last year. It just never ends! I'm really getting down about it.

Then there's the other fear. What if this abdomen protrusion is all a bunch of cancer!!1 The horror! I'm very scared. All I can tell myself is, chin up Marcy, chin up, stay positive.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Giving Back

Today I went to my friend Annie's house and delivered a care package. She had a lumpectemy about a month ago and will begin chemotherapy next week. I was glad to give her all the books that I bought on breast cancer, as well as wig care accutremants. I got her a card, and tchockes with breast cancer ribbons. I spent time talking her through her fears about chemo and losing her hair. It was time well spent.

I'll never forget the time I was sitting in a chemo chair and a woman getting follow-up care came in to sit next to me and hold my hand. She talked to me about her own breast cancer surgery, it was re-assuring. I know her cancer had to be more iffy than mine, since she came in to flush out her chemo port. For various reasons, they didn't want to take it out. Not a good thing. Yet she was positive and happy about everything. It gives you a feeling there is a way out of the dark tunnel.

Right now, I'm still running a low-grade fever. I got sick over the weekend. I wonder if this is still effects of the shingles. I've been popping the vitamins and adding hours of sleep. I hope that will finally do the trick. This is when I get discouraged. I don't want anything coming between me and that final surgery in December. I've had enough road bumps this year.

Anyway, being with Annie helped. Because everything she has before her, is now sitting behind in the past for me. That helps me look at the glass half full

Friday, October 30, 2009

Staying Positive

First, I welcome Beth Larson and her best friend, who is currently battling breast cancer, to my blog. I also welcome my friend Annie, who is currently battling breast cancer, to this blog. Please let me support you in any way that I can.

Today, I want to talk about the challenge of staying positive. I have to admit, it gets tougher to remain optimistic as the treatments and surgeries draw out. I've had shingles for over two weeks now. The fevers have stubbornly spiked at night and I still have rashes and breakouts on my back that sting and itch. My final surgery is about 6 weeks away. I'm afraid the shingles will make the doctor kick that surgery back--I just want to end everything already. So I try to rest, sleep and take it easy to help hasten the virus through its course.

When everything seems to be going wrong, its easy to just lay down and cop a bad attitude. But that's not good for your health. Remember, your biography becomes your biology. You have to eliminate negative thinking because it will only hinder you health! And they say I got the shingles because I hads a "compromised immune system due to cancer treatments." So clearly, I'm not out of the woods. It takes discipline to keep negative thinking at bay. But you gotta do it. I'm doing it now.

If you start getting down, take a moment and do something you like, or treat yourself to something, like an ice cream cone. Move a muscle, change a thought. That's how it works. Keep trying.

I

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Beginnings

Since March 12, 2008, a good part of my life has been predicated by cancer treatments in 2008 and reconstructive surgery in 2009. I am slated to have my final surgery the first part of December, which means I can close out the cancer chapter of my life along with the end of this year.

Which leads me to thinking, where do I go from here? I believe I'm due for a change of scenery. I've lived in Connecticut for almost 14 years. As much as I love the spring, the summer, the fall, I absolutely hate the winters. Like my friend Maggie said to me this morning: "You might as well live in freakin' Minnesota!" She said that knowing I left there at 18 because I hated the winters in Minneapolis. Maggie left Connecticut a year and a half ago for Juno Beach, Florida, and just closed on a house in West Palm Beach, which she will move to this week on Halloween.

I'm starting to develop a plan. I know I can transfer anywhere in the United States through my job. Many of my friends and family are living in Florida. I think it's time for me to return. But first I have to sell my townhouse--no easy task. Then I have to look into getting transferred.

Next year, I'm going to work on relocating. After all I've been through, I think the change will be good for me. It's time to start a new chapter.
Maggie, here I come!

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Got My Work Cut Out For Me

How ironic!

I wrote in my last post about how our negative emotions manifest themselves into illness and different ways you can self-heal. Well, this week I came down with shingles, which is the chicken-pox virus reactivated in your system. It hits people under stress that have compromised immune systems which may be due to cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

As David Letterman recently said: I got my work cut out for me. I really do need to practice what I preach. You know what's scary? I was driving through the cold drizzle on Tuesday, thinking about all my problems and said to myself, I went through all the pain of cancer treatment last year only to put up with the crap life's dowling me now? Maybe I would have been better off dead.

As soon as that thought held still in my head, I got dizzy and felt a chill go straight to my bones. It was so sudden, I hit the curve as I drove down the hill. My teeth started chattering, and I went right home. I crawled under the rumpled comforter of my bed and called my boss on my cellphone under the covers. "I think I have the flu," I told her. I have the chills, I'm dizzy and I ache." Later, I took out the thermometer and realized I had a 102 degree fever.

Unknown to me, this was the prelude to shingles: flu-like symptoms, followed by a rash. Of course, the rash came the next day. I'm on medication and supposedly this whole thing will go away in about a week. But given the sequence of events, I have to ask myself, If I hadn't allowed that bad thought to take space in my head, would I be well, instead of sick today? If you were to ask most of those metaphysical writers, the answer would probably be yes. So, I'm with you Dave, I got my work cut out for me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Self-Healing

"Your biography becomes your biology."--Caroline Myss, PH.D., Medical Intuitve, Author, Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, Anatomy of the Spirit, The Creation of Health

The moment I discovered I had breast cancer, I asked myself, how did I get this disease? And what could I have done differently to prevent it? My doctors told me my cancer sprung from environmental, not genetic factors since I did not test positive for the breast cancer gene. Some experts say cancer comes from tainted water that flows from the faucets of our homes.

Metaphysical writers such as Louise Hay (author of You Can Heal Your Life) and Caroline Myss claim that sickness and diseases actually manifest themselves from the blocked chakras of our bodies where negative emotions sit stewing. Those bad feelings act as toxins within us and begin to attack our health in specific chakra areas related to the personal issues we struggle with.

For instance, I spoke to a Yoga instructor at a party once, and she reasoned that breast cancer is common among divorced women. She believes this because bitterness and resentment--often part of the divorce emotional landscape--emits from the fourth chakra that rules love and not surprisingly sits in the heart area. Given that, a man that has a massive heart attack or a woman that has breast cancer is probably dealing with some serious heartache that is literally eating away at that part of their body--so say the spritual experts.

For myself, I started reading books on the power of emotional healing and how it impacts your physical health simply because I wanted to do everything possible to keep history from repeating itself. I figured, if I was still pissed about something from the past and that anger had been part of what started my cancer, what would prevent the disease from coming back?

So, per Louise Hay's advise, I concentrated on forgiveness and letting go. If I felt myself get worked up over a recent or past indignity, I whispered, let it go, let it go, let it go. I even went to a local spiritual advisor who recommended I do others things to continue the path toward physical healing. Here's the advise she gave to me:

Take time to walk, bike or jog outside and engage with nature. To use an old adage, stop and smell the roses.

Go out, have fun and laugh with your friends.

Make your home a sanctuary where you can read, meditate and create in a peaceful and soothing environment.

Express your creativity. Do what brings you joy and keeps you in the present moment--whether it's writing, drawing, singing, dancing or cooking. By doing so, you get your own unique stamp out into the universe. It makes you feel you're making an impact on the world.

So there you have it. It's Sunday and I feel like I just got off the pulpit after preaching.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Happy Birthday Joe-Joe! This is my birthday message to you.

Thanks for making me feel loved even when I looked like a bald alien due to chemotherapy. You never told me how bad I looked. You just called me a hippie chick because I always wore those paisley cotton handkerchiefs tied around my head. When I traipsed to work in my blonde-bob wig and big sunglasses, you said I looked great even though my skin had the pallor of death and the hair was clearly fake.

Your unconditional love fueled my determination to carry on with normalcy and fight a disease that was out to kill me. I honestly don't know if I would have been able to battle so fiercely if you hadn't been by my side.

Because you were there during one of my most difficult times, I can't help but stand by you too--my loyalty is steadfast. I will always be here for you. Our story proves that love does make a difference. So happy 45th birthday, may the coming year bring great changes!
Love ya! Marcy-girl

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Make a Difference this October

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month! All across the country people are participating in fundraisers, benefit walks and buying products with the pink ribbon logo to raise money for the cure.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer has dropped two percent per year since 1990 thanks in part to the increased awareness of the pink ribbon campaign. That means about 15,000 women avoided death in 2009 due to breast cancer. Still, 200,000 women will be told they have breast cancer this year and 40,000 will die from the disease in the United States alone. A lot's been accomplished, there's still a lot to be done.

I participated in the Susan G. Komen walk June 6th in Hartford, CT last summer. It was a great experience to be among other people effected by this disease in a fundraising effort that will help other women like me. The good feeling resonates even more when you are "back in the saddle" of living--completely healthy and engaged in your normal routine.

I urge you to visit the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month website http://www.nbcam.org/. to find out how you can do something this month to impact the cure for breast cancer.  If you don't have time to participate in the many breast cancer walks taking place across the country, simply buy something with a pink ribbon on it. A portion of the merchandise profits go towards breast cancer research. Go to www.komen.org/promisesshop or http://www.positivepromotions.com/ to find numerous products, gifts and giveaways with the pink ribbon logo.

Making a difference can be as easy buying a few things while picking up the groceries. For instance, today on my weekly sojourn to Walmart, I picked up flower bulbs from EuroBlooms LLC which has a Plant For Hope project. Each bulb pack costs $5 and 30 percent of that money will go towards the Susan G. Komen for The Cure fund. Don't you just love those Ped Eggs to smooth away rough calluses off your feet? Pick up a pink ribbon Ped Egg and the company will donate a portion of you purchase towards the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. If you already have one, give one as a gift or buy a second one for your toiletry travel bag.

Just think, when we combine all of our small efforts to fighting breast cancer this month together, it can add up to a lot of saved lives. That saved life may be your mother, your sister, your best friend--or you.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Breast Cancer Has Perks

Believe it or not, having breast cancer has an upside because by law, you are entitled to reconstructive plastic surgery. In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed a bill that requires all health insurance companies to cover the cost of breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. The bill also states that both the diseased breast and the opposite breast would be covered surgically to restore and achieve breast symmetry.

Even though I still have one more surgery coming up the end of this year, so far I've gotten a breast lift, tummy tuck and fat taken from my back. My breast tissue has been replaced by fat tissue. Accept for the fact that I have no feeling, I can't tell the difference visually. When I told my friend Maggie that I would be getting a breast lift, tummy tuck (and soon implants) compliments of breast cancer, she commented: Sweetie, it can't be all bad, you just got yourself about $15,000 worth of free plastic surgery!

I say it's a well deserved perk after the trauma of chemo and losing some of my most feminine assets. I am happy to report that my stomach is flatter than it's been in years. No amount of exercise and situps could talk away that middle-aged bulge. Also, I can get away without wearing a bra because of the breast lift. That alone takes years of your biological age. My plastic surgeon keeps telling me by the time all these surgeries are over, I'll be able to wear a bikini. We'll see, but right now, I don't think so.

I do think I look better in clothes, but looking good parading around naked? Not so much. There's just wayyyyy too many scars mapped out on my body to do that.  The way I view it, there were plenty of times in my life when I sashayed across a room without a stitch of clothing. But there comes a day when you just can't pull it off anymore. It's sort of like the first warm day of spring when you pull out those short-shorts. When you finally squeeze into them, you realize going out in public wearing those shorts would probably get you attention--but not in a good way. At least I can now wear T-shirts with a little spandex in them and look good again! So ladies, look at the silver lining of breast cancer--the possibility of perky breasts, a flat tummy and putting on that old bikini again!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Fear of Recurrence

This is the last weekend of the summer so I made sure to enjoy it.  Yesterday, I headed up to Mohegan Sun Casino, won some money playing slots and  bought myself something I've wanted for awhile. This morning, I headed up to the Elephant's Trunk outdoor flea market and reveled in aisles of hidden treasures and tchochkes. My last pit stop was Stew Leonard's--a farmer's market-like grocery store that Connecticut is famous for. I have good reason to celebrate by having some fun because my doctor got blood work results back last week, which confirmed so far, I'm cancer-free.

Now that my treatment is done, I'm constantly feeling for suspicious lumps and bumps or searching the internet for the symptoms of cancer recurrence. Apparently, the most common places breast cancer rears its ugly head again is in the lungs, the liver or the brain. A couple weeks ago, I kept feeling a pain on my right side and was thoroughly convinced that it was cancer of the liver. But when I found out you lose your appetite and drop weight if you have liver cancer, I knew I couldn't have it because I have NO PROBLEM eating.

I read the survival statistics for my particular stage of breast cancer at the five-year mark and they say I have a 49 percent to 67 percent chance of making it. Every once in awhile I'll get stuck in a mode of fear and start obsessing about these grim facts. Then I realize all I can do is pop a Tamoxifin pill  every day that is supposed to suppress estrogen, cross my fingers and carry on.  I reason that yes, cancer could come back at anytime. But right now, I have my health back and I will never take that for granted again. So why not enjoy feeling normal as much as I can? The seasons change this week. Nothing ever stays the same, so cease the day!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Estrogen-Breast Cancer Link

In 2006, I read Suzanne Somers' book Ageless, which touts the benefits of biodentical hormones for women going through menopause. I bought into the benefits of taking biodentical hormones hook, line and sinker and wasted no time making an appointment with my gynecologist so I could get on  biodentical estrogen supplements.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year and a half later, I found out my particular cancer was estrogen positive. That means my cancer was actually feeding off the excessive hormones I put into my body thereby growing at a faster rate. While my breast surgeon said the biodentical hormones may not have caused my breast cancer, she claims the hormone supplements probably did hasten the tumor growth. I put two and two together and realized that if I hadn't been taking those pills, perhaps I would have had only Stage 2 breast cancer. That means maybe I wouldn't  have had to have a double mastectomy--my breasts would have been saved. That's a bitter pill to take.

I sent Suzanne Somers an email telling her that she should have been more forthcoming  in her book about the risks of breast cancer when taking biodentical hormones--especially since she had breast cancer herself. I got no response. Then I emailed Oprah Winfrey about it since I read that she started taking biodentical hormones after Somers appeared on one of her shows. Again, I received no response. A friend of mine who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer not only has the BRCA gene,(meaning there is breast cancer in her family history) she has been doing hormone therapy for years. Her doctor told her to get off the estrogen pills IMMEDIATELY.

The message of the the link between estrogen and breast cancer should be out there--loud and clear. There needs to be much more awareness. Case in point: I don't remember my  doctor even mentioning the possibility of getting breast cancer when he started me on estrogen pills. Women have a right to know about this risk--especially women whose family has a breast cancer history. So ladies, if your mother, your grandmother, your aunt or sister has gotten breast cancer and you are taking hormone therapy, talk to your doctor right away. It could save your life.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Laugh at Yourself

Everytime I began a new stage of cancer treatment--chemo, surgery, radiation--I would get another round of telephone calls, cards and gifts from family and friends. Conversations would begin with heavy concern: How are you holding up? Are you REALLY Okay?

After I lost my hair, I told them the benefits of no hair styling maintenance--it takes 15 minutes less to get ready for work in the morning! And the way I disguised my bald head, what with the hats, the earrings, the sunglasses--people just took me for some over-the-top fashionista anyway. When the Dunkin' Donuts gals told me to Work It Girl, I replied: Hey, when you're bald, you've gotta pull out all the stops!

Right before my first mastectomy, my uncle called and asked how I felt. I replied: I guess I'm going to have to give up that dream of becoming a stripper. He got a good laugh over that one. I relayed stories to family and friends about how I used breast cancer to my advantage. Like the time a cop pulled me over. I pulled back my wig to give him a peek of my bald head and said, please officer, I am late for my chemo appointment, I have cancer. He didn't give me a ticket and let me go.

That's what you call pulling out your Platinum Cancer Card. When I was digging for money to get coffee one day and clearly looked frazzled, I commented to no one in particular: I have cancer! The women standing behind me immediately stepped up to the counter and said, I'll pay. Okay, so I milked it  for what it was worth. It was actually a bit fun.

The point is, I tried to see some humor in the situation. It's a great coping mechanism. I had gone my whole life without spending a night in the hospital and suddenly within a year I had three major surgeries. But there was no point in whining about it. So I decided to enjoy the attention and look at the situation from a lighter point of view. Perhaps that's why everyone said I had such a great attitude. They tell you, one of the best ways to battle cancer is to remain positive. I did that by keeping my humor. Trust me, it works!

Since Breast Cancer Awareness month is right around the corner, why not give to an organization that fights breast with a light attitude: SaveThe Ta Tas. Buy yourself or a friend a T-Shirt with the Save The Ta Tas logo. You will be contributing to the fight against breast cancer while giving people a good laugh when they see what your T-Shirt says. Now that's the fighting spirit!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Reach Out

I feel good about myself today because I helped someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. An old friend revealed to me that her doctor found a malignant tumor in her left breast. More tests have to be done, but I knew her head was spinning and I gave her imformation that I believe helped calm her down.

She was worried about her job but I assured her that she was protected by law.  The management at my company was incredibly supportive last year as I underwent treatment--the chemo, the mastectomies, the radiation.  With each surgery, I could always count on a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my company to arrive at the hospital.  I've already lost six weeks of work in 2009 due to my reconstructive surgeries. I told her not to get ahead of herself and project the worst. Then I gave her the phone numbers of my oncologist, breast surgeon and radiation doctor--just in case.

Reaching out to another person who has been diagnosed with the same disease as you has a soothing effect--for both the person offering help and the person needing help. It's the same dynamics that occur in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. A person shares their pain with the group, than a person who's been through a similar situation, shares their wisdom on how best to handle the problem.

That's why my breast cancer support group at the Norma Pfriem Breast Cancer Center, in Fairfield Connecticut, became such a safe haven for me. There was always someone there to offer concrete advise on how to handle my angst about my cancer diagnosis. As I mentioned yesterday, it's crucial to surround yourself with support, but do it on multiple levels. Your family can help you at home with meals and cleaning after a surgery. Your best friend can hold your hand during an MRI, like my friend Dawn did.

But they haven't been through breast cancer. So seek people who have been through the disease to give you answers and assurances your friends and family just aren't equipped to give. You'll feel like you're not alone. You'll feel better because as bad as it seems, there are always people that have it worse than you. And that makes your battle all the more easy to handle.

That's all for now,
Marcy

Monday, September 7, 2009

Surround Yourself With Support

Cancer has a funny way of changing your priorities. It starts when the chemo kicks in. You are simply too debiliated to continue your normal routine. So you have to make choices in order to get through each day. You ask yourself: Do I have enough energy to make dinner and clean the kitchen? Or should I simply order in? Should I make three sales presentations on Friday--three days after chemo--or reschedule some appointments the next week, knowing that after a Wednesday chemo treatment, Friday is the day I crash.

Out of neccessity, I mastered the art of hoarding my energy. And my energy conservation didn't stop with my job responsibilities or maintaining my home. I found out quickly who I could count on for the support I needed and who couldn't step up to the plate. Most of my closest and oldest friends and family were totally there to do what they could. There were even distant cousins and friends of friends who literally came out of the woodwork with there touching cards, calls and gifts. All this outpouring of love and support made me realize that I do matter here on earth. That if I were gone, I would truly be missed. No question, that helped me keep my chin up and carry on the battle.

As far as the friends I realized I couldn't count on, I decided expending energy to maintain a relationship with them was simply not worth the effort. The people that enveloped me in a blanket of love and support were feeding me, the people that weren't, were depleting me. It was that simple.

Suddenly, book titles like Don't Sweat The Small Stuff and Living The Simple Life became the mantras of my life. Now that my cancer treatment is behind me, it has become easier to let things roll off my back--I don't want extraneous things to worry about. I embrace the mundane. What's more, I don't take the important relationships in my life for granted. When it's my turn to give back the love and support to those that gave it to me, you can bet I will be there.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Choose To Be Grateful

Today is a perfect September Sunday. The blue sky spans bright and cloudless. The morning air hints of the chill that is about to come as the month turns from Summer to Autumn. My life is not perfect now--not by a long shot. But when I think of where I was a year ago, I have to feel grateful.

September and particularly Labor Day weekend has always been a bittersweet time for me. I got married September 3, 1983--Labor Day weekend. I got divorced on September 11, 1995.
I think of the day I watched the Twin Towers fall from my penthouse window in Stamford, CT on September 11, 2001. I met my boyfriend, Joe, on September 23, 2007, the first day of Autumn. For me, the month of September has always signified memories of endings or beginnings.

This September is no exception. A week ago, I spent the day with my boyfriend of two years, my dear
Joe-Joe. We had lunch along the Long Island Sound, last Sunday, watching boats sail by. He stood by me throughout my cancer journey. But last Monday morning, he packed his bags and left.

However, he left for a good reason. He has battled hard with alcholism for a long time. Even though he went to rehab last April, he started drinking again two weeks ago. So he felt it was best to move to a sober house and concentrate on himself. Last Friday, he said he wasn't coming back to live with me, but would call me from time to time to tell me how he was doing as he struggled toward recovery.

At first I was angry, mad, How could he have deserted me? But then I realized God had given him to me when I really needed him. I will never forget his unflagging support when I needed it most. Now I'm on my way, I'm fine, but he's not. He has bottomed out and I can't bail him out anymore, I was doing that all summer. It wasn't working for him or me.

I've chosen to be grateful for the time that we had. The future of our relationship is a big question mark. But I honor his decision to do what he must in order to stay sober. He has a lot of work ahead of him. That said, I have no choice but to carry on without him. Sitting here on a beautiful Sunday alone, I can't help but miss him. I must tell myself, whatever will be will be.

Thank you God, for giving me a precious gift, my Joe, during a crucial time in my life. I don't know how I would have made it without him. Please guide him through this trying time and help him on the path toward sobriety. Thy will, not mine, will be done.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Work It Girl!

Once I began to accept my breast cancer prognosis, the next step was accepting the fact that I had to lose my hair. Right after my first chemotherapy treatment, I kept capping my head with both hands, squishing my hair to my scalp as if somehow I could prevent the inevitable.

But just as my chemo nurses predicted, five days after my second chemo treatment, I awoke to see the telltale strands of blonde hair on my pillow case. That was on a Friday. By Sunday, I had to put a wrap kerchief scarf around my head and top it off with a straw fedora, a la Alicia Keys, to keep masses of hair from dropping to the floor.

On Monday morning, I had no choice but to wear a hat to work. Now my hair was flyng off my head with the blowing wind just like a tree shedding its leaves in Autumn. I asked my friend Dawn to come to the house after work and just get rid of it--buzz it off. As soon as the buzzer started shaving off the last vestiges of my platinum blonde hair, I started crying uncontrollably. Then Dawn started crying and my boyfriend Joe-Joe bravely stepped in to finish the job.

After I took a good look at myself bald in the mirror, I promptly put on the wig I had bought weeks earlier and came upstairs with a forced smile. The moment I feared most was now done. And once I crossed that bridge, somehow I felt oddly relieved.

I walked into the office the next morning donning my new blonde-bob wig with my head held high, fully aware of the stares that followed. Everyone was very assuring and supportive. "That wig is so becoming on you! You look great," my colleagues would say. I just lowered my head demurely and said thanks.

Once I got used to having to cover up my head with a wig, a scarf or a hat, I pulled out all my most dramatic earrings out of my jewelry box and started buying big, bold and unusual earrings wherever I found them. I splurged on a pair of big designer sunglasses that I knew were becoming on me. To keep my wig from looking too artifical, I tied beautiful silk scarves around the top of my crown--gypsy style.

What with the dramatic scarves, hats, glasses and earrings all worn at once, I was definitely making a fashion statement. But all those props came in handy as my skin got more pale and my eyebrows and eyelashes started to fall out. One particular morning,, I walked into Dunkin' Donuts and I remember one of the black girls behind the counter exuded: "Lordy you sure are stylin' today! Work it girl!"

"Thanks so much sweetie," I replied. That comment made my day. I had reached back to my days as an executive editor at Accessories magazine and found a bag of tricks to fake prettiness with fashion until I made it through treatment. A couple weeks later, that same girl at Dunkin' Donuts told me one morning at the drive-thru window, "I don't know your name, but I pray for you every night." As I drove away, all I could do was cry. Workin' it got me another person calling on heaven to get me through cancer. Who knew?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not Me

I was always certain I would never get breast cancer because my mother told me it didn't run in our family genes. She should know I reasoned, she's part of the medical community--a registered nurse. Heart attacks and strokes run rampant in my family. But breast cancer? Not one case.

Perhaps that's why I never bothered to check my breasts once a month for any unusal lumps. And maybe that's why--when my general physician slid her hand across my left breast during an annual check-up and found a formidable mass of tissue thickening--cancer had pretty much taken over the entire area. I had a tumor the size of a baseball that had already invaded the lymph nodes. After an MRI scan, they also found a smaller tumor in my right breast, although that side was lymph node negative. My prognosis? Stage 3, locally advanced breast cancer.

It was March 12, 2008 when my doctor called and gave me the news. For some reason, I started screaming at her angrily. I said something like, your prognosis is all wrong, I don't have breast cancer in my family, check the records again. Then I realized I was simply trying to kill the messenger and apologized for my rude behavior.

I got off the phone and marched into my boss's office, slamming the door behind me. "Gerry, I have to tell you something, I have breast cancer." He gave me a hug and then started asking me all these questions. Once again I got hostile over his barrage of inquires and yelled, "I can't answer anything now, I just don't know!" At that point I stormed out of his office, grabbed my jacket and drove home.

Morbid thoughts swirled through my head as I drove: I have cancer and I'm probably going to die. I'm going to have a slow painful death where my physical body will shrivel and deteriorate before everyone's eyes. My life is over.

The first person I called to share the news was my boyfriend. "I have breast cancer Joe-Joe. Promise me you won't leave me right now. I need you."

"Of course I won't, I love you, I'll always be here for you Marcy-girl," he assured me.

I knew I had to call and tell my parents, but I just couldn't do it on that day. The only way I could completely absorb the bad news was by going home, cuddling on the couch with my cats, and staring blankly at the drone of news on CNN TV. It was important to maintain normalcy by just carrying out a mundane routine. That enabled me to calm my fears and start thinking logically about the daunting task ahead. I got on the internet and researched everything about breast cancer. When I looked at the survival statistics, I leaned back and thought, maybe this journey I have go through to battle cancer won't be so bad. And maybe, I might come out of this a better person and win.

Marcy

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indulge Your Passions and Creativity--Now

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had lots of plans. I had planned to return to my ballroom dancing classes that I stopped taking in 2004 when I broke up with my then dancing-fanatic boyfriend. I had intended to take another series of cooking classes like the ones I so enjoyed at Greenwich continuing education back in 1997. I had talked about joining a writers' group. I dreamed of taking a Meditteranean cruise.

Then the reality of my breast cancer treatment thrust me into a world of endless MRI, CAT and PET scans, doctor's appointments and chemotherapy sessions. The daunting treatment schedule left me with just enough energy to drag myself to work Monday through Friday. Since I was often nauseous and tired, my life was stripped down to the basic essentials of just getting by. And sometimes even that was too much to handle.

That's when I missed feeling normal again. I remembered fondly those Saturday nights at The Terrace Dance Club perfecting the rhumba with my old flame or spending a leisurely Sunday creating a luscious meal for family and friends. I knew I had to get out of that self-pity funk, so I searched for any respite to forget about my aches and pains. I just wanted to be distracted by laughting and doing something I love.

On bad days, I took to watching my favorite movies. I read books that sat on my bookshelf for years. I committed to journal writing and recorded the daily sojourns of by cancer battle. I rediscovered the calming effects of needlepoint and made a pillow. Everything lightened up when I made a point to do one act of creativity or take time out for one enjoyable activity everyday. When I did that, I knew there would always be a bright point in the day, and I would not be able to look at the future with nothing to look forward to.

Of course I had my limitations. I couldn't go to my Lotte Berke exercise classes two times a week anymore. I couldn't keep the house as clean. But I refused to feel bad about not being to handle my usual responsibilities. I had breast cancer, and that was the perfect excuse to become a princess for awhile. As Kris Carr, author of Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips noted, I earned the Platinum Club Cancer Card, and as a woman who loves to spend, you can bet I to pulled out that carn whenever the moment was right. I'll talk to you about that another day.

Just remember, while your battling breast cancer, treat yourself to something fun everyday--return to doing the things you love.

Later,
Marcy

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You Are Not Alone

The last time I checked, one out of every eight women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I happen to be among the millions of women in those statistics that came up number 8. Since I have already been down the breast cancer treatment road, I want this blog to be a place where women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer can ask questions. I cannot tell you which course of treatment to go with or which cancer facility is best. I am not a doctor. I'm simply a middle class, middle-aged woman that got a little wiser because I was faced with the possibility of death.

What I believe I can help you with is navigating through all the emotional dark tunnels that inevitably come while battling breast cancer. I can do this by sharing my own expereince and sharing the stories of women that I met in my breast cancer support group. For example, when I went to my doctor's office, there were no brochures to tell me how to feel pretty for a special occasion when I had no hair, and no eyelashes or eyebrows. Breast cancer robs you of your most precious feminine assets. Your beautiful eyes turn hollow and naked. Your shiny mane is gone. And if you had a great looking set of breasts and they have to go? Well, you get the picture.

So how do you compensate? One of my suggestions? Fashion and accessories. Hey, you are in a battle so you've got to adopt a warrior wardrobe. Never underestimate the power of a beautiful silk scarf, big earrings, dramatic sunglasses and an exquisite hat. This is the time to go over the top. Your friends and colleagues will admire you for that. I have plenty of stories to prove it.

So go ahead, ask me the questions, voice your worst fears. I will tell you what I went through or I will tell you what someone I know went through. Nine times out of ten, it isn't as bad as you project it will me.

Case in point: A year ago this time, I had no hair. Now it's all come back. Within my lifetime, for about eight months I had no hair. That's not very long in the grand scheme of things. But the anticipation of loosing my hair caused me great anguish and pain. Once I lost it, I utilized the wigs, scarves and hats, and it was business as usual.

Looking back, it was kind of nice to get up in the morning and not have to mess with my hair. Saves alot of time. Who would have thought I'd miss the days when I had no hair.

That's all for now.
Marcy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Surviving Breast Cancer With Style

On March 12, 2008, my doctor told me I had breast cancer.

I immediately did research on the internet and decided for myself that I had the most curable, and treatable of all breast cancers, which would entail nothing more than a quick surgical removal of a small lump in my left breast. Boy, was I wrong.

I must say I took the news like a trooper and flippantly explained to my boss the illness was merely a bump in the road. He assured me I could take as much time off as I needed, to which I replied, "Oh no, I plan to work the whole time!" Of course I was naive once again, not forseeing how chemotherapy would bring me to my knees.

Throughout 2008, I did the adjuctive chemotherapy, the mastectomies, the radiation. This year has been a journey in reconstructive surgery--two surgeries done, and one more to go. Now, I am supposeedly cancer-free--but it came with price. I've lost both of my breasts. Due to complications from my first reconstructive surgery last March, both my legs are numb from the knees down. It's hard enough to walk these days, and forget about running or getting on the stairmaster.

My entire torso looks like a road map of scars, and I hate the sight of my naked body. But enough of the negative talk. I feel grateful, because as of now, the medical jury says I'm cured.
And there's so many people out there that just aren't that lucky.

I'm 52 years old. Now is my time to pick up the pieces. I had a scary brush with the angel of death and I escaped--even if some scars were involved. As I went through my treatment last year, I began to think about all of my dreams yet unfullfilled.

God spared me for a reason--because I have yet to do my purpose on earth. This blog is my way of clarifying how I want to reinvent my life as a breast cancer survivor. And trust me, I plan to do it with style. That's all for now.
Marcy Bruch